I don’t know what letter I should be on by this point. Clearly I have been derelict in my blogging duties, and probably have been ousted from the A-to-Z community, but I feel compelled to write today, dereliction be damned.
Not much makes me happier than sitting in my kayak on the lake on a sunny day, except maybe kayaking after a great run. Today was one of those banner days when I got to do both, something I haven’t done for months and months.
The sun finally made an appearance in conjunction with a day in which I had nothing to do but read for class, so I took advantage and slept in, went for a run (5.26 miles or roughly 8.5K), and then spent the remainder of the afternoon in my kayak on the lake (reading my Gestalt textbook). When I looked up from my book, I got to see fish jump and hawks swoop down from the skies to pluck the trout from the water. I chased a blue heron down the coastline trying to get it to sit still while I took a picture. An unsuccessful endeavor, but majestic and rewarding nonetheless.
After a week off due to illness, I took to the trails yesterday and got in a little more than seven great miles (or approximately 11.5K). In fact, yesterday my fastest mile was the last mile. I love negative splits, and I love coming back strong after time away. Today’s run was a bit tougher, a little slower, and a tad shorter as I pulled something in my right ankle while mowing the back 40 yesterday. I had to wear my rubber boots to mow since most of the backyard is a swamp. Those polka dot fashion boots from Fred Meyer don’t have much stability or support. Now I’m sitting with ice on my ankle.
I’ve not seen the backyard this wet in the nearly 20 years I’ve been living here, but had I not mown yesterday, I would have to rent a hay baler next weekend. As it was, I had to take a layer off with the weed whacker first. And I am not exaggerating when I say there was at least six inches of standing water in places. One section of fence had fallen over, the posts completely rotted away. I suppose at some point that’s going to cost me. For now, it’s propped up to keep the deer out (little f**kers got in and ate the geraniums and pansies Mom planted last week—for more on that ongoing battle, check out this blog from a few years ago).
But today I felt great having tackled the first mowing of the season, the first run in a week, and the first kayak since October. I am a little stiff and sore, but done with the worst of it, ankle notwithstanding. I am looking forward to more (especially since I recently talked a couple of buddies into buying kayaks).
Spring is blossoming slowly in these parts this year, and today was a small taste of everything I love about the next six months: kayaking, running, my backyard, and sharing it with friends.
My friend Linda swims nearly every day. Her devotion to swimming her mile in Lake Whatcom is as sacred as my devotion to running laps around Lake Padden. We often meet up to write together after we’ve completed our individual exercise routines, and at some point we started talking about her swimming across the lake instead of along the shore.
“How far is it from your beach to the other side of the lake?” I asked. “Could you swim it?”
“Probably a half mile,” Linda answered. “Of course I could swim it, and I have, but I need an escort so I don’t get run over by a speedboat.”
“I could paddle along in my kayak,” I said. “Let’s do it!”
That was last summer, and somehow the sunny warm days ended without us ever having made the crossing.
Recently, as we had a little bit of a heat wave and a string of decent days, I’ve been jumping in the lake to cool off after my runs and then hopping in my kayak to soak up some rays. Which reminded me that Linda and I had yet to conquer the cross-lake challenge. So I brought it up, as summer seemed to be coming to a rather quick and blustery end.
“Still up for a cross lake swim?” I texted her.
“Sure! When?” She texted back.
“Friday? Weather still looks good. I’ll be done with school for the quarter.”
“Let’s do it,” she wrote.
Last Friday morning dawned gloriously pink. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself as I let the cat in for his morning feeding. “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” I texted Linda. “Wanna go a little earlier?”
“Sure,” she wrote back.
I shooed the cat out the door and hurried to get dressed. Then I loaded the kayak in the back of my truck (so much easier than heaving it up onto the fancy and expensive Thule rack I own) and headed out to Sudden Valley to be the support boat for my friend’s great swim.
I lugged the kayak down to the shore, through the bushes and garden bark, across the vast green lawn dotted with deer poop, which I deftly dodged (you can read more on how I love deer here). I tied a rope around the little carry handle on the end of the kayak and lowered it down the high bank into the water. So far, so good, I thought.
The sun was rising over the mountain across the lake, glistening golden against the clouds. The water, for now, was calm, inviting. And warm. I stuck my toe in. Hmm. I could swim in that. But I had to be in my kayak to fend off bigger boats and wayward jet skis in order to protect my friend. Plus, I don’t really like swimming.
Linda walked down to the water’s edge in her black swimsuit, pink bathing cap, and teal blue flippers. She held two pairs of swim goggles in one hand and a black neoprene swim cap in the other. Her wife Amory trailed behind her, phone at the ready to document this momentous event. But first things first. A goose had left a large, uhm, gift on the bottom step and as I was about to brush it off into the water with my paddle Linda stopped me.
“NO! Don’t put that in the water,” she admonished. “Amory, would you go get a paper towel?”
“Oh, like there’s no other goose poop in the lake,” I said from my kayak cockpit. I suppose if I were getting into the water, I might feel the same way. “I guess you have a point,” I conceded.
“Just so you know,” Linda said, pointing at me, “I count as I swim, so don’t interrupt.”
“Roger that,” I saluted, a little disappointed as I had envisioned a leisurely paddle-swim in which we conversed. Guess it was going to be a quiet journey instead.
Once the goose droppings had been dealt with, Linda descended the five steps and dove in, splashing me, and we were off. I waved to Amory standing on the bank and pointed my kayak toward the distant shore. I knew immediately I had more of a challenge on my hands than I had anticipated, as Linda veered off in the wrong direction, and by wrong I mean instead of heading across the lake, she appeared to be swimming parallel to the shore. I tried to herd her into going the right direction, but she could neither see nor hear me. I sighed and stayed close, assuming she would figure it out eventually.
We zig-zagged across the lake, making it to the other side in about a half hour. I took a picture and sent it to Amory. “We made it!” I wrote. Linda and I chatted for awhile, took a few pics of each other, and then headed back.
For some reason, she swam in a straighter line going the other direction. I didn’t have to herd her nearly as much, though when we were about ¾ of the way across, she suddenly veered to the south. By the time I got her attention, she’d swum a few hundred yards. We would have been back to her beach if she had been going the right direction.
She laughed when I finally got her rerouted and adjusted accordingly. “I didn’t want to tell you how challenging this would be,” Linda said. “I didn’t want you to change your mind. You should have seen me swimming across the St. Clair River (in Michigan, at Amory’s brother’s house, over Labor Day weekend), dodging speed boats and freighters. I almost ended up in Detroit!”
I was very glad that I hadn’t been the support boat for that adventure. This quiet lake swim was
proving to be more complicated than I had anticipated. And we’d only seen one jet ski and three boats, one of which was oar-driven. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to keep her safe in a busier body of water.
I was hoping to have a blog on more recent events, but I just can’t put my thoughts into anything coherent. Today Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece two years ago today. So, here it is. It’s aged pretty well.
Lately I’ve been lamenting the disappearance of my haiku muse, and yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany about this apparent abandonment. I was sitting on the deck, inhabiting my favorite summer writing space—our gazebo or what The Little Woman has dubbed “the man cave” (since I’m the butch in the relationship, and, I guess because I occasionally drink beer out there). Anyhooo—as I scribbled in my journal, writing random lines of bad poetry, revising, creating better lines of poetry, a thought occurred to me. If I were to think about running in the same way that I think about writing, I’d just be sitting around falling out of shape instead of getting fitter and faster.
Which is to say—my running only improves because I am out there on the trails every morning (honest to god, six days a week, 8 a.m., at least five miles each day). Even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, when I’ve slept like shit, and my feet and calves ache, I hobble to the kitchen, put on the coffee, make a smoothie (or toast), and pull on my running clothes. I tell myself that I will feel better soon. I remind myself that my running buddy awaits, that we will have coffee after, that after the first quarter mile, the aches and pains will shake out. I know that if I can just propel myself around the lake once, the endorphins will kick in and the next lap will be so much easier.
I know these truths about writing too, but for some reason I have more difficulty remembering. As much as I remind myself how good it feels to have a new piece published, whether on my blog or picked up by an anthology, I have difficulty motivating myself to put my butt in the chair and write. And really, the process may look different from running, but they are much the same thing—do the work, reap the rewards.
Last weekend I ran in the Great Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Footrace. After a bit of a dry spell, I have entered a spate of footraces recently—a few weekends ago, TLW and I ran the Camano Crab Dash with our running buddies April and Karen, then the GSWFoJFR with Cami, Bill, April and Karen and some other lovely women from The Fit School, this weekend The Chuckanut Footrace, the following weekend, my friend Cami’s Windhorse Half Marathon, and more into the future. Probably the Bellingham Waterfront 15k, and the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon, Run Like a Girl . . . and so on.
Something happened at the race in Sedro Woolley that I never even imagined might be possible—I placed third in my age group! Like my friend Kari said, that’s some compliment, being told you run fast for your age, but THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP! Usually I’m pleased to run under 10 minute miles and come in in the top half of the total field. Last Friday, I ran 5.17 miles in 44:16—that is smoking fast for me, a series of 8:30-ish miles, sustained for 5 miles! Even on my best training runs, I don’t string together more than one or two sub-nine minute miles but put me in a crowded field and my competitive juices start flowing.
Along with the competition and adrenaline, there’s another factor: I tell myself I can do anything for an hour. Anything? Anything. Hmmm, I thought to myself yesterday, maybe that mantra can apply to writing as well. And how had I so quickly forgotten what I could accomplish after two fairly recent months of writing a blog post a day? How did I let myself get so out of writing shape? What might happen, I wondered, if I sat down for an hour every day and just wrote? Might my writing muscles get as developed as my running muscles?
So, I sat longer yesterday and didn’t get discouraged when the muse didn’t show up right away. I kept writing, doing word maps, stretching and challenging myself to find better synonyms, more complex words, words I could use in double entendres. It’s the same in running—I don’t just run flat courses (though I work one or two in every so often). I generally run terrain that challenges me. My favorite course has two good hills and many ups and downs in between. No matter how often I run there, I still find the hills difficult—some days more so than others. Yesterday I ran about two miles longer than I do on an average day. These runs make me stronger, mentally and physically. When I run a race on the flats like I did last weekend, I can fly (you know, for my age).
Eventually, the muse returned to me yesterday. And here’s the thing about the muse—it’s me. The muse lives in me—she is not some external ethereal creature who decides to occasionally grace me with her gossamer presence. I own her wings and her wand, as much as I own my running shoes and shorts. And just like I drive myself to the running trail every morning at 8, I need to put my butt in the chair and flip open the computer and make my hands move across the keyboard. I need to challenge myself like I did a few months ago with the blog a day or something similar, some writing exercise that will improve my writing, strengthen my storytelling abilities, improve my dramatic arc.
I read enough writing books to know that even the most celebrated authors don’t possess a magic bullet or super secret writing regimen. No writing will occur if one does not sit and write. No running will occur if one does not put one foot in front of the other. I may occasionally find my inspiration outside of myself; I may credit this person or that circumstance for providing an impetus for writing or running, but ultimately I am the one who needs to do the work. Only I can move the words from my head to the computer screen, only I can propel myself down the trail and across the finish line.
When I was a kid (a long, long time ago), I loved this book I had called Fortunately. It starts out “Fortunately, one day Ned got a letter that said “Please come to a surprise party.” We see Ned looking happy in full color, imagining all sorts of birthday treats. The next page (in black and white) says “But unfortunately, the party was in Florida and he was in New York.”
Fortunately, a friend loans Ned his airplane. But unfortunately, the engine explodes. Fortunately Ned has a parachute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t open. Fortunately Ned lands in a haystack. Unfortunately, there’s a pitchfork in the haystack. And so goes Ned’s adventure.
My day got off to a sucky start today when Unfortunately, the neighbors’ dog started barking quite loudly at 5:06 this morning, waking me from a rare and deep sleep. This unfortunate dog barks most mornings, usually about 6:30, which while not ideal, is much better than 5:06.
I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I got up to make coffee (fortunately I had coffee) and decided to go for an earlier-than-normal run. Unfortunately, when I left the house I ended up following a slow and stinky old diesel car all the way to the first stoplight (about a mile). I decided that if it turned right, I would continue on straight ahead and run along South Bay Trail. If it didn’t turn right, I would turn right and run at Lake Padden (in spite of the fact that it’s Mean Lady Monday).
Fortunately, stinky and slow old diesel car turned right and I could avoid the mean ladies at Padden. I drove another half mile to the Fairhaven Green and parked. Unfortunately, I had updated my Nike running app the previous night, hoping that the update might have fixed the issue with the music not starting when the run started. Unfortunately, not only did the music not start, I had to go through three or four additional steps to make it work at all. Fortunately, that was all the update broke.
Fortunately, the morning was glorious—blue sky, gentle breeze, lovely sailboats in the harbor. Fortunately, I am healthy and can run. Unfortunately, about .75 miles into my run, I had to, uhm, use the loo. (Running shakes things loose). Fortunately, there’s a bathroom at .76 miles. Unfortunately, the first one I entered stunk of cigarettes and had a large mound of , uh, a large brown mound still in the bowl. I flushed it, but unfortunately, the mound remained unmoved.
Fortunately, there was another bathroom right next door. Unfortunately, it too reeked of someone’s old stogie. Fortunately, the bowl shone empty and bright. Fortunately, I was in and out in record time.
As I ran, I tried to shake my annoyances out. I reminded myself that I was healthy, generally happy, able to run five miles. I remembered the Fortunately book, and the idea for this blog was born. Unfortunately, as I ran, I encountered many smokers, at least one of whom I suspected was responsible for the aforementioned smelly and clogged up bathroom. Fortunately, I can hold my breath while I run a few steps. Fortunately, my second mile was faster than my first (negative splits baby), and my fourth mile was the fastest of all.
Fortunately, I was able to make the run up Taylor Dock without stopping. Unfortunately, I did have to stop and catch my breath once I got to the top. Fortunately, I took this great picture of this amazing view. Fortunately, I had less than a half mile left in my run.
Unfortunately, when I finished my run, two smokers were sitting right on the steps where I usually stretch. Unfortunately, the grass cutters and leaf blower guys were there. Unfortunately, as I decided to stretch on the other side of the green from the smokers, the leaf blower guy motioned for me to leave. Fortunately, we have a parks department that cares for and maintains our many green spaces. Fortunately, I decided to listen to him and save my hearing. Fortunately, I drove home.
Unfortunately, I ended up in the middle of the Fairhaven Middle School morning traffic jam. Fortunately, I had decided to write this blog and so I didn’t get too annoyed. Fortunately, I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at a specific time. Fortunately, my children are all grown up and no longer in middle school. This fact is a big, big plus.
Unfortunately, I did have to go home and write a paper. Fortunately, I was able to focus and finish a decent first draft by 1 p.m. Fortunately, I have a kayak and a Jeep. Fortunately, it was 88 degrees and sunny today. Fortunately, I could go to Lake Padden to read my textbooks while I floated on the lake in my kayak. Fortunately, I finished my reading. Unfortunately, my water bottle exploded all over inside my “dry” bag. Fortunately, I had a large towel in the bag and it absorbed the water and my books stayed dry. Fortunately, I had a great text conversation with my oldest daughter while I floated on the lake. Unfortunately, our discussion was about racism which unfortunately seems to be getting worse. Fortunately we can talk about this difficult topic. Fortunately, she is a wise young woman.
Unfortunately, the sun just became too much for me as it sparkled and reflected off the water. Fortunately, I have the good sense not to stay out too long and get completely sunburned.
Unfortunately, I headed home just as the middle school was getting out for the day and again got stuck in the middle school traffic jam. Fortunately, I still had no place to be, so tried to remain patient. Unfortunately, I thought as I watched the tweens meander by my car, middle school is a hard time for lots of kids. Unfortunately, we all have to go through those years. Fortunately, we don’t have to stay there.
Fortunately, I have a home to which I can return when I want to. Fortunately, I have a deck on which I can sit and be alone and think. Fortunately the neighbor’s children have all nearly grown up and no longer scream. Fortunately (knock on wood), she’s not power-sawing anything in her backyard yet.
Fortunately, this day improved as I decided to focus on my good fortune.
Today I had my very first real client. (It went well enough that we have another appointment next week, and I am SO glad the first one is behind me), and I am excited that I have chosen this career. To sit and hear people’s stories, to have them share their fears and triumphs, to be a part of the healing process. I am feeling honored and quite fortunate.
I know Mercury is in retrograde (whatever that means), but my stars seem to finally be aligning. My practicum is shaping up nicely, I’ve made some great inroads for my upcoming internship which starts in the fall. And, then I realized I am very far behind on my school work. I need to Stop this blog-a-day thing at S.
I love the challenge of writing something to post everyday (and even though I’ve clearly not posted everyday as I should be on W, I have actually written something each day, but not everything is worthy of being shared). I’ll miss it, but I took a look at my syllabus today and realized I have to do a 3-5 hour online trauma training and write a paper this week. I also printed off about 200 pages of “supplemental” reading material I need to delve into (besides the two textbooks, and I’m about 5 chapters behind there too).
One of the concepts our instructors bring up in nearly every class in this program is the need for self-care. If we don’t take care of ourselves as counselors, we will not be fit to help anyone with anything. So, something has to give. And for now, blogging everyday is what I have to let go of. I need a lot of time to think about what I want to write, to ponder, to come up with a point. And even if I take the better part of a day to do that, I still need more time to edit and revise and rethink what I’ve written. I don’t want to just throw something up here–it has to be somewhat meaningful and decently written.
So, since I don’t have time for long hot bubble baths, or the extra money for massages and pedicures, I’m going to have to take care of myself by cutting back where I can and for now that means cutting back on blogging. I have to keep running or I’ll become very crabby, and I can’t possibly cut back any more on housework without endangering my health (besides, for me, having a clean house is self-care). So, here we Stop. With S.
Thanks for reading this far, Dear Readers. I’ll check in now and then to let you know how things are going.
I hadn’t gone running in a few days, so the fact that it was Monday today had slipped my mind this morning when I headed out to my favorite trail. I was more preoccupied with how I was going to fare on this warm day, more interested in how well I would run rather than on the day of the week it was. But, when I pulled into the parking lot and noticed the proliferation of Priuses with Bernie Sanders stickers, I suddenly remembered.
Dammit. I hate running on Monday mornings when the Mean Ladies walk. Usually I try to arrive later in the morning in order to avoid them. I’ve been running on this particular trail most mornings for the past two years, but only in the past six months or so have the Mean Ladies become a problem. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but a couple of months ago the issue kind of came to a head.
One of the things I like most about my favorite trail is that I see the same people there. After two years, I’m on a friendly basis with many of them. We smile and nod, wave, say “good morning” day after day, week after week, season after season. I’ve even gotten to be on a first name basis with some of the folks there: Danny, Lisa, Diane, Jeff. I often also see many people I know from various other contexts. After 35 years in this town, I know a few folks. Generally these encounters are friendly, so I’m a bit perplexed as to how I came to be at such odds with this group of ten or so mostly older (say, oh, over 60) women.
Part of the problem is that they always walk side by side and have a tendency to not move over when I either come running up behind them and need to get by nor when I come running from the opposite direction. They meander four or five abreast across the whole trail, ignoring my need to get by and presumably the needs of other trail travelers as well.
And it’s not like I sneak up on them. I am a noisy runner: breathing heavily, my water bottles sloshing on their belt around my waist, my shoes flapping and splooshing in the mud. I am not a swift nor elegant gazelle. Most people hear me coming and, if they are walking two or three across, move over courteously to let me by. I do the same for others. I run on the far right side of the path, moving toward the center only to avoid hazards or large mud puddles.
But these ladies . . . if they were cars, they’d be driving in the wrong lane. There’s a larger one, more school bus than smart car, who always walks on the left, on the inside of the path and for whatever reason refuses to get out of the way or step a bit to the right. She will not cede the right of way, and her obstinance (or obliviousness) makes me crazy. Nearly everyone treats the running/walking trail like a road—slower traffic keeps right except to pass. Occasionally someone will walk on the left, against the grain, but generally they move aside to let others pass.
A couple of months ago, on a Monday (for I only ever see them on Mondays), I met the Mean Ladies on a wider part of the trail, but it didn’t matter because they were spread all the way across. I had to step off the path and into the brush to get by. They did not budge. Of course because I am running and they are walking, I met them again during my run, and this time, I resolved I would not step off of the path. I would hold my narrow bit of ground.
Also about this time, I had been meditating in the mornings before my runs as an assignment for my Transpersonal and Eastern Philosophies counseling class. One of the modalities we were studying was Mindfulness. So, as I approached this maddening group of matrons, I had a bit of an argument with myself. “Remember the sacred pause,” I admonished. “Take a breath.” But as I drew closer and as it became increasingly apparent that linebacker lady wasn’t going to move, I lost my mind a little. And, in my defense, if I moved a foot to the right, I would, in fact, land in the lake.
I tried to make eye contact, but the Mean Ladies refused to see me. They continued walking and talking across the entire trail, ignoring my approach. I held my ground and continued running forward. I got closer and still they didn’t move, did not cede a single inch. I braced myself and continued apace, hoping for a last second miracle. But no. My left arm (where, incidentally, I wear my iPhone in a “tunebelt”) smacked into the left arm of the Largest of the Ladies.
In that moment of impact, I felt smugly satisfied and a little scared. What if she came after me? I could outrun her, sure, but I felt kind of bad. I mean, yes, she and her Matronly Mavens had Most of the trail, but why couldn’t I have remembered in that Moment to take the Sacred Pause? To be the bigger (metaphorically speaking, at least) person. Why couldn’t I have just stopped, waited for the Mean Ladies to meander on by, and then continued my run? Why wasn’t I More Mindful? I berated myself and vowed to do better.
The next Monday I again forgot what day it was and encountered them, but this time I was able to be more mindful. I managed to come upon them at a particularly wide spot on the trail that even they could not fill up, and then upon completing my first lap, I reversed direction in order to avoid seeing them again, at least that day. I took to running a bit later on Mondays for a few weeks and avoided them altogether, until last Monday when I approached them from behind. I mustered up my courage and my voice and bellowed out (nicely) “Excuse me!” And miracle of miracles, the large lady moved over. I think I surprised her, and she couldn’t see who it was coming up behind her. I plowed by, grateful, and gave a little wave of thanks as I passed. Maybe she was learning some Manners after all. Or maybe I was.
Today when I met them midway around the lake, I slowed down and made room for them—as well as I could—and again reversed directions after my first lap. I didn’t encounter them again until we all ended up in the parking lot together, where, I again gave them all very wide berth. Before I even started my car, I let them all climb into their Priuses and drive away. Then I made more than a mental note about Mondays. This time, I put Mean Ladies in my calendar. With an alert. Sometimes, being mindful requires a reminder.
I finished my first ever half marathon on Saturday at approximately 10:40 a.m., in about two hours and ten minutes (give or take a couple of minutes—my Nike app and the race clock had a minor disagreement). I ran well—much better than I anticipated—and was astonished by my times. I exceeded my expectations by at least a minute a mile and so finished the race at least 13 minutes faster than I expected to. And I ran happy! There are pictures to prove it, thanks to The Little Woman and my pal April who were strategically placed along the course (i.e. volunteering) and could take my picture as I passed their stations.
But what has amazed me even more than my time and finishing the race is the sheer outpouring of support from my family and friends, both in real life and on Facebook. I realize that I’ve been engaging in some serious shameless self-promotion and have felt slightly bad about it. I go back and forth in my thinking about why I feel bad—I think part of it is how I was raised (sorry mom and dad—you’re always on the hook): to not be prideful, to not draw attention to ourselves, to not brag. And then there’s the me of now, the me that has learned to ask for support, to reach out and make connections with community.
Four years ago I couldn’t have imagined ever, ever, ever running. I mean, I ran when I was in high school and into my early twenties, but once I had kids and then a job, exercise took a back seat to just getting by. The Little Woman and I used to laugh at the runners we saw on the side of the road as we sped by in our car on our way to Saturday morning breakfast. Then middle age set in, and we realized something had to shift if we were going to move into old age with any sort of grace (and longevity).
Long story short, here we are, entering footraces on our weekends, becoming those runners at whom we used to laugh. But even at that, running a 5K seemed doable while running 13.1 miles, well that just seemed crazy. Who would want to run 13.1 miles for fun? And then I had this amazing six months in which I was able to focus on going to school and running. Throw in a little anxiety and I found myself in the perfect position to perfect my running. Without really even trying, I ran 90 miles in January, then 80 in February, and once I realized what I was capable of, my competitive juices started flowing and the race (so to speak) was on. Each month I ran more miles. I became hooked on my stats—miles run, times, splits, averages. I’ve racked up close to 800 miles so far this year.
I started losing weight and getting faster. I made friends with other runners. We started running together on the weekends and then on weekday mornings. When I didn’t feel like crawling out of bed, I knew I had someone waiting for me. This support thing really works. The turning point for me came in April, at the run to raise money for the victims of the Oso mudslide. I went out with the goal of running those six miles in an hour. I finished with a personal record of 56 minutes and came in third in my age group. Things got completely out of hand from there.
Last month when I registered for the Chuckanut Footrace and the Windhorse Half Marathon on back-to-back weekends, I wondered if I’d lost my mind, but I just kept going out each morning and putting in the miles. I listened (sort of) to my friends about what I should do the week before the half, and I did my best to taper. I struggled to back off the week before the race, because as I’ve written previously, running makes me happy. It’s how I deal with my anxiety (returning to school at 51, not working, changing careers, being an erstwhile writer/poet). I live for mile three when the endorphins kick in. I am endorphin dependent, I’ll admit it.
I needn’t have worried. I had great support, great training, great advice beforehand. The Little Woman was at the halfway point handing out water and cheering me on. And she was at the finish line to hang the medal around my neck. My buddy April was at mile 2.5 and 10.5 (on the way back) pointing me in the right direction. My friend Cami was at the start and finish line organizing the race and providing inspiration. And all of you, Dear Readers, were out here in cyberspace rooting for me as well. Thank you all. It takes a village.
I’m ready for the next challenge. Bring it on and run happy!
Tomorrow morning at 8:30, I am running my first ever half marathon (my friend Cami puts on The Windhorse Half Marathon each year–read about it here). I’ve never run more than 11 miles, so this is a new adventure, one that I’ve been working up to for the past few months (though not really on purpose). Since January, I’ve logged nearly 700 running miles, and last Saturday I completed the Chuckanut Foot Race which is a little more than half of the run I’ll be doing tomorrow—the same basic route, only tomorrow I’ll have to run back.
My running buddy and friend April has a sticker on the back of her car that says Run Happy. I love this sticker because running makes me happy. Not that anyone who sees my Chuckanut Footrace race photo would know this fact. In fact, if I do a quick review of recent race photos, I don’t look happy at all. Not while I’m running. I look happy before and after, but the pictures of me actually running definitely paint a more dire picture. I look like I’m expecting the world to end. No one would have any idea that my mind has been occupying a very happy place as the miles unfurl beneath my winged feet.
A few months ago, an acquaintance saw me running at my usual morning running spot. I grunted in her general direction as I ran past, maybe managed to give her a little wave, and continued on my way, focused on the task at hand, i.e. running. When I saw her later in the week, she asked me if I’d been running under a little black cloud that morning because I seemed “dark” when she saw me. I thought about that comment for a moment. “Yeah, I guess,” I said, “some days I feel like the windshield, some days like the bug. Today, I was the bug.” I shrugged and forgot about our conversation. Until I saw her on the trail again a couple of weeks later—then I made a concerted effort to smile. I didn’t want her to think I ran under a dark cloud. I love running—it makes me happy even though it sometimes hurts.
One of the things I love about my favorite running trail is that for the most part, the regulars are a friendly bunch. Most of the folks I see regularly smile and wave. Some say good morning. I smile and wave back. I try to remember to smile and make eye contact when someone comes my way. One of the reasons I run the trail clockwise is because most people run counter clockwise—I can see more people this way, and fewer people run past me. I startle easily when other, faster, runners pass me from behind. I’ve run other trails, but have yet to encounter such a consistently cheerful bunch of morning exercisers.
Just this morning as I was walking around the lake (I couldn’t stay away—my morning routine has become, well, my morning routine. I didn’t run though—being in taper mode—I just walked one time around), one of the regulars stopped me to tell me how she had noticed how much weight I’d lost in the past few months. Wow. I was touched, amazed actually, that she would reach out like that, but that’s what running has become for me—connection: with strangers, with friendly faces, with a community.
Running makes me happy—happy enough that I’m going to lace up my shoes and run 13.1 miles tomorrow.
About four years ago, I joined some work colleagues and started hitting the gym three to four mornings a week. I didn’t change my eating habits right away, and in fact, one of my mantras about working out was that I was working out so I could eat and drink beer, so that I wouldn’t have to change much.
I did not ever think I would be one to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be at the gym by 5:30 so I could be to work by 7:30, but there I was, generally, Tuesday through Friday, in my shorts, sweating before the sun came up. I loved that each morning was a different workout—Fridays we did yoga, Thursdays was spin class, Wednesdays power (weights), and Tuesdays cardio—lots of stepping and moving.
The changes were not dramatic—I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but the small shifts motivated me to continue, and, ironically, I began to want to eat differently. When I went out with friends after work—and I went out often—I became more conscious about my choices, drank fewer beers, ate less fried food, more salads. I started eating breakfast.
My clothes fit better, and for me, there’s nothing more reinforcing than clothes that fit. I dropped a pants size.
And then I moved back home—I changed jobs and took one closer to home, one that wouldn’t require me to live in another city during the week. I stopped going to the gym because I was now leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. and not getting home until after 5:30 p.m. For six months I just went to work and came home. And the pounds started piling back on.
I was miserable, and when a friend on Facebook offered to pay half of a membership to anyone who wanted to join her gym, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t care if I had to go straight from work to working out—something had to change. Again. My friend’s gym turned out to be a sort of cross-fit, extreme fitness kind of place, a far cry from the kinder, gentler yoga/spin/cardio gym I’d left behind. But I was desperate, and I gave it all I had.
I crawled across the floor using only my arms, dragging a weight with my feet. I perfected my 24” vertical jump. I tried and tried to do a pull up. I even tried to climb a rope. I ran and did burpees, lifted weights, threw tires, swung kettlebells, played tug of war, lunged, squatted, pushed up, crunched, kicked, ran hills, did stairs. And again, the pounds came off.
While I was at the gym, The Little Woman started running class, and pretty soon, I—who had sworn off running—started running with her. Eventually, we were running 5 Ks together. We went from being the people who laughed at the runners at running events on Saturday mornings, to being the runners at running events on Saturday mornings. I dropped the gym membership.
In the past two years, I seem to have reached an equilibrium between exercise and eating. And while many friends have opted for diets (paleo, skinny bitch, cabbage soup, grapefruit, blood type, hormone, Weight Watchers), I’ve just kept running. Running works for me—the more I run, the better I want to eat. I’m still not pulling up to a plate of vegetables at dinnertime, but neither am I eating unconsciously anymore.
I wouldn’t say I’m exactly ambivalent about food, and I certainly do enjoy eating whatever TLW whips up when she’s home to cook (she’s now working away from home during the week). The trick seems to be in Gaining awareness, Getting perspective, and Going the distance. G is not so much for Gym anymore for me, at least, as it is for Go. As in Ready. Set.