Archive for February, 2014

Juggling Oranges

Posted on February 28, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

cute_oranges_by_annacabinet-d35xf2t

Tuesday was one of those days I wondered why I do what I do for a living. Why, exactly, am I here? Nothing was going as planned. The day was supposed to be devoted to grant writing. A deadline is coming too quickly. Just a matter of days.

The disruption started at 5:42am with one crisis and then continued until well past 7:00pm. It’s always the small things that get you, and the immediacy they demand. A coaching situation to resolve right now, a shortage of supplies at three sites to be remedied today, a promise to 18 girls that must be kept.

The confusion in time zones that causes you to miss a call you’ve had scheduled for two weeks.

And then the big things:  Remember that conference on Thursday? Guess what? You get to deliver a piece of it. Start preparing. Oh, and, to help, our team will have a one and a half hour conference call this afternoon.

Timing is everything.  How to participate in a conference call while driving to three sites and take adequate notes while running supplies into buildings? We are on point number two in the call, two points away from my piece. Surely I have time to sprint up to the school with 15 pounds of oranges, drop them where they belong, and sprint back to my car with my phone on mute before they ask me for my input? Barely. But I try. I can still answer questions out of breath, car door slamming, engine starting before I break three laws and drive in a school zone with my phone on speaker, resting on my knee.

But I am irritated. Anxious. There is too much to do and not enough time. I hear my other line ringing and messages piling up. Hear texts chiming, emails accumulating. My eye is on the clock and I’m thinking about the grant and remembering the other phone calls I was to have made today. An office day, it was supposed to be, an administrative day. A day to write that grant.

As I sprint two blocks from my car to the last school, up two flights of steps, and down the hall juggling another 15 pounds of oranges and my phone, muted conference call still going at my ear, I see her come out of the bathroom.

I don’t know her name, but I know her, this little girl. We met last week when I subbed for her team.  She is shy, chubby.  Tilts her head down and smiles bashfully when she sees me.  She is wearing a chain around her neck, the chain she got in Girls on the Run to collect little sparkly feet on. One foot equals one mile.  The girls accumulate feet all season as they accumulate miles.

One sparkly foot dangles from her chain. Last week, her teammates each got at least two feet. One girl earned four.

She stops walking and stands there quietly in the hall, rocking a little from side to side.

I know this girl.  Shy, chubby, not athletic, wanting to speak but too timid to do so. Waiting patiently just the same. She is me when I was 9, 10.

I take the phone away from my ear.

“You’re wearing your foot,” I say.

She nods slowly, smile broadening, and raises her hand to her chain.

I nod back. “Think you’ll get another today?”

She nods again, a look of determination deepening her smile, and clutches her foot.

“I think so too,” I say.

She raises her chin just a little and walks proudly back to her classroom.

“Hey?” I hear someone say my name and I remember my call. “Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” I take the phone off mute and watch the girl walk down the hall.  Now I remember why I’m here.

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Do You Recognize Improvement When You See It?

Posted on February 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Picture of sand dune in the Sahara desert of Morocco.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, the steep half-mile hill with the false top three quarters of the way up, my hill-repeat nemesis, and stared up. It was cold that day. Windy. But it was the last day for hill repeats in this round of training, for this particular half marathon, and Carrie and I had just finished our series of repeats. I wanted to mark the hill in my head. Remember the grade, the cold and wind, the burning that did not transpire in my lungs or quads. Not this time. We had improved.

Improvement can be such an elusive thing. Often not because it doesn’t happen, but because it can be so slight it’s almost imperceptible. If we don’t pay attention, we miss it.

Take, for instance, this hill. We were finished and walking back to our cars before we realized some small things.

  • We did five hills—and chatted up and down the entire time.  Previous training days were silent affairs, the loudest and most extended sound often the gasping for breath.
  • Once we reached the top, we turned around and ran down.  Not so on earlier runs.  We breathed too hard, then, and had to walk a good quarter of the way down until we could even begin to run.
  • And once we hit bottom we turned right around again to run back up, no down time in between.  On earlier runs, I would have preferred to camp out at the bottom for awhile. Build a fire, maybe. Roast some marshmallows.  But there was no need to this time. We had improved. And we almost missed it.

Did it make a difference on race day? Training always does. We ran the Austin Half Marathon, the hardest course in my half marathon experience so far because of all the hills.

We finished the race knowing we ran well and could not have done anything different. That’s the best feeling after a race. When you’ve given it your all.

And the second best feeling is knowing that your all is an improvement.  Carrie PRed. I ran my second fastest half marathon time.  It’s the small things that matter. Put enough of them together and you get something big.

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Like Mother…and liking it

Posted on February 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

hands of mother and daughter

No wonder I’m a runner.  Just look at my mom.  No, she’s not a runner. I have, in fact, no memory of seeing her run anytime, anywhere, in my entire life, ever.  No. She’s decidedly not a runner.

She’s a shooter, and a darn good one. This year, she will be inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame.  Quite an accomplishment, and one I am profoundly proud of her for.

You’d think with a mother possessing that kind of ability I’d become a shooter myself. Not a chance.  I was never patient enough to shoot well. Plus, the whole thing seemed so involved.  Too much equipment—and then you have to clean it. Too much effort to go somewhere other than out my front door to practice. No thanks. Not for me.

For a long time, I didn’t quite understand her obsession—for lack of a better word—with skeet.  It wasn’t until I took up running in my early 30s that I began to understand how a person could spend so much time and so much effort doing something that seemed so, well, frankly so insignificant.

But my mom’s obsession is not with obliterating little orange targets.  As mine is not with becoming perpetually faster.  Medals aren’t the goal for either of us.  Becoming a better person is.

In the past several years, I’ve come to see several parallels between running—a pursuit that requires no other equipment than a pair of shoes, can be practiced anywhere at any time, and can result in a conditioned body—and skeet shooting—an endeavor that requires expensive equipment and accessories, must be practiced at a specific venue, and rarely produces an increased heart rate.

Every time we step onto the playing field, we’re competing primarily against ourselves.  Sure, it might be nice to actually win something, but becoming good enough to win consistently takes time.  Hours and hours of time.  Dedication. Persistence.

The goal I want to achieve at almost every event is to do better than I did the last time.  Sometimes, my goal is simply to finish, uninjured. But I’m my own biggest rival. My most enthusiastic cheerleader and my worst enemy.  Yet with competition comes the confidence acquired when reaching a goal as well as the quiet grace and humility attained when giving it everything yet falling short.

So we practice, because practice breeds perseverance.  It makes us better, faster, stronger. More accurate, more consistent. This is, of course, true of any sport, but I’ve seen both shooters and runners practice in the absolute worst conditions. I long ago stopped chiding my mom for spending hours outside in the brutal Michigan winters or the searing Texas summers.  How can I chide her when I have practiced my own sport in typhoon stage 3 readiness or cold so piercing that icicles formed on my hat, scarf, and mittens?

I realized, during one particularly cold run when I initially could not feel my legs, that we both live a sort of Senecan philosophy:  If one prepares for the worst, she will be more likely to do her best when it counts. It is what self-discipline is made of.

Running and skeet shooting both are solitary endeavors.  You might be surrounded by people, but most of the competition is meted out in your head.  Your success depends largely on what you believe you can do.

But both are team sports too.  Your friends are also your competitors.  Mostly, they genuinely want to see you succeed.  But they also want to succeed themselves.  On the field, you are simultaneously together and alone, so deep in your own head that you could very easily lose the connection with the person standing right next to you.

But you don’t. Because you recognize the critical role support plays and how sometimes the difference of just one word of encouragement (or spite) can make or break you.

Ultimately, both sports are a test of character. Ultimately, neither running nor shooting is a game. How you show up in each is how you show up in life. I’ve seen people I thought were kind and compassionate off the playing field turn into mean, puerile creatures on.  And I’ve been pleasantly surprised witnessing an act of kindness from a stranger.

At heart, what we are when we compete is who we are as people.

In all these years, my mom’s character has been refined by shooting.  She possesses a quiet confidence in her ability yet a humility I sometimes find bewildering. She continually and sincerely roots for the success of strangers as well as friends.  And I have never seen a more graceful loser.  I am lucky to have her as a role model, a mother, a friend.

No wonder I lead an organization that inspires joy, health, and confidence in young girls.  Just look at my mom. That’s what she inspired in me.  In fact, she still does.

She took up shooting at a time when women were not allowed to be members at some clubs. At a time when girls didn’t do such things as shoot guns, get dirty, spend time outside in the cold and rain, in spaces dominated by men. Her family, some friends, much of society gasped in disapproval and said, No, you can’t.

With the determination and dignity she’s always possessed, my mother said, Really? Just watch me, and went on to become one of the best.

How many times in my life has that pernicious voice at my ear told me, No, you can’t.  Sometimes that voice is my own. Yet there my mother is, standing beside me, in quiet faith insisting, Yes, you can.

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