Time in Hand

Posted on September 27, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , |

Hold onto time.

Advice from an elderly man I read the other morning before I went out to run.

As if time were an apple to be held firmly in the palm and not a slippery fish to escape from my grasp.

I’ve never been one for fishing.  Never liked the feel of wiggling worms plucked from the soil or the smell of buckets of chum.  The casting of bait into water, wondering where it will sink, if it will be spotted and taken, hooked into an unsuspecting mouth.

I’ve always found it peculiar to peer over the edge of a boat and onto the water’s skin, only to see a dark and shimmering outline of myself, reflected back to me.

Eye to eye with the fish is where I’d rather be.  Diving through the reefs, pirouetting under water, a ballerina with a tank of air for a corset and silvery fish for a skirt. Leading and then following the curious fish as they hold my gaze, peck my mask, dart straight my way and abruptly turn aside. blue-banded-sea-perch-fish-wallpapers

The hardest skill to master is neutral buoyancy.  Sitting cross-legged grasping my fins, suspended inches above the ocean floor, controlling my buoyancy with my breath.  Inhale too much and I rise too high. Exhale too deeply and I disturb the bottom, kicking up silt. Breathe too fast and I fall over sideways, roll upside down. Falter. The effort is enormous. The trying and failing, shooting up and rolling over, muddying up my sight.

It’s not until I remember to forget myself that I can hover upright, completely balanced, and rest in the hand of time, the peacefulness of being.

Back on dry land and I struggle to regain that feeling, the relief of weightlessness and balance. Three months back from diving. Two months since I started a new training plan, ticking off every sliver of time as the days slip away.

I’m off on a mid-distance run, the elderly man’s advice ringing. Hold onto time. But I am aware of each moment, every breath, the skin taut across my jaw, the muscles recoiling with every step, the effort to get beyond the awareness of it all.

Then within two miles I’m sinking under, and the sound of breath and feet merges with the hum of breeze and birds and, finally, I am upright, completely balanced, resting in the hand of time, simply being.

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Scratch That

Posted on July 17, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

You’re starting from scratch.

Words I normally don’t like to hear.  They usually follow in the wake of a loss.  Corrupted data.  Missing spreadsheets. People leaving, taking with them their knowledge, talent, skills.

chicken in dirtI’m left feeling like a starving chicken scratching for sustenance in the dirt.

This week was the first day I’ve run in almost a month. Sidelined by project deadlines and a longer than expected illness, followed by a much needed vacation, I came to a fitness halt.  By the time my body was ready to run, my mind wasn’t.

You’re starting from scratch.  That dreaded weight.  I didn’t want to carry it alone.

Tuesday morning my running buddy, Amy, and I set out for a three mile run.  I hauled my legs like heavy water balloons, one in front of the other, stopping frequently to walk.  My breath rasped in my ears like I’d just run for my life from a pride of starving lions.  By the end of the run I was soaked enough with sweat to appear as if those lions had almost won, spitting me out at the last moment.

I’m starting from scratch.

gardenYet as we walked home, sticky with July in Texas, it wasn’t my throbbing legs and shallow breath I thought of. It was, instead, July in Michigan, many years ago.  An old farmhouse amid an older orchard, surrounded by apples and apricots. A plot of garden lush with squash and watermelon, plump tomatoes, beans longer than my hand, stalks of corn towering above our heads. My mom and brothers and sister running through the carefully hoed rows, laughing and playing, picking and plucking, then canning and preserving, stewing and baking. Creating our sustenance. Together. Starting from scratch.

Amy and I will be out again tomorrow, and then again next week. Together. Starting from scratch.

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A Lesson in Stillness

Posted on June 27, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My greatest fear is that I will run out of time.  That there isn’t enough, there won’t be enough to complete a project, call this person, prepare for that presentation. Write. Run. Walk my dogs. Vacuum the house, mow the lawn, run errands. Spend enough time with my family, boyfriend, friends.

Before they die. Before I do. Before, at least, the day, week, month, year ends.

grand-canyon-rafting-rapidsI am constantly doing, always moving, even when I’m sitting still. It takes an enormous amount of energy to winnow away the extraneous noise resonating in my brain and to simply be present, to focus on the moment, the thing I’m doing now, without feeling the pressure of what comes next. When I run I get to that stillness fast. When I write I get there slower, but stay there deeper, longer. In most other hours, I have sprinkler head.

The weight is considerable. But when you live with something daily you don’t recognize it’s there. You forget the thorn in your side hurts until it’s removed and you experience the absence of pain.

Last week, I was laid out flat, sick for the first time in years. Thursday morning I could feel it coming, told my body to ignore it, I simply didn’t have time to be sick. By Thursday night, my body, in essence, flipped me off. I went to bed achy and ill, but set my alarm to get up and run, thinking I could will away whatever this was. I didn’t. I couldn’t. But I fought being sick and attempted to go about my day.

“When normal people are sick, they take a sick day,” my boyfriend said around 4pm.

(At least I think that’s what he said. It may have been, “Normally, when people are sick….”)

The rest of Friday night, I planted myself on the couch and lamented the time wasted by languishing in illness. Yet my boyfriend’s words struck a chord. Maybe there was something to it. When was the last time I’d taken a sick day? Not since I started working for myself in 2009. Even so, I can’t remember being sick enough to stay home when I worked for someone else.

What was wrong with me that I couldn’t relax, couldn’t just be?

For the next few days, I had no choice. But on Saturday afternoon, as I was sprawled on the couch napping, dogs stretched out on either side of me napping more soundly, I felt a strange contentment. A deep sense of peace.

mountain_lakeSince I had crawled out of bed that morning, I hadn’t thought about work. Hadn’t thought about running or writing or cleaning my house. Wasn’t concerned about spending time with anyone but myself and my dogs. I wasn’t thinking about what came next, what was coming tomorrow. All that mattered was that moment, right where I was, doing what I was doing. Rather than seeing time as a raging river threatening to sweep me and all that mattered away, I saw it as a deep mountain lake, eternal. Still. I was at peace with the knowledge that what needs to get done will get done, that what needs to be will be.

I wish I could say I woke up well the next day, but I didn’t.  Whatever I had lingered for over a week, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I began to feel like myself again. Only maybe a little more serene. All that needed to get done got done, and with ample time left over. For the week, for the moment, and for the first time in I can’t say how long, I am not afraid of running out of time. Strange how it took being leveled to see that there really is peace in stillness.

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Why I Run

Posted on June 19, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I love to run. I know this in the same way I know that my eyes are brown, my second toe is taller than my big toe, and that the indentation above my right eye is a relic of the chicken pox I mercilessly scratched when I was three. Running is a part of me, of who I am and what I do. So much so, that sometimes I forget in much the same way I forget about the unique identifiers that make me who I am.

There have been plenty of mornings lately that I forget I love to run. Plenty of days when the alarm goes off and I turn it off, turn my back to the pre-dawn dark behind my blinds, pull the covers up around my shoulders and my dogs, and we snuggle in for one more hour of sleep. queequeg

On these mornings, I get out of bed grumpier than normal, scolding myself for missing my run, and as the day progresses I get plenty of reminders of why running is necessary, at least for me.

It’s not that it’s bathing suit season, although sometimes I tell myself that this is why I should run. What will people think when they see me bulging out of my suit? But then I come back inside from walking my dogs and realize I’m wearing the same t-shirt I’ve slept in, shorts I’ve pulled out of the laundry hamper that too often clash with my rumpled shirt, and that I haven’t yet combed my hair.  Apparently I’m not that concerned with what people think of me after all.

And it’s not that I worry too much about heart disease or diabetes or any of the other medical conditions that come from lack of exercise. I am blessed (and cursed) with a high metabolism, so sitting still for too long a stretch is nearly impossible for me, and I am constantly moving. Plus I’d rather be outside doing something than sitting inside doing anything.

Today is one of those days when I squandered my time by lying in bed instead of rolling out and running.

Here is what I miss when I don’t run:

  1. I want to be the person I am running when I’m not running. When I run I feel strong, capable, confident. I believe in myself, and believe I can do anything. This is not how I always feel when the running shoes come off.  On days I run—and sometimes for a day or two after—these positive feelings carry over into my work, my personal relationships, and I am more productive, kinder, wiser. Better.
  2. Running is cleansing. It clears my mind of all the noise and clutter that won’t go away just because I sleep. It creates space for order and solutions. It unclogs negative emotions like anger or sorrow or frustration or whatever else is weighing on me, so my heart is lighter when I’m done. I face the day happy, positive, ready to talk with people and listen more intently.
  3. Running makes me a better writer. Each and every time I run, writing happens in my head, whether it’s working out a problem in an existing story or a new idea that’s born. My writing is better because I am out in the street, moving. Forging the relationship between mind and body and spirit that happens inevitably when I run.
  4. Running brings me closer to God because I see Him everywhere when I run. My mind is thus prepared to see Him throughout the rest of my day, in the people I meet and the circumstances I am presented with. Plus, we talk, God and I, and even if I come to find I am not listening, He is.

I need to remember all of these things so that tomorrow morning when my alarm sounds in the pre-dawn darkness I won’t roll over and ignore it, but will instead roll out and run.

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Focus

Posted on June 5, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

A focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. So says the fortune tacked on the corkboard above my desk.  I believe this is true, which is why the tiny slip of paper is pinned there, a reminder.

If only I could remember to focus on it from time to time.

Geyser_SprinklerSo many projects, events, demands on my time and energy, so much noise in my head, that my mind often feels more like one of those crazy sprinkler toys you hook up to the hose than a laser. The head space required to work toward a goal is hard to find, more difficult to maintain.

For me this is true in running as much as it is in writing, work, the rest of life. The less progress I feel I make toward a goal, the worse I feel about myself.  The more I settle for what feels like mediocracy. I start to believe I am something I’m not.

My running plan ended in April. For nine months a grid containing my current race’s plan was tacked to the side of my fridge. Every morning I knew what to do, how to start my day. Where I was headed. From November through April I ran three half marathons, one 10k, and a ten-mile trail run, the most racing in the least amount of time I’ve ever done.

When the last race ended, I was almost relieved. My body was tired, my store of self-discipline nearly expended.  It was time to shift focus, away from long runs, toward building strength and speed.  But how?

For several weeks the side of my fridge was a blank white slate. No plan, no specific goal, no race. No focus. I took a stab at weight training, trudging early to the gym. Splashed around in the neighborhood pool a few times. Ran, some.

But without a sense of direction or a specific goal I’ve found it difficult to follow a routine, to regain the self-discipline required to wake up early and push myself to my limit. My pace slowed tremendously, and I before I knew it I accepted this as normal. I’m just slow, I conceded. I can’t do any better than this.

This is all I have, all I am, all there is.  fortune

Often when I sense self-defeat creeping in, I try to fix it on my own.  Surely I can pull myself out, change direction, self-motivate, self-charge, self-something. But that’s not how it always works.  Life is not self-contained.

On Tuesday morning two friends and I went out to the local high school track to do speed work. It wasn’t my idea. I hadn’t done speed work on a track since summer 2010. When I moved to San Antonio, a strange place where I didn’t yet know the lay of the land, I joined a gym and began speed work on a treadmill.

You know how it is. Once you get into the habit of doing something one way, you forget that there might be other—better—ways to do it. And sometimes you get bored, distracted, overwhelmed with other things and don’t do it at all.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to alter your environment such that you can change your sense of self.

I was nervous when my friend suggested speed work on the track, but at the same time excited. Relieved that here was someone who could show me a new way, someone who knew what she was doing. Someone to motivate me out of bed.

She set the day’s plan. A ladder, starting with a magic mile to see where we each are at the beginning of summer, then progressively shorter sprints with a progressively faster pace.

In theory, I said. Faster as we go shorter, in theory.

If I gave a mile my all, whatever that looked like, I didn’t think I could run faster as the distance decreased. I didn’t even know what “my all” meant. I was used to treadmills, where I thought I was running as fast as I could because there was no “cheating,” no slowing down.  Plus it had been a while since I’d done sprints even there. And I was slower. Out of practice. You lose so much so fast when you lay off running for a while, I thought.

But when she said “go,” I went, Tigger’s theme song bouncing through my head as I sped along the springy, flat track, focused on nothing but my form, my breath, and the next five feet in front of me.

johnson trackI ran my fastest mile. Ever.

I was stunned. This couldn’t be me. Couldn’t be my legs, my body, my breath pushing me along.

In amazement, I ran again, a 1,200, focusing on each stride, my pace a little faster than my mile.

I ran again, 800, faster and more focused, so that by the time we ran a 400 I felt like I was flying.

No matter that my legs turned to Jell-O from the kneecaps down and knotted braids from the kneecaps up. No matter that when I stopped my stomach clenched like a fist and nearly punched its way up through my throat.  I was elated, stunned, spent.

I walked away from the track rethinking not only my running, but my writing, my work, every area of my life. I’m not what I thought I was. I’m more. And I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been shown a new environment, a new plan, a different approach on which to focus.

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The Longest Run

Posted on March 27, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Bridal veil blooms early in San Antonio.  I see the first flowers open sporadically like buttermilk dripping down the side of the neighborhood fence as I set out for my long run alone.  It’s been months since I’ve run distance alone, and I’ve grown accustomed to deep conversation and chatter, miles that speed by and long stretches of comfortable silence, all beside a friend.

But it’s spring break and I’m on my own, trying to remember what it’s like to be inside my own head for so long, all the years and miles I’d done it alone, wondering now how long eleven miles will take.

I start slow, uphill in the direction of my first out-and-back, a 6-miler that crosses back through my neighborhood entrance, where I plant a water bottle under a wisteria, then my usual 5-miler in the opposite direction, another out-and-back down Park Ranch Road where I unfailingly startle the deer.

spirea

Bridal veil blooms later in Salado, was blooming in her last weeks when we wheeled my grandmother out on the deck to see the spring thrusting up flowers in sprays of white and purple and gold. Bridal veil hung heavy over the neighbor’s fence and into my mom’s vegetable garden, and I cut it away in thick strands, just enough for my mom to walk under, tend her garden, with my grandmother on the deck tethered to the house by her oxygen tank, watching.

I clipped long tendrils, stuffed them in vases where they sprang wildly over the edges, placed them throughout the house–on the table, by her chair, in her room.

The bridal veil here is the color of buttercream. There, it is the color of fresh milk, whiter, purer. I feel my throat constrict with the weight of memory and will it back open. Crying and running do not mix. The contraction of muscles, sting in the eyes make it too difficult to breathe, too hard to see.  I’m only one mile in and a long way to go.

I run under a line of wisteria, branches burgeoning with flowers, my chin up, and inhale deeply to savor their grape-soda smell.

In the long, hot Detroit summers when I am 7, 8, 9, the whole neighborhood moves outside in the evenings to sit in their lawn chairs. We play in the sprinkler that soaks the lawn, my grandfather’s roses, the only time I see him in an undershirt, in this heat. My grandmother carries out bottles of Faygo, rootbeer, grape, cream soda, my favorite, her house dress swaying as she calls us out of the sprinkler to dry, smiling as she hands us our drink and, maybe, if we’re lucky, ice cream.

wisteria

I’m four miles in and stop for fuel, slow to a walk, squirt the gel in my mouth, wash it down with water, and pick back up into a run. Sticky water dribbles down my chin, my neck. I reach up to wipe it away where it has settled into the hollow at my throat, where my race necklace usually sits.

The polymer cross seems to pulse from the other side of the store, shiny red like a drop of blood hanging amid the other jewelry on the rack, a heart beating. I’m drawn to it, hold it in my palm, let it dangle from its black rope. I consider putting it back. I’ve come here to buy Mother’s Day gifts. But I buy it anyway, put it on in the car.

My grandmother notices it immediately as I sit on the side of her bed, her hand rising up to my throat, she holds it lightly. It’s May, nearing race weekend, the Beach to Bay Relay, and I am reluctant to go away, she is so sick.

“The race is this weekend.” She removes her oxygen mask, reading me.

“Yes,” I say, avoiding her eyes, “but I’m not sure I’ll go.”

“Don’t you have a team? Aren’t they relying on you?”

“Yes,” I say, “but…”

She puts her hand on my lips to silence me, back down to rest on the cross. “Go,” she says. “Win.”

I think of the past nine months caring for her, and in between the running, the races, not for the race itself, but for the training, the structure, the plan, the discipline to get out of bed, to feel life, any life, the life in my own veins as I watch it slowly drain from hers. The excruciating days that melt into nights and back into days, all the same, and the only way I know that time has passed, know the day of the week, is from the markings on my training plan.

“OK,” I say, not wanting to go, knowing she is right. “For you.”

My sister and I drive to Corpus late Friday night, arrive in time to meet our team for dinner before the greasy diner stops serving. We follow our friends to the strip of bars and they dance while we walk to the bar at the end of the line where a three man band plays the blues. We buy a beer and sit outside sipping and listening quietly until we go back to the beach house alone.

I have the first leg of six in the relay, my sister the third, the bridge. The race is supposed to start on the beach, and I am nervous about running in sand, it’s been so long since I’ve run the beaches in Guam.  I arrive at the start line well before dawn to find the route has changed—too much debris washed up on the beach overnight and we will have to run in the street.

I pace the start line, handling the cross still at my throat, anxious, wanting this to be done. I wiggle my way to the front of the pack just before the gun sounds, surprised when it pops, and run faster, harder, stronger than I have ever run before, over cement streets that wind through stretches of cornfields I cannot see, flats of land I barely notice as my vision tunnels and fog drapes my shoulders, wets my hair, constricts my lungs. My stomach threatens to rise up and out, and I will it back down, promising my body it can do whatever it wants once we’ve passed off the baton, we just have to pass off the baton.  But I am not running for me. I sprint until my legs nearly collapse across the line.

cornfields

I walk to the edge of a field and wonder how fast I ran, good God it must have been fast, I’ve never felt this bad after running. My stomach lurches up and I will it back down, will my legs to keep moving, to get me to a seat on the bus.

Two hours later, I find my sister pale, sitting in the back of the car with some of our team, forcing down fuel. She too had run faster, harder than she knew she could, had collapsed after handing off the baton, weaved to a guardrail through her tunnel vision, and walked in tiny circles until she came back to herself again.

Mile eight and I pull my head into the moment. Time to fuel. I can feel it in my legs as they weaken. How did four miles pass so quickly that I am here again, at fueling time? I squeeze the gel into my mouth and wash it down with water I barely remember refilling at my crossing-point and trot back into a run.

Right after the race, we shower, pack, and drive to Salado, back to see my grandmother.

“Did your team win?” she reaches up for the cross that still nests in my throat as I sit on the edge of her bed.

I hold up my medal. “Yes,” I say. “Seventh out of 212.”

“Good.” She nods, closes her eyes, pats my hand.

She will die the next day.

I reach up to wipe away the sticky water trickling again down my neck, my throat constricting. Almost time to put on the cross again. Three weeks until race day. I have worn it for every race since the one, going on five years.

I pick up the pace, eager to be done. Running is so much easier when I remember it is not for me.

Mile eleven and I stop under the wisteria, sweating, panting, a strange light happiness creeping in. How long did this take?

Before I look at my watch I gulp water, close my eyes and inhale the scent of grape soda, Faygo pop, deep into my lungs. I see my grandmother walking with a tray of soda and ice cream, smiling, house dress swaying.

How long did this take? A lifetime.

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What’s Your Attitude?

Posted on March 6, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“It’s so cold and miserable outside I have to go to the gym, do hills on the treadmill,” I complained to my boyfriend on the phone yesterday morning. “I hate the treadmill.”

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot lately. So much so that I began to keep a gratitude journal last month. Each night before I go to bed I record five things from the day for which I am grateful. The next morning, I read that list to set my mind right.

Although I’ve always tried to practice in real time a recognition of “good” things that happen throughout the day—a stretch of green lights on my drive home, an item on sale when I didn’t know it, the rain letting up long enough for me to run errands or get gas—I am not always successful at maintaining a positive attitude. My negativity sometimes spills over onto others. My boyfriend. My mom.

It was at her suggestion that I began the journal-keeping.   struggle-gratitude

Last night after I jotted down my five, I quickly drifted toward sleep. But before I could get there I found myself wide awake, thinking about my attitude toward my morning’s workout.

If I am cultivating a mindset of gratitude, here’s what I should have thought instead:

  • I get to drive to the gym (in my own car, 10-years-old and long paid off, with a blazing heater and cushy seat-warmers, a working radio, and more).
  • I get to go to a gym (I have worked a membership into my budget without a second thought, foregoing other luxuries each month instead).
  • I get to go to the gym at 9am—or any time, really (I work from home, plan my own day, schedule my own time, and I can be up at 5:30am, working by 6 in my pajamas and slippers, hair uncombed, glasses askew, dog in lap, and then take a break when it suits me, my schedule, my day).
  • I get to run (Thank you, God. I am able to run.)

I slept more soundly than perhaps I otherwise would have, resting in the knowledge that I am luckier than I think.

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Intentionality

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“A speck of glitter is an accident,” said the woman across the conference table. “A blotch of it is intentional.”

I thought of the splotch of glitter glue stuck to my home office floor, a reminder of the previous owners, and the fruitless hours spent attempting to pry it off.  The box our first Girls on the Run team decorated as a collection bin for used shoes and running clothes, the finger paint and feathers, sparkly ink and glue, and the stretch of glitter it left behind in the back seat of my car. How for months anything unlucky enough to sit there emerged shimmering. My briefcase, papers, and books. My dogs. The seats of passengers’ pants.

There was nothing intentional in that.

This word keeps cropping up, intentional.  Particularly there, at the Girls on the Run annual conference in San Diego this January, where conversation ranged from strategic planning to tutus, from volunteer management and retention to glitter. All of it important, deliberate. Every moment weighted with an unusual mixture of gravity and joy.  orange glitter

Girls on the Run is our business. Our passion. Our vision for the way we would like the world to be, the value we place on ourselves and in each other.

We strive to be intentional in our decision-making.  The core value I notice the most throughout the conference. One I will repeat seven times during trainings back in San Antonio over the two weeks that follow.

Intentional. The word materializes in the books I read, the radio programs I listen to while driving from sites to meetings to my office.  It’s punctuated in conversations with the people I meet, and even in the sermons I hear.

Do I live an intentional life? Do my decisions, actions, words reflect a thoughtfulness and care?  So many hours and days that feel like the splotch of glitter glue dripped randomly, accidentally on my office floor when my plan called for a more measured and permanent line, situated elsewhere.

I’ve never been one for glitter. Avoid it at all costs. Although I’ve always liked to look at sparkly things. The sun ricocheting off the tips of waves like diamonds scattering across glass. Stars like rhinestones piercing the blackest sky. The shimmer of raindrops tumbling down my windows.

If the sea could be my skirt and the sky my mantle, if I could wear raindrops like jewels dangling from my ears, I wouldn’t mind the shimmer at all. But a patch of glitter smeared on a cheek, stretched across the back of my pants, stuck eternally to my office floor, these are the kinds of things I’ve railed against.

Yesterday I stood under a tree on the playground at one of our new sites, shifting my weight from foot to foot attempting to keep warm. Trying to quiet the stretch of thoughts in my head—phone calls to make, emails to send, reports due and plans undone—and focus instead on the girls as they ran around the field behind the school.  They shouted out answers to the lesson about what it means to be healthy, their hair flying behind them, ponytails whipping in the wind.

I watched their feet and bodies at first. Was the ground too uneven? Would they fall? Was it too cold to be out here running under a sky all windswept and gray? But I trust the coaches and their judgment. They’ve been doing this for three weeks, more. They know their school, their girls. Their abilities.

So I watched the girls’ faces instead.  Eyes sparkling with the thrill of movement, lips curling in joy as they rounded the bright orange cones stuck haphazardly in the grass, their voices carried away with the wind and their forms a dazzling light against the gray and windswept sky.

Surely there is something intentional in that.

 

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By the Numbers

Posted on January 16, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

My brother turned fifty-one last week.  Fifty-one.  A big number.  Not so long ago, turning fifty sounded like an impossible thing, a feat maybe other people managed, but not the people I knew, my family, my friends. Yet here we all are, there or nearly there, in a place that sounds different than it feels.

I asked him the question my dad asked me on each one of my birthdays:  How does it feel to be fifty-one (thirteen, sixteen, twenty)?

His answer to me was the same one I always gave my dad:  Just the same as it did to be fifty (twelve, fifteen, nineteen).

But you know, he said on further reflection, this one makes me think a little more. It didn’t bother me to turn fifty, but fifty-one is different. It’s into my fifties, one step closer to sixty, and sixty just sounds, well, old. It’s when people retire. I don’t feel old, he went on, I don’t feel like my age sounds.

I know what he means.  Turning forty was nothing. But forty-one, well, that was different. Into my forties, one step closer to fifty. And now even more steps closer. Yet I don’t feel like someone approaching fifty.

Twenty-five, forty, fifty-one, they’re just numbers. And who’s to decide how a number is supposed to look, how a number is supposed to feel?  numbers

A couple of days after my brother’s birthday, mile sprints showed up on my training schedule again. It’s been several weeks since I’ve sprinted miles, and I went to bed the night before a little apprehensive. A mile. It sounds so long.

I trudged early into the gym bleary-eyed and grumpy, not quite prepared to exert the energy I’d need to expend.  You can always just run three miles, I reasoned with myself as I grabbed a towel off the shelf. No one says you have to run sprints.

I climbed onto the treadmill to warm up, trying to wake up, deciding what to do. A mile. It sounds so long, too long of a distance to sprint. I could always run 400s or 800s. I could start slow and build. Or I could just dawdle here on this treadmill and continue walking at a nice reasonable pace for the next three miles.

But no matter how I sliced it, a mile is a mile. And, I thought, if I made the effort to get this far, to the gym and on the treadmill, then I guess I should probably run.

I thought of my friend Ceci and a conversation we had not too long ago about sprints. If you have any energy left at the end, she said, if you can go a little faster or do a little more, you’re not doing yourself any good. By the time you reach the end of the road you should have given everything you have to give.

A mile. A long distance to sprint. But as I approached the end of my warm-up, I shut down the mental calculations, the slicing and dicing of time and distance, as if math could change the nature of a mile. If I made the effort to get this far, by God I was going to run, not measuring a mile by numbers, but measuring it by how I felt.

I inhaled deeply, held my thumb on the Up arrow—and ran the fastest mile sprints I’d ever run.

This week, I ran them just a little faster.

And it felt good.

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The Light of the World

Posted on January 1, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On the lawn of my neighbor four doors down stands a panoply of lighted yard animals. A couple of moose and two varieties of reindeer, what appears to be a bear, a snowman, and a Snoopy-like dog sporting a hat and a red and white sweater imprinted with “CANADA.”

I notice my neighbor’s lawn art on the nights I drive by, one of many ornamented yards. Most houses sport tidy rows of single colored lights strung from eaves, wrapped tightly around trees, draped symmetrically over bushes. Not my neighbor four doors down. Their gathering of lighted yard animals stand united under a canopy of multicolored lights, some strands blinking red, some dripping green, all run through with a shock of white light.

As conspicuous as my neighbor’s lawn art sounds, it wasn’t until I ran by in the mornings that I saw it clearly. My favorite time to run, holiday-season mornings. The world at peace, darkness punctuated by lights that herald the joy of the season, making my heart swell with excited expectation as I run.

You can tell something about a person, I think as I wind my way through the streets, by the way they string their lights. Are the lights single-colored or multi-?  Are they strewn carefully along some predetermined line or draped haphazardly among the shrubs? What it is you can tell, I’m not yet sure, but I feel I know my neighbors a little bit better by virtue of their lights.  Chritstmas Tree

I often wonder about my neighbors as I run by, what their lives are like behind those walls, their lighted lawns or darkened windows. Are they happy? Lonely? Do the holidays fill them with joy or with sadness or with something else entirely? With nothing at all?

The trunk of the live oak that shelters my front lawn is wound with strands of colored lights. They burn incessantly, although I know you cannot always see them. No timer, no unplugging, just an unceasing rainbow sparkle.

Some days when I come home, I flinch in anguish and squint toward the tree, looking for the light I know must be there, overpowered by the light of the day. It’s not until I see a flicker of blue or orange that I am at ease, to know that my lights still burn.

I sometimes wonder if my neighbors wonder about me and my ever-lit, multicolored tree.

But what would I do, I think on those mornings I run by lighted yards and the smell of bacon frying, bread baking, laundry drying, fires burning, if there were sadness or loneliness or emptiness inside when I do not know the names or the faces of the people behind those lights?

But we are all our brothers’ keepers, I think as I run by. There is always something to do.

I ran again this morning by the panoply of lighted yard animals spread across the neighbor’s lawn four doors down.  One of the moose lie on his side beneath the ribs of a reindeer, blown over by the wind. I stopped at the yard’s periphery, a little anxious at trespassing, but I stepped in anyway, stood him up, and leaned him against the snowman. He may fall over again, but that’s ok. I’ll be running by tomorrow.

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