The First Last Marathon

Posted on October 2, 2016. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

What makes you think you can run a marathon?

I ask myself this question during every half marathon, somewhere around mile 9.

When my legs feel alternately like lead and pudding.

When my mental endurance is wearing thin. (Who’s the %#$*& genius that put a hill here?)

When my throat is constricted from repressing the threat of vomit, the result of accidently chugging Gatorade when I’d asked for water at the stop.

What makes me think I can run a marathon?

I don’t ask myself kindly. Not around mile 9. The question is, instead, peppered with expletives I wouldn’t dream of repeating in public.

sunrise-at-camp-capers

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”   Henry Thoreau

I wouldn’t dream, in fact, of asking this question, however kindly, to anyone else who’d tell me she was going to run a marathon. Just one. Her first. Maybe only. Going to at least, at last, try.

I would simply nod and say, of course. Of course you will. And mean it.

You’ve decided, I would say, and so you will.

First, you decide. Second, you do.

It’s as simple as making up your mind.

As difficult as finally, absolutely, irrevocably deciding. The doing, then, is comparatively easy.

And so I have decided. I will run a marathon. My first. Perhaps my only.

The Austin Marathon, on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

I decided finally on May 1. Planned and posted my training schedule on my refrigerator on August 1.  Registered, irrevocably, last month.  Now it is time to do.

Comparatively easy.

But I’ve decided to run a marathon twice before. Both times ended in training around mile 18 with injuries that would keep me from running for a year, longer.

Six years passed between the first and second attempt. Another six between then and now. And with them the shifting of time and place and focus. The anxiety and pain of starting over. Again. Not running. Barely walking. Not making it even one quarter mile, and surely not up that hill. And then the slow and steady progress, the readjusting of goals.

But not the determination to reach this goal, a marathon. Just once.

So I am ready to try again. The only failure in not trying at all.

And I am ready to write again. Because this marathon training is about more than running.

 

 

 

 

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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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Finding My Pace with Emerson

Posted on June 12, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Charpentier/Leaf 2007 trip

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. So said Emerson. I know what he meant. I have been consistently cheating myself by running sprints on a treadmill, persistently thinking that the treadmill was pushing me to do and be my best. I ran as fast as the pace was set, and ran consistently, just a mite above my comfort zone.

But stepping onto a treadmill is like stepping into a river, a riptide. An average day of work. You get swept along by the current. The only decision you make is whether you will try to keep up, panic and flail, or step out.

All that you really learn about yourself is how long you can stand the ride.

So on Tuesday when Stephanie and I stepped onto the track to do our weekly speed work, I was nervous. 800s, five times, at just a touch faster than our mile pace. I established my mile last week, but didn’t know if I could sustain it—at a mite faster—for five half miles.

We warmed up, picked a lane, chatted about this and that, and then, in all earnestness, said go! I pushed my watch’s little red button, and I went. Fast. Thirty seconds too fast, a pace I could maybe sustain for one 800 but no way for five. So I slowed down. But too slow. Thirty seconds too slow, so that by the last 100 I had to pick back up into a sprint.

We went again. Same result. Too fast. And then too slow.

Each time we stopped to recover I was perplexed. How can it be that in all my years of running I don’t yet know how to find and maintain my own pace?

My focus has been on running long, where you can start slow, dawdle some, pick up the pace at the halfway point, give your muscles ample time to warm into what passes for a sprint in a distance run. That’s not the same as running short and fast, where you go and then you stay the course. All of your own accord. It requires an awareness, a mental and physical balance that I don’t usually step into until mile four.

Always do what you are afraid to do. That Emerson was a genius. I can’t wait until next Tuesday to do it again.

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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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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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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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Running Buddies, Part II

Posted on October 24, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“Can we walk up this hill?” she asks, slightly out of breath, motioning with her chin to the incline ahead. “No wait,” she says before I can reply, “I’ll walk. You go on ahead.”

“OK,” I say, knowing I won’t. I’ll walk when she walks, stop when she stops. Run when she runs.

Not so long ago, I would have gone on ahead. Or, more likely, would have been out here alone instead of with a friend.

“No,” she says before we reach the hill, “I’m not going to walk. I can make it. I can push myself.”

LeonCreekSouthPearsall

“OK,” I say as we run up the hill.

We’ve been pushing already, closer now to the end of this road, closer as well to the half marathon we’re training for, the Shiner.

We stop at the top of the hill for water, nearly done with our twelve-mile run, less than two miles to go. The sun is up and the heat settling in, even though it’s nearing the end of October. But this is Texas. Fall won’t feel like it’s here for awhile.

We’re both tired, elated, spent, happy to be out here running, getting stronger, faster with each passing week, following a training plan that started nearly three months ago. I can’t imagine, now, having had to run all the long runs alone.

This is what long runs are for. Endurance.

I think about the girls I observed just a couple weeks ago, preparing to run in circles around the playground, who threw their arms around each other at the thought of running with a buddy.

They instinctively knew what we so easily forget. The road is easier to endure when you’re on it with a friend.

 

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Open Heart

Posted on August 22, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent.

One core value of Girls on the Run. It’s what all staff and volunteers are supposed to do. As council director, it’s what I’m supposed to do. Although “do” is not exactly the right word. It’s what we’re to model, to live. To be.

The second part is not so hard. I’ve always tried to find the best in people, see through their eyes, run in their shoes.

It’s this first part, the open heart, that I find a little bit tricky. I suspect the allusion has more to do with poetry than medicine, more with Robert Burns’s or H.D.’s red roses than with scalpels.   red-rose-side

As a kid, I thought open-heart surgery meant that doctors actually cut into a heart, lay it open, poke around. Of course, that’s not really what they do.

It’s worse, almost, more violent. The slicing of skin, splaying open of flesh, prying of ribs with tools that appear better suited to construction or cars in an effort to reach the heart, hold it gently in hand to mend.

Surely that’s not what Girls on the Run has in mind.

What I think they mean, rather, is that we are to give of ourselves–not simply our time or money, our skills or talents, but our humanity. Our love for people as they are, where they are. To be vulnerable, compassionate, real.

Such an easy proposition when you consider the people that are drawn to this program. Amazing people. With amazing hearts.

Such a difficult proposition when you consider how often they come and go. How quickly the demands of life, of family or career, misfortune or opportunity eclipse a passionate heart. No sooner, sometimes, do you allow an amazing person in and they disappear, called away on some sort of adventure.

The second part, then, is not so hard. To see through their eyes, run in their shoes. Do a jig of excitement with them for their gain, sit quietly in sorrow with them for their loss. And when they go, you consider again this first part, the open heart, that’s still a little bit tricky, so that closing the heart seems less risky, less violent. A safer way to lead.

Last week, four of us gathered outside at a local pub in the sweltering August heat to plan our next coach training. Three hardly know each other. Maybe they have some things in common, some experience or history yet untapped. Initially, what draws us together is our passion for what we do, creating an environment where girls can be themselves, can feel safely strong and confident.

Before long, an animated discussion broke out. I sat as quietly as I could and observed. What I saw in each expression, heard in their words and silences was some facet of me, some part of their personality, some joy or fear or quirk that we share, and I knew that this was what really drew us together. Something deeper that we would only find if we were willing lay it open.

And as I looked around the table, a sense of peace embraced me and my heart bloomed.

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Mental Preparation for an Uphill Battle

Posted on July 25, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In the thick of a Texas summer, even the angels appear to sweat.

The Angel Moroni still stands high atop the Mormon temple at the pinnacle of Stone Oak Parkway, heralding the dawn. Temple Hill, I call it, the tallest, steepest local hill for serious repeats. My friend Carrie and I tackled this hill in our training for two half marathons, a couple of 10ks. She moved north in June.  temple-moroni-trees-758837-wallpaper

I haven’t been here since. Never been here alone.

Training for my fall half marathon begins officially next week. My plan has been tacked to my refrigerator for the past two. Mental preparation. I like to see what’s coming, think about it, visualize it, prepare for the way my body will feel. This week, I’m preparing my body in person. It needs to remember hills like this.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance and realized I had forgotten how blasted long it is, the sun was just about to rise. Not in stunning pinks and oranges, but in the hazy yellow-gray that amplifies the heat, the heaviness of summer. The air felt thick in my lungs. The Angel Moroni shimmered in the distance like a mirage.

I spent a lot of time this summer running with others, as a mentor, a friend. Keeping the pace and marking distance, chatting, encouraging. Or simply running side by side in silence, listening to the synch of others’ cadence with my own. Breathing in unison. Resting in the knowledge that we didn’t have to tackle the road or trail alone.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance, I didn’t feel alone. My body remembered what it was like to run this hill with a friend, and I ran faster. Did one more repeat. Ran up and up until the angel stopped shimmering, reflected the sun in burnished gold.

Muscle memory. Of friends, community. It sets in. Pushes you to give your best, be your best, not give up. Even when you’re alone.

 

 

 

 

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Accidentally Blonde

Posted on May 30, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

animal-adorable-expression-of-little-cat-on-mirror-hd-wallpapers-widescreen-wallpapers-kitten-mirror-cat-in-the-mirror-mary-stolz-cat-mirror-test-mirror-cat-manor-cat-mirror-justin-timberlake-cat-shap

I was a blonde once, by accident. For a year, maybe more.

It started with my sneaky hair stylist, who sported a spiky platinum ‘do herself. I wanted a change, nothing shocking. Just a spot of blonde, a wisp at my temple.

I was mid-divorce and needed something new. Something bold. Something me.

Or maybe something not me.

The wisp became a streak. The streak multiplied asymmetrically and soon became reminiscent of a zebra. Not so much later, the stripes became a layer and, shortly, the layer a helmet.

One morning as I brushed my teeth I caught my own eye in the mirror and gasped, stunned to find that I was blonde. I didn’t know, then, how it had happened, with me unawares.

Maybe I lost sight of who I was.

Or maybe I never knew.

I went out for a run to think on it, and it brought me to my senses.

The next day, I came back to me. Brunette. Mostly. Except for the wisps of gray sometimes peeking out at my temples.

Now in the mornings when I brush my teeth and catch sight of myself in the mirror, I know exactly who I am.

I smile through dribbled toothpaste, and then go out for a run.

 

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