Hello Summer

Posted on June 6, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s here, semi-officially, this week.

I know, it doesn’t officially start until summer solstice, Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 am. In case you’re counting.

But this week marks the end of the school year, which means…

Less traffic.

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Less shoe-wearing.

summer-quotes-sayings-overdressed-feet

More lawn mowing (I love the smell of fresh cut grass. It reminds me of watermelon. And my dad.)

how-to-mow-your-lawn-1

 

More pool time.

swimming_cat

 

More down time.

sam-keen

 

And more sweat.

seat lodge

Well, maybe not that much more. I’m just glad it’s here.

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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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Happiness Is…

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Peace. Calm. happiness-jpg1

That’s the conclusion my friends and I came to this week. Peace and calm, we realized, is actually the precondition for happiness, at least for the three of us.

Each month, my friends and I meet to talk about the issues that pertain to running a business, leading as a woman. This month’s topic: happiness.

What makes you happy? The question that launched the discussion, based on an article we read in USA Today. Our answers weren’t what some may think—not money or material goods, not power or prestige, not hedonism. They are, in fact, the simple things.

Running.

Practicing yoga.

Sitting on the deck in the sun listening to the breeze stirring wind chimes.

Cleaning the garage.

Spending time with people we care about.

As we worked through the question of happiness, we realized that a sense of order, peace, calm was part of the equation. Creating order is a necessary component of happiness. The symmetry, cleanliness, beauty, peace come first. The result? Happiness.

Not the cleaning itself, but the having cleaned.

Not the writing itself, but the having written.

A goal met. A sense of achievement. And in the midst of it all, the flow of time suspended.

Which is what I get when I run.

 

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Dodging Hurdles, or the impetus to run

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

 

image from cutestlife.com

image from cutestlife.com

The first time I took up running it was because of a boy. A crush. I was starting junior high, seventh grade, and he was a year ahead of me. Naturally wavy blonde hair. Blue eyes. Athletic. I was tall and had long legs, and he suggested I try out for the track team. So I gave it a go.

The first day of try-outs, the coach looked at me, my height, the length of my legs and said, “You’re running hurdles.”

Hurdles? You mean my feet have to leave the ground and I need to open my body like a jackknife over that thing that looks like a traffic barricade?

The eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. I gave it a go.

How about the high jump?” the coach suggested as she picked gravel out of my bloody knees. My body was not built to open like a jackknife. It preferred a straight line. If I could simply run and weave around the hurdles, straight flat-out running, maybe it would be all right.

I kept a brave face, even though my knees stung and the skin hung from them in tiny flecks like shredded cheese.

But the eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. So I gave the high jump a go.

On the first try, I sailed over the horizontal bar. Never mind that it was less than two feet off the ground and I could have hopped it on one foot. The coach clapped her hands and raised the bar twice as high, level with my waist.

I stepped back to the start line, sweating, and eye-balled the bar. Surely I could do this. The eighth grade boy was watching, as was the coach, my friends.

I ran toward the bar, planted my foot at the base, and sprung into the air, landing on my butt in the sand trap on the other side. I heard a sound like a bell clanging, and my forehead stung briefly. I blinked sand out of my eyes, pleased that I had made it, for the split second I thought I’d made it, and tried to stand up.

But all eyes were on me, and all mouths were open.

“What?” I said, but before I could say more, my eyes were forced shut. Blood poured down the right side of my face, into my eyes and the corner of my mouth.

I yelped as my hand flew up, swiping at the blood. I looked toward the bar, but it was not held aloft on the pegs. My foot had hit it, dragging down the support poles, one of which knocked me in the head.

I sat on the curb in front of the school alone and waited for my mom. Several stitches and a concussion later, I decided that running was not for me. And maybe neither was this eighth grade boy.

It would be twenty years until I took up running again. The second time, I took it up because of me.

There would be no one to impress. No one to determine my ability based on my appearance.

No one to tell me how far I could go or how fast, or to place obstacles in my path.

There would be only the long-fingered mango leaves beckoning me down the road in the star-soaked, pre-dawn darkness of Guam.

This time, I more than gave it a go. This time, it stayed.

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Too Many Mind

Posted on May 2, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

clarity

In The Last Samurai, Captain Algren learns the Samurai way of life—and fighting—while held captive for a winter in a mountain village.  During one brutal lesson in sword fighting, practiced with long sticks, Algren loses each bout pretty quickly.

Finally, Nobutada pulls him aside. “Too many mind,” he counsels Algren. You’re distracted. Stop paying attention to the spectators, the wind, the noise around you.

“No mind,” he instructs. Focus on the stick in front of you.

Clarity. Mind over matter, mind over body. No matter how many other ways I try to achieve it, for me it happens best when I run. My mind is often cluttered with noise, distraction. What I need most is clarity of mind over mind. Fortunately, I get that when I run.

Which is a good thing. Because, I’ve learned, if I don’t focus on the stick right in front of me, I may very well get beat with it.

I’d rather run.

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Community Trust

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

ring around the rosie

“Trusting.”

Not a question but an imperative. The girl in the middle closes her eyes and tells her team she is ready.

“You can trust us.”

In unison. They are prepared. To bear her weight, right her when she tips too far out of balance.

It’s a risky game for all involved. A frightening prospect particularly for the one in the middle, who must rely on her peers.

And so begin the Girls on the Run lessons in community. I’ve witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons, showing up by chance to observe a team on the day it’s facilitated.

Only I don’t believe in chance.

This time, something about the game strikes me. Why is it that the very first in a series of games to reinforce the concept of community is about trust? There are so many components of community: What we have in common—values, attitudes, interests, demographics, language, geography—and what we don’t. None of that sort of glue requires trust.

Why do we expect these girls to throw their weight on their team, and why do we expect the team to support it? Is it too much to ask?

I sit on a rock in the shade and watch the girls stand vigil, shoulder to shoulder, over the girl in the center, their eyes somber with responsibility. They giggle and squirm but never remove their gaze from the girl who is trusting, and they never lose their footing.

They seem to know instinctively the importance of their role. If they step aside, a gaping hole remains and the girl in the center falls. There is no one to fill their space. Each of them is necessary.

I watch from the sidelines feeling both hollow and filled. Each time I observe a team I am astonished by the wisdom and strength of these young girls, blown away by their mutual encouragement, moved to tears by their interaction with their coaches.

Yet, each time, I walk away feeling alone. Not lonely, but solitary.

I head back to my car mulling over this day’s lesson and the relationship between trust and community. Most of my own involvement in community has been in the outer circle, standing shoulder to shoulder with others. I have yet to spend much time in the middle, as the girl who is trusting.

I chuckle at the realization and my emptiness dissipates. I have witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons. Today I finally get it.

I don’t believe in chance.

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Creating Order out of Chaos

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

Lawn-stripey-1mg1

My new training plan is posted on the side of my refrigerator, a black and white grid containing daily directives and empty white space awaiting my penciled-in results. I love a new plan. It’s challenge and promise weigh equally. It gives me a sense of purpose each day. A reason to get out of bed earlier than the birds.  And the direction and clarity to know what to do even after the white space is filled in.

That’s the key, really. The “after” part of completing the daily plan.

Sure, running is the reason for the plan. And, for now, for my new 16-week plan, biking and swimming is too.  It is the reward, the goal, the tool, the end in itself and the means to a greater end all rolled into one. There is freedom in running. There is joy and health and confidence.

But there is more.

Running helps me to create order out of chaos. And chaos is, after all, life, mostly.

It is a million different forces all pressing on us at once, vying for our attention, demanding action.  It is a million bits of information clamoring to be heard, absorbed, incorporated into the design.

It is a million blades of grass forming a raggedly blanket of a lawn that the HOA insists must be flattened and smoothed.

I get tremendous satisfaction in mowing my lawn.  Watching straight lines form in the grass behind my mower, leaving a wake of structure.

So it is with me in running.  The sheer act of physical movement, of allowing my mind the freedom to construct my day, week, month, story, life at the dawn of each day produces the structure for all else.  Without it, I cannot write, at least not well.  Without it, the organization I lead would not be led strategically, compassionately, or wisely, a goal I mindfully set each day, but instead would become like the field behind my house, overgrown with weeds.

My desk has always faced a wall. Until recently, the wall has been blank. Now, a corkboard hangs in front of me, the center space empty, all else tacked to the sides.  Whenever I look up, I see the vision of what will be that my mind’s eye projects there, like a movie on a screen, the endless possibilities a swirl of chaos.  Writing and leading an organization have this in common:  You must always keep your vision in front of you to make the right choices, choose the right ideas, to create order out of the chaos.

My new training plan started this week.  The Royal Empress and Mountain Laurel have just begun to bloom. Their fragrance rolls out before me like a red carpet when I run. There is so much promise in the newness of spring, its plan unfolding.

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Flat Tires

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

flat-tire

I’ve seen this commercial several times. We see the face of a young woman as she changes her tire in the rain.  She appears anguished, there in the rain alone. We are distressed too.  Is she safe? Will anyone stop to help her?  The camera pans out to a man standing next to the car.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“I told you you could do it,” the man says.  The girl, obviously his daughter, smiles confidently in her newfound ability as the rain stops and they get into the car together.

I generally hate commercials, and I particularly hate car commercials.  But I love this commercial. I love that this father empowers his daughter, showing her that she need not rely on others to do things for her unless she wants to.  She can do what she puts her mind to.

I was lucky enough to have a dad like this too.  He believed in doing things himself whenever he could.  This is the man who built most of his home’s second story by himself on weekends, vacations.  The man who always mowed his own lawn, planted his own flowers, painted the house, the deck, the awnings, the lawn furniture.

Sometimes do-it-yourself worked out fine.  The second story carpeting looked fantastic, for instance.  Other times, calling in a professional might have been a better idea. But who needs a level driveway anyway? He was a firm believer in trying.

So when my first car needed an oil change, he took me to the gas station and showed me how to find the right oil and filter, then dragged me under the car to finish the job.  When my headlight went out, I fixed it, with my dad standing behind me. It didn’t feel so empowering, then.  It felt greasy. Dead-buggy. And I felt awkward doing something I wasn’t used to.

A few years ago, I had my first flat tire. I had never changed a flat with my dad, but I had seen one changed.  This tire wasn’t just flat, but blown right the heck out.  My fault. I was new to Texas, not used to the razor-sharp markers sometimes used to separate traffic lanes, and I ran right over a whole stretch of them.  The mechanic who later attempted to fix the tire asked if someone had slashed it with a machete.

I pulled over and sat in my car for a few minutes, hoping someone would stop.  I knew what to do, in theory, but I felt awkward doing it. What if I screwed it up somehow or made it worse?  What if I accidentally fell over into oncoming traffic when I tried to remove the tire?

But no one stopped. I got out of the car, more irritated that I was going to be late than that I had to change my tire. I hate being late. I unloaded the spare and parts from my trunk and watched the road with one eye.

A handful of cars drove by. No one stopped.

I jacked up the car, swearing as I dirtied my shirt looking under the car for the groove to place the jack in, and started to loosen lug nuts. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I stomped on the tire iron and could barely budge them, at first.

More cars drove by. Still, no one stopped.

Finally, I got the tire off.  A semi pulled over a couple hundred feet up the road.

“Hold on,” the driver yelled as he walked my way. “Let me finish that.”

I waited for him to get there, then thanked him for stopping to help.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I mean, you look like you know what you’re doing.  But then I thought of my sister. If she had a flat, I’d want someone to stop and help her.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. How odd that I look like I know what I’m doing, I thought. Sure, I know the process, but I am not at all comfortable actually completing it.

“Do you think that’s why no one else stopped?” I asked him. “Because I look like I know what I’m doing?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged and turned his attention to the tire.

I crouched into a deep squat and hugged my knees as I watched him finish changing the tire, grateful that I did know what to do. And grateful that he did too.

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What Would You Give?

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

gift

For years I have not observed Lent. At first because I dropped out of the church, and then later, when I dribbled back in, because I got tired of seeing Lent trivialized. It’s not the latest diet, the Lenten 15, say, a plan to drop those last stubborn pounds in anticipation of swimsuit season. And it’s not an excuse to cut out meat on Fridays, only to show up at your local fish monger and indulge in lobster.

I, of course, have done these things in the name of Lent. Deprived myself of chocolate and Fritos or wine and beer in an effort to reach an objective that was personal and selfish, not communal and considerate of others.  I have established my goal, created my plan, and expected my God to follow along granting my desire. Like Aladdin’s genie, but maybe not so blue.

I have thought that if I could demonstrate to God my ability to deprive myself of certain things, then He would reward me. With what, I wasn’t sure. Nice things, a great job. Happiness, maybe. A medal.

I have even made running my idol, expecting God to affix wings to my heels.

But, as Woody Allen asserts, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

What I’m figuring out, I think, is to focus not on the goal or the plan but, rather, on the gift, the ability God has given me. Like writing. Compassion and empathy. Mercy. And even running. And to remember that these gifts are not mine to keep. Gifts are meant to be given.

So the question I face this Lenten season is not what do I deprive myself of. Not exactly. I know that I can be self-disciplined. But what do I give of myself. What can I offer to others so they can be happier, better, stronger? How can I bring someone joy or compassion or love? Consciously and deliberately. Not accidentally or incidentally.

It’s Ash Wednesday today, the day I write this, and I’m still not sure how to observe Lent. A funny word, “observe.” Implying that we will hang around and passively watch something happen rather than actively participate.  But action is required. It is the end of reflection.

And, I think, it’s never too late to pare ourselves down to the bone, to become less in order to give more.

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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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