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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Mental Preparation

Posted on October 10, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , |

“I didn’t think I was prepared for Girls on the Run,” she said.

I looked down at the top of her head bobbing along beside me.  Between us bobbed her friend, who I thought at first was her sister.  Same round face, round glasses, mouse-colored hair.  They waited for each other to finish the activity after each lap so that they could run together.  On my other side jogged a girl with a bouncing ponytail.  All three, first-timers. Third-graders, maybe fourth.

We were half way through our 40-minute workout, the longest the girls had run.  Pace yourself, the coaches said.  Listen to your body, do what’s right for you.  The not-quite-autumn Texas sun beat down mercilessly on the shadeless field, where cones marked out our homemade track.

“This is a great place to run,” I said earlier as we ran through a patch of dirt and stones, kicking dust up past our shins.  The girls looked at me quizzically, looked down at the dirt.  “It’s soft,” I explained, trying to keep with the spirit of the lesson: an attitude of gratitude.  “Better for your joints than pavement.”

possibe & ableBetter for slowing down, I thought.  I have learned the skill of slow running, learned to pace myself with the girls.  It’s not as simple as it might seem, slowing down.  My trick is to bounce rather than run, the first verse of “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” playing an endless loop in my head.

What did you think you needed to prepare? I meant to ask the girl.

“My brother didn’t think I could do it,” she said before I could ask.  Her friend nodded vigorously. The girl with the ponytail leaned out to look around me sympathetically.

What does he think now? I started to ask, but thought better of it.

“What do you think?” I asked instead.

She grinned. “I ask him to run with me now,” she said, picking up her pace. “But he won’t.”

I nodded. She stooped at the final turn to pick up her water.

“That’s ok,” she said as she took a long drink. “I can do this. And I’ll do it again next time.”

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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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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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Running Buddies, Part III

Posted on May 15, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

“You got this.”

She was waiting at the bottom of the hill just short of the finish line. The steep hill. The hill some genius thought would be a good idea to put right here, blocking the view of the end of things, but not the sound of people clapping, music playing.

“F*%@,” I said before I knew I would say it, the word escaping with my breath.

“I know.” She nodded. “Come on.” And ran me up the hill.

The YOSA 10k, my favorite 10k, the only race I really try to place in.  The course usually meanders through a neighborhood, across somewhat rolling hills. But this year it was moved to the River Walk, along a series of hills hugging the San Antonio River just south of the city, on the Mission Reach.

The 10k was a double out-and-back. I hate double out-and-backs. Races are mentally challenging already without having to repeat the same scenery, the same steep hill just short of the finish line.

1380749947000-SA-River-Mission-Reach

Not that it’s all bad, experiencing the same thing twice. The tuba player standing on the hill near the halfway mark belting out songs I’d never before heard done in tuba. The wildflowers studding the tall grass, waving in the breeze.

The breeze that blew at what felt like 25 mph, both ways.

My plan was to run hard but not too hard. I was running a half marathon the next weekend over the truly rolling hills in Luckenbach, Texas, and I wanted to save my legs.

But I ran hard anyway. I couldn’t help it. Once the clock started I was off. At the first turnaround, halfway through the first 5k, I found myself counting the number of women ahead of me. The second time around I was determined to pass as many as I could.

By the last half mile my legs were throbbing low and hard, like a tuba singing for me to stop already, or at least slow it down. I ignored them, kept my eyes down, and ran. Prayed that I would just make it to the finish line, just up over this low grade, long rolling hill, and around the bend. Then I would be there. Done.

Except I forgot about that hill. The steep hill just short of the finish line that some genius thought would be a good idea to put there.

When I looked up again, I saw the sharp incline first and knew I couldn’t make it. I was out of steam.

But I saw her second.

“You got this,” Stephanie said.

Just a few steps and we were up the hill. “It’s all you.”

She skipped back down as I ran toward the finish, knowing. It’s never all me.

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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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