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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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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Why I Don’t Love Tapering

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

It’s only four miles.

A dangerous thought. As if completing each quarter mile isn’t a miracle in itself. As if four miles is an easy run.

In the big scheme of my training plan, it is. My half marathon is this weekend, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past three-plus months.

But in the big scheme of my running history, there have been times when four miles may as well have been an ultramarathon.

As I’ve watched my mileage decrease over the last two weeks—8 miles, then 5, 5, 7, 4, 2—I’ve noticed a tendency toward carelessness creep into my thinking.

Sure, I can sleep just a little longer and wait to start my run. It’s only four miles.

But training is training, and routine is established for a reason. Throw one car off and the whole train threatens to derail.

Sure, I’ll have an extra cookie the night before my run. It’s only four miles.

But fuel is fuel and is important always. Extra cookies often turn into an entire bag, at least for me, an all-or-nothing snacker. Self-discipline in habit takes a long time to establish but can take me less than a week to destroy.

Sure, start the coffee, I’ll be right with you. I can get this run over with fast—it’s only four miles.

But every step, every quarter of a mile is consequential.

smart thoughtsI think hard about this new stealthy lackadaisical attitude during my four-mile run. It’s 9am, a good three hours later than I normally run, and the sun beats down on my back. A cold front has descended on Texas, and even at this hour it’s only in the mid-30s.

Noting before today’s run how my self-discipline has been slipping, I awoke early and worked for a couple of hours before stepping out for my run. I’m mindful, now, of my routine and how losing time, if only an hour, fills me with anxiety.

One mile in and I’m still not there, not yet in that comfortable space where my body is happy we are here. It takes a good mile or two until I settle into a run, three or four until it feels good.

This is why I don’t run many 5ks, I think as I chug up a hill. The race is over before I even know I’m running, before my mind connects with my body and we’re moving in synch.

Just after mile three I start to feel it, the ease with which my body falls into pace, into the right cadence. The corresponding peace. I smile with relief.

This is why I run.

And this is why I don’t love tapering–

There are twenty-four hours in a day. Only during one do I get to run, and then only three times a week. The other twenty-three hours, the remaining four days require extra vigilance to guard against the mental carelessness that would let me believe that four miles is a breeze.

I can feel every step.

 

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13.1 Things I’ve Learned from Half Marathon Training

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

Only two weeks left to the Shiner half marathon, a race my friend Amy and I have been training for since the first week of August. There is always something to learn—or to remember that I’ve forgotten—as the result of training.

  1. Never get a pedicure on long run day. It is not a way to pamper yourself. It is not a form of pleasure. Sharp objects pushing at your cuticles, snipping away bits of skin. A tool resembling the cheese grater in my utility drawer scraping off mounds of dead skin. Sometimes this is fun. On long run day, it is not. It is a form of torture for sensitive post-run feet. Ice baths, on the other hand, are a form of pleasure. ice bath
  1. Long runs are so much better with a running buddy. It took me nearly 15 years of running to figure this out. Not only do the miles go by more quickly, but I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone than by running with them. You meet each other at your best and at your worst, and you talk about things you probably wouldn’t if you had to look each other in the eye across a wine glass or coffee cup. 
  1. Drive somewhere to do your long run. I learned this from my friend Stephanie. When I started half marathon training coming back from an injury over a year ago, I mentioned how nervous I was to do that week’s long run alone—5 miles, longer than I’d run in more than two years. She immediately offered to pick me up that Saturday and take me running. I was nervous—not only about the run, but about having to pack up and prepare for the run. Which is, of course, the point in going away, Stephanie explained on our drive to the park. It simulates race day preparation: getting up early, packing your stuff, fueling properly, and generally getting yourself together. Great training. (Stephanie’s kindness and friendship was also my eye-opener to lesson #2. And she is the genius behind the ice bath process.)
  1. I love running in the dark. I already knew this, but it’s reaffirmed all the time. There’s something soothing about dulling one sense and heightening the rest of them.  It’s peaceful. Thoughtful. Joyful. Plus I seem to run faster when I can’t see how fast I’m running.
  1. But I should probably get a head lamp. This was also reaffirmed on a long run with Amy and the local Fleet Feet marathon training group, who’ve let us crash their early-morning parties a couple of times. New route, new potholes. Not very smart without light.
  1. Don’t short yourself on speed work days. I’ve taken to doing all my speedwork on the treadmill so I can’t slow down. 800s and mile repeats used to scare me, but now I embrace them.  They truly do make you faster.
  1. I don’t love tapering. That’s the phase I’m starting now. It’s hard to run fewer miles when you know your race is right around the corner. It takes a lot of mental discipline to rest, but it’s so necessary.
  1. I can go seven weeks without drinking. Not that I drank a lot, but I enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner, a night out on the town, a martini at the end of a long day. This current break started during the first of two high mileage weeks, when it occurred to me that it would be easier to get out of bed and run without any alcohol in my system. It was, so I did it again the next week. After two weeks, I didn’t want to break my streak. It’s been awesome to train alcohol-free.
  1. But I can’t go seven weeks without chocolate. I mean, really. Isn’t alcohol enough? Something’s gotta give.
  1. I am a genius. Just in this one thing: I chose a race that begins and ends at a brewery–before I ever thought about not drinking during training. Not just any ole brewery, but the Shiner brewery, some pretty awesome Texas beer. Knowing this is waiting for me at the end of the line makes lesson #8 a happier thing yet. shiner-spoetzl-brewery
  1. I am stronger than I feel and faster than I think. I only wish I could stop myself from feeling and thinking, at least about my perceived limitations.
  1. But that’s what Girls on the Run is all about: pushing yourself past your mental limitations, outside of the box you (and your surroundings) have trapped you in. I see the girls in our program differently during training. They always bring me joy, but during training they inspire me to make the seemingly impossible possible.
  1. There’s no reason I can’t run a marathon. I never have. But I am willing to try. Again. See lesson #12.

.1    I still have a lot to learn.

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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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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

coffe

I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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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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But I have promises to keep…

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sarah, go to the gym.

That’s what my friend says she needs someone to tell her, to motivate her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the gym. It’s not that deep down she really doesn’t want to go. It’s more that when time gets tight and life overwhelming, the first promise she breaks is the one she makes to herself.

She’s not alone. I can’t count the number of times I wake before my alarm, my daily calendar cluttering my mind, stealing my peace. It’s not just the tasks but the weight of it all that makes me want to lie in bed just a little longer.

So the mental calculations begin. What can I cut from my day to buy some time as I lie here, watching the slats for the first hint of dawn, delaying the inevitable? Never meetings or phone calls. Never promises to friends.

Always meetings with myself. Always promises to me.   milestogo

My workout, sometimes. More often, my writing. Always, something I like to do, just for me. So easy to back out on these things. I am not accountable for them to anyone but me.

But here’s the thing. Breaking these promises to myself, not doing the things that keep me whole, balanced, healthy, at peace with the world, ultimately affects my world and those who are in it. If I don’t take care of myself first, I am useless to others later.

I may become, in fact, a mean old lady with a sour face who lives alone with a dozen Chihuahuas in the house on the corner that’s overgrown with wild roses and thyme, the one that all the neighborhood kids pelt with rotten apples.

Or, worse, I may become a burden in my self-imposed declining health instead.

When I was in college, I visited my dad for the summer. It was his Saturday morning ritual to mow the lawn. Later in the day, he’d spend time with us. One Friday I thought I’d surprise him and mow the lawn while he was at work, free up his weekend time to spend with me.

Late that night when he came home and saw the yard shorn and flowerbeds well-tended, happiness was not the look on his face. His mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, inhaled deeply, eyebrows knitted downward into the deepest expression of disappointment I had seen on his face in a long time. I was heartsick and stammered to explain.

“But I like to mow the lawn,” he said. I had stolen his time, his exercise. His peace.

So I say to Sarah what I say to myself. Go to the gym. Go write or paint or walk your dog or any of the private, personal things you need just for you.

Ignore the arched brows when you go to the gym or out for a walk mid-morning, the smug comments about how nice it must be to get away and do something so unimportant when others are working or caring for kids.

Your time for you is your work. It’s your duty to yourself to be healthy, balanced, happy. It makes you more productive at work, more relaxed with your family and friends. Better able to tackle the rest of life.

I never mowed my dad’s lawn again. Now, when I mow my own, when I’m sticky with sweat and plastered with grass clippings and dirt, when I see the wake of clean lines left behind my mower and feel an immense satisfaction, an inner peace, I think of him and smile.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope I remember this, the necessity to write, to run. The satisfaction, the peace. Because I have promises to keep. And miles so go before I sleep, again.

 

 

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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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