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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Tri Dog

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Queequeg cropped

Nearly two weeks ago, the morning before the Tour de Jalapeno, my dog Queequeg went tearing out the door at 4:15 am after some small animal that’d been lurking in our backyard for weeks.  She came back on 3 legs, dragging one behind her.

A torn ACL, it turns out, requiring extensive surgery to repair both it and her knee.

She spent more than a week laying around and staring at me with sad eyes, her leg swollen and bruised and ugly.  She wasn’t at all interested in toys or food or playing with my other dog, Smaug, from whom she is usually inseparable.

But then one morning as Smaug and I were leaving the house for a walk, there she was, tottering on 3 legs in front of us, wagging her tail slowly, nudging my hand and sticking her nose in the door crack.  She wanted to walk too.

I think I know how she felt.  Habit and instinct and whatever sense of fun dogs have was kicking in. A morning walk is what we do, what we’ve done her whole life.  No sooner had she started to feel even a bit better her first impulse was to be outside and run.  A dog after my own heart.

Queequeg’s stitches came out yesterday, and the doctor gave her the all-clear.  He suggested I take her to the pool for a few days, make her swim, rehab her leg.  Looks like we’re going to have to drag ourselves out of bed earlier than usual for a while, sneak to the pool before the neighbors are up and about. Somehow I think they’d frown on a Chihuahua using the neighborhood pool, even on doctor’s orders.

I hope Queequeg likes swimming as much as I do.  Soon enough, she can walk to her heart’s content. Maybe next week I’ll get her a bike.  Before you know it, she’ll be a bona fide tri dog.

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The Price of One Bad Meal

Posted on July 19, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Duck Waddle

I’ve been recovering most of the week.  Not from a race or an injury or even an illness, but from a meal.

I talk a lot about my love for (not-so-healthy) food. Chocolate.  The -ito family (Dorito, Frito, Cheeto).  Nevertheless, for the most part I am a healthy eater and know enough to stay away from certain foods, or at least eat them in moderation.

I generally avoid dairy and gluten, limit sodium, and try not to eat refined sugar that often.  I eat complex carbs and protein and enough produce to compost the entire neighborhood.

So I don’t know what I was thinking on Sunday night when my boyfriend and I sat down for dinner at the Alamo Café. We had just come from his grandmother’s 90th birthday party and I was pleased with myself for by-passing sandwiches and cake (yes, cake—the chocolate kind, with gobs of white, fluffy frosting) and munching instead on nuts and fruit.  Too pleased, apparently.

And too hungry to by-pass chips and queso. Margaritas with salt. The smell of fresh flour tortillas. Before I could sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” I was elbow deep in carne guisada. Too much carne guisada.

I didn’t even finish my plate.  I left the rice and refried beans, opting for a side of boracho beans instead, and picked out the chunks of meat, leaving behind the glop of thick gravy they came covered in.  Still, I left there waddling like a duck.

Sodium, gluten, enriched flour and lord knows what else bloated my body for days.  On Monday morning, I couldn’t even run. (Is this what my pregnant friends feel like?  How do they do it?)

On Tuesday, I managed a waddle/run—at my slowest pace in years.   The rest of the week was a wash.

An entire week of fruitful exercise and six pounds of bloat were the price I paid for one bad meal.  I don’t know how people eat like this on a regular basis, but I know many who do.   I wish they could spend a week clean so they could experience natural energy, healthy-food style.  From now on, I sure will.

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In a Minute There Is Time

Posted on July 12, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

disturb the universe

One of the interesting things about having read so much literature is that snippets of poetry pop into my head at what seem like weird times.  I’ll be sweating in my car and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” trickles into mind:

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

Or maybe I’ll be in a public bathroom and get a whiff of that lovely orange-scented “fragrance” and lines from Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” waft by:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been haunted by Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” one of my all time favorite poems:

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

These lines fall upon me at what seem like odd times.  When I’m running. Biking. Staring at my training log tacked on the side of my fridge.

On Thursday morning I figured out what it is that’s been getting me, why Prufrock haunts me.  I stood staring again at my log. Just over 4 weeks until the Olympic distance tri I was sure I would enter.  Thursday.  I was supposed to swim. Instead, I drew a line through the day.  I looked over my plan.  Three more swim days Xed out.  Two strength-training days.

My upper body isn’t doing what it’s designed to do.  It’s supposed to be strong.  Lift things.  Move other, heavier things.  Like me. Through the water.  Nearly 3 months since a shoulder injury caused me to stop doing “normal” activities, I am still unable to resume them fully.  (I somehow suspect that when my doctor said go ahead and resume normal activities, his idea of “normal” was a bit different from mine.)

No Olympic distance tri for me, it seems. Not yet, anyway.

By Thursday afternoon I revised my goals. Lofty ones, maybe, but why not dream big?  San Antonio RnR half marathon in November—to qualify for the Houston marathon in January.  And, if I’m going to dream even bigger, why not see if in Houston I can qualify for Boston?

Who knows if I’ll qualify for anything, but it can’t hurt to aim high.  If I can’t swim, I might as well run.

At least that’s my plan.  For the minute.

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The Dark Side of a Morning Run

Posted on July 5, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

salado heron

My feet know the roads surrounding Salado, Texas, better than any other roads.  Having lived there four years, I ran them hundreds of times.  In the predawn hours, a world completely different from the one most residents see in broad daylight thrives beneath the stars and the moon.

When I lived in Salado, I could tell you where the doe threaded their way from the creek to their bedding field, followed closely by their fawns.  Two does bore twins each year, and I’d mark their monthly growth.  I stumbled across bucks one early morning, gathered in a semi-circle around two sparring for dominance. I heard antlers cracking hundreds of meters away before I caught sight of the proud assembly.

I could tell you which field was manned by hawks, adjacent to the stretch of road on which I did sprints.  Then there was Heron Pool, Woodpecker Corner, Skunk Alley, Camelback Hill—all places I named based on the animals that frequented them or the lay of the land.

So when I visited Salado for a couple of days early this week, my excitement swelled at the prospect of an early morning run.  I planned my route:  5 miles, from my mom’s house at the top of the hill, in a circle through the hawks’ territory and the sparring field, through downtown, and then an out-and-back past the old Salado cemetery before I tackled Skunk Alley and headed up the ½-mile hill back home.

I woke up minutes before my alarm, at 4:28 am, and was out the door by 5:10. I no sooner stepped into the yard than a deer snorted and nearly gave me a heart attack.  Even though there was a sliver of moon, the sky was too black to see much of anything beyond the looming shapes of trees.  I walked to the end of the cul-de-sac, waiting for my Garmin to find the Salado satellites, and quickly realized that Salado, like so many other towns, was hard up for cash.  None of the already sparse streetlights was lit.

I stood in the dark and stared at the stars and listened to the snorting taper off into the rustling leaves. It was dark, all right. None of the houses even emanated light.  I waited there at the crossroads until my eyes could adjust to the inky black.

Did I mention it was dark?  I paced down the road a bit, still waiting for the satellites, noting my amplified sense of hearing.  More leaves rustled, although there was no breeze, and goosebumps prickled my skin.

I get scolded frequently for running alone, in the dark:  Aren’t you afraid someone will jump you from behind a tree, drag you into a field?  There are so many crazy people in this world…

Crazy people don’t scare me.  I run with the awareness of a cat—which is why I don’t listen to music when I run.  I want to know what’s around me.  No, it’s not people or the possibility of being butchered in a field that triggers goosebumps.

It’s the old Salado cemetery.

Or, to be more exact, my imagination.

Most of the fiction I write has elements of horror, the supernatural.  I don’t need to watch horror movies (I shun them like the plague).  I have enough creepiness in my head to last nine lives.

So standing in the pitch black of pre-dawn waiting for the satellites, my skin rippling like the ocean before a storm, I got to thinking.  I haven’t lived in Salado for 2 ½ years. What do I know anymore?  It’s quite possible the deer have been domesticated like the Far Side cows and are hanging out in the newly cleared subdivision-to-be, a spotter calling “car” as the rest of the herd hide their newspapers and resume grass-chewing.  Maybe the hawks have retired to South America for good. It’s even feasible that Skunk Alley has succumbed to gang activity and I may very well get sprayed—or worse—this time through.

So, really, who needs 5 miles?

Especially past the old Salado cemetery, where the pre-Civil War gravestones jut from the earth like ruined fingers under the waning moon, bats flit and dip through the phantom-shaped shadows, and willow trees cast their weepy leaf-arms about like matted, tangled hair.

My 4-mile run was a peach.  The wind chimes big as organ pipes hung grandly from the house in the dip by the bend, and the kitty-cat mailbox painted in pastels stood welcoming and warm at the end of the cottage’s driveway.  My mom’s subdivision, at least, hasn’t changed much.

Who needs nature anyway?

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I Tried

Posted on June 28, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Jumping_Gator

Believe it or not, I survived last Saturday’s Gator Bait sprint tri at Lake Boerne, Texas.  Better yet, I actually enjoyed it.  Once I got there.

My day did not go quite as planned. But they never do.

Prerace

For once, I don’t wake up before my alarm.  When it sounds at 4 am, I’m startled from a dead sleep and am so disoriented that I contemplate sleeping for another hour.  But then I remember the race.

I packed up my gear the night before, pinned my bib to my shirt, loosened my shoes.  You know, all that prerace stuff. All I have to do is drink lots of coffee, force my pre-run breakfast down (buckwheat, banana, honey, chocolate almond milk, and blueberries), shower (Yes, I know, I’m just going to get all gunky with lake water and sweat and dirt, so why bother? Because it wakes me up and helps me focus. Showering is my second most powerful think time.), and load my bike onto my car.

My plan is to leave at 5, but secretly I know I can leave at 5:15 and still be way on time.  Start time isn’t until 7, and it’s about a 45 minute drive.  I’m one of those people who get anxious if I’m not at least 45 minutes early to a race (10 minutes early for everything else), so I factor in plenty of time.

So I think.

Even though my plan is simply to enjoy the day and not stress about my time or drowning or anything else, an unusual prerace anxiety kicks in. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I don’t leave until almost 5:30.

I drive 70ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye in my rearview mirror. My bike rack, you see, is almost older than I am, and I rarely use it.  It’s one of those models with lots of straps and buckles and only one brace.  My worst nightmare is that my bike will fly off the back of my car and onto someone else’s hood.

(I’ve been procrastinating getting a new rack, simply because I don’t use it that often. For the most part, I bike from home. Although that would probably change if I had a bike rack I felt comfortable with, right?)

So.  Ten miles out from my exit, one eye in the rearview mirror, and I realize I can’t see my bike’s front tire anymore.  That can’t be a good sign.  I pull over at the next exit.  Sure enough, a strap has loosened and the rack has slipped.  My front tire is only inches from the road. I tighten up the straps, readjust my bike, and decide to take the frontage road the rest of the way.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), and vow to throw my bike in my car on the way home, ditch the stupid rack, and get a new one.

I drive 55ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye still in my rearview mirror.  Before I know it, I’m in the middle of lovely downtown Boerne, where the speed limit is 25, there are lots of stop lights, and the road is under construction.  Apparently, the frontage road doesn’t front I-10 for the whole stretch.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), turn around, and try to figure out how to get back to the highway.  Eventually, I do.  My heart rate is slightly elevated.

I arrive at the park at 6:30. Just enough time to pick up my chip, get body marked, and spread out my stuff in the cramped little corner area that’s left in transition.  Barely enough time to stand in the massive porta-potty line, where I meet a nice woman who says her husband told her she should just pee in the water while she’s swimming.  We agree that this is not an art either one of us has yet mastered, but if they teach it in triathlon courses, we may just take one after all.

The Swim

I decide that if I’m going to enjoy the race, I should be one of the last people in the water.  I haven’t been in the water as much as I’ve liked, and I really don’t want to deal with elbows and feet slapping me around.  I stand toward the end with a dozen or so first-timers.  We joke and laugh and I loosen up enough to have fun.

It’s a windy day and the water is choppy.  I try to swim slow and steady. Every time I turn my head for a breath, a wave slaps me in the face and I inhale water.  A couple of strokes in I revert to the breaststroke, which is my strong suit, but not what I have been practicing for nearly a month. I try at every turn to swim freestyle, but quickly switch to breaststroke so that I can breathe easy and see in front of me.

I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, but I don’t really care. I swim at a pace I can comfortably sustain, with my eye on the guy in front of me, who I secretly want to pass.  I do, finally, and am later stunned to find that my time is less than 20 minutes.

500m swim time:             12:17 = 2:27/100m

TI

What can I say about a transition?  I don’t practice them. I was wet.  It was hard to pull on my shirt.  But I remembered to stick a piece of gum in my mouth.

T1 time:                                2:37       

 

The Bike

I love my bike.  It’s about 7 years old, bottom of the line.  It’s a hybrid, with slightly thicker tires than pretty much everyone else’s, has mountain bike handlebars, and is relatively heavy.  I don’t care.  It’s my bike, and it gets me where I want to go.

The 13 mile ride is an out and back, with a turnaround on the top of aptly named Heartbreak Hill. We head into the wind.  A half mile out, three miles of road has been freshly graveled and tarred.  The out is slow-going, but breezy, and at least I dry off relatively fast.

I pass a guy as the sun peeks out from behind some clouds and shines on his backside.  He is wearing gray spandex, and as soon as the sun hits him, his shorts become less opaque than he is probably aware. I gasp and wonder if I should tell him later.  A guy passes both of us.  He is wearing black spandex.  The sun has the same effect on his shorts.  I make a mental note that they are both wearing regular old spandex and not tri shorts.  I chuckle, but then realize that so am I. This is no longer funny.

(Later that morning, I drag my boyfriend outside into the sun, bend over, and ask him if he can see through my shorts.  He cannot.  I am relieved beyond words.)

I start my way up Heartbreak Hill, giving myself a pep talk. I rode all the way up last year, dang it, so I’ll be danged if I’m going to walk it this year.  Two-thirds up my quads are burning, I am traveling at a speed of 2 mph, and I realize I still have to run.  I swallow my pride, dismount, and run my bike up the hill at over 4 mph.  At least I’m gaining speed.

The most beautiful thing about Heartbreak Hill is that you get to go down.  I do, feeling like that stupid pig in the insurance commercial as I squeal “Wheeee!!” all the way down. Seriously. It was fun. Plus no one was around.

Because I was one of the last in the water, much of the bike route has cleared and during most of my ride I am alone.   I hit a stretch of road with a breathtaking view of misty, rolling hills; birds sailing; flowers blooming; fingers of sun touching here and there.  I dawdle along, gaping, thanking God that I am here, until the little voice in my head screams that this is a race, dang it, not a joy ride, and I better step it up.

I do, and truly enjoy the entire ride, minus the gravel and tar.  Later, however, I will be disappointed in my bike time. It’s the nature of the racing beast, I guess.

                13 mile bike time:            54:32 = 14.3 mph

T2

I approach the transition area with a little boy who’s maybe 10.  He’s in my way and I want to run him over, but decide that might look bad, as the spectators hanging around the area ooh and aah about a kid in the race.  I give him a wide berth and run to my space.  He pulls up next to me.  (Go figure.) I start to feel bad about the urge to run him down, so I make small talk.

“How was it?” I ask as I change shoes.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It was fun.  But not that bad.  I rode 56 miles last Sunday.”

The pummeling urge resurfaces, so I quickly look for the exit.

T2 time:                                1:54

The Run

I am a runner.  Have I mentioned that? This is the leg I am looking most forward to.

The run is several out and backs on 3.5 miles of trail. The trail is rockier than I remember, with steeper hills.  I feel like I’m running through molasses at first, and consciously make myself run faster.  I fix my eyes on the trail ahead of me, repeat a mantra in my head:  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I level at a pace I could maintain for hours.

There are no mile markers on the route, and I have no idea how far I’ve run or exactly how much farther there is to go.  The wind picks up, and my hat flies off twice. I run clutching it in my hand until I can finally keep it in place on the last stretch.

I feel good, and when we turn the last corner I am surprised to see the finish.  Surely we can’t be done already?  I turn to cross the field toward the line, and a runner comes up behind me, yells at me to pick it up.  Her encouragement lights a fire under me, and we sprint together to the finish line.

                3.5 mile run time:            29:19 = 8:22 min/mile

Post Race

I did it. I finished the sprint tri without drowning, twisting an ankle, lobbing my bike onto someone’s windshield.  I even came in under my goal time of 1:45.

                Overall tri time:                                1:40:40

I guess the bottom line is this.  I am a runner. But I love the heck out of training for tris.  I have my eye on an Olympic distance in August.  It will be my first.  At least it will prompt me to finally get a new bike rack.

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I Can Tri

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Image courtesy of Triathlon Gifts & Merchandise

On Saturday I am participating in the Gator Bait sprint tri.  My training log for this race has been posted on my fridge since early March. I included in my plan vacation time, other days I knew I’d need off. I included races I intended to run between then and now, extra weeks of training to focus on running.

Usually by now, the week going into a race, I’m a bit anxious. My mind is completely focused on the race. I’m visualizing the entire morning—from waking up before the alarm to getting ready, getting there, fidgeting at the start line, going the distance, and crossing the finish line with the hope of setting a PR.  I’ve checked my gear a million times. Put on my lucky necklace.

This time, however, it’s different.  I feel relaxed, at peace.  Although the race is certainly on my mind and I’m preparing, I’m not obsessing as usual.

I race and train for several reasons:

  1. It feels good.
  2. I’m a better writer when I run.
  3. Training promotes self-discipline.
  4. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
  5. My confidence increases when I push myself to do things I think I cannot do.
  6. If I can reach an unreachable goal here, in this area of my life, why can’t I do it anywhere?

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the training more than the races I’ve entered.  I get a supreme satisfaction when my training log progresses from empty to full, when there’s the least bit of improvement in my running, biking, or swimming.  I even enjoy it when I stop eating cookies and my body gradually changes.

Training is transformative.  Race day is not the culmination of training; it is the by-product.  It’s a goal I shoot for, but not the end in itself.  It’s one step on the road to becoming something more, something better; one more reminder of capability, as well as potential.  It’s a measure of ability in the moment.

If we are lucky, there will be another race.

Going into this race, I already know what’s next for me.  Two races–bigger races.  Two goals I have never been able to meet before.  One I have been too afraid to try.

That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the moment on race day tomorrow.  On the contrary, I think I am finally in a place where I can enjoy the race itself.

My training plan didn’t pan out as I expected.  I took a lot of time away from training to recover from illness, a car accident I am still feeling.  During this forced hiatus, I was surprised to find how often I’ve taken for granted my body, my ability to do the things I love.

So I’m approaching Saturday’s race with a new excitement, a peaceful satisfaction.  The joy I feel in doing this tri—not having been able to do anything for weeks—is that I can.

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When You’re Smiling, the Whole World Smiles with You

Posted on June 14, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Kids-Smile-3-300x198

If there’s one thing that bothers me it’s being ignored.  Not by my mom or siblings or friends, but by complete strangers.   It seems odd to me to pass another person and not make eye contact, whether I’m in a hallway, on the sidewalk, or in a grocery store.  I find it especially weird to not acknowledge someone when we are the only two people in sight.  Like, say, on a trail in the middle of a forest.

I try to be a friendly everywhere, even when I run.  I like to smile and say hello to everyone I encounter. On long runs, however, I may not always smile at passers-by. If you catch me in the last quarter or so of my run, you may get only a nod, a flick of the hand in your general direction.  Eye contact, for sure, but it may be the case that all the extra energy I have is expended by looking at you.

However, I rediscovered something during last weekend’s long run.  The power of a smile.  I don’t mean how a smile affects the recipient—at some point in my run I really don’t care. I just want to get the damn thing over with and get back to my car.  I mean the power a smile can have on your energy level.

I started my run a little later than usual last Saturday on a trail I haven’t run since February.  It was packed—alarmingly packed—with people of all persuasions:  Runners, walkers, bikers, stroller-pushers, dog-walkers, meanderers, and even kids on Big Wheels.

I found all these people to be a challenge.  On the one hand, I was happy they were there, particularly the runners.  My competitiveness piqued and I ran a little bit faster because of it.  On the other hand, there were so many people (dogs, bikes, walkers spread in a horizontal line across the trail—and even a startled deer) to dodge that I initially found it difficult to get into my own head space.

But once I was there, it was bliss. Thank God. The reason (one of many) I run.

Since it was later in the morning than dawn, the Texas sun was up and blazing.  Since it was later in the morning than I’m used to, I didn’t think to bring a hat or sunglasses.  I headed back to my car squinting into the sun, sweating profusely, and probably not quite the friendly runner I try to be.

Before long, my squint screwed into a scowl.  I didn’t really notice it, however, until a pack of people came into eyeshot, walking slowly toward me.  Somehow, I had been running a stretch of trail virtually alone. Just me and the cardinals and an errant mosquito or two.  Bliss. Thank God.  Another reason I run.

Because I had such a long stretch alone, I forgot about people, pulled into my head, and apparently twisted my face into a grimace.  When I passed this mob of walkers, I forced myself to make eye contact, and I smiled.

Incredibly, all the tension in my body melted away.   A simple smile loosened my facial muscles, which are connected to my neck muscles, which are connected to my shoulder muscles, then back, arms. You know the song.  It’s all connected, and like a ripple the tension throughout my body released.  I felt stronger, lighter, and faster.  In short, I hauled.

And then I remembered that I had heard this before from numerous sources:  We tend to clench our jaw, tighten our face when we’re stressed.  If we can remember to relax our face, our whole body loosens and we de-stress.  What better way to relax your face than to smile?

So I tested this theory for the rest of my run by making faces.  I must have scowled, grimaced, frowned, glowered, glared, smirked, and puckered, then alternately smiled, beamed, grinned, and glimmered.  It was amazing what a difference a simple expression could make in the whole experience of my run—my pace, gait, attitude, and posture improved remarkably.

I made it back to my car and walked around the park a bit, drinking water, cooling down.  Another group of walkers I vaguely remember passing must have parked there too, because they came back loudly, chatting it up.  Until they saw me.  They stopped, quieted down, and gave me a wide berth.  I guess I had forgotten to pay attention to passers-by mid-experiment.

I made a point of walking by them as I left.  I smiled, Chesire cat-like, and nodded.  They averted their eyes nervously, as if I wasn’t there.  For once, I didn’t mind being ignored.

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You Can Always Go Home

Posted on June 7, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Norman the Bike Riding Dog

Sundays are bike + run days.  I ride for time or distance, then follow it with a run, adjust to the jarring transition from legs churning like a windmill to legs thick and heavy like sacks of water balloons tight and full and ready to pop.

My sprint tri is in two weeks.  Even though I fell way behind in my training, spent three weeks doing nothing, then two more unable to swim or strength train, I’m getting less anxious.  It feels good to be back on my training schedule. I simply do what I can, as hard as I can, each day.

On Sunday I rode my long route for the first time since last summer.  I debated taking this route until the final minute, when the last option to turn whizzed by.  I hadn’t even driven down this road in weeks, so I didn’t know what shape it was in. For a long time, the westbound lane was under construction, the shoulder ripped to shreds.

If the road gets too bad, I thought as I headed east, I can always turn around and go home.

Biking for me is different from running.  My head gets lazy when I bike.  My thoughts drift off and leave my body to fend for itself.  As a result, my legs sometimes forget that I can pull the pedals up as hard as I can push them down, and I slow down.  I have to remind myself frequently what proper biking technique should feel like.

So on Sunday, I’m dawdling down the road, coasting up and down the hills like I’m on some pleasant carnival ride, scanning the pavement for smushed walking sticks (they grow to the size of hot dogs in Texas—apparently everything is bigger here), and I forget to pay attention to the westbound lane.  Ten miles out at the bottom of a hill I realize I have no idea if I can get home.

For a moment, I panic.  It’s later in the morning than I usually ride, and there is more traffic.  The last thing I want to do is ride a narrow shoulder into traffic for the ten miles home.

Isn’t that life, I think.  We get so focused on traveling in one direction that we forget to plan for correction, just in case.  And before we know it, we’re so far gone that we fear we can never go back the same way again, that maybe we can’t go home.

But here’s the thing.  With experience, you learn that you can.  Sometimes you adapt, sometimes you simply get lucky.  Sometimes the ride is smooth, other times you have to get off and walk in another direction.  There is always, however, a way, and if you have faith, you’ll find it.

I got lucky and made it home, bike and tires intact. But I found one more thing I forgot to take into account.  I live on the fringe of Texas Hill Country, where the ripple effect of the land tapers off into rolling waves, and the road I traveled was more roller-coaster-like than I remembered. Even though it’s been a few days, my legs can’t seem to forget.

This Sunday, I think I’ll take the same route.  Keep my head in the ride this time, give my quads a break.  I know what to expect of the road, at least ten miles out.  But this time I think I’ll go farther, see what’s over that hill.

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Where Do We Find Courage?

Posted on May 31, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The-Thing-You-Cannot-Do

“I really like to run,” the woman at my elbow was saying.  I was only half listening.  The 3rd Annual Girls on the Run Cupcake 5K Fun Run, our annual fundraiser sponsored by Kate’s Frosting, was about to begin and we were gathered at the start line.

Was everyone here? Did they know where the start line began? Was the water stop ready?  Was it 8:00 yet? My attention was divided between too many things to listen adequately.

“I really want her to like running,” the woman nodded toward her 10-ish daughter who was pacing the curb, drawing a line on the pavement with her toe, “as much as I do.”

“Yes,” I murmured, still distracted.  Kate was setting up the tower of cupcakes at the finish line.

“You know I’ve run 14 marathons,” she said nonchalantly, as if she declared she’d eaten 14 cupcakes instead.

For perhaps the first time during our conversation, I looked straight at her.  She was shorter than me, the top of her head reaching maybe my chin.  Not muscular or runner thin.  Plump, to be precise.

I closed my gaping mouth before a fly landed in it, acutely aware and somewhat ashamed that—blink—just like that I had made a judgment about this woman and her ability or propensity to run. Unconsciously, I had observed and assessed her.  She didn’t look like a runner—whatever that means—to me.

Two seconds, Malcolm Gladwell contends, is all it takes for us to decide.  In the blink of an eye we make up our minds about what something—or someone—is or is not.

Fourteen marathons.  Four. Teen.  Never in a million years would I have guessed.  I must have looked as surprised as I felt because she smiled wryly and nodded.  “I’ve done a half Ironman too.”

“No way!” I blurted, no longer able to contain what by now had become excitement.

When I closed my gaping mouth I fortunately opened my mind.  Standing here in front of me was true inspiration.  If she could do these things, then why couldn’t I?

It’s been in the back of my mind for years that maybe one day I could do a half Ironman.  Maybe start with an Olympic distance tri.  I’ve still never run a marathon.  Trained for 2, but stopped by injury.  What was I waiting for to try again?

Inspiration.  Courage.

I have had neither, and didn’t even realize it until I met the marathon woman.  I haven’t lived up to the message that’s been posted on my refrigerator since January 15, 2009, the date on the tattered calendar square that states:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

–          Anaïs Nin

This square of paper has stared me in the face for four years in two different homes. The message travels with me, so that I don’t forget it. Some days I stop as I’m rummaging through the fridge and read it.  Other days I don’t see it at all, hanging amid the Mickey Mouse and bluebonnet magnets.

For the past 3+ weeks, however, I have seen it. Read it anew.  Each time, I think of this woman and her fourteen marathons, her half Ironman, and I see my own possibilities expand.

I am excited to try something new.  And when I think about this woman, I remember her daughter tight-rope-walking the curb and think what a lucky girl, to have a mom who can show her so many things.

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