reflecting on 2016

This year, there were two intentions upon which I wanted to focus. The first was commitment to distal goals. I wanted to feel active commitment; to engage with that life-cycle of working toward something incrementally. I feel like we, as a society, get wrapped up in instant gratification and the short-term. I wanted to challenge myself to dig deep for resilience and something different. The second was to nurture an undefended heart. Last year, my choir director told us that she wanted us to learn to sing with “an undefended heart.” The phrase resonated with me, because I could feel, in that season, that my heart was quite defended. My life was tortuously compartmentalized. I was working in a job that brought me no joy. I felt disconnected from my family life. Really, when I look back at 2014 and 2015, I realize how much depression and anxiety I carried, and yet refused to look in the eye.

I started out the year with a simple desire to run 1,000 miles in 2016. What developed as a result of working toward that goal, however, was unexpected and deeply satisfying. I experienced a great shift in my relationship with running—a deepening connection to the spirituality of the practice. I began to understand running practice as a friendship with the beauty of nature; an opportunity to listen deeply to the trails, to enter their sacred spaces, to respect and admire their dynamism through the days and months. Through the experience of adopting a regular running practice, I felt strengthened, both physically and mentally. My health improved. I became less susceptible to sickness, and I found a reliable outlet that helped me to re-calibrate mentally. I am proud of the metamorphosis. There were days that finding the motivation to run was challenging, but they were far less frequent than I would have guessed. I found, through this lifestyle change, that I picked up other habits, like regular walking. I started using my car less for errands. I found opportunities to get outside and move my body, even when it had nothing to do with running.

I think I made great strides toward nurturing an undefended heart. I pursued a career change that was sorely needed, and helped me re-frame my work-life balance. I found, as a result of this shift, that I was much more present at home. Being present at home helped me to feel comfortable at home. I slowed down. I scheduled less. I have started saying “no” to things, and valuing the unstructured time. The hidden time. I will be honest with you that the current state of national politics nearly broke my heart. It has been a painful month. The temptation to build a fortress around one’s heart, to simply block off emotions in their full spectrum of color, is ever present—perhaps now more than ever before. However, when I reach in and liberate the love, empathy, and hope in my heart, the result is unstoppable. I was at a rally two years ago, and a speaker framed love as a radical action. To love and to hope are courageous actions. To hate is cowardice. This is the dialectic I am working with, and intend to keep front and center in the coming year, as I believe a deep attention to present acts of loving kindness is power.

As I look to 2017, I feel that my intentions are less tied to specific goals (“Run A Marathon.” “Set A New PR.”), and more focused on sustainable habits. What I have learned from this year of experimentation, is that when the driving purpose is sustained, the other goals (both recognized and unexpected) are achieved. When we create a lifestyle that connects us more deeply to living, we make progress toward embodying our best selves.

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October Recap

October was a nourishing month for my running practice. The goal was to reclaim the joy of running. I started out with some ambivalence toward running, particularly after an anticlimactic end to my marathon training, followed by a less-than-enthralling half marathon. Nevertheless, I got back in my routine, cast off any expectations for lengthy distance, and returned to running my daily miles.

November 1st is a sweet anniversary for me. It was this time last year that I began “streaking” my miles across the month. I finished October with a total of 85 miles, bringing my total for 2016 to 935. I am close to my 2016 resolution of running 1,000 miles.

Taking some time to enjoy this season of carefree headlamp running, while giving some reflection to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year.

so, you had a bad race

I ran my first fall race yesterday, the Bellingham Bay Marathon Half Marathon. Despite training all summer, I did not end up running a marathon. On top of that, I had a pretty cruddy run yesterday. My time was a 20 minute improvement over last year, but I struggled to run the race. My struggle was not physical—in fact, training for a marathon and then running a half marathon is a great way to go physiologically. However, I encountered many mental walls, including a general feeling of motivational malaise throughout the event.

My brief reflections as I revisit what happened yesterday:

  • This race is so familiar that it has lost all novelty. I run most every part of the route regularly. The scenery doesn’t captivate me.
  • Going from Chicago Marathon to hometown half marathon was what psychologists might refer to as a non-event. I was so focused on achieving a long-term marathon goal for so long, that yesterday’s experience was… well… a disappointment.
  • The etiquette at the start was terrible. I get grumpy when I spend the first two miles weaving because racers didn’t self-select into the appropriate place in the line-up. I was just ahead of the 2:00 pacer, and there were crowds of people running a 2:30 or so ahead of me.
  • I’m suffering under the tyranny of speed. I’ve gotten really competitive with myself, and when I knew I wasn’t going to come in at my goal time, I felt crushed. I know I am in a bad place, because a year and a half ago, I was thrilled by a 2:15 finish at the Whidbey half, and now I am kicking myself for a 2:02.

I think I need a reboot. I need to reconnect with running, and find its love and compassion again. I need a time out from speed goals.

My proposal is to run a trail half marathon next month. It’s a race I have never done before, and the sheer elevation gain will make it impossible to finish anywhere remotely close to what I am used to. It will be about endurance, the process, natural beauty, and making it through. Yesterday felt hollow. I did not feel reborn. I felt, a little less stellar than I do after a regular long run.

And why is that? Because, for me, when I start running for extrinsic rewards, for the approval of others, my soul is diminished. However, when I run from the heart, for nobody other than myself, I feel like I am flying. I transform.

This is where I am right now… figuring things out, trying to navigate how I want to approach running in the coming weeks and months. For now, I am focusing back in on the daily miles, and recovering joy from all paces.

august recap

August was a fruitful month, totaling 105 miles. This brings my 2016 mileage up to 778 miles… creeping closer to the 1,000 mile goal! I took more recovery days to walk and do different types of exercise last month, and I focused many of my shorter runs on speed work. Happy to report that there was some pay-off, as I placed first in a 25K road race last weekend! I enjoy setting new personal records, but there was a unique satisfaction of being the first woman to cross the finish line that I will carry with me in the memory bank of “triumphant runs” for a long time to come.

I have approached September, and it is time to fit in one more long run this weekend before tapering. While I am still running an early fall marathon, there’s been a change of plans. My running buddy broke her toe, and needs a few weeks to heal and recuperate. We decided to defer our race registrations for 2017. Running Chicago without my friend would not feel right to me. However, I’ve put a great deal of effort and time into training this past spring and summer, and so I decided to run my hometown marathon at the end of this month, instead.

As the marathon chapter comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next. While it has been invigorating and adventuresome to ramp up my speed and set new records for myself, I feel a pull back to the basics of why running fills my cup. The high of competition is ephemeral. I miss the meandering solo runs through the woods… with no particular agenda other than to traverse and appreciate nature. I am giving some thought to pursuing trail running more intentionally in 2017… perhaps doing some of the trail races and mountain runs that are so plentiful in this corner of the country. I would like to broaden my horizons and tackle some new experiences.

origins

We all begin somewhere.

I was bitten by the running bug after I had my daughter, over five years ago.

Up until that point, jogging was an occasional activity.

When I gave birth to my daughter, and spent those first few tender months at home, I was consumed by depression. Taking care of a newborn did not come naturally to me. One day, I was a career woman with a busy schedule. The next day, I was sleep deprived to an extreme I did not think possible. I remember one occasion when we finally left the house to run an errand. In the light of day, my husband gently suggested that I might have a streak of baby poop on my cheek, and he wiped it with his sleeve.

I cried. I wept. I felt lonely.

I discovered, a few weeks in to this new life, that walking would be my medicine. No matter what had transpired the night before, no matter how demoralizing the patterns of the day, I could find salvation in walking.

At that point, we lived in a house in the woods—a good 30 minute drive from most hallmarks of civilization, including decent grocery stores. Nevertheless, the summer was relatively cool, and I spent many hours pushing a stroller around winding bends and pathways, exploring our community. Sometimes, the walks were the only time that the baby would sleep, and I could move freely, both hands unencumbered by the weight of flesh.

The walks became more frequent, and the baby also began to grow. As the summer petered out, my depression lifted, and I started to fall in love with my child. Somewhere in that span of time, the walks migrated toward runs. I left the baby at home with her loving father, and took off… exploring nearby lake trails and taking the daring risks of leaving pumped milk at home in exchange for an hour of freedom.

For me, running was born out of the growing pains of early parenthood. Each jog yanked my sanity back to earth, returning me home with renewed hope. My daughter grew in her early years, watching mama leave for runs and come back. The evening post-run shower became a ritual. First, to wash the sweat off my skin quickly before settling in to a nursing session. Later, I stumbled over rubber duckies and pitchers as my toddler sat at my feet keeping me company. These days, the bathroom door remains unlocked, and she will sit on the closed toilet lid, telling me about her school day while I rinse off my suds.

I feel pangs in my heart every year at this time, reflecting on the journey to this point. Fall has always seemed to me a time for renewal, despite the decomposition of nature’s greenery around me. Perhaps it is because I know that the hardest earned gifts often start from dark places.

We all begin somewhere.

now

On Saturday I ran 13.1 in under two hours. I haven’t accomplished that time since February, when I ran the Birch Bay Half. Unlike my experience in February, however, I was not incapacitated by couch potato-itis the rest of the day. Instead, I came home, showered, drank some coffee, ate some lunch, and drove down to a wedding.

Comparing these two runs interested me because they are almost exactly a half of a year apart. Although it seems like Birch Bay was just a few weeks ago, many months have passed. It is a congratulatory reminder that my dedication to a running practice of regularity and frequency is not short-lived. It is also reassuring that, even during the long days of marathon training, I can still pull off a sub-2:00 half marathon.

Sometimes training foists a complicated set of expectations upon a relationship with running. The pure enjoyment of the experience of running is muddled by the formulaic necessity to achieve a certain amount of designated miles and long runs per month. The activity can seem obligatory and monotonous. A three mile run, easily accomplished most any day, is suddenly Homeric and cumbersome. The feet and legs threaten to halt to a walk, even though the lungs and heart are capable of going further. These difficult runs do crop up, and perhaps more noticeably given the increased amount of time that is dedicated to the task.

In the midst of this reality, I am grateful for the recent memory of a triumphant and beautiful long run. A run that contributed toward my perceptions of my own efficacy and esteem. This was a small but significant reminder that I have improved… that six months of nourishing my practice has made a difference. As a parent, a professional, and an athlete, I have come to cherish the following mantra: Something is better than nothing, but that something doesn’t have to be everything. While my instinctive urge is to dwell on the future, I am reminded of the gifts of meeting the present with open arms. I am also reminded of the metaphor which has carried me for many years through distance running… that of a jug filling with each drop of rainwater. Some drops are harder won than others, but the jug fills nonetheless.

 

 

welcome, august

Today marks the beginning of August, a month of turning inward and preparing for the marathon. I believe this will be the month that will be comprised of the highest intensity of training. I plan to give myself a generous, yet active, tapering before the early October marathon. August, another long month. Like July, but different somehow. I woke up today and the clean sunlight filled my room. The air was crisper than it has been, almost bereft of humidity. I could smell the bay, but very faintly. The breeze was sweet and cold. The drive along the water’s edge to work, I observed the trees flirting with the idea of changing their hues… the assorted yellowed leaves, dried from the hot sun mixed with the vibrant green ones, shyly admitting the slightest red pigment. The blackberries are ripe and juicy, the wasps are aggressively finishing the season’s business, and the fat September spiders are beginning to spin their dewy webs off the fence posts, branches, and behind the compost bin. We take our cues from nature. These are the days to stretch; to accomplish what we can in the final weeks of the long warm days. Fruit is ripening, and so do we. Running becomes a meditative prayer; the routes and distances too familiar to cause bother. The trails which were once entirely verdant and overgrown are now brittle and painted by new colors. Late summer metamorphosis.

May Recap

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May was a great month for running. I was able to run 100 miles this month, and I am very proud of that. Over the last week, I’ve had the added challenge of accommodating runs while parenting solo (no, I don’t have a treadmill at home) and I spent a few days fighting a cold my daughter brought home (honestly, I am still dragging a bit). However, I succeeded with my mileage goal! I had some flexibility to space things out at the end of the month because I front-loaded in the beginning. I am starting to think that’s the ticket with a monthly mileage goal.

My total for the year is now up to 462. In addition to running, I have been very intentional this month about walking as much as possible. Walking helps us to recover and keep our blood circulating. It is also a wonderful stress-reliever in a completely different way from running. Most importantly, however, walking provides me with a wonderful opportunity to connect with my daughter. We spend a lot of time walking to parks and playing at playgrounds. It is nice to be able to move, talk, and enjoy our time together.

June is underway. And I’m just about four months away from the Chicago Marathon… not that I am counting down or excited or anything. One of my intentions was to become comfortable running 14-16 miles before June. I can honestly report that I am feeling really great about these distances, especially after a very even and sustainable 16 mile long run early in the month. I am ready to spend June slowly increasing the distance of my long runs. 10-12 mile distances are feeling much more like medium runs than long runs, which is great.

June will also usher in a return to racing. I have at least one race coming up during the month, and I am especially excited because it is a short one (5 miles). I plan to run the 5 miles to the race start, run the race, and then do the 5 miles home. It will be a great way to spice up a long run.

Happy Trails!

sum of the journeys

Two years ago, I started my doctorate. Like many other long-term commitments in my life, returning to school for this last credential was a leap of faith. I was naïve and had no idea what balancing a full-time career, a family, and a full load of coursework year round would look like. If somebody had given me glimpses of the future, I am sure I would have responded “I’m not ready yet.”

Here’s the thing about those crossroads, though. We never feel entirely ready. And we don’t know what we are made of until we are challenged by every aspect of the process. Reflecting on the last two years, many images flash through my mind. Hours upon hours of squinting at datasets. Thousands of pages of academese. Too many papers, responses, and annotations to keep track of. When I think about it all, I feel no regrets. I know I developed skills, I know I gained expertise, and I know there are new wrinkles in my brain that could not be caused by any other experience.

Currently, I find myself at a new crossroads; a new leap of faith. Coursework is coming to an end, and I am at the precipice of dissertating. In my typical fashion, I have been doing as much preparation work as I possibly can. I have dozens of annotations for literature review, I’ve spent the last two years thinking through my topic and design, and I am beginning to visualize how I will defend my proposal to committee.

I’ve remained very private about my identity as a doctoral student. Part of that relates to my overall preference toward privacy regarding many things in my life. The other factor, however, is that this educational journey is a gift I hold very close to my heart. It is precious to me. I find that my rituals of reading, writing, and research lend themselves to a humble manner. This is my own, and nobody else can do it for me. With that in mind, I chug along quietly.

One surprising thing I have found is that the experience of designing and executing research is a creative process. To be successful at research, I require deep periods of introspection. I am only now discussing my dissertation topic, even though I have been sitting with it for two years. Quiet reflection gives me the time I need to sort the pieces (visualize Tetris) and figure out my next steps. In my life balancing a high-stress career and my family commitments, however, there is little space afforded for reflection. For that reason, my running practice is the single greatest support in my success as a doctoral student. Without the sweat, circulation, hours in my own thoughts, I would struggle. I would struggle to find clarity and peace, I would struggle to locate new pockets of motivation, and I would struggle to mitigate the stress of living.

So, while training for a marathon parallel to writing a dissertation might seem odd to some, it was a really easy choice for me to make. Both of these tasks are exercises in self-regulation and personal integrity. At the end of the day, the only person who will be impacted by an incomplete dissertation or an unfinished marathon goal will be me. By the same token, earning my doctorate and finishing another marathon will not dramatically change my daily life. However, it is the sum of these journeys that I can recognize as valuable. The experience of pushing myself to new limits; knowing for any future life challenges that I carry these feats in my pocket.

April Recap

I finished April with 87 miles, bringing my cumulative mileage for the year up to 362. I think I am making good progress toward meeting my goal of running 1,000 miles this year. April was good to me, plenty of runs of various distances, beautiful weather, and lots of sun and light in the evenings. I was very busy throughout the month, and I am quite proud of achieving the mileage that I did. The last day of the month, I ran 15 miles with my running buddy. We tackled the distance at a relaxed pace, and I really enjoyed the run from start to finish. It was an appropriate way, I thought, to mark the passing of time into a more intense season of training. I don’t have any races planned for May. My focus this month is to maintain a practice of running most days a week, and to continue keeping up with long runs (10+ miles each weekend). My biggest mistake three years ago when I last trained for a marathon was prioritizing long runs above regular 2-5 mile tempo runs. I think that the uneven distribution of miles over the week led to many of my IT-band woes. Luckily, I haven’t had those aches and pains since (knock on wood), and I feel much stronger overall.

Yesterday, I began the month with a 3 mile recovery run, down to the beach through my neighborhood trails. I reflected on where I was five years ago… heavily pregnant and completely clueless about the future to come. Although I dabbled in running prior to pregnancy, I really became a runner after I became a mother. As I prepare for my baby’s fifth birthday (in a bit of disbelief), I can’t help but to reflect on my own journey these last few years. I feel a wonderful balance in my running right now that I have not achieved before. Similarly, I feel as though I have hit my stride now that my daughter has outgrown the baby years. In life, there is a constant ebb and flow of conditions, relationships, and environments which surround us. However, for the time being, as ephemeral as it might be, I am grateful for the equilibrium.

Other intentions for the month include staying hydrated, remembering to slather on my sunscreen, and continuing to find new local trail routes for my repertoire (keeps things exciting and fresh).

Happy trails!