while you were sleeping

morning run

Image description: Morning sun ray shines through tree branches. A crow flies above.

I woke up early this morning. The light was fading into my eastern-facing bedroom window by 5:00 AM. I was up even before that, mentally busy and reflective. I remembered how, six years ago, I would watch the dawn slowly creep into the house as I listened to my sleeping newborn, soaking in the precious stillness of the time between night and day. The days were lonely and the nights were tiring, but the in-between would always bring a smile to my face. This morning, stirring from the covers, I turned off my alarm, trudged to my closet, and grabbed some running clothes. I could either be awake and horizontal, or awake and on the road. I decided to ditch bed and greet the morning on foot.

There is a great peacefulness in leaving a slumbering house at daybreak. The roads are clear of cars, and the crossing lights turn immediately in my favor, as though my fingers shoot out electricity. The dew glistens on grass, the clouds part away to frame slanted sun rays, and the birds indulge in the day’s first mating songs. As the run progresses, I encounter a handful of other runners. They are smiling, too. We share a secret euphoria. No troubles from the day are being hashed out or replayed; they simply haven’t happened yet. Traversing the streets of a quiet town evokes the euphoria a child feels on a snowy morning; that sense of stillness; that sense that my surroundings are my own private treasure.

Eventually, I glance down at my watch, and realize it is time to head home. The morning begins to ripen. Car doors open and shut and silhouettes are seen in kitchen windows. The neighborhood is waking up. I return, quietly, through the back door. Gently removing my shoes, I softly walk back up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom. Sitting down at the foot of her bed, I watch her slowly stir from sleep. Her bright green eyes flash open. She takes her warm hand, placing the palm on top of my knee. “Mama! You’re home.”

Nourishing the process

Yet, we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate… It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sails, hull, wind, and the sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins… Contrary to what we usually believe, movements like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)

Self-esteem…is something completely different in the incremental system. It is not an internal quantity that is fed by easy successes and diminished by failures. It is a positive way of experiencing yourself when you are fully engaged and are using your abilities to the utmost in pursuit of something you value. – Carol Dweck (Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development)

tunnel

Image description: Spring green foliage peeks through a dark sandstone tunnel.

The quest for Optimal Experience is a hunger that I share with many of my closest friends and family members. As an introvert who is completely at peace with introversion, I do not require many in my circle to feel connected and uplifted. However, when individuals radiate intrinsic motivation, I am immediately attracted to their presence. Striving to achieve something in the long-term as an incremental journey is at the core of how I stay motivated. Living in a society that worships instant gratification, short-cuts, and quick fixes, it is sometimes challenging to find opportunities to nurture the internal locus.

When we watch the flames of a bonfire lap up, curving around the logs and branches, they seem chaotic and impulsive. But as Judy Brown reminds us, “the flame that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.” The seemingly fickle fire is, in many ways, a metaphor for motivation. We often describe motivation as a finite resource, something that is either earned or depleted—or, in a broader extension—the overall label of an individual’s value. “He’s completely unmotivated!” is a phrase I’ve heard rattled off numerous times during my career as a higher education professional. We identify motivation as a quantity, as a measure of judgement. I challenge this assumption through a belief that motivation is an intrinsic and malleable asset we all possess. Like many other dimensions of personality, ranging from grit to empathy, motivation is muscle that must be exercised intentionally and regularly for the purpose of building its strength.

Given that belief, I turn to the idea that motivation, like the flame, finds its way. As stewards of our minds and bodies, we maintain some control over how we stack the logs and feed the fire. We also develop, through patience and observation, the retrospection and experience to understand that obstacles are not failures. Usually, when I am building a fire in the back yard (especially on a windy spring afternoon), it takes several attempts to get going. Then, after the fire establishes itself, it still requires care and attention in its infancy. Each fire is different, depending on temperature, the air, and the moisture of the wood… and while it is tempting to douse a dying flame with lighter fluid, the magic of combustion is short lived. Slowly but surely, the fire becomes a great experiment, as the creator identifies the nourishment that is needed.

Therefore, one cannot claim intrinsic motivation without keeping a watchful eye on what various dimensions of that motivation require. There is a gap between aspiration and practice. Those of us who are future-dwellers may mistake a lofty and distant idea for an exercise in incremental growth. Setting our sights on a hard-earned achievement is futile without daily dedication to the path leading to it. In my life, this often amounts to finding different portals for engaging with my goals. For example, I use this space to reflect on my running practice. Of course journaling is different from logging miles. If I only wrote about running but never laced up my shoes and went running, then I would be deficient in my running practice (and you would likely wonder what I thought I was doing!). However, if we flip the situation, if I ran without reflecting, then I would still lose. Why?

Because for me, writing and pondering is how my running fire likes to be fed. I do not always have time to publish my reflections on this blog, but I frequently journal about the spiritual and emotional dimensions of running. It helps me connect those dots in my mind. Like other humans, my brain works tirelessly to craft a narrative, to find purpose, and to understand the relationship between experiences. These are the building blocks of motivation. Through making meaning, we find it.

I believe it is worth it to reflect on how we are successful in certain ways and why. Remember, our society maintains an extremely myopic definition of success. Think about what produces pleasure, satisfaction, fulfillment, and brings you back time and time again, even when there are episodes of difficulty. Even when not everything works out perfectly. A few examples from people in my life I admire:

-Hand-weeding and tending of a restorative habitat garden

-Regular composition of poetry

-Lifelong practice of Bach’s solo works

-Writing soap opera scripts (for personal enjoyment) for more than a decade

-Recreating and preserving folk quilt patterns

-Regularly participating in a bowling league

-In-depth and ongoing study of maps and geography

These long-term journeys, nourished through intention, appreciation, and hard work, are the successes. It is easy to feel discouraged, to feel left out, and to feel cheated that we haven’t “arrived” at some grand conclusion of happiness and success. As I reflect on these feelings, however, I realize that the process of listening to what fuels my endeavors and passions is the true reward. Here’s to the incremental, the slow, the steady…  to knowing we can find our way.

ALL GUTS!

SnohoWomen'sRun2

Image description: Picture of me running and sweating, from the waist up. I am wearing a dark green tunic, white cap, and a bright yellow backpack.

A few years ago, I participated in some weekly track workouts through the local running club. I was newer to running, and wanted to learn a few tips before embarking on my first marathon. Though my interested in repeatedly circling the rubber university track eventually waned, I did pick up a basic vocabulary of running, some valuable information about form, and a newly formed love/hate relationship with planks. The takeaway that remains with me to this day, however, is the concept of “all guts.”

I’ve written about this on the blog before, but there is a certain point where intellect, calculation, risk awareness, and planning fail the runner. This is usually during the last stretch of a run or a race. Picture this familiar scene:

You are rounding a bend at a slight incline for what seems like the hundredth time during the race. Sweat has accumulated as salty patches at your hairline and on your upper lip. All you smell is salt and your own sweat. The sun is starting to beat down more strongly. The chill of the morning is dissipating. The arches of your feet are starting to feel the effect of miles of friction. Your fingers are starting to tingle. Your lips are gummed up with stringy mucous. You pass the penultimate mile marker, gearing up for the last stretch…

This is precisely where “all guts” serves me so well every time. Good running is about mindfulness and clarity of mind, but those methods of mitigating the noise lose efficacy over time and distance. Beyond that, particularly in a race day situation, there are so many other variables pulling at the brain for attention. Stimuli, time goals, self-imposed expectations, these are all in play as one powers through the corridor of bystanders tinkling cow bells and cheering you on. Sometimes it is too much. Sometimes, often, you want to crash. That last terrible wall looms, the one that cheats you out of a strong finish, the one that cheats you out of a time goal. That wall is self-doubt, and it amounts to folding when you have a perfectly good hand.

When I get to this place, I start to whisper cheer to myself “all guts, all guts, all guts.” Sometimes I say it under my breath as I run the last mile. I was introduced to this concept during mile repeats at track workouts. We were encouraged to run the fastest mile we could, as a way of setting a base personal record. Finishing the third lap, there was this one coach who would yell “all guts!” as we curved into the fourth a final lap. He said it kindly, but excitedly. And each time, this reminder was very effective. It was a cue to shut of my frontal lobe, embrace my primal humanity, and simply run hard.

I was running a 10K race yesterday, and feeling strong throughout. I knew I was averaging somewhere between 8:15 and 8:30 a mile, and that is pretty speedy for my body at that distance. Shortly after hitting the 5 Mile marker (and running for a few miles up to that point in relative solitude), I turned the corner to crowds of race volunteers and people. The appearance of all of this broke my focus and I was suddenly aware of my own exhaustion. My legs, spoiled from my penchant for trails, realized I tricked them into a road run. I really wanted to slow down and take a long walk break, but I didn’t. Instead, I kept running and did a brief body scan. Was I feeling sharp pain? No. Did I have a side cramp? No. Was I short of breath? No. I was feeling that overload at the end of the race… I was feeling the last wall creep up. “ALL GUTS!” I shouted in my head, “ALL GUTS! ALL GUTS!”

And I shouted that all the way to the finish line until I crossed, looked up at the clock, and realized I set a new 10K race PR.

April Recap

Image description: Full pink blossoms and green leaves on a tree branch with blue sky in the background.

The month started with the emergence of blossoms, and it concludes with nearly full leaf cover, bright green fingers on the edge of the evergreens, and the thick smell of pollen in the air. I enjoyed running in a few different locations, including during my two trips to Oregon. As the trails came alive with new growth, I cherished the gift of taking long walks through the arboretum during my lunch hour. I ran my first half marathon of the year, and it was really enjoyable and comfortable. I am feeling energized about my running practice as the days continue to lengthen and the weather warms. My daughter and I are now running together regularly. I had my annual destination race adventure with my number one running buddy. Overall, April exceeded my expectations.

I am looking forward to the slide into summer. To waking up early in the cool dawn, before the dew evaporates from the pavement. To extended golden hours in the evening. To trekking and running through the many natural beaches mere miles from my house. To continued changes in my own life as I delve deeper into the final push of my dissertation and support my family through growth and love. I feel a sense of peace and excitement.

I am also very pleased to be approaching a summer that does not involve marathon training. While marathon training is a labor of love, I do not feel the drive to shift my running practice in that direction. Rather, I continue to enjoy my intentions of pursuing sustainability and reclaiming excitement. There is something absolutely thrilling and invigorating about leaping out for a sunny evening run, with no particular agenda other than to find joy.

High Desert Hopes

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Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

running and health

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Image description: Green vegetation in the woods surrounding a narrow dirt trail.

One of the benefits of a well-established running practice is regular exercise. Exercise does not have to be this special ritual that involves 2+ hours a day, driving to the gym, or even buying special clothes. Exercise is not reserved for people who look a certain way or have certain abilities. While our society obsesses over foods and diets (even a regular trip to the grocery store feels like sensory overload), we do little to promote daily exercise. An article recently came out in the New York Times touting the benefits of running, including the evidenced connection between running and increased life expectancy. Beyond physical benefits, exercise is preventative medicine for mental and emotional health, as well. Next time you are frustrated by something at home or work, take a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes (preferably in a place surrounded by natural beauty) and revisit the source of stress. In my experience, the big hairy problems suddenly become more manageable after a walking or running break.

I am a big proponent of sustainable lifestyle choices. For me, high impact Crossfit type stuff is not sustainable. Yes, I could do it for a time, and, knowing my competitive spirit, it would likely draw me in. However, eventually, the time in my day would reduce. Getting to the gym would be a barrier. I would start to feel the impending litany of obstacles to getting started. I would, eventually, quit. In my experience, walking for exercise and running have been the complete opposite. Like reading a little each night, or making a cup of tea in the afternoon, these are tools and choices always available to me. Fresh air is a panacea. As a person who is genetically and mentally wired to experience more anxiety and worry than some of the other people in my life, exercise provides a safe and welcoming outlet to process. Regardless of my cardiovascular health or cholesterol levels, exercise brings me calm, joy, and at times, sheer euphoria.

I also find that there are human ecological benefits derived from the way I prioritize intentional locomotion, whether that is walking, running, swimming, or dancing… In my work with students, our shared passion for the outdoors is a wonderful way to connect. As the days grow longer, my family takes full advantage of after-dinner walks, routines that have a way of mitigating the typical witching hour between dinner and bedtime by taking us out of our familiar and thrusting us into the appreciation of natural beauty. As an introvert, I love using walks as a way to connect with colleagues or friends. The feeling of momentum gifts us with a shared journey, there is no shortage of details to focus on, and moments of silence no longer feel threatening when they are punctuated by birdsong or wind-rustled branches.

I have written this many times on my blog before, but I continue to relish and admire the ways that a regular running practice improves my life. Running is not a chore to be avoided, but an invitation to find peace. In our constantly connected, over-saturated-with-information, sedentary and over worked reality, springing into nature hungrily is a radical choice to reverse course. It is the best act of selfishness, one that inevitably connects me to the larger world of which I am a part, and reminds me of my own persistence and strength.

Whether or not running will add years to my life, it certainly adds quality to the years as they pass. This is health, and a health I treasure very dearly.

running safety

Staying safe while running is a huge concern for me, and I would guess for many other woman-identified runners. Last summer, several news reports came out about female runners who were victims of assaults, or worse, homicides. Closer to home, Kelly Herron was able to beat back her attacker using self-defense in nearby Seattle last month. Unfortunately, a woman running alone carries risks. Every time I run, I am thinking about my safety and the possibilities of what I would do should the surroundings become unsafe. Here are a few of my tips:

  1. I always bring my phone. While this necessitates wearing a belt or something with pockets, the added security is worth it.
  2. I always tell someone (usually my partner) where I am going, and when I should be back. If I am going longer, I text an update with a revised ETA.
  3. If I am going on a trail run, I stick to main trails. If I am alone, I only run the routes I know.
  4. I pack extra fuel, water, and a small first aid kit for long runs. In the fall and winter, I always pack a headlamp, even if I think I will be home before dusk.
  5. In darkness, I run with a headlamp, and I run on main streets. I pick routes that have multiple safe havens, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and houses of people I know.

Truthfully, I am always thinking about my safety during a run. By instinct, I watch every male that approaches me carefully. I pay attention to details. I am always thinking about how I would attack to defend myself, get away, or call for help. Yes, this is exhausting. And, yes, if you are a female-identified runner, you likely know this exhaustion.

Nevertheless, we live in a violent society and a rape culture. The same men who feel entitled to roll down a window and catcall might feel entitled to approach or attack. I never know, and I don’t take risks. Finally, if something ever gives you a funny feeling… report it. Don’t ever feel sheepish about it. I was running with some friends a few years ago (thankfully, I was not alone), and we encountered a very suspicious man who made us uneasy. We called 911 (you can report as a non-emergency if it falls in that category). Your call might be the one to interrupt a dangerous pattern or agenda.

If you happen to be reading this and you are male-identified, consider standing up to rape culture and misogyny. Talk to your male friends and family members. If you are a witness to even the most passive forms of assault and violence (such as street harassment), step in and interrupt. You have the power to bring about change, incident by incident.

march recap

More than a month has gone by since I last updated the blog. Winter pronounced itself through several blustery and snowy weeks, and has finally retreated. Cherry blossoms and forsythia dot the streets with vibrant colors. The sun, when it gets a chance to shine through the clouds, feels warm and close. My nose and eyes are telling me that spring is upon us, weaving her delicate changes through the fields and branches.

The entry of spring ushered in another new chapter for me. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last week, bringing me to the last phase of my doctoral journey. I went into the defense armed with the tools I find to be the most reliable: solid preparation, good old fashioned rehearsing, and a 5 mile run earlier in the day to work out the jitters. I am so glad I had the ability to spend some time outside, working my body, lungs, and legs before sitting down to share a plan for research represents so much of my study over the last few years.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to prepare for the Bend half marathon. I’ve approached this race in a relaxed manner, prioritizing regular running and walking, while also integrating weekly long runs. I am not going into this one expecting a personal best on time, but I suspect that I will come in right around the two hour mark if I pace myself well, especially during the first few miles. I’ve only run one race this year, in part due to schedule conflicts, but also because I am enjoying a flourishing running practice that seems to no longer rely on the promise of an upcoming race to remain regular. So, I look forward to next month’s race recognizing that it may very well be a few months before the next one.

So far, nearly a quarter into the year, it seems that embracing my flow is becoming the natural intention of my practice. I realize I do not have to work as hard on the motivational premeditation before a run. I am much more inclined to lace up my shoes and head out. I am also enjoying my developing love of walking and hiking. They are great companions to running, and have only deepened my appreciation for our local trail systems and surrounding greenways.

The best update that I want to share comes from my mama life. My daughter has fallen in love with running, and evening mother daughter runs before dinner have become a nice little tradition. There is something truly special about a child organically sharing an interest with their parent. I look forward to many years of running together.

What are your spring running intentions?

Happy trails!

intentions for running and writing

I was speaking with my dissertation chair yesterday, and she told me about a very interesting framework for writing. She spoke about the difference between generative writing and revision writing. Generative writing is when you cover new ground, put ink on paper, and charge ahead adding pages. Revision writing is when you go back and do, what I fondly think of as, reading in my Ken Burns voice and editing until the paragraphs sound both stoic and compelling. The point of this conversation was to show that setting an intention for the type of writing before sitting down to a session can be extremely helpful in the overall scheme of productivity. These opposing activities, the generative and the revision, brought me back to a reflection on running practice.

What does it mean to have generative or revision runs? I imagine generative runs as covering new terrain; a new route, for example, or a particular race undertaken for the first time. A generative intention is prospective; we construct an idea of what we would like to accomplish that is currently outside of our realm of experience. Revision runs, on the other hand, are the repeated and well-known routes. They are the loops through trails and neighborhoods that we know so well, we experience a sort of autopilot. The revision runs build upon previous experiential knowledge, in an iterative way, to create awareness of other dimensions of running. For example, on a generative run, one might not be as in tune with cadence or form. However, on a revision run, when the environment is less distracting to the mind, these more intricate technical details come into focus.

Like with academic writing, I believe running requires a balanced combination of the two types of practice. The key revelation for me yesterday, was the idea that we can use these concepts to frame our practice (whether it is writing or running) before heading out the door (or onto the page). This morning, I embraced a generative writing intention as I tackled a previously anemic section of my literature review. With the freedom to throw new material, without the confines of revision judgment, much progress was made. Tomorrow, I will circle back with a revision framework, with an eye on how each part is connected.

I find much in common between the process of my grounded theory study and my running practice. Both involve a fluid interplay between zooming in and zooming out; between holding the episodes as self-contained and valid experiences, while also relating them to a broader patchwork. Whether the goal is another chapter, or another dozen miles, it is only a small progression in a much larger story.

night

A Runner’s World from a few months back had a Q&A section. A reader wrote in asking why running in the dark feels so fast. The columnist responded that the lack of fixed visual points of reference, especially in distance vision, obscure our awareness of our pace. Our perception of speed is increased significantly.

Running in the dark feels secretive and intimate. With a friend, it feels like a duet of adventurers, fueled by stories that are easily imagined against the backdrop of a night sky. Alone, it feels quiet, almost subversive. Aside from the foggy amber streetlamps, there is little to catch the attention of a wandering gaze. Windows framed by open curtains project scenes of living out to the street; the mundane wrapped in coziness. On clear nights, with the slightest sliver of moonlight, the stars remind me that I am small. I feel like a mouse scurrying among the tall grasses, unsure as to whether an owl is watching.

The world is turning, and I am running, and we keep going.