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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on treadmills

As a runner, I don’t generally consider the treadmill a necessary evil… there are lots of ways to maintain a solid running practice without ever using cardio equipment or walking into a gym. Most of my running has, and hopefully will continue to be, outdoors on roads and trails. I find, however, as a working professional and parent, that the hour I need each day to get in my miles (assuming it’s just a short 3-4 mile run) isn’t always feasible in the evening before dinner or the morning before work. Furthermore, when I am at work, it is really nice to have access to a shower after I exercise, so I can return to my office feeling clean and refreshed. Enter: indoor running. I would say that running, either on the treadmill or on the indoor track, now comprises at least one run a week for me. This summer, for example, I use the treadmill on Thursdays during my lunch break, because I prefer to spend Thursday evenings attending concerts in the park with my family. A fair trade-off, I’d say.

The following are my guidelines/tips for treadmill running. Once again, I am an irregular treadmill user. I know some runners use a treadmill almost daily—all the power to them—but I have to work hard at it to make it enjoyable. Here we go:

  • Television? Music? Check. I use the treadmill as an opportunity to indulge in daytime cable that I would otherwise never get the chance to watch. Although I have lots of choices, I am usually drawn to the lunchtime Star Trek TNG marathon on BBC America. I’ve got the captions going so that I can read along, but listen to my music.
  • Run/run intervals. Always wanted to run that 7:30 mile? Well, the treadmill gives you god-like powers to do so, given that it’s got a belt more or less pulling you along. I do what I would describe as run/run intervals. I will run an 8:00/mile on the treadmill, and then turn the intensity up to a 7:30 mile for 3-5 minute intervals throughout the 30 minute run.
  • Adventures with a slight incline. The treadmill is a great place to practice patience with a gentle uphill. Usually I turn the incline up just slightly (+1.0) at the beginning of the run, and totally forget about it. It doesn’t really feel the same as a real-life hill.
  • Brain dump. No cars to watch for, intersections to cross, or tree roots over which to avoid tripping. Yep, there’s not much going on during a treadmill run (besides Captain Picard’s steady gaze). I use these runs as a time to try and empty my brain of all preoccupations.
  • Not too long. I rarely go beyond 30 minutes on a treadmill. I love distance running, but not indoors. At this point, a half hour is enough to get the miles in and a good sweat going. The bonus of being in the gym is that I have a little extra time and can tackle some of the things that I need to be doing, such as lifting weights and stretching.

Those are my thoughts on the treadmill! It definitely does not have to be a dreadmill, although, admittedly, it is my least favored way of getting the miles in. Speaking of which, I completed July with 116 miles for the month, and August is off to a good start.

Happy trails, roads, belts, beaches, and whatever else you might be running on!

walking in the woods

13288579_1109377945785321_1834034607_oOn Sunday, I went for a hike with my running buddy/adventure mate and my daughter. We hiked a trail out by where I used to live, in the woods east of town. I spent many afternoons hiking the same trail when I was pregnant
with my daughter, five years ago. The diverse greenery and dramatic ravines never fail to amaze and delight me.

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Over time, frequently traveled trails become the oldest of friends. They bear witness to the seasons of our lives, just as we tenderly observe their cycles of transformation. The moss carpets the ground, creeping between the shoots of buttercups, nettles, and ferns. Branches bow and bend asymmetrically. Old logs, showing their sepia-red innards, nurture creamy supernatural fungi. A chartreuse and emerald canopy stencils out dappled sunshine, while the birds and wind play their symphony.

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When the push becomes greater than the effort itself

Chest heaving as the rib nags on with its insipid pain

The smell of iron in the sinuses

The crest of the hill is finally met

A twisted birch rots below the evergreens

And above the canopy of needles and twigs

A crow proclaims his story to the wind

It is here that the blood pumps to the eyes,

Creating a pulsating vision

Lulling the tingly skin to a floataway dance

As the heart begins to rest

 

12 Miles, and Brei

I did it! I got in my 12 mile run yesterday. It was a pleasant experience–sunny skies, green trails, beautiful views of the bay through many of the miles… In fact, I don’t really recall the run having a beginning middle and end. There was no wall. I just enjoyed the entire experience. I listened to one of my new favorite podcasts, Gilmore Guys (it’s ridiculous), and caught up on another episode of Serial. I realize that I run a bit slower when I listen to talking and not music, but my time (had I continued for a 13th mile) still would have produced a finish time in line with my goal, which is to best my 2:20 time from September. And now… sweet sweet tapering. I welcome the tapering. With only a few weeks remaining in the courses I am taking this semester in my doctoral program, and less than three weeks remaining until my spring chorus concert, I can really use the extra time.

My goals for the next two weeks leading up to race day are:

1. Enjoy shorter recovery runs and keep up the cross training

2. Get in the pool at least three times for water jogging or swimming

3. Go to hot yin yoga at least once

4. Hydrate well

5. Eat wholesome foods

Speaking of eating, it is the third day of Passover. Yesterday morning, before my run, I was fiercely craving some carb action… a banana and yogurt was not going to cut it. So, I decided to cook up one of the most delicious creations on earth–sweet matzo brei. It tastes like French toast. But even more amazing. Okay… maybe I am just missing anything reminiscent of bread… but I still think this brei is amazing.

Here’s the recipe!

1. Take 2 sheets of matzo and soak them in water for 30-45 seconds… until just slightly mushy.

2. Remove the matzo from the water and break into small pieces. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together two eggs, 6 tablespoons of whole milk or half & half, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

4. In a frying pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Pour the matzo pieces in the pan, coating with butter and heating for about a minute.

5. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Scramble with the matzo for about 2-3 minutes… until cooked through and golden brown.

6. EAT. ALL OF IT. WITH MAPLE SYRUP AND YOGURT AND JAM AND ANYTHING ELSE.

I can testify that matzo brei is a great simple carb supply for runners. It powered me for 12 miles!

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100 Miles

I joined a silly social media challenge to run 100 miles in the month of March. I have not given it much thought, except for to try and run a little bit each day that I can between long runs. I consulted the history on my Garmin last night and calculated that I have already completed 32/100 miles for the month. Yay! A third of the way there… and a third of the way through the month.

Will I log 100 miles this month? I am not sure. I would be happy with any amount exceeding 50 (my previous mileage goal the last time I set one). I am sure there have been months that I’ve logged 100 miles before… I probably just wasn’t paying attention. Still, it is fun to be a bit competitive with myself and aim for the triple digits.

Running in Daylight Savings Time continues to reward me. Last night, I was able to enjoy 5 miles after work… all in the daylight! There is something so wonderful about running the surrounding neighborhoods under the pink light of early spring. The landscape changes every day. Like autumn, spring is a time of visceral transformation. We are reminded by the external natural world of our own changes inside the mind and body.

Nookachamps 10K Recap

On Saturday, I ran my first race of 2015… a 10K. Overall, it was a great race–ups and downs (geographically and emotionally), but a really positive way to solidify training for my early spring half marathon. I could edit this and present you with only the shiny bubbly image of the finish line, but I feel like I owe you (few readers out there) and most importantly, myself, some honest reflection.

The race was tough!

It started the Sunday before last. I was planning to do a 5 mile solo run + an additional 2.5 miles at a more leisurely pace with friends for a total of 7.5 miles. Then, of course, my daughter woke up at 2:00 AM on Sunday morning violently vomiting the previous day’s food. By the time we all fell asleep restlessly on our towel-draped couch, we were spent. So, no early morning long run. Just a short run at the end of the day (that was all I could muster).

Despite the fact that I ran 5 miles last Wednesday night, the failed attempt at a long run the weekend before got under my skin. I suppose I should confess that I am very competitive with myself and I am most comfortable when I feel prepared. Missing out on that long run left me in a weird space. On race day, I was uncertain of my ability (mistake #1, since we all know that running is 90% mental). I was a bit sad that my two good lady friends were running the 5K–I wanted to abandon 10K ship and join them. But they encouraged me to go for the 10K and so off I went with my pack of runners.

Miles 1 and 2 were pretty good. I kept about a 10 minute pace, and tackled the hills. But at Mile 3, the Big Hill, I started to give in to some mental noise. I spent a lot of that mile alternating between running and walking. I regret expending so much negative energy! The downpour of rain honestly did not help. I felt lonely and tired.

I pushed and got through that little wall. At Mile 4, I hit the zone, and I managed to have a really good run the rest of the distance. The last mile was on trail, not roads, which was a considerable perk to my morale since my joints could sigh with relief on the soft footing!

Finishing was sweet. My arms were pumping to get me there! My friends were waiting and cheering me on… that made me feel so good and was worth the journey.

Not every run is “good,” but every run is an opportunity to learn. From this first race of the year, my takeaway is to leave the self-doubt behind. A jug fills drop by drop, and I have given my jug many drops! I must remember that I am a practiced distance runner who can finish strong.

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Half Marathon Recap

Last Sunday, on a beautiful late September morning dappled with fog and sunshine, I enjoyed my first competitive half marathon in over a year. My miles averaged 10-11 minutes, and I was pleased with a finishing at around the 2:20 mark. I trained more strategically for this half than I ever had for a half marathon before, and it paid off during race day. I wasn’t super speedy, but I felt really steady throughout the entire run.

Miles 1-3 were a warm-up time. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of running through downtown and my neighborhood.

Miles 4-9 were probably my favorite. As we turned up near the airport and ran back toward the bay, there were tons of pockets of fog. The leaves under my feet were crunchy and the air smelled fantastic. The volunteers had much more pep this year because it wasn’t raining buckets like it did last year. I enjoyed several stretches of time in the zone.

Miles 10-13 were a bit difficult, particularly as we scaled a large hill at the onset of Mile 11. I was proud of myself for using positive self-talk to get through what felt like the beginning of hitting a wall. The last half of the last mile was a scramble downhill toward the finish, so it was all guts.

My favorite part was hanging around at the side of the shoot and watching my friends (and also lots of strangers!) cross the finish line. Usually when I finish a long distance race, I immediately get home and into the shower. This time I had the opportunity to share the experience of crossing that line with many others, and it was the perfect way to end my race day and this chapter of training.

What next? I would like to run another half this fall. I keep coming back to this 13.1 mile distance as my favorite type of race. I am thinking of running Seattle in late November or perhaps another regional race around that same time.

Updates, updates

It is rainy, in the mid 60’s, and the leaves are red. Fall is here. My absolute favorite season (especially for running!).

A few notes:

-Half marathon training continues to go well. I am feeling very prepared for a smooth and enjoyable race day next weekend. Training for a half after training for a marathon transformed my love of half marathons into steadfast obsession. I have several friends running in this event. It will be a fun and joyous day.

-I am doing a capsule wardrobe challenge (Project 333) for the next three months. I am winding down to the end of week one. I love it. It’s made my life ten times less stressful in the morning, and I always feel put together and like I am looking good.

-We are closing in on the third week of a fiscal fast. We decided that for the month of September, we wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t on the bottom level of our hierarchy of needs (groceries, preschool tuition, gas to drive to work). Let me tell you, I cannot believe how much money we were wasting on… I don’t even know what. What I love about this particular challenge is how quickly we are seeing a benefit and how that incentive is making this much more than a month long challenge. It’s a lifestyle change. Will I ever buy something impulsively again? Of course. But my neurons are mapped a little differently now.

-A consequence of the fiscal fast is that we are continuing to prepare most all of our foods from whole ingredients. It’s been a month without take-out, for the most part. Our bodies are much healthier!

-I am a few weeks into the second semester of my doctoral program, working full time, and actually feeling pretty balanced.

-We are singing a lovely repertoire for our December chorus concert. I can tell I’ve been running a lot lately because I can sustain my breath for very long passages and my range is better this season than it was last spring.

I look forward to hydrating, resting, and keeping myself tuned up for the half marathon in the next 8 days…

Happy Friday!

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Already sporting my Halloween colors at last weekend’s 15K

Backward by Design

I am now working on my second graduate degree in education… and a concept in this field that we love to talk about is “starting with the end in mind.” Basically, if you can describe your desired outcome, then the process of lesson planning or program design follows in a logical, focused order to connect that distal point to the beginning by way of smaller milestones. As you can imagine, I think about starting with the end in mind a lot as a runner. In the literal sense, I typically register for a race and then start counting back weeks from that date to determine a training schedule. In the emotional sense, visualizing race day over and over again arms me with the strength and motivation to train. One of the best lessons I learned last summer was to author a mantra early on in the training process. Articulating my final outcome set me up to commit and achieve; planning backwards worked. Reflecting on this concept, I decided to write a few outcomes for the remainder of my summer training season.

On race day, I will be able to:

-Run at a consistent pace for 13 miles;

-Hydrate and fuel my body efficiently for two or more hours of running;

-Maintain positive imagery throughout the race;

-Listen to my body and heed any signs that I need to slow down, stretch, or ask for help;

-Offer authentic gratitude to volunteers, fellow racers, and bystanders encountered along the way.

Just writing those makes me feel even more excited for the race! I will continue to revisit these outcomes each week as I progress toward September…

In other news, I am keeping up with my training plan and completing a lot of shorter midweek runs. It’s been hot and dry (especially for the likes of a Pacific Northwest native), so last night I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I have to admit, I was really excited about not being in the sun for a change. Tonight I will probably go back and run a few more miles. This weekend, I would like to run eight miles (same distance as last weekend).

Farewell, July. August, I am ready.