before dawn, lately

It’s 5:10 AM and the buzzing of my phone alarm beside my pillow signals it is time to get moving. I shuffle out of bed, put in my contacts, feed the cat, and start warming the kettle for my pour over coffee. By 5:45, I am out on the dark quiet sidewalk, starting my miles under the stars and the moon, if I am lucky. Sometimes I greet clouds or fog. An overcast sky is incredibly striking when lit by the streetlamps; the eerily punctuated ecru disappearing only as the sky itself brightens with the coming dawn. As the fall settles herself in, there are the mornings of bluster and rain. And certainly, more rain and wind to come…

Over the summer, I became an early morning runner. It started as a way to beat the heat. I figured if I could get in a run before 7:00 AM, I would enjoy some of the coolest and freshest air of the day. At first, it felt challenging to run so early. I had to fine-tune the amount of time I needed between waking up and lacing up my shoes. Rushing made me flustered, but too much time tempted me to stay in my slippers and drink another cup of coffee. I had to rewire my brain circuitry to reclaim the joy of running during a season when I had just returned to reliably uninterrupted nights of sleep. Despite all of these factors, I found the results of running before the rest of the day’s noise, panic, rhythm, and people to be irresistibly fortifying. The mornings, which I, as a working mother of two, had grown deeply accustomed to experiencing as frustrating, harried, and overwhelming, became, over time, a sanctuary for my own silence and movement.

I write, now, as a full convert to the daily morning run. I still enjoy my walks in the woods at lunch during the work week, and my long runs on the weekends and days away from the office, but the early morning miles are a particularly potent balm to mitigate stress and angst as I begin the day. And my mindset has changed from hoping that I can squeeze in a run after work, to returning home with the satisfaction that I am actually quite finished with the labors of the day, able to retire to the evening routine with my family. I joke with my dearest ones that morning running makes me less of an asshole when I get to the office. I am partially serious. In a new position with increased responsibilities from supervising to teaching, my days flow best when I begin with a full cup of empathy. Personally, running practice has always afforded me the quiet stillness, deep inside, from which to bloom thoughtful, productive, and loving sentiments.

running

This summer I really felt a transformational leap in my running. I learned new trails, ran and hiked new mountains, and have found new approaches to maintaining a high weekly mileage without injury or burnout. Life is comprised of seasons, and the intensity of a running practice waxes and wanes. For the time being, I find returning home to a slumbering house after an entire adventure under the cover of the night’s last hours to be exactly right in this moment.

mt baker

June recap

June was a high-mileage month for me. I went into the month knowing I wanted to do a long solstice trail run from my house to the top of Chuckanut Mountain, so I was a bit more disciplined about adding in weekday miles, since I did not want to injure myself by being under-trained for a longer trail run. It was also an incredibly busy month for me until around the solstice, given that the university was in the last weeks of the academic year, and my work demands were at a fever pitch. I found that turning my focus toward running really helped get me through the month with a stable frame of mind. I experienced much more energy getting through the final weeks of the term than I have earlier this year, and I felt more relaxed about the outcome of situations, even under pressure. Another significant change in my life that has made space for more stamina is my reunion with uninterrupted sleep! Yes, the baby, now nearly 1.5, is finally night weaned and sleeping in his crib. My amazing partner does the nighttime parenting, if needed. After a 9 month pregnancy riddled with insomnia followed by a 16 month period of nursing on demand, including all night long… I am so forever grateful for my precious sleep. Oh, how I have learned to function convincingly under little-to-no sleep; how I prefer to function authentically with plenty of it!

62601424_2405072639549172_1276724113007706112_n

In the middle of the month, I ran the Berry Dairy Days half marathon, a local small town race the county over. It was the first time I have finished a half right around the 2:00 mark since early 2017. Even though my time was relatively speedy, I had a difficult time enjoying the race while I was running it. I think I was too exhausted, mentally, by that point to get excited about the 13.1 in front of me. It was a Sunday of a week that had me working all the way through Saturday. Waking up on a gloomy June morning and driving a half hour to Burlington was a bit painful as I longingly considered homemade waffle bar and another press of coffee with the family instead! Despite all of this, I did have some great miles from around mile 8-the finish. I think I needed an hour and some change to get into it.

65006808_2416436348412801_4295286055587807232_n

Toward the end of the month, I celebrated the solstice with a run (as is my annual tradition). This year, I decided to do something a little different and plot out a long trail run (around 20 miles a few thousand feet elevation) from my house to Lost Lake, up on the ridge of Chuckanut Mountain. I started the morning at around 6:30 AM by running to Arroyo Park, about a 7 mile route. Then I met a friend there for the Chuckanut portion of the trek, since I was feeling uneasy about running alone in the woods early on a Saturday morning (and once a seed of anxiety like that plants for me, I can’t enjoy my run). Luckily, Suzanne to the rescue! So we sauntered up the side of Chuckanut at a speed walk and then enjoyed a wonderful run on the ridge-line and along the lake and back on the Interurban to Arroyo. I was originally going to run a full 27 miles and complete the entire loop back at my house, but given burnout I had been feeling just the week before during the half marathon, I decided to end on a high note and ride back to town from Arroyo.

65227485_2414744008582035_5359832715384324096_n

Since then, I’ve been enjoying the temperate start to summer and lots of long runs in the woods. There is something so soothing about the greenery of ferns along a creek bed, the moisture protected and cooled by the shadows of Douglas firs and sandstone boulders. At the same time, there is a wildness to the abundance; more rustling in the branches than any other time of year. The deer linger with curious expressions in their eyes, rather than darting away. The baby rabbits scurry from one side of a blackberry corridor to the other hungrily. Even the birds are particularly strident as they retreat to a more natural lair. It is here, enveloped in this all, that my chest feels open, my heart bright, my feet delighting in the dance that seems only known to us.

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap

Two months ago, when I got snowed/iced out of running the half marathon I had trained for, I started looking at some spring training goals to get me through the rest of the winter. There are a number of reliably well-designed half marathons in the Pacific Northwest in April; it is one of the few months of the year here where you are more or less guaranteed mild weather conditions. I reached out to a good friend who is also an avid runner and walker and we started looking at some possibilities for a spring race. We went back and forth on schedules, pros and cons of different areas, and finally settled on Whidbey Island Marathon. Marathon, not Half-Marathon. Initially, the plan was to devise a run-walk interval approach, attempting to finish before the 6-hour cut-off. We found on a long run a few weeks before the race, however, that breaking up running with long periods of walking (for example, running three miles and walking one) expended energy in such a way that it really damaged overall stamina and energy. So we regrouped, aiming to frontload at least 16 miles of running followed by some combination of running and walking. To be honest, on marathon morning as we shuttled in the early dawn to Pass Lake, I still wasn’t quite sure how I was going to tackle the course. I had some plans sketched out, but I was also improvising.

eight

The first mile of the marathon took us across Deception Pass Bridge. If you haven’t been to Western Washington before and you ever end up here, rent a car, drive up the freeway to Burlington, and take Highway 20 through to Whidbey Island. You will not be disappointed. This bridge to the island is incredible, and the promise of this experience was enough to push us over the line to sign up for the full marathon rather than the half. It was a magical way to start, but it was also challenging in that the big ticket view was over and done with at the beginning of the race, and now more than 25 miles stretched out ahead of us. I felt slightly overwhelmed, even in the first three miles, as I came to terms with what I was doing. The night before, I enjoyed a warm, cozy, bed all to myself in an Airbnb with all of the amenities. I took a good long look at the slick road ahead, including all those hills, and dug in for a good long ride.

one

I struggle to think of a single flat mile. Most of the race could be described as “rolling hills” although there were some larger hills every 2 miles or so that forced us to walk some brief intervals from the get-go. I think the hills, in some way, helped us achieve a run/walk balance that was more natural and forgiving within the broader context of a 26 mile run. At first, I focused on getting to the 10K mark, because I knew that would be about a quarter of the way in, and I would feel much warmer than I did at the beginning. Miles 6-13 were relatively uneventful. I kept up with Nuun, and either ate a bit of trail mix or some electrolyte slop about every hour. When we got to the half marathon mark, it was both thrilling and punishing; halfway there, but also… time to run another 13.1 miles. At this point, I found it helpful to start thinking about meeting smaller goals to keep myself going.  The first objective I focused on was getting to the 16 mile marker. My friend and I had recently run 16 miles together, so I knew we could get there and might feel better if we experienced passing the mile marker. After a brief hail storm at 16, I started thinking about 18. If we could get to 18, that would only leave 8 miles, or a medium-length run on any normal day of the week.

two

Several minutes later, we reached the 18 mile marker. At this point, we were needing different things to complete the race. I was already fixated on seeing mile 20, because I wanted to get down to a 10K or less of running remaining. My friend’s IT band was irritated and she very smartly decided to ramp up her ratio of walking. My legs and hips were feeling very tired, but I was more concerned about the peripheral “wall” sensations I was starting to feel… the slow creep of hopelessness, cold extremities, and the overwhelming exhaustion of being spent. I was worried that if I did not keep running, I would not keep moving. So, we parted ways, I put in my earbud for the first time on the run, turned up some Doobie Brothers, and decided to run as much as I could to the finish.

five

When I passed Mile 20, I thought I would be home free, but the marathon had other plans to make me work harder for my relief. A huge hill before the Mile 21 marker nearly caused me to sit on the shoulder and start crying. Feeling alone and discouraged, I started thinking about all the other people who were in my heart and what they would want me to do. I took out my phone and sent my best friend, now living across the country, a picture of the hill. I reflected on the feelings of love I have, for her, for my family, for my friend a mile or so behind me on the course. I started to imagine the love I had for the other runners on the course, these other strangers who set aside their lives, their jobs, their kids and families this weekend to pile into a musty shuttle and run from one county to another. I thought about the volunteers, high school track athletes, probably, or scouts with their parents huddled in camping chairs in the rain and cold from before the light of dawn until well after lunch. So many people around me were making the choice to give something of themselves that day, and losing myself in that meditation, I felt compelled to match their generosity and finish. It seemed that I unlocked something through this introspection, as the course itself curved gently downhill for most of the final 4 miles, and I was able to run the rest with very little disturbance or struggle.

four

When I saw the finish line and the 4:45 pacer, I was overwhelmed with relief and also so incredibly proud of myself. Six years ago, I fought with every last cell of my body to get across the finish line in more than five and a half hours. On Sunday, I was able to run and finish a marathon in 4:44. I hold this as evidence of a few things. My running practice has become a much deeper part of my life in the past six years. I initially ran a marathon in 2013 as a type of capstone experience for my new (and probably temporary) running hobby. I had no idea that running would become such a central theme in my story. I also have learned, proven, and internalized that I can do hard things. From raising children to writing and defending a dissertation, I’ve strengthened my capacity for grit. I have more effective mental tools to support my persistence. The last thing is a little out there, but 4:44 has a lot of significance in my family as that is the time when we received a phone call from the hospital, many years ago, that my grandmother was hit by a car. Whether it is the trickery of my frontal lobe (most likely) or indeed a message from the spiritual realm (a stretch, perhaps), I certainly formed a new and positive association with this number, and I think my Nana would be delighted to know it.

three

Overall, Whidbey Island Marathon provided me with challenge, catharsis, and realization. The course was absolutely beautiful, and I found the quiet and low-frills/no-crowds environment of the race to be exactly what I needed to turn inward and do heart work simultaneously with foot work. Something tells me it won’t be six years before I run another marathon.

return to distance

I am settling back into the routine of training for a half marathon after taking a year and a half away from distance running to be pregnant, give birth, and recover. There were a few races sprinkled in there, with running at shorter lengths comprising an increasingly regular part of my exercise schedule for the past year. I have to say that I am both glad I waited to embark on distance training, and that I am also filled with joy about being back to this beloved journey of gradually building endurance and physical strength to go long.

I have always framed running practice as a long-term relationship; there are seasons of life when other responsibilities and activities take priority over training, and then there are the openings that present themselves to return to a deeper commitment of time and energy. After a challenging fall of colds and sickness; one that required the patience to rest (admittedly something with which I struggle), I started to enjoy that natural paradigm shift, that changing orientation to possibility. The reward of returning to regular long runs is tremendous. I missed the self that emerges only during those solitary journeys—I missed that old friend inside of me. I missed the quiet—oh, the quiet! I love my children, but I think most mothers of young kids would agree that there is nothing like an uninterrupted thought. I missed the nothingness, the plateau of hitting the zone, when time and effort recede to the background hum, and the flight of the body becomes one with the mind.

I am revisiting a half marathon I ran three years ago, when I was at my fastest speed. I do not expect to touch this record. Bodies evolve and goals shift. I desire two things: to run the entire course, and to finish. And while the final outcome of race day excites me, I have to admit that the process of getting there is my prize this time around. One foot ahead of the other, breath locked in relaxed rhythm, the changing landscape ahead welcoming me along.

50489415_1037354386461754_6384563847230914560_n

being with running, reclaiming myself

It’s been some time since I last updated this blog. There were certainly topics I wanted to write about, but finding the opportunity was a challenge. In the half year since I wrote, I defended a dissertation and earned my doctorate, took maternity leave, returned to work, kept two humans alive, and found my way back to running.

1

After my son was born, I was immediately thrown into the intensity of defending my dissertation while sometimes going more than 24 hours without genuine sleep. My postpartum anxiety monster gnashed its teeth intensely, often appearing at one or two in the morning. Sometimes the tension and creaking of my own jaw would keep me from resting my head completely on the pillow. Like most (or perhaps every) new mothers, I held solitary nocturnal vigil. Wide-eyed and unmoving, I would listen to the baby breathing. After nursing, the hourglass would reset, and I would battle insomnia through the despair of hoping for another 90 minutes of “sleep” before the next feeding. My saving graces in these months were two rituals. First, I left the house every day, sometimes more than once a day, and walked outdoors with the baby. It was not uncommon for me to walk for 8 or 9 miles a day. The movement and fresh air was an anchor that kept me present in the here and now of the natural world; ushering me in to a safe space of familiarity and reflection at a time when it was challenging simply to converse with other people (let alone take on the entertaining we are often left to haphazardly burden ourselves with as new mothers receiving guests). Second, I started attending an antepartum support group. Every Thursday morning, I’d walk myself and my baby to the neighborhood women’s health collective and observe the sacred 90 minutes of sharing without judgement or advice. It was the medicine I needed to stay well.

As the summer began, the fog started to lift, and I slowly began to feel myself again. My sleep became more regular; the anxiety subsided, and I returned to some normalcy. Going back to work was a positive shift. I found renewed energy and space for family and friends. The baby became more interactive. I had more time for my oldest, time for the one-on-one connections and activities that were snatched away right after the arrival of the second. I feel so well and complete again; balanced and empowered. And my running practice reclaimed its position in my priorities, once again a welcome routine.

2

Motherhood is hard and exhausting. Time soothes the aches, but at its own pace. And although I feel strong and capable of handling the daily trials of work, family, and everything else, I am aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by commitments and tasks in a society forever praising us for being busy and thinly spread. I especially reflect on this conflict as a person who craves involvement and participation, who seeks to learn by doing. Some days, many days, I feel like there are not enough hours. And, I often remember that I am still operating from a position where sleep may be scarce.

As I launch into the school year, my calendar replete with volunteer obligations, my activities, and my daughter’s activities; the schedules of an elementary school, a daycare, a university, and my partner’s Ph.D. dissertation looming on the horizon, I am especially grateful for my running practice. Because, unlike many activities, I feel that running is a “being” rather than a “doing.” I feel that running creates the space and time for myself rather than taking away from it. It is self-care that provides me with an escape. To simply move through beautiful surroundings, one foot behind the other, hearing my own breath and my own heart.

3

During some seasons of my practice, running has been a “doing”—extremely goal-oriented, athletic, and competitive. However, as I ride the wave through the rest of this postpartum year, running is simply the place I go when all other aspects of my life appear full to capacity (or perhaps even sloshing over the sides). I keep moving forward.

Active Pregnancy: A Retrospective

running retro

At 35 weeks pregnant, with the baby the size of a honeydew melon, I truly feel as though I am in the home stretch. This pregnancy was different from my first in a number of ways. Most of the “you’ll see” advice about second pregnancies feeling less monumental I received turned out to relatively valid; I felt, and continue to feel, more excited about the baby at the end of this journey rather than my changing body. However, this experience has been punctuated by moments of grounding myself in and truly appreciating the fascinating process of growing a human life. Despite the aches, pains, and exhaustion, I find myself quite proud of my changing body, the work it has undertaken to sustain me and the growing baby.

I started out this pregnancy with the intention of remaining as active as possible, and I am glad that I maintained this norm throughout. During the first trimester, running felt almost unchanged; I adjusted now and then for energy levels and bathroom breaks, but remained relatively steadfast in my daily miles. During the second trimester, I continued to run, but started to incorporate walking and hiking much more intentionally. My hips and pelvis were starting to widen; and as my organs shifted around, I found that running lost some of its comfort. When I began to face diminishing returns on those feelings of freedom and euphoria during a run, I knew it was time to slow down and taper off. By the beginning of the third trimester, I was ready for a hiatus from pounding the pavement. Almost organically, and perhaps in exchange for scaling back my running, I experienced a second wind in my mental focus. By writing every day during the months of November and December, I was able to complete a full draft of my dissertation by the year’s end. I continue to walk at least 5 miles a day (more on the weekends), which has been an amazing gift to my health, fitness, and mental stability. I have found other ways to encounter the joy and connection with nature that sustain my resilience. Last week, I ended the year by walking a trail half marathon. For me, this experience reaffirmed that my body and brain are strong and capable, and that the return to running is out there, waiting.

My midwives have provided encouragement and listening ears through my seasons of active pregnancy. They understood that my temporary disengagement with running is, at times, bittersweet. I ache to run, deep in my bones. I see other runners and I want to spring forward and join them. This is a time of recognizing that absence does make the heart grow fonder. Perhaps some of the most affirming words during this time, came from one of my midwives who encouraged me to visualize my life after birth. “Just think,” she said, “after your body heals from the birth and you creep out of that newborn fog, there will be buds and blossoms on the trees. The days will be longer. The birds will be chirping. And you will be running again… what a wonderful time to start.”

I straddle the present and the future. As I continue my daily walks in the woods, through the dreary January rains, I focus on the beauty of nature surrounding me. I feel a connection to this cycle of nature, of turning inward and hibernating, of doing the invisible work, underground, only to emerge in several weeks’ time with a fertile openness. And in quiet moments, especially in the dark hours of the early morning when I am inexplicably unable to sleep, I soothe my mind by imagining the sound of my feet and the roll of the jogging stroller along my backyard trails, under the pink hue of cherry tree branches and the gold catkins of the alders.

august update

running

A little update about running and this pregnancy. At 16 weeks, I am feeling really good—pretty much my normal self. I am glad to experience higher energy levels and endurance once again. I am back to running 4-5 times a week, which is of great benefit to my mood and my body. I try to fit as much movement into the day as possible, even with a desk job. Even before this pregnancy, our family made it a goal to be in the habit of walking after dinner, and that routine continues to keep me feeling good through the evening. Running itself is more comfortable in the last few weeks, as my physical body acculturates to pregnancy. Earlier on, I carried a lot of bloat and running felt sloshy and off-kilter. Now that my bump is actually uterus, my body mechanics feel more coordinated. I am paying close attention to drinking a lot of water, eating a well-rounded diet, and getting as much sleep at night as I can (it is really difficult for me to nap).

My running practice has always helped to pull me, a very future-oriented person, into a greater appreciation for the present. In this sense, the ability to run more lately is bringing me a sense of harmony with this season of pregnancy. It is tempting and natural for me, right now, to want the fast-forward button. Though infants bring their own challenges, I have, admittedly, felt impatient this time around. For several weeks, I mourned a perceived loss of body autonomy. I am less process-oriented with this pregnancy and sometimes anxious about external expectations to emote/demonstrate/perform differently. However, running cools those flames of worry and also, perhaps most refreshingly, reminds me that I am still the woman inside of me. In a society where pregnancy is often contextualized as medical, delicate, essentially feminine, and perfectly acceptable for objectification, running brings to the forefront several antidotes: strength, resilience, ownership of self and body, independence, and health.

The wildfire smoke haze that dominated much of the month is gone, and last night I woke up to the sound of an unexpected nighttime rain. The breeze touches the skin with a hint of crispness. Dead, dry leaves line the trails, but the ones attached to their branches are starting to redden. Shortening days usher in an earlier golden hour of sunset. I find myself smiling nearly every run these days, because I am here in this movement, and because I am here in this space between seasons.

Happy trails!

july update

13 weeks 2

Here I find myself, pregnant with my second child, and continuing my running practice. The past several weeks have been both exciting and exhausting; challenging in ways I can foggily remember, but also novel in their own unique season. I remain curious and appreciative about what seeing my running practice through a pregnancy will bring. Reflecting on the first trimester, I am very thankful that I knew to keep moving in whatever way I could. Some weeks, running was too unsavory. Even through that slump, I could still find joy in long walks. However, as the flu-like symptoms of early pregnancy subsided, I began to regain my tolerance for running. And then, just as I resigned myself to several months of a more complicated relationship with running, in a fortunate turn of events, running began to feel both joyful and fun again.

I feel like my running practice fits so well with this pregnancy for a few reasons. It brings me strength and clarity during a time when other parts of my biology sometimes feel out of my control. Especially recently, running provides me with that really wonderful combination of endorphins that makes me feel happy and comfortable. This time, pregnancy feels so much less process-oriented; the details and the concerns of the first time are not present, and would also seem almost repulsive at this time. I find I want to just be, and to be peaceful. In my life, a run or a walk in solitude equates to a gift of peace.

In a practical sense, as I near the end of gestation with my other baby, my dissertation, running gives me that mental space to play with ideas. I am particularly grateful for the creative and intellectual energy spun up through locomotion. I am finding and focusing on renewed hunger for zooming in, being present, and grappling with my projects and goals day-by-day. In some ways, this change in my physiology is shifting my mental habits to be more thoughtful, less decisive, and increasingly open to variation.

I do not have grand expectations or ideas of how the next 6 months will unfold, but I am pleased with the balance I currently have. My intention is to honor the practices that make my body and mind feel healthy and strong, even if those evolve from running to something else. In one way or another, many miles and milestones to go.

simple gifts

Rituals of preparation… braiding up hair before a run, applying rosin to the bow before practicing, warming up the kettle before settling into a writing session. What richness we lend to the task ahead when we greet our intentions with respect. Even in the most routine activity, there is reverence to be found. The buds on a star magnolia protrude, nestled in green fuzz. My daughter once plucked one, and, thinking it a small and furry creature, kept it dutifully in a tea tin for months. I reached out and touched one at dawn, on my way home, caressing a promise of spring. Beneath the noise and distraction exist simple gifts. They wait for us in every moment.

12819229_1055784694477980_1799068019894547476_o

Image description: A blooming star magnolia plant in the sun.

projects ahead

fraglake

Image description: A frozen water fall cascades over mossy boulders on the side of a trail.

We are in a new year, and messages about intentions, guiding words, resolutions, goals, and lifestyle changes are abundant. 2017 is upon us. I have no product to sell you, no scheme, and no plan. There are plenty of bloggers out there evangelizing their truths. Pick something that excites you. Pick something that is new, or old, or just right. Do something you love. Do something that lights a fire.

There are two projects I hope to work on this year, both of which are new and exciting. My first project is to become a more seasoned trail runner. My favorite aspect of running, especially over the last year, is found in the time connecting with nature. I love experiencing new trails and geography, navigating my body through different types of terrain. I am investing in better trail shoes, and hoping to add a longer (and more remote) trail run to my weekly rotation.

The second project is really intimidating for me, but something I’d love to try. I am thinking about recording a running-related podcast. I have no idea if this will get off the ground as a final product I’d want to share, but I do appreciate opportunities to reflect on my running practice, and to muse on the creative ways it benefits my life. Obviously, the internet is over-saturated with running content, so, like this blog, the podcast would have a sleepy existence. Nevertheless, I am excited to learn new technical skills and tell a few stories at the same time.

We are about midway through the month, and I am pleased that the skies are staying relatively dry and sunny. I am still daydreaming about a trail run I did last weekend, one which took me up to some snowy foothills. Even though winter is not my favorite, I am doing my best to practice the appreciation of beauty, and to pay my respects to the muted and quieted season upon us.