Sunday, August 29, 2010

S.O.S.

"Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are."
 -Julia Cameron



I bailed on my long run last weekend.  Just bailed.  I'll list all the excuses: tired, horrible weather, achy, going through personal "stuff," etc., etc., etc.  Yet, I was in a "vacation" location, my kids were taken care of and I had a week off from teaching Spinning classes. Oh, I read myself the second list many times.  I tried every motivational technique I know. The excuses still won.  And, I know that if I really, really wanted to do that run, I would have done it.  Bottom line, I had made up my mind, at some point, that I wasn't going.  I also know that it's when things are the crappiest that we are really shown what we are made of.  Over this long weekend, I was obviously made for sitting on the couch.  

I reflected on motivation and about all of the athletes, not just runners, that I admire.  Do they have an off day?  Do some of the great ultrarunners, whom I am just beginning to recognize, ever NOT want to run?  I want to believe it happens, but I also have a feeling (correct or not) that they just love to do it so much that there's not much thought around it.  For lack of a better cliché, they "just do it."  Most often, I do too.  I run on bad days, good days, away from problems, through problems, when I am happy and when I am stressed.  I laugh, sing, complain and cry...hopefully not all on the same run!  During some runs, I feel, in my body, the heavy weight of all that I carry.  During others, my feet flow effortlessly.  Yet, there are still those times when I just can't pull it together and get out the door.

At the same time, once I let go of this run, I didn't feel anxious or beat myself up for not getting it done.  I consider this to be healthy and a sign of the growth I have accomplished  over my 40 years.  I know, if I want to run the October marathon and run my 40 birthday miles, I have to put in the training.  However, I also now know that, in this instance, there was a secret conversation happening between my mind and body.  I did not know how badly I needed it, but I needed to rest and detox.  I sat around, I slept, I went to a day spa, surrendered in the saunas and sweated until I felt my spirit lighten.  I got much overdue massages that dug deep into the physical body, releasing all I have the tendency to hold.  I went to the movies by myself and cried.  I sat in meditation with my teacher and friend, Terri, bringing in the energy to help me let go.  As I sat there, on the floor of my own studio space, I was even more aware of how off-balance I have become.  My body simply did not want to align.  No wonder my right hip was pulling and burning during my 7-mile tempo run earlier in the day, my first one back in almost a full week.  

This week was a reminder that, if I want to accomplish any physical goal, I need to prioritize "ME," on every level.  My 40 miles will not happen if I don't put in the training, but they will also not happen if I don't pay attention to the other components of myself.  Of course, I know this on an intellectual level.  I would tell you the same thing.  This week, I am grateful for the reminder.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Half-Wit Half Marathon

"You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. 
 You are a spiritual being having a human experience." -Dr. Wayne Dyer



I have finally started talking about my 40th birthday idea.  Some days, I wonder if I can really do it.  Other days, I read or watch a story about someone like me (or someone who is struggling more than me) accomplishing an amazing feat and know anything is possible.  

As I see it, I have 2 steps in front of me right now.  I have to keep running, injury-free, and I have to get an outline of the plan for the 40 mile run together.  As much as I want it to be an individual endeavor, it's looking more like I will do it within the race environment.  It will just remove any external stressors I don't need.  I have a few good leads close to my birthday, so I'm going to follow-up and see where it goes.

In the meantime, I did a race last weekend.  It was the Half-Wit Half Marathon in Reading, PA.  Tough technical trails, much single track, loose rock (lots of it), steep ascents and descents (for the East Coast) and 128 stairs thrown in just for fun.  I went with Tim, who suggested it just a few days earlier.  I was scheduled for an 18-mile training run for an October 2nd marathon with my running partner, Jen, and a few other girls.  But, I love trails, I love road trips and I love the challenge.  I had been on this trail for a shorter night race a few months ago and had a great time.  So, I signed on.

We left at 4 am Sunday morning and the sunrise I was looking forward to was blocked by increasingly darker clouds as we drove away from NY.  My mind went into overdrive.  I have very few trail races in my legs and I knew how tough this one was going to be. But, in the rain, slippery rocks, extra mud?  I kept the fear away by surrendering and reminding myself it is all part of the journey.  

The start was good.  It began to rain just as we began to run, but then tapered off.  Tim hates it when I push our pace and he is much more experienced on the trails, so I hung in behind him, becoming mesmerized by his feet planting on the earth, hoping mine found the same safe spots to land.  We were good for a while, but, on the first steep incline, he told me he wasn't feeling well. Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 (I think) I got a little unfocused, was f-ing sick of running on jagged rocks that consistently caused an ankle to turn or a foot to torque, and I started to stumble.  Once, twice, and, before I could reign it in, I went down.  Luckily, I landed on soft ground and came up dirt-streaked and scratched.  I was able to breathe and regroup and we went on to run a bit more.  But, it became increasingly apparent that Tim was in no way able to really run this race.  We decelerated from walking hills and running everything else to a fast-paced hike to a slow walk.  His core temperature was way too high for a humid but cool cloudy day and he was feeling dizzy, obviously fighting an illness.  I was worried.  He told me to go on and run my race, and my mental battle began. As a couple, we have struggled with racing together, so we made a deal that, if we sign up for the same race, it is not contingent on the other person doing it.  If one person pulls out at the last minute, the other has the support to still go and do the race.  But, this was murky.  Because we were walking for so long, we had been passed by tons of people and everyone was so spread out, we were often alone for long periods of time.  I did not want to leave him out there for fear he would have to sit down or pass out and no one would be there right away.  So, I surrendered "my" race and continued to walk with him.  I knew we were at risk for missing the 9-mile cut off time.  I also knew there was a water stop at 9 so, if we made it in time and I was up for it, I'd leave him there and finish my run.  

Luckily, there was water at 8.3 miles and a group of people being driven back to the start/finish.  Tim decided to hop in with them and encouraged me to go on.  Physically, I was fine.  Mentally, I was done.  And a little fear crept in.  I had not navigated many trails on my own.  He was usually with me.  What if I missed a marker?  There were many other "what if's," but they don't matter because, before my brain could process, I heard the words "I'm going on" come out of my mouth.  I got my running legs back on the road leading away from the water stop, turned back into the trails, and said a little prayer of gratitude for Tim being encouraging and understanding.  There was a girl running in front of me, slower than my pace, but I hung in a little behind her just to get the feel of being out there (kind of) on my own.  Then, I went around her, on my own.

The race course was well marked and my confidence grew as I picked up the pace.  It grew even more as I began to see people ahead of me, people who had passed by as we were walking earlier.  I was surprised by my pace.  I still walked the steepest inclines, some almost impossible, half-way up, needing to lean on my bended knees just to catch my breath.  But, everywhere else I ran, lightly landing the descents, smiling the whole way down.

Judging mileage in the few (mostly unmarked) trail races I have done has caught me by surprise.  For me, what usually happens is that the first miles go by quickly and the middle ones drag.  Then, I completely lose sight of my distance.  Running in the trails has an almost out of body, dizzying effect on me.  It becomes meditative, but in a different way than the rhythm of the road.  At the same time, I am trying to both stay focused and relax. Both help me stay safe, but the combination creates such a zone that I have not found elsewhere.  The miles completely vanish.  I always think I have many more to go and, like in the past, was shocked when someone at a road crossing told me I only had 2.5 left.

Before the race, one of the organizers was talking about the course and running it with children.  Her comment was "oh, children run the trails like gazelles."  I had this experience once when I watched my 7 year old run in a trail ahead of me, doing it with such ease, skipping along, his whole body soft and free of tension, absorbing whatever the trail gave out.  Since that day, I pull up his image when I feel I am getting tense, thinking too much about the task at hand or fighting the terrain.  It helps me reconnect with the joy.  And those last 2.5 miles were joyous.  It was a long day, but reaching the finish at the top of the last hill, knowing I had pushed myself beyond more than one comfort zone felt great.  It was even worth the 3 days of post-race quad pain that I endured.  Note to self...downhills...must work on the downhills...


Monday, August 16, 2010

How it Began

"The miracle isn't that I finished. 
The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
 -John Bingham


Yesterday, Friday the 13th, marked 7 months until my 40th birthday.  For the past year or so, I have been thinking about how to mark the milestone.  A piece of me thinks that it really is just another birthday and questions why everyone makes such a big deal of it.  But a larger piece of me really wants to put a stamp on it.  I remember my 30th clearly,  and not for good reasons.  It was not the best time in my life and, in the 10 years since, everything has changed.  Everything.  I am not the same person I was then, and I want to celebrate that.  I want to celebrate the growth and, whether it was painful or joyous, I want to remember it.

Many ideas had come into my mind.  While I love a good party, I'm just not the "rent out a catering hall and celebrate my life" kind of girl.  Let's save that for my funeral.  Yes, there will be a smaller get-together with all of those I am lucky enough to love, complete with good food and Patron, but that's just not the only mark I want to put on this day.  It needs to be introspective, grounded and deep.

I thought about doing "40 Fun and Fabulous" things over the course of this 40th year, an idea inspired by a friend and some other blogs.  I loved this and sat down and tried to make my list...too much pressure.  I think I came up with 26 and it ended up looking more like a life "bucket list" than things I, a divorced mom of 2 kids, working part time, on a tight budget could actually accomplish in one year. I have checked some of them off, but 40 is just not going to happen.

Over the past 18 months, I have become much more of a runner than I thought I would ever be and I love it.  Running has always been a challenge for me.  I like doing things in which I excel.  Running is not one of them.  It humbles me, reminds me of my humanity and pushes me deeper than any other physical activity.  I wrote a bit about my early steps into running and my first marathon at my original blog: Leave it on the Bike.  Now, I find myself training for marathon #2, devouring information on endurance running and beginning to think, "I could do that...slowly, but I could do it."  The seed was planted and I have just let it sit there for a while, not quite knowing what do do with it, only knowing that it feels right.  I want to run 40 miles (straight) for my 40th birthday. One for each year.  I've seen other blogs about endeavors like this and a film about a woman who trained for the Western States 100 for her 40th ("100 Miles to 40").  It was a while before I even shared with Tim, a veteran distance runner and inspiration, that I had this idea.  I preferred to live with the fantasy.  However, I also know that having the vision is only the first step.  I had to start putting up the sails in the wind to get the boat to move.

This journey needs to be all mine.  While I know that running an organized race can still be a deeply personal experience, there is something about doing this by myself that appeals to me.  I want to look back over each year, as I cover each mile in my own space, with the freedom to experience whatever surfaces, in whatever way I need to experience it.  With my steps, I want to cut the cords that hold me back, that are direct connections to all of my limiting belief systems.

Then there are the logistics.  Besides needing to be mentally and physically supported, my birthday is in March and I live in New York, which means heavy-duty winter month training.  The dreaded treadmill is sure to become my best friend.  However, I am also ok with doing it as the weather gets warmer.  No attachments.

At the end of this post, that's where I'm at.  I'm at the start line, with a idea, completely unaware of how it will develop and, especially, how it will feel at the finish.