Thursday, June 14, 2012

Running To Cope

Yesterday I returned home from a visit with my mother and sister in New Jersey, and while I love them both dearly, it's always an intensely difficult time for me. When I'm there I run but I can never seem to escape into my usual state of running as meditation, as healing, sorting out, putting things to right.  When I am there I am in survival mode - just deal and breath quickly and push on.  Do what you have to do. Get it all done.  It exhausts the body and soul and spirit. I wish this were not so, but right now, this is how things are for me.

The high point of my visit was running a little 5k and meeting some new running friends!  

There I find my tribe, my place, my groove in this big, sometimes difficult, world...But then the real world reasserts itself - and I am thrust back into the thick of it...

I often feel relief at the very thought of getting home and back to my life. I live to run in Colorado again, to hold my husband and daughter and all the critters in the house. And on this particular day, I REALLY want to be home!

As we land at Denver International Airport and park at our gate I see that I have 15 minutes to make the next bus. If I miss that bus I will have to wait an hour for the next bus. That sounds like eternal damnation to me at this point in the proceedings. I've got to get home! Now! As I walk, impatiently, off the plane I see that I have 12 minutes. And the the mad run commences. 

Luckily I am wearing a Marathon Maniacs T-shirt paired with a slightly crazed look in my eyes, so people give me a fairly wide berth, perhaps fearing the possible maniac in me. I get to the escalator down to the train and see one pulling away. Damn. I have to wait. The next train arrives a few minutes later.

I have 6 minutes left. 

I'm in terminal C, which means we must stop at terminals B and A before we get to the main terminal. Ugh. Tedious, tedious train! I know exactly where to position myself on the train so that I can be first on the final escalator, so I won't get stuck behind someone just standing, casually, on the stupid thing.

I have 3 minutes left. 

The train doors slide open and I book it up the escalator, two steps at a time, a bag on each arm. I reach the top, I'm going to make it. I move to put one bag down so I can pop the handle up to roll it behind me as I run, but I neglect to actually stop running while I'm doing this. The bag spins around in front of me, tripping me, and sending me flying through the air and crashing to the concrete floor. There is a loud, collective gasp from onlookers. Security personnel rush to my aid. No time for this. I get up, pull out damnedible handle and race off. Everything hurts and I have no idea what hurts.

All I'm thinking, as I run the final stretch to the bus is, "F#*@! Am I going to be able to run tomorrow??!!"

I get to the bus. I made it. Every part of me is throbbing and I'm shaky and overheated. My knee is killing me. My scraped shin is visibly swelling as I watch, helpless to do anything. My previously chipped left elbow has already turned a deep purple. I'm feeling pathetic and doomed. All I want, right now, is to be home!


But when I get there I'm on edge, antsy, angst filled and yet I'm so grateful to be home.  I hold my daughter tight in my arms for a long time, her strong legs wrapped around my waist, and smell the skin on the back of her neck.  But part of me is pacing beneath my skin like a trapped wild animal.

I have everything wrapped in ice, but I'm certain I won't be able to run in the morning. Oh dear powers-that-be, I really need to run. I have a glass of wine. That doesn't help anything!

I realize that the only way for me to process things in my life is through running. A lot is going on, and I don't even have a clue how to sort it all out if I can't run.  Even the remote possibility that I may need to take a day or two off has left me in the deepest of funks mulling over all the messes in my life right now...I need to sort it all out - Stat!

...My mother's ongoing, ever-morphing, illness, the tensions between my mother and sister, and my job as mediator, my role as sole emotional anchor for my mom...The steady march of time...and decline...

And at home...

Our oldest critter, my dear nearly 16 year-old Aussie-Samoyed mix, Willa, who was my steady running partner for 12 years, is on a steep decline. She's lost most of the function in her rear legs, and the nerve condition she has will only continue to march on toward it's deadly end. I don't know how much longer she will be with us. I don't know how I will know when her time comes. I do know it's coming faster than I hoped.

And in a week my husband leaves for three weeks for an NEH seminar in Florence, Italy. Will Willa still be alive? Will I have to make the hard choices by myself? And finding time to run will become more difficult.

But it is often the anticipation of the difficulty that is more difficult to deal with than the actuality.


I wake up the next morning and the knee is a little sore, but much better. The shin looks ugly, but it doesn't effect function. I head out for an exploratory trot - and all systems are go-ish. I feel that I've been beaten up, achy all over, but moving some blood through the achy-ness and some air through my lungs seems called for. More importantly my mind needs this time. I run more for my mind than for my body. I try to take care of my body so that I can continue taking care of my mind.

And all the worry and angst and antsy-ness begin to evaporate in the dry morning heat. And though the difficulties remain, I can deal again.

Later my husband, daughter and I head off to the Boulder Creek to play in the cold water on a hot day. For me that means sitting in the cold water for as long as I can to sooth my achy legs. And as I sit in the snow fed cold water, the sun warms my shoulders and arms, and I think: "This is it. This is what I need to do a whole lot more of."  Be here NOW. Anticipation may just be nothing more than much ado about nothing.

And there I find myself, grounded again, in the soreness and awareness of my body, and the peace of my mind.
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” ~ Charles Dickens
Replace the "walk" with "run", and there you have it.


  1. Very nice post, though I'm sorry the family visit was so stressful for you. I'll send good thoughts toward your dog.

    And as I sit in our un-air-conditioned house, unsure of whether to open the windows and let in the smoke, or leave them closed and parboil, your image of Boulder Creek is speaking to me.....Maybe I'll take the kids down there tomorrow.

    As for Tuesday....I'm (sort of) back.

    1. We'll be there tomorrow - at Eben G, after 11:30. Wouldn't that be cool to meet up?! I can't wait to sit in the cold water again :)

  2. I couldn't help but think this thought: Is 15 minutes of increased emotional outburst and additional hours of increased state of anxiety, more justified than 75 minutes of being in the moment at the airport and a relaxed state afterwards for several more hours?

    I don't suspect there is any one right answer, but as I said - I couldn't help but think that thought.

    1. Well I think the obvious answer is for me to just chill. I know, I know - but I wasn't thinking very clearly. And I will probably do the same damn thing again in the future.

    2. How do we change our behavior (regardless of what we desire)?

      (See the quote up there in your title bar)


      Change (learning) begins in our thoughts. We become what we think we are. We do what we think.

      So stop that damn unhelpful thinking!!!

    3. Ah, but Aristotle did not say that it is that easy. Thinking doesn't make it so - ACTION creates my character. I am a flawed, in-virtuous human beings with some bad habits. I'm trying. Believe me I'm trying ;)

    4. It is true that action is the greatest harbinger of true learning (or changed behavior) - when our physical behavior to a certain stimulus is uniform then we have learned that behavior.

      Yet the number of times we physically perform a behavior is vastly out-numbered by the times we think about that behavior. If I go to the track and have a bad experience, sure it is just one bad experience and I can go back to the track the next 10 weeks in a row and have good experiences. But what if after that one bad experience I spent the whole rest of the week with these thoughts in my head: "I didn't finish the workout, I'm not a runner.", "Why do I even try to do such a hard workout?", "I will never be that good.". It is very likely that my thinking is going to influence my opportunity to have a good workout next week. But if I immediately start thinking positive thoughts after the bad workout "That wasn't like me, I normally finish all my workouts." or "I can perform better than that, next week I will run each split that I want." it is natural to think (with those thoughts running through my head) that next week's workout will be much better. I am sure you agree with the power of the mind in this situation, so why doesn't it work as well in more everyday situations?

      We think at a rate of 1000s of words per minute, and if we are not always conscious of our thoughts - we will talk ourselves right out of the actions we want to do. In many ways our unconscious minds are like robots, they will do exactly what we program them to do. So we must take Aristotle's lead in all aspects of our lives: both in our actions as well as in our thoughts. Because our thoughts determine our actions.

      And this goes for such "trivial" things as always being in the present, in the moment, of making the most of a situation.

      So, again, it is time to start thinking, "yes, I can" and remove all other thoughts.

      But please don't think that this is easy for me. It is hard to channel my mind like this all the time. I am reminded by a scene in the biography of Louie Zamperini from "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. His life raft has found the doldrums on the ocean. The ocean surface is like glass. The silence is overpowering. Pretty much his whole world is empty. In this emptiness Louie found how much easier it is to focus the mind. If Louie had to be stranded in a life raft in order to completely focus his mind, then how am I suppose to focus my mind in such a loud, complex environment?

    5. I agree with you here. Habitual thinking can be helpful or unhelpful - and it takes a concerted and diligent effort to change it when it's unhelpful (and to even realize that it's unhelpful). Clearly my thinking here was habitual in the unhelpful sense. One of the reasons I write this stuff is for my own self therapy - trying to work things out - and putting it down on paper, so to speak, forces me to really get clear about what's going on. I think we all do these things from time to time and that's why I share it as well.

      Some days it's very easy to think clearly and really zoom in on what's important while letting the crap just float on by. Other days our thinking is frazzled - I was tired, frustrated, stressed - feeling a bit at the end of my rope - and there was little rational thinking going on.

  3. 100% awesome post. Loved it. Especially this part - "But it is often the anticipation of the difficulty that is more difficult to deal with than the actuality."

    1. Yes - and as it turns out I healed up well and I had a perfectly fine running week. Will I learn from this? Probably not.


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