Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of Year Funk and Downtime Blues

“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.”  ~Lance Armstrong
1:58 a.m...my eyes pop open...and it's off - the mind races...but this time my mind was ready to put to right what I've been tormented over for the past few days.

A couple days ago, for no apparent reason, the thought of pulling the plug on this blog popped into my head. I don't know where it came from, and I didn't even see it coming...but there it was, screaming at me. I made the mistake of Tweeting this thought...and the results were not exactly, well, uplifting or encouraging...Though they were pretty much what I expected.

But let me backtrack for a moment...What's the real reason behind this...

First, I've been writing this blog for almost 2 years. I had no goals with it when I started. It was for me, and in fact, I started freaking out when I saw it getting hits. Ewwww. Strangers are looking at this. This was initially a very uncomfortable feeling for someone who has always written, has always loved to write, but has never allowed ANYONE to read anything she's written. I had the pseudonym for a reason, and initially my real name appeared nowhere...And then I relaxed a bit.

But now, 2 years later, I find myself wondering "What's the point?" "Who really cares (besides me, which was the whole point)?" And I tell myself...this doesn't matter. No one cares one way or the other...and suddenly that mattered in a toxic, soul-killing way. There are, after all, gobs of running blogs out there that are wildly popular. They have thousands of followers and readers, and I shake my head wondering what I'm doing wrong because I don't find (some of) them particularly interesting (Yeah. I know I'm biased - and that sounds like sour grapes!). The thought occurred to me that 2 years, perhaps, is enough for this silliness. Time to grow up and face facts.

And this sent me off into a pit of sadness...

Add to that the fact that I have given myself a forced 2 weeks of very easy and minimal running following a long fall season, and you've got a very anxious, antsy runner...post marathon(s)...an enforced downtime which never settles well, holiday madness, an ailing mother (yeah, I'm not going to go into that), a myriad of other stresses and demands, and the result is a total mess of whirling emotions...because that's the way I am. Post race depression is a common, though little discussed, phenomena among runners.

And so I stupidly "put it all out there" and got what I thought I deserved.

Think about the times you really want to do something scary - that is, scary for you: Run your first 5k...your first half...your first marathon...try to qualify for Boston...And you gather the necessary courage, say it out load, and someone snorts in response. You will hear those snorts of disbelief banging, like a drum, in your head. The high-fives and encouragement will be drowned out by the cacophony of one negative comment. How does that feel? I'm sure we have all experienced that at some point, and it can make you feel foolish - Unless, of course, you are blessed with a large and healthy ego, which I am not, and then you let the negatives float off into the void.

Jean-Paul Sartre convincingly argues that we tend to ask questions of those who we believe will give us the answers we already know are in our hearts - but we look to someone else as an excuse, an out, a way to avoid our own absolute freedom and responsibility.

But the instant I pressed 'enter' I knew it was a mistake.

Silence speaks volumes, and the responses from many friends and self-professed supporters (and I never asked for this, it was offered) was utter silence. From others who did speak up, the suggestion was that maybe this little experiment no longer served me. Maybe I should just let it die on it's own. All of this was well meaning...but it was not what I wanted. I, of course, wanted others to scream at me "No! Don't do it". But that never came, and so I began to morn the death of this little creation.

Then at 1:58 a.m. I woke and a name popped into my head: Carolina.

Carolina...holding a beer, before noon...I'm on the left (yes, holding a cigarette!)

Carolina is one of my dearest friends. We've been friends for 30+ years. I've written about her here many times. Right now we live far away from each other and we are not in constant contact, in fact we've "lost" each other from time to time over the years. But the fact is that we are joined in a way that distance and time, and death, can never separate us. I know she's always there.

Wells College Swim team...I'm front left. Carolina is directly behind me

She reads this blog, I know that because she always fires off a word or two via e-mail (she's not on facebook and doesn't do social media - smart move) JUST when I need it. The emails appear in my inbox at the exact time I need them.

Leading up to Boston, 2012, worried about the weather, worried about the fuss-and-bother, and blogging ad nauseam on all of that, her message was:
"Now just enjoy all of this, even the hours of hotel searching, because, seriously, this is all really cool and extra-ordinary.
It deserves all of the fuss.
Embrace it!
I am following this with great excitement!
Love you!"

Two days before Boston, after deciding not to defer, this was in my inbox:
"Good luck! Good luck! Will be thinking of you on Monday..:)))"

And after Boston, which didn't exactly go well, I hemmed-and-hawed over whether to try for another marathon 4 weeks later...her message was:
"Do it, you weirdo."

After qualifying for Boston again at the Fox Valley Marathon I received:
"Yay!!!
Congratulations!!
So Very Cool!
:)"
And now, after Tucson:
"You rock. And are amazing. And are a weirdo. :)
Much Love."
And in many ways we keep in touch through this silly little blog.

So, it occurred to me that while I may not reach many, those I do matter to me. I realize that I can't allow my self-worth to hinge on the acceptance of others - but as human beings we all do have a need to reach out and connect with others. This is one of the ways I enjoy doing that.

And so I will keep at it...for another year anyway...
“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”~ George Eliot
Epilogue: My Inbox today, Dec 21, the end times...:
"Ok so I'm reading your blog post, thinking "No! Don't give up the blog because this is how I keep up with you! Don't do it!"
Then I get a little further . . . 
then I got goosebumps.
I guess we really are linked at the metaphorical hip.
Hang in there.
Much love. As always."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

With Every Race There Are Lessons To Be Learned...But You Must Listen


“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I'm woken by a cramp in my right calf that wants to rip my gastrocnemius tendon from the bone. I jump out of bed and limp around the bedroom until it finally releases, but a residual tightness lingers. I haven't noticed (or registered) that this has been happening all week - my calves...the arches of my feet...cramping. This is not normal, and I've dismissed these anomalous events without much notice. That is a mistake.

A couple hours later I'm in the car heading to Denver International Airport on route to Tucson for my 6th marathon of the year, and my final race for the year. I turn off of E470, go to accelerate the car onto the highway and my shin muscle tightens into a knot. My foot is stuck at a 90 degree angle and will not go down. I press my heel down on the accelerator and rub my shin until it releases. I pull into the Pikes Peak parking lot, find an empty space barely missing the next car as I angle in and the shin cramps up again. I jerk to a stop, and sit there for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. What the heck is going on, I wonder. I pull up the parking break, get out of the car and both legs, from the knees down, tighten up into a knot of anxiety. I feel completely out of it. "Crap. What the hell is going on?" I say out loud to no one. What am I doing going off to run a marathon when I'm feeling like this? I get on the shuttle to the terminal and eat a banana...drink some water...swallow an Endurolyte...My calves feel like they have Mexican jumping beans zinging around under my skin. Every muscle flex results in a gripping cramp.

...And I doggedly push on with the plan.

On the plane the flight attendants hand me cans of water, stashed in their pockets, every time they walk by. I eat another banana...drink more water...and tomato juice...

Drink...eat...drink...eat...drink...eat. I am sooooo tired of drinking and eating.

We land in Tucson. It's hot and dry. This is the dessert after all. Chollas, and yuccas and cacti dot the barren, windswept, landscape. I am still out of it. I get my rental car and I try to get my bearings. In Boulder the mountains run north/south, but in Tucson there is no rhyme nor reason to be found in the mountains that ring the valley. Eventually I find my way to I10 and then to my hotel.

...Drink and eat and drink and eat...

So goes the rest on the day...and the evening...as I frantically message my PT, Heather. Her advice is to do what I've been doing. She tries to reassure me that all will be well. All I envision is being stranded on Mt. Lemmon with seized up calves. This is something I've never experienced. I don't know what to expect, and it's difficult not to expect the worst. I try to distract myself with facebook, messaging with Sandra, who also reassures me that all will be well and I've got what it takes...and a 'Big Bang Theory' marathon...I joke that my legs just really want to run...but I'm very worried. Very very worried.

I wake before the alarm at 3:55 a.m. The sparks are still firing fast and furious beneath the skin of my calves. I drink some coffee, eat a Marathon Bar, take a shower, decide what to wear, pack up my stuff and head for the shuttle parking. It's 5:20 as I climb onto to the frigid yellow school bus. It's pitch black out.

It takes close to 45 minutes to reach the start a couple thousand feet up Mt. Lemmon. We're dropped off in the middle of nowhere, amongst the cacti and scorpions and gila monsters and javelinas...Luckily, dessert creatures are quite shy, because they tend to be fairly fierce.

 
Lights flood the start area, but all around is mysterious darkness.

The gun goes off and we head off toward the rising sun. I am completely fixated on my calves...how are they feeling...what's going on down there...and I'm taking it very very easy. This course is a net downhill, but the fact is that it is not an easy course. There's lots of uphill and rolling sections. Each mile ticks by. So far so good. I feel good. Really good, but I don't trust it - not in the least.

As we turn onto the highway, around mile 14, heading for Tucson the headwind picks up, blowing the mile marker signs down. It's not terrible, but it's there. I'm praying that it won't pick up. And the miles continue to pass...and I still feel really good. By mile 20, having felt no weirdness in my calves, I decide to push it. For the next 6 miles I feel stronger than I've ever felt at the end of a marathon. I've cut my pace by about a minute a mile and feel stronger with each passing mile.


And as I make the final turn towards the finish line I push with all I have, and cross in 3:48:16. I'm happy because this went so much better than I anticipated...and yet there is this little voice in my head..."My god! You have so much left!! Ugggg!!!"

And how many times do we hold back in life, afraid about what could happen? How many times do we play it safe and then wonder what if...?

Now, don't get me wrong here. I am very happy with this race. But, here's what I realized: I've mentioned before that I've been in search of that race that feels easy - where everything falls into place and you just do what you can do, what you know to do. I felt this running the Colorado Marathon in 2011 - and I've longed, thirsted, for it ever since. And here it was...and I am left feel that...well...I could have done better! Talk about nothing making you happy!!! I just set a master's PR, got another BQ, and all I can think is that I could have done better.

So, what did I learn? 

First, don't ignore things the week before a marathon. Of course there's the usual taper madness and aches and pains that come with tapering, but cramps are different. I should have been paying better attention and taken better care of myself.

Second, don't awfullize about things you can't control. Easier said than done, but at least I now have the experience of having something completely new happening the day before a marathon and it still turned out alright. If that happens again perhaps I won't be such wreck. Or, maybe I will...

Third, and most importantly, I learned that I'm not really after that easy race, I'm after that hard effort that succeeds beyond my wildest dreams. I want to feel good at the end of a marathon, but not good in the sense of having anything left to give. That's a difficult thing to put your finger on, but that's what I want.

Will I even know when/if it happens?? I don't know. I guess that's why I keep doing this stuff...

The Things That Change Us

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” ~ Goethe Sometimes we never "go back" to what we were before....