Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What's A Day?

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson  
New Years Eve...New Years Day...A New Year. What does it matter? What 'changes'? Nothing. Nothing changes. The birds, and the worms, don't care. Don't know. The stars and the mountains continue on as they were. The earth revolves. And yet we humans seem to put so much stock in this whole New Year thing. Good riddance to the old. Hooray for the new. The new is good. The new is change. It's the same as when we vote in politicians for 'change' even if we don't know what that 'change' is. Change is good. Right? And like magic - a new job, a new house, a new car, a new lover, a NEW YEAR, will make 'it' all better. And even if IT is pretty good, the new will be even better.
“Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering 'it will be happier'...” ~ Alfred Tennyson
Ah. Hope. It's a good and a bad thing. Hope is great when we act. But hope without action brings little that's rewarding. Yes. We can be 'lucky' in life and things just come to us - like good fortune - but do we feel better about ourselves based upon good fortune alone?

What the New Year does encourage us to do, as intentional beings with a concept for the future, is, it encourages us to take stock. We look at the good, the bad, the ugly, and decide where we want to go next year. The sad things is that most of us forget about these goals, dreams, aims, desires before the calendar reaches mid-January. Then we sink back into our safe little habits - some of which may be good, but some of which may be holding us back from what we really want for our future. 

So. I am writing this, and will post it to my wall as a constant reminder of what's important to me now, while I'm paying close attention to these things. While the world becomes new again. And the possibilities are grander:   

My goals continue to be what they have always been, every day, day in and day out - Cultivate Courage, Be Real, Be Fierce, Be Fair and Just. But with the dawning of a New Year I simply want to remind myself that this is what I've always been after and will continue to strive for.

Do Something Scary: Be Courageous
I want to do something that terrifies me. Not a foolhardy kind of thing, but just a 'big thing FOR ME' kind of thing. The kind of thing I'm scared to commit to AND the kind of thing I'll be sad about if I don't commit to it. A key part of this, though, must be my willingness to accept failure if I must. It's easy to 'commit' to the things you are pretty sure you can do. But those things that are on the outer reaches of possibility (of course, this is always personal), those are the things that cause fear and trembling but also make life so much more vivid. Courage means feeling just the right amount of fear - and I will continue in my quest for this virtue (though I continue to fall so very far short of it). Courage also means going on when things feel like they aren't going well - believing that it all matters when you feel like nothing really matters. This is more a life issue than a running issue. As I say many times to many people: Running is easy. Life is hard. And sometimes that is true.

Focus on Who and What YOU care about. Remember the difference between what is real and what is image:
Okay. I admit it - In the past I never gave a hoot what people thought of me. I did my own thing and for the most part that was all that mattered. I cared about what those near and dear to me thought, but that's as far as it went. Now, I find myself sometimes, sometimes, dragged down by things that really should be unimportant to me: The opinions (supported or not), lives (real or embellished), and successes (earned or imagined or happy fortune) of those who really don't matter. Social media is great, but when little things start eating away at you, things that really don't matter, then you know there's a problem. I tell myself it doesn't matter. I KNOW it doesn't matter...And yet some things eat at me, and I'm not proud or happy about that. So. I will do better to focus on me and mine and what is real and what matters. 
One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things. ~ John Burroughs
Don't compare. Be fierce:
Need I say more on this??? Have I ever NOT said more on something?? I will keep at my little, busy running thing, I will keep at my silly, seemingly pointless blogging thing, I will do the best I can as a mother, wife, coach, friend...and I will not put myself down because others seem to be running farther and faster and getting more hits, and I will keep plugging away at this little project I call ME and my life. Because that mythical land "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."  doesn't exist except in Lake Wobegon, which of course doesn't exist. I will continue to fiercely go after what I care about because I care about it. (Now. Follow my blog so I feel good about myself!!! Bwahahahahaha)

Live well. Be Fair and Just:
This is just something I always hope to be. I know I fall short at times, but I try. The concern about fairness and justice motivates many, if not most, of my choices in life. It's a major reason why I decided to go into Philosophy. And I try, always, to treat people this way. In my personal and professional life I am hell bent on doing what's right for those with whom I live and work and love and call friends. I try to stand behind what I say. I say what I mean. I don't pull punch. And I am what I am. That's the goal, anyway. 
 
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It's all a work in progress. We are all in progress. We aren't just what we are, though we are that. We also are what we will be (but not yet), and what we will be in the future is somewhat undecided right now. The fact remains, though, that this whole New Years thing is nothing but symbolic tradition. But then lots of important and meaningful things are nothing more than that. It does give us pause and make us believe that we are new again. That so many things stretch out before us waiting to be realized. The things we give up on later are now still living possibilities. But these are my goals, my resolutions I suppose, for each day, not the year. And I resolve to revisit them everyday - I hope I can make it past mid-January! And in all of this, I am proved to be, against my better judgement, an optimist.

If only we could hold on to that thought, that desire, this notion of the possible, from today until next December 31st, and on and on until the end of our days.

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Addendum:

And ignore the pessimists ;)
Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion. ~Mark Twain

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Out On A Limb

"Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
On November 23rd my seven week experiment ended on the streets of Philly, and so now comes some much needed self-reflection and self-assessment. Did I journey to some place interesting? I don't know. Did I shimmy a bit farther out on the limb, reaching for the fruit - maybe, a bit. Right now, it feels like I may have crawled out a bit too far, cracking the branch, threatening to send me crashing to the ground.
"Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." ~  Robert Louis Stevenson
What may be risky for one person may be just be the same-old-same-old for someone else. And what may be risky for you now, may not be so risky in the future if you test those uncharted waters. We do learn about ourselves when we take risks and do something a little scary, maybe even a lot scary. After my little personal (since this is always personal) experiment, I'm left assessing the outcome.

Did I get my fingers around that coveted piece of fruit? And what fruit was I really reaching for? As it turns out, I might have grasped a piece of fruit I could not see until I crawled out on that branch...

Oct. 4th: St. George Marathon - 3:46:36  Masters PR and a solid BQ - But, not what I was aiming for.
Oct. 18th: Des Plaines River Trail 50 miler - 9:15  2nd AG
Nov. 23rd: Philadelphia Marathon... ?

Five days after running Des Plaines I was hit with a flu that just would not quit. I have not been sick at all in a couple years, so I tried to deny that this was happening. But the painful, lung searing, hacking continued for the entire time leading up to Philly. "Eh" I told myself. "Who cares. This one is just for fun. I've done my races. My season could be done now." And that's true. I had a good run at Des Plaines, which really is one of the high points of my running year. I may not have run brilliantly and it wasn't easy, but I did something that I didn't know I could do, and that mattered more than I expected it to matter. St. George went pretty well, and I can't complain too much, but I want to because I had higher hopes for that one, even if I did manage to salvage it and come away with a decent race. Still...it wasn't quite what I wanted - the weather and my body did not entirely cooperate with my intentions.

And that thorn of desire sticks in my mind as I fly off to run Philly...

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Saturday: I get to Philly late in the afternoon, driving from NJ with Dawn and Christine...check-in to the hotel. Get to the expo. In and out fast...Walk to the hotel alone, in the dark, through a gentle drizzle. I try to settle in. My roommate is out with her running club for dinner so I have some much needed quiet time. I eat my rice, tofu, veggies - Bonus: There's a microwave. It feels almost decadent to eat hot food. I watch totally lame TV. I chat with Sandra on FB. She asks me what my plan is. I don't want to worry her if things go all off the rails so I try to be noncommittal while giving her some glimpse into what I may be thinking. And, I think about why I'm here, in this Holiday Inn, 18 floors up, in Philadelphia, 1600 miles from home.

I think about why I'm here.

Why AM I here? Well, I signed up, for one thing. And that's pretty much why I'm here. I've wanted to run Philly, though truth be told I was on the rebound when I registered, freshly rejected by NY even though I was in the time qualifying lottery. I felt burned then. A lover scorned. So. Screw you NYRR. I'm gonna run Philly. I was one of the first 1000 to register and got the sweet deal. But now...now...now...why am I really here.

Could I somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat and do here what I wanted to do in St. George? The weather is looking pretty perfect. The course is fairly fast. Will my lungs and sinuses cooperate? Are my legs and heart recovered from the 50 miler? So many questions. Who knows how they will respond to something new. And so, I chew over my options and my food, and I ponder...

...What risks am I willing to take?

The next morning we have about 1.4 miles to walk through the dark to the start corrals. As we make our way through the bustling pre-marathon city, all I'm really thinking about is checking into my Southwest flight at exactly 6:05 a.m. We get to the start area and the porto-potty lines are epic. Now. I've run a few big city marathons: NYC, Chicago x 2, Boston x 2, and I have NEVER seen such long lines. I move farther along. I find some with slightly shorter lines but they are moving at a glacial pace. I still have to drop my gear at the UPS trucks. I haven't found any water, anywhere (damn I should have brought some) so I slowly suck on my pre-race gel hoping some saliva will help with digestion. This is not going well. I wait and wait and wait. I suck on my gel. A guys asks if I have another. Nope. I have one for mile 13 and I sorta need that. So I give him a bar from my gear bag. I have about 5 minutes to check my bag and get to my corral. Runners are starting to get aggressive about the potties, and as I jump into one I get bellowing at with "Hey Hey Hey"s from a line of runners who need to learn about sharing...and being nice...and taking turns! Blech. This isn't starting out well.

And then I run to the UPS trucks, drop my bag and trot off to the corrals. I enter into the 'Black' corral just ahead of mine and make my way back. I see bibs from corrals way way farther back. Hmmmm. Ok. I get into my corral: green. (Later I will note that I should have stayed in Black!).

The national Anthem is sung and the gun fires. The first corrals are off.

Standing in the corral I cast my eyes around looking for any familiar faces. I know they're out there, but I can't see them. I stand there wondering what exactly I'm feeling. Ennui, maybe? Apprehension? Nothingness? I don't know really. I have my splits written in sharpie on my arm, as always, and they are for the risky option. We walk to the mat. Go...

The first 8 miles is a congested cluster of runners running all different paces. Both the marathon and half marathon go off together and stay together until the 13 mile point. The narrow city roads, a super twisty course and the crowds of runners running all sorts of paces, make for a tedious challenge. Mile one: a woman goes down to the pavement hard in front of me. I jump around her almost going down myself. She bounces right back up and runs, seemingly unscathed. The roads are full of pot-holes and wavy asphalt like I've never seen before. Add to this the fact that aid stations at this point are only on one side of the road and you get a total cluster F#$k.  People are running in large groups across the entire road. I jump up on the sidewalk repeatedly to get around runners.

But, I'm doing what I can do. After the half splits off and away I breathe a little sigh of relief as the marathoners set off past the Art museum down toward the Schuylkill River. I'm running along, taking stock of how I'm feeling, and suddenly feel two hands grab both shoulders. Then a foot catches my right foot on the side throwing me off balance. I turn around wondering if it's someone I know. A man, towering over me, peers down at me. All I see is his red shirt and hat. I do not know him.

"What the F&%K!!!" I yell at him. 
"You cut me off!" He yells down at me in return.
"I did NOT! I'm running in a straight line!"
And then he drops back. I run on. 
Another man runs over to me. "Are you okay?" 
I'm fighting back the tears welling up in my throat. "Yes. I'm just a little upset. That sucked." 
"I saw the whole thing. What a jerk." 
We then start chatting about how this race sort of sucks. We talk about Chicago. NYCM. Boston. I really just want to stop at this point. I'm so bloody done with the whole thing. But I press on.  I'm still about on pace for my 'A' goal and I feel pretty okay. Not great, but okay.

Then the shit hits the fan. At some point, somewhere in mile 16, something weird begins to happen to my right leg. At first I wonder if it's from being stepped on by the red-shirted-menace a couple miles earlier. Then I wonder if I'm bonking - it's been so long since I've bonked that I can't really remember what it feels like - but it's only happening in part of one leg. The rest of me feels fine. As I run on, the side of my knee starts to tighten up - importantly, my right side is my 'good' side. I have had NO issues with my right side in years!!! Aaarrgggg. The tightness starts spreading down to my ankle and up to my hip. My leg feels like a cement peg-leg with a giant charley-horse overtaking one side of it. I can't really use it. I throw it forward, ahead of me, and push over it like a crutch. It hurts so much with every step and I know if this continues this will be my first DNF ever - and how the hell does one get back to the start when they drop? Because we are basically running an out and back for the whole second half of the race, we are always running against the traffic, so to speak. Sections of the road are highly cambered and I begin wondering if that's it. I try to move to the middle of the road, weaving in and out of the cones, in an attempt to find more level ground.

My pace drops by 45 seconds per mile for miles 17 and 18. I see Esther as we do a short off-shoot out and back. She looks strong. I am happy about that. I've been looking for her since the start. At least I know where she is. By mile 19 I'm still sort of running, and the tightness hasn't gotten worse, but it's holding steady. I know I'm running strangely because I can feel my big toe slamming against the front of my shoe. This has never ever happened before. Shortly after the last turnaround, I see Esther again. "Catch up with me." I call out as we high-five each other.

And so goes the rest of the race. It is a painful push with all I have. Each mile I take as it comes. My pace picks up again out of the shear will to get this the hell over with. But I just can't seem to get back to where I was before the wheels came off - and I am giving it everything, everything, I have. 

I cross the mat in 3:49:13.

I turn back to look for Esther. I see her coming down the hill for the finish. She crosses. She has a new 20 minute PR and a 10+ minute BQ. She is glowing. I hug her and congratulate her. 

All I want now is a beer. Maybe three. Esther has me covered! :) 

And then I make my way back to NJ that afternoon...Up at 3 a.m. the next morning to fly back to Colorado via Chicago. I am bleary, screaming tired. I'm a wreck.

And...I'm a little depressed...and relieved. 

I'm depressed because Philly didn't go so well. I'm bummed that I didn't really like the race. I have rarely not liked a race. Is it me or the race? I think it's me. I'm pretty dang sure that it's me. I'm relieved that I'm done with this little experiment. I'm relieved that I didn't do half bad with any of it. But I'm depressed because: A) It ended on a sourish note, and B) One of my main desires remained out of reach. I always tell runners that we tend to focus on the negative and forget, or downplay the positive. I am guilty of that now. 

I accomplished a lot, for ME, in seven weeks even when dealing with illness and exhaustion: physical, mental, emotional. This was a very personal journey and I succeeded. I decided to do something and I did it. So, now I think about it all and pick it apart - and ask, why do I feel it ended badly? Answer: Because Philly really sucked. Why did Philly suck? Answer: Because I didn't run the time I wanted and it hurt a whole hell of a lot. Okay. Well. What were you willing to RISK when you wrote those splits on your arm before bed Saturday night? Answer: Oh. Now you're going to call me on this??? Not fair. (Stomps feet)

Well, I guess I was willing to risk having the whole thing blow up in my face. It would have been much safer to just run Philly nice and easy, take in the city, have a pleasant romp on a beautiful day. But that's NOT what I decided to do. I decided to take a risk and try to run. So, 'them's the breaks', as my dad always used to say. I risked failing. I failed. So what? What I didn't fail at was taking the risk. It would have been easier to say; Look. You've been sick for 4 weeks straight. You are tired from a marathon and a 50 miler - just have fun for cricky sake. But the fact is, I made my decision - and that decision was: See how you feel. Have the splits you want. Go for it. And if it all goes to hell, well, then deal. And that's exactly what I did.

And now there are new seeds planted, asleep beneath the soil of my spirit, just waiting to reach forth, up into the sunlight...
"If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business because we’d be too cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." ~ Annie Dillard

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....