A Father’s Day Story

photo credit:  www.ehow.com

Hello my friends!  Since it is Father’s Day, I thought I would republish a post that I wrote for my dad on his birthday last September. Fathers sometimes get a bad rap these days but I know quite a few men who know and understand what it takes to be a good dad.  This post is dedicated to them.

Here’s the link: https://buildingalifeofhope.com/2012/09/13/happy-birthday-dad/

Race Day

photo credit:  fromthekitchentotheroad.wordpress.com

The forecast was ominous. Temps in the low fifties, rain and wind off the lake at twenty mph. Not great racing weather for the long distance runners who had trained hard for their marathon. Luckily, my fiance’ and I were sharing the length but we were still anxious about the predicted conditions.  Speaking for myself,  I found the forecast hard to believe because it had changed so quickly over a period of twenty- four hours.  I thought I was prepared enough with my gear; after all, I had run in much colder conditions. Long sleeves,  a layer of water proof on top and a pair of shorts seemed enough at packing time.

We could never have been so wrong!  As we drove the 200 miles north the day before the race, rain and wind pelted the car. When we arrived at the runner’s expo to pick up our numbers, we were assaulted by the cold, raw wind and plummeting temperatures. We needed to get more body protection for the starting line!  So we shopped a bit at the expo kiosks, finding hats for five dollars a piece. Everything else that we may have needed was severely overpriced (when did running become such a high-end fashion sport?) so we decided that a trip to a big  chain box store was in order. Well, this particular type of store is hard to come by in the state we were racing in ( in truth I like the idea) but luckily we were minutes from its location. We wanted cheap and “disposable” gear that we could peel off during the race. And we hit pay dirt-feeling relief that we would not freeze our arses off too much.

The night before a big race holds two important ingredients: a good meal along with a good night’s rest. We headed to the inn that was situated in the mountains.  As we ascended the mountain road, the precipitation increased and rapidly turned into snow! We were a little dismayed at the deteriorating conditions while still holding out hope that tomorrow would be a better day.  Dinner was delightful and we hit the sack early.

Race day arrived and greeted us with below freezing temps and enough snow that it stuck to the ground as well as our car. As we reached lower elevations and our destination, the snow disappeared and the temperature warmed a bit. We were grateful for our semi-toasty clothes but definitely not excited about the conditions! Actually, at one point -as my fiance’ and I huddled under the shared tent of our jackets- I said that we could change our minds and bag the whole thing. (My man had a cold and I didn’t want it to get worse).

In reality, when you train for an event of this nature you cannot back out unless you are injured or very, very ill. So, I assumed my place in the starting corral and began to feel a bit warmer from the body heat of the 4,999 other brave and crazy souls. And once the gun went off all thoughts of the discomfort from the adverse conditions exited from my brain. It was now up to me to navigate my way through the endless sea of humanity as well as the puddles and rushing water of the fine streets in Burlington, VT. By mile 1, my shoes were completely soaked and I feared I might blister. When I hit mile 5, I stripped myself of the cheap sweats and tossed them to the side of the road. My legs were warm and happy for the rest of the race! Yes, yes the wind whipped us about as we headed further north but the 12 piece percussion ensemble really revved us up.  By mile 8, the  country station truck was playing Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim” and I  was so pumped that I high-fived the DJ!   For once in a race, I did not worry about pain nor pace; I was just running. By the time we circled back to the downtown area, the crowds were cheering loudly. Local drag queens strutted their stuff in support of us. Irish bands played on the corner. Then we headed south closer to the lake and even closer to the halfway point. Here the the race took on the zen-like quality that all runners experience.  I was in my own zone with just 5k to go and feeling no pain.

10 Miles or 10 K?

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree”
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I am now in the last week of training for a partner’s marathon which is happening in six short days.  This past Sunday was to be my last longer run before the race. As I was sitting at the bonfire late Saturday night with friends, I was relaying the fact that I was scheduled for a 12 miler the next morning ( I was in fact just going for 10.5 since the course is outrageously hilly).  My friend Emily said “Twelve miles, after today’s events? You run a lot!”  My oldest, of course, had graduated from college that day and I had been up since 5 am and also spent the previous weeks preparing the house, working full-time and training extensively for the marathon. I knew she was right but I still went to bed -at midnight I might add and without much carbo loading that day-seriously considering one final assault on the course.

Well, morning broke early that’s for sure. I heard my dad get up at 3:30 am to leave for the airport. Then he texted me at 5:30 to say that he “had a ball” and for me to “go back to bed”. So I did; awakening again after 7 with a fatigue hangover.  The long run prospects were looking mighty dim at this point. Then I did what no runner ever usually does-I listened to my body!  I changed my plans and decided on a favorite 10k course that I had not run in a while.

My decision proved to be a smart one. I felt fantastic! In fact, I hope to feel this good during my half of the marathon this weekend.  Moreover, my decision to cut the run short got me contemplating the training program that I used for the race. Initially, I thought that I would use the advanced guide since I had used the intermediate one a few times before and I was in better shape this go ’round. However, it didn’t take too long for me to realize that it was killing me! Three weeks in and I was wiped and sore nearly constantly. I never run more than 3 days in a row and the program was requiring 4 days with longer runs plus two days of speed work mixed in. Plus, I had already been running extensively before the training started. So, I rebooted and went back to  the intermediate program with some of my own stuff (like 90 minutes of hot power yoga weekly-just the best!) in the mix.

Dedicated runners are remarkably adept at losing a few brain cells when it comes to training for races. On the one hand, you may have the competitive devil whispering fervently in one ear: “GO LONGER AND HARDER”; and on the other, the sensible angel sweetly saying: “USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.” Well, there is a time and place for everything and I do hope that I have approached my training with a mix of both-truth be told. I am in this sport because I love it; it is part of who I am and how I live my life.

In the end, I know that when I put my number on Sunday morning, I will be ready to give it my best knowing that I did my best to prepare for the race.  After all, my fiance’ will be out there at the halfway mark waiting for the hand off!

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Just Another Day At The Laundromat

photo credit: http://www.hercampus.com

For Mothers Day,  I like to keep things simple. This year, the boys asked me what I wanted to do and I told them: “Landscaping the yard, an easy meal at home and watching Finding Nemo with you guys. ” I wanted the three of us together under one roof without one of us (usually me) falling asleep after twenty minutes.

Springtime up here is in full bloom and we own enough land that it takes a team to resurrect it after the winter has beaten it down. The grass grows long after about fifteen minutes and what isn’t grass looks downright barren and sad without some annuals planted here and there.  The tulips that  I planted 2 years ago in memory of my mother are a ray of sunshine at the top of the driveway but everything else needs trimming and chopping.

So Sunday seemed simple enough. First, I would  go on my 10+ run and my oldest would meet me for the last four miles. Then it was a shower, refueling ( aah a soy latte’!) and back outside. My youngest was to be in charge of mowing our vast expanse (he had repaired the rider and pusher so he was pumped) while my oldest and I raked out  a large area for new top soil and flowers. Laundry for my youngest was on the list as well. He figured he could easily get it going and done when he was mowing. Then we would chow down on burritos while enjoying the show.

Well, I should have known that when I woke up to rain that things would not go exactly as planned!  There are few exceptions that can stop me from lacing up my shoes (blizzards, serious downpours, hurricanes, extreme heat) so I  added  a layer to my skimpy sleeveless running top and headed out the door.  By mile two, I was quite dewy but not uncomfortable. The rain would abate and resume in an unpredictable fashion throughout the course.  I felt unusually pain free and relaxed until… mile 8.5, when my son and I stopped to look at some ducks in the marsh. When I started running again, my left knee locked up and I spent the last two miles shuffling up the hills and cursing the downhills.

By the time my shower was done,  the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds and we agreed to just delay the yard work until…my youngest son got a call from his boss asking him to come in for a meeting to plan for the week ahead ( he works in the trades and business was picking up after a temporary slow down). He had no choice but to go in. My oldest and I threw him a lifeline and said we would take care of his laundry while we cleaned up the basement.

So things were humming along;  3 loads later and the basement and  raking were just starting to look good until…. my oldest noticed that the t-shirts were still damp in the dryer . We added a few minutes to the cycle and then threw the Carhart pants in, pressed the button and..  the dryer dies! In truth, it had been on its way out for a few months. I don’t remember when the noise started in the machine but it sounded possessed!  We got to the point where we would push the button, cover our ears, dash to the door, shut it and run up the stairs. The sound cut right through you but the dryer still worked. I knew that I was on borrowed time but I wanted to put off the expense for a while longer. I was shelling out quite a few dollars on the home renovation and hoped the dryer would last until late June.

No such luck. It was late afternoon and the laundromats around here do not stay open late. The clothes had to get done because we all had long  work days on Monday waiting.  Besides, we ran out of topsoil and no flowers were going to get planted anyway. ( Oh, did I mention that my oldest is graduating from college on Saturday and we are having a party? No pressure to get things done at all-HA!).

So we loaded up my son’s truck with 4 baskets of heavy wet clothes and 2 big baskets of dirty items and headed out to the next town. We decided to go to the big place that we know about and pulled in the lot. We were about to park and get out until… we noticed that it was closed!  UGH!  But there was still hope.  We noticed another one two strip malls down right next to a fitness chain.  And it was open!  We quickly went inside and found ourselves in a pristine laundromat replete with 2 television screens-one broadcasting a PBS cooking show and the other a major league baseball game. It even had a leather couch and a huge and very clean bathroom.

My oldest and I are a well-oiled organization team. We always try to go the most efficient and least expensive route whenever possible no matter what the task.  We figured we would be in and out in about 80-90 minutes. We settled down on the comfy couch, put our feet up and started reading our book and magazine until… we realized we had no game plan for dinner now. And would we be able to watch the movie? And when would his brother get home?  A stop at the nearest grocery store solved the problem. We bought 3 Newman’s frozen pizzas, called my youngest to preheat the oven and headed back home with the cleaned goods and some sustenance.

At this point, it was 7pm. The movie went in and we inhaled the pizza. And before we knew it, it was time to settle in for the night. The irony of the day was not lost on my oldest. Here I was doing my 20 year old’s laundry on Mothers Day! (Both boys have been doing their own laundry since 2005).  It goes to show that even the simplest plans can go awry.

So here it is Tuesday and the lawn still needs to be done before Saturday and soil still needs to be purchased for the flowers.  Party supplies and groceries are on the to-do list. Never mind the filthy kitchen floor. Plus my dad  is due in on Friday.  But we have developed a Plan B and that should go well until…

Training Fatigue

training fatigue

Saturday morning she awakens with a sudden jolt

 It is 4 a.m.  Her calves lock with charlie horses

Her hips feel frozen, her back is in spasm

She has trouble rolling over

She lets out a groan

She needs to get to hot yoga without a doubt

Another ten-miler is in store for tomorrow

Arriving, she embraces the heat

Each inversion and twist is met at first with pain

Then release and relief

The poses feel good

But she forgoes wheel and frog

Saturday supper: pasta, water and wine

She slumbers at an early hour

Sunday morning 6 a.m.

Arising stiff but not too sore

Shall she go?

She needs the long run without a doubt

Pain simmers beneath the skin

A natural feeling for the distanced runner

Each mile is ticked off without notice

Until the last

Her legs announce themselves

in all their glorious grief

She finishes and bends over with welcome relief

Sunday Morning Ten Miler

disrance run female

Miles 1 &2: done at a trot up and over the long grades of the road

Mile 3: a cold spring wind comes from the North

Bracing and refreshing in the high morning sun

Miles 4 & 5: running over the rolling rises

Passing windswept ponds and majestic pines and oaks

Mile 6: the relief of the flats

Daffodils in various stages of bloom

Mile 7: the railroad tracks

Then another climb with a view of the Vale-

The mills, river and the old manse

Moving by the boys’ old elementary school

Deserted on this seventh morn

Mile 8: Charlotte Drive

Legs carrying me along the curves and wetlands

Ready for another hill

I lean in, reaching its crest with a whoop of relief

Then it’s down the rattlesnake road

Winding and quick to the waterfall

Mile 9: one last ascension

A half-mile long

Feet dragging, legs aching

I force myself to pick up speed

Mile 10: home is in sight

The finish draws near

A hot shower awaits me

to settle my beaten body

I let the steaming water

stream over my head

My skin is red from the heat as my muscles relax

I have eased my mind and I am at peace

My Running Marriage

I always loved running…
it was something you could do by yourself,
and under your own power.
You could go in any direction,
fast or slow as you wanted,
fighting the wind if you felt like it,
seeking out new sights
just on the strength of your feet
and the courage of your lungs.
-Jesse Owens

Well, I cannot say that I have always loved running.  After all, I have been involved with the sport on various levels for forty years. And like all committed relationships, we have had our ups and downs. Because I started running when I was just eleven years old, I really didn’t know what I was getting into-much like a very young bride!  My father was  a very enthusiastic runner of five years when he encouraged my brother and I to enter the sport. I  think that he saw the positive opportunities that running had offered him and wanted the same for us. Also, the early seventies was an especially heady time for young girls and women to participate in races. The support for us was very strong despite the infamous photograph of  Jock Semple’s attempt to pull Kathryn Switzer from the Boston Marathon!

I suppose you could call the beginning phase of my running marriage the “honeymoon period.” At the time, I ran with lots of boys as there were no girl teams during my preteen years. The playing field was equal because many of us were first time runners. There was only one other girl (that I recall) who joined the group and we became fast friends. We ran together every day and the two of us would go on to join future teams as we approached our high school years. In fact, the very first running club that we joined had its own women’s team. I remember being amazed at the ages of some of the women on the team- could women over 30 or even 40 really run?  Weren’t they too old? I believe that these women were the true pioneers of the sport, having entered it later in life as  wives and mothers. Women whose own generation had little or no access to organized sports as young girls.

My teenage years were by far the most intense running period, no doubt. This is just like the first few years of a marriage, really. The honeymoon is over and it becomes time to settle in and get serious. So, I ran every day, logging in 50-70 miles per week  and participating on two teams-one at my high school and one AAU women’s team. (By then,My friend and I had gone on to join a nationally ranked women’s cross country and track and field team.) Also, about half way through high school, our town had finally allowed a separate girls team to participate in league meets. Running on both teams was exceptional-each had a unique running culture. By the time the high school team was formed, I had already gained a reputation as a serious runner, both for running with the boys and also for the fact that I completed a marathon at 14 years old!  Much was expected of me in terms of performance and leadership skills. Also, I had to get used to a different coach as my dad was (and always will be) my first and best coach.

The AAU team was a different entity altogether. There was a core group of girls who were the elite runners. They were highly talented and able to compete and consistently win on the regional and national level. (Eventually the international level as well- one of them won the first women’s Olympic Marathon). It was a privilege to be a part of the team as it allowed for opportunities to travel all over the Northeast region with a van full of like-minded girls and their very dedicated coach.  These were the days before walkmans and ipods so we would often blast music on the van’s radio; we listened to Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run), Queen and other big rock groups from that era. It was a thrill to travel to New York City and compete in the country’s first Bonne Bell 10k in Central Park. Women and girls were IT- Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” was playing loud and proud before the gun went off.  As a result of running with the team, I became a better runner because I was  running with faster women. My hard work paid off and, at 16, I was able to go with the team  to the nationals in California. Eventually, my efforts caught the eye of a college coach as well. Because I was a scholarly student as well as a devoted runner, I was given the chance to apply and subsequently be accepted to an excellent university.

And that’s when things began to shift for me. Sure, I went off to college and joined the requisite team, going to practices, running in races, eating and socializing only with runners. But it started to feel old and stale and repetitive. I was hopelessly distracted by a boy ( a runner like me, but a senior with a reputation as a bad boy) and frankly, I wanted to party on a Friday night and not get up early for practice or a race! By the time I was a sophomore, I was done competing- burned out and physically a mess. All the mileage I had put in as developing teenager had resulted in a painful, degenerative disk in my back. Looking back, as much as it spiritually pained me to leave the sport, I knew that I needed a break.

I suppose you can liken this period to a major transformation in a marriage (illness or the addition of children, for example). How do relate to one another as a result of this major alteration? At first, it was simple: very little exercise as I explored other avenues of interests and friends. Then upon graduation, I cycled a bit and walked everywhere. Still, the nagging back issue persisted to the point where I literally could not move. I have a vivid memory of trying to board a bus so I could go vote and being unable to step up. I was just 23 years old and felt 90!  Luckily, a chiropractor lived in my neighborhood and with his help, I began a very long journey to healing.

Essentially, my twenties came and went without any attention to running at all. I kept in shape by walking, riding a stationary bike and doing occasional weight lifting.  I got married and by the time I was 32, I had given birth to two babies. My back held up during the two pregnancies and subsequent births of two very big boys ( especially #2!!) Plus, I was doing aerobics regularly and pushing a carriage everywhere I went. It was at this point that my then husband encouraged me to start running again.  Coincidentally, this was the same age that my father began his running career! So, I gave it a shot- at first doing the walk/run thing and then eventually working up to Saturday morning runs with other busy moms.

My thirties were certainly the “comeback” period of running for me. I felt a renewed sense of commitment but on different terms than before. I was a grown woman who was able to make her own decisions about where, when and how far she wanted to run. Running was a choice and not the chore that it had become nearly a decade earlier. Eventually, at 38, I competed in a half-marathon. During the training, I never felt lonely and, in truth, felt a great sense of freedom and renewal during those times. I also spent time running with my father again. It was a terrific- we were both adults and our runs were filled with long conversations. I fell in love with running again!

By the time I reached 40, I was learning to balance running with the other parts of my life. When I had the opportunity to return to work full time, carving out a running schedule was a priority. My dedication to the sport was unyielding. I arose before dawn and would run despite the cold and darkness. I learned to be alert for wildlife and was awed each morning watching the sun rise as I finished the last mile. I was not the competitor that I was once was-only entering races sporadically throughout the year. Instead, running took on a different face-becoming my solace, stress reliever and saving grace.

Running in many ways was like taking medication. When my husband wanted a divorce when I was 46, running kept me steady and sane (or as sane as one could be during that upheaval!). I was also in graduate school, working and raising teenage boys at the time. Running cleared my head, organized my thoughts and made me more productive. By the time my forties ended, I had successfully completed graduate school (4.0!), gone through the divorce process, fell in love again and trained for and competed in a half-marathon!

So here I am, happily in my early fifties having caught the half-marathon bug.  The training schedule is not grueling and the race distance is just right for me.  I try to enter two races per year if I can. One of the best parts of the preparation is knowing that I will be running with the man I love. Our connection with one another has helped me to continuously strengthen my commitment to the sport. It is a heart warming feeling knowing that another person is there to support and guide you through the good days and bad days. He helps me keep it real-pushing me when I need it and helping me back off -especially when I am injured.

One thing that I have learned in this long term marriage is the value of patience. Too many times when I was young, I didn’t allow myself to think about what I was doing during races or practices. My body was in the game but not my head.
I didn’t think about how I was feeling and then when I did, I wanted to run from it.  I was tired of the effort. How many of you go through similar feelings in relationships? It is easy to throw in the towel and go on to something else. I think what I was experiencing during that time was a need for a separation. As I said earlier, it hurt me emotionally to leave. But the break was necessary in order for me to begin my journey back. It was the first step in learning to be patient with myself and with the sport. I needed to come back on my own terms in order to create a deeper and lasting relationship. Also, it is  a relationship that allows for balance. Now I supplement running with hot yoga and three days of strength training.  They enhance my practice and at times substitute for it.

Any healthy relationship is one in which you use your heart and your head. Runners do not always use the latter (or else they let it get in the way but it is the same idea). We suffer from a burning desire to move; we want to see how far our legs and feet will take us. As long as we are not running from something it’s okay. Run to please yourself. Run because you find joy in the going. Run with others. Then you’ll know that your heart is in the right place!