Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Old Me

I've had a pretty wild week, filled with travel, old friends, art, music, and lots of running. Fast running. Life's been handing me opportunity after opportunity to reconnect with people that I've loved in different ways through the years, with people I haven't seen in far too long -- most especially, with my former self.

I turned 41 last month, which makes it official: squarely, solidly middle aged. In the wake of a major career transition this year, my running, along with several other areas of my life, has changed. As I've spent the last year creating a new version of myself that is less engulfed by the demands of work, I've let go of a lot of the ways I used to push and challenge myself. I resigned from some volunteer service and board of director positions, deciding that I would take a one year break, and then reevaluate what "extracurricular activities" would best feed my soul. I didn't plan any major travel, stopped over-scheduling my weekends with social activities, and instead learned how to enjoy a quiet day with a good book. I never stopped running - nor did I even stop running marathons. But during this time of transition, I consciously stopped training. I haven't done any strength training or cross training except when I felt like it (which, it turned out, was basically never), learned to ignore my pace, and just ran when and how I wanted. It was a break that I very much needed. But I'm coming out of hibernation ... and I'm hungry.

I know two spirited local coaches here in San Diego, Sheri and Teresa, who write a fun blog called Gals Who Run. In September, they issued an October challenge to "find your fast this fall," a four-week program of speed training, online coaching, and group accountability. Still quietly in the slumber of my period of hibernation, I scanned their posts and then happily ignored them. Even with a December marathon on the horizon, I was perfectly content to plod along, get in a few long runs, and just show up on race day and see what happened. And then Sheri reached out to me personally, and with a gentle poke of her coaching stick gave me the nudge I needed to shake off my lethargy and sign up.

We each started with a one-mile speed test, to establish our baseline, and then worked a four-week
program of speed training, tempo runs, long runs, cross-training, and of course rest days. I was disappointed to realize in my pre-test that I could barely run an 8:00 mile anymore. (I struggled for a 7:58.) Hibernating in my 40s, it turns out, is a bit more consequential than it was in my 20s and 30s, and I had really lost a lot of strength and speed. Although the challenge ran through four very busy weeks, between my organization's two largest annual fundraisers, my family being in town for a weeklong visit, and a jam-packed trip to the east coast, I'm happy to report that I didn't skip a single workout. Guilt accountability is very effective! Last night I did my post-test mile, and was thrilled to knock out a 7:17 mile in (reasonable) comfort. It's been a long time since I've seen a mile at that pace, and it feels good to be back on the upswing.

While I was in New York City last week, I got to spend a day with one of my oldest and dearest friends. (We met on the school bus, on the way to our first day of junior high school, and have been close all our lives.) I watched Blur - a band I've madly adored since I was 16 years old - play Madison Square Garden. I visited with friends from my early adulthood - a fellow graduate school survivor, and friends made at my first "real job" - and went on a long Sunday morning run with a favorite former colleague who runs a care management business in NYC similar to the one that I recently sold. A few days ago, the happy occasion of an old high school friend's book launch in Los Angeles brought me together with him and several others, some of whom I hadn't seen in over two decades. Having lost my stepfather this summer, who has been drowning in the depths of dementia for many years, I found it powerful to be with old friends who remember him. It is a very important thing indeed, to be known. To oneself, and by others.

It's been a great week of putting my current self into context, through a good look at my former self. I'm now seven weeks out from my next marathon, and inspired to give it an honest go, and see what I'm capable of. As in running, so too in life.

Come back baby
Fight off the lethargy
Don't go quietly
Combat baby
Said you would never give up easy
Combat baby come back
- Metric, "Combat Baby"

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Owning Up

As I expect it did for all of you, the loss of those nine lives in Charleston, South Carolina this week has shaken me to my core. By no stretch did I imagine that we actually lived in some kind of a dream "post-racial" society, but I've now been forced to acknowledge that race relations in the U.S. are far worse than I had been willing to admit. On a day-to-day basis, the struggles of people of color are not on my radar, unless I go looking for them. Nor are the challenges of the poor, those without U.S. citizenship or a strong command of the English language, the LGBT community, or those with intellectual or physical disabilities. I'm a social worker, and I understand the issues faced by disenfranchised groups academically and intellectually. But I don't live them, and they're easy to simply not see.

No, I don't blame myself or feel guilty about my position of privilege as a white, middle-class, English-speaking, heterosexual person without disabilities. But I do believe it's important to acknowledge the advantages I've been afforded through these basic facts of my life. As Robin Diangelo* eloquently summed it up earlier this week: "I did not set this system up but it does unfairly benefit me and I am responsible for interrupting it."

As these thoughts have churned over the recent months, and in these especially difficult past four days, my impulse was to write about them, a self-soothing activity when I am in pain. And as the thoughts churned further, I was struck by the fact that my outlet for writing is a blog that is (sort of) about running. Talk about living a life of privilege! I not only have the resources, capacity, and ability to run, but I also have the resources, capacity, and ability to then turn around and write about the fact that I run. What I think is missing from the distance running and blogging community's well-intentioned and near-constant expressions of "gratitude" for the "blessings" in our lives is the uncomfortable truth that most of us are not merely lucky or blessed. We are privileged. Yes, some of us have worked hard, we may have put ourselves through school, cultivated careers and relationships, and taken care of our physical selves. But most of us started out with - and continue to live with - at least a few advantages. We hint at this self-knowledge with our ubiquitous #firstworldproblems, #whitepeopleproblems, and #runnerproblems hashtags, when we have to wake up early for our weekend long runs, or when Whole Foods is out of organic kale. But let's be willing to dig a little deeper.
When I open a running magazine, 
or scroll through social media,
I see people who look like me.

When I open a running magazine, or scroll through social media, I see people who look like me. On a 20-mile run, I'm often carrying more calories in my pack than some people will take in all day. When I go to an expo, or line up on race morning, no one notices me as an exception in the crowd. I've got more articles of running clothing in my closet than many people have of the regular clothing they need for school or work. When my husband cheers for me on the sidelines, and kisses me at the finish line, no one looks twice with interest or judgement. Every morning I run through the quiet streets of a neighborhood where I feel safe, and where nobody wonders what I'm doing there. If a police officer stopped me in the park to ask me a question, I would not be afraid. I have time to run for pleasure, and the energy to write about it, because I only need to work one job in order to survive. 

My identity as a runner is an important part of who I am, and it's made possible through much more than a willingness to wake up early and put in the miles. I don't know how to close the great divides that separate us, but I know that I've got a role to play. I've identified and am owning my positions of privilege - at least the ones of which I'm currently conscious. I'm committed to being conscious of them as I move about in the world, and as I observe and make judgements about how others move about in the world. It's not enough, I know, but it's the only way I can think to start.


*For more reading on this important topic, please see Dr. Diangelo's excellent post from earlier this year on The Good Men Project, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tater Trot

The only thing I love more than a marathon is a small, local marathon. And the only thing I love more than a small, local marathon? A small, local marathon that gives you a baked potato at the finish. I've got no beef with the corporate behemoths, by the way. I've not yet run a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon personally, but that's only because I've had so many interesting options from which to choose in the cities I've visited so far. The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, runDisney, and other such groups have changed the lives of many thousands of people through the proliferation of road racing, and I'm grateful for that. I've run a few very large races, including one of the "majors" (Chicago), and I've enjoyed them and look forward to doing a few more. But give me a few hundred runners hitting the streets of a small American town any day of the week. I love when my entry fees are going right to a local charity, who's out there in droves on race day to cheer us on and thank us for the support. I love an aid station being staffed by the junior high school with some kids' garage band rocking out on the sidewalk behind them, and hand-painted mile markers with our times being called out by the local cross-country kids.
And I love a fully-loaded baked potato.

For all of these reasons and more, I've looked forward for many years to running the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon, held every May in Boise, Idaho. I actually registered for it last year, but got sick with pneumonia and had to back out. This annual fundraiser for the Treasure Valley Family YMCA is sponsored by the Idaho Potato Commission, and in years past finishers got a bag of potatoes in lieu of a medal. Those days are gone -- now you get a medal and baked potato. (A race has to got to keep up with the times, I suppose.) But this race absolutely didn't disappoint, and had all of the small-town charms I hoped it would.

As I described in my last post, I had just registered for Boise when I made the decision to sell my business and change careers in February of this year, and with all of the long hours, stress, and upheaval in my life, I lost focus on the marathon. I never stopped running entirely, I just didn't actually ever really start training. I threw in a long-ish run here and there when I could rope a friend into it (one 16-miler, and one 18-miler), but for the most part was just doing two or three short and leisurely morning runs per week, no cross-training, no strength-training, no speed work. There was no focus or intention to what I was doing, I was just running for running's sake. And as the weeks ticked by I began to debate whether I really had the marathon in me. By the time my life had stabilized to the point that I could have started training, race day (May 30) was only about a month away. I did some weighing of my options, and decided that piling on the mileage for a few weeks would probably not yield much in the way of results, and would probably be more likely to result in an injury than just showing up on race day and going for it. So I just maintained my status quo, turned it into a fundraising race (raising nearly $700 for my favorite charity that oh-by-the-way happens to be my new employer), bought some motivation in the form of a cute new pair of shorts, and got on that plane.

Boise turned out to be one of the loveliest towns I've ever visited. We had pleasant weather, fun with friends, potatoes in every form imaginable, and lots of good beer. And the race, which travels along the Boise River Greenbelt, was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable I've ever run -- well-organized and run by some of the nicest staff and volunteers I can remember encountering. I ran the race as slowly as leisurely as I could, and managed to maintain a steady and comfortable pace throughout. A friend from San Diego who has family in Boise and runs the half-marathon every year was there, too, and because the full and half runners start at the same time and run the entire first half of the race together, I had great company for the first 12.5 miles, which was huge. I certainly could have run a faster race if I had trained for it -- but I probably couldn't have run a more enjoyable one.
After the heartbreak of last year's race at Ventura, the pure joy of the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon healed my marathoning wounds once and for all, and proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in fact, a legitimate distance athlete. Lumps, bumps, dirt, and all.

A few photos:

It was so great to have a buddy for the first half!

It was long, and it was slow ... but a finish line is always FUN!
Nature's post-race ice bath, the Boise River
Finish time: 4:47. A full half-hour slower than my last race,
and a good hour off what I'd like to be running these days.
But it felt great, and was fun as heck, so no complaints here!
The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon was my 18th full marathon, and the 15th state in my quest to run a marathon in every state. Here's the status update, for those who are keeping track at home:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Taking a new step

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

The last two posts I made to this blog were a long four months ago now. In January, I was reflecting deeply on the "barrenness of a busy life," trying to reconcile my need for a full and active life with my need for space, time, and quiet reflection. I've been in a years-long struggle to understand how to live in a way that better reflects what I value, and early this year came to a difficult conclusion that was probably well overdue: it was time to sell my interest in the business I co-founded over a decade ago, and pursue a new kind of work. This was no minor decision, and in fact has changed nearly every facet of my daily life -- including my life as a runner.

In my "real life," I'm a geriatric social worker, and have worked in elder care for over 15 years. In 2004, I started a private care management and in-home care business with a partner, and over the course of the next 10+ years, we grew it from a two-person start-up to a 50+ employee company that served hundreds of families in San Diego County. I loved creating Elder Care Guides, and poured every bit of myself into it. As a partner in a 24/7 crisis-oriented business, with employees who work long, hard, difficult hours, and need a lot of support, there was simply no way for me to truly "unplug." The days were long and very stressful, but I could happily give my life to it, because I loved it.

And then one day I didn't. And I no longer could. A career in service to frail, disabled older adults is a key part of who I am, but it is not all that I am.

One of the unique characteristics of our company was the pride that we took in our ability to identify and cultivate strengths - in our employees, and in our clients. In the early years, I was working ridiculously hard, but was applying my unique strengths and talents. It fit. In the last few years, my role in the company had necessarily changed, and I found myself no longer working to my own strengths and interests. I love to acquire new information, communicate, teach, and connect. I love words, stories, and ideas, and need an environment that is constantly-changing. The company I created was very much like family, but I had grown up and no longer "fit" there, and had to move away. I needed work with a broader impact, and that made better use of my particular gifts. And I needed a life that didn't revolve around my work.

In February of this year, as I was beginning to drown under the weight of these difficult realizations, an opportunity to manage the education and outreach department of the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association came my way, and I knew in a heartbeat that I was ready to make the leap. This is a non-profit organization whose mission I've long supported as an active volunteer, the work is a perfect fit with my individual strengths and interests, and the team I'd be joining was in an exciting time of growth and evolution. So after a brief moment of soul searching (my soul is under near-constant surveillance, so it didn't take long), my decision was made. I spent the next two months carefully unraveling myself from my beloved company, selling my interest to my long-time partners, and then integrating myself into an entirely new life.

So that's a long way of explaining: that's where I've been all this time! I'm learning to redefine myself, figuring out how I can do the most good in the world, and discovering that it isn't all through work. And it may sound silly and frivolous, but I believe I have other kinds of good to do in the world through running, too. Not necessarily by convincing other people that they should take up running (although let's face it -- I really love it when that happens). But through the better person that I am when I run - because distance running suits my unique strengths, interests, and gifts - I have more good to give.

Yesterday I ran the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon, in Boise, a race that's been on my "list" for many years, and for which I had just registered when I wrote my last post in January. (More on this subject later!) Because of the tumult and chaos in every other area of my life over the last few months, I didn't actually end up training for it, but I remained committed to running it, and turned it into a personal fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association. In a sad and beautiful convergence of the universe's timing, I lost an old friend in April to young-onset Alzheimer's disease, and dedicated my race to her memory. So, training or no training, I wasn't going to miss it. Like the leaves on the gorgeous old trees that blanket the city of Boise, and the river that winds through it, I feel that change has swept through every part of me, and my purpose is renewed. I'm laced back up, and I'm all in, you guys. All in.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Filling up the tank

Having recently resolved to "beware the barrenness of a busy life," I've been focusing less this year on what - and how much - I am doing, and more on who I am being. Fewer items on the calendar each day. More space for spontaneous fun, creativity, and the occasional necessary dose of quiet. Less pre-registering, and more last-minuting. Now four weeks into this new year, I find that I'm making good progress at not making progress. There have been more movies, dinners, and good bottles of wine for no reason with my husband. Short-notice running dates, afternoons absorbed in art projects, and many happy hours curled up with books. I realized on January 10th, with exactly eight days of notice - and exactly zero training - that I'd registered for the Carlsbad Half Marathon a few months prior and then promptly forgotten about it. (How's that for evidence of an over-scheduled, stretched-too-thin existence?) But I rolled with it and made a happy long Sunday run of it with friends. And hey, since I had nothing else on my calendar for that day, there was time for a leisurely brunch afterward with my friend and running muse Kate! Last week's five-day cross-country business trip didn't even phase me. On the final leg home, I had a few hours of work I was planning to get done, but I didn't resist when the nice guy in the seat next to me struck up a conversation (like I usually do). Instead I gave him one of my free drink coupons, we chatted from Atlanta to San Diego, and I made a new friend. Less doing. More being. Nailing it.

What could possibly disturb this new blissful state of being? Nothing! I've nailed it! Nothing but balance and harmony, from here on out. Oh what's that up ahead? It looks like some kind of ... tornado? A swirling mass of sweaty t-shirts, spreadsheet entries, and protein bars, leaving a chaotic mess everywhere in its wake. Wait a minute ... I know what this is. I remember this! This is marathon training.

It started today. In 18 short weeks, I'll be heading to Boise for the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon.
A sack of potatoes for every finisher?
This one's been on my "list" for a long time, and I'm excited! This weekend I did all the things I normally do as I'm getting ready for a race. I sketched out a training schedule, looking at weeks that I know will be tough with work and/or travel, and figuring out the necessary adjustments. I bought a cute new pair of running shorts, and stocked up on my favorite training food. And as I contemplated how to integrate the additional hours that training requires into my newly pared-down life, it occurred to me: the hardest thing about marathon training (at least at the level at which I compete) is not the actual running or cross-training. The hardest thing about training is managing its impact on my life. And this time, I'm determined to do it better.

I've made peace with the need to stop working on a task before it's complete, or skip the occasional night out with friends in order to get to bed early. I know by now what those 20-mile training runs feel like, and that I need to plan ahead and block off most of the day for them. My husband is well-accustomed to my dietary preferences, and knows that there's a lot of whole wheat crust pizza in his future. I've got the essentials pretty well dialed in. But it's the interstitial "stuff of life" that often trips me up, and this is where I can improve, creating a little more time and space. I can spend a couple of hours on the weekend menu planning and shopping for the week, thereby avoiding my usual daily trip to the grocery store. I can fold the laundry as soon as it's out of the dryer, and spend less time ironing (and by "ironing," I mean "searching the closet and drawers for something that's reasonably wrinkle-free to wear to work, instead of ironing"). I can spend a few minutes each morning thinking through the logistics of the day more thoroughly, so that I leave the house with everything I need, and do less back-tracking.

This weekend, I practiced being the kind of person who gets themselves organized on Sunday evenings for the week ahead. I know you people exist. I'm related to several of you, so I'm hopeful that with some practice, I can coax awake its dormant genetic expression. I grocery shopped. I filled up my car with gas. I picked up the house, and ironed some clothes (for real). And when I left the house for work this morning, I had a full tank, literally and figuratively. These are the spaces in my day where marathon training can happen. I don't have to get sucked into the tornado. I don't have to give up the important stuff. So let's do this, Famous Potato. You're on.

My Monday morning armload.
Marathon training takes a lot of planning.
And it also takes a lot of bags.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My great undoing

I'm definitely a resolution-maker. I know it's falling out of fashion, but I still love cracking open my notepad every January 1st, thinking back on the year behind me, and focusing my intentions for the year before me. These musings are usually a colorful, chaotic affair, not a neat or organized list. There are usually several colors of ink and pencil, lots of lines and arrows and doodles, and I have been known to sketch out a pie chart. 

"The big pieces of the patchwork quilt
that is my life are solidly in place,
but it's in the seams and intersections
where things tend to get a bit wonky."
I have my foibles, but am generally a pretty "together" person. My marriage, and my relationships with family and friends are happy, healthy, and solid. I put myself through many years of schooling for a career with great personal meaning, and started a business ten years ago of which I am immensely proud. I'm healthy, with reasonably good habits when it comes to diet and exercise. A marathon runner! Must be doing it at least most of the way right. Right? On paper (or rather, on whatever electronic media you're using to reading this) it all adds up fairly well. The big pieces of the patchwork quilt that is my life are solidly in place, but it's in the seams and intersections where things tend to get a bit wonky. My days and weeks are over-scheduled. I struggle to focus at work. My house is always a mess. I have dozens of interests (besides running) that I can't ever seem to make time for. I haven't figured out the meaning of life. And am I saving enough for retirement? Like most prone to introspection and self-examination, I'm eternally off-kilter, on an endless quest to figure out the things I need to do differently.

Do, do, do.

I may not construct my annual list of resolutions in a linear fashion, but I'm nonetheless a compulsive daily "to do" list-maker. I'm always running off of at least three different lists - things to do today, things to do this week, and things to do this month. And odd as it may seem, I can't say I even get any satisfaction from checking things off of those lists. I never finish them, and don't really try. I just re-write them each morning, leaving off the things that either got done, or that I've decided can be moved or eliminated. I've never once ended the day with a completed list, but from those daily checklists I can eke out a vision of what I would look like if someday I really, truly had my act together. The current vision goes something like this: I'd work enjoyable 8-hour days (or maybe shorter!) while my business thrived. I'd be fit and fast enough to qualify for - and run - the Boston Marathon. I'd occasionally be able to see the bottom of my laundry basket and I wouldn't have to hurry and clean my bathroom every time someone was coming over. I'd be active in my community, and volunteer for causes I care about. I'd visit family and spend time with friends often, and be the kind of person who reads two books a month, travels frequently, blogs weekly, crafts and sews things for fun, remembers everyone's birthday, and knows how to play that dusty mandolin I bought fourteen years ago. I would be awesome, you guys. And I'd never miss my eight hours of sleep.

What I'm finally starting to figure out, after forty years of doing, is that what I'm really after is not a check-marked list of things I have done. What I'm really after is that vision of who I could be. I finally know that I can't really do all of those things - at least not all at once. I am just not cut of that cloth. I'm no introvert, but I still need time to be quiet and reflective, and an occasional day with nothing on the calendar. And I need some space in my life for spontaneity. Recently my best friend from high school found herself in San Diego at the last minute for a couple of days of work. There wasn't one single unscheduled, unobligated hour within those two days that I could slip away and meet my old friend for a cup of coffee. While those two days were surely filled with many of the things I want to do in my life, I realized sadly that they weren't making me into who I want to be. The individual squares of the patchwork quilt were lovely, but it was sewn together all wrong.

So this year, my resolutions aren't about what I want to do (or not do) in 2015. Today I'm spending that time thinking about who I want to be. It's going to take some doing to undo my habit of doing. But I can do it! Wait, no ....

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doing just fine

I am a big fan of the day spa concept. I've never been one to splurge on things like clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics, and pedicures and massage are rare indulgences that I usually see as more of a "treatment" to cure my running-related ailments. But give me access to a sauna and the opportunity to spend a few quiet hours lounging in and around a few pools of water, and I am all in. My version of heaven definitely includes a eucalyptus steam room.

A beloved friend is in town this week, visiting her hometown of San Diego from her current home of NYC, and seeking as much Southern California sunshine and relaxation as she can soak in while she's here. (She is the mother of two young children, owns and runs a bustling business, and, did I mention that she lives in NYC?) It has become something of a tradition for me to steal her away for an afternoon during these visits and for the two of us to hole up at the spa at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. We lay around like lizards in the warm desert air, eat fresh and delicious food, and catch up. And today she talked me into getting a massage.

We got checked in, and as my massage therapist helped me get situated in the treatment room, she asked the question that will be familiar to anyone who's been a first-time student in a new yoga class, or who has ever had deep tissue massage: "Any pain or injuries that I should know about?"

I've noticed two major changes within myself now that I'm in my forties. One: I say things like "now that I'm in my forties." Two: at any given moment, something somewhere on my body usually hurts. I was starting to feel this in my thirties, sure, but now it's become fairly constant. Even if I'm not dealing with some kind of a running-related overuse injury, or recovering from damage sustained doing something stupid (like fracturing my foot jumping out of a boat ... it happens), there's probably some large muscle group or joint somewhere that hurts. I've been sitting at work, and my hips are tight. It's a cold morning, and my left knee (operated upon 20+ years ago) is reminding me that it's missing a little cartilage. I sat on the floor working on a project for too long, and oh, my aching back! I'm not talking here about the challenges of living with the chronic pain of a condition like arthritis or spinal stenosis. Just the daily creaks and aches of living in a changing, aging body.

So when the massage therapist posed this question, I did a quick mental scan of my body, looking for "the thing that hurts today," so I could warn her to be careful there. And I was completely taken aback when I came to the conclusion: nothing hurts! I couldn't remember the last time that nothing hurt. No injury. No residual soreness from yesterday's workout. Not even a nagging cough. (I have very reactive airways, as they say, and frequently have to ask massage therapists not to use aromatherapy, or to reposition my head in a way that won't make me cough. I'm a mess, you guys.) "Nope," I said. "I'm doing just fine." I crawled onto that warm table, and laid there for the next hour in a state of blissful appreciation for the miracle of this crazy tangle of 206 bones that are all currently working in perfect harmony. As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend draws to a close, a fitting endnote to this happy runner's very long list of the things for which I am grateful.