Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thirty-nine and feelin' ...

My "39-athon" route
Honestly? A little tired.

Saturday was my 39th birthday, and in celebration I organized an all-day 39-mile adventure: 17-mile run + 1-mile swim + 18-mile bike ride + 3-mile hike. It covered some of my favorite parts of San Diego, included some of my favorite people, and reminded me why we celebrate birthdays: because life is really, really good. I live in a strong and healthy body that can still do (most of) the things I ask of it, I have an adventurous husband, family, and friends who are willing to go along with my crazy ideas, and I live in an astoundingly beautiful place. I planned out a day that took me all over western San Diego County, and was granted an absolutely perfect last day of summer on which to do it. Two dozen of my friends/family jumped in at different points along my 16-hour day, keeping me smiling and laughing from start to finish. 

6:30 am: A girlfriend and I met at the Solana Beach train station, and caught the 6:49 one-way to Oceanside. We arrived shortly after 7:00 am, and were soon on our way, heading south on Highway 101 back to the station. We had a perfect low-60s morning, with nice cloud cover until the final few miles of the run. We saw friends along the way, and had coordinated a meet-up with another runner friend in Carlsbad, who joined us for six fun mid-run miles. We made it back to the station around 10:30, where my husband was waiting for us with fresh, hot cups of coffee (and my dog). We'd run an easy and comfortable 10:15 pace throughout the 16.5 miles, and felt great at the finish.

With my running buddies, at The Kook (Cardiff), and at the finish,
back at the Solana Beach train station.

11:45 am: Arrived in La Jolla, where I met another friend for a swim in the cove. We'd planned on a mile swim, but got started a little late, and so decided to just sort of head out and do whatever we had time for. (I already had a half-mile to make up for later in the day on the bike, since the run had only turned out to be 16.5, and figured what's one more?) The water was a cool but comfortable 68 degrees, and we had an awesome time flopping around in the warm sunshine out there with the seals and kayakers.

Swimming in La Jolla Cove:
one of my life's greatest pleasures.

1:30 pm: After an awkward and probably mildly illegal change out of suits on the shore (the bathrooms were closed for cleaning when we got out!), we drove a few blocks into the village of La Jolla for a lovely lunch in the sunshine with a few friends (and my husband) who met us there.

It took a lot of shoes, towels, and grubby athletic clothes
to pull this whole thing off.

3:30 pm: We met up with another friend on Coronado, and headed out for what we'd intended to be a leisurely 18-mile stroll south along the Silver Strand toward Imperial Beach. I had that 1.5 miles to make up, so we agreed to take on a little extra, but when we got to the 10.25 mile turnaround point, we found ourselves in the middle of the gorgeous Tijuana Estuary. I convinced them to go just a little further so that we could get all the way to Imperial Beach and see the salt mines there. So, it turned out to be a 22-mile ride -- with a gnarly headwind all the way back, that had us working hard. (We averaged 14-15 mph comfortably most of the way out, and struggled at 10-11 mph on the way back in.) They were great sports, though, and that stretch of San Diego, with its ocean dunes on one side, and bird-filled salty marsh on the other, is one of my absolute favorite places to spend an afternoon.

More than we bargained for on the beautiful Silver Strand!

6:30 pm: A group of friends met up with us at the bottom of Cowles Mountain - the highest peak within the city limits of San Diego (1,594 feet: mountainous, my city is not), and a popular place to night hike. We toasted with a quick glass of wine before heading up, and had a great time. We didn't quite make it to the top (we had an 8:30 dinner reservation, and got concerned about missing it), but in the dark, who can tell the difference? We were close. I think. So, we didn't make it the full 3 miles as planned, but since I'd already made up for it on the bike ride, was pleased to have easily covered my total 39 miles for the day. Mission accomplished! Now let's eat.

A few of my hiking pals.
(It got too dark to take photos without
blinding ourselves once the sun went down.)

8:30 pm: All of the hikers, and several other friends headed to a local Vietnamese/Japanese gem of a restaurant, and basically filled up the place. I should have been exhausted by the end of the day, but instead was energized by all of the eating and drinking with such marvelous, spirited friends. And I was delighted to find that, at the end of the night, when I pulled my chair away from the table, I was still able to stand up. And walk!

Fortunately, just the one candle.
I don't think I'd have had the lung capacity for 39!

As I crawled into bed after a much-needed shower and a blissful Epsom salt soak, I was filled with pride at the physical accomplishment, and warmed all over by the love of so many. Well, warm everywhere except for my left knee. It needed a little ice.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Leaning back out

For nearly ten years, I've been a partner in a small business that has seen a lot of growth. I've been a runner a lot longer than I've been a working professional, though, and it was important to me from the beginning that these two things not become mutually exclusive. A 24/7 labor of love for many years, we provide health and social services for medically frail elders, and so are necessarily on-call and available for support around-the-clock 365 days per year. I am frequently asked "How can you work the kind of hours that you do, and still run marathons?" And my answer is always the same: "I can't imagine working the kind of hours that I do without running marathons." The basic tenet of social work (my primary professional training) is to "start where your client is," and I have found that being physically well - rested, fed, and exercised - is essential to the presence and focus that's required at work. I don't always pull this off. There are days that I eat a handful of peanuts for lunch, get only a few hours of sleep in order to prepare for a presentation, or work straight through the time I'd allocated for a run. But I do my best.

Lean In:
Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Even in the social services, where good self-care is something we constantly preach to the families and caregivers of our disabled clients, there are pressures to perform and produce results, often to the detriment of the worker. Expectations of long hours, extended work weeks, and limited vacations are still the reality of most corporate environments. There are widespread assumptions that workers in their 30s and 40s should sacrifice time, rest, and personal pursuits during these "high productivity years," because they can make up for lost time later. I had these assumptions and expectations of myself for a long time, and several years ago, decided to make a change. But these old notions of what it means to be a loyal, dedicated, hard-working employee run pretty deep, and my decision to focus my activities, limit my hours to a more regular schedule, and commit myself more deeply to my personal relationships and recreational pursuits (chief among them: running) were met with resistance. From others, but also from myself. It occurred to me, when reading Sheryl Sandberg's fantastic Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, that if I made the decision to put reasonable boundaries around my work life in the name of child-rearing, most around me would understand and respect this decision. But as a woman in my 30s with no children, the notion that I want to work less so that I can run more (I'm simplifying) is interpreted as self-indulgence and a lack of leadership. At first, I felt guilty and hung back, but with the support of some important partners, I moved myself forward.

I just came across a reprint of an old article from The Harvard Business Review, "Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time," (Schwartz & McCarthy, 2007), which validated my experience as a professional and a runner: "The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story." They continue:
Most large organizations invest in developing employees' skills, knowledge, and competence. Very few help build and sustain their capacity - their energy - which is typically taken for granted. In fact, greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and with more sustainability.
So run on, Corporate America. RUN ON!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Coming up short

Ever get the feeling that the universe is not only sending you a message, it's hurling it at you? Like, multiple copies of that message, each tied to a brick?

I recently finished reading a book in which I've been absorbed for a couple of weeks (I'm a tediously slow reader, and I'm usually reading two or three books at once): Daring Greatly, an exploration by a social work researcher of what it means to be vulnerable. I didn't choose this book; it was a selection for a business book club of which I'm a member, so it was chosen for me. In it, author Brene Brown dispels the myth that vulnerability is weakness, and instead describes it as a measure of courage, and the place where connection, joy, innovation, and creativity begin. A lot of the book made me physically wince as I read it, especially the section on feedback - how treacherously difficult it is for most of us to give it and receive it in an honest and open fashion. The author challenges the reader to seek out feedback in areas where we need it, to graciously receive it, and most importantly, to apply it as necessary. This is a particularly weak muscle of mine. I get a cramp just thinking about it.

The day after I finished the book, we witnessed the triumph of distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who fulfilled her decades-long dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida in her fifth grueling attempt. I've read and watched stories of her previous attempts through the years, with (I will admit) only a glimmer of interest. It's always struck me as sort of a silly goal, a strange outlet for a lot of energy and resources. But her repeated attempts have always intrigued me. What is with that lady? I was all eyes and ears on Monday, though, when she stepped ashore, confounded by the physical enormity of the endeavor and her courageous perseverance, but mostly by her willingness to fail. To fail repeatedly. And to fail publicly. I get a cramp just thinking about it.

Diana Nyad is a brilliant example of a lot of human characteristics that I admire, but the part of her story that resonates for me at the moment is her capacity to innovate. She was the embodiment of vulnerability out there, in both the literal and figurative senses. Jellyfish, sharks, and the threat of a fifth failure. Along with a lot of salt water, she swallowed a lot of pride. With each effort, she learned something new that she applied to the next, recruiting new experts, and experimenting with new technologies. She acknowledged things she had done wrong, and then learned how to do them better.

I want to be better at this. I'm at a point in my career that I need to be better at this. And, as in most things, running has something to teach me about this. No one likes being wrong, or doing things wrong, of course, but some of us handle it more poorly than others. While certainly no perfectionist, the idea of failing altogether at something is gut-wrenching. I don't want to have to pick myself back up after a failure, so I usually just don't do things at which I'm likely to fail. I've had several "failures" as a distance runner, though, and you know what? I've survived them all. Training and racing are constant sources of feedback, with which I make adjustments in my training, my diet, and my lifestyle. And sometimes those failures are pretty public. I've still not qualified for Boston, after a couple of serious attempts. I've put my goals right out there for everyone to see, and not accomplished them. Racing is a great exercise in vulnerability, and I hereby challenge myself to develop those muscles in other areas of my life, too. From coming out on the wrong side of an argument with my husband, to challenging myself to grow professionally, I want to learn how to be wrong, how to make mistakes. How to "bonk," and still be willing to sign up for the next race.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly ...
From the speech "Citizenship in a Republic"
Theodore Roosevelt
April 23, 1910