Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Day in the Life

I've been struggling with the meanies lately: those ugly thoughts that you don't want to think, but that sometimes sneak in anyway. Sometimes they're gloomy, sometimes they're scary. Sometimes they're rational, but often they're not. Mine spend most of their time loitering quietly in the corners, but every now and then they take the lead, and if I'm not careful they'll trample me. The meanies are a part of my daily life, but one that I mostly keep in check.

Popular culture leads me to believe that I'm not alone on this (and in fact provides the origin of the term). Holly Golightly from Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's did battle with "the mean reds," anxieties that came out of nowhere and made her fearful without knowing why. In the Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine, the Blue Meanies were an army of music-hating creatures determined to turn the colorful, musical world of Pepperland into a dull and lifeless land of oppression and hardship. (Yellow Submarine is weird, you guys. It's weird.) And Matthew Inman, the genius cartoonist of The Oatmeal, has his Blerch.

The mean reds, the Blue Meanies, and of course, The Blerch.










We've all got these battles to fight, and if we're lucky we'll find the ammunition that works for us. Holly Golightly visited Tiffany's to soothe the mean reds. The Beatles drove out the Blue Meanies with music and love. And, like Matthew Inman, I can usually ward off my own meanies with a good long run. But there's a particularly cruel kind of meanie: the kind that wears running shoes, and is able to pace me out there, mile for mile. Running is usually an important tool for managing stress and anxiety, and when it becomes a source of it, it's time for me to slow down, let the mean thoughts catch up with me, and have it out.

I'm at the tail end of week 9 of training for the Ventura Marathon, where I plan to make an earnest attempt to qualify for Boston. It will be a stretch for me, requiring a 3:45 finish, and beating my personal record by 13 minutes. But so far training has gone well and I'm trying hard not to talk myself out of it, like I usually do. The 20-mile training runs get in my head though, and strangely, they intimidate me more than running actual marathons. I ran the first one (of four) three weeks ago, and it was difficult. I was uncomfortably warm, and had to stop toward the end to cool down more than I wanted to. But I didn't let it get me down (for too long), since there were three more 20-mile runs and ten more weeks of training to go. Yesterday I had perfect conditions for my second one, but still struggled through those 20 miles more than I expected to. I ultimately made my goal pace (15 seconds faster per mile than last time), but had to stop around mile 17 and give myself a pep talk at the water fountain, and was utterly drained by the time I finished. Another 6.2? Impossible. All afternoon the thoughts rattled around in my brain: You can barely make your training pace! How do you think you're going to be able to run 8:33 miles in Ventura? You need to put Boston out of your mind, and just accept who you are. I felt myself starting to give in to the meanies, letting them convince me again to give up on this long-time ambition.

But eventually it occurred to me: this is training. That wasn't the race. No, I'm not yet ready to run that 3:45 marathon, but I'm in a process here. I'm not supposed to be able to do it yet. I've come a long way from where I was nine weeks ago, and I am on track. Get behind me, meanies! I've got work to do.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Why is that lady running?"

Yesterday I was running along a footpath in Coronado, past the city's beautiful recreation center gym and pool, both of which open right out onto the beach. (Fairly amazing.) As I approached a father and his young son, I could overhear the conversation:

As they passed the fitness center: "Dad, why are those people exercising?"
"Because they want to be healthy."

As they reached the lap pool: "Dad, why are those people swimming?"
"Because it's a hot day, and it's fun!"

As I ran past: "Dad, why is that lady running?"
"Now that, son, I really don't know."

He was being cheeky, making sure that he spoke loud enough that I'd hear, so I turned and gave them a laugh and a wave as I kept on. I like to think that the conversation kept going after I was out of earshot, that maybe Dad told his son something about the joy that many people feel when they run, or ticked off some of its many benefits.

It's a long shot, I know. In my experience, most people who don't run think that those of us who do are either masochists, or that we're all somehow "built for it" in some way that they are not. I've given up trying to argue either of these inaccuracies, and instead have made my peace with the fact that we all have a bliss that is ours to find. And I don't mind one bit if yours has nothing to do with running.

After a 20-mile run a couple of weeks ago, I arrived home tired, achey, chaffed, sunburned, and probably pretty pungent. My husband took a look at me on the yoga mat grimacing as I cautiously stretched out my sore hips, and said "that's quite a hobby you've got there." It made me laugh, of course, but it also made me step outside of myself for a moment and see my love of distance running from his perspective. As terminally boring and torturous as I find his sport of choice (golf), so he too finds the idea of running. It makes no sense to him. But what matters is that he knows that it makes perfect sense to me.

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And on the subject of my torturous pastime: I'm now officially halfway through my 16 weeks of training for the Ventura Marathon, coming up on September 7th! Click here if you're interested in the journey. Let me know if you're in training at the moment, and how it's going!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Liberty, and other pursuits

As I do every year, I kicked off the July 4th holiday today by reading the full text of the Declaration of Independence over my morning coffee. Like most of us, I probably don't think often enough about my good luck at having been born in a free country, never having had to fight for the personal liberties I enjoy. So spending these few minutes every Independence Day pondering the remarkable feat of building a democracy from the ground up is my small way of keeping myself in check. Our way of governing ourselves is imperfect and fraught with problems, as most things made by humans are, but I think most of us would agree that it's a pretty great way to live, and that we ought to keep tinkering at it.

This time last year, I had just run Grandma's Marathon a few weeks prior, and was reveling in the freedom I was feeling at the time - no training schedule to follow, no need to worry about pace or distance, no need to even wear a watch. A runner unchained. This July 4th, however, I find myself smack in the middle of training for an end-of-summer marathon. I'm nearing the end of week 7 (of a 16-week schedule), and these days every run is prescribed according to my training schedule. I know how far and how fast I need to do every workout, and am never without my trusty Garmin GPS to make sure I'm on track - or to make me feel bad when I'm not.

But I'm pursuing my happiness, and there's plenty of life and liberty to be found even amidst the rigors of marathon training. Because as any fan of Game of Thrones will tell you: people learn to love their chains. I've created this set of structures around myself, and have consented to be governed by the tyranny of the Garmin, at least for a few months. Our founding fathers wrote of a "long train of abuses" committed by their king. Last weekend, to ensure proper motivation for my first 20-mile training run of this marathon season, I bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to the next station north, and ran my way back. Talk about your long train of abuses.

Training provides me with a much-needed bit of structure and routine. I now have to think about how much I'm sleeping, what I'm eating and drinking, and how much I'm working. It forces me to look realistically at my usually over-scheduled life and make a conscious decision about which activities can stay, and which need to go. When I'm training I can't make every meeting, and have to turn down some opportunities to spend time with friends that I'd like to see. But I'm in charge of those choices, in the name of chasing down my own favorite kind of glory. I still get to revel in the freedom of my rest days, and I can decide on any given cross-training day whether that means a Pilates class or a swim in the ocean. I've learned to appreciate my freedoms where I find them, and I've also learned to love the chains.