Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap: What I saw

I've been going back and forth for a few days about writing this post, because there's something about it that just doesn't feel quite right.  How do you recap a race that you didn't technically run?  And how do you document the events of a day that had very little to do with yourself.  And how do you tell a story that is comprised of one story after another that isn't yours to tell?  But I decided to write anyways, because I think I've found a way.

Just under two years ago, I wrote a detailed two part race recap after my 4th marathon with Team in Training in San Diego (see part 1 here if you're interested).  The main point of the entire recap, which I reiterated several times throughout both parts was: "it's not about me."  As I sat through our chapter's pre-race meeting, I listened to coach Nadine, who's father had lost his long battle with blood cancer not even two weeks before the race, I realized it wasn't about me.  As a mentor cheering a couple thousand race participants to their inspiration dinner, I realized it wasn't about me.  As I decorated my "rockstar" fundraiser race shirt, I realized that it wasn't about me.  And then in the race itself, as the tough, "bite me" miles presented themselves, I remembered that it wasn't about me and plowed through.  Finally, as I crossed the finish line clocking a 10 minute PR, I rejoiced because it wasn't about me.

But this past weekend, the Whidbey Island Half and Full Marathon was even less about me than that seemingly long ago weekend in San Diego.  Because this past weekend, I wasn't a mentor or a captain or even a participant anymore.  This weekend, I was a coach.  And I had one job: help everyone else get themselves across that finish line in any way I could.  The miles I put on my legs on Sunday weren't my miles.  They were miles for all my teammates out there running the race.  They were miles for all the survivors we run in honor of or those no longer with us we run in memory of.
These people.
Because they weren't my miles, I can't tell this story like all my other recaps. Sunday's story isn't my story to tell.  I'll leave personal recaps of events and emotions to those who deserve to tell them--those who raised the money and ran the race.  All I did was hope that somehow, somewhere along the way I could help someone in some way push themselves forward in the race.

So instead of a traditional recap, I've decided that I'm just going to tell you about what I saw as I was out on that race course for 5+ hours.  Here's what I saw:

Strength.  Of all kinds.  Those who raced on Sunday chose to not only run a half or full marathon, but to run one of the hilliest marathons I've seen.  I saw the physical strength acquired throughout a 6 month long training season filled with more hills than I'd care to count.  I saw strong legs and strong bodies.  I also saw strong hearts and strong minds and strong souls.  Because it takes way more than just strong legs to make it through a marathon.

Determination.  As I worked the marathon course from about miles 23 to the finish, I saw more determination than I've ever seen in a day.  By the final hours of the marathon, the temperature was hot and the sun was out, which made the hills seem higher.  But the determination I saw to conquer those hills and cross the finish line was unstoppable.

Perseverance. Perseverance is my favorite world lately.  Whether I'm talking to my first graders or the athletes I coach, perseverance is one of those qualities that will get you a hell of a lot further than you ever thought in life.  Perseverance is the amazing ability to keep going when the going is tough.  To keep trying even when it seems like trying will get you nowhere.  It is the ability to stick with it and not give up, even when everything else is telling you to stop.  On Sunday, I saw perseverance in the eyes of each and every person I ran with.

Grit.  Grit is becoming a new buzz word in the education world lately.  Education researchers have lately decided that it is the biggest predictor of success and the most important personality trait present in self-motivated learners.  One thing that people have kind of failed to do when it comes to this new buzz word is define it.  No one can quite figure what grit is or exactly how one goes about acquiring it.  Here's what I have to say to all those researchers and writers of education lingo: go watch a marathon.  A marathon will show you the definition of true grit.  From what I can tell, grit is the perfect combination of determination and perseverance.  Kind of like Captain Planet.  Individually, determination and perseverance are great.  But with their powers combined...you become a marathoner.

Kindness. Writing this just after the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, I feel that I need to mention this one.  On marathon day, you see an endless river of kindness, which reminds you that people are inherently good.  You see kindness that is exuded by race volunteers and organizers, families and friends, random spectators, and racers both on and off the course.  Kindness in the form of an enthusiastic cheer, an outstretched hand holding a water cup, and an embrace on the other side of the finish line.  Kindness in the form of a high five, a kick in the butt to keep you going, and a ride back to the hotel when you're done.  Kindness in the form of a smile.  There are so many smiles on race day.  They stretch for 26.2 miles and beyond.

After the race, and throughout my first season as a coach for TNT, I kept getting the same question: "Do you like coaching?"  Of course my answer to this is, predictably, yes.  But Sunday solidified exactly why I like coaching so much.  I realized that being a coach is like being able to cross the finish line over and over and over again.  Even though I never crossed the finish line on Sunday, with every participant from our Team that I got to watch cross the finish line, I felt just a little bit like I was too.  Because their success was my success.  Because each person I got the honor to coach rubbed a little of their strength, determination, perseverance, grit, and kindness off on me.

As me and my fellow coaches followed the last participant to the finish on Sunday, I felt what I always feel when I race is over.  I felt happy and sad and so full of emotion that it tried to spill out of my eyes.  But as a coach, all these feelings seem magnified because I knew, as I stopped my watch to signal the end of the day, that none of this was about me.  I simply had the honor of being a part of it and the pleasure of sharing in the triumph.  And after a day like that, you can't help but smile.

Congrats to everyone who crossed that finish line in Whidbey Island this weekend.  You are truly amazing.

GO TEAM!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seekers of the Why

I go through phases of keeping current with the news.  Sometimes I have weeks or months at a time when I religiously read the paper--or at least the headlines--every morning.  I listen to NPR in the car every day, before and after work (when they're not in the middle of a pledge drive, which happens to be this week).  I feel proud of myself for being an informed, concerned citizen.  I wave my "I have informed opinions!" banner proudly.

But after a few months, I usually start to realize that keeping up with the news is incredibly depressing.  It's also frustrating because you have to hear about things like Washington State senators giving themselves a $30 a day pay raise (per diem when they're in session) when they haven't managed to fit voter-approved Cost of Living Adjustments for teachers into the budget in the last 6 years.  When I start to get overly frustrated or overly sad, I'll fold up my "I have informed opinions!" banner and put it on the shelf.  And I'll take a break from the news for a while.  Typically until I start feeling ridiculously uninformed again.

Right now, I'm in an upswing.  I read the newspaper for at least 10 minutes as I wolf down my breakfast/coffee each morning.  I'm listening to NPR (even with the Spring Pledge Drive giving me a massive guilt trip).  I'm keeping up to date on my countless podcasts as I walk the dogs and run.

But I'm starting to notice something.  There's been a lot of tragedy in the news lately.  I don't know if it seems like a lot because of current swing of my news-following pendulum or if it's actually because there's a lot of tragedy in the news right now.  However, in the past week or two alone, the paper has been filled with updates on the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight 370, the crash of the KOMO News helicopter, and the catastrophe of the Oso landslide, to name a few.

Just look at today's headline:
"Enormity of loss" is a hard thing to wake up to.  25 people found dead, 90
still missing after 5 days.  It's hard to be positive about the prospects of
what the news will be for the days to come.
Take a close look at those red subheadings though.  To the left, an expression of just how horrible this incident really is.  To the right, a speculation.

The speculation...that's what really bothers me about it all.  I might stick with the news on a regular basis, despite the sadness of each tragedy, if it weren't for the speculation.

Every morning as I open the paper and watch lives turned into death toll tallies, I read as news reporters speculate on one never-ending question: "Why?"

I don't blame them for asking the question.  Asking "Why?" seems to be something innate in us as humans.  With discovery of each new tragedy, the immediate focus of our minds always becomes "Why?" Why did the Tsarnaev brothers bomb the Boston Marathon?  Why did Adam Lanza choose an elementary school as the target of his shooting spree?  Why did flight 370 disappear?  Why did the chopper go down?  Why did the landslide happen?

I am not exempt from all of this questioning.  I want to know why.

I even seek the "Why?" in more personal and even often trivial aspects of my life.  Why couldn't I hit my sub-4:00 marathon last year?  Why am I injured?  Why did I knowingly decide to consume so much dairy in the last 2 days, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable multiple-bathroom-stop run today?  Why am I 30 and alone (see previous question)?

And after adopting Penny, guess what the most common question I get is.  If you guessed "Why?," I am not giving you a gold star.  Because it was way too obvious. "Why?"  "Why was Penny the one?" "Why was she at the shelter?"
"Why would someone give up this adorable little destroyer
of well-made beds?"
We are all Seekers of the Why.  It is undeniably in our nature, despite the fact that finding out way will never change the outcome.  I don't know why Penny was there.  I don't know why every couple months I decide that I don't care if my body hates dairy.  I don't really know why the Seattle RNR Marathon sucked for me last year.  I don't know why the plane disappeared, and I don't know why people kill other people on purpose.

And if I did know the answers to all these why questions, it won't change what happened.  I will still have a painful knee.  Penny will still be my dog.  There will still be a classroom full of first graders, including their teacher, that lost their lives way too soon.  There will still be 90 people missing 5 days after a massive landslide.  There will still be 239 people that disappeared over an ocean somewhere.

Yet we still ask "Why?".  We search for answers, often in vain.  But I see one main division in the our world of Seekers of the Why.  I may be missing something here, because I have done absolutely zero research on this besides searching through my own thoughts, so I claim no expertise.  But as I see it, Seekers of the Why fit into two groups: Seekers of the Why for Blame and Seekers of the Why for Change.

Let me explain more fully:

Seekers of the Why for Blame are looking to pin fault.  They want retribution.  They want punishment.  They may even want revenge.  This is not a bad thing.  Consequences should be sought for horrid actions and neglect of responsibilities (safety, supervision, etc).  But sometimes I feel as though Seekers of the Why for Blame are going too far.

This is what bothers me about the right-hand subheading of today's paper.  Landslides happen.  Maybe they logged a little too close.  Maybe warnings to residents of their unsafe habitat were ignored.  But I don't think that anyone can be blamed for this.  We live on a changing, shifting planet.  Blame who you want, but when it comes down to it Mother Nature will always have the final say.

It's the speculation that drives me nuts.  There was an article last week about the pilot of the KOMO news helicopter.  According to the reporter, he worked 2 jobs.  He could have been over-exhausted.  Are we so desperate to find blame that we are willing to speculate without fact even before the dead have been mourned?

Seekers of the Why for Change are looking for something different.  They are looking to learn something from the mess we've gotten ourselves into.  Why did Adam Lanza and the Tsarnaev brothers carry so much hate?  Why was there a neighborhood so close to an unsteady cliff prone to landslides?

Seekers of the Why for Change may believe in consequences for the guilty, but they also believe that is not enough.  We need to know why the guilty became guilty so that it doesn't happen again.  Place blame where it is necessary, but until we know why those at fault walked the broken path they walked, we are doomed to repeat their errors.

I think that both factions of Seekers of the Why exist because we are human.  We are faulty and error-prone and imperfect.  We need both kinds of Seekers and cannot have one without the other.  But in the news, I've noticed a trend of reporting in only one category.

And I guess my question is:

"Why?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How getting faster spoiled running for me

Somebody posted this article on Facebook the other day about how being a "slow" runner is really all in your head.  The writer made a lot of really good points.  For example:

1)  "While thinking you’re slow may seem harmless, every time you preface a statement with the phrase, 'I know I am slow, but …' you condition your mind to believe that you can never be fast."

and:

2) "The feeling you get after a new PR, the satisfaction from a tough workout well done, and the disappointment from a bad performance all feel the same no matter how fast you are."

and of course this:

3)  "Unless you’re Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah or Galen Rupp, chances are there is always going to be someone faster than you. Fast is relative."

then she drove it all home with this:

4)  "...speed is merely a state of mind."

None of the points in the article are earth-shattering revelations for me.  They are things that I've told myself time and time again as I realize that I am giving myself a mental beat down for "going slow" on runs.  They are things I've tried to convince myself of over and over in the past year.  But I still have yet to truly believe them.

And to be honest, in the realm of my running world, I'm not slow.  It was just three years ago that I was amazed by my ability to complete runs with average paces under 10 mins/mile.  But now, not all that much further down the road, I find that I feel a quiet inner disappointment every time I finish a weekday run that clocks in at an average pace slower than an 8:40.

As much as I mentally tell myself to listen to my body, to do what it tells me to, and to be happy with what I can do right now, in the not too far away corners of my mind, I am disappointed in myself.  And then I get ashamed of my disappointment.  Because, in reality, I know it's silly.  I'm still recovering from an injury.  I've been running much less than I usually do.  I can't expect myself to be hitting the same paces as I was a year ago while in the midst of two consecutive marathon training seasons.  But it seems like I just can't keep that nagging negativity out of my head.

So what do I do on runs?  I push myself.  I run fast.  I try to hit the paces I'm looking for.  As much as I preach about "listening to your body," I've been ignoring mine.  So how do I feel at the end of each run?  Exhausted, disappointed, frustrated...and then to top it all off: ashamed that I'm feeling all of those things.

How did I get this way?

When I first started running, "being fast" was not a goal, even in the farthest back, dustiest corners of my mind.  Back then, I ran because I had a crazy dog who needed to run more than my desire not to.  And I ran because I wanted to feel good about myself again.  Other reasons began to emerge after I learned to like running.  I ran because it became that wistfully quiet, enjoyable time of day that I'd look forward to each afternoon as I sent my first graders out the door.  I ran because it was the one time of day that I got to be alone with my thoughts.  I ran because it calmed me.  And it helped me make sense of the endless number of thoughts that traipse through my mind on a daily basis.

I ran because I enjoyed running.

But because I enjoyed running, over the course of a couple years, I started getting faster.  I went from a 2:16 first half marathon in 2009 to a 1:48 half last May.  I went from a 4:52 first marathon to a 4:18 a couple years later.  

I didn't try to get faster.  It just kind of happened.  Sometimes, after runs, I'd look down and my watch and realize that that run was way faster than it felt.  And then that "fast" pace would slowly become the norm.  Until I would look down again after a run one day, and find I'd accidentally gone faster again.  And the new fast would become the new norm.  And the cycle would repeat.  Over and over again.  Without really trying.  
Everything felt great.  I loved running and I kept getting faster.  Nothing could be better.

But then one day, I made a fateful decision.  I decided that I wanted to be faster.  I wasn't just going to let it happen anymore.  I was going to make it happen.

And that's where it all fell to pieces.  That's kinda where I fell to pieces.

After completing the Goofy Challenge last January, I was on a high.  I felt strong, and I felt fast.  So for my fifth marathon, I decided to set my first ever specific time goal.  I had had goals before (to finish, to PR, to have fun), but I had never set a specific time goal.  For marathon #5, I wanted to break 4 hours.

Four hours.  A very specific time.  With very specific paces.  And very specific numbers.  And I can get a little obsessive when it comes to numbers.

So when I put a number in my marathon goal, everything became about that number.  Runs became less about stress relief and enjoyment and more about clocking paces and being faster.  My favorite day of the week in marathon training (long run day!), became somewhat torturous as I pushed myself faster and further than I needed to go.  Running became less and less enjoyable with each passing week.

And the result of all that unhappy training?  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  Twenty three minutes slower than what I was hoping for, to be exact.

And then I pushed running to the side for a bit.  I tackled biking and swimming and my first half iron distance triathlon.  Then I walked a half marathon with my mom.  And then my knee started hurting and I faced months of slowly progressive recovery.

And now here I am.  Stuck in this hole of never feeling good enough, or more specifically, "fast" enough.

So not unexpectedly, as I stare down the oncoming road of Eugene Marathon training, I've been getting a little stressed out.  I thought I would be more physically and mentally ready by now.  The Eugene Marathon is supposed to be my huge comeback from the disaster that my last marathon was.  The Eugene Marathon is supposed to be my redemption.  It is supposed to be me finally achieving that sub-4 hour marathon.

But that's a lot of pressure.

So I've made a new decision.  I'm not going to do that to myself again.  I'm resetting my goals.  Instead, I'm going to aim for a PR.  I think that's reasonable enough.  A sub-4:18 seems much more achievable than a sub-4:00.  While I may always secretly wish for a 4 hour marathon, I'm not going to put pressure on myself to make it this one.

With that decision made, I already feel myself breathing a little easier.  I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders that I didn't really know was sitting there.  With my new "who cares about fast" frame of mind, I went for a run today.  I ran 4.5 miles and I tried my hardest not to look at my paces as I stuck to my 8:1 run/walk intervals (unfortunately I can't leave the watch behind because I'd be unable to keep track of the intervals).  If I felt like I had started breathing a little too hard and not enjoying the run, I slowed it down.  I went the pace that my body wants to go right now.

At the end of the run, the first thing I did (of course...) was check my pace.  9:12 min/mile.  I tried really really hard to be happy with this.  And I was.  But I still felt that internal pull of disappointment--because I'm not perfect and this change isn't going to happen overnight.  I realized that this is going to take some time.  I need to retrain my brain.  I've been feeding it these negative thoughts for a year, after all it had known was positivism for it's 4 years of prior running.  I need to start telling it positive things again.  Until it starts to believe it.

And as for the speed, here's my new theory: Right now, my body can do what it can do while still recovering from a bum knee and months of low-mileage running.  I'm going to let my body do what it can do and not push it.  I want to finish each run feeling good, not feeling as though I'd like to keel over and die and not run for at least a week.

If, after weeks or months of "feel good" running, my speed naturally returns to me, great.  If not, this is where I'm at.  And I'm going to try my absolute best to learn to be okay with that.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Little adjustments

Sometimes I think that it is the small, incremental changes in life that are the hardest to handle.  Big changes are...well...big.  They require a complete overhaul of life, a paradigm shift, or a drastic leap (in one direction or the other) away from everything that you are used to.  While I would never make the claim that these big changes aren't difficult, it's just that adjusting to them and accepting them as they occur can sometimes happen more suddenly.

For comparison's sake, let's think about when you wake up in the morning.  Say, for example, you wake up at 7:30 every morning (lucky you).  As you start the week, you realize that on Wednesday morning you have a very early meeting and you are going to have to wake up at 5:30, 2 hours earlier, in order to make it on time.  While you probably will dread this, here's what you might do to prep for it: on Tuesday night, you might decide to skip a workout or happy hour and make dinner early.  You'll put yourself to bed early.  Then in the morning when that 5:30 AM alarm goes off, it still sucks, but at least you're prepared for it. [note: this, of course, only applies to planned big changes.]

Now, keeping in mind that 7:30 typical wake up, let's say that Friday morning you realize that you have to stop by the grocery store on the way to work and pick up some snacks for a staff lunch party.  To accommodate for the extra time this will take, you decide to set your alarm for 7:15.  Since it's only a 15 minute difference, you don't alter your Thursday evening schedule.  You may try to get in bed a little early but don't really fall asleep until your normal time anyways.  And then in the morning when the alarm goes off, you can't believe it's already time to get up.  To be able to sleep for another 15 minutes would feel amazing, but you peel yourself out of bed anyways.  And for the rest of the day, that 15 minutes lingers with you.  By the end of the day, you're exhausted.

For those planned big changes, you prep yourself.  You get yourself ready.  You make sure you are set up for success when that big change arrives.  But for little changes, you think to yourself "eh, no big deal" and let them arrive.  But as little as that change is, you feel it like a big one.  Because you didn't ready yourself for it.  It throws you off kilter enough for you to notice a difference, but not necessarily want to do anything about it.

When it comes to change, I'd say I've done a pretty good job learning how to handle the big ones.  A few major job changes, a cross-country move to a city where I knew exactly one person, becoming a marathoner--all these things have helped me to feel comfortable with pre-planned big changes.  In fact, oftentimes I look forward to these changes.  Because I usually choose to make them happen at just the point when I need a change.

But little changes...that's a different story. I hate waking up 15 minutes early (even though I have do it every Thursday morning).  And that's the smallest of the little changes.  But when I have to make little changes, or adjustments to my life, things seem to be off kilter for longer than the big changes.  It takes me a lot longer to find my equilibrium when I'm changing things just a little bit at a time.

Take my running right now.  I'm still not fully recovered.  I've been injured for almost 5 months now.  And I still can't figure out the balance that I need to stay healthy.  Every week, I run on different days, for different distances, at different paces, and I've been slowly altering my run/walk intervals.  But no matter what I do, no matter how little or how much I push myself, I can't find the balance that makes everything feel better again.
Running kind of feels like this right now.  I'm out there and I'm doing it and
for the most part I'm enjoying it, but I have no idea what's coming up around
that next bend in the road.
Last Wednesday, I went for an amazing run.  I was itching to put some miles on my legs, but hesitating to do too much.  I've been sticking to Green Lake loops lately so that I can cut things short if anything starts to hurt.  But I decided to be daring on Wednesday.  I decided to tackle one of my hillier, longer loops through Ballard.  It was pouring rain, and after a trying day with my first graders, all I wanted to do was run--and run fast.  So I did.  I still stuck to my current 8:1 interval, but even with the walk breaks included, I logged some paces I haven't seen on a 5+ mile run in quite a while.  It was one of those days where everything felt strong and great--even the rain.  I let the rain soak through me and pound against me, and it only made me fight harder.  While nothing is pain-free yet, I was almost able to forget about my nagging knee.

Then I let myself rest for 2 days and went out to coach a TNT practice on Saturday morning.  We took some hilly loops through Discovery Park and Magnolia, and I was less than 2 miles into the run when my knee pain intensified and didn't stop for the rest of the 12 mile run.  It was the first time I ever had to consciously make the choice to try to run less miles during a coaching run.  So frustrating.

I can't help but continue to be frustrated with the ups and downs of running for me when all these little adjustments I keep trying to make just don't seem to be working quickly enough.  And then I remember that they are little adjustments.  I need to give them time.  I definitely have a lot more good days than bad days now.  But what's funny is, as much as I have an endless font of patience for my first graders and my job, I have very little patience when it comes to running.  I want to be better and I want to feel good now.  I'm tired of all these little adjustments that might slowly be working their way towards an equilibrium.

But running isn't the only thing I'm making adjustments for right now.  There's also this little lady:
My lovely little snuggle-muffin.
Lucy and I have been spending that last 2 weeks adjusting to life with Penny.  And the strangest thing about adding Penny to our family was that it wasn't a big change.  When I made the whim of a decision to bring Penny home, I expected life to be very different.  I expected to have to make some big changes to me and Lucy's comfortable routines.

Somewhat unsurprisingly considering serendipity of events that occurred in order for me and Penny to meet and quickly fall in love, Penny has absorbed herself with ease into my and Lucy's life.  However, once I realized that Penny wasn't a drastic change in our lives, it became more challenging for me to make the little adjustments necessary for Penny.

The biggest example is our morning walks.  Penny is still going through this hesitant, not-sure-about-walking thing.  I've realized that it mainly is a result of anything to do with the sky.  She definitely does not like rain.
I bought her this snazzy little jacket.  She loves it so much she even helps
me put it on her.
She also doesn't like things in the sky.  We passed by a park and she spotted some sort of toy hovercraft in the sky (I never would have noticed it, but she zoned in on it until I was able to spot it).  She was shaking with fright for the rest of the walk.  She also doesn't seem to like tall walls next to her or loud buses.

In general, we've had to make a lot of adjustments on our walks.  I've changed up some of our routes.  In the mornings, if it's raining, Penny only comes out for a potty break--then we drop her back off at home and Lucy and I continue on our way.  This has eaten into a little bit of Lucy's morning exercise time.

When Penny does join us for long walks, I'm now juggling two leashes and often, since they seem to be quite in sync with their potties, I could also be carrying 2 poop bags along with those leashes until we find a garbage can.
It's not always easy managing both of these two, especially when another
four legged friend walks by.  Penny will wiggle her butt with all her might
with excitement to say hello, which puts Lucy a little on edge and lunging
where she didn't previously.
Every morning/afternoon walk is a question.  How will Penny do?  Where will we be able to go, and how far?  Will she get scared, or will this be an okay walk?  What was once the most relaxing part of my day--a long walk with Lucy--has now become something a little more involved.

Not that I'm complaining.  I love Penny and wouldn't trade her for anything.  It's just a little adjustment.  Which for me, takes a lot of getting used to.

Other small adjustments that I've had to make for Penny include giving up 3/4 of my queen size bed to a 40lb dog, learning to share my overabundance of puppy love equally between two lady-dogs, and learning how to type on a laptop with a dog in my lap.
This puts quite a strain on the finger-typing muscles along the length of
my right arm.
I also can no longer go to the bathroom alone.
"Whatcha doin in here, mom?"
All these little changes, whether from running or Penny, haven't been easy.  But as with any challenge I've faced up until now, I'm learning a ton.  And the biggest benefit I think I'm getting out of all of this?

I'm learning to be flexible.

Flexible with my time.  Flexible with my routines.  Flexible with the trivialities of daily life.

I've always considered myself to be a pretty flexible person when it comes to working with/socializing with people.  But when it comes to my own personal routines, flexibility has never been something I've desired or needed to have in my single (and single-dog) life.  And if becoming more flexible with my personal "me" time is a side-effect of all these small adjustments, I'll take it.  

Now that I'm 30, I figure it's about time I learn to let go of a little bit of that rigidity.  Because I'd hope in the not-too-far-away future, that flexibility will start to come in handy.

And in the meantime, whenever things to start feel a little too overwhelming, I'll just take a look at these two:
And then everything will be all better.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Suddenly, life is different

*Side note: I was going to put a little note in here about why I haven't written in so long, but I've decided I need to stop feeling the compulsion to explain any extended absence from the blogosphere.  Life happens and I doubt you really care all that much.  Sometimes I take breaks.  No more explanation necessary.  Now on to more important matters...

I know that many of you were quite surprised last week to find out that Lucy and I had a new addition to our  small family.
Penny!!
I was too.

Penny was in no way a planned addition to the family.  Penny just kind of happened.  But let me explain.

As we know, from my "30 things to do before I'm 30" list, I happily checked off the item "walk dogs at the animal shelter."  I picked up a 2 hour weekly shift and will soon be switching to the running group.  

We may also remember that I posted this on Facebook shortly after getting approved as a walker:

It was a joke, but apparently I'm the only one that thought so.
I didn't get trained as a walker until mid December, and then didn't do my first walking shift until just after New Year's Eve.  So from the start of my first walking shift, I made it exactly 7 weeks without bringing a friend home for Lucy.  Although I had to be absent for 2 of those shifts, so technically I guess it was only 5 weeks.

Mathematics aside, I don't think it would have mattered when I met her.  I hate to sound so cheesy and cliche, but it was love at first sight.
I mean seriously, look at that face.
I walked in on Thursday evening for my shift and did my usual stroll through the kennels to see who I'd like to walk first.  There weren't a ton of walkable dogs that night, and as soon as I laid eyes on Penny (her name was Daffodil at the time), I ran and grabbed a leash before any of the other walkers could snatch her up.

As soon as I opened the kennel and bent down to leash her up, she immediately jumped in my lap (she's a little too big to be a lap dog, but she doesn't seem to know that).  She was shaking and scared and all she wanted to do was cuddle.  My heart began to ache for her right away.

When I finally got the leash on her and took her outside, the shaking didn't stop, and she refused to walk past the outdoor kennels at the shelter.  So I went with her inside one of the play areas, where she immediately hopped up onto the one bench in the area.  I sat down next to her, she sidled up next to me, half sitting on me, and we sat there together for 10 minutes as she continued to shake.  More heart ache for this sweet little girl.

Once I finally got her to walk, she was great on the leash aside from every few moments where she would stop suddenly and begin shaking again.

When we got back inside the shelter and I put her back in the kennel, even though there were no more dogs left to walk, I couldn't leave.  I went back into her kennel with her and snuggled for another good while.  As other volunteers walked by, they joked that we both looked way too comfortable together.

When I finally pried myself away from her to head home, I told a few of the other volunteers "If she's still here next week, I'm adopting her."  I call this my attempt at sanity.  My attempt at being smart and not getting another dog.  My attempt at convincing myself that this was just another cute shelter dog--I'd trust that she'd be adopted by a good family and I'd be happy for her.  Because she was way too lovable and I knew she would be adopted in a snap.
Just look at this princess.  How could you not fall in love?
But something strange happened that I can't quite describe when I got in my car and began pulling away from the shelter.  It physically felt wrong leaving her behind.  My heart was pounding, my fingers shaking, and suddenly I knew that there was something about this dog that was different from all the rest.  It quite literally felt like I had left a chunk of my heart in that kennel with her.

But I still wasn't ready to admit that I was going to take her home.  As much as I'd joked and talked about being tempted into getting another dog when I started volunteering, I never actually expected to.  I didn't think I should.  Or could.

So I posted this on Facebook (because when you're looking for encouragement, one way or another you can find it on Facebook...)

And the overwhelming response from my FB community: "do it!!"  I had hoped for sanity.  I should have remembered that a large portion of my friends are die-hard dog lovers too.

After a phone conversation with Nadine (TNT coach and fellow Seattle Animal Shelter dog walker/enthusiast), I had already formulated a plan for going in to adopt Penny the next day.

Although I still hadn't admitted to myself that I was doing it.

Then I went to a trivia night which just happened to be at Norm's (if you're not a Seattleite, Norm's is a dog-friendly bar--every table has some sort of adorable cuddly fluffball hitched to a table leg).  I talked through my crazy decision with 2 more friends/dog lovers and began to let things start to sink in:  Penny was going to be my dog.

Here is the other stroke of fate that made all this occur: I had last week off of work.  Which meant, when I woke up without an alarm clock at 7:30 am, tossing and turning, unable to get Penny off my mind, I could go right down to the shelter and claim her.

After walking Lucy that morning, I was at the shelter by 9:30am (public adoption hours aren't until noon, but as a walker, I could finagle my way in early).  I filled out the paperwork, and all I had left to solidify the adoption was for Lucy and Penny to meet.

This made me nervous.  Lucy gets along with most dogs, but not all.  When I thought about the possibility of the meet and greet with them not working, I felt those same horrible shakes and heart pangs as the evening before.  But with the kindhearted assistance of Nadine, who met me at the shelter to help me out with the meet and greet, everything went smoothly.  After dropping Lucy back home and a very expensive trip to Petco, Penny and I were on our way home.
She wanted to climb in my lap the whole way home.  It
took all the strength I have in my piddly little right bicep
to keep her elbowed over into the passenger seat for the
10 minute drive.
It was when we finally pulled up in front of my apartment that it finally struck me.  This little lady belong to me.  Or I belonged to her.  Sometimes I'm not really sure which way the relationship goes with pets.  Let's just say we belonged to each other.

The minute I brought her inside, this happened:
That's Lucy's, "is this thing actually staying here?" look.
Penny wanted to play and play and play some more.
Despite the initial play session, Lucy and Penny are actually pretty mellow together.  They played a couple of times in the first few days and worked out who was in charge (thankfully, Penny is more than willing to let Lucy be the boss--otherwise this wouldn't have worked).  For the past couple of days, they've pretty much kept to themselves.
Except this happened.  Lucy is not a snuggler.  Penny is an
over-snuggler.  This lasted about 3 minutes.  There are a lot
of pictures.
There was also this:
Morning kisses!
And this fun Sunday morning snuggle that we all shared:
All in our new designated couch positions: Lucy in her usual spot, me in
my usual spot, and Penny on top of me.
In the near week that Penny has been with us, she has claimed the bed and the couch as the sole 2 places she resides when we're home.  And if I'm not watching, she turns them into the perfect little nests for herself.

This is what my bed looked like when I came home from work on Monday:
See that perfect little Penny-sized indentation in the
middle of my disheveled pillows?
She'll rearrange the couch to suit her fancy:


And I've been all but kicked out of my own spot on the couch:
Matching bundles of dog make my heart melt.
But getting used to rearranged sleeping preferences hasn't been the most difficult part of this past week.  Not that anything has been particularly difficult, but there have been some pretty interesting revelations.  And the biggest eye opener has had very little to do with Penny and her adjustment, and more to do with me and my adjustment.

What I've realized, and that I knew before but hadn't fully understood, is how much Lucy and I know each other.  I rescued Lucy when she was 3 months old from a shelter in Long Island, NY.  I brought her home just weeks before my first year of teaching.  I house-trained her, I leash-trained her, and I taught her how to sit, stay and come (although she's never been exceptional with "come").  

Lucy and I have been together for 7 and a half years and she knows me like no one else.  Lucy has been with me through 4 apartment moves (one of those moves across the country).  She's been with me through all my years of first graders.  She knows all my routines.  She can predict whether or not she gets to leave the house with me based on what pair of pants I put on.  She forced me to start running.  She's been with me through each half-ounce of a relationship I've had in the last few years.

And I know Lucy like no one else.  I know every facial expression.  I know what each whine and groan means.  I know on walks if it's a "pee sniff," a "poop sniff," or just a "sniff sniff."  I know all of her fears (mainly high-pitched beeping noises and fans).  I know when she's nervous, uneasy, scared, or completely relaxed.  I know what she needs at any moment of the day.

For 7.5 years, roommates (human and animal alike) have come and gone.  But it's always been me and Lucy.  Lucy and me.  And for the last 3 years, it really has been just the two of us.

But now, there's Penny.
Sweet, snuggly, wonderful Penny.
And here's what I find the most difficult thing right now: Penny and I don't know each other the way Lucy and I do.  When she randomly freezes midstride on walks and begins shaking, I don't know what she's afraid of.  I don't always know if she's happy or sad or excited or confused.  I don't know how much exercise she needs or what exactly she needs to feel comfortable.  I don't know if she trusts me fully yet.  Being 2 years old, and me being in the dark about her history (other than being adopted from the shelter 3 months ago and return because of landlord restrictions), I don't know how long it's going to take for her to realize that me and Lucy are a permanent home for her.

I don't know how long it's going to take for us to get to know each other.  But, in the week that we've known each other, I've learned enough about her that I think I've got a good start.  Here's what I know:

1)  She loves to snuggle.  She's a lovebug.  All she wants to do from the minute I walk in the door is be next to me or on top of me.  I don't have to be petting her, she just needs to be in contact with me.  If I'm busy around the apartment, she's alert to my every move until we're all settled.

2)  She's not interested in treats as motivation.  I've tried every kind of treat in the last week to get her interested in training.  Regular ones.  Super meaty ones.  I even went to the grocery store and bought fresh cut deli turkey yesterday to try to motivate her through a walk.  Not interested.  This will prove to be extremely problematic when it comes to training.  Luckily, she's old enough and knows enough that she doesn't require a lot of training.  For the things I want to perfect, I'm going to have to get creative with how to train.  But, somewhat confusingly, she gets really excited for meals and eats her food right away.  Go figure.

3)  I don't think she's ever been taken for long walks.  She's not really sure how to handle them.  There's some trepidation as we move further and further from the house.  I think in past homes she's either only been taken out for potty breaks or just had a yard.  We're working on this one.  Lucy helps.  My hope is that we'll get from long walks to running.

4)  She loves Lucy.  I think she was more excited to see that her new home had a dog than a person.  I think she'll keep whittling away at Lucy's tough anti-snuggling exterior.  At least I hope so.

5)  When she's happy, her whole body wiggles.  Like a worm.  It's unstoppable.  Not that anyone in the world would ever want to stop it.

And that's it.  Six days at home, and this is what I know about Penny.  I know there's so much more.  

I can't wait to figure it out.

My new family.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uphill climbing isn't easy...

I've been suffering from 2 fairly serious set-backs in my day-to-day running life for the past several months.  There have been many posts about my frustrations with these things.  These set backs have severely affected the amount of time I spend running, the amount of effort I put in while running, and the way I feel before, during and after running.

In fact, let's just put it out there and refer to these set-backs as what they are: "afflictions."  These afflictions have manifested themselves into two very distinct categories:

1)  The physical affliction - a nagging overuse knee injury that's hung around since mid-October.

and

2)  The mental affliction - a mental "burn out" (otherwise known as the loss of enjoyment in running) presumably the result of 3 consecutive marathons (interspersed with some halves) followed by a half Ironman.

If I've learned anything concrete about running in my years of endurance training, it's that running success is a direct combination between the physical and the mental.
  =

Then underlying, overlaying, and encompassing all of that is this:

 Pure heart.
The body and the mind, supported entirely by the heart of a runner is what feeds success in this sport (the definition of the term "success" is widely open to interpretation).  The success of a runner then feeds the heart which restarts the equation.  And around and around we go.

When a piece of the equation disappears or loses it's strength, things begin to slide out of rotation.  Instead of continuing the endless spiral upward (think spiral staircase to the sky), things begin to level out and eventually start spiraling downward (think sink drain).

When two pieces of the equation start to weaken, the downward spiral only intensifies (more like a drain in the bottom of a swimming pool).

Getting stuck in this downward spiral sucks.  It is, for lack of a better word, disheartening.

And when you get stuck in this awful downward spiral, the question inevitably becomes: When will I get to see the light of day again?  How do I reverse the direction of this thing?

I claim to be no expert in any of this.  All I can talk about is me and my over-thought analyses of my experiences.  But after spiraling downward for 3+ months, I can proudly proclaim that I've switched the direction of my spiral.  Things felt pretty dark and hopeless for a while, but I'm beginning to climb the hill now instead of slide down it.

There are a number of factors that I believe contributed to my ability to turn around on that hill (physical therapy, mental recharging, a nice long break, etc.).  And now that I've turned it around, I can officially say that I am in "recovery."  The bad part is over.

Now is the hard part.

As much as it sucks to be down here, climbing out looks a whole lot
harder than staying put.  
In order for me to make the decision to start climbing, I had to realize something.  Something that I knew once, but had forgotten in training season after training season.  One day, this thought occurred to me:

I don't have to run.  I choose to run.

Almost 6 years ago, I chose to run.  I fell in love with running, which made me want to run more.  I chose to sign up for my first half marathon.  And then my first marathon.  And then more.  And somewhere along the line, running started to feel less like a choice.  As impending races compelled me to "stick to the schedule" and "get my runs in," running started to feel less like something I wanted to do and more like something I had to do.  Even though I was the one that signed up for all these races, I somehow forgot that running was a choice.

It become an item on a checklist of things I had to do everyday:
1) Wake up: check
2) Walk the dog: check
3) Go to work: check
4) Run: check
5) Eat dinner: check
6) Sleep: check

The day I realized that running wasn't a requirement on an endlessly repeating list was the day I finally wanted to start climbing out of the hole.

And now, as I continue the climb up, each day I have to remind myself that running is a choice.  Each day, I have to remind myself that I don't have to run.  

And here's the next important step that I've discovered on my road to recovery.  Every day, after reminding myself that I don't have to run, I do one very important thing:

Listen.

And when dealing with two afflictions, there are two things that I try really hard to listen to:

1) I listen to my knee.  I check in with how it's feeling.  Has it been hurting throughout the day?  How did if feel when we ran yesterday?  Is today a day that it can run or does it need a rest?  If, after some very careful listening, my knee gives the okay then...

2) I listen to my head.  Where is my mind at today?  Was it a stressful day at work resulting in that innate need to run?  Or am I just tired and done?  Is that little ninja fighter in my head feeling strong today or does she need a break?  If, after some very careful listening, my mind gives the okay then...

I run.

But I keep listening.

Because this isn't an exact science.  Sometimes I make the right choice.  Sometimes the physical says yes and the mental says yes and that results in an amazing run.  But sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes one or the other or both change their mind once we're out there.  And when that happens, I go home.  I don't push myself through miserable, painful, unnecessary miles.  Because, right now, I don't need to.

Right now running is a choice for me.

And maybe there are days where I listen, and the answer is no, which means I don't run.  And maybe that's the wrong choice.  Maybe running could have been the best thing I did for myself that day.  And I missed out on that.

But right now, running is a choice for me.  And I'm willing to take that chance.

Let's put all this in a real life context and look at the choices I've made so far this week:

Sunday: After an 8.5 miler on Saturday with Team, my knee wasn't feeling happy.  But it was a beautiful day and I wanted to get outside.  So I chose not to run.  But I chose to take Lucy for a nice long walk.  And that was enough.

Monday: After a nonstudent professional development day at work (meaning I sat in meetings all day, something teachers aren't typically fond of), I was itching to get out and move.  My knee was feeling ok.  So I ran.  But once out there, my mind wasn't in it and my knee wasn't feeling great.  So instead of pushing myself through a planned 5.5 mile loop, I cut back early and barely logged 3 miles  And that was enough.

Tuesday: I felt good and my knee felt good.  I met Ironman Jason for a loop around Green Lake and then continued running as I coached for Team practice, logging about about 7.5 miles total.  I felt great.  And that was enough.

Today: I woke up hoping to get in another short run after work.  I did a lot of miles yesterday and while my knee was feeling ok, I didn't want to push it.  Another easy 3 miler would be perfect.  But throughout the day, my mind wasn't into it.  I ended up staying at work 45 minutes later than I intended to.  I had to run an errand on the way home.  And by the time I got home, I made a different choice.  I didn't run.  And that was enough.

"Enough" is what I'm striving for right now.  I hope that in a couple months, I'll be ready to push a little bit beyond "enough" again.  I hope to enter into Eugene training fully recovered from both of my afflictions.  But right now, the best I'm allowing myself to hope for is "enough."

Each day I listen and I make a choice.

And I keep climbing up the hill.

Which is enough.

For now.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Seahawks are going to the Superbowl! And here's why it matters...

I used to be a football hater.

I just didn't get it.  When I watched a football game, all I saw was really big men hurling themselves against each other every minute or so.  And then the clock would stop.  And it would take an hour (like...forever) to get through a 15 minute quarter.  I had no idea what a "down" was.  I couldn't understand why getting one "goal" got you six points and then you got to kick a little bonus point after.  And why did they kick it when the rest of the time they were running with and throwing the ball?  I mean really...make up your minds.

And the whole yelling at the TV thing.  That was beyond me. THEY CAN'T HEAR YOU EVEN IF YOU YELL REALLY LOUD.

Both my high school and college football teams may as well have been nonexistent.  Lack of real skill plus lack of community excitement equals frequent exclamations of "Wait! We have a football team??"

These guys don't make college football news all that often.
I didn't grow up in a sports watching family.  Not to say that we weren't athletic.  We just participated in the sports--we didn't watch them.  The few times I remember my dad watching anything, it was basketball games.  And it quickly got voted off the screen by mom and the 4 children in favor of cartoons or sitcoms.  I remember the "Ugh, basketball?!?" cries of indignation as we walked into the living room and realized there was a game on our TV.

I didn't live in a city that was dedicated to its sports.  Rochester, NY doesn't have any major teams.  Our closest team is the Buffalo Bills.  And seeing as they haven't made it to the playoffs since 1999 (after suffering 4 consecutive Superbowl losses several years before that), there wasn't too much excitement surrounding them in my middle and high school years in Rochester.  Not hating on the Bills here.  I will proudly proclaim to be a downtrodden Bills fan now and keep them on my ScoreCenter update feed.  There just wasn't any excitement surrounding them in my world in the late '90s.
Go Bills!! When the Seahawks aren't playing.
My first experience with any major football game happened in college when I went to visit a friend at University of Michigan.  It happened to be Homecoming weekend and there was a game in "The Big House."  We woke up at 7 am, were playing beer pong by 8, and the rest of the day is a blur.  The stadium fascinated me, the crazed fans confused me, and the excitement of an entire community centered around a sports team baffled me.

Then I went back to NYC and forgot about it.  I made it through 6 years in NYC without ever seeing a game.  I never even made it to Yankee Stadium (I'm well aware that's a baseball stadium, but the fact contributes to my explanation here)--and the original one closed the year that I left.  Football was the furthest thing from my mind in NYC even though there are in fact three teams to choose from in that state (actually, now I believe that part of New York's problem is that there are too many teams to rally around--I mean really, the Giants and the Jets even play in the same stadium...why 2 teams?).

And then, I moved to Seattle.

Side note: There seems to be a "Seattle changed everything" theme in my life.  I apparently didn't care about much besides teaching and school until I moved here.  Which isn't bad, but there are other things in the world too, which I have since learned about.

My first year in Seattle, I fell immediately into a dedicated crowd of football fans.  The 2008 football season wasn't the highlight of the Seahawks career, and I learned the term "fair-weather fan."  But I loved the fair weather fans, because that meant that me and my friends could get cheap tickets to Qwest field.  We could find tickets the day before a game for as little as $35.  Which resulted in me attending six football games that season.

This football hater went to six games.

Before every game, we tailgated (protected from the rain under a viaduct that no longer exists).  I learned what it meant to shotgun a beer.  We didn't show up in the stadium often until well after the end of the 1st quarter.  While initially I was probably way more excited to wake up on a Sunday morning, hang out with friends, and have an excuse to drink all day, I eventually started paying attention to the actual game.
Awesome 12th ladies.  Seahawks vs. Patriots 12/7/08.  I am swimming in my
borrowed jersey.
And then as time passed, I actually started liking the game.  I learned some of the rules.  I began to understand the importance of a first down.  I remembered to call them touchdowns instead of goals.  I learned how to calculate points.

Since that season, I can say that my knowledge of football has grown immensely.  I've learned that the quarterback isn't the only player that matters on the team.  I actually get the point of running plays now.  I know what flags are for and understand the panic of one on a big play.  I understand the importance of having a high point differential.  Especially after this year, I realize that having an amazing defense is just as important as a good offense--those guys aren't just bodies on the field blocking the way.  It takes some real skill to do what they do.

Since that first season, I've never made it to more than one game per year.  I probably won't ever be a season ticket holder or go to nearly that many games in a season again.  So that first year will always be kind of special.

But from 2008 to 2013, my love and loyalty to the Seahawks has only increased.  And while my knowledge of the game itself has played a role in keeping me interested, that is not the reason why I have become a football fan.

What I've learned in my 5 year development as a 12th man is that it has very little to do with the actual game.

I mean, of course the game is important and there are lots of fans out there who love the game for just the game, but for me, what I really love about football isn't the game.

It's kind of like running (isn't everything?).  I love running.  I love everything about running--the way I feel after a good run, the grit of a good fight through a tough run, the amazing friends I've made in the running community, the incredible benefits to my health.  There are a lot of things I love about running, but one of the things I love the least about running is actually running.
This girl does NOT want to be running.
What's great about football, and what I believe is uniquely great about the Seahawks, is the 12th man.

Pause for those who need a 12th man explanation:  Seattle Seahawks fans are notoriously known for being the loudest, most loyal fans in football (we've actually registered small earthquakes due to explosive cheers in the stadium during games--google the term "beastquake").  The Seahawks players and management acknowledge and praise the presence of these fans.  In football, there are 11 players out on the field.  In Seattle, the "12th man" is the fans.  In 1984, the president of the Seahawks acknowledged the importance of the fan presence on the field by retiring the #12 jersey.  Now, you can buy #12 jersey (like any other jersey) but instead of a player name on the back, it says "fan."  To show support of the team, flags with 12 are flown throughout the city and the team raises the 12th man flag before every game in the stadium.  Check out this link for more history on the 12th man.
Even the Space Needle sports its 12th man flag during important games.
The Seattle Seahawks have an amazing relationship with their 12th man.  They acknowledge us in interviews--we were the ones that kept them going.  No one wants to disappoint the 12th man.  And yes, I realize that these guys are paid millions of dollars to play this game, but I believe them when they say that they play their best for us and we are who they're fighting for.  And that feels pretty darn good.

What it really comes down to is this:  when I am watching a game, cheering on my team, reacting to every disappointment and excitement...I am a part of something.
We had a door decorating contest at school, and I cannot even begin to tell
you how excited my little first graders were to put this together.
I am a part of this amazing city where thousands upon thousands screamed in pure undignified glory when Sherman tipped Kaepernick's last pass for an interception.

I am a part of the packed bar where people are standing on chairs and tables, belting "We are the Champions" at the top of their lungs.

I am a part of crowds of strangers high fiving and hugging each other, making contact in a world where interactions like this rarely exist.

I am a part of the endless conversations at work and elsewhere, recapping events, squabbling over opinions, and finding connections with people I previous thought I had nothing in common with.

I am a part of my group of friends who get together every week, win or lose, because this thing is important to us.

Me and the rest of the 12th man are a part of something.

And isn't that what we all really want anyways?  To be a part of something?

As a former football hater, I can't justify hating something that brings people together.  That makes them smile and feel true joy.  

And while it's not always smiles and hugs, when it is, there are SMILES and HUGS.  And even when there aren't smiles and hugs, we're all in it together.  So that makes it okay.

I certainly can't hate that.
More 12th ladies (and one Patriots fan).  All together and smiling.
So...the Seahawks are in the Superbowl and I am not at all ashamed to admit that I am beyond excited.

I am not ashamed to admit that it matters.

GO HAWKS!!!