The Moments that Make the “Why”

It is 4 am. I am awake, thinking how I would like to be outside. After coming back from vacation, my running has felt easy and strong – not effortless but full of energy, renewed in a way.

I have been keeping the mileage low this first week. Yesterday was going to be a little longer, with some trail hill repeats. It was cold, and the windchill had it feeling about 20 degrees colder, but the sun was out, bright and strong and inviting. A true spirit-lifting day amidst these weeks and weeks of winter grey.

I decided to head down to the Metropark. The paved path there is miles long, but there are trails as well, short off-shoots that run up hills or meander along the river. I managed an enjoyable 17 mile run the last time I was here, mixing pavement with horse trails, following fishermen to the water…it was a lovely run.

There is a trail hill not soon after I reach the park, only about a mile of asphalt away from the start. It is a good hill – steepish, with a couple of turns, some rocks, a deep carpet of leaves. I decided to go there.

The air was cold and the ground was icy cold. That side of the gorge was now getting the sun, however, and sections of the climb were softening into mud. The melt sunk into my shoes, and the bracing wetness on my feet contrasted with the warmth that was raining down on my head and shoulders from the sunshine. It felt really good, those two opposites.

As I was looking down, thinking about this little dichotomy of feeling and admiring the glint of ice on mud, I almost ran straight into a deer. I saw her at the last moment and stopped short, startled and perhaps hopping back a step. She was just before me, a little higher on the hill, seated in a circle of sunshine. She was, it was clear, lounging in this rare winter ray of warmth and enjoying her moment just as much as I.

We stared at each other. She rose to her feet, slowly. She was a big doe, and I had to raise my head to regard her.

I must have been a curious sight because she gazed at me, left ear twitching, with big black eyes that seemed to question, “What do I do with this human? It is supposed to be down there with the other humans, cycling or running on that black ribbon at the bottom, and yet, it is here, in the sunshine, smiling at me. Will it come closer? Move away? How curious!”

I did not move closer. This spot was hers, and the day was hers, to lounge and soak and absorb this rare gift of sun and blue sky and beauty…it was mine too, but not here, not here.

We stood together a moment, eyes locked, I believe, in a growing awareness that we were both here for the same reason. I smiled and told her to enjoy her day, then slowly backed down the hill before turning around to run again. I decided to choose another hill.

I hope she stayed.

What a beautiful moment it was.

Does a deer ever stop being so lovely? I don’t think so.

She is my “why” today.


In my estimation, I am nearly three years into what is known as “peri menopause.”  “Second Spring” has not yet happened, and I can’t wait until it does.  The changing of this season could take years, even a decade, as wiser women than I have told me.  Sigh.  While the first couple of years were really no trouble, this new stage is truly a challenge.

It isn’t that I am difficult to be with or highly emotional – nothing like that.  I don’t even have the dreaded hot flashes I hear so much about.  I do believe that because of my eating and activity habits, I am going through these changes rather smoothly.  It’s the little things – tingly hands, sometimes itchy skin for no reason, the return of “Flo” in not so regular patterns, and most of all, the sudden decreases in energy that kill my ability to run at what to me would be an acceptable pace or for a planned long period of time. Trivial to some, I suppose, but now that I am free from injury and ready to register for my first 100-mile race next year, it’s a bit disconcerting.  Instead of being in that zen moment when I feel I could run on forever, I’m struggling with “holy cow, I’m exhausted!”

I don’t believe it is all physical, either.  Often, when I check in with myself, I feel my legs are fine and my breath is good.  My brain, however, is struggling.  It wants to walk.  It wants to sleep.  It wants a cup of tea and my body wrapped in a blanket!  

I find ways to help my brain along.  I offer it a reward at my favorite cafe corner when we’ve finished a run.  I offer it naps and quiet time to process and recover.  I meditate and encourage it to grow.

Wait – grow?  

That’s not what people tend to say when they are approaching menopause.

Usually, the phrase is, “I’m getting old,” or “my life is over.”

Really.  That is what I hear and read from others, a lot.

I don’t agree, obviously.

In the times when I am meditating on this epoch (because yes, looking ahead to a decade feels like an epoch sometimes!), I am reminded that our whole lives are marked by periods of growth.  Infanthood, childhood, the teen years, the twenties, the thirties….we grow and change in different ways during these times.  Hormones rage, brains develop, social and cultural values form.  We face these changes and learn to live with our bodies and ourselves.  If we listen, we learn to move in harmony with those changes and we benefit from them.  If we resist, we become angry with ourselves and disappointed with the life we feel we’ve been dealt.  Life becomes hard.

I am not denying that our growing times are filled with challenges and uncertainty.  Think back to puberty – how frustrating was that time?  How often did we ask, why is my body acting this way, why can’t I turn off these thoughts, why am I hungry, or tired, or clumsy, or…?  We just wanted everything to stop!

I do believe that when we move through these periods of growth, many of us tend to resist the changes. We want childhood to go on forever, we want our bodies to be full of vitality and not raging with hormones, we want to be able to eat everything and anything without gaining weight.  We don’t want to grow, actually.  We want things to stay the same.  We don’t want to change our perspectives; we want the world to stay as it is, good or bad, because we are comfortable with that paradigm.  It’s scary when we don’t know where we’re going.

I believe that fear does not help at all. Perhaps it even makes the struggles worse.

If you are going through a period of change (be honest – we ALL are, somewhere along the line!) and you find yourself fearful and anxious, even depressed, consider spending time each day to think about it with a broader view.  You are growing, just as you have always done.  You’ve made it through so far.  Where will this new growth take you?  How can you help yourself grow in a positive way?  What do you need to do to embrace the growth and make it something good and exciting rather than fearful, in your mind?

I think on this question daily.  So I go today, ready for a long and slower-than-usual run, preparing for that hundred.  I’ll get there, because I am growing.

yellow tulip in spring
Photo by Kaboompics .com on

Finding the Wild

It’s cold, January cold. Yet it’s only November. Here in our new town, fall lasted all of about three days. It was glorious though, and the trees were dazzling against the dark grey of November-in-October skies.

We’ve begun to settle in. Nearly all unpacked, essential repairs (mostly) finished on the tiny, postage-stamp house we purchased, nearby parks and shops visited. We’ve even found some favorite restaurants already, all of which we can walk to.  That was a critical reason for choosing this place – we can walk to just about everything, from post office, to lake, to shopping and restaurants. We love it!

Walkability is not the only plus, however.  The town we lived in before also had many things we could walk to.  Great neighbors, festivals…all the idyllic requirements that make up a good community.  It even had a state park nearby with nice trails to run on.  This town does not have that.  Still, I find I am much happier here in this new place.  It has a sensation that I did not feel at all while living in western New York; here, despite its metropolitan location (the outskirts of Cleveland), despite the miles and miles of sidewalks and less access to actual trails, I feel this place is still, in a way, wild.

There is an energy here, and it is both wise and vivacious, it seems.  It enters through my eyes and skin and feet, and it electrifies me.

I haven’t felt this energy since living in Hawaii, and I am so excited to have it back!

My husband and I talk about what makes this place feel so much better – is it the proximity to water?  We are in easy walking distance to the shore of Lake Erie, and a river runs through a deep valley not one mile from our house.  Is it the trees?  Our old community had many trees too, but here, there seem to be more.

Is it that Nature is more closely wound into the fabric of the entire community?  That when I walk or run, I can veer off into little parks or access the shoreline, drop down into gullies, flow on the sidewalks beneath canopies of hickory, silver maple, locust, and even ginko (yes, lots! odd…) leaves?  I may be on pavement, but Nature is right here, free to breathe and touch, see and taste.  Yes, taste. Dirt and leaf and bark and stone – the smells combine in the air to make a taste.  And I relish the flavor every time I am outside.

The giant paddocks of asphalt are fewer.  Nature holds her own here; she is alive, and she is yet wild.

So, despite the bitter chill, it’s time for me to go out and run.  Time to be alive!

Very thankful this Thanksgiving that I am here, and wishing you the same, sweet taste of wild this holiday!

p.s.  A great podcast episode about finding the wild in the ordinary can be found here, on Out There podcast:

Growth – Parenting is Bittersweet

I am on a plane, headed home after seeing my child for a week. Watching her go off to school in another country away – no, another continent away – is one thing. Seeing her live in an apartment on her own and working is entirely different. Different culture, different language, different system, and without family…how many adults could accomplish what she’s doing? And yet in the U.S., she’s not even old enough to order a glass of wine.

I am overcome with emotion, both in missing her and being so proud of the independent woman she’s become. There is still room to grow, but that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? She is moving in the right direction.

Give her room, I tell myself. Don’t hold on too tight. But pray she always knows I am here with so much love when she needs me.

I didn’t know this part of parenting would be so hard.

Even the Best Made Plans…

The early October air is warm and misty, with gray skies creating a backdrop to offset the transitioning colors of red, yellow, and green. It is as if the world is in a time of quiet reflection. A perfect day for what I had planned a year ago; it was the kind of day I had hoped for. Today, I should have been running along the Delaware Canal, lost in childhood memories and the beauty of the area in which I had grown up. At this moment, I should have been somewhere in the midst of a 50+ mile run from one end of the Delaware Canal to the other. Instead, I was still in western New York, walking my dogs alongside the community lake, waiting for a young couple to finish looking at our house.

Two months ago, I was fit and ready for this run, planning my route and rest breaks, and looking forward to a break from training to go hiking in the Adirondacks. I’d be back at work soon, and I felt confident to announce my plan to my family. I had spoken to my mom about it, actually. Even a slight hiccup caused by my spouse forgetting the event and inviting his brother to come visit over the same weekend felt like a trivial thing – I could adjust somehow to that change, and those plans weren’t definite anyway. This run was going to be the highlight of my running year.

BUT— sometimes even the best made plans go awry, and through no fault of our own, those plans fall apart. In this case, the change in plans had to do with a sudden job transfer for my spouse. Out of the blue, unexpected, it was quite the shock to both of us. As a result, instead of spending the next few weeks putting together the final preparations for my upcoming journey run and enjoying two weeks of mountain climbing, we have been back and forth between locations, househunting and house packing, prepping our current home to put up for sale, and fixing up another that we eventually found. In addition, there has been the time and stress of leaving my old job and having to find another (no luck yet). Mix in the need to visit relatives because now we are again moving even further away from them, and making time to help our daughter, who is in college overseas, adjust to this new situation…there is very little time to train or even run at all.

I fully understand and take responsibility for choosing to cancel my run rather than insist upon it; however, it does not in any way negate my sadness. This run was supposed to be one of celebration: one, for my sister, who suffered a heart attack at this time last year, and whose birthday is also on this weekend; and two, for my deceased father, a man whom I loved and a man who had many dreams but for one reason or another failed in them, both for himself and for his family. My relationship with him is something that remains a bit complicated inside. As I prepared for this run, my thoughts increasingly moved toward him. He loved us, I know, and as I visualized this journey, I began to see it as a way to reflect on the good things about my dad and my childhood, and to reflect on the dreams I know he really had for us. One might think that such reflection could happen at any time, but the idea of doing it while running through the length of the Delaware Canal State Park, a place my father loved, seemed to me a way to both honor him and lay some demons to rest.

I feel in a way that this type of internal journey run is something I need even more, now that my life — our lives — are in the midst of considerable change. To be sure, there are wonderful things to look forward to and, after all, I do believe that life is an adventure. I know that I can always train for something else, but I think in the midst of all this upheaval, a run that is only for myself would be a good thing.

Not today though. Instead, I walk along a lake. Maybe the young couple will buy the house.

FOOTNOTE: We did get to hike in the Adirondacks, but on a shorter-than-planned schedule. A magical place – we plan to go back. Seven high peaks in five days, plus some other great hikes! Just a little too busy to write about it at the time.

Staying in for a friend

It rained today.  Normally, I love running in summer rain – it’s warm, the rain feels good splashing across my body as I move, and the colors of the landscape appear muted and hushed.  It’s magical, in a way, and it fills me.  Today, however, I stayed home.  I did not not run, mind you, I did, but inside, on the treadmill.  Was it a cop out, you wonder?  Was I feeling lazy?  No, not at all.  Days like today energize me.  It was, I suppose, guilt.  Yeah, guilt.  In the form of four paws and a pair of elderly eyes that gave me that look as I gathered my gear together.  Loyal eyes that used to gaze out over a mountain bluff with me, that danced with excitement when they spied a deer or a badger or a squirrel, and sparkled with joy while bounding across a field by my side.  Now those eyes are cloudy, excited but a little tired, eager but perhaps feeling a little regret over a body that won’t move quite the way it used to.  Those kind of eyes.  Today, I just couldn’t leave those eyes behind.

Hunny is our well-traveled yellow lab, and she has flown more times than most humans.  She was born in China, moved to Slovakia, then to America, Russia, back to America but on the island state of Hawaii, and finally here, to the mainland state of New York.  It is likely she will have one more move, but it is safe to say, her running days are well behind her.  While we traveled, she was my expedition partner, going with me as I explored parks in China, mountains in Slovakia, and trails in the U.S.  By the time we reached Hawaii, our trips resorted to hiking, not running, and then one day, she let me know the mountains were no longer a place that she could go.  We stuck to walks through gentle parks and along the beaches, pausing to swim in areas where the water was calm.  She loves her walks.  Nowadays, we will go and, if she is up to it, we’ll go for about two miles, taking a rest break in the grass if she needs to.  I usually let her determine which direction we should go.  If we are moving and I see her pause, I ask, “Which way, sweetie,” and she turns her head to let me know, “this way.”  We mosey along, moving where the mood takes her.  Some days, we only make it down the block, then turn back for home again.  That’s okay.  Either way, we finish with me giving her a full-body rub down in the grass.  Currently, that rub-down creates a cloud of soft yellow fur flying all around, as it’s shedding season, but it’s worth it.  Hunny purrs like a cat almost, enjoying the massage.  Her pleasure from the touch of a human has grown as she has aged, it seems.

I am happy to give it.  She has been a part of our family for over twelve years now.  My daughter’s playmate and companion, her comforter and loyal friend.  To me, she has been my constant three-year old, demanding my attention whenever visitors come over, and demanding theirs as well.  She has been our protector and friend, and for several years, she was my running partner.  The only real partner I’ve ever had.  The memories I have of her and I, barreling down hills of snow, pausing along a stream and sharing water, swimming in the ocean…my constant companion in nature.  The first time I realized she could no longer go very far with me was painful for both of us, I believe.  We have learned to accept it, but sometimes, sometimes, I can see the sadness in her eyes as I prepare to leave, and I cannot go through with it.  On those days, like today, I stay home.  I run on a treadmill while she sleeps nearby, and after I am finished, usually as I prepare to do a strength or yoga routine, she comes closer to lay on my towel, nudging for a kiss or a scratch or a pat.  Yes, it is mildly annoying, but it makes me happy too.  Dogs are magical in the way they bring pleasure by asking for your love.  It is their gift, I think.

I do not know how many days Hunny has left on this earth with us.  Some days, I am convinced she has years.  Other days, I worry.  I want to cherish the time with this dog who has given me so much.  If that means copping out on an outside run and a trip of my own to a trail, so be it.  She’s worth it. 


Race Report – Many on the Genny

I called my mom on Sunday to tell her I had finished my race. “All 40 miles?” she asked.

“Well, 42, to be exact.”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“I get it from you, Mom.”

“Me? I can’t run like that!”

“It’s not the running, Mom. You know how to just keep going. You never quit.”

“Aww, babe, thank you.”

I heard the tears in her voice. My mom is the best, and I owe it all to her. ❤️

My race report:

Good (Trail) Karma

Today I went to Letchworth State Park to help clear trails in preparation for the Many on the Genny, and I had the opportunity to meet some really great people. There weren’t many of us – the two race directors and five adults. Two of those adults were married and had brought their four kids (I had the impression that these kind of outings were pretty normal for them, and they did great!). We worked on two sections of the course, and it was very helpful getting a preview, as one section in particular was fully under water when I last tried to inspect it. It was tough work – cutting and moving downed trees, hacking and trimming overgrown areas, sneezing our heads off as the pollen flew everywhere. Even so, we all, I believe, had a really good time.

In particular, I walked and worked with two people who had many great stories tell. Jim told me stories of bears and hail and late spring snows during events, all of which seem par for the course when running in western New York and northern Pennsylvania. He knows how to tell some good ones. Sarah is two years younger than I and talks like my sister. I felt totally at ease with her as we talked trail running, triathlons (that’s her thing), kids, and snot rockets…it was great conversation as we sawed and chopped and lifted. The banter kept us going while we, if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job getting those trails ready for race day.

After everyone left, I traded my work pants for shorts and pulled on my sneakers, then went and ran the section we had worked on, plus a couple of others. I am so glad I did. Those trails are not all nice and easy, and certainly not groomed or marked. The RDs said the event would be “old school” – participants would have to have a good set of basic trail reading skills to find their way, and they are right. Despite our work, a lot of the “single track” becomes “barely track,” and large chunks have no markings at all. I have been studying the map and instructions, and I am so glad I’ve also taken the time to preview sections at different times. It will be a difficult run, but after today, I am feeling more confident about what to expect. Moreover, I am hoping that trail karma puts me in a slightly more favorable position on race day. At the very least, I’ll have Sarah to look for at the starting line, and Jim has promised to keep his aid station stocked until I get there. : )

If you can, I highly suggest you sign up to help clear the trails before your next race. You might learn a few things and make some new friends as well!

Don’t let that picture fool you, that water goes up to my hip, and the only good way to cross is straight through!

The Art of Adventure

I’m listening to a podcast at the moment, the first of a series called, “Safety Third” (being aired on its parent program, “Dirt Bag Diaries”). The person in the program is talking about base jumping, but the main point of the program is not what I’m focusing on right now. What I am taking away right now is something the speaker just said, and it has struck a cord so deeply in me that my entire body is reverberating with its truth: adventure is an art.

The speaker, an avid climber, is talking about why he got into base jumping. It wasn’t for the adrenaline, it wasn’t for the fame; it was for the opportunity to do something new, like coming to a mountain no has ever climbed and figuring out to do it. That process is as creative, he says, as drawing or painting.

My reaction — heck yeah, he’s got it!!

This is EXACTLY why I run. Yes, I know I am not any great adventurer. I haven’t packed my bags and gone off to Nepal or the Sahara or Kilimanjaro. The places I choose, however, are normally not the usual places hosting the general congo line of pavement pounders, shuffling along paths that to me are predictable and boring. I explore where I am and use my paths to discover the world around me.

Here is the point though: to me, certain paths are boring; to others, they are an adventure. Perhaps it’s the first time running at all. Perhaps that congo line represents a change of some sort — of surroundings, of habits, of people — all these things represent a fresh canvas in a person’s life, a new set of boundaries to take one out of the comfort zone and into the unknown. Navigating through the unknown – therein lies the creative process.

For example, when I am out in the car or visiting somewhere, I am constantly wondering, “what would it be like to run here?” I drive a certain road as it stretches before me, undulating through towns and farms for miles and miles, and I dream about how I might feel, running from x to y. Who would I meet, how would I fuel, how fast and far could I go?

Thinking, planning, and acting on these journeys is indeed a creative process. Sometimes, like now as I make my final preparations for my next big race, the process scares me. I struggle with angry butterflies swirling from the pit of my stomach, filling me with fear. How will my project end? Will the results be pretty or just one hot mess? Will it be worthy of pride or just the trash bin?

Whatever the outcome, I know that I like standing before that empty canvas of possibilities. I can’t wait to see what my training and my vision will bring to life.

THIS is why I run. This adventure, this ART, fills me with joy. It is creative, spontaneous, beautiful, risky, and challenging. It doesn’t always turn out right, but if it did, it wouldn’t be creative. It’d just be predictable. Who on earth wants that?

Go out, face your canvas, and make some art!