All posts by dsue

I Don’t Fit the Box

Running, I am slow. After moving to a new region, I find I am slower still. New surroundings, more road, still adjusting.

I miss my home.

To be sure, there are wonderful things about this move.

I have my family, including two dogs, for whom this move was made. I have neighbors who all seem to be terrific people. I once again have a yard to putter around in. The area around my home is also very pretty.

But.

There is no wild.

My spaces are limited; tamed trails trapped by property and roadways, with nothing to fear except humans, whom I rarely encountered before. Oddly, I fear them more than wild dogs, rock slides, and boar (can you blame me?).

Without the element of wild, there’s a beauty missing.

I don’t feel I belong here. I am trying but I do not yet feel connected.

The same goes for my professional life.

There, in my former home, I was connected. It was hard work: intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging. 

My life’s history had meaning there. People saw it and connected.

Here, people see the history and don’t connect. They can’t fit me into the right boxes.

Overqualified here, title not quite right there. Certified, yes, but not exactly in this state’s way or with that exact stamp.

Interviews happen with comments like “Impressive,” and “Well, you certainly have a lot of experience.” These, I have come to realize, are code for “You don’t fit.”

Perhaps the only box I fit is the one labeled “Other”?

Maybe so. Maybe so.

The loss I feel…

The loss, I feel…

…is theirs.

(as you may have guessed, I’ve moved. Same country, new continent. It has not yet been a month.)

Never Close Your Eyes to a Moment

I have been busy, very busy, lately. Little sleep, lots of labor, facing deadlines. Little time for chitchat and such, but reminding myself that I have to make time for important things like walking my dog, Hunny, listening to my child’s stories, etc. When we are busy like that, it is easy to become hyper-focused and forget that we are here for a purpose, and that purpose is not just to ourselves. Today, I had a reminder of that and I am thankful for it.

I had just finished strolling with Hunny. We had gone to the beach and I had allowed her a little time to swim, knowing that I’d given her short shrift over the past couple days. While I worked all night Sunday and was away from home, my daughter said our pup barked incessantly with that short yelp she does when she is unhappy. I felt guilty, I admit. So she swam a bit and we were almost home when I spied a woman sitting on the curb near my building. “Good morning!” I said. She smiled. Something about that smile. I hadn’t seen her before, an older woman (well actually, probably about my age). I walked a little closer on my way to my building. She looked at me with a tad bit of anxiety, so I stopped and asked, “Can I help you with something?”

She whipped out her phone and showed it to me. “Please, here? Help me find?” She spoke only rudimentary English, if even that. I looked at her phone. There was a man’s name and an address, but not to any of the buildings in my complex. And the last part of the street address wasn’t correct. There is no “Street” here; there is “Circle” and “Place” and “Road,” but no “Street.” This woman had no idea where she was. A quick search on Google had me worried that she had picked the wrong town entirely.

I searched a little more and decided that no, she was in the right place, almost. I found the number of the building she was supposed to go to. I pointed in the direction she needed to go but then I thought, she doesn’t speak any English, she looks very confused and anxious…she needs someone to help her.  I pointed to myself and said, “I’ll go with you.”

The woman thanked me over and over. As we were walking (I was still dragging Hunny, as she is one who likes to mosey more than walk these days), the woman said, “I walk two hours here.” Wow! It was hot already and the asphalt just made things worse. “I Filipino.” I chitchatted and told her that many of my students are Filipino, but she didn’t understand. I think just speaking pleasantly and walking beside her was relieving though. She looked better.

After a little searching, we found the general place we were supposed to be. The area is a warren of ramshackle warehouses and run-down shops. I wondered what she could have to do here. I knew that some people lived in second floor rooms of some places, but none that we asked at were the right location. Just then, she remembered a number and said, “Please, you call?”

I did call. It was the number to a caseworker, Yes, we were in the right spot, and we needed to find a certain shop and search for a man named Peter. That was all the information the caseworker had, apparently.

We went to the shop. It was closed. The guys working in a warehouse next door only knew of a man named Dave, and they hadn’t seen him yet this morning. I thought about it – I remembered this run-down second-hand furniture store had another entrance where it stores stuff in the back. I motioned to the woman and said, “Come with me. We will check there.”

I still had Hunny. The woman was a little nervous. It is a crappy looking area, but I pass through it frequently. We were fine.

We walked a bit and got to the back of the warehouse. We found a woman sitting in the pile and I asked if she knew anyone named Peter. “Oh, he lives up there,” and she pointed to a window on the second floor. “Just go through there and stay to the left, up the stair.”

She called up, “Hey Peter! Pete! Somebody here for you!” A guy came to the window but did not show his face. “Okay, just come up.”

There was no real door there; it was just an opening. Inside was dark and dirty, with junk everywhere. There was a small, dark hall and then light coming from an angle above, so I figured there had to be the staircase. The woman hung back a little. I had Hunny, so I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll go with you.” Hunny and I went first. As we turned the corner to find the stairs, I could see that the top floor looked more like a home. It was lighter and less cluttered. The woman looked at me and said, “Okay, I fine. Thank you very much!”

Hunny and I walked down and out the door. At that same moment, a truck pulled up and a woman got out. “Are you the one I talked to on the phone?” I said yes. “Thank you so much for your help. I’m the caseworker. I can help from here.” Apparently, the woman who I was helping is part of a home care program, and this was her first time coming to this spot. Perhaps the caseworker had given her better directions but, not speaking English, the woman just did not understand. Who knows. All I know is that we found the space, she was relieved, and Hunny had a little adventure.

30 minutes of my time, and it’s made things into a good day.  It was an unexpected and unsought for moment, but helping someone was totally worth it.  : )

Blessed

photo_2017-04-11_15-47-07The wind is free,
I feel dirt beneath my feet.

The hill is before me to climb,
Promising the reward of descent.

The miles pass below me,
Timeless,
Measured by my steps and breaths.

What is time anyway?

When pace meets breath,
And body becomes the breeze;
Sweat is like the dew grass,
Measuring the balance between body and universe.

I am Nature,
I am Nature herself.

I flow,

I move,

I course,

Through the contours of the land and sea and air;
Within Nature and through her,

Pulsing,

Dancing,

Flowing,

In straight lines and curves,

Rushing,

Crashing,

Babbling,

To points of quiet where my rhythm slows,
And rapid steps decline to almost ceasing,

In places where my banks are silent
And my heart is filled with peace.

photo_2017-04-11_15-44-55

What’s Your Best?

Every track practice, I get nervous. Butterflies, trips to the bathroom and such. I know it’s going to be hard, and I’m scared. We train hard. I push, trying to follow the coach’s instructions and advice to the letter. I worry, what if I can’t do it? I do it anyway.

I have never been on a track team before. Why am I doing it now? I am hardly doing it for competition – I run with kids who are nearly 40 years younger than I. And honestly, I have never been a competitive person.

It hit me today why I am doing this. I have never been one who has wanted to be “the best.” I am, however, one who wants to be “my best.”

I know there is more in me that I cannot seem to pull out on my own. I’m thankful to have a found a group that challenges me. I want to find out what “my best” is. I challenge you to find that too, in running or whatever your passion is.

(I run with a community track team that allows “noncompetitive” members to train with competitive athletes. These athletes just happen to be members of the middle and high school track and other sports teams. I have never run track in my life. Not a problem.)

Celebration, not a race.

Does it have to be a race to count as an ultra? I don’t think so. Do you have to run with others for it to count? Again, I say no. Where I now live, there are no ultras. Heck, there are hardly any trail races at all (in fact, there are only three I can think of, and all three are on the same trail), and I can’t afford the money or the time to fly off island to a location that has an ultra race. On top of that, I barely know anyone who lives here who even runs trails, let alone ultras. Seriously, I’ve asked around. Even if I could, I know of no one to race with.

In lieu of racing, then, I decided to set my own personal challenge.

On Saturday, October 16, I set out to run a dawn to dusk course I mapped out for myself. The total length was about 55 miles, but that was an approximate number, I knew. I came up with the length by taking routes from my Strava and roughly connecting them together, from Olawalu in the south to Kapalua in the north. I then mapped them out on my DeLorme InReach (which is now owned by Garmin, I found) satellite GPS to create a course. The route would be a general guide and, though I hadn’t specifically trained to run 55 miles, I was confident that I’d do it or come close. It just depended on the time.

What was the reason for my run, you ask? Well – first, I HAD planned to run a race on another island in October, but it had gotten cancelled. I still wanted a challenge though. I came up with one plan for a run over a short mountain trail, but recent rainstorms had altered that trail significantly and, frankly, it was no longer all that fun to run. I had been doing a lot of climbing to prep for it but the changes made the course a little too treacherous. A challenge like that would require more time to train. October was an important month to me though, and that brings me to my second reason, the fact that I had lived a whole year in West Maui. A little over, actually, but I remember that it was in October of last year when I began to seriously explore the mountains by running them. On Maui, there are trails everywhere, but very few are catalogued. Most are on Haleakala as part of the national park. Those trails, however, are up to three hours away, depending on traffic. Not so easy to get to. I knew the few trails listed in books or on the web couldn’t be all there were. Nobody I spoke to seemed to know much however, so I decided I’d start running and see what I could find.

I found a treasure trove, and I wanted to celebrate them. Over the past year, I have learned so much about the land here and I feel as if I’ve developed a spiritual connection with it. I have spent so many hours exploring, communing with, and caring for this land that I felt a need to run it in a big way, to spend an entire day in the midst of it. It was a way for me to say, “thank you.”

Originally, I called the plan my “Personal Challenge Run,” but very soon into the event, I changed it to “Celebration.”

I started in Kapalua, along the Mahana Ridge Trail. I was only going to run to a certain point and turn around, rather than run up to the Arboretum Trail along the Honolua Ridge. It is super muddy up there and I knew if I went, it would be a slow run. Also, if I ran through the Arboretum, I knew I’d stop at the banyan tree that grows there. It’s massive. Stopping by that tree is a reward for reaching the top, and every time I stop to look at the tree, I climb it. Stopping to climb of course means I stop running. I didn’t want to have too many stops like that on this day, I thought. Skip the Arboretum. Once I started on the Mahana, however, the banyan tree kept calling. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I found myself going up through the pineapple grove, the eucalyptus groves, sloshing through mud and the watershed area, and then to the Arboretum. There is a loop trail around the banyan. It is dark and quiet. I thought, “I’ll just run the loop and look at the tree.” Ha, fat chance. As soon as I reached the loop, I was drawn like a magnet to the tangled mass of shoots that make up this wonderful city of a tree, and I knew it would have been downright WRONG of me to not pay a visit. Gosh, I love that banyan. It goes on and on, one clump of roots here and another there, forming a network of climbable roots extending deep into a mattress of leaves so thick, my feet spring across the top. The tree stretches across that leafy pile, all connected above and below. Honestly, a person could live in that tree.

I spent too much time in that banyan, I knew, but I was very happy. That was when I began to think this run ought not so much to be a challenge, but rather a celebration.

Kapalua was a mud slog, and by the time I got down to the Coastal Trail and the roads in Napili (just one short trail there) to Honokowai, I was covered in dried dirt. A man actually blocked my way on the sidewalk to ask what in the world I was doing because I looked “like a Navy Seal or something.” Not wanting to get bogged down in conversation, I just said, “I’m going for 50 today,” and he let me go after that. Another runner stopped me just as I was entering an off-road section to ask, “Hey, do you know that ridge trail people talk about? Is it a good one?” “It’s muddy today,” I said. “How bad is it?” I lifted my leg on a wall to show him the mud, and he said, “Shit no. I’m not ready for that!” and off he went to pound the pavement some more.

I love Napili and Honokowai, but I do not like that pavement. It was the only time my feet complained. I was happy the pavement would end at my one and only pit stop, a small parking lot south of Honokowai. My fabulous friend had agreed to meet me there with my “drop box” of extra water, a thermos of iced coffee, two more clementine oranges, and a change of shoes, socks, and clothes. I ate one clementine, poured my water, changed everything, and savored that coffee. Then I was off again. What a terrific break! My friend is such a trooper.

The parking lot is along the highway, with an adjoining road that leads up into the an area I call the “cane barrens” and alongside a coffee farm. I don’t run through the plantation because it is private property. It is sometimes hard to determine what land is open and what land is private, but I do make it a point to stay out of areas that I know are legit private. I missed a turn-off somewhere, however, and found myself running along the plantation’s edge. There was a bounty of colorful coffee berries growing on the tall green trees, and the sound of the wind, which blew through the rows of coffee trees with great force, sounded like a truck rally at some points, and wild ghosts moaning at others. I marveled at the sound and wanted to fly into that wind. I wondered if it would be stronger up higher – even hoped it would be – but it wasn’t. When I reached the government roads above the plantation, the winds had died into a world of sunny warmth and quiet. Giant blue dragonflies and orange butterflies lazily flitted around the reservoir, and the long  climb up the deep dirt road was interrupted only by bird song and bees buzzing in the tall cane grass. At one point, on a short off-shoot trail I had rediscovered, a came across a just-ripe guava that must have recently fallen from a tree heavy with fruit. I was feeling the need for refreshment after climbing, so I picked it up and split it open. Biting into that sensuous fruit after a long, hot climb was AH! so satisfying!

By now, I was so caught up in the beauty of my moments, I decided to text my friend and tell her, “I’m not going to make 50. This day is just too beautiful to let pass by.”

From that point on, the day was all about appreciation, serendipity, and the joy of the trail.

I ran slowly, soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells around me. I found so much fruit in season, and flowers on trees that weren’t there earlier in the summer. Autumn even comes to Maui, I thought. Still though, the heat and the ocean views reminded me where I was, blessed on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific.

At one point, on the other side of a ridge, I passed into a wooded area that leads down onto grassy slopes. Because the weather had been so wet lately, the woods and grasslands were no longer in their usual desert-brown, kindling-ready condition. Everything had changed, and I was looking down on slopes of green dotted with pinks and reds and yellows from fruits and flowers on the trees. Once again, I found myself stopping over and over just to soak it in.

I do love this part of my route. The trail climbs up and up until the trail bends around a point, moving to hug the edge of a deep gorge, with a deep and narrow canal running along the upper side. As I turn the bend, I hear the waterfall I will soon have to cross. I follow the path, climb over two landslides that must have happened during the big storms a few weeks prior, pass the canal’s tunnel entrance, and there it is, a narrow torrent of water rushing noisily down the cliffside to the bottom of the gorge below. The top of the waterfall is not wide – one just has to hop over – but the path is narrow and slippery, and the water was flowing hard. If I missed my footing, I’d be sent tumbling down a very long and bumpy ride to the bottom, with no expectation of anyone finding me for a long while. “Thank goodness for my GPS, and thank goodness I had let people know my plans,” I thought. The spot is just treacherous enough to cause one to pause a moment before taking the jump. No problem. I hopped over, getting my feet only a little wet. Love those sticky soles on my Five Finger shoes.

Around another bend, and then it was time to descend into the old cane fields. The grassy slopes of this area contain criss-crossing paths of deep red dirt going in all directions. Some are overgrown and hidden in grass growing seven feet tall or more; others are somewhat groomed because this is the territory of the dirt bikers, the motorcross enthusiasts. There are many here on Maui. Nobody talks about these trails that much, but the bikers know them and maintain them. Thank you, motorcross guys! I move from footpath to bike paths, flitting here and there, going wherever I feel. I don’t have to worry too much; I know my home is south and the ocean is west. Really, there is no way to get lost unless a person goes up and over the peaks. Inside the peaks, the forest is deeper and the ravines more dangerous, and not a place to explore on one’s own, without respect and knowledge of the land. Moreover, the interior of the mountains is sacred and the land is our island’s watershed. It should not be disturbed. I respect that and truly believe that when Maui feels fit to let me in, he will.

Running, running….hey, there’s a canal that is no longer flowing. Has the water been diverted? It appears so, because the one lock is filled deep. I don’t see a hole to reroute the water, but it must be flowing somewhere. I decide to take the dry canal. I had been here before, I realize.

I walk a ways until I get to a place I remembered hiking through with a friend. I climb out and cross down through a riverbed, then enter a grassy area filled with native koa and other trees. The koa trees here are strong. Their bark reminds me of cantaloupe skin. I turn down one path and recognize it as the path on which my favorite climbing tree stands. Funny, but just a few days before, I dreamt about that tree. There is something about it that exudes strength and comfort. I don’t see it. I pause to look up and admire the sunshine filtering through the pale green canopy and, to my amazement, I see a bat!  It flies around my head and flits down the path, into a tree that is overgrown with and covered with dried grass. A perfect hiding spot. Spotting hoary bats on Maui is rare. The bats are endemic to Hawaii but few in number, and little is known about the mammals because they tend to live solitary lives and do not exhibit regular bat habits Seeing this one feels like a blessing.

I whispered to the bat and thanked him for showing himself to me, and when I look past his roost down the trail I see it – my tree. I don’t know why it seems so perfect. It isn’t very large or very different from the other koas in the area. It just feels…solid. And safe. I love this tree. I climb it, and look out over the green slope, then look back at the bat tree, wishing I could stay here a long, long time.

After a while, though, I knew it was time to go. Bat had gone to sleep and I needed to get below. I climbed down and started running through the sky-high grass. Soon, I heard the sound of motorbikes. Darn. I did not expect them here so late in the afternoon. They usually start around 9  or 10 in the morning and finish by noon. But there were about six. I stopped, listening for their direction. One was close by, but the others were heading in the direction I wanted to go. Drat. They were heading to the Oasis Trail.

The Oasis Trail – or so I call it – is a shallow gorge that houses one of the important streams flowing from the mountains to the ocean. The dirt bikers have built a trail along it that I love to run. It is filled with pheasants. At least one owl lives there. When the cane barrens are dry, coming into this area is like an oasis – cool, shaded, with the sound of water tumbling over the characteristic boulders that are found in every streambed around here. I was hoping to make it there to offer my obeisance, but not with dirt bikers around. I do not fear the cyclists, but I did not want to join in their party either. I knew the one biker was nearby, but he had stopped in an area that acts as a crossroads to many paths, an area which looks like the hub of a wheel. I came out of one footpath, marked his bike and noted he was not with it, and ran off in a direction going south, lateral to the mountains, rather than west and down to the Oasis. I stayed on the foot trails, hopping over ridges and roots, moving away from the sound of motors, until I came across a somewhat unfamiliar dry stream. I felt like I had been here before, but there had been water in it at that time. Now it was perfectly dry, and leading down deeper into a ravine. As no bikers could make their way here, I decided to climb in and see where it led.

The stream was dry and quiet. The previous storms had choked the ravine with fallen trees and leafy debris. I could smell water but saw none. The rocks were mostly dry. Huge boulders tumbled with little ones. Yes, I had been here before, I knew, because I recognized some of the formations. Here would be a small waterfall; there would be a great place to sit and dip my feet. I decided to keep going, as it felt like a gift. Hopping rocks is something I have always loved to do and here was about a mile or so of it for me to enjoy!

I did enjoy it, climbing up one boulder and jumping off another, trying to move as silently as possible and not disturb the birds. Obviously, I did absolutely no running here. When the bed finally became too choked with brush to follow, I found a spot to climb up and out. By then the bed was in a ravine about 20-30 feet deep, and climbing out was a pleasure. Once out, I looked left and immediately spied a path. Which way to go? Up? Over? Down? I chose up and then eventually found a dirt road I had not been on before.

I wasn’t exactly sure where I was, so I kept running until I came to a gate. I was on the other side of a “No Trespassing” sign. Oops. That sign was on the dirt road though, and not on the path that climbed over a little hill and onto another road that intersected on the “right” side of that sign. So I climbed up and over and ran on.

Eventually, I realized that I was in the part of the cane barren that I had first explored, behind the Gateway Shopping Center. Now though, I was much higher. High enough that I could see two landmarks easily, a large “L” chalked into the side of a hill about 2,000 feet up, and a mound about 700 feet that I call Crater Hill. I love to run up both of them. I had never seen either from this position, so again, it felt like a gift. Thank you, Maui, for being so beautiful. Just then, a couple wheeled by in jeep. That was surprising. I kept going.

Run, run, turn down a little ways and hey, isn’t this the ranch? Was I on the wrong side? Was I going to be gated in? How would I explain my presence there?  Would they believe me if I told them I had accidentally ran there? Going a little further, I found I was in fact in the area of the ranch but fortunately, just on the other side, and as I came out, a guy in a pick-up eyed me suspiciously. Hey, I was not on his property (I think). I just kept going. I knew where I was now.

Down past Crater Hill, down through the barren, down onto the Cane Road, past the gate, across Keawe Street, and into the new area that was supposed to be a park but was now going to be a subdivision. I stopped on the roadside to exchange water bottles in my pack. A guy walking out from the shack on the corner of the Cane Road looked at me funny. He must have been wondering, “Who’s this crazy looking woman wearing a pack and covered in dirt? Where the heck has she been?”

I run through the park-turned-potential-subdivision, through the neighborhood where someone once yelled to get my haole ass out of there (no one does that any more; they must know I’m not a tourist), and onto Lahainaluna. It was getting late, but I wanted to see how far I could get on the L side before I had to head back home. Somewhere just before leaving the cane fields, I had decided that I really could use some ice cream. Up to now, my diet had consisted of a few almonds, dried cherries, one guava, three clementines, and water (plus that awesome coffee). I texted my good friend and asked, “Hey, want to meet me at the ice cream shop at 6:30?” She texted back, “Sure,” so that meant I would end my run there. I headed up the trail towards the L. I knew I wasn’t going to get all the way up, but I do enjoy the trail there. I paused once or twice to view the setting sun. Then I heard the dogs.

My neighbors had told me about the wild dogs. I had heard about them before, but I had not seen any evidence of them so far. My neighbors, though, have a small farm in that area, and they have security cameras up to prevent poachers from stealing their produce. That Wednesday, my neighbor told me that had captured a pack of wild dogs, about eight of them, on camera. Those same dogs, they said, had killed other farmers’ goats and pigs. Because of that news, I was carrying weapons. I had a sock loaded with a weight, and I also had a knife, a whistle, and my personal alarm. I had planned to run through this area around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, but now it was about 5:45 and getting dark. I don’t care what weapons I had, nobody was going to be up here and I did not want to be in the dark, facing a pack of eight (or maybe more) dogs that were known to kill other animals. I decided it was time to turn around.

I booked it down the hill and back onto Lahainaluna. I passed a man walking his friendly dogs and I asked if I could pet them. He said, “Sure.” Then he asked, “Auntie, why are you so dirty? You been hiking a long time or somethin’?” I told him I had started in Kapalua on the Mahana Trail and made my way down to here, via the mountains. He said, “Auntie, you BAD.” We talked a minute about the mountains and how beautiful they are, and said our goodbyes.

I pulled into the parking lot of the ice cream shop at 6:17 pm. A little early. Perhaps I could have run the parking lot. But that would have been a downer, I think. I stopped, waited for my friend, and we went in to order ice cream. I got a scoop of vanilla and split the second scoop: half strawberry, half guava, in honor of the delicious fruit that got me through my second half of the day.  My friend presented me with a medal she had made herself, a ti lei holding a small medallion stating, “1st Place, West Maui Mountain Ultra.” It is the best bling I have ever earned.

I did not run 50 miles and to many, that might seem like a failure. That I took so long to run 40 would seem like a joke to some as well. I don’t care. The value of running long distances to me is in the joy of doing it, of being in nature, of drinking in the outdoors through every part of my senses for as long as possible. My only regret is that the day ended and I couldn’t stay out there. I realized that even after a year, I still have so much to explore. The trees up there call to me, and I want to go. Whether I run fast or slow makes no difference. Fast – I am enjoying the freedom of the flow, of flying in the place that fills me with joy. Slow – I am drinking in the tranquility and beauty that fills my heart with gratitude. To me, the joy is in the journey, however it turns out to be.

Pushing the Boundaries, MY Boundaries

I am not a celebrated runner. Heck, I don’t even race much. Ever since I was a kid, however, running through the woods behind my elementary school and hopping rocks and running paths in parks around suburban Philadelphia, I’ve been a trail runner. Even when years of debilitating migraines kept me from running, my joy was always to be out in the woods or on a prairie path, walking. After turning my life around by changing my lifestyle, In my late thirties I found I was able to run again. What a joy of rediscovery that was, and what an empowering experience to know that my physical ailments did not have to rule my life.

When I started running again, I didn’t have many trails to run. I was living in a foreign country, in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. While in Japan, I was keenly aware of my position as an outsider, a female, and a mother. There were behaviors that I perceived to be the norm for those roles, and running was not one of them. At the time, in that city, women just did not exercise outdoors. Especially women my age, and certainly not foreigners. I was intimidated by custom and my perception of social expectations. I did manage to find some paths to plod, running along the river or in the Shukkeien Garden near my home. When it came to being in real wilderness, however, I never ran, and never went alone. Always, I was with family.

After that came our move to China, and that is where my running became a more serious endeavor. There was a lot of treadmill running at the start, as the city where we lived, Chongqing, is pretty polluted. Still, in a place surrounded by mountains and mist, how could I not explore? I started by running the city, exploring side streets, then running through a sports park where people would watch me through the fences, as you had to pay 2 yuan to get in. Next came Pipa Shan, a small peak right in the middle of the city, filled with old men playing their erhus or playing chess while their birds sang in cages, and grandmothers walking with their grand babies or carrying their washing or whatever they shopped for on their backs. There were the trails in the park behind the university I attended, where I met a family who showed me how to catch, fry and eat cicadas, and another small mountain as well, a supposed botanical park, on the top of which was a small makeshift village. I would run through that and people would laugh and smile and point, commenting loudly about the white woman running down the dirt street. They were always polite and I loved stopping to chat now and again.

Gradually, as my running expanded, my experiences with people and myself expanded as well. In each new place I visited, each new country I lived, I started with something small, a circle or straight distance that was well-defined, safe, and predictable. Even on vacation, I’d start that way. Walk the city and decide, “okay, tomorrow I’ll just run here,” but then the next day, push the distance even further. Read the maps and envision. Settle the butterflies and decide to go just a few blocks more.

I think back on these times and am filled with wonder at the places my running has taken me. There are other countries and other paths, from cities to mountains to beaches. The wonder is not so much about where I ran, however, as it is that I managed to do it at all. You see, I was not a very outgoing or confident person. I was really quite shy, unsure of myself, and downright afraid of doing something new on my own. I still am in some ways, but I am nowhere near where I used to be. Running changed that for me.

I reminisce because a few weeks ago, a woman posted a question on a Facebook running forum I subscribe to. How do people get over there fear to run trails alone? She wanted to desperately, but couldn’t figure out how to conquer her fear. People posted helpful advice, the most common of which was, “just run.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when you are as timid as I was, and possibly living in a new place, “just run” is advice that doesn’t cut it. The fear paralyzes a person. It paralyzed me. It took a lot of effort and soul searching and thinking about what to do before I could break through the wall that kept me bound.

As I read that woman’s post, I thought about how to answer. What could I tell her about my experience? For me, learning to run alone is about a gradual expansion of boundaries, from running what is close and familiar to taking a new turn one day and sticking with it for a few weeks, then taking another and adding that to the mix. Little by little, the familiar ground widens, and every little trial on that ground helps boost my confidence that I can overcome similar situations in new territory.

When I thought about my answer to her, I realized that this advice did not only reflect my experience on the trail, but it reflected an experience I was having with myself. Each bout of butterflies in my stomach and the subsequent joy that came from setting those butterflies free made me more sure of myself, more confident in my own judgment. I could do this, because I’d proven mile by mile – sometimes just half-mile by half-mile – that I had faced my fear and succeeded before. Surely a half-mile more wouldn’t be so bad. Little by little, the half-mile becomes 2, then 5, then 10. And I discover there is more in me of courage and strength than I realized.

I know there are others who would look at my runs and think they were nothing compared to the amazing adventures and distances they’ve explored. I know there are others who would see the pace of my self-expansion as way too slow for them. For me, however, it’s perfect. Whether it’s my own hometown or one of the many places I’ve been to around the world, taking the time to expand my physical boundaries has helped me to broaden the limits even within myself.

I say to you, woman, go at your pace, add inches or miles, but move forward. You will find so much more than distance.

What Now? The Motivating Endurance Question

This post is based on the podcast http://www.richroll.com/podcast/james-lawrence/

I’ve been listening to an interview with a guy, James Lawrence, who is going to attempt 50 Iron Man races in 50 days. Both he and his wife and five kids are totally into the project. While that sounds like an utterly extreme and crazy goal, I was struck by his humble and balanced nature.

I love that a good number of endurance athletes are incredibly humble.  They view their goals, not as ‘hunt down/chase down/fight and succeed” type challenges, but instead as challenges that are more like the culmination of steps in a process of change and development.  They believe that what they are doing may seem incredible, but truly, anyone could do the same, if the goal is pursued with patience and done one step at a time.  For Lawrence, the drive is not to be “the best.”  At his core, I believe, Lawrence’s drive is personal and motivated by something that is, in essence, very simple: curiosity.  When asked (I’m paraphrasing here), “on a personal level, why are you doing this,” his response was to talk about his journey, beginning with the question, “why can’t I run 4 miles?  I should be able to run 4 miles,” to now asking, “I want to find out where my breaking point is and, when I get there, ask myself, ‘okay, what are you going to do now?'”

Ting!  Lawrence’s words struck a chord with me.  His drive is not competition; his drive is based on a pure and natural curiosity about himself.  His question is a good one.  It represents a motivation I can understand.  I am not competitive.  I even feel uncomfortable saying what many runners say, that “I am really just competitive with myself.”  That phrase does not exactly hit the mark for me.  I don’t feel the fight to be #1; I don’t understand the fire or aggression some believe must be in a competitor’s heart; I don’t even understand, really, the idea of ‘pursuing’ a goal, as if it is to be hunted down.  What I do understand is this curiosity.  I do comprehend, down to my deepest inner self, the drive to explore the what are the limits to which I can go, and when I reach them, I want to ask the question, “what now?”

Inspired by the podcast, I put the same question out to the universe during my meditation today.  I like this question.  I like the purity of it, the simple truth of it.  It’s my question, and it is the spark that will keep me moving, I believe, when I attempt to run 69 miles in June.  When I hit a point that I feel I can go no further, I will ask myself, “is this my breaking point?”  I know the answer will be “no.”  I will keep running, and  I will run until I reach the next point, when I will ask the question again.

This question will carry me through my race, and lead me to where I want to go.