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The Disease, the Parasite, of Doubt

(and how I beat it, this time)

It has been a l-o-n-g hiatus from running for me because of an injury with complications. After a tough, teary-eyed session with my physical therapist last week, however, I think l’ve turned a corner. You may think it’s hokey, but that emotional release during treatment might have been just what my body needed to finally let go of the injury and truly begin to heal. Today, I ran my first mile in over two months. It was slow, deliberately so, and I walked another 1.8 miles after that, but it felt sooooo good to be moving in a way that is much a part of who and what I am.

The next steps are going to require a lot of patience. I am anxious to start running and training, as I have some big plans for next year. First, I plan to run a difficult trail marathon in May. A month later, I will run a tough forty-miler in the same gorge as the marathon, a new race that already has a reputation for being a killer event. After that, I have a solo fifty-miler planned in the fall. For someone who doesn’t race much, this is a packed schedule.

Following some good advice from a recent podcast, I’ve chosen the trail marathon to be my A race. That leaves me a tad over four months of training, so long as my ankle recovers properly. For now, I will just keep rehabbing and rebuilding my base, focusing on heart rate recovery and bringing my body back into balance.

One important take-away I’ve learned from working with my therapist is that my notions of what is and isn’t right for my body are correct, and I should stop doubting myself. I was beginning to see myself as a failure because I wasn’t getting “back out there” fast enough. I wasn’t taping up and gritting through pain to complete a heavy session, and it seemed like everything I’d been reading was saying I should. Or, at least, that I should have been out there much earlier than what my body seemed to be telling me.

This sort of thing had me asking myself, “Am I really able to be this kind of athlete?” I couldn’t help but feel that I had no right to set such expectations for myself. Maybe I am not a true ultra trail runner. Maybe I’m not good for anything beyond mediocre. Perhaps I’ve just been kidding myself, thinking I had the ability within me to do amazing stuff.

Dang.

Even as I write, those lines above make me feel sick and knotted inside, like I’ve allowed a parasite or disease to enter my body. I’ve felt this disease before. It’s the same one that tried to convince me I’d never succeed at college, or learn a language, or be worthy of wonderful relationships. It’s the sickly look from others who judged me even before I had a chance to try, like the high school English teacher who once said to me, “I know you,” in a way that meant, “I know what a good-for-nothing you are; you won’t succeed and you can’t be trusted.”

Well, I am not going to let that disease take hold. I am not going to let that parasite in.

I believe that is why I cried last week. I struggled with that same doubt, and I made it through, this time.

There will be more times like it, I’m sure, but for now, I am looking forward, believing I can do some amazing things.

I give myself permission to go for it.

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Recovery

Sunny day outside, temps are below freezing.

I am taking a break from painting a room in our new home, watching golden leaves fall from the hickory trees in our yard, and watching a few trail and ultra running videos online.

OH MY GOSH, I MISS RUNNING!

A sprained ankle in September kept my running to a minimum for a few weeks, but I had still planned to run a 50 mile race in early October.  Just two days before the event, however, a family member had an emergency and I chose to head back to my home state rather than run. The day after returning home, I sprained the same ankle again. Not running, just walking down the stair and catching my foot on the last step. Turns out the second time was not just a sprain, however; weeks later, still not being able to run, I learned that twist number two had resulted in a fracture.

I have major plans for next year, including (so far) two trail races and one solo 50 miler. I know I need to let this ankle heal well. I need strong, agile ankles to tackle the climbs and the gnarly terrain – the races I signed up for have reputations for being particularly tough. So my routines now are all about rehab and recovery.  Sensible, right?

My brain and body, however, are still wondering what happened with that race I had been working toward. Where’s the reward for the work of the previous half year? What happened to the anticipation of the distance and effort?  WHY AM I NOT RUNNING?!?

This is stage 2 of recovery. The caged animal is pacing, wanting to spring.  The first stage was a a depression of sorts after missing the race and respraining the ankle.  While I go through these stages, I experience frustration, but I also spend time thinking and reaffirming why I run.

I do not run to race. I am not a competitive person.

I run to lose myself in distance.

I run to see how far I can go – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

I run to arrive at the core essence of myself.

I run to be wild.

While I heal, I dream of mountains and streams, roots, dirt, and green things.  While I heal, my heart is longing to be free.

Soon, I will be beneath those trees, flowing with the leaves, to places I have yet to discover.

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

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.