Tag Archives: motivation

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!

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Confidence

It’s still winter outside, despite what the calendar says, and running outside has been difficult. Normally, I don’t mind running in cold weather, but after a bout with the flu and a subsequent pulmonary infection, I’ve found that running when temperatures are below freezing just HURTS. I wheeze. My nostrils and throat close up. I gasp for air when I go above even a slow jogging pace.

Consequently, the treadmill has become my friend, even for the longer and slower runs. Last week, my ankle had improved to the point that I thought I’d try 15 miles. The longest I’d run so far was 10 miles, and I was starting to wonder if I’d be ready for my trail marathon in May. I wasn’t in panic mode yet, but I needed a good run to boost my confidence, something to show me that I was indeed making progress toward my races in May and June. Slow mileage progression is essential, but there comes a point when darn it! I need to test my limits!

At first, the weather promised to be mild enough – upper 30s – but by Friday morning, the temperature dropped to the 20s with a windchill around 10. Then the snow started. Scratch the outdoor run…

I’ve been panting to get outside, but there was nothing for it, I couldn’t go out. It was a massive disappointment. I needed that run though, so…treadmill.

Okay.

Choose a string of trail videos, get my water and nutrition set up, then hop on.

No layers, no wind. It feels like cheating.

My races are going to (hopefully) be in warm weather anyway.

I set the program to run a hilly course, going from levels 2 through 9. Obviously, treadmill hills aren’t the same as actual trail hills, but at least I could do some climbing. As the snow came down outside my window and the plows rolled down the road, I stepped on the mill and pressed “go.”

Fours hours later, I stepped off, having run 20 miles and climbed 2499 feet. BAM! Confidence boosted!

Yes, it was boring. Consider it mental testing.

Yes, it was warm in the room. The races will be warm anyway (maybe).

But I finished 20 miles.

Yes.

I couldn’t copy the technical trails I will need to run, but at least I could gauge my pace and heart rate and test myself at different intervals. I figured out how much water I’ll be likely to need and how many calories I’ll require to maintain my effort. These details are important for trail runs and ultras, and now I can better envision how my races might play out on those days.

I won’t be fast, but I know I can finish the first race at least, and I am confident I’ll have a good shot at the second. I’ve come a long way since that teary-eyed session at the doctor’s office in December, wondering if I’d be able to run at all. 20 miles was a milestone for me, and while these next races are my focus, I have my autumn goals in my sights as well…

It’s so good to be back.

A Hero

There are some people you meet in life whose stories go beyond your comprehension. So much suffering, so much trauma, and yet — and yet, the most amazing thing about them is that, in spite of all that, they are kind, hardworking, and nice. How can they be that way? How is it that they do not go through life bitter and angry, or demanding and expecting some recompense as their due?

My step-father is one of those people. He met and married my mother a few years ago, when he was in his 80s and my mom in her late 70s. Since that time, he has brought my mother nothing but happiness. They are wonderful to watch, and we all should be so happy when we reach that age. It is fitting – neither of them have had life hand them anything except hardship. Both were children during the Great Depression, but not here in America: my mother lived in a small mountain town in southern Germany, and my step-father in a small mountain village in southern Austria. Bare feet to school, little money or food. But while my mother had a family and a farm, my step-father had parents who left him to be raised by an aunt and an uncle in a two-room shack. He spent his years sleeping on a cot next to the stove, and learned to play the accordion at a young age so he could earn money, playing music on the streets. He still plays that accordion. I’ll never be the one to ask him to stop.

My step-father has many stories related to being a musician, some funny and some not. It was his playing that got him pulled into his first military service, in fact. At first, as a prisoner of war under the Germans, where he was subjected to violence and humiliation most people could not even endure. Then, when it was discovered he played the accordion, he was “recruited” into the German military, and became a soldier forced to play for an enemy he hated. Later, just as he was released near the end of the war, he became an American prisoner, and was transferred to a camp in the north of Germany. It was not his country, it was the country of people who had enslaved him, and yet he was a prisoner along with them.

Two years a prisoner, then after being released, he made his way back to his home town and eventually to America. He looked for and found his father, “living like a dog” in a garage. “You are not my son,” was the greeting he received.  Later, he found his mother, and even had her come to live with him for a time, even though she told him, “I wanted to abort you.” It was a sense of duty that led him to care for her, and perhaps a little hope that she might come to love him. She never did though. He has spent his entire life knowing that his parents did not care for him, no matter what kind of person he had become.

His military days were not over, however. Soon after moving to the U.S., he received a draft notice. He was not a citizen; merely a resident, yet he was drafted into the Marines. An MP, he was asked to not appear on the drill field during inspections because he was too short and not the “Marine type” to be shown to dignitaries.  He served his duty for two years without even being a citizen, and did so with integrity.

Despite all he went through, he married, suffered the loss of two children and raised two wonderful sons, whom I am happy to call my brothers.

These snippets are mere drops in an ocean of stories from a humble man who is kinder and more good-hearted than almost anyone else I know.  How is it that he does not use his suffering as an excuse to be selfish, or violent, or bitter? So many of us do these days. We wear our suffering like beacons to demand sympathy, retribution, and free passes when we hurt others. We scream, “it’s not my fault!” when we fail through lack of effort. Why is that? What makes my step-father so different?

It was his choice, I believe. He chose not to give in. I listen to his stories so that I am reminded, I can be like him.

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.

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.)

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.)