Tag Archives: success

Lesson Learned

In a recent online running forum I subscribe to (Diz Runs Tribe, check out the podcast too, Diz Runs Radio), the administrator asked, “what has running taught you?” I can think of a million things right off the top of my head, but one thing rests at the crest of that heap: patience. If there is one lesson I have learned, and continue to learn, it’s patience. Patience in a race, patience in training, patience when goal setting, and this past year, patience during injury and illness and recovery.

I am not a younger runner. In one month, I will be 52. I am not one to be thinking that age 52 is old, but when I did not bounce back after my initial ankle sprain (and later, got much worse), I began to realize, “This isn’t like before, kiddo. You can’t just keep going and expect it to disappear.” In many situations in my life, that is exactly what I did, and it usually worked. With grad school and sleep, parenting, migraines, running, pain, life…”muscling through” was my modus operandi. It was a tough pill to swallow when I learned that my standard MO wasn’t going to work anymore.

I have a little over two weeks until I run my first race since being injured, a trail marathon. I thought I had been patient enough and well into recovery when, Tuesday, after a terrific training week that had me shouting, “Yes! I’m back!” a twinge in my ankle pushed back and said, “Just hold on a second…no you’re not.”

WHAT?

All this time, with a month of excellent growth, and…what just happened?

I’m not sure. It could have been the little extra weight I had added to my static lunges on Sunday, when I should have perhaps gone lighter. I had just completed a cold and wet 20 miler the day before, after all. Or maybe it was the muddy trails causing a little too much torque in the ankles on Monday. Or, maybe it’s just pre-race nerves.

Whatever the cause, I’ve learned enough over the past several months to listen to my body. I’ve learned enough to tell myself, “Patience — back off, don’t push it.” I had hoped for another great week of training before beginning to taper but I don’t know if that will be what I can do. Maybe I could make a great week, but would that be the wisest choice?

This race was going to be my A race this year, but patience has taught me to shift my perspective. I now see this event as a stepping stone, a test of my recovery and an assessment of my fitness so far. If I finish this run, I know I will cross the line with a sigh of relief and immediately shift my sights toward the next step and then the next. I have a 40 mile race planned and then a solo 50 mile run, followed by a challenging 15 mile trail race I hope to run with my spouse in the fall. For that one, I plan to shift my focus and train for greater speed and power. The 40 miler – well, if I finish I will be over the moon! The 50 and the 15 – they are now my focus.

Additionally, this past injury had made me think more about my long-term goal — to keep running until I die, if I can. I am not a pro athlete (though I am an athlete); I do not need to push myself to destruction in order to gain glory or a paycheck. I am in it for the long-term, I love running that much. If that means shelving my plan for a PR or a super placement, then so be it.

post-note: after writing this post, I did rest for three days before running again. Saturday, I took a beautiful, satisfying trip along an easy section of the Appalachian Trail. No problems at all!

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Vision for Race Day

Race day. The weather is cool, but chilly mist promises to give way to sun later in the day. I feel the leaves shifting beneath my feet. I am cold, but the forest shows proof that yes, spring is finally here, and summer is not far behind.

I am in my mind, somewhat detached, experiencing my body as it moves through nature. Some people pass me but I steadily progress forward. My feet move, my chest breathes. “Don’t push,” I tell myself, “the hill is coming. Be ready.”

I reach the base and begin to climb. The mud slips; I feel dirt and roots beneath my fingers as I grasp anything to help me move forward. My quads flex and press, propelling me up, up…and I’m there! Then down, down in a rapid descent, into the water of the rushing stream and across…

I am tired but I chose this. My feet hurt but again, I chose this. There is no quitting, there is only movement – through nature, with nature, in nature. I am animal, going forever, moving without surcease until I find my home, the finish line.

This is the vision I keep in my head as I enter the last month before race day. My mantra still holds as I count my breaths and steps, willing myself to endure in each training session:

Beauty,

Movement,

Run.

I will run and I will succeed.

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.

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.)

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.