Day 90. My fire.

“…and I say to my heart: Rave on.”  - Mary Oliver

One of my all-time favorite running movies is On the Edge with Bruce Dern.  (you really need to be a runner to appreciate this film and rise above the cheesy 80s soundtrack & some of the goofy corniness of it all…) I cannot watch it without crying.  One of the best scenes of the movie shows beautiful shots of Dern training on the trails of Mt. Tam with the voice of his coach in the background, “Soar the uphills!  Burn the downs!”  SOAR the ups, BURN the downs….I like to repeat that to myself sometimes while running.

Lately I’ve been thinking how this applies to living life.  Specifically, living a life with grace.  Soaring through the rough patches and burning ferociously when times are good.  I have come to recognize that I have been doing quite the opposite.  I feel like I’ve been head-down, busting my ass this year – trying trying trying to do it all.  Burning those uphills. Not much soaring.  At times I feel too exhausted to enjoy the speedy exhilarating descents. No fire. Not much passionate burning.

When my name appeared on the entrants list of CCC100 this year, my heart lept.  I GOT IN!!! WOOHOOO!!!! Here is my chance to train HARD and FINISH this race – my first 100 miler.  The spring and early summer lay before me with great hope & promise for a carefully executed training plan and plenty of hard work.  Working hard is something I know how to do. After the disappointment of last year’s DNF, nothing can stop me now!! I GOT THIS.

I had fire in my heart.

One of the (many many) things I learned from my DNF at last year’s race was that, for me, running 100 miles requires not only incredible stamina, endurance, fitness, etc etc – but it also demands a big ‘ol chunk of passion. FIRE. I need my whole heart in it.

Last year I lined up with my whole heart.  With a fire in my belly.  I was ready to tackle this thing.

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pre-race, 2013 – happy me!

Where am I now?  I’ve had some painfully honest conversations with myself about that.  Sadly I have knots in my belly, lumps in my throat and sadness in my heart when I think about my running these days.  I force deep breaths when I think about the race.  I feel shallow and shaky when I assess just how much fire I have to bring to that start line in August.

The truth is, I haven’t lost my fire.  It’s just burning for other things.  I thought if I piled on enough kindling and logs and huffed and puffed I could keep my flames going and DO IT ALL.  I have come to the recent realization that (duh) – I can’t.  There, I said it.  I cannot do it all.  It does me no good to compare myself to others who are seemingly able to gracefully “make it all fit”…. I am all I have.

I am a single parent, raising my son primarily on my own. (with mucho help from the proverbial village and my family – make no doubt about that!) This year, he dedicated himself to HIS passion (baseball) in a way which logistically required me to put forth a similar amount of dedication and effort.  The time & travel involved was immense.  Running was often pushed to the side.

And yet, when I watch him work hard, push himself, compete, focus, manage his time and commit to his goals, my fire burns.  I am so proud.  I am so honored.

I also committed myself to the love of my life in a pretty major way this year.  LIKE MAJOR.  :)   Those of you who know me very well or who have read along for a while may have noticed that I have some trust “issues”….to put it kindly. ha. Becoming engaged at age 43, with 3 other amazing little blooming lives to consider, is pretty freaking life-changing.  As it should be.

Apparently, I am the type of individual who has a finite amount of emotional energy (FIRE) to give.  It hurts like hell & feels a lot like failure but I have to accept that about myself.  Rather, I am choosing to accept that.  To hold that in my hands and really be okay with it.

In that choosing, I realize that I cannot spread my fire (my love, my passion, my dedication) too thin.  It will just go poof. (and I will be grumpy and bitchy and not very nice…)

So, for now, I happily choose to burn brightly for my son…

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and family….

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and wait for a time (2015??) when I can stand at the start line of a 100 mile race WITH MY WHOLE HEART.  For me, the distance deserves it. Demands it.

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Am I sad? Absolutely.  Regretful? Not at all.  My priorities this year have been crystal clear and I did my best to make it all fit.  Telling Liam that I am pulling my name from the entrants list of CCC and not running this year felt like a moment of weakness & a failure on my part.  I was admitting to him that I wasn’t ready.  Admitting it to myself.  Rough.

Yet, I am 100% certain I am making the best choice for my life RIGHT NOW.  And that’s all I really have….the courage to make the next right choice.

The 100 mile fire will, without a doubt, burn in my heart again.  Of this I am sure.  <3

CC 100 Elevation Profile

Day 80! where the heck is that instruction manual!?

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Alright, so nearing the end of the 100 days and I can still count the times I’ve slipped-up on 2 hands, so there’s that. I allowed for sugar-indulgences over the holiday weekends and at family dinners.  I let the yoga mat sit unused a few times.  I am okay with these slips.

But then there’s my running.  My lack of running.  My lack of serious 100-mile training.  As opposed to last year, I am not using a coach or really using a plan at all this year in my prep for CCC100.  Admitting that makes me hyperventilate a little.  I am a planner, a list-maker, an OCD mile-tracker.  Not this time.  I thought “easing up” on the rigid training might help me. My “plan” has been to run a lot and run long.  I’ve had some long runs in there, but not enough.  I’ve done some run commuting, but not enough.  I’ve done some back-to-backs, but NOT. ENOUGH.

Why?

Well, in a word: LIFE. I know there are people out there who can single-parent, work full time, pay the bills, run a household, maintain healthy relationships, attend every single one of their kid’s activities and never EVER arrive late….AND train for and run a 100 miler.  Heck, I know women who do those things and run MULTIPLE 100 milers per year.  (with a 200 miler thrown in). I am working my butt off trying to be that person.  That mama.  But I am constantly left with this feeling like I am simply not doing enough, nor am I doing any of these things WELL. That feeling is not inspiring.  It’s exhausting.

In addition, I am trying to learn what it means to really truly blend lives with the man I love. This is real-life adult hard work.  It is both overwhelming and wonderful.  It’s an endurance event in itself and there is no finish line. I am in it & I am not DNFing this one.

I’m trying to remember this:

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So where does this leave me, in terms of my race?

SCARED.

Lately I feel like every day I receive a huge new shipment of furniture from Ikea with the instructions missing.  Where the hell is the f*cking MANUAL???!  

I don’t know the answer & I don’t know how to make it all fit.  I do know it is icky and messy and scary.

I know it won’t be a perfect race and I know I am not as prepared as I had hoped I would be.

I also know that I am strong & I know how to do hard things.  This is my mantra.

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Day 77! overwhelmed.

As I look at the calendar, and my life, the best & only thing I can tell myself right now is to JUST. BREATHE.

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It’s Day 77 of the 100 days.  CCC100 is a mere 7 weeks away. It’s mid-summer and I feel anything but easy breezy & carefree.

Too many thoughts & things to report of late and I’m currently too overwhelmed to start. SO. Instead I will post about the most trivial and inconsequential thing I can think of at the moment: what the heck to do about my hair!

I’m thinking this:

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Day 66! why i run

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” – Annie Dillard

When I was 24, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.  On the heels of that, it was also declared that I was suffering from major depression and that the two were inextricably linked.  The clinical depression diagnosis was, I would say, about 15 years too late.  In a sense it was a relief to put a name on the unbearably heavy blanket I felt I had been living under.  At the same time it felt like I was being sentenced to a life of “treatment” for my “problem”.  The idea of taking a pill for my mood scared the living shit out of me.  I felt weak, lazy, powerless.  The truth was, I was not capable of addressing ANY of my “issues” without the help of pharmaceuticals. Anti-depressant medication was described to me by one of my doctors at the time as “allowing me to be at a level playing field” with the rest of the world, not unlike putting on a pair of prescription glasses in order to see clearly.  I was/am “serotonin-deficient”.

Depression is confusing.  It’s hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it, and harder still to accept as a part of oneself that one must live with.  I am now 43, almost 44, so that’s nearly 20 years of living with the reality of depression.  How have I dealt with it?  Well, in all the ways.  I have tried all the things!

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On the dysfunctional side, I have tried: all the various disordered eating patterns you can possibly imagine (starving, bingeing, purging), compulsive exercise, drinking, cutting, escaping into bad relationships, excessive sleeping, isolation, marriage.  (yes, marriage)

Despite many years of that craziness, I have also grown up a bit and faced my depression compassionately and proactively, with the hopes of finding solace without having to take a pill every day.  On the functional side I’ve tried: acupuncture, yoga, massage, Reiki, meditation, spiritual pilgrimages, nutritional therapies and herbal remedies, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, couples therapy, Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, daily visits to the shrine, and running.

During these years of experimentation, I tried to treat my depression without medication.  I also tried pretty much every anti-depressant out there.  Some worked.  Some gave me migraines and made me sick.  I wanted SO SO SO badly to be someone who “outgrew” her depression.  I really thought I could do it.

Thing is, you cannot will your way out.  You cannot “try harder”.  

You cannot just “BE HAPPY!!”  (don’t you think I would have done that by now if it were that easy???)

This is part of the enormous confusion for loved-ones,,,part of the helplessness they feel.  It is truly heartbreaking.  I get that.  I am fortunate in many ways.  I have health insurance, an understanding partner, wonderful friends & family, satisfying work, and: I found running.

Yes I take anti-depressants daily.  I have a therapist.  But I rely on running in a way that empowers me and puts my health and well-being firmly in my own hands.  I know, with 100% certainty, that even 30 minutes of running will save me on any given day.  There is something about the breathing, the sweat, the footfalls, the solitude, the freedom.  The mish-mash of anxiety, fear, sadness, confusion will gradually fan out in front of me into a more clear, clean, manageable set of “life lumps” — it’s just life and I can deal with it.  I’ve built up, over the years, the mental and emotional muscle to be able to face life without the dysfunctional coping tools that only served to bury me deeper into that dark hole.  Running has allowed me to do this.

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Am I saying every depressed person should just get over it and go running? NO. Not at all. I was lucky to find “my thing”.  My thing might be another person’s ticket to further depression.  I would simply say: find your own version of running.  It might be yoga, meditation, gardening (those 3 things still help me immensely!) – or knitting, cooking, playing with your dog, long walks in the forest, time with friends, building something, drawing, singing, etc etc.  I believe the key is finding “that thing” that gets you out of your own head, IN A HEALTHY WAY.  For me, the endless looping destructive track of excessive worry & rumination is cut off when I run.

It’s kind of magical.  :)  I’m not about to let it go.

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day 59! digging

On the “no sugar” front, I slipped (again) while celebrating Father’s Day with my family….It was a premeditated slip as I knew the delicious treats would be too difficult resist & sometimes it just feels ok to let the rules slide for a day.

Unfortunately/fortunately my body is so used to being off sugar that the slip-ups result in some pretty un-fun side effects.  Cue a week of night sweats and lethargy. UGGGGGGG. It’s my body’s way of saying “hey you! no way Jose! I do better on clean, whole, no-sugar foods! I also let you run better too!”  I am listening & have swiftly gotten myself back on track.

Last-week-of-school festivities and sussing-out Liam’s new schedule has also made run commuting a bit of a challenge this week, so it will be a big Hunk o’ Running for mama this weekend. CCC100 is right around the corner and I’m starting to have “Hey It’s Finals Week and I Forgot to go to Class All Year” dreams….OY.

With regards to my 100 days challenge, my training, my work, my health, my relationships….I often feel overwhelmed (and if you know me well, you know I get capital-O Overwhelmed)…but I started learning a valuable lesson (and continue this learning process, DAILY) 18 years ago at age 25 when I was in treatment for anorexia: speak the truth. focus on doing the next right thing. This is my job.  Some days this seems an insurmountable task. So I dig and dig and keep digging.  Digging for my truth, digging for that next right thing. Some days this exhausts me.  As it should.  This is work.

I came across this TedTalk by Glennon Doyle Melton, author and blogger at Momastery.  Her story was mine (delivered in a much more eloquent, touching & funny way than I would have ever done, mind you)….and I’m sure very similar to the stories of SO many women. She even talks about “the next right thing.”  Major.

I applaud women who open their mouths, put pen to paper, and tell the truth.  Out in the open.  Even in the midst of fumbling around, trying to do the next. right. thing.

Glennon writes:  “Sure, I was sober and out of hiding, but by denying my past to others, protecting myself with the shield of secrets and shame, I had isolated myself.  I was lonely, and a bit bored.  Life without touching other people is boring as hell.  It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons.  That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all of the layers of protection we’ve built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked.”

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Day 52! prep

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start line of CCC100 2013.  that’s me in the white cap – freaking out already

This post most likely won’t be of interest to non-runners (although the theme can be applied to everyday life as well), but I stumbled upon this post on iRunFar this morning after my wee morning jog and it fascinated me! It’s basically a run-down of why the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (aka “States”, “The Big Dance”) is so dang tough, comparatively, in the world of 100 milers. A must read!

This sentence popped out at me:

“Rookie runners, who are often well-prepared instrumentally, tend to be under-prepared for the mental challenges of the issues that befall them, and they tend to react in kind with a loss of cool and, at times, outright panic.”

BINGO.

When I think back to my preparation for CCC100 last year, I’m super impressed with myself! I nailed the training and stuck to the plan.  I laid down the miles and raced a ton.  Perhaps what was lacking, and what contributed to my DNF, was the mental & emotional strength needed to battle the beast…the crux of what makes an ultra so hard: dealing with those moments when my race plan would inevitably go sideways and I would need to adjust, rethink, reevaluate and just. keep. going.

Kind of like life.

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Day 51! Resilience

“That’s what happens in our hearts. The holes do not disappear, but scar tissue grows and becomes part of who we are. The same takes place in nature. As the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi observed, ‘There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature.’ The most stable structures in nature— like trees or spiderwebs— have angular and curved lines. As our hearts grow larger, and we learn that scar tissue is not so ugly after all, we accommodate what we had thought would be unendurable. And we realize that the wisdom we have gained would not have been possible without the losses we have known, even those that seemed impossible to bear.”  - Daniel Gottlieb

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Here I am, over halfway thorough the 100 days.

I have slipped a bit in some areas & gone beyond my expectations in others.

I am learning to appreciate the enormous value in bouncing back. RESILIENCE.  I firmly believe that our “resiliency muscles” require regular training in order to perform well.

I have been a major weakling in the Resiliency Department for much of my life.  If you (or life) knocked me down, I’d be DOWN. For a good long while.  With no muscle memory to draw on as an adult, I have pretty much been starting from scratch here. I’m sore!!  :)

This past week has given me some jolts (both literally and figuratively) which have served to remind me of the importance of not slacking on my resiliency training.

A few “normal life stressors” paired with some “major life stressors” have made for a discombobulated week. I’ve let those pesky buggers knock me off course with both my nutrition and my running…not a lot, but enough to throw me.

It’s time to flex my resiliency muscles.

I saw my old self in someone this week, causing me to pause and reflect on the absolute fragility of life.  I witness this individual reclaiming her health and fighting The Hard Fight.  I see the bravery of a lost soul reaching out and asking for help….and the cascade of love she receives as a result of her courage. I see that all we really want to do in this life is to be of service to others.

Some lessons from my week….

be brave. forgive. pay attention. share your story. never give up. 

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