alive

mary-oliver

Sometimes I need to remind myself, out loud, to breathe.

Not breathe just a little, but BREATHE. With my whole body.

It is powerful & terrifying to open my eyes, breathe deeply, and do the hard thing.

Summer is winding down and Fall is near.  Time to start anew.

When things are shaky and crumbly and unsteady, it can strangely be the best moment to recommit and rededicate oneself to that which is most important in one’s life.

In that raw state, priorities are blindingly clear.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”  – John Muir

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“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.” – Cheryl Strayed

During the years immediately following my divorce, I went through hell. I refer to it now as a dark “season” of my life.  A season in which I really f*cked up.  In pretty much every way. I regressed and seemingly unlearned some very valuable lessons of my past. Sometimes I look back on that time and honestly wonder who the heck that woman was, doing those things. Wellll, it was me!! All me. Every last ugly crazy sad messed-up bit of it was me. No matter how many hours I dedicate to ruminating on the absurdity of my choices and the lack of maturity in my actions, that dark patch remains as part of the landscape of my life.

As such, I am getting better at using those dark times as fertile compost.  Amending my present life with shit I have learned.

I went through a stretch of awkward dating, as most newly divorced folks my age do.  Lots of dating followed by lots of swearing I will never date again.  I learned a lot about myself through those years.  Some lessons were immediate, sharp and stinging.  Some were akin to agreeing to get a slow painful year-long tattoo…a dull tugging jagged pain that takes months to heal.

One date evolved after my genius epiphany that alcohol and first dates don’t mix. (really. it took many moons & some personal lows for this lesson to stick.) So this first date was a run. A little trail run.  A jog really.  “Perfect! This will be great!”, I thought.  My favorite thing to do and I can really just be myself! I think that “date” was the beginning of the end for me and Mr. Ego Trip. As we were rounding a bend in the trail, jogging along, I thought “this is so much better than sitting in a bar…!!” Breathing in the clean breeze, relaxing into the forest green, chatting as we ran.

And then he pipes up.  “Hey! You know what I love most right now?”  (um, the clean breeze? the green? the soft pine forest floor??)

“No, what??” I smile back.

“I LOVE how when you run I can see the light shine through the gap in your thighs.  I love that you are thin like that.”

YEP. A grown man with kids said that. On a first date. My stomach dropped and I couldn’t get back to my car fast enough.

This comment stays with me, nearly 10 years later. Why???

Because in my moment of clarity…trying to grow & be REAL, honest and authentic, the outside world (specifically that dude) didn’t play along.  There is never going to be a guarantee that those around me will have my best interests at heart.  All I can do is remind myself, again and again, what I know.  Where I have been, what I have learned, where I am going.

I read this Anne Lamott quote the other day: “…..the three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you.”

Here’s to moving through the world empowered by the truth of all your moments of learning, growing & amending your soil.

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another round

“…grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” -Anne Lamott

So my 100 days project ended last week with a resounding THUD.  With mixed emotions, I finished out the 100 days and felt no desire to write about it here.  The busy-ness, anxiety re: my running goals & my life as a single mama, and the general amplification of my ‘normal’ state of being completely overwhelmed set the stage for an anti-climatic end to my 100 days of mindful eating (no sugar, no garbage) and daily yoga.

Did I slip up during those 100 days?  Why yes I did. I indulged in the occasional sugary junky treat and post-race beer.  I let my strictness slide for a few special occasions and family functions.  The end of the 100 day experiment coincided with some pretty huge decisions regarding my running goals and commitments to my family.

I ran my third (and SLOWEST) White River 50 and enjoyed myself immensely.  As it turns out, not training hard, having no time goals, running without a fancy watch and smiling = a fun day on the trails.  Letting go of all expectations let me enjoy the views, snap photos, and do what I love the most:  move my body up and over mountains on my own two feet.

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Glenn Tachiyama makes us all look good at mile 37!

My son came home from his first overnight summer camp, a technology-free week up in the beautiful San Juan Islands which left him tanned, stinky, dirty and full of goofy stories.  My heart was 1/2 empty while he was gone and overflowed again while sitting and listening to his tales.  Will he always come to me with his stories?  Will there be a time when I am no longer the one he can’t wait to share stuff with?  Will he stop yelling from his room “hey mom! I wanna show you something!” or stop tapping me on the arm while I’m trying to wash dishes, “mom! mom! this is so funny…lemme tell this one thing…!” Of course.  That time is careening towards me faster than I care to admit.

My job right now is to soak it all up.  Remain still. Listen. Pay attention. Sounds simple enough, right? HA.

I have discovered that remaining still, listening and paying attention are like the 3 biggest challenges of my whole entire time on this planet. They are my practices.  They are also the gold & the prize. The keys to my joy.  I’ve spent a solid (and ridiculous) chunk of years using various substances and behaviors in order to avoid doing those 3 things.  Good news is that I have grown stronger in that time.  Does strength = perfection?  Nope.  I still screw up.  I take wrong turns and get lost. I just don’t wander alone in the woods for days like I used to.

LARS

& thankfully, this guy has my back too <3

SO! what better way to wrap up one experiment than start right in on another? I’m in for another round.

100 days of practicing daily quiet (meditation). 100 days of daily writing (journaling and/or blogging).  Aaaaaand, because it felt so damn good when I did it right….100 days of NO SUGAR.  I could live on coffee and candy alone & let’s just say it’s not the best medicine for a life in which one is trying to remain still, listen & pay attention.  So here we go.  Day #1!

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let’s do this!!

(WR50, photo courtesy Ross Comer)

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:

hair idea

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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