Plant Impossible Dreams

Four years ago, I decided on January 1stthat I was going to accomplish something “impossible” that year. Up to that point, I’d never been a runner. I’d barely accomplished the 100-yard dash in elementary school, and that was only because we were required to attempt it as part of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. (God bless the 1980’s.) Running a half marathon was the closest thing to impossible that I could imagine, especially as I had friends at the time who were all constantly training for “this Half Mary”, or “that race” in some exotic location, or simply wanted to “be ready” in case a “fun” Half showed up. (Be ready? For what? The apocalypse?  This seemed like utter nonsense to me. Who trains to run 13.1 miles on a whim, just in case? I had weird friends.)

Thus, I embarked on this impossible goal, set up a training schedule, and I stuck to it through heat, snow, rain, wind, and shin splints. I was not fast, but that was ok with me, my goal was simply to finish, and to “run” the whole thing – no walking. I trained for 18 weeks, and at the end, I ran 13.1 miles without stopping. It was amazing, exhilarating, I was proud, and I was completely surprised at my own abilities.

The day before I ran my race, I received a plant and a beautiful note delivered to my door. It was from a friend who simply said, “Congratulations on making your goal, you’re going to do great.” I was so touched that someone would celebrate my impossibility with me! I loved that plant and what it symbolized – the work, the effort, the daring to dream, the follow-through, and finally, the tenacity to do the impossible. Every time I looked at it, I thought about how I went from not believing in myself to accomplishing more than I ever gave myself credit for.

Historically, I have not been a good plant keeper, I water plants too much, I water them too little, I put the ones that are supposed to be in shade in the brightest room, I put ones that need sun in my cave of a den.  Suffice to say, I am generally a plant killer rather than a nurturer, and I even manage to kill the ones that are supposed to be hearty and un-killable. Yet, this plant has survived. Nay, not just survived, it has grown and thrived and continues to flower. This plant that symbolized impossibilities realized, is an impossibility itself, a testimony to overcoming impossibilities. Yesterday, I transplanted that plant into a new pot, one where it can stretch out and keep growing, and when I look at that plant now, I find myself asking what impossible thing I am going to attempt next.  #NeverSettle #ImpossibleContainsPossible #KeepGrowingBecome

What’s Next?

LongRoad

The day I signed up to do my first big race, a friend said to me, “You signed up to run a Half Mary? Oooo, you are going to LOVE it. If you do at Half, I guarantee you will want to do a Full. And once you do a Full, you may or may not want to do an Ultra.”

“You are cray cray,” I responded.

She might not be as crazy as I thought. When I was starting to taper my training for my half, I started thinking about what was next for me? This was, after all, only May. So I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t do anything drastic (like commit to a new race or event) for at least two weeks after my Half. Besides….recovery is just as important a part of training as the weeks leading up to the race.

By day 4 after the race, I was itching to put my shoes back on and get out there. I didn’t want to “lose” something I’d gained. I talked to one of my coaches who said he can’t keep me from doing something I am bound to do, but he’ really prefer it if I would give it a little more time. He reminded me that my body had done more than it had ever done before, and if I was going to try to do this again, and do it well, I would serve myself better by waiting. I waited. Impatiently. And I grumbled. And I waited some more. And I looked up new races.

Just shy of two weeks after my half marathon, I signed up to run a full marathon in August.

I believe it’s really important to have plans and goals to reach for in life, things that stretch you, challenge you in mind and body, things that might seem impossible on the surface, but really offer you the opportunity to accomplish something great. Running a full marathon falls into that category for me.

However, as I am training for this event, my mind is in a very different place than it was for my half marathon. I am beginning to realize that it’s not just about “what’s next?”, but it’s about the process of running, of becoming a runner, of making running a part of my identity. As I train this time, I am listening to my body, paying attention to the potential injuries, both pushing myself when I can, and allowing myself rest and recover when I need that, too.

I strained my piriformis muscle last week, and was told no running by my coach to let it have a chance to heal. It is hard to rest, to see my running shoes in the corner, and know that I have at least 4 more days before I get to try an “easy” run. I want to get back out there. But I have realized that resting now means I will be able to run later. Resting now means I have a fighting chance to finish a marathon in August. More importantly, resting now means investing in my future.

You see, what I have realized is that I am in this for the long haul – this is not training for one event that happens in August, this is training for life. It is training so that I can keep running next year and the year after that. I don’t want to end up with hips that hurt to get out of bed and knees that are trashed. I want to train smart so that I can keep doing this thing called running for as long as it continues to make me happy. This is not a sprint event….it’s a marathon. And this marathon is called Life.

What’s next? Life is next. No matter which event I’ve signed up for, I train for myself, for my future, for the ability to keep running on beautiful trails, early mornings and late afternoons…and to be able to enjoy every step of the way.

 

 

It Takes A Village

13.1

It’s easy to think that you just train, you put in miles, you get up, you tell yourself you don’t hurt as much as you do, and then you do it again. But it is so much more than that. It is the entire community of people around me that has gotten me to where I am today. When I stop to think about all the people that have influenced me, encouraged me, kicked me, and prodded me, I am overwhelmed.

I had people cook for me, give me tools, give me gear, help me set up my Garmin watch, set up the Garmin connect on my computer, set up the tracking device. I had people email me asking when the race was, and encourage me, literally every step of the way. I had, and still have, individuals who inspired me to keep going, and in turn, I was told that I inspire others. It is a beautiful cycle.

I had a team of people that have kept my body in tip top shape – massaging muscles, making sure my spine was in alignment, showing me specific running stretches, stretching with me, reminding me when I need to rest, and giving me advice to keep me from injuring myself.

Even though I didn’t have a coach, and I made up my own training plan based on some pretty good guesses and something I read in a book, I had a whole team of trainers working with me. They challenged me to do the long runs, and then the longer runs. They explained the importance of speed and strength work. They told me not to skimp on core work and keep up with my plan. They reviewed my chart, my progress and told me where I was trying to do too much and when I needed to push harder. They affirmed my plan, and gave me options. They told me about different ways to approach running from the “run/walk” method to heart monitor training. At the end of the day, no one method is perfect, but part of my joy has been to try many things and see what works for me.

 

And then it was the day of the race. There were moments that I vividly remember….

I remember hitting the 1-mile marker and thinking simultaneously, “I wish these people would all get out of my way, they are slowing me down! And wow, I just have 12 more to go.” At the 4-mile marker, I realized I was almost a third of the way done. When I hit 5 miles, my hip started to hurt and I thought, “meh…give it two more miles and see how it feels.” At somewhere around mile 7, they were handing out gels and I had some because I knew I needed it, but oh, it was gross. Just before mile 8, I ran through a fire department and under two great flags – the Colorado state flag and Old Glory…. I jumped up to try to touch the flag, but missed by at least a foot. Somewhere around mile 11, another fire department was out in their fire fighting pants and boots (no shirts), giving us high fives. Upon reflection, it seems that I might have preferred them back at mile 4 when I might have been able to remember what they all looked like!

And I was humbled, oh so very humbled at the end.  I was somewhere around mile 12.5, and it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of another.  I kept seeing these people pass me, young people with their pony tails bobbing, still looking perky and talking to their friends, and older people with silver hair and skinny chicken legs…and all I could think of was that I hoped I could grow up to be that old person someday.  It was inspiring.

I remember crossing the 13 mile mark and thinking to myself, I’m almost there – I couldn’t quite see the finish line yet because it was around a curve, but somehow I was able to pull out the last of my reserves and I picked up my pace one more time…I was determined to finish strong, with a smile on my face and my arms up in the air.  And then I was over the line, and I realized I’d done it – that thing I’d set out to do, it was done.  My legs felt like rubber, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted something to drink or to just fall over.  But it was humbling to realize that I am part of an elite group now – I can never say that I’m not a runner again, and that is humbling in and of itself.

You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself beyond your comfort zone and then push yourself even harder. In January, this seemed like an impossible thing to attempt. I did it, but I didn’t do it alone…it took a village.

Cramming For The Exam

Final Exam

There are a lot of things you can cram for – that driver’s written test when you’re sixteen.  That history exam that covers 400 years and is worth 60% of the grade.  A speech you’re supposed to give to a hundred people.  Packing your suitcase 20 minutes before you have to leave for the airport.  I’m not saying that cramming is necessarily the most effective way to accomplish any of these things; I’m just suggesting that it’s possible.

 

It is not possible to cram for a Half Marathon.

 

You have either put in the time, the miles, the stretching, the effort or you haven’t.  It’s hard to believe that my race is a week from tomorrow.  When I think back to the day I signed up to run, I couldn’t visualize getting to where I am now.  Now that I’m here, I realize that it was the culmination of all the time and energy I put in to the process.  I ran when it was cold, rainy, windy, hot, or snowy.  I ran when I hadn’t had enough to eat and times when I’d been paying attention and was raring to go.  I ran because I had a goal, I ran because I liked it, I ran on days when I was pumped up, and I ran sometimes when I didn’t feel like it.

I have tried new foods and fuel and gone back to what I know works for me.  I have gotten up early, missed parties, said no to happy hours, rearranged my schedule, chosen running over other things…  I have massaged sore muscles and asked for advice from seasoned runners.  I have read articles, bought gear, talked about running, written about running, bought more gear, dreamed about running, and then got out there and ran again.

I have had moments of doubt and I have had moments of sheer exhilaration when I thought I could conquer anything.  It is strange and exciting, and I’m still a little nervous, but in my heart, I know I’m ready.  I still have one week of tapering left, but if my race was tomorrow, I’d be ok.  I don’t have to cram for the exam – I have put in the time, one foot after another, mile after mile, minute over minute, day after day.  It’s time.

Opportunity

Shoes2

Either you ran today or you didn’t.

This phrase shows up on t-shirts and posters or tagged in an inspirational post on Facebook, and while some might see a challenge to get out there, or shame in the fact that they didn’t, I see “opportunity”.

Every day is made up of a thousand choices. Some are mundane like deciding what to have for breakfast and whether to wear the blue shirt or the brown shirt and which route to take to work. Some choices matter a lot more, possibly because they have the potential to impact other people, perhaps because they define how one interacts with the world, and there is even the chance that a seemingly arbitrary choice can even change the course of a life. You may never know the ripples that your choices make.

There have been abnormal weather patterns around the country this week, and in Denver it manifested itself in 35 mile per hour winds, which I think, is crazy to battle while running.   This being the case, I chose not to run this week for four days in a row. It would have been easy to convince myself after getting home from work that I might as well just finish out the week in style and blow off tonight, too.

Opportunity. There is power and responsibility wrapped up in that word, because what it really means is also having the courage to own the choices you make. This afternoon, I had a moment of wavering indecision, choosing between a delightfully sunny patio and a pair of beat up Saucony’s. Truly, I was coming down on the side of the patio when I started to think about the rest of the week, when I didn’t have the same opportunity – it was gorgeous today!

Either you ran today or you didn’t…today I ran. That doesn’t mean I run every day. I don’t actually think it’s good for a body to run every day….but today I had the opportunity, and I took it. I own it. I had a great run.

The piece of my whole experience that really hit home for me today, though, was when the song “If Today Was Your Last Day” by Nickleback filtered through my playlist. While I was running, I listened, really listened to the words, and that’s when I realized that this song was talking about exactly the same thing.

Either you ran today, or you didn’t.

Either you made a difference today, or you didn’t.

 

I assume I’m going to wake up tomorrow, but what if today was my last day…did I live like it matters? Did I make the world a better place? Was I kind? Was I generous? Did I give it my best? Opportunity comes in many forms…. And I just thought I was going out to do four miles.

Crisis Averted

WhenDoYouStop

Sometimes working through a crisis of confidence means staring it in the face and deciding to meet that demon head on. I set out to run 10 miles today, not because it was on my training plan, (my plan actually said to run 8 today), but because at this point, it is a mind game. My crisis of confidence was in my head, not in my training or in my body; physically, I could probably run 13 miles right now. Today’s run was about getting my head back in the game.

When I started training back in January, a great friend said to me, “Do you know when to stop?” I thought it was a trick question. In reality, it has become my inner battle cry when I’m out there pounding the pavement. “You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done.”

That’s it – so simple. You stop when you’re done. The trick is deciding up front when “done” is going to be so that you don’t compromise later. For me, sometimes done happens in 3 miles, and other times, done happens in more miles. Today, Done happened a little over 10 miles. I knew I was getting close to my ten mile mark, so in my head, I decided I was going to keep going until I hit a particular street. That last block felt so good because I was smiling, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I didn’t stop until I was done. I finished today well.

I am still nervous, and 13 miles is still 3 more miles than 10, but I have more confidence now than I had a couple days ago. What’s more, I set out to run a half marathon because in my mind, it was a big, hairy, audacious goal – if I wasn’t just a little bit scared, I obviously didn’t dream big enough.

Crisis of Confidence

PurpleShoes

I started running 3 months, 2 weeks and 5 days ago.

My race is in 25 days. I am terrified.

In these last few months, I have already accomplished more than I truly thought possible, but suddenly, it doesn’t seem like enough. I am having a crisis of confidence on the level of pure, unadulterated panic.   The kind of panic that paralyzes you, and makes you forget everything you’ve been done thus far, because the fear is so real and in your face and in the moment now. It’s the kind of paralyzing fear that has kept me from writing because I type 7 words and then stare at my screen for an hour, wondering what to say.

I am so afraid that even though I have been working hard, I don’t have enough time left to make sure that I will be able to finish what I set out to do. I have never run further than 8.25 miles and that was at sea level when I was visiting friends. I have never gotten to “double digits” in my runs, never mind getting to 13+ miles. Crisis of confidence.

 

I have been told all kinds of things that are supposed to be reassuring.

“If you follow your plan, you will be fine.”

“If you are able to run double the distance of what your race distance is in one week, you are good to go. You can split it up any way you want. Just be able to run 26 miles in a week.”

“You have run more than 8 miles? Oh, you are good to go!”

“On race day, you will have so much adrenaline and the crowd will pump you up, you are going to be fine!”

And my personal favorite, “Remember, you can always walk.”

 

My goal is to run 13 miles, not just finish 13 miles! Walking isn’t an option. (I mean, I know technically it is, but I don’t want it to be an option.) I feel like I have worked too hard to compromise myself at the very end. And that’s what it would feel like to me – a compromise. Crisis of confidence.

But this crisis of confidence is real, and it’s scary, and it’s staring me in the face today. I’m not sure I can do this anymore, and the really crazy part is knowing that I won’t actually experience doing 13 miles until race day. That means that no matter how much confidence I can find for myself in the next 3 weeks, I still won’t actually know, as in, have person history and experience of knowing, until it’s over! Crisis of confidence.

In the last month, I have gotten sick twice, which required me to take time off from running. I still have a cough that is kicking my tooshie, I’m fighting with seasonal allergies which adds a whole new level to not being able to breathe while running, and apparently I didn’t know how to stretch one of my muscles correctly, so I had to take a couple days off to let a pulled muscle heal. All of these things, in and of themselves, are probably a pretty normal part of the cycle of training – everyone deals with these things once in awhile. But I have just been having it all handed to me on a silver platter without any reprieve. Crisis of confidence.

I have people in my life that believe in me, that encourage me in so many ways, that have literally walked and run beside me along my journey.  I haven’t given up, and I’m not positive that I won’t find an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence before May 18th rolls around, but today…in this moment…I am having a crisis of confidence, and I don’t want to let those people down.  Even more, I don’t want to let myself down.  But I have to tell you, it’s really hard to believe that it will all be ok when you are in the middle of a crisis of confidence.

The Litmus Test

running_feet

Today is when I remember why I started to document my training journey, and once again, I am so grateful that I was encouraged to do so. I hit a milestone: it might not seem like much, especially to the seasoned runner, but I have been striving for the day when I could consistently hold a sub 10-minute mile pace. Somehow, running a mile in less than double digits was the magical number in my head that makes me feel “legit”. Doing at least 3 miles at that pace was my own personal litmus test, and today, I passed.

What is it about ten minutes? What is it about numbers at all, really? At the end of the day, a mile is still a mile, no matter how fast I run it. A ten-minute mile was a marker, a goal, something that I hoped was within the realm of possibility, but still such a challenge when I first contemplated the idea of pace.

I know that this is the one time in my life when I will train for a race and improve beyond my wildest imagination. The very first day that I started training, I ran 1.5 miles with a 12:30 pace, and at the end, I was pretty sure that I was in over my head to train for a half marathon. If I compare today’s run with my first training run, I doubled my distance and my pace was 3 MINUTES faster per mile today than it was my first day.

That comparison is not really fair though, because when I started, I literally did not know how to run, and during these last several months, I had no where to go, but to get better. I certainly couldn’t get worse! In other ways, today was exactly like that first day. Half way through my run, my lungs were on fire, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish what I’d started. When I was in the last quarter of my run, I was telling myself the same thing I did on that first day – “You can do it. You can make it to that lamppost, that street, that corner, that car…. Don’t give up now, you can rest when you are done.”

I am a goal oriented, end-product kind of person, and for the most part, I am not crazy about “the process”. Process to me is something that should be streamlined and strategized. Process is the necessary evil to get to the end product. When it comes to running and training, the process is necessary to get me to race day. Therefore, it’s imperative for me to have goals during the process, because that is what makes the process seem worthwhile. For instance, having a goal to run a mile in less than ten minutes gave me something to shoot for….

In three and a half months, I have gotten faster and I can run further; it feels good. I like checking things off a list, accomplishing a goal, and seeing tangible improvement. What has surprised me, though, was to realize that the process itself has also become the end goal. I like getting out there and running. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing a faster pace, longer distances, negative splits and new personal “bests” in any number of categories. However, I’m also realizing that it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the pride I feel when I finish a run.

#IRun4

IR4

Once upon a time, there was a boy who had bilateral hip dysplasia.  It hurt, and he had to stay in bed.  This boy had a friend who liked to go running.  “You can run for me anytime!” the boy said to his friend.  That simple phrase sparked a movement, and Irun4 was born.

Today, this organization has approximately 10,000 members in 24 countries, and it pairs up athletes (who are normal folks), with people who have disabilities or diseases that prohibit them from running or being active.  The athletes can dedicate their runs, workouts, or races to their buddy who can’t be out there.

I have two very special people in my life who inspire me on a daily basis; Kevin and Daryl are both my cousins, from opposite sides of the family, so even though they don’t know each other, they are sort of cousins, too.  For different reasons, neither one can run anymore, so when I’m out there, and when I start to get tired, I remember these two amazing guys who would trade places with me in a heartbeat, and just that thought makes it a little easier to push through.

When Kevin was 12, the summer after his 6th grade year, he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy.  MD is a genetic born disease where the muscle cell walls break down and don’t grow.  He described it to me this way, “Imagine a balloon with little holes – the balloon can’t hold in air with the holes.”  There are nine major groups of the muscular dystrophies – he has the one called Facioscapulohumeral MD (FSHD), and it initially affects muscles of the face (facio), shoulders (scapulo), and upper arms (humera) with progressive weakness.  Kevin’s is the third most common form of MD, and while some forms of MD are life threatening, his is not.  He does not live in pain, but because his 12 year old muscles are supporting a full grown man’s body now, it is safer and better for him to be in a wheelchair all the time now.

I remember being in college and, as college students do, a group of us (including Kevin) were sitting around talking about whatever.  The topic turned to the dreams we have when we sleep, and somebody asked, “what’s your favorite dream?” and we all took turns answering.  When it was Kev’s turn, he said, “It’s when I dream I’m running.  When it feels so real.”   That statement has always stuck with me because he dreams about something that I just take for granted.  The last time he was able to run was in junior high….

Daryl has been a runner his whole life – fun runs, runs with family members, cross country in school, track, etc.  When Daryl was in college, he was road-tripping home for Thanksgiving with some friends, and enroute from Grand Rapids, MI to Loveland, CO, they were in a car accident.  Daryl was thrown from the vehicle, and when he woke up, he was a paraplegic.  Today, he is an accomplished musician, writer, and teacher.  Recently he told me he is getting back into Hand Cycling, which sounds pretty hard core to me.

These guys inspire me because they would love to run, even though they aren’t able to anymore.  More than that though, they inspire me with their amazing attitudes every day.  These are not the guys that sit on the sideline – they are out there living!  They are out there in their communities, at work, sharing with family and friends, living courageous and joy filled lives.  It is my honor to dedicate my runs to these two extraordinary men – they inspire me to go further, push harder, and challenge myself when I think I’m done.

#IRun4KevNDaryl.    #WhoDoYouRun4?

 

If you are interested in learning more about IR4, donating, or being matched up as an athlete or a buddy, please check out their site here.

 

 

Looking Forward

Pooh Piglet

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh.  “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

 

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.

 

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 

I know what is going to “happen exciting today”!  I am going to fly across the country to see my best friend, my god-daughter and their family, I am going to run in a whole new place, I am going to eat fresh seafood, and I am going to watch the sunset over the Pacific ocean.  Excitement doesn’t have to be created out of the most extraordinary adventures, although many extraordinary things are very exciting.  The moments in life are the ones that end up being most precious, and the ones that I hold closely in my heart.

A simple breakfast of avocado smashed on whole grain toast, sprinkled with rosemary salt and drizzled with honey is one of the most exciting things I can think of in the morning. *  In my mind, I always call this Magic Toast because it has such great memories associated with it.

The Pacific Northwest has such amazing food!  From the fish and the vegetable markets to the Asian influence and flavors.  There are farmers markets and shops, spices and sticky buns.  There are more coffee snobs than I thought possible, and wineries and craft beer to be tasted.  I know that I will be going from one culinary experience to the next, savoring each moment, each taste, each flavor.

It’s the moment when you walk out of the airport and your people are there to pick you up, and you realize that it has been a lifetime and also just yesterday when you last saw their beautiful faces.  A hundred pictures float in front of my face, and I am so grateful that I get to be with them today, in the now.

It is running in a new place for the first time, seeing something beautiful, going farther than you thought you could, it’s getting running gear in the mail, and trying it out later.  For me it will be the excitement of running at sea level and seeing what a difference that makes.  It is packing my running shoes in the carry-on bag…just in case.

It is watching the sunset over the ocean, seeing the light play on the clouds and finally dip down below the horizon; then turning around and running back to the cottage at dusk, followed by grilled salmon over greens and a local Riesling.

*Note: This is not a pale approved breakfast at all.  However, when I have it on those rare occasions, I don’t care.