Wednesday, October 23, 2013


When it comes to running, training plans are great for me because they play to my rigid, perfectionist personality. Checking a run off the list makes me feel good about myself. (Whether it should or not is another blog post that I may never write.) They also keep me in check towards the end of things, when it's easy for me slack.

So months ahead, I looked for a training plan for this marathon. And then all of a sudden, the time for training snuck up on me. One Sunday night in July I realized that my training should start the next morning. Feeling the need to start on time with a plan, I picked one that was similar to the one I did last time - and had admitted didn't build the kind of fitness I needed to meet my sub-2 hour goal.

Then, two weeks later my sister and brother in law somehow convinced me to try their ambitious plan, which had started two weeks before mine had. Meaning they were on week four and easily running at least 10 more miles a week than I was at that point. The first two weeks adjusting to the higher mileage and amped up paces were pretty rough and it messed with my head.

By then it was August, and hot. And busy. And then there was Hawaii, and who wants to get up at 5:30am to get a long run in when you're on vacation at the beach? Not me. I ran once while I was there. And when I came back I couldn't find my motivation. It got buried somewhere between the sand in the bottom of my suitcase and the troubling fog of confusion and despondency that blurred the weeks after my trip. I tried to run, but I didn't like it much. I remember one morning heading out at 5:30 to run an 8 mile tempo run. A few miles in I realized the tempo part would probably not happen, and then I found myself cutting the run short at 5. I felt horrible, physically and mentally, and I knew I was in trouble.

At that point, with five weeks until the race, I made some changes. To make sure I enjoyed my runs, I stepped it down to four days a week and I moved my runs to the evenings, after it cooled off, instead of getting up to run in the dark mornings. I also made my own plan and created a simple purpose for each run: speed at the track, easy miles on tired legs, long hills (for the hilly race route), and long distance. My first track workout was encouraging, and the faded colors in the late summer sky during the runs that first week of the new plan reminded me that new, good things can spring up when we're headed into the dark. I remember mounting the last hill in a 9 mile hill run during that first week, my last two easy miles left to run, and I just had to stop - not because I was worn out but because the sky was too beautiful not too look for a while. It was the first time I'd felt truly grateful in a few weeks, and that feeling isn't one to pass up on.

All this to tell you that for perhaps the first time in my short span of life thus far, I finished something stronger than I started, and that without a plan prescribed by someone else. It was a lesson in knowing myself and finding what I needed. These last few weeks of running have been some of the best I've ever had, and they even led to a personal best for me in the half marathon. My goal was to enjoy it and finish - I had thrown out a time goal weeks earlier. But it turns out I ran the race in under 2 hours for the first time, and felt powerful (not good, mind you, but strong) the whole run.

Friday, October 4, 2013

listen, watch, read

It seems like every other conversation this week is about the government shutdown. When I logged into the New York Times website on Tuesday morning, the main scrolling photos featured services outside of the capitol that were impacted by the event. One showed a man standing outside the Liberty Bell, another of signs posted at Valley Forge state park turning visitors away. I heard one man on the radio talk about a trip to the Grand Canyon that had been 18 years in the making. He was waiting outside to see if he'd still get part of his vacation.

All of that makes me kinda sad and angry and like I want to scold those politicians for bickering with each other like children. I'm sure there are factors at play that I'm totally unaware of and probably unable to grasp, but still.

So, the bad news is that some of the beauty of our country is off limits for a little while and there are grown men (and women, I suppose?) acting like children. The good news is that there are still plenty of people doing wonderful and surprising things. So in case you got turned away from a museum or monument or park and are twiddling your thumbs or writing death notes to congress, here are a few alternatives for you.

1. listen
My favorite host on NPR's Morning Edition (a Lancaster, PA native!) interviewed a 12-year-old girl with some extraordinary musical talent. At the end of the interview, he gives her a scenario and she makes up a song for it. The tune comes to her so quickly, so naturally it's like a second language. She speaks in key strokes. It had me thinking about what second languages some others of us have - unique abilities that maybe aren't quite so lauded but are extraordinary nonetheless. Apparently it also had my nephew practicing extra hard for his first solo piano performance (he's in second grade).

2. watch
You may not consider comedians high culture, but watch this appearance by Louise C.K. He's onto something and I admire his honesty, and the way he can help us to listen to an uncomfortable truth through his humor. (I've also picked up my phone a lot less.)

3. read
And lastly, this quote from Isabel Wilkerson talking about her process of finding people with the stories that would eventually make up her book The Warmth of Other Suns. (What a great title, right?) I guess the reason it struck me as so beautiful is because I still try to outrun my mistakes, thinking I can somehow reverse them or make up for them. That's a lot of running. If any of you readers are distance runners, you know that the best part of the run is almost always that moment at the end when you can stop. That's what I imagine she's talking about here.
I wanted people who were beautifully imperfect. Perfection is not real, and readers cannot identify with people presented as perfect. I wanted to find people who were at peace with their mistakes and with the things they had done not particularly well. I wanted people who were willing to be who they really, truly were. Via here.