Brave

This post could have been dubbed “MIA,” but that’s already been done. I have indeed been MIA from blogging, but not from writing. Below is a personal essay I submitted to the final round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge, which, to my astonishment, earned first place. And I say astonishment after reading a few of the other contenders. Well done, all.

 

“Peas patha napins,” my husband said, the back of his hand covering his mouth.

“What?” I asked.

He swallowed hard. A lump of bacon cheeseburger trailed down his throat like a snake swallowing a mouse. “The napkins,” he said. “Could you please pass them?”

We sat in a booth at a restaurant renowned for onion rings the size of platters and outrageous cheeseburgers—peanut butter, jelly, and bacon, for one. Twenty-four hours ago I also would have ordered something that required extra napkins, but not tonight. Tonight I ate a salad of sliced pears and an extra order of grilled chicken, hold the dressing, because tonight, as we’d waited for a table, I’d made a decision. Perhaps it was the lingering headiness of a successful 5K three months previous, or perhaps it was low blood sugar, but I’d decided to run a marathon.

1968

Marathons were more commonplace than ever thanks to running’s surge in popularity. But I wasn’t a runner. That 5K was the farthest I’d run in my entire life. Still, how far could a marathon be? Probably not more than a few 5Ks strung together. More or less.

We got home from the restaurant that night, me hungry but virtuous, and after Googling “marathons,” I clicked on the first site that popped up. Then I clicked on the second site. Twenty-six-plus miles? Were they serious? Is that what I’d committed to, running a length greater than the distance I typically drive in a week? And I had committed to it. Maybe not to anyone else, but to myself.

I researched training plans the way a pregnant woman researches pediatricians, and learned that it conservatively takes five months to train properly. Now I needed to find a race. What about the Long Beach Marathon next October, nine months from now? That was the race the 5K had been affiliated with, so why not run something a year to the day of my first 5K? Plus, the marathon was hosted by the nonprofit our daughter did volunteer work for. It was serendipity. In four months, I’d start training.

Those four months sailed by and soon I was headlong into prescribed running: X miles on X day at X pace. I came to crave the predictability of my runs, the comfort of having at least one stable aspect of my day. Because for the past ten years, my days had been anything but stable.

Our oldest daughter, the one who volunteered for the nonprofit organization hosting the Long Beach Marathon, contracted viral encephalitis when she was 14 years old. She survived despite dismal odds, but after a life of perfect health she is now nonverbal and wheelchair bound. She cannot dress herself, feed herself, or roll over in bed. She cannot scratch an itch. But she is able to think, and she is able to tap on her Mac’s keyboard with a single weak finger, and she has tapped out speeches read on her behalf to benefit that nonprofit, one that provides low-cost wheelchairs at no cost to the disabled in developing countries. Serendipity.

The miles piled up impressively, eleven one week, thirteen the next, and soon I was logging upward of twenty-five miles per week. Training for a marathon isn’t a sprint but, well, a marathon, and the gradual five-month progression allows important physiologic adaptations to occur safely. And since I followed my program explicitly, I ignored the toothache-like soreness in my right thigh until it progressed from vague discomfort to pronounced pain.

“Why don’t you see a doctor?” my husband asked. I wanted to say, “Because I don’t want to know what’s wrong.” But what I said was, “Okay.”

A week later, after a detour through Radiology, I sat in an orthopedic surgeon’s office.

“I don’t see anything wrong,” he said, squinting at my x-ray. “No reason to stop running. Come back if the pain doesn’t go away.”

The pain didn’t go away, so I went back. This time he ordered an MRI. This time I was scared.

Meanwhile our friends had invited us to go camping with them at the beach. Running along a sandy path instead of asphalt, salt air replacing exhaust fumes? I couldn’t wait. My running shoes sat at the bottom of the suitcase because they were the first things I’d packed. The day before we were scheduled to leave, the doctor called with the results of the MRI.

“It’s a femoral stress fracture,” he said.

I imagine there was a bemused expression on my face because I was certain he was kidding. Or looking at the wrong MRI. Or something. But judging from his silence, he was neither kidding nor mistaken. “Oh,” I finally replied. “Wow. What caused that?” But I knew.

“Running,” he said. “So no running for eight weeks.”

Eight weeks? We were leaving for the beach tomorrow. I hung up, walked into the bedroom, and stared at the splayed suitcase on the bed. A hint of purple peaked from beneath T-shirts and shorts. My running shoes. Should I pretend the doctor’s phone call came after our trip? No one would know differently. I’d already run with pain for two months—how much worse could it be in three days?

And then I thought of our daughter. I thought of sometimes not getting what we want, and of living through it gracefully and authentically, if not always contentedly, and of how she had shown nothing but support as she bravely watched me run when she herself could no longer walk. And I returned my running shoes to the closet.

I completed the Long Beach Marathon injury free 30 days after my eight-week hiatus, and from the finish line ran straight into the arms of my biggest supporter. And that peanut butter, jelly, and bacon cheeseburger, the one served at the restaurant where I made the decision to run a marathon? That’s my biggest supporter’s favorite. Maybe next time we’re at that restaurant I’ll share one with her.

Life in 140 Characters Or Less

“Here: Take my debit card. Do you have some paper? A pen? Because I can write down the password for you. And there’s an ATM right around the corner.”

—Me during a run to would-be robber who wants my new Apple watch I bought for it’s GPS/pacing capabilities. Little does would-be robber know that since I bought the watch, my wrist is more valuable than my checking account.

The 13.1-Mile Sweet Spot

Running requires decisions achieved by trial and error; sort of a physically fit version of Goldilocks, if you substitute GU flavors, shoes, and running surfaces for gruel, chairs, and beds.

Had Goldilocks experienced the illusions of grandeur we many runners have, she might have fancied entering a race. But what distance would she have chosen?

Would it be a 5K, the most popular distance for beginners?

Maybe a 13.1-mile half marathon, with its concomitant bragging rights to the other beginning runners in her village?

Or would she make the rookie mistake of assuming a 26.2-mile full marathon is “only” double a half, not realizing the exponentially increased physical stressors awaiting her?

(I doubt she’d yet subscribe to Runner’s World so she’d have no knowledge of ultramarathons, which—at any distance over 50 miles—aren’t so much races as endurance experiments starring you as the lab rat.)

My guess is Goldilocks would be an overachiever—I mean, she was pretty bold to enter a vacant house and take over like that in the first place—so she’d sign up for a full marathon.

She’d pooh-pooh the ugly rumor about month-long training plans, believing a few weekly miles and a hideous fuel belt buckled around the waist of her tutu (yes, she would run in a tutu—she’s a diva that way) would be enough. But this was no fairy tale.

An unfortunate part of many runners' wardrobes.

An unfortunate part of many runners’ wardrobes.

Oh, the shame of it as she’d limp across the finish line just under the six-hour time limit and just before the walkers pushing strollers. She’d peel off her shoes, afraid her toenails would come sprinkling out, examine the blisters that grew before her eyes like August corn in Nebraska, catch a ride to her car on the back of a volunteer’s golf cart, and mutter, never again.

Months later Goldi would remember the disgrace of that day and vow never again. She would sign up for another race, only this time it would be a 5K.

In time she would rue a distance that took longer to find a parking spot for than to run. She’d get a medal (sort of) and a T-shirt (100% cotton, not wicking tech material), but she’d want more.

She’d want a half marathon.

This time Goldi followed a training plan recommended by someone in her running group who subscribed to Runner’s World. She took no chances with the all-important fueling issue and tried PowerBars and Clif Shot Bloks and Honey Stingers, ultimately deciding on Clif Shots. She tried these options on her out-and-back long runs: far enough that she needed to refuel, but close enough to home in case of any unfortunate digestive issues. She taped her toes, and bought shoes based on fit rather than fashion.

She arrived race morning prepared. She’d ditched the scratchy tutu in favor of compression shorts (she was still somewhat ruled by vanity and refused to use BodyGlide) and decided stopping at Krispy Kreme on the way to the marathon hadn’t been her best idea. The starter’s horn left her nonplussed, and she kept to her training pace despite the adrenaline. She took water at every station, and swallowed her Mocha Clif Shots like pudding (because you really have to talk yourself into a lot for this to work).

The race wasn’t easy. But just when Goldi felt like she couldn’t possibly propel herself another inch, she hit the 12-mile marker. Ten minutes later (she’d fallen off her pace) she was at the 13-mile marker and had 528 feet to go. This time she honored the distance and told herself 528 feet left; not, only 528 feet left. She ran across the finish line because she couldn’t—no, she wouldn’t—walk. A surly teenager receiving community service credit handed her a medal and said, “Good job” with as much enthusiasm as Goldi had for marathons.

She’d done it: Goldilocks had found her distance. She lived happily ever after, but perhaps most importantly she had a newfound respect for BodyGlide.

The End

Image: Michael Thom for CC/Flickr

Things Grown-Up Me Does That 10-Year-Old Me Would Never Do

Pass on buying Girl Scout cookies. I sold Girl Scout cookies a very long time ago (point of reference: they cost 50 cents a box), so I know what it’s like to spend Saturdays schlepping around your neighborhood trying to meet “each girl’s quota” so that “each girl may experience the wonder of Camp Stickittoya this summer.” It was a learning experience, though, because I learned I never want to go into sales. Today, 10-year-old me would buy a box just to be nice. But the grown-up me dials my cell phone just before leaving the store so that when I’m accosted approached by Girl Scouts hawking $4.50-a-box cookies from a card table, I can smile apologetically, shake my head, and point to my phone.

They've looked worse. Really.

They’ve looked worse. Really.

Go barefoot. Ten-year-old me went without shoes three consecutive months of the year, but 10-year-old me had decent toenails. Not pedicure toenails maybe, but toenails of normal color, length, and thickness. Had hers looked like mine do today, she would have said, “Ewwww! Gross! I’m never going barefoot again!” (Cue the slamming door.) Running may do a body good, but it wreaks havoc on the feet. Especially on the toenails. But you know what? I don’t care. If it’s above 75 degrees, flip-flops it is. Do I garner stares? Sometimes. Do I care? Not really—at least not as much as 10-year-old me would care.

Wear sunscreen. Growing up it was called suntan lotion, and it was for the beach. Never mind we lived 20 miles from the beach and playing outside sunup to sundown equated to more exposure than a few hours at the beach. I use sunscreen now, but since data suggests most sun damage occurs during childhood maybe I shouldn’t bother.

Skip dyeing Easter eggs. Seeing that Paas display in the grocery store as a kid always held such promise, didn’t it? The fact that the end result never resembled the pictures on the box was of no concern. Those displays held the same luster for our girls, and every year they’d open the box, ooh and aah over the stickers and the “magic crayon,” and we’d dye eggs. And by we, I mean me. Because I don’t count basting a few eggs then ditching the project when it got boring as dying Easter eggs, which is pretty much how I remember it. After the tablets dissolved, it was downhill excitement-wise and I was on my own—just me, the cleanup, and a vinegar aroma that lingered for days.

Ten-year-old me didn't have these, either.

Ten-year-old me didn’t have these, either.

Pay to run. At age 10, running wasn’t exercise; it was transportation. The only competition involved was outrunning cars as you crossed the street. Ten-year-old me would have scoffed at (1.) adults running, and (2.) paying for it. That’s because 10-year-old me wasn’t (1.) trying to outrun old age, or (2.) willing to fork over a nonrefundable $100 race entry fee for the privilege. Ten-year-old me was only trying to get to Karen Miller’s house before Mom noticed I left without cleaning up the Easter egg mess.

 

Thanks to Peg-O-Leg’s Ramblings for the inspiration!

What Happened the Morning I Didn’t Check My Email

I’ve been waiting for two emails most of my adult life. Okay, maybe not. Maybe for four months and ten days, respectively—but it feels like most of my adult life.

Since checking my phone every two seconds wasn’t making them appear any faster, I took a stand this morning: it was time for that inbox to release its chokehold on me, to take its scrawny fingers off of my scrawny neck. At least until after lunch.

But could I do it? Go a whole morning without checking email? Because that also meant not looking at Facebook or Pinterest or the weather just in case—whoops!—I hit the mail icon by mistake. Plus, I knew seeing the inbox’s number creeping up would make the challenge unbearable.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn't hear me. Sad.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn’t hear me. Sad.

So instead of scrolling through friends’ cat videos on FB while I ate my oatmeal, I watched Wayne, our Welsh Corgi who turned 13 in January, through the kitchen window. Wayne waits for the pool filter to come on every morning at 8:30 but he seems to have gone from hard of hearing to deaf within the span of a week, so now he looks for the bubbles to percolate instead of listening for the hum of the motor. He walks slowly, and his hind legs have a weird scissoring motion. The poor boy has arthritis, I’m sure.

After breakfast I went for a run, and noticed tiny lily-of-the-valley blossoms I hadn’t seen since last spring. The sun felt warm on my shoulders, and I marveled at our 83-degree mid-February weather.

Back home—after stopping at Chevron for a 32-ounce Diet Coke—the scent of the Molton Brown Gingerlily bodywash my daughter bought for my birthday filled the shower, and I stood under the water far longer than was beneficial for either my dry skin or the drought.

Lunchtime. In a supreme demonstration of self control, I didn’t even wolf.

Finally I swiped my phone, certain my virtuousness was about to pay off.

Nope. Nothing. Oh, lots from Banana Republic, Gap, Amazon, Pottery Barn, Petco, et al, but not the ones I’ve been waiting for.

Still, I felt victorious. I’d been mindful in my morning—present for those lily-of-the-valleys instead of cutting my run short to check my phone; watching my own dog instead of someone else’s pets. I’d conquered the inbox.

And hey—so what if I ate lunch at 9:45?

15 Things I Learned From Indoor Cycling

As I posted last Wednesday, the cycling studio I briefly attended closed its doors 10 days ago. While the owner told me tearfully she had yet to turn a profit and that her dream was over, my mind raced to a bigger issue: what was I going to do now? Join a big-box gym? Shout “time’s up!” to my not-cleared-to-run-from-surgery knee and hit the pavement?

But the dust settled. I’ve moved on.

And as I reflect on my time on a bike, I realize I’ve learned a few things along the virtual road. They are, in no particular order:

  1. Pants are preferable to shorts unless you’re sure of the prior rider’s hygiene.
  2. Apparently I have no obliques because despite the instructor’s shouting encouragement to engage my core and LEAN, I move a pitiful few inches.
  3. It’s not a seat—it’s a saddle.
  4. Whatever it is, it has no padding. And a gel cover makes no difference.
  5. Go conservative when you’re told to “gear up.” You’ll thank yourself when the instructor shouts encourages you to keep adding gear later in the ride.
  6. Sit where you can see the clock.
  7. Don’t mind the defibrillator on the wall—it’s probably just some requirement.
  8. If the class is over and the instructor asks who wants to go another 15 minutes, don’t be proud—chances are no one knows how to use the defibrillator.
  9. There is no coasting in a cycling class.
  10. There are no stop signs or signals, either.
  11. Plan on going directly home. You won’t even look good enough for Home Depot when you’re done.
  12. If the instructor shouts encourages you to “grab a drink,” do it. Pretty soon the only thing you’ll hear is your heart pounding in your ears.
  13. Bring a towel. Not a washcloth—a towel. The thirstier, the better.
  14. “Almost there” means 5 different things to 5 different instructors.
  15. If the instructor stops to help someone to the ground before that someone faints and hits their head on the concrete floor (true story), watch the clock yourself or that 1-minute sprint you were promised could easily go long. (See # 6.)

Running For Dummies

No, I’m not implying you’re a dummy; after all, you’re reading my post—that’s a testament to your intellect right there.

But I’ve been challenged to explain running in such a way a child could understand it. Which is ironic, because kids and running go together like devil’s food and cake.

For the sake of this assignment, though, let’s break it down.

Invest in decent running shoes. You will be spared untold agony if you purchase from a specialty running store (sorry, Sports Authority). They have people who know what they’re doing, not some high school kid earning minimum wage on weekends. And dress nicely—chances are you’ll be videotaped while running so they can check your footstrike.

Stretching is optional. Want to start a firestorm? Ask a group of runners what they think of stretching—it’ll make a presidential debate look like two best friends chatting over coffee.

Start out slow—slower lower than you think is necessary. So what if you appear turtle-esque to passersby? Better that than be doubled over a mile down the road. You can only pretend to check your shoelaces so many times before it arouses suspicion.

Have fun. Okay, technically it’s called fartlek, but it’s what kids do all the time: pick a spot, and run to it. It could be a mailbox in the distance, or every other telephone pole—doesn’t matter. Just catch your breath, and do it again. And again. And again. And…

What fartlek should feel like.

What fartlek ACTUALLY feels like. Courtesy middlegroundmusings.com

Push yourself a wee bit. That sounds less threatening than “run at or about your anaerobic threshold.” You should be able to talk, but it will sound something like this: “I…think…I’m…having…a…heart…attack.” You can throw out the phrase “tempo run” next time you’re at that fancy shoe store, because that’s what you’ve just done.

Push yourself a wee bit more. The “wee bit” may have been optimistic, because when done correctly you’ll swear you’re about to die. The good news is, you only run a short distance and you get to recover before the next one. The bad news is, there’s a next one. These are called “intervals.”

Looks like SOMEONE just finished his interval training. Courtesy: wikimedia

Distance doesn’t matter. Oh, who are we kidding? Distance is everything.

Have more fun—you’re done! Since you’re just starting out, we’ll save hill repeats for another day.