Lenten Journey: Day 1, Heal

Image result for lenten photo a day 2017 rethink

Last year for Lent I wrote a little bit everyday about a given topic and related it to my walk with Christ. Instead of spending time on social media, I spent time writing, praying, and reflecting. I will take time this year as well to write about a topic a day. I found the practice to be healing and introspective. Over the next few weeks, I hope to stay true to the spirit of freewriting by not editing or revising much.

MARCH 1: HEAL

Twenty sixteen was a year of grief. I hope 2017 will be a year of healing.

What grief do I need healing from? First of all, the grief of the intangible: infertility. I’m still wrestling with the reality that infertility unfortunately brings upon its sufferers. And I don’t think suffer is too strong of a word. Second of all, I need healing for the loss of loved ones – most recently my grandmother, almost a year ago now. Her death was sudden and heartbreaking, and I went through many weeks of reading and pondering all I could about grief, death, what our bodies actually go through when they die, and the hope we have in an afterlife.

A good portion of my healing so far has occurred through a practice of introspection and disconnection from things that bring me, well, grief. To put it plainly, I’ve deleted my Facebook once and for all. I’ve taken many steps back from social media in order to quit the comparison game. I’ve given myself permission to take back my time and head space. It’s been quite revolutionary.

Another portion of my healing, surprisingly, has been working with children. Exposure therapy, if you will. In August I was hired to teach elementary ESOL. I had never taught elementary in my life. I’d been an paraprofessional in first grade, but really had no idea about the #elementarylife. Funny enough, my office is situated in the hallway with the youngest children in our school – pre-K and preschool. Some days this has been rough, to see their adorable selves carrying their huge backpacks, thinking about if we had had a child when we started trying, he or she would be getting to that age. However, overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I never lack hugs or smiles…. but maybe I lack patience at times. ūüėČ

And finally a third portion of my healing has been my yoga practice. I never thought I’d become a ‘yogini’, but I found a local yoga studio that’s just fantastic. I’ve been going about 3 times per week for about a month. The strength I’ve built is surprising… I keep joking that one day I’ll be able to do a legit pushup. Seriously, I’ve begun to love my body again instead of feeling so betrayed.

Running is always a part of healing for me… it’s also a part of celebration, of determination, of courage. It keeps me centered and gives me time to meditate and pray and appreciate the world around me. And for all these things I’m grateful.

NCR 20-Miler Recap

I should probably be lesson planning right now, but meh. It’s Wednesday. It’s rainy, windy and cool outside. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and not roasting. It’s finally fall.

And what better way to welcome fall than some running through the woods this weekend? The trees haven’t really started changing yet, but it was a lovely 46* starting out on Sunday.

I didn’t know even 24 hours before the race started that I’d be running it. I have to say I’ve¬†never been so impulsive about signing up for a race. However, I’ve been training for the Marine Corps Marathon coming up in only a month (!!!!!) and I needed to do a long run anyway.

The NCR 20 Miler was on my radar a few months ago as a good way to get in a 20-miler without having to go it alone, but I forgot about it until I saw a post on Instagram. So if you’re wondering if advertising on Instagram works, well, it does. I drove down to Timonium to the running store to sign up and pick up my packet all in the same day. I mean, who wouldn’t want that awesome shirt?!

snip-ccr

My husband and I got up around 5:15 on Sunday morning, not too much later than when we wake up during the week. I have to say, that’s one thing I’ve really gotten disciplined about: getting up early and running before the sun even peeks over the horizon.

We got coffee on our way out of town (naturally) and drove up to Freeland, MD, just off I-83 and about 2 miles from the Mason-Dixon line (Pennsylvania border). It was a beautiful drive, mostly country roads, and we watched the sun rise.

The race was a point-to-point, so he dropped me off and drove down to Cockeysville, conveniently 20 miles south of Freeland. ūüėČ He hung out and drank coffee and did a little writing of his own while I ran.

I had my sights set on running a 12:00 pace, which would put me at 4 hours. That’s much slower than I’ve run long distance races in the past, but this is a new day. I’m heavier than I was 5-6 years ago while training for my first marathon. I’ve been dealing with this nagging calf/soleus pain in my left leg. I suspect that it might be caused by my shoes, but I’d like to not shell out a buck fifty for another pair quite yet.

Per the website, there were no headphones allowed on the trail. I ran the first 10-11 miles with no music. Just me, the trees, the sounds of nature, and the occasional cyclist or runner coming the opposite way. Let me tell you, it is a major victory for me to be able to run and enjoy it without headphones. After about mile 11, I turned on some music on my phone in the front pocket of my Nathan hydration pack. It was the perfect boost I needed between miles 10-15.

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20 miles of this? Yes, please.

My fuel for the race was a small iced coffee and pumpkin donut from Dunkin (apparently Dunkin is a big thing on the East Coast.. they’re everywhere…) and a couple Gatorade chews. For some reason, I have not been favoring GU gels, or really gels of any sort, this training cycle. The texture and taste are generally unappetizing. So I’ve been picking up these Gatorade chews from Walmart. They’re very similar to gummy candy, which I love, so it’s a good choice. I filled my Nathan pack with water and Nuun tablets. I’ve been using Nuun for about a year now and have never had any issues.

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Monkton, MD, a stop along the trail

Once I hit mile 17, I knew I had it in the bag. I saw lots of people who had passed me early on walking and looking like they were hurting. I told myself, “I’ll be damned if I come out and do this run and not finish strong.” So I did.

The last mile came out onto a road that was pretty hilly. Since I’ve been running hills since I moved to Maryland, it was no big deal. I powered through and had my second fastest mile (11:11). I finished in 3:59:33, pace 11:59. One second faster than my goal pace. I felt awesome.

It was the perfect confidence booster for MCM. I did an 18-miler just the week before, and a 17-miler two weeks before that. I’ll do around 12 this weekend and push for one more 20-miler October 10 before a three-week taper.

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Maryland Half Marathon –> NCR 20-Miler. Find the differences between these pictures: a hot, humid summer, ¬†10-12 lbs, and loads of confidence.

I’ve treated this week similar to a ‘zero week’ (more like a 15 mile week) and taking it easy on my nagging calf. I’ll ramp it up next week and then move into the taper. Next I’ll start thinking about spring races…

Beautiful Pain: Maryland Half Marathon Report

My first race in Maryland is complete. Done. Over. And boy, are my legs feeling it.

MD half

After we moved, I had my sights set on completing a half marathon. 13.1 miles is actually not my go-to distance. I ran a marathon before I ever ran a half. The distance of 13.1 is deceiving, at least to me. With okay training I can work up to, say, an 8-miler. And 8 miles starts to feel good. But it’s the dark place between 8 and double digits that’s not my favorite.

fulton md

Early this morning we drove down to Fulton, MD, which between Baltimore and Washington, DC. I don’t mind I-95 at all in the early hours of the weekend. Weather was good – it was cool and sunny. This spring has been quite cold and rainy, so the sun was a welcome sight.

Mile 1: 11:32 | Mile 2: 11:33 | Mile 3: 11:38

I felt good starting out, but I knew that I went out too fast. I knew this race was hilly, and I was ready for the challenge. Despite missing some runs in March because of life events, I had done almost all long runs on the hilly country roads around my town. So I felt pretty confident.

Mile 4: 12:27 | Mile 5: 11:39 | Mile 6: 12:24

The hills persisted, and so did I. I skipped the first water stop, but walked the rest of the stops. I could really begin to feel the effects of the warmer weather and the sun. There wasn’t much shade on this course, and I could tell I was sweating more than normal. My body was working hard to keep me cool.

MD half course elev

Mile 7: 12:36 | Mile 8: 12:19

I don’t remember much of these miles except for the hills. Every time we came around¬†a bend in the road, I looked forward to see what was coming next. If there was a downhill, it didn’t last long. But the reprieve was welcome just the same.

Mile 9: 13:38 | Mile 10: 13:01

These miles were a dark, dark mental place for this resurfacing long distance runner. I had taken two gels and drank Nuun consistently but still was feeling fatigued. It was at this point about 20 degrees warmer than I’d trained in. I had told Aaron that it’d take me ‘about 2 hours and 30 minutes’ for this race, and I knew at this point that that was not going to happen. I texted him and told him that ‘I hit the wall hard’. A wall in a half marathon? It happens. I even had the thought, ‘Well, if I just walk the rest of the way, I can still finish in 3 hours.’

My sister Leah suggested some songs for my playlist, and one of the songs was “Beautiful Pain” by Eminem. I have to be honest: I’ve always been a closet fan. I don’t know his songs by heart but I appreciate the honesty about life that always comes through in his music. So this song came on right as I started down a huge downhill and into a clearing of trees that melted into farmland.

I can feel the heat rising
Everything is on fire
Today is a painful reminder of why
We can only get brighter
The further you put it behind ya
But right now I’m on the inside
Lookin out, cause
I’m standing in the flames
It’s a beautiful kind of pain
Setting fire to yesterday
Find the light, find the light, find the light…
...Cause they hurt you so bad, it’s like they murdered your ass
And threw dirt on your casket, but you returned from the ashes
And that hurt that you have, you just converted to gasoline…
…So familiarize with what having to swallow this pill is like
It happens all the time, they take your heart and steal your life
And it’s as though you feel you’ve died because you’ve been killed inside
But yet you’re still alive which means you must survive…
Running has always been an emotional experience for me, and this song and downhill were there when I needed them. I felt vindicated of whatever emotional pain, grief, or struggling I’d either been a victim of or put myself through recently.

Mile 11: 12:13 | Mile 12: 14:05 | Mile 13: 13:43

These miles were tough, but the dark cloud of hopelessness that I could get through this race was gone. I switched up my strategy (as if I had one to begin with…) to alternating running and walking.

Chip time: 2:45:39 | Garmin time: 2:44:35  | Garmin pace: 12:30/mi

I hit my Plan¬†C. Plan¬†A was 2:30. Plan¬†B was 2:40. Plan¬†C was to hit my time from the Flying Horse Half in October (the worst race I’ve run…. ever). I would say this race was even tougher mentally than Transmountain, just because that race had one giant hill mountain whereas this one had hill after hill after hill.

Now to rest and get ready for Marine Corps Marathon training that begins the last week of June. I’m working on losing more weight before training starts because carrying around extra weight makes you slower. Who knew? ūüėČ I’m currently reading up on the Hansons Marathon Method and gearing up for putting much more mileage than I did for my first marathon (Illinois).

Biggest take away from today: Must. Train. On. More. Hills. Thankfully, even the hills have mercy in every mile.

2016-05-14 18.39.19

Foundation = Built

I’m less than two weeks away from racing the Maryland Half Marathon. I haven’t officially trained (well) for a race since the Transmountain Challenge Half Marathon in October 2013. For the past two years, I took it easy with running and exercising, and depression and busyness prevented me from keeping up well with working out and eating to nourish my body.

When we moved to Maryland four months ago, I thought it was a good opportunity to start over… in a lot of ways. So I found a spring half marathon, wrote up my training plan, and got to work.

Total miles since January: 203.54 miles

  • January: 12.7 miles/pace unknown. Slow!
  • February: 56.98 miles / 12:12 average pace
  • March: 51.17 miles / 11:49 average pace
  • April: 82.69 miles / 12:32 average pace

In general, my plan calls for three runs per week: a speed workout, regular run, and long run. For the past few weeks, my long runs have been alternating between increasing mileage (9, 10, 11, 12) and an 8-miler on the alternating weeks. I followed a similar plan in 2013 and saw great success.

Over the past few months, I’ve missed quite a few mid-week runs, but I’ve never missed a long run. Most of my running has been on hills. It doesn’t matter which direction I head when I leave my house to run, or even if I drive somewhere to run – it’s hilly.

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Elevation Profile from my 12-miler on Saturday

Two weeks ago I did an 11-miler where the average pace was 12:16, and Saturday I did the same route and added a mile and my average pace was 11:40, and I didn’t walk any of the hills. The half has a total elevation gain/loss of 1029 ft, so I’d say I’m ready for that. Today at the gym I did a speed workout, and I shaved five minutes off my time since I did the same workout in March. Pretty darn proud of that.

It seems that I’ve built up a good base, and just in time for the half. At the end of June, I’ll be starting training for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30. I’m so excited about this race as it’s been on my running bucket list for awhile. I spent some time this weekend writing out the plan. I’ll be using Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan, which calls for 4 runs per week, one day of cross training, and 2 days of rest. I think after building this base and staying ‘half marathon ready’ until the end of June, I’ll be ready to tackle the higher mileage.

 

Seven miles.

Seven miles of clouds

Seven miles of cold

Seven miles of humidity

Seven miles of hills

Seven miles started with ‘it’s too cold’

Seven miles ended with ‘the cold is refreshing’

Seven miles started with ‘this view is boring’

Seven miles ended with ‘this view is home’

Seven miles started with ‘I can’t do this’

Seven miles ended with ‘I can do anything’

Seven miles started¬†with ‘I’m hungry’

Seven miles ended with¬†‘I’m satisfied’

Seven miles started with ‘I’m weak’

Seven miles ended with ‘I’m strong’

Seven miles started with sadness

Seven miles ended with elation

Seven miles started with ‘this hurts’

Seven miles ended with ‘this heals’

 

 

aberdeen

 

March 5 | Focus

Focus

The ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time is glorified in our society. A Lenten promise to focus on for six weeks. A plan for a half marathon that lasts 12 weeks. A new eating plan that is supposed to last… forever? If you stick with it, you’re a hero, and if you fall off the wagon, you failed.

I’ve tried all these types of intense focus, from marathon training plans, to Lenten/Advent habits or rituals, eating plans.. and to be honest, I always fail somewhere along the way. I miss a day, have one too many cheat meals, just don’t feel like running that weekend. And I feel down about it.

So in order to have more focus in my life, I’ve tried setting more measurable and specific goals. Instead of saying, okay, I’m going to commit 100% to this half marathon plan, I’m going to look at the plan for every day. Narrow the scope a bit so it feels much more doable. Sure, I’ll probably hit 90% of the runs for the plan because if I don’t, ¬†I won’t have a good race, but I also allow some leeway in there just in case.

This is not to discourage wholehearted¬†attempts at creating new patterns or habits, especially if they’re healthy or good ones. I just refuse to look at it as a do-or-die thing. I keep my focus by getting to the heart of it: I see the benefits it has for my life, whether it’s keeping up with a daily devotional, running 3-4 times a week, or eating less ice cream (sad!). I’m much more motivated and focused when I’m not a slave to whatever plan I ascribe to, but rather a willing and involved participant.

Surviving the descent

I have to find the silver linings, the good things, about this. Because if I don’t, I’m doomed to live a life of regret and sorrow. Thing is, I never really thought about the alternative. Sure, maybe I tossed the idea around in my head that maybe this would never happen, but I didn’t dwell on it, and I really didn’t think it wouldn’t happen.

I don’t know if I’m still actively grieving. I spend a lot of time in my head as my own psychologist, even though I don’t have any credentials. I try to masterfully meta the crap out of my feelings, thoughts, outbursts. I have to just feel, let it be. Just let it be.

Something like this inevitably drives an annoying and awkward wedge, whether large or small, into¬†relationships. Thankfully we, the only ‘we’ that really matters, have enveloped that chasm with our love and affection for each other that’s not dependent on the outcome.

Here I go, metathinking again. But maybe this is a reason I love adventure and mountaineering literature. People choose to go through hard trials of all sorts… climbing Everest without oxygen, trying to be the first woman to reach the summit of K2, setting out on a voyage to reach the top of the world. It’s not like any of us were forced into this; we all partook at will.

Some people perish, posthumously granted an all-access pass into the heart of mountains and seas. Some people survive, broken, missing fingers and toes, a brutal reminder of the peril they endured. Some people come out of it refreshed and renewed for the next adventure.

I think I’ve been a little of all of those kinds of people. A part of me has died, quite literally. Month after month, now¬†year after year. There’s nothing tangible to determine this end, but I’m still missing something, someone, that seemed just within reach at one time. That for over ten years just hovered above the troposphere, waiting for me to call it, him, her, down to existence with me. I guess that someone will no longer hover; that someone will be taken away by the jet stream, out into space, forever.

A part of me has survived, no doubt about it, but a little bit broken. Fingers, toes, a bit frostbitten, but nothing that won’t heal, albeit damaged, after some time has passed. I still function. I still contribute. I still will thrive.

I cannot say that a part of me is refreshed and renewed, not yet. I’m getting there, ever so slowly. Looking back, I think I was grieving before I knew I was grieving. The mountain climber knows that if he has survived the descent and the long trip home, he will most likely live to climb again. With each prayer, meditation, embrace, air in my lungs, feet on the pavement, I will too.

K2, the second highest and arguably deadliest mountain in the world.