Friday, January 12, 2018

I was soul searching & having an emotional reaction after last night’s group run. This is my summation. 

I grew up being discouraged from doing many things that normal American kids take for granted. I was told worse case scenarios that could happen & grew up in a poor household. My parents worked hard, don’t get me wrong; but, poverty is a hard cycle to break. Add religion (that kept me safe but locally sheltered) & a mother (who often used discipline, fear tactics & guilt to take the fight out of her daughters) & I guess you could say, I had the deck stacked against me. 

I grew up in the United States, however. Isn’t this the place I would receive the most ample opportunities I could ever receive? Much to my mother’s displeasure, I’ve moved away from her domineering influence. I still feel guilt if I dwell on it; so, I don’t. Running has been part of my late blooming “rebellion.” (And let’s get real. If running is the most rebellious thing I ever do, count your blessings.) 

While I was able to hit some running distances, solo, throughout the years, I have made significant advancements with the help of my Marathon In Training group- all within one year. Part of me wanted to abide by how I was trained, growing up, & “be careful of worldly influence”; so, I trained solo for years. I floundered; but, I learned by trial & error. I finally decided I wanted a higher level of personal achievement; so, I nervously signed up for a local, organized, training group. I was scared out of my mind; but, “rebelliously,” I signed up, anyways. 

I shattered personal records in the 5K, the 10K & 1/2 Marathon within a year. I am still chasing an improvement in the marathon. As I mustered up courage to ask my coach his input, I was delighted that he answered! Encouragement?! I’m constantly surprised at how supportive the running community is. I shouldn’t be surprised; but, I resort to my upbringing & thinking that ‘people shouldn’t support me doing this.’ I really need to move past this thinking; but, it’s strongly ingrained.  I shared my stats with the head coach of MIT, he immediately zeroed in on the need to focus on my tempo runs. I would need to get used to holding a pace, for sustained mileage; but, he said he had no doubt I could surpass my goal. I was shocked & overjoyed at that prospect! He saw potential! 

I admit I had never done one tempo run in my life, before last night. I did the mileage assigned to me, in the past, (usually- most of it)... but I was very easy on myself. “6 miles? Aaaaa... 5 is good enough...” 

Last night was the “beginning” of pushing myself even more outside my comfort zone. I know advancements will come again, this year, if I run with a pack- if I follow the plan. The more I advance with this Tribe, I continue to “look back” at my mother. I wish she would give me a nod of approval. My heart is torn; but, I try not to dwell...

As for my thinking/negative self-talk, I’m working on it. Every time I power through, I show that nagging “you’re wrong/you can’t/you SHOULDN’T” voice inside my head that I’m strong, I’m safe & I’m okay. I am totally breaking my family’s traditions & while I’m proud, I’m sad. I’m sad that this is taking as much mental work as it is physical work. I’m sad that other people, including my mother, have settled for “where they are.” I’m sad for kids that don’t realize they can break free from whatever cycle they think they’re stuck in. I’m sad for parents that don’t realize the long term effects of “what” they are doing to their kids... 

I can’t say enough about this program. It’s making this condescending self-doubter become more than a runner. I’m still a mid packer; but, I never thought I’d EVER like getting off the couch or enjoy getting drenchedly sweaty (& smiling). I’m proving something to myself that is more than running. I’m making confidence. I’m not building confidence. Building insinuates there was some sort of base, a foundation, already. I, literally, had NO reason to believe I could do anything more than marry, work, have babies and raise babies. I had no clue that you could do things for self enrichment. 

To learn that you have physical strength, is to feel empowerment over other aspects of your life. You realize you may not be able to control the world, but you can sometimes “steer” where YOU are going. Steering your mind is the first step. When you didn’t have that understanding growing up, it is extremely empowering. 

Call this a mid life crisis. Call it an act of rebellion. Call it selfish. I call it breaking free & finding myself. I call it self respect, self empowerment, self motivation, self kindness... This is WAY beyond last night’s tempo run...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Do you BELIEVE You Are a "Runner"?

I've been listening to a new podcast. While I cannot relate to the tragedy this woman has experienced, and, often, I find her ramblings annoying, my heart does go out to her. I DO, however, strongly relate to some of the issues she speaks about as a runner.

She is a relatively new runner, as I feel I am as well. She never participated in sports when she was growing up. Neither did I. She had NO idea what she was doing when she first started; same for me. She has body issues. I do as well.

Both of our starts were "extreme" with advancements, newbie mistakes and frustrations. Because of the  lack of an athletic foundation in youth, we have both floundered with finding "resolve" in considering ourselves "good" at running, despite tremendous personal advancements.

Then came her comments about the struggle of calling herself a "runner." This struck a chord with me. I struggled with this "title" for years. I was waiting for that "moment" when I would FEEL like a "RUNNER." Years passed and I never felt comfortable calling myself this. I would say "I run," or the self-deprecatingly worse comment: "I TRY to run." I chased "distances" hoping titles of "1/2 Marathoner" or "Marathoner" would make me FEEL like I was a runner. I did not despite finishing those distances.

I once thought pace defined a runner. I was told (by a non runner) that "running" was a 9 minute pace or faster. When I achieved a 9 minute pace & shared this, I was told, by the same person, that an 8 minute pace was "running." I was heartbroken as I had chased (and failed to reach) to define myself with another person's definition of what a "runner" was -and then the definition was changed. (He had no comment when I told him I hit 7 minute/mile paces.) -Then, I had an epiphany: Running 8 minute miles is SLOW compared to local runners that run 6 or 7 minute miles. If they tout that THEY are runners & people slower than them are "joggers" or "not runners" does the same rule apply to them when comparing them to Shalane Flanagan? Is SHE not considered a runner because she is slower than some male runners or other elite females? No one in their right mind would deny she is a "runner." -Clearly, a PACE wasn't a definition to being a "runner," either. Pace is TRULY relative.

SO: I had finished the distances of numerous half marathons and a marathon and didn't feel the definition of "runner" applied to me, yet. My pace had improved; but, I still didn't feel comfortable with the "title" of "runner." While I realized that a "runner" is simply a person that tries to run despite pace or an occasional walking break, in the back of my mind, that definition applied to everyone else- not to me.

After hearing that podcast, I relived my journey. I heard this woman relate her similar struggle; but, I was curious about other people. After the podcast, I asked the question on our local running group's Facebook page and the responses were favorable and supportive. Many said that finishing a certain distance helped them feel like a runner. Others said: running with others made them feel like a runner, following a training plan or meeting a time goal/pace helped them FEEL like a runner. Returning to running after an injury helped one person realized what she loved.

Overwhelming, however, I, personally, related to comments from a woman named Kendra. She stated: "...I don't do it for the love of running, I do it because I WANT to love it and because I love the way I feel when I'm done... But I do love a challenge and I love the sense of accomplishment afterward." (Did you notice how many times she used the word "love?" I noted that she didn't use the word "like" or "tolerate." She was tying a strong emotion to the sport.)  While this triathlete is MORE than capable of running, she noted stirring an emotional attachment to the sport. When I asked if she felt like an "ATHLETE" there was notable e-silence, then her answer: "...I had to really think about this one. My first instinct was to say no because, instinctively, my brain thinks of people who played sports in school or professionals, or the amateurs who are really fast. My brain had a really hard time wrapping around the concept of 'myself' and 'athlete' in the same sentence. After really thinking about it, I guess I still feel the need to tie the word 'athlete' to competition. So while I struggle with actually saying it out loud, the fact that I compete in races, worry about my finish times/speed, and keep trying to improve versus just exercising for my health, makes it okay, in my mind, to call myself an athlete. I am always comparing myself to other people and often get frustrated and somewhat give up when I can't seem to get any faster or any stronger. I often feel like the joke in the crowd, which adds to my inability to truly consider myself an 'athlete'." -Finally! Someone that felt the same way as myself and has come to the same conclusions! 

I found that those that were exposed to sports at a young age found less discomfort at calling themselves a "runner" or "athlete" while those that may have started sports later in life (me), or may not be as athletically "gifted" (me, again), found the title more uncomfortable to accept. I also feel that the journey of running (or any pursued sport) sparks many to continually chase better performances. It is the carrot that keeps us coming back. It is the elusive pursuit of bettering oneself that gets us on the road or track or treadmill when we "don't" want to... because... we really DO want "to." Comparison steals our joy (to oneself or to others); yet, comparison lights the fire that keeps us training. This whole journey of improvement is a process. It is a Yin-Yang, a love-hate, a Tango, a roller coaster of emotion, sometimes. It is a process that humbles us and allows us to be our own biggest cheerleader. It gives us confidence, strength (mentally and physically) and brings us in tune with our bodies.

So "when" did I feel comfortable calling myself a "runner?" It's when I gained CONFIDENCE. My confidence has come through time and a record of more consistently hitting goals. I had floundered in the past and my performance was extremely inconsistent. Confidence has come as I've started to gain control of my worrisome negative talk, performed better & performed consistently. Confidence has come as I've joined a training group and surrounded myself with encouraging people all struggling to better themselves as well. When I realized struggling wasn't a sign of failure, I realized it was part of the process, I was more patient with myself. Confidence came when I started wearing running clothes that I love and that made me look and FEEL like a strong runner. Never underestimate how strength can make you feel and perform. "Confidence" was the common thread in the comments on Facebook. Whether the confidence came from community or from within themselves when achieving a personal goal, people became confident that they WERE a runner.

My journey is still rocky. I revert back to saying, "I run" rather than calling myself a "runner;" but, I may be personally harsh. I found comfort in the many positive comments from my fellow Toledo Roadrunner Community members.

Austin said: "A runner is someone who seeks improvement." -I appreciated that he did not reference pace-- but mentality. One person's race pace may be another person's "jog." I equate it to "effort."

Alisha stated: "I think you're a runner if you enjoy running on a regular basis." 

Ryan commented: "If you run on a regular basis, you're a runner. Whether it's short, long, fast, or slow; it's all running. I think the term 'athlete' would be a bit more specific. 'Athletes' train, while, perhaps, 'runners' exercise. You can run for the sake of running, and love every minute of it, but the 'athlete' term comes when you invest in a progressive training plan to gradually improve performance. Again, this is independent of speed, distance, etc." -WOW! I LOVED his comment!

Toni summed it up perfectly: "I believe you are a runner the minute you discover that you love to run." -Whether you love to run or love the challenge of the sport, if you keep coming back, even when it isn't "favorable," there is some kind of love involved. 

Finally, Tom shared that he was a runner: "When I learned to stand on two feet." -Nature versus Nurture comes to mind with this statement. -Some are naturally "gifted" with a good stride or biomechanics. Some were encouraged to run in organized sports as young children. Some of us were discouraged to participate in sports when we were younger and may not have a "perfect" cadence. It's the pursuit of improvement that unites us. In either case, cultivating good habits is never a waste of time, whenever we start. Activity and independence is vital to an emotionally happy life. Running is a sport that brings numerous people, locally, together. Whatever your pace or distance you are currently cultivating, keep up the pursuit. Eventually, you will confidently call yourself a true runner.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Epiphany, today: as I saw Jillian struggle but still work through this semester, my heart hurt. She was overwhelmed with organizing, transitioning & the new learning style of college. It was no longer "memorizing facts" but learning "concepts" & being prepared to answer "what if" questions. I couldn't help. I wasn't in her classes & couldn't help her study, organize or prepare. She fell behind but kept showing up. Eventually, we applied for Trio. This is a program at UT that will follow her through her college years "helping" in whatever way an individual student may need assistance. Some students may need help transitioning to the U.S. culture if they are from another country. Some students may need career counseling, financial counseling, assistance with housing or food. Jillian is taking advantage of the tutoring program. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to see her smile after finishing homework with her tutor. When she said, "It was fun doing the math with him," I was floored! Chemistry formulas fun?! I tried to stress to her that she CAN do the work. She sometimes needs assistance deciphering directions. Often, she struggles more with trying to figure out "what" they want versus "doing" the work.

As we sat in the parking lot before heading to her exam, I caught myself praying. I remembered the phrase: "There are no atheists in the trenches." I wished I could influence an A for her effort-- then I caught myself. How would that benefit her? How would getting a job with a degree that she didn't earn help her? I realized this is why we didn't home school. There must be some struggle & influence aside from a sheltered home or your kid will never be able to function outside of home. I realized, "What good is an A in a homeschooled chemistry course if I kept taking out the struggle so she didn't really learn chemistry?"

I then realized even if she failed, she could use what she learned as a base & take the class, again. Isn't that what I've done with races? I've completely fallen apart during high (self-imposed) stressful situations. I learned, reworked a plan & tried again. I realized why I hated the idea but felt the need to race. I needed someone's unbiased course/event/situation to show myself & prove to others that I had been doing the work. I wasn't pampering myself or lying about my abilities. I would be getting true, raw feedback of my abilities.

I realized then, that our girls will be just fine. As parents, our responsibility is to protect our kids from the world but not shelter our kids from the world. A parent's job is to prepare their kids for the world. I don't mean a cold world of hard knocks by pushing them into the deep end of the pool & telling them that they had better learn to swim fast or drown. I don't mean screaming at them out of frustration. Not even adults like that. -I mean teaching communication skills, reasoning skills, organizational skills, domestic skills, trying to juggle work & recreation, respect...

Again, I realized:
our girls are going to be alright.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

I've been doing solo miles a lot this training cycle. It's just the way the schedule landed this time. After the Churchill's 1/2 marathon, I did a 5K with Jim; but, most miles since then, have been in solitude. For the most part, I don't mind; but, it gets kind of lonely when I am by myself all of the time. -My old training group still stays in touch via group messaging. There are regular invitations for weekend group runs; but, it would mean getting up early, driving farther than my beloved Oak Openings & being "social." I've said 'no' on numerous occasions. Today, though, three other women from my group talked about coming. They are strong & positive. I "got over myself" & my social nerves. I hauled myself over there. One runner changed her mind for a total of 5 Yetis meeting, this morning. Everyone was cold but smiling. We chatted the ENTIRE time about cold gear necessities, races, Disney races, our MIT schedule & upcoming coaches. 7 miles passed quickly.

Two of us did 7 miles. 3 did 9 miles, together, & one kept going to finish 18 miles! She is prepping for a Disney marathon. She spoke of her friend doing the Dopey Challenge. This is a WEEKEND of races: a 5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon & full marathon in 4 days. "Are you doing the Dopey Challenge?" I asked. "No, I'm just doing the marathon." -I literally laughed out loud. I often say, "I 'only ran' XXX miles." I have never said, "I only did the marathon." This is not unique, though. Many trail races I've participated in have had races ranging from: 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 1/2 marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 miler, 100K & 100 miler over a long weekend. I've "only done" the shorter races. I realized how "silly" it sounded to undercut such an accomplishment.

It was "only" 7, for me, today. I say "only" in comparison to mileage I've done in the past- not in comparison to what others did, today. It felt awkward but good to be around others, talking about overcoming injuries, short term as well as long term plans we each had in the works.

We followed the slogan on my shirt: Run Happy... & before we knew it, we were done. I'm adding a mile or two, next weekend as I build my base, again. Taking a break has been good. I was starting to feel a bit burned out; but, now, it's time to start stoking the fire, again.

Outside winter running: prevents cabin fever &  makes the miles & months appear to go by faster. Before you know it winter will be "done." Get out & enjoy winter running at your local Metroparks. Soon Spring will be here. Embrace the cold... & then the heat. Spring races are just around the corner.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"As you wish..."

This was the line the 'poor farm boy' told Buttercup in the movie The Princess Bride. He was so smitten with her, he gave her demands precedence over anything he was doing. He did her will and gave her total preference over his own free will in life.  In the Bible, it was stated that 'the spirit left the people' when they had emotionally given up.

Why am I sharing this? There comes a time, that you care about someone so much, you give them precedence over your own desires. If there is frustration or anxiety, sometimes it can be so overwhelming, you can emotionally "shut off." I suspect it's a coping/survival mechanism.

The last few days have been emotional, to say the least. I was upset, frustrated & anxious. When I realized I had (honestly) little control, my spirit went out.

Today: I could do my morning routine of school drop offs, then climb back into bed for a bit (which I seriously considered) -OR- I could get my butt moving & change my mood. I had no desire to do anything but worry & mope. I missed my husband, my kids... my sister. I wanted to change my mood... but DIDN'T want to change my mood. -I KNEW I needed to change it. No one wants to be around a mopey downer.

I knew trail running would fix it. Road running allows my mind to wander & plan. When you trail run, you are "only in the present." You need to pay attention to tree roots, terrain and obstacles. You are constantly making quick decisions so you don't trip and fall. It's a good way to momentarily "put down" emotionally heavy weights & responsibilities, then pick it all back up when you're done. I did.

I came home smelling of cold, fresh air. The smell of "wind" permeated my clothing, my hair, even my skin. My mood had softened but not left entirely. I got cleaned up, had lunch & finished high school to college transportation.

I texted my sister, made plans & told her I love her. I saw my husband & kids. I was quiet, tried not to cry but told them I loved them as I hugged them, individually. My husband loves me. My kids love me. My sister loves me. I'm content with that strong core. It's enough to tell them: "As you wish..."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I didn't want to go to the race, tonight. It's the beginning of the month & I haven't finished billing. Jim worked, yesterday, & his legs were shot. We had a lot of excuses why it would be easier to stay home... but the good thing about paying ahead of time: not wanting to lose your money & you tend to go. :)  I knew we would have fun once we started. I knew we would see smiling faces; &, I knew they would be memories for myself & Jim. --I had SO much fun. We were trotting a slow pace. At the end, Jim sprinted from an 11 min mile to an 8:30! He was NOT going to shake me! I stayed right with him & we were laughing at the end. I know it's best not to pass him; so, I stay close. He is getting tired of not placing in his age group. I suspect he will be focusing on speed, now. I'm super excited!

I tell people that there used to be a time I would whine & belly ache that I was "doing this all alone." Now, Jim is out there with me. I stay with him on the course. Sometimes, I think about taking off; but, there are other races I get to truly race. I am glad when we finish, together-- always. We get to talk on the course & see the same things & talk about them, later. Knowing we're together beats any little trinket as an age group award; HOWEVER, if it's a gift certificate award... that may be a different set of rules. ;)

We saw people we knew, took photos, talked to fellow runners on the course & walked around afterwards.  It was fun telling people that I "dressed" Jim, today, & watch their reaction. Honestly, running with someone else in costume gives me more confidence to do so. I STILL get embarrassed showing up in a "loud" outfit. Wearing those silly outfits makes for such fun & happy memories, afterwards. It was a great date.

Now that we are back home, paper work is still on my desk & Jim's football game is on his DVR. I hear him calling to the football game on the tv as I type about our date. A  few hours, together, makes the daily grind bearable, again. Now, where was I...?

I've been resting. I've been giving myself permission to get caught up on stuff around the house or do "nothing." I've trotted low miles & explored/planned 2018's race schedule. I am looking at marathons, 1/2 marathons, Ultras, trail races, destination races & duathlons. Until the girls are independent, I'm thinking local races are in the cards, only.

Marathon training starts Jan 1st. Until then I've eaten candy from Halloween & cut back my miles. You guess what the outcome has been. 😳😮😫 No worries. It happens every year. Trails are dangerously covered, right now but they call me.

Today, however, Miracle on Main Street 5K, this afternoon, with Jim. I need to get work done before we head out. It will be a nice break, today.