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Race

Tune in Today

Fighting for it, from start to finish

October 7, 2016

“Mama, we had our Panda Powwow today.”
“You did?!” Did you get a new life skill to work on?”
“Yup.”
“Cool, what is it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“No?”
“It starts with a p … It’s a long word …”
“Persistence?”
“Noooo …”
“Patience?”
“Noooo …”
“Hmm. And it starts with a p?”
“Yeah. It’s like, when something is really, really hard. But, like, you just keep trying to do it anyway. And then you, like, win over it. Because you just kept on trying. Like, you know, even when nobody thought you could do it.”

Perseverance.

When we set goals, the intent is always to persevere. And sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t (because sometimes, you won’t). Last Saturday I successfully ran my second half marathon, and I was humbled and reminded yet again that our bodies can do amazing things when we will them to.

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The entire race journey is really an exercise in body awareness and mental manipulation. It is perhaps the only true exception to the widely accepted definition of insanity. You show up and repeat the same action, day after day, mile after mile, hour after hour, song after song, and expect different outcomes. But it doesn’t make you crazy. Just optimistic. Because in this case you actually do get a mixed bag of results depending on the day, the weather, the wind, the blisters. My 8-mile training run was as painful for my pride as it was for my knees and lungs. I ached psychologically, physically, spiritually, from the second my sneakers hit the pavement until we turned the final corner. Just 4 weeks later, I completed a 10-mile run with a full minute shaved off my splits and a damn-near cocky disposition. Running is the most unpredictable game you can play with yourself. Strategy is for suckers.

And yet, I keep dealing myself in. I am not a great runner. I aspire to be, of course, but I am not great. I will never break the tape. In fact, the tape and streamers have been swept up and taken to the dumpster 5 blocks away by the time I finish. But I still come to the party. Better yet, I bring a guest. If you’ve been hanging in here for awhile you might remember my bud Britni who ran with me last year. That was until we had to part dramatically around mile 10 and I finished ‘er out with a 70-year-old stranger.

This year Britni went and got herself in the family way, but one of my ride-or-dies for the last 18 years, Jackie, signed up. Jackie, much like me, much like Britni, was not a runner when she checked the boxes to enter the race. It was a leap of faith. It was a declaration of an intent to persevere. It was brave, and she was brave for doing it. What possessed her? I think the same thing that possesses most people who sign up for these things. It’s a temporary self-improvement project. It’s purpose. Plus, don’t we all just want a win once in awhile?

For 12 weeks, starting in July, every Sunday I met either Jackie or my embarrassingly swifter friend Jill for the week’s long run. While the training schedule was exactly the same, something felt different this year. I don’t think I had what I would categorize as “a good run” until the very last training run the Monday before the race.

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“Man, do you feel older this year?” Jill asked during week 3.
“Ya know, I do.” I said.

You guys, i wish I were being facetious. At the ripe age of 33, my hips, ankles, knees and back screamed at me for 12 straight weeks to, for the love of all that is holy, stop hammering them into the ground and dragging them up small hills that felt like Mount Kilimanjaro. I guess I just never found my groove this go-around. But Jackie did, and then she lost it, and then she found it again. And I was so, so proud.

There is a rare joy that comes with watching someone else uncover a soul-changing strength that was just lurking in the caverns of their being, completely untapped. While I think most of us have that grit, not everyone chooses to go looking for it. Or to push themselves to that point where you either discover it or abandon the pursuit of it. Turns out, I get my jollies watching others push themselves to this uncomfortable, magnificent place. I mean, I like to do it myself as well, but moreso it’s the watching others.

Glennon Doyle Melton has a term for these discovery missions, and life in general. She calls them, “brutiful”. Because certain moments of every day are brutal. And certain moments of every day are beautiful. Life is brutiful. Running is brutiful.

There were stretches of country roads where it was just me, Jackie, God and the sunset. Beautiful. There were gradual inclines that hit just as a side stitch settled in. Brutal. High fiving one of my dearest friends after 2 hours of uninterrupted conversation and a new personal best; Beautiful. Chaffed armpits and chin acne; Brutal. See how that works. It’s the good with the bad. The tightrope stretched between triumph and adversity. Any challenge worth taking is one peppered with trials because, let’s face it, perseverance is a prize that doesn’t come cheap.

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On the day of the race, my sweet Jackie felt good. Really good. The temperature was ideal. The crowd and spectators were supportive. All the pieces were in place for a spectacular morning. But I had lead legs. I don’t know why. Why do these things ever happen? Not enough training. Too much training. The fact that I had peanut butter toast instead of dippy eggs. Who knows. But my limbs felt like cinder blocks from mile 3 on.

I’m always amazed at the master-slave relationship between the mind and the body. If you will it, they will run. Confession: The only things that fueled me to the finish line on that October morning were my persistent best friend, stupid pride and a ravenous desire for Chipotle.

“Get outta your head,” Jackie urged. “You’ve got this, Court.”
[me, panting]
“C’mon girl. We’re finishing this thing together. I can’t do it without you.”
[more panting] “Uh huh.”
“I can tell you’re in your head. C’mon Court!”
“Jac, I love you, but this won’t make me go any faster.”
[both panting]

I so badly wanted her well-intentioned pep talk to be the magic pill that broke up the cement encasing my extremities and my state of mind, but sadly it just wasn’t that kind of day for this old mare. It’s so frustrating when your expectation for yourself and your actual ability can’t find a way to communicate and compromise.

But just as tortoises do, I slowly, steadily finished the race. I think that’s a big part of the bargaining I’ve learned to do with myself. I accept that I will finish, but I also have to accept that I won’t be doing it quickly. Once I resign myself to the reality that I will eventually get where I’m going and I won’t, in fact, die getting there, I’m usually OK with hangin’ in. But speed is nonnegotiable. My body just takes it off the table. Covering the distance will have to be enough.

When the finish line was in sight, my homegirl sprinted it in. “Get that for yourself,” I thought. My pace stayed lukewarm but amazingly, I finished the race 4 minutes faster than I did last year. Jill blew her goal out of the water and came in well under 2 hours. I see a full marathon in that mama’s future.

The punctuation mark to these things is always the post-race picture. It’s over. You did it. You can throw your arms over each other’s shoulders, rehash the brutiful moments and smile the truest smile. Because that smile is relief spilling out of you. Relief that you did it. Relief that they did it. Relief that no one got hurt. Relief that all that time away from your family wasn’t for nothing. Relief that rest is a car ride away.

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Then there’s the babies. Ahhh, the babies. As a mother to three little impressionable girls (Jill and Jackie are also mothers of three), the pain of lost toenails and runner’s knee and stubborn chaffing dissolves when I see their genuinely ecstatic little faces. The runners enter a baseball stadium at the end of this race, and Hank stood above the entryway into the outfield, so when I made that turn to bring it home, my tiny tribe was standing right above me. They screamed from their toes and squeezed excitedly onto the fence railings. “Go Mama!” That sound rained down on me and, combined with the sight of the end, triggered the most organic emotional release. My hot tears carved jagged trails through my salt-crusted cheeks and the peace of validation hugged my heart. My poor training runs and lackluster performance washed away because it was obvious they didn’t care. In their eyes, I had won the whole damn thing.

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And after all of it was over – After they asked to wear my medal. After I admired their homemade sign. After I promised I’d help them practice so they, too, could become a runner. – I bent down, scooped up the littlest one, put her on my hip and started the long walk back to the car. The glory is great, but it doesn’t have the longest lifespan. I could feel it fading already. The lesson, however … the lesson will last. All the good ones do.

Perseverance.
“steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc.,especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

Thoughts

The Thanksgiving cadence

December 1, 2015

Tis the season for zero free time and a feast ’round every corner. Now, I am a creature of habit, so traditions are an idea that I can really get behind. I love how, every year, the agenda is relatively the same, but the details are subject to change on a whim. The framework of our turkey day festivities typically looks a little like this …

Thanksgiving Eve. 6:30 p.m.
We have a Friendsgiving with a group of Hank’s high school buddies. I was present the night the event was conceived. It was 2007-ish, before we were married. Before we had babies. Before the hangovers hung on for days. The bar scene On Thanksgiving Eve has always been such a trainwreck and we were just never into that noise. So, on that fateful pre-holiday evening, we went to Chuck’s instead. Let’s just say one of the guests slept with his head in a litter box that night and an annual event was born. These days, mini vans line the street outside Chuck’s suburban home and the only trip-inducing raves come from the little girls’ dance party upstairs. Things typically wind down by 10 o’clock (about the time they would start in our younger days) and the conversation is typically WTF (work, traumas, family).

Thanksgiving Morning, 7:45 a.m.
Three years ago, after noticing both of my siblings were signed up, I decided that I, too, would rise at the break of dawn and trot about with hundreds of my fellow townfolk at the Galloping Gobbler. It’s a 4-mile race that winds through a cemetery and I can tell you, that first year was rough. I remember starting out, at a stride even snailier than the 11-minute miles I log today, and my brother looked at me and said, “Is this really your pace?” I nodded, too winded to verbally confirm his inquiry, and he gave me a reassuring, “OK!” (Completely out of character for big Matt.) The course is serene but rolling. At the base of each and every hill, my brother would say, “Oh, this is the last big hill.” But it wasn’t. We reached at least 6 summits on that chilly November morning, but I did it. The next time, with Matt towering at my side again, I did it a little easier. And this year, with him and a few of our friends, I found myself feeling stronger, more capable and in a position to support other people. It’s such an invigorating start to a day that’s inevitably saturated with sugar and all that toxic, delicious temptation.

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Thanksgiving Morning, 11:00 a.m.
After my go-to greasy breakfast sandwich from the golden arches, Matt drops me off at home. The chicks are always hanging out in their pjs eating donuts and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I pour a cup of hot coffee, take off my running shoes and settle in for some cuddles and lip sync performances from up-and-comers perched on floats with dancing gingerbread men and Smurfs. We shower and get ready at a leisurely pace with the dog show on in the background.

Elf

Thanksgiving Day, 1:00 pm.
The eating commences. My favorites include but are not limited to: Corn casserole, dinner rolls with cheese slices and turkey on them, deviled eggs and pecan pie.

Day After Thanksgiving, 12:00 p.m.
This is when we typically pull out the totes and start decking our halls. If we haven’t formally met, allow me to introduce myself here. I am not that woman who adorns her mantel with tasteful, elegant snowcapped trees and precise scalloped garland. I don’t discriminate against multicolored strands and I rarely discard a keepsake craft. Each year I pack away more than I unpacked at the start of the holiday. I live for glued-on Rudolph noses and worn trinkets with my babies’ names written on the back. If there’s a clear space, I’m gonna cover it. There’s going to be glitter on the walls and blow ups in the front yard and if you can’t handle it then I can’t handle you during Christmas, soooooo …

Saturday After Thanksgiving, 6:00 p.m.
If, for some ridiculous reason, you want to experience a truly voyeuristic glimpse into my life, The Lighting Ceremony would be it. Growing up my father was Clark W. Griswold. The art of exterior illumination was handed down to him and snowballed over the years into an intense, extensive Christmas display that earned my parents the title of “The Christmas House”. His holiday spirit isn’t quite as bright as it was in its prime, but my mom still bleeds red and green and sneezes tinsel. So, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she sets the dining room table with the special holiday dishes she’s had since I can remember, cooks a feast that embarrasses the week’s earlier attempts and we flip the switch that sparks the official start of the season. We gather out front while Dad scurries around matching female ends to male ends and calling out for extension cords. We clap and cheer and critique and point out what’s better this year than last year. Then we get in our cars and drive by the house on the highway (they live along the interstate) so we can honk … at a house … where no one is because we’re all in our cars. Anyway, that’s what we do. And it always feels like every feeling I have for my family condensed into one magical night.

So, those are my traditions. They are the smells and tastes and faces that make my holiday so warm and sweet. They are part of what makes me who I am and the woven cloth of memories I’ll hand on to the girls. You know, these girls …

 

Tune in Today

Run this for me

September 28, 2015

Update: Tune in today to see if she can … run her first half marathon.

The short of it is, I finished the race. I ran 13.1 miles with thousands of my closest strangers. The long of it is, it was probably the hardest physical feat I’ve ever accomplished in my life. Tougher than child birth, you ask? Oh, 100 percent. See, with labor, once that little human is in the chute, you can’t just opt out of the process. With running a race, you have to will yourself to keep going, knowing with every step that you could technically just step to the sidewalk, ask an onlooker for a ride to the nearest bar and call it a day. I mean, you really could. They’re just standing there. Not that I considered it or anything …

I woke up early, around 6, and had a super-safe piece of whole wheat toast with almond butter and honey. I did some quick yoga, changed and drove south to Britni’s house so her husband could drop us off. I walked in to find Libby, a dear, sweet friend and former coworker, standing in Britni’s kitchen. I knew she was driving up from Indy, but wasn’t expecting to see her before the race. That was the first time I cried on race day.

I’m not sure what it is about getting up early and standing around with a thousand recently hatched, abnormally fast-fluttering butterflies in your stomach that makes you have to pee so much, but porta-pots were all I could think about before we started. We found my girl Jill (who I also trained with) and she also seemed severely nervous, which made me feel better about my churning stomach. She’d been here before, more than a couple times. We opted to leave Jill and her friend Cassie in Corral F and go find “our people” in one a little further – and slower – down the line. Boom! The cannon fired a shot through the crisp, softly lit sky and the crowd started to shuffle and trot toward the start line. This was really happening.

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The first 4 miles were uneventful. The weather was glorious for a run, the other folks at our pace were pleasant and we just kept our rhythm and moved along. Our first surprise came around mile 6. Hank’s mom and sister, Natalie, were there with her adorable little family. She had sent a package with an exciting assortment of running snacks and said she wouldn’t be able to make it. But it turns out, they made the 2 hour drive just for the occasion only to turn around and drive back. Again, the tears.

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Somewhere around mile 8 we saw our road crew: Britni’s husband and mom, Libby and another dear friend and former coworker, Ashley. Libby, a wispy blonde bottle of spirit and support and a runner herself, ran along with us for a bit in her cute little flats to take our vitals. “How are you feeling? What have you eaten? You look great! Great pace!” We parted and Britni admitted she was about 5 strides from peeing her pants, just in time for a porta-pot. We took a pitstop, drank some Gatorade and ate some magic jelly beans. This is where things took a turn.

As soon as we started back up, I could hear that familiar constriction in Britni’s chest. Her eyes got a little wide. We’d been here before … the wheezing breath, the drainage, the cough. Her upper respiratory infection had given her a reprieve for almost 9 miles, but now, here it was, in spite of her double dose of Sudafed that made her, admittedly, just a little geeked up. I would liken that mile after her chest tightened up to the first hour of a baby giraffe’s life. She would try to jog, only to have her body refuse. We’ll call it 4 or 5 times she tried to just push through. Way more than I would have. Between labored intakes she said, “I need you to leave and go run this. Run it for me.” It was, without a doubt, our Saving Private Ryan moment. It was dramatic and emotional and so out of character for the two of us it just makes it all the better. So, somewhere just before mile 10, two became one.

I saw Libby and the crew shortly after we split and probably a bit over-excitedly instructed her husband to take her inhaler back to her. In retrospect, I might have induced a bit more panic in regard to her condition than what was necessary. My emotions were just so heightened and I felt so awful for her, and, to be honest, awful for me and the wheels just seemed to be falling off the wagon. This isn’t how I saw this thing ending. Libby came running up beside me. “You OK? It’s going to be OK. It’s just a 5k now. She was scared she’d hold you back. She knew this might happen. You got this. OK? You got this.” This was the third time I cried.

Now, it was just me, a sore knee (I tweaked in when I turned back to point to the corner where I’d abandoned Britni) and 3.1 long ass miles. This is where the mental aspect of this sport fascinates me. I started by telling myself, “OK, Courtney, act like you’re just starting now. You have fresh legs and you’re just out for a short 3 mile training run. You can do this. You can do this.” But with no music or sidekick and dwindling energy, my body was entering into negotiations with my brain. My legs put quitting on the table for consideration. My mind considered it. My lungs countered with walking for a bit, just to get through. My mind considered it. It was a game of table tennis that went on for the entirety of my time alone. In the end, my mind took guardianship over my body, ruling it too weak and therefore temporarily insane, and thus, deemed its plea bargains inadmissible.

I came down the final street before you enter into the baseball stadium and round to home plate for the epic finish. I had fumes left in the gas tank, but fumes are all you need at the point, I suppose. I looked up as I came into the out field and saw Spike and Hank. I heard the girls’ sweet little voices yelling, “Go, Mama!” I cried for a fourth time. I heard Jill and her family willing me on to the end. And then it was over. I had done it. Jill had come in under 2 hours, I clocked in at 2:28 and Britni was a mere 10 minutes behind me.

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As my group of girlfriends, some I hadn’t trained with at all (mainly because they are stupid fast) and some I had a bit, came together with salt crystallizing on our faces and offensive odors and the biggest smiles you could imagine, I felt consumed by joy. I think that’s part of how running gets ya. It’s an individual sport where, really, all of the contestants just want to see you finish. For those toward the front of the pack, there’s more of a competition to it, sure, but for the vast majority, it’s a competition against yourself and everyone on the road with you is fighting the same battle and rooting for everyone in front of and behind them. The camaraderie is like a drug.

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You realize, too, that everyone has a story. I was matched stride for stride by a gentleman in his late 70s on those last 2 miles. The only difference was he was man enough to take a beer shot, when I couldn’t even begin to stomach it. “If I puke, I’ll know what I did!” he chuckled as we shuffled on. I saw a young man with his military pack and boots, a firefighter in his gear, and spoke with a woman who told me she dedicates every mile she logs to a young woman, who was a stranger to her just a year ago, who is battling a terminal disease.

Today, I took the girls for a walk around the loop behind our house. It’s just under .5 mile. I can’t help but think of how I started out, last spring, begging my body to make it around that loop twice without having to stop. That was just about 5 months ago. I’m going to say the thing you’re not supposed to say here, but I am so gosh dang, holy crap, unbelievably proud of myself. In a life where it’s easiest to be self deprecating and always want more from yourself, for once I am insanely impressed with and proud of myself for putting in the hours and the pain and seeing this bucket list item of mine all the way through to the finish line. I ran 13.1 miles. The strength of the mind’s will to prevail and the body’s ability to follow is amazing.

I’m thankful to every stranger who stood along that course and cheered me on. Unbelievably grateful to the family and friends who made a special trip on their Saturday morning just to see me accomplish this goal. It didn’t have to mean anything to anyone else but me, but it did and that fills my heart with gratitude and humility in a capacity I’ve never known. I’m thankful to my brother, who not only ran 7.5 miles with me in the dark with very little warning, but also helped with my kids so I could keep training while Hank was out of town. I’m thankful to Jill and Britni for the companionship, encouragement, inspiration and friendship every step of the way, even if that meant asking each other repeatedly whose stupid idea this was to begin with. But most of all, I’m immensely grateful for my husband who had to make sacrifices these past 3 months and stand aside while I continued to complain about self-inflicted pain, exhaustion and fear. He never made me feel guilty or like I was a bad mother for chasing this dream down for myself.

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Before we left the stadium after the race, Spike said, “Mama, did you win?”
“I sure did,” I said. “You want to wear my medal?”
“Mama, I’m so proud of you.”
“Thank you, baby. That means the world to me.”

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And I realized how much she’d been watching and the weight of that responsibility. It was one more shot of validation and, at least for the day, I did feel like Superwoman. At least to her.

Until next time …