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The day after vegan

October 9, 2017

Some of you have asked about the day after The Livin la Vida Vegan Challenge, and I guess, in hindsight, I did kind of leave you hanging a bit. Blogging every day for 14 days was a little intense for me. If you don’t want to read on, or suspense just isn’t you’re thing, yes, I finished the half marathon, and yes, I ate ALL the things, and yes, I got sicker than a dog. Read on if you’d like a deeper dive into any of the aforementioned statements.

The big race.
This was my third half marathon (running, sixth if you count the times I walked that mug). The beautiful thing about coming into a race like this with a few under your belt is the reassurance that you will, eventually, finish. It might not be pretty, but you’ll get there. I think that’s the most encouraging mantra to keep in your back pocket. “I will finish this. I will not die. I will finish this. I will not die.” People always say, “I couldn’t run that long,” or ask, “How do you do that?” and the truth is, you just keep shuffling along.

Jackie (my partna) and I are not record-setters. We don’t wear the fancy, fast shorts that look like bathing suit bottoms. We don’t have compression socks, or special sunglasses. We are just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance. That’s just us. That’s our m.o. We own that.

Forget your corral letter, forget your pace group, that is the categorization that matters. When you know who you are and what you’re doing there, the perspective really alleviates the pressure. We’re pretty content in the middle of the pack, because, for us, it’s just about proving our bodies are still capable of carrying us that far. We are not broken. We are not entirely swallowed up by our roles as mom or wife or nurse or writer. We are strong, amateur athletes with veracious lions (or more like angry kittens) sleeping just beneath our skin. At least for one day of the year that’s what we are.

The morning of the race was chilly. I didn’t eat any meat or dairy. I made a smoothie with spirulina, 1 scoop protein powder, coconut water, spinach and some Beet Elite. I ate a bowl of multigrain Cheerios, too, because it sounded good. That was it. And my stomach felt … off.

It was touch-and-go right up until the cannon went off marking the start of the race. Once we got moving, things in my belly really calmed down. In fact, the first 3 miles flew by. I felt great, Jac felt great. We were right on the heels of the 2:20 pace group. Considering we finished around 2:23 last year, that was pretty damn good.

“At Mile 4, let’s stop and have a chew and some water,” I said.
“Yup, that’s what I was thinking,” Jackie agreed.

This would be the biggest mistake we made all day.

Mile 4 is where the course takes a turn off of the initial long drag. In the past, it’s been a point where we picked up momentum. This year, it was the death of it. There was a gradual decline in our pace from Mile 5, on. I felt fine mentally, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, but my legs just started running out of steam. Like, in my mind they were flying, but in my shadow they looked more like a baby colt in a pool of tar.

We walked a few times, but we knew our friend Molly would be waiting at Mile 10.

“If we can just get to Molly,” Jackie would say.
“Right,” I’d agree.
“If we can just make it to Molly we’ll stop, have a chew, and then finish strong.”
“Yeah.”

And then …

“There’s Molly’s ass!” Jackie yelled.
“That’s not Molly’s ass.”
“Isn’t that her ass?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s Mol!!” I said, pointing to our dear girl, standing on a corner waving with her two kiddos.

It was like seeing a well in the desert. We’d been talking about her for so long. I think we both thought something might spark deep down inside us when we reached her embrace on that sunny September morning. But instead, we just felt full of dread.

Three miles to go.

My hips for sure hurt, though not as bad as they had on our longer training runs. Jac’s knees were getting to her. But bottom line, we just had nothing left in the tank.

“Oh shit,” Jackie said, motioning her head over her shoulder.

I turned to see the 2:30 pace group right behind us, seconds from passing. I shrugged and reminded her we just wanted to finish. We were racing ourselves. And all the other bullshit we tell ourselves to get our broken down bodies across the finish line.

And cross the finish line we did, at 2:31. “Totally plant-powered!” I exclaimed in a rush of dopey adrenaline. Jac wasn’t into it.

Passing my small tribe on the way into the arena, I was reminded, yet again, why we do this. Why we log the miles for 12 weeks beforehand. Why we abuse our aging bodies and spend so much time away from the kids. It’s for that moment you look down at your feet, knowing you can stop. That your children are watching. That you and your best friend just ran 13.1 motha truckin’ miles, together. Just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance, just ran 13.1 miles.

I ate 1.5 donuts and half a Gatorade. My stomach, again, was … off.

The very hungry caterpillar.
At noon, I had a Big John from Jimmy Johns and chips, but I was still hungry.

At 12:45, I had 2 cookies, but I was still hungry.

At 3, I had 2 giant chocolate truffles, but … I had to go to a wedding.

Dinner, and a deathblow to veganism.
The wedding was so amazing. It was touching and lovely and just entirely enchanting. I had to leave before the reception and head over to Matt’s for his Second Annual Fancy Dinner Party. I chugged water with an electrolyte tab on the way over and prayed for a solid stomach.

My brother bid on a special dinner-in-your-home package at a live auction last fall, and that night a special group of friends, myself included, would garner the rewards of that bid. The theme was Bourbon Pairings, so, on the plus side, we all knew we were in trouble right outta the gate. There wouldn’t be any surprises.

We started with bourbon sours. They were that perfect storm of delicious flavors in small glasses. When we ordered another round after the first course I think we sent ourselves down the path of mass destruction. It was a force greater than ourselves. They were too delicious. The glasses seemed so tiny, so harmless.

Basically, from there what transpired was a parade of meat butters and creamy dairy delights. Goat cheese-stuffed dates, fancy tater tots with a sauce you want to cheat on your husband with, duck tongue tacos (I know, I had the same reaction, but those tongues were tasty), pork belly that fell apart the second it touched your tastebuds, and bourbon s’mores. As meals go, this one was up there with the Wicked Spoon buffet in Vegas and last year’s Straight Outta Compton Fancy Dinner.

First Course
Herb De Provence chevre stuffed dates / wrapped with prosciutto ham / blue cheese fondue

Second Course
Patatas Bravas / Parmesan-truffle encrusted / smoked paprika aioli

Third Course
Duck tongue taco / bourbon barrel smoked salsa rojo / spiced red onion escabache / queso fresco/ achiote crema

Fourth Course
Pork belly confit / bourbon gastrique / pickled English cucumbers/balsamic pearls / charred tomato dust/orange blossom mousse

Intermezzo
Blood orange sorbet

Fifth Course
Woodford reserved braised short ribs / oaxacan mole sauce/lemon scented farro grain / coconut espuma

Sixth Course
Bourbon Marshmallow s’mores / ”campfire smoke”/ snap-crackle-pop graham crackers / dark chocolate ribbon

 

I emerged from my brother’s basement – the scene of the meat butter massacre – around 11:30, sat down, and let the doom wash over me like a 50-gallon bucket at a waterpark. I was in trouble. My stomach, my head, my body. I’d been still long enough for everything to catch up to me and now there was no running from it. My legs were too tired. My tummy was too full of all the animal things I turned away for two weeks. Plus, the bourbon. I gave Hank “the look” and we made an exit.

I slept on our new bathroom floor.

It was cold.

Linoleum.

And that, dear friends, is what happened the day after the Livin’ la Vida Vegan Challenge.

Wellness

Livin la Vida Vegan Day 2

September 18, 2017

Big Breakfast is every other Sunday. I’ve talked about it here before, but basically, it’s a chance for my immediate family to gather together and dip into the best damn sunny side up eggs my pops can fry up. He sweats his ass off for the sake of our gluttonous breakfast guts twice a month. But you know what doesn’t go over well at Big Breakfast? A Livin la Vida Vegan challenge.

I packed some wheat toast, with natural fruit spread from Trader Joe’s, vegan shortening spread, and hemp seeds to dress it up. There were fruit and hash browns (with hot sauce), too. There was also a healthy serving of judgement around the table this morning. Predictable but still disappointing.

I’m really honest when I say that I don’t know if this will really do anything for us.

I don’t know if my body will respond positively to cutting out animal products or it won’t or if I won’t even notice a difference. They’re all possibilities. But, let me ask you this, if someone came up to you and said, “Hey there, young woman who feels like crap and bad about herself a lot of the time, I have something that just might make you feel clear-headed and lighter and all around better. Plus! I’ll throw in a lowered risk of disease.” Then who’s the idiot? The person who gives it a go, or the person who doesn’t because it might not live up to the hype?

If food is medicine, doesn’t it make sense to play with your prescription until you feel better? Until it starts working? No one drops their cookie when a friend decides to add dark chocolate or sweet potatoes to their plate. So why is leaving some hog off of it so ridiculous?

Meats cause cancer. That’s a fact. The World Health Organization deemed bacon, along with his best friends, red meat and processed meats, like salami and pepperoni, carcinogens in 2015. That puts them in the same category as tobacco and asbestos. And your risk for cancer gets higher the more meat you consume. Seems like as good a reason as any to back away from the BLT.

I’m not the type of person who runs away from a challenge just because others don’t get it. I’m curious about the vegan diet, it’s something I want to explore, and it’s something that isn’t going to hurt to try. The criticism is a bitter side salad. And really kind of stupid.

After breakfast, Hank took the chicks up to the lake to snag one final day of summer. Meanwhile, I had just as much fun putting away a million baskets of laundry, mopping and sweeping the floors and going to three different stores to get enough meat- and dairy-free goodies to get us through the next week. If I learned anything from our first day, it’s that having easy things on hand is key. Planning ahead is going to be essential for success.

(Thoughtful aside: I ask you, brothers and sisters, what did people do before Costco?)

I had a training run on the calendar at 6, so I made an early dinner around 4. A quinoa-rice blend (Seeds of Change Organic Quinoa and Brown Rice with Garlic) with a quinoa buffalo burger on top. It was fire! Like, legit, so good. I did the patty in a cast iron skillet with a pot lid over it. It got crispy on the outside, which was a nice contrast to the soft rice.

An hour later I was running. And it was a really, really bad run. It’s hotter than Hades here and there were these tiny bugs dive bombing the pools in the corners of my eyelids. My headphones died in the middle of Keisha’s “Woman”, a badass anthem my sister-in-law introduced me to the night before and I’m entirely obsessed with 24 hours later. All I could hear now was the desperate panting of a girl who had too many pineapple ciders at a birthday party. I went 6 miles, but a mile from home I decided I just wanted to walk. I gave into my legs and let them slow to a stroll. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting. I took a swig of chocolate almond milk when I got home as a reward for lacing up the shoes at all. It’s just 2 weeks now until the half marathon. I’m ready to check that baby off … maybe for the last time.

As I sit here typing this, the girls are discussing lunch for tomorrow.

“Mama, I’m hot – cold – hot – cold – hot this week,” Spike said. “Do you get it? It’s a pattern.”
“Ah,” I said.
“What is lunch tomorrow anyway,” JoJo inquired from the sink, where’s she’s been brushing her teeth for 20 minutes.
“Popcorn chicken.”
“Oh my gosh, I love popcorn chicken. It’s basically shrimp,” JoJo explained. “I haven’t had it since first grade. Like a whole summer ago. Oh my gosh, I’m soooo excited.”

JoJo and I decide to start being pen pals. We’ll get a notebook where we can write notes back and forth and place the spiral-bound secrets under each other’s pillows every night. It will be just between us. A special treat for both.

[P.S. Someone please remind me to pick up notebooks tomorrow.]

Try That With Matt

Try that with Matt. 90-mile month.

February 14, 2017

I have an ongoing list of ideas for these monthly challenges with my brother. Some of the things are just a matter of time (a bar crawl in kayaks, coming this summer!), while others might never happen (backpacking through Ireland?). The point is their dreams … aspirations … wishes on stars that might actually be satellites. Now, obviously, sustaining this little project – 12 challenges a year – means the entire list can’t be all grand excursions and riding on elephants. We have to pepper in some practical for good measure. These vanilla additions are challenging, but achievable. Adventurous but local. Exciting but not as exhilarating as the biggies. So when my brother picked one of these “practical” items for the first month of the year, I was kind of, unintentionally, a turd about it.

January Challenge: Run 3 miles every day of the month. No excuses. No crying.

It could have been worse. I believe I actually had, “Complete a 100-mile month” on the list, so this was technically an improvement. We would be coming in around 90 miles (should have been 93, but we gave each other one pass). It was going to get real, and it wasn’t going to be fun, and it wasn’t going to be really fun.

**MATT**

Jon Sutherland – who holds the record for running on the most consecutive days – has completed at least one mile every single day for over 17,000 days in a row. That’s 45 years and 2 days, a number that will be outdated by the time you read this post. So, when I suggested we run 3 miles a day every day for 31 days in January, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’ll spare you the suspense. It wasn’t.

In fact, it was whatever the polar opposite of cake is. Something awful, that smells bad. But despite the fact that it was a complete pain in the ass, now that it’s over, I can look back and say there was never a time I went for a run and didn’t feel like the reset button had been hit after. We all struggle to make time for ourselves, at least that seems to be the trend with myself and my peers that have children. We are all too busy shuffling our kids here and there, and staying after work, and grabbing things at the grocery, and cleaning our houses, that we end up with a million reasons why we can’t make it to the gym. And who can blame us?

I think that this is what I took away from the challenge this month; that I’m full of bullshit excuses. Did I drop some lbs and get in better shape? Yes. Oh, and I have to mention it just to piss my sister off, your boy was a “super user” at the Y for the month of January. You know this shit! (Didn’t see your name up there, DSS.) Yes, my party pants now fit a little looser so I don’t have to worry about them splitting when I am out there on the dance floor dropping it like it’s hot, or … Oh, wait … I’m 39…. I mean I don’t have to worry about my Levis splitting up the crotch when I am squatting down to check out the soft batch cookies on sale. But even more than all that, I realized that we can ALL make time for ourselves if we really want to. And it’s important.

Going to the gym is not being selfish. It’s just taking 30-60 minutes for yourself to set a good example for your kids and for you to get that healthy release so when you do go home you don’t unload your stress on your family. We are all guilty of it. We all have shitty days when we don’t want to go workout, we don’t want to cram one more thing in. We just want to stuff our fat faces with chocolate chip cookies the consistency of pillows and watch 20 episodes of The Office. And it feels good for a second, but 20 minutes later, when you are doing dishes, laundry, etc., and you’re so filled with stress it’s exploding out of your beard hair holes, guess what … someone’s ass is getting yelled at. Then you feel like an asshole. A cookie-eating asshole. Because you know they didn’t really deserve it. And you know if you would have just taken your fatass to the gym, you could have avoided the whole verbal beat down.

We all struggle with the same things, even though we feel alone. You let yourself go and don’t want to feel judged going back to the gym. You’re unsure of how to use equipment. One of the hardest things for me is the voice in my head telling me to grab the chips and the remote. But you have to squash those thoughts and take care of you! Nobody is judging you and people are always happy to help if you just ask. And guess what, after you workout, you don’t want the chips anyway.

You only get one go at this life and you don’t want to spend it sitting on your ass, do you? You don’t have to run every single day for 31 days, but challenge yourself to get to the gym or get a workout in each day, and see what it does for your attitude or how it motivates the people around you. This challenge has helped kick start my cardio workouts again, I know that. I was in a funk for the past year where all I did was work and make excuses why I couldn’t get to the gym. It is so easy to give up on goals, but you know what feels even better than sitting on the couch and relaxing? Unleashing that inner beast you have been hiding under excuses! Anyone can quit, but who wants to be just anyone? Not me.

Note: Do not ask DSS to be your gym buddy if you decide on a consecutive run challenge, we just started talking again the beginning of February. Good job, Sis! Love you!

**ME**

I don’t know how many times he told me, reminded me, that this was technically my idea. It takes a special kind of jackass – my kind, apparently – to propose 31 days of running in a row. Hank and I had company on New Year’s Day and I knew right away this was going to be a bitch. I didn’t want to run. It was the first day of the challenge. I’d been in a dark place during a Try That with Matt before, I mean these can’t all be fun, but unlike the spin class at the asscrack of dawn after a night of drinking, this one was a slow burn.

I always have something to say, this you know by now, but I don’t have much to say for this one. There were points where I was literally angry with Matt for picking it. How messed up is that? I was projecting my disappointment in my physical ability and lack of positivity onto that poor innocent old man.

“Are you avoiding me?” he asked.
“Ugh, kind of.” I said, ashamed.
“I can tell! I feel it.”

It only made it worse that he seemed to be loving it. Loving it! Running! Every day! Every stupid day. It was like he was having some sort of life-altering realization and I was just trying to draft behind him for survival.

**Random interjection**

Speaking of, the Grammy’s are on in the background as I write this. Does anyone else feel emotionally inadequate when they watch Beyonce perform? Her style of musical storytelling leaves me bewildered at times. Like, I know I should be feeling something very deeply but I’m not 100 percent sure what those feelings are exactly. Oh, it’s women empowerment … wait, wait, it’s forgiveness … no, I think it’s about looking like my mom and thanking her for offering me her womb? Oh God, Oh God! The chair is tipping back, you guys! The chair, is tipping, back. OK, she’s down. Phew! I mean, she’s badass, regardless. It’s all just a little confusing for me personally.

**End of random interjection**

Every day we would exchange proof of mileage. I would typically go in the mornings and send him a snapshot of the watch I use to track laps. It takes 27 laps to equal 3 miles. Yes, 27 laps. But it’s OK, you guys, because every other day they make you switch directions. So, I had that going for me. Matt would go in the evenings, so I’d get a pic of the panel on his sweat-soaked treadmill. I always picture the people on the machines next to him squinting and holding up their hands as his perspiration pounds them like a Hummer through a spring puddle. He kept getting faster and faster. I, on the other hand, seemed to be dragging as the days went by.

And I hurt everywhere. I read this article recently about how running just one mile every day was proven to increase mental clarity, creativity and physical longevity. Yeah, maybe. Maybe one mile a day feels a lot different than three. Cuz three hurt. My achilles was tighter than harp strings. My hamstrings were harder than an old man’s beer belly. My lower back ached, the bottoms of my feet were tender and I just felt, generally, like a broken old fart.

It wasn’t all bad, I guess. There was an unseasonable break in the weather and I did a few runs outside. That’s so much better for my soul. I love checking things out, listening to my music. But, no, for the most part I was a miserable, cranky turd for the entirety of the month. Remember, I was simultaneously Whole30-ing, so while Tons of Fun could run and then murder a 2-pound meatloaf burger (That really happened. I know, because I gave it to him.), I was chasing my miles with plantain tortillas and 5,000 avocados. The whole thing, for me, was just really brutal. I’d never been happier for freaking February in my life.

Onto the next …

Wellness

How to properly play the shame game

October 27, 2016

Subj: Your race day photos are here!

Pictures are a strange thing, aren’t they? Depending on the angle, the movement, the moment, they can either elevate you or level you. How silly that a simple image – a blink, a blip – can have such impressive power. And the photos in this email were going to be special. Not only would they offer some frameable moments with my bestie and proof I showed up, but they would also capture my epic photobomb of a dear family friend at the finish.

half-marathon-finish-photobomb

But it was another bomb that detonated that day.

I opened the email. “Oy, that’s a rough picture,” I thought, not overly rocked. I clicked “next”. My face scrunched higher. “That’s not-a … not great either.” As I scrolled, my eyebrows raised and met in a rippled, disgusted collision between my eyes. The cadence of my finger on the mouse quickened. “Next”. “Next”. “Next”. I squinted and tightened my lips, revealing the tops of my bottom teeth. These proofs, all of them, were painful. Sobering.

Now, let’s pause here, shall we? This post is not an easy post to write. It’s also not an invitation for criticism or a passive plea for praise, though I can see how it would be mistaken for such. It is, like all musings on this blog, merely an observation and pitstop on my personal road to self discovery and improvement. I nearly ditched the topic altogether when, on two separate occasions in the past two days with two separate friends, the mere mention of this blog was instantaneously halted by dams of positive praise. “Stop! You look great.” “Oh my gosh, you’re crazy!’ Which, to be fair, is exactly what I would do, because that’s what our friends and parents are supposed to do. They’re trained to do it. It’s what’s socially acceptable. But I wasn’t baiting the hook that day, and I had no desire to go fishing.

Hand over my heart, I’m just trying to start an honest dialogue about the distance between the pins on my map. The ones marking where I thought I was, where I am, and where i want to go. I should be able to talk about that without people instinctively coddling my delicate inner child, or thinking I’m licking rice cakes and crying over Coldstone Creamery, or (the worst) that I brought my ego out for a good stroking only to be put back on the shelf for a few weeks before I prompt them to appease me again. Not that I think these girls thought that, or that I would think that about them if the conversation were reversed. I just think we’re so quick to console and then shut it down, rather than engage and encourage real change in the people we love.

What if, instead of my weight or my shape, I was commenting on my smoking habit. Seriously … just think about it. If I came to someone and said, “Gosh, you know, I’ve been smoking for years and I really think it’s time to reign it in and clean things up around here.” No one would say, “Oh Courtney … it relaxes you and you’re only having 8 a day!” No.

When I was training for that race, I didn’t feel great. I felt amazing after the long runs, yes. But mostly because they were over. I felt empowered by my endurance, yes. But my body didn’t feel like the body of a person who was running 8, 9, 10 miles. It felt weak. Like I was willing it to perform. Still my perception of the changes happening to my body was positive. But to lay it all out there, what I was seeing in myself throughout the 12 weeks was something that far exceeded the woman floundering in front of me on the screen in those post-race pics. And, you guys, that’s OK. l’m OK addressing it. In fact, I feel empowered and kind of on fire because of it.

half-marathon-16-collage

If Oprah and I were sitting around chatting about our truth and what we keep in our closets and all those hidden jewels she digs up when people perch upon her magic couch, a lot of things would come out. I used my heightened exertion as a free pass to take all foods – sweet, salty, fried, fast – to Pound Town. I was eating to compensate for what I thought I was burning … what I wasn’t burning. And I wasn’t eating to fuel, either. I was eating for fun. And from boredom. And as reward.

But as my new best friend Brené Brown (whose book, “Rising Strong” is currently blowing my mind and should be on your goodreads list right now) says, “Shame cannot survive once spoken.” So I’m sayin’ it, baby: I have not been good to myself.

Again, let’s pause. I want to be clear that this is not a body shaming situation, guys. (When did everything become “shaming” anyway? Fat shaming. Skinny shaming. Bachelor shaming. I actually had a craft beer guy at a liquor store cider shame me once.) That’s not my jam. I love my body. This body carried and delivered three babies. It ran 13.1 miles … twice! It carried me over close to a dozen mountains on zero sleep for four consecutive, very cold days. And it has held up generally well considering my lackluster maintenance regimen. It is flawed, yes, for many reasons, many of which I count as my biggest blessings.

This is not a conversation about vanity. It’s about confronting personal negligence. It’s about acknowledging my sincere love for this body and where I want to see it go, then finding the silence to listen to what it is telling me it needs to get there. I rarely sit in quiet. Do you?

By this point in the post you’ve either bailed (therefore not reading this) or you’re straddling the fence between empathy and exasperation. I get it. I anticipated that. I’ve wanted to write about my come-to-Jesus moment for weeks, but haven’t. I haven’t because body image is icy. Everywhere you look people are either embracing their full figures and shutting down shamers, or collecting criticism for projecting unrealistic expectations onto young girls. You can’t win for waking up in the morning. It’s slippery and juicy with judgement. And because I don’t count myself as obese or emaciated, but somewhere in the soft center, I often feel I don’t have the right to voice my dissatisfaction with what I see. But considering 91 percent of women report being unhappy with their bodies, I don’t think I’m necessarily alone out on this limb, either. I don’t think I’m the only person to ever declare: I have work to do here!

Not only do I often fear it’s unjustified, it also seems baited. Because I have 6 little eyes constantly watching my reactions and listening to my self-deprecating commentary. One day, when I went to pick up the girls, JoJo walked up and handed me a piece of paper.

“Here Mom.”
“Thanks! What is this?”
“It’s the number for Nutrisystem.”
“Ohhhhh … OK. JoJo, can I ask, do you think I need Nutrisystem?”
“Well, you’re always talking about how you ate too much, and they help people who eat too much.”

Boom! Trap snapped.

Standing there, holding that piece of paper, my mind Googled every phrase I’d uttered over the past 7 years that had anything to do with being pregnant with a food baby, stuffed, gross and, yeah, fat. The results were deep.

But that’s more of a word choice issue I’d say. I do want them to see me striving, reaching, working hard to be something more tomorrow than I am today. Again, the war I’m waging is not against my body. It is for my body. I choose to fight it out of my desire to be strong. It is a battle rooted in love and love is nothing without respect. Respect for where I’ve been. Respect for where I want to go, and know I can. I have not been respecting this body. What I saw in those pictures was the mirror I’ve been refusing to buy. (You know the one in the dressing rooms at Target that makes you look green and cellulitey.) It was a face-down moment, and what comes next is up to me.

Brené defines integrity as, “choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast and easy. And choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” She goes on to explain that people tend to treat you the way they see you treating yourself. You have to stand strong in your integrity.

I carve out at least 30 minutes every morning to move. I have lost 36 pounds since having Sloppy Joan two years ago. I have made great strides and I’m not embarrassed about the way I look, but I have regrets tied to my stalled progress. I have regrets about where I could be compared to where I am. And I’m not mad about that.

Regret is another label with a bad reputation. Why should we pocket regret? Why shouldn’t we listen to it and use it to fire us up inside? In Rising Strong, Brene writes, “To say you have no regret is to deny the possibility of a braver life.” Heck yeah I want a braver life! It’s indifference that really frightens me. Feeling regret is a cue that I want something more. It instigates motivation to change. Casey spoke about her fear of an uninteresting life and I think a lot of us shoulder that same worry. What would happen if we took all the energy we spent mourning and rolling around in regret and instead harnessed it as a fierce catalyst to move in the direction of our dreams?

I was listening to a podcast recently with the blogger from Strong Coffey. She was talking about the power of redirecting our thoughts of comparison. “When you’re about to unleash all the negative things in life, try to hold onto it, regroup and instead share a little more of who you wish you were these days.” It’s an exercise in visualization. Instead of letting yourself be swallowed by feelings of inadequacy, by the regrets, focus on where you, personally, are going. It’s your journey. Keep your eye on the prize and your feet and heart will follow.

half-marathon-finish-2015

Brené also shares, “There is so much knowledge in our bodies and we just have to learn how to listen.” My arms are telling me to lift what’s heavy. My head is telling me to stop sleeping with the sexy excuses. My gut is pleading with me to shed the secret sugar binges and grab what’s clean. My feet are reassuring me they can go further. It’s talking and I’m really trying to quiet down and listen.

I’ve covered miles and have miles to go. I’m just giving my shame a name in an effort to shut it down and make it something that waters my soul instead. Something that feeds and fosters growth. I want this for the little ones watching my example, of course, but mostly for the me I haven’t met yet. I want to find her, years from now, on a sun-lit peak just inches from the clouds, with a big smile on her face and nothing but light and love in her heart. I’m not asking for your sympathy or for you to talk me down off the ledge. But if you ever want to meet me at the top of the mountain, I’ll save ya a spot.

Some Kinda Superwoman, Uncategorized

Some kinda Superwoman: Casey

October 13, 2016

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I discovered the book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall about 3 years ago. It must have been on someone’s Pinterest board or blog or podcast or some such stream that feeds into the fire hose of information I drink every day. Or perhaps it was dumb luck, I mean, divine intervention, because a book about the journey of ultramarathoners, including the Tarahumara Indians who reside in Mexico’s Copper Canyons, to ultimately cover 100 miles of unfathomable terrain in Leadville, Colorado, isn’t my typical jam. But I read every page. And I’m telling you, I loved it.

It had history, suspense, running tips, entertaining exchanges between characters, adversity and, of course, plenty of perseverance (our word of the month). I was so taken by this story, I became a book pusher; urging anyone who would listen to dive into McDougall’s masterpiece. In my mind, Leadville, and the superhuman race held in its mountaintops, were fantastic fictional plot elements.

So when my old editor posted an Instagram declaring she was in fact training for the balls-to-the-walls, take-no-prisoners, merciless, infamous, real life Leadville Trail 100 Run, my fingers couldn’t keep up with my thought bubbles.

“Casey! Are you doing this race?!?!?!”
“Yup!”
“Holy shit! You are such a badass woman. When is it?”
“Badass or crazy. In August.”
“Gah!!!! I’m so excited for you. You’ll kill it.”
“You should come run some of it with me.”

I felt it was best for all parties involved to insert a laughing emoji and slide out of the conversation at this point. I marked August 20 in my calendar and immediately started stalking her training through social media.

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A bit of background on Casey. We worked together on a food magazine in Indianapolis for about five years after I graduated from college. She made me nervous because her talent demonstrated where the bar was set for grownup writers, but she was never cocky or condescending. The opposite actually. She was hipster before hipster was a significant social class, with her PBR and her folk jams. And she was living proof that life beyond my post-college, early 20s buzz wasn’t entirely bleak. I adored and admired her.

To know Casey is to know Casey runs. She ticked off a full marathon or two in the time we worked together and spent hours encouraging me to get out there. That passion is just part of her, like a loud laugh or short temper. Her husband Bill, a respected educator and writer in his own right, is a runner as well. They’re really cool people. As a result of this street cred, and the sheer awe of the feat ahead of her, Casey’s quest to conquer 100 miles in the air-sucking altitude of some of Colorado’s toughest peaks conjured up some strong supporters.

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Her story of Leadville, much like Christopher McDougall’s, is a master class in courage. Brave, to me, is pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable and familiar. Brave is sharing what you learn about yourself, even if it could be perceived as weak to some. Brave is this post. In “Rising Strong”, Brené Brown writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can not have them both. Not at the same time.”

I hope you enjoy reading Casey’s recount of her journey because I tell ya, she really is some kinda Superwoman.

“You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

By Casey Kenley

AT THE BASE OF HOPE PASS, ABOUT 40 MILES into the race, everyone around us pulled retractable walking sticks out of their backpacks — everyone except us. It was the first real sign that I might be out of my league. I was attempting to finish the Leadville Trail 100 Run in the Colorado Rockies, an ultra-running race with an elevation gain of 18,168 feet and fittingly called “the race across the sky.” With hundreds of other runners tricked out in headlamps and running gear, I had crossed the start line back in Leadville at 4 a.m. that morning and had already made it up two big climbs; down a slick, rut-riddled descent; and across plenty of miles of rocky trail.

I was at the base of Hope Pass for a few reasons. First, nine months earlier, I was still flying high from my first 100-miler when my good friend Holly suggested that I put my name into the lottery for Leadville. I assumed my chances of getting in were slim to none, so I filled out the online form in December 2015, said goodbye to my $15 registration fee, and waited. If you are accepted into the lottery, you are immediately registered and divested of $315. I was one of the lucky 356 people from around the world who got in. And second, I was at the base of this mountain because I was avoiding a challenge that seemed far greater than running 100 miles: writing a book. When I trained for my first 100-mile race, I spent every Friday for nearly five months running for hours on end. I told myself that once I checked that distance off my bucket list, I would devote all those valuable Friday hours to writing a book. When I got into Leadville, that was impossible because I had to start running again.

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So there I was, on Aug. 20, 2016, facing Leadville’s deal breaker of a climb, moving from a flat, grassy plain up into dense woods. The pace almost immediately slowed to a slog. If your thighs deserve some punishment, you won’t find any mercy on this hill. Every 15-20 minutes, I stepped to the side of the trail, planted my hands on my knees and coerced my lungs to pull a decent breath of air as we climbed from 9,200 to 12,600 feet elevation. I waved people coming up behind me to pass. My heart never raced like this during my runs in Indiana.

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I was making my way up the mountain with Jessica, who I’d met about 20 miles back on the trail, when we had both avoided a nest of ground bees that had settled right on the race course, or rather we had blazed our trail through their home. Either way, they were not happy. Jessica lived in Los Angeles, moving there from the East Coast just a few months prior after a tough breakup with a long-term boyfriend. She ran in college and was about 10 years my junior, with a gloriously broad smile and straight brown hair. I was the “veteran” ultra-runner, with several 50-milers and one 100-miler completed. We shared stories about our families and jobs. We clicked.

The uphill switchbacks just kept coming. When I looked anywhere besides the trail under my feet, the steep drop-offs made me wobble and lean. There was no groove to settle into. My legs and those organs that typically are useful in long-distance running weren’t going to get comfortable with this sort of effort. I wasn’t a complete lost cause. I dressed well: compression shorts, a long-sleeved technical-fabric shirt and the ball cap that never failed me. The hydration vest on my back held plenty of water, its front pockets armed with Fig Newtons, electrolyte supplements and salt tabs. A couple miles back, we had waded through a freezing creek up to our knees, which brought relief to tired legs for a while. Still, my footfalls became lazy and short.

“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.~Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 mile race”
— Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

“It’s not long now,” someone said. An aid station would be at the top of Hope Pass. Once we hit that aid station, I thought to myself, we’re home free, back down the other side of the mountain to hit mile 50, the halfway mark on this out-and-back course. Aid stations at ultra races are oases for runners. Eager volunteers refill your hydration bladders and water bottles. Covered edge to edge are tables laden with potato chips, pretzels, PB&Js, cups of ramen noodles, boiled potatoes with salt for dipping, M&Ms, chunks of banana and orange wedges, and more. My favorite: bubbly Coke to ease upset stomachs and give you a jolt of sugar and caffeine. Aid stations appear about every five miles in ultra races, and the key is to make sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain up to 30 hours of nearly continuous running, about 9,000 calories total. The key is to do whatever it takes to just finish this 100-mile race.

After about two hours of climbing, I knew I was in trouble. At most of the aid stations at Leadville, you have to arrive by a certain time in order to continue. My cushion of about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff times was dwindling. The idea is that if you can’t make it to each checkpoint by a certain time, there is no way you can finish the race under the final cutoff time of 30 hours. Race organizers don’t want delirious, damaged, reckless runners on the trails during a race they’re managing. And when you have run 20 hours or more, chances are pretty good that your judgement is impaired. I once came across a runner during a 50-mile race who had curled into a fetal position to take a nap in the woods. He was carried out by the race director on an ATV. I met a guy during a 60-kilometer race who was slicked with mud all up his right side. He told me he had dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back into its socket. When I asked him if he was going to cut his race short, he said no. (I thought that was a little extreme.) Stories about hallucinations, falling asleep while running, being chased by stray dogs and all kinds of injuries are common among ultra runners. It’s part of the lifestyle and “charm.”

To many people, this all sounds a little nutty, but I think that a third reason I found myself at the bottom of Hope Pass this year is because the prospect of living an uninteresting life scares me. I’m married and live in a suburb of Indianapolis. I have two wonderful little boys, a white picket fence and a porch swing. I’m a relatively good girl, but I need to feel rebellious, too. I want to feel like I’m living an exciting life as I also raise kids, go to the grocery and keep clients happy. I want to feel things intensely and let go of those things that don’t matter, and running helps me do that.

A few winters ago, as I drove out to Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, the radio reported an outside temperature of two below zero with a wind chill in the negative 20s. Bundled in two layers of tights, multiple long-sleeved tops, a jacket, hat, mittens and scarf tied around my face, I covered 26 miles on lonely forest trails. My eyes watered and fingers stayed numb for hours, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I felt exhilarated. After that sort of exertion, my senses shift. The crispness and tartness of an apple are utterly magnified, a warm car is a miracle, and a hot shower is the ultimate luxury. The annoyance I might have felt when someone slopped water all over the bathroom floor before school doesn’t matter anymore; I’m too exhausted to care. A little pain — and a lot of discomfort — makes the rest of the mundane parts of my life so much easier to stomach.

I HAD NEVER NOT FINISHED an ultra race — or any race — but it’s not uncommon. It’s called a DNF: did not finish. When the woods finally cleared and the beacon of the Hope Pass aid station was in sight, I was convinced I wasn’t going to continue once Jessica and I made it down the other side of the mountain to mile 50. From the top of Hope Pass, it was six more miles to the turnaround at Winfield. There I would be greeted by my husband and friends Leann, Karla and Alison. My good college buddy Karla would be prepared to run with me for about 12 miles starting at mile 50, so I’d have to break the news to her that she wouldn’t get to endure four-plus hours of pain. During Leadville, participants can have pacers run alongside them to keep them company between miles 50 and 100. The rest of my four-person crew had their marching orders to join me during other legs of the race.

The Hope Pass aid station was shy of the top of Hope Pass. In fact it was 764 feet of elevation gain from the peak. To the left of the aid station tents, llamas tied up along a long rope rested in a field of golden grass. The animals had hauled up the tables, food, water and everything else needed to fortify the runners. A volunteer offered up a bottle of sunscreen and rubbed it into my shoulders and back — amazing! Another guy filled my bladder and handed me a cup of mashed potatoes. They were the best damned mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Jessica went through the same motions, though I don’t know what was going through her head. I willed myself to get going, to leave the peaceful llamas and the felled log I was using as a bench, and I started to think about how I was going to tell Jessica that I would not continue after Winfield. I was going to DNF.

The switchbacks that cover the space between the aid station and the top of Hope Pass is exposed and windy. The sun shone brightly. Unlike on the dense forest trails, now I could see runners ahead of us trudging, stopping, finding the guts to move on to reach the summit. I was frequently stepping to the side of the trail to allow runners who had already made it to Winfield to go by in the opposite direction.

At the top, a string of tattered prayer flags waved frantically. The brightly colored squares had been zip-tied to the top of a tall stick, rocks piled around the base as a foundation. Traditionally, Buddhists use these flags to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. They are also used to seek spiritual blessings for things such as reincarnations and the experience of Nirvana. Makeshift structures like the one on Hope Pass are often built at the highest places possible in the Himalayan mountains. The idea is that the wind that blows them carries the prayers far and wide to bless everyone. At that time, I could have used a little reincarnation, maybe a bird or mountain goat.

“I’m going to stop at Winfield,” I announced to Jessica after we dropped over the top of the mountain.
“No you’re not. I’m not doing this without you. You’re good. We are almost halfway there,” she said.
“OK. You’re right,” I said. It just came out! How could I disappoint Jessica, who had somehow over the course of a few hours become my top reason for continuing this race? But I knew the truth. I wasn’t ready for this event. Back home, I had trained the requisite 26 weeks for Leadville. I ran five days a week, up to 30 miles in one day, and 15 training runs that were at least 20 miles long. I was strong, in the best shape of my life. I had a signature trucker hat, minimalist and super-cushy trail shoes, a Subaru and no lack of feistiness, for goodness sake! Back home, I ran hilly trails, but nothing like the climbs in Colorado. And I would breathe in and out in Indiana no problem, but it was different in Leadville. It just didn’t add up.

The trip down the backside was more single-track trail, but steeper and more littered with rocks. I watched my running shoes maneuver step by step, willing them like a Jedi to land in the safest positions possible to keep me from sliding down on my ass or falling forward (my usual direction) so I could arrive to Winfield in one piece. About 45 minutes from the 50-mile mark, Jessica reported that she was feeling woozy.
“You’re depleted. We’ll get you some broth and food at the Winfield aid station. Drink some Coke,” I said.
“No. I’m done. There’s no way I can climb back up this mountain,” she said. Sweet relief!
“I have known I was going to DNF for hours,” I told her. “I just didn’t know how to break it to you!”

The last few miles down to Winfield seemed to take forever, but there were bright spots. The two nights before the race start, two Spanish brothers in their 30s and a Swede stayed in the same Airbnb as I. It was their first attempt at Leadville as well. We had sat together at the table in our hosts’ kitchen the night before the race and shared pasta and salad. The next morning, we met at 3:15 a.m. to walk to the start line together. I had been looking out for them ever since runners began coming from Winfield to set out on the second half of the race. Then I spotted the Spanish brothers hoofing up the trail. We hugged and kissed on each cheek. I told them how proud of them I was, that maternal instinct still kicking in when I had nothing left to give.

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We finally made it off the trail and stepped onto the paved road that led a short distance to the 50-mile mark. Bill was there, and then Leann ran up with Karla and Alison. My voice cracked and a few tears fell when I told them I was done. Jessica and I were about 25 minutes ahead of the cutoff time, so I could have kept racing. But I didn’t. I DNF’ed. My crew knows me well, so they knew that there was no sense in trying to talk me into continuing. I’m stubborn, and I explained that if I tried to continue and failed to make the cutoff time on my return trip up to Hope Pass, I would be turned around and sent back to Winfield. It was all very logical, see? So we loaded up the car and I rode back to Leadville. This was not part of my plan.

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When I returned home, people told me what I had done was awesome, amazing, tough! But I wasn’t proud of finishing 50 miles at Leadville. I had gone to run 100, after all. I failed. I’ve wanted to quit races in the past. During a road marathon in Indianapolis when my head was telling me to stop, I prayed for an injury to strike me down so I wouldn’t drop out on my own. When temperatures soared at a marathon in Tennessee and I threw up at mile 22, I hoped the race directors would call off the race, send a van to scoop me up and return me to my parents at the finish line. During my third 50-miler, my knee started to swell at mile 30, but I kept going. I never quit. I could always run through the pain or talk myself out of those dark places.

Running for me is like food, water, sleep and love. It is necessary. But like love, it can also break me and teach me unexpected lessons. The things that kept me from continuing on or finishing Leadville are complicated, but I think the main one is that I didn’t want it enough. Instead of committing completely to what it takes mentally and physically to prepare for a race like Leadville, I was using it partly to postpone my goal of writing a book. I wasn’t thinking about it that way during my training or during the race, but that’s what I was doing. It’s clear now. What is also clear is that I don’t want to write a book. If I did, I’d be doing it. I would create a book plan and tackle it with the same vigor I’ve tackled races in the past. Instead, I’m sticking to articles and essays.

“If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.” — Christopher McDougall (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen)

Feeling like a failure sucks. There’s no getting around it. But being able to uncover the crux of why I failed has been important for me. Really wanting something means I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen, pushing myself to places of discomfort that I will welcome as points along a journey. I don’t want to live a half-assed life, but I don’t think finishing Leadville is a necessary part of my journey. I don’t want it badly enough, and I’m OK with that. My next big goal eludes me; I’m hopeful it will materialize soon. I want to go to more of those hard, fulfilling places. I just have to keep running toward them.

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Want to see another Superwoman? Read about Ashlie’s amazing journey to motherhood.

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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.

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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 …

Tune in Today, Wellness

Tying up my training tales

September 22, 2015
Update: Tune in today to see if she can … train for a half marathon.
Yesterday was beautiful in the midwest. It was one of those Sundays where you can feel summer dancing with fall, and it’s warm enough for short sleeves but smells like burning leaves. It also happened to be our last long training run (let the angels sing).

This journey, while not completely over yet, has gone remarkably fast. Not while I was doing the actual running per se, but in hindsight. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my mind and my body. I’ve learned a little bit about what the human spirit begs for when it’s clinging to exhaustion. I’ve learned that a solid playlist and hidden frozen water bottle at a halfway point can be the difference between thrill and defeat. I’ve learned that I can usually predict, within the first mile of a long run, if the coming hours will be hell or happy. And mostly I’ve learned that this sport is completely unpredictable and really, fantastically freaking hard.

Here is a look back at the best and the worst of my long runs.
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I realize this sounds a little crazy considering the miles we logged, but our 5 mile run was brutal and maybe the hardest of them all. Britni and I worked through a route that ran the perimeter of my neighborhood and then through it. Problem was, it was 89 degrees with no breeze and the roads were black asphalt. I had to walk twice and made an early prediction we would never make it to the actual race.
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Six was fairly uneventful. The sun was blazing by 10 am, so  I ran 4 of it outside alone and then topped ‘er off with 2 miles on the treadmill while I treated myself to Mean Girls. This was also the day I realized I could never train for a half marathon on a treadmill because I obsessed over watching the distance tick by. When it came to machinery, there’d be none for Gretchen Wieners. That was the only training run I did on the treadmill.
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If I could bottle a run and drink it every time I had to tap into some wicked cardio, it would be that 7 mile run. It was a cooler summer evening, we played music out loud and hid waters at our halfway point. Nothing felt like it was breaking or grinding or seizing, and I finally felt like we had this thing on lock. Look how happy we were …
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Every victory we claimed the week before vanished on our 8 mile route. With all the best intentions, Britni mapped out a course on her side of town. Started off great, looping around a pretty private lake. But then, there was something neither of us saw coming: The steepest, longest, most unforgiving beast of a hill I’ve ever encountered on foot. At least when I wasn’t intentionally scaling an epic mountain. It was about 4 miles into the run and was a true spirt breaker. From Everest on, we were quiet, breathy and barely hanging on. That was a long run. Hot and long.
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So, I have this friend, and she’s a very dear friend, but we’ve always given each other a hard time. We’re brutally honest and sarcastic and used to literally wrestle each other (not in a sorority girl pillow fight kind of way, but like a, we once tried to make each other eat cat food by shoving it into each other’s mouths kind of way) after we each downed a bottle of wine watching a full season of Sex and the City. Friendships are complex, man. Anyway, Britni was on vacay and we’d been wanting to run together, so Jill came over to my neck of the woods to knock out 9 miles. It was a run I was dreading and I was, it’s fair to say, a little worked up. I had a route, I had waters, I had a plan. I always have a plan, she was quick to remind me. And she wasn’t feeling the route, a point which she was also very quick to remind me of … and remind me … and remind me … and remind me, until we finally veered off my trail and onto hers. Needless to say, about 2.5 miles in, we had to take a 5-minute break from speaking to each other so we didn’t wrestle on someone’s front lawn. The silent treatment is much more suitable for two grown ass mothers of three. After our brief reprieve, we took care of business and the run turned out pretty great, actually. (She’ll know after she reads this, but I actually run the route I discovered at her unyielding insistence every time I go to that trail now. Damn it, I love it.)
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I hit 9 again the following week just to be sure. Britni was still on vacation and Jill and I hadn’t decided if we liked our running partnership after our first pass at it, so I found myself in a bit of a bind. It was surely going to be dark by the end of my run, so I preferred not to hit it alone. When I signed up for the half, my big brother offered to join me on a long run if I ever needed someone. Well, I needed someone. Matt is a great runner and has done several half marathons, but he hadn’t been training for this one. The big guy held in with me until almost 8 miles, gem that he is. There was no warning to his white flag, really. He just planted his feet, told me he could most likely see me if I got into trouble, and he’d meet me at the car. Thanks, bra.
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Jill and I made up just in time for the 10 mile run. She, of course, didn’t tell me until about an hour before that her bud Cassie would be joining us. Cassie is, of course, a marathon runner who is, of course, much faster than, of course, me. But anything beats pounding 10 miles of pavement by yourself. Around mile 5 I realized I might die. Around mile 8 I started sending up the silent prayers to get through it. Somewhere in the dark of night we crossed an invisible finish line and it felt so dang good to check off a box with double digits on my training schedule. Hell, i still can’t believe i did it.
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With Britni back in the game, we decided to tackle 10 again the following weekend. She mentioned she’d been battling an upper respiratory thing, but was feeling much better. We started at our usual pace; comfortable as a pair of fleece pants and an undershirt. I noticed she was sniffling. Then we stopped a few times so she could blow her nose. Then she stopped talking. Then her face got really red. You guys, I thought I was going to lose her, permanently. Not to be dramatic, but … oh. my. lanta.  My girl did not look good. We split for a bit, but that tough cookie kept at it to clock 9 miles. Not too shabby for a gal in respiratory distress.

Six days, an inhaler and lots of fluids later, we decided to swing for the stars and try an 11 miler before the race. A bright sun cut through the early autumn breeze to make it just warm enough for the face sweat to strike hard. I made the comment shortly in that it didn’t feel like it would be a great run. And it wasn’t. My knees hurt and ole Britni was gasping before we hit the third mile. With her tight lungs and my old stems, we somehow managed to log about 9 miles and that was that. It was a bold attempt. But it wasn’t pretty.

So, here we are. Just 4 days till the big race and we left things frustrated and fragile. At this point, there are a lot of eggs in the adrenaline basket. Let’s hope there’s enough to carry us at least, we’ll call it the last 4 miles.

A few final thoughts on training.
Cons:
Breakouts! My skin hasn’t been this bad since I was 15.
Sore knees, hips and calves. I feel like an old, retired rodeo clown.
The schedule is such a monster time sucker. It’s like … what do my kids look like again?
I’m so dang hungry. I want to eat all of the things.

Pros:
I’ve found so many great songs building my playlists. (Best thing about running in the dark of night is I can mouth the words and no one can see me.)

I never felt a runner’s high necessarily, but I do get a sweet endorphin buzz about 30 minutes after I finish a significant run. Hey, it’s free and legal, folks!
The time I’ve gotten with Britni, Jill, my brother and even myself, is such a rare treat for this over scheduled mama. No complaints about the company (except Jill, just that one time).

Until Saturday … 

Mindfulness

Running with fire

September 11, 2015

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You know those nights when it looks like God let the angels finger paint the sky? I got one of those on my run tonight, and I was so thankful.

“Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing.”