On Making Space

It took me six months to realize I still owned a toaster.

It was buried in a cupboard among a hodgepodge of forgotten kitchen appliances and accoutrements, stashed away in a careless hurry. This is what most of my cupboards’ insides look like: as if someone shoved pieces of their life into nooks and crannies in a space-saving desperation and with little regard for order or discoverability.

Clearly I haven’t bothered to take inventory of the material minutiae carried over from my former married life, all refugee items from a cutthroat downsizing – which is necessary work when losing an extra 1,500 square feet of living space and fleeing domestication. I used to do things like bake pies from scratch and assemble my husband’s homemade lunches with affectionate Post-it notes tucked between sandwich bags. Now it takes me 30 minutes to figure out if I even still own a pie dish. RIP domestic goddess; you had a good run while it lasted.

But these unorganized cupboards and limited square feet of apartment space are all mine, decorated and feng shuied just the way I like them. I get to load the dishwasher however I like, a trivial luxury that dawned on me after two months of habitually still arranging it in a way to please someone who wasn’t there anymore.

Adjusting to divorced life wasn’t what I thought it would be. I wish I could say Oh of course I kept up my running routine, it was a wonderful escape and stress relief method and an all-natural antidepressant. I mean, I can barely keep track of my appliances.

Instead I retreated away from it.

Sometimes, on a run, you dig into things that mentally need some digging into. Sometimes you avoid running altogether so you won’t have to dig, or because what you need is a glass of wine in your pajamas instead. And then sometimes you sprint 3 miles through a torrential downpour, on purpose, because it sounds good for an insane moment.

I’ve made limited space for running in the past year and a half, but I come back sporadically when I can – and like a dear old friend, it always greets me warmly, in spite of why I’ve been gone.

***

This week my favorite column, which often speaks directly to my heart, instead spoke directly to my inner divorcee:

“It wasn’t until I moved out that I began to see there hadn’t been room for me in my relationship. And not merely because my ex hadn’t offered it – it had never occurred to me to ask.”

She was describing losing herself – her own habits and preferences, the essence of who she was – because of falling in love. I’m not talking about loading dishwashers the right way or making common relationship compromises. I’m talking about the feeling that you’ve melded yourself into a situation and sacrificed bits and pieces of yourself you didn’t think to miss. I’m talking about the pattern of letting another person lead you down a rabbit hole so deep you forget where you began.

I don’t have room for me in my relationships because I give my partners all the square footage they need, and more – a flaw on my part, not theirs. As a result, parts of me get pushed out of the picture, tucked away in a cupboard like a forgotten toaster.

Untangling yourself is messy, awful business, made even worse by legal bounds. Simply as an act of self-preservation, I probably won’t ever get married again. I don’t say that as a cynic or a realist or a scorned woman. I don’t say it as an affront to married people. Make no mistake: I’ll get tangled up in relationships again and again, for certain. I just need a less-messy path back to me when necessary.

***

For now, I’ll enjoy giving myself all the square footage to do whatever I please, to bake pies or not, to toss things carelessly in the dishwasher or to be an unorganized hot mess if I want. Maybe the longer I give myself space to be me, the harder it will be to forget to ask for it again.

And when I’m ready to dig into that place inside my head, I know my old friend running will be waiting for me, always with an endless supply of space to give.

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The Secret Sauce

So many articles on successful leaders talk about their morning routine:

They get up at 5 a.m. and run six miles.

They have a bowl of quinoa cereal and practice yoga.

They meditate and set intentions for the day.

They write for an hour, because they’re most creative in the morning.

They heat a mug of filtered water and squeeze in the juice of a lemon wedge.

Some of these examples I took from a Forbes article titled “The Morning Routines of 12 Women Leaders” which leads off with this energizing intro: We thrive from the consistency and efficiency of routines…so it is no wonder that these 12 extraordinary women adhere to strict ones…These successful women all view their daily routines in small increments to keep them on track and thriving. Whether it’s the designer, the doctor, the CFO or the media mogul, their morning rituals are a vital ingredient in their secret sauce.

The implication here, of course, is that successful people are 1) effortlessly morning people and 2) married to a virtuous (if pretentious) routine that keeps them flourishing.

This is mirrored in running articles. The successful runner should embrace the early morning run. You’ll avoid scheduling conflicts, you’ll boost your metabolism for the day, you’ll do better at making it a habit. Just go to bed earlier, lay out your running clothes, warm up a little longer, be consistent and it will get easier over time. No big deal.

For a while I was obsessed with this blog called My Morning Routine, an entire site dedicated to pushing this idea of success = consistently having your ish together in the morning, feeling in awe of these artists, CEOs, entrepreneurs, writers, parents (!!), who had inspiring and productive morning rituals.

But I stopped reading, because I just started feeling offended.

My life is the anti-routine. Sometimes I get up early to run and sometimes I leave it to the end of the work day to clear my head. One day I’ll collapse into bed at 9:30 p.m. and another I’ll stay up until 1 a.m. because I can’t put a book down. Some mornings my three-year-old willingly gets dressed and other days we have a 20-minute standoff complete with big ole’ crocodile tears because his favorite shorts aren’t clean. Life with a toddler is pretty much never consistent or efficient, for heaven’s sake.

I really hate mornings. I’ve given it my best effort, but I will never be a consistent morning person or a consistent morning runner. I don’t have the right secret sauce for running or for life.

But I’m a good mom, a dedicated wife, a professional who gives a lot of herself to her job and a runner who is not a “morning runner” or an “evening runner,” just someone who tries to fit it in when life allows. I swim in chaos and I like it. Squeezing myself into a regimented morning routine would leave me burning the candle at both ends many days, and most definitely wouldn’t result in me staying on track and thriving. So I don’t do it.

If you’re a die-hard morning routiner, I commend you. That’s awesome and enviable.

But it’s not the only path to success. You can be a hot mess and still do all right in spite of yourself.

My secret sauce is made of flexibility, free-spirtedness, and an uncanny ability to roll with the crazy, and I like it that way.

#justkeeprunning #BeaHotMessAndOwnIt

Miles vs. Minutes + Missing the Long Run

awkward selfie at the track

awkward selfie at the track

Here’s how my brain normally works for race prep:

Miles. Miles, miles, miles. Then some more miles. Hills, sometimes? Speed work, once per week. Long runs. LONG RUNS ARE GOSPEL. Don’t skimp on any long runs.

Here’s how my PT is making my brain work for Chicago Marathon race prep:

Strength. Strength, strength, strength. Planks, heel raises, squats. Millions of squats. Ease back into running, carefully, slowly. Count minutes instead of miles. Today, 8 minutes run/1 minute walk x 3. Later, 30 – 40 minute runs on back-to-back days to see how my body handles the load. How many miles is that? Some awkward, in-between, non-rounded-off number, no doubt. Long runs? Forget ‘em for now. Build a strong base of strength to carry me through more intense running closer to race day, instead of a steady 18-week stream of pounding through miles that will leave me worn out/possibly re-injured right before race day, according to my PT.

This week marks 18 weeks out from race day, so I am of course panicking. In a perfect, injury-free world, this Saturday would be when I’d start weekly long runs: the ones that uptick by one or two miles each weekend with the sweet reassurance of yeah, I can do this/no, I’m not crazy to bite off 26.2. The ones that are better than therapy. The ones that show you what you’re made of. I miss those runs. But following his plan, I probably won’t start any long runs (over 6 miles) until August. Say what?!?

He’s confident he’ll get me to the finish line. He’s happy with where I am right now. He’s got no worries.

He’s also not the one running Chicago.

But I’m putting blind faith in the program, because downloading random training plans off the internet as I’ve done for previous races does not make me a sports medicine expert.

Running for minutes instead of miles is a whole new mindset for me. I’ve stopped wearing my watch so that I won’t obsess about pace or distance. I’m just setting my phone timer and running by how I feel.

It’s liberating, until I think about having to run 26.2 miles for the first time ever. I NEED TO COUNT THE MILES!

(I map out the distance afterward, because I just can’t help myself.)

This marathon will either be a train wreck or a Hail Mary pass caught by Rudy in the end zone. As long as I’m injury-free, I’m down for finding out which one.

Do you run by minutes or by miles? Which is better?

#justkeeprunning #blindfaith #RudyForTheWin

I’m from Chicago, I don’t break

“Let me tell you something. I’m from Chicago. I don’t break.” ― Barack Obama

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Marathon training starts NOW, my physical therapist said to me as I’m doing 45-second plank repeats in a sweaty, shaking, jaw-clenched, huffy-yet-focused sort of determination.

I haven’t run in six weeks, and who knows when I’ll get to restart, but marathon training starts now.

I don’t like to plank. I don’t like to lift weights, or squat, or cycle, or row, or stretch, or swim, or ride the elliptical. I like to run.

And everything about that statement is all the reason I am in physical therapy in the first place.

But if I work hard and stick to the program I’ll be running again in no time—just in time to get ready for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October, he said. It’s not like you’re trying to qualify for the Olympic trials, he said, just go have fun. There’s even enough time for me to get back to running, re-injure myself and recover again. (Thanks for the awful yet weirdly reassuring thought, dude.)

I chose Chicago for my first marathon because 1) it’s a great race, and 2) it feels like home. I’m not from Chicago, but 2-ish hours to the east in Indiana, and have lots of memories tangled up with roving around the big city in episodes of youthful tomfoolery. I even tried to move there after college.

Have you ever felt like you had an unlived life someplace else? That’s how I feel about Chicago.

Now I will run-rove the big city with purpose, praying just to make it pain-free to the finish line.

But the starting line is not set up for me Oct. 11 – it’s in front of me today, and I must squat and plank and lift weights and do whatever it takes for six months to reach that finish line goal.

I have faith I will, because I’m focused and I don’t break.

#justkeeprunning

Whole30 + running

Take this post with a grain of salt. I followed Whole30 with probably about 90 percent strictness and suffered a running injury partway through.

That said, I did experience some stellar stuff in the past 30 days so I decided to write about it anyway. I also did some documenting on Instagram if you want to check out some of my meals. My username is megsterb22 and I used hashtag #megswhole30.

instagramI must have Googled Whole30 and running like 10 times before starting mine because I really wanted to hear from other runners how this program affects running performance for better or worse.

Here’s the bottom line, based on my experience: you can adequately fuel runs on the Whole30, just be vigilant about eating your potatoes/bananas/raisins/Larabars/whathaveyou before and after your workouts. The rest of the time, eat low-ish carb with proteins/fats/veggies. You might feel better, run better, rest better, lose weight and experience benefits you never even considered were possible (like breathing better?? what’s that about?). All of this happened to me.

I did get faster. For example, running 5 miles @ 8 min/mile isn’t typical for me, but this was one of my running-by-feel workouts during Whole30.

trinity_runOther observations on Whole30: I had less anxiety, virtually no blood sugar dips/hunger spikes, more energy, better mental focus and improved sleep.

So what the heck is this half-past-trendy Whole30 diet, anyway? You can read in depth here but I’ll also give you a quick snapshot:

whole 30According to Whole30 creators/enthusiasts, if you cheat in even one itsy bitsy bit then you must totally restart the 30 days. Yeah, that’s not happening for me…I’m wholeheartedly with this chic’s rationale on the topic: I made an effort to be pretty strict but didn’t sweat it if I wasn’t perfect, because I live in the real world and don’t like to get too obsessive about food. Those are some dark rabbit holes I’d prefer not to tumble through. So I had fried calamari and wine on my anniversary, I enjoyed beer after a local brewery run for St. Patty’s Day, and I didn’t freak out if ranch dressing ended up on my salad in a restaurant.

But for 30 days I stuck mostly to local grass-fed beef, chicken, fish, eggs, salads with powerful greens like spinach, kale, chard and with homemade olive oil based dressing, grilled veggies galore, fresh fruit, nuts, potatoes (mostly sweet but sometimes white), and olive oil on almost everything.

OH, and only water, coffee and unsweetened tea to drink. This was by far the hardest part for me. I love my red wine and diet Dr. Pepper. That’s what can be interesting about doing the Whole30: you discover which foods and drinks you’re drawn to purely out of habit and emotion.

Here are some journal-style snippets of my Whole30 experience:

Day 4:
Pros:
Sleeping like a rock, breathing better (?), and feeling great physically. Never feeing super hungry. Belly is most definitely less bloated/flatter looking. I really should have weighed myself on day 1 but didn’t, though I know I normally hover around 125. Today scale said 120.5. Surely this is water weight.

Cons: Already getting bored with food choices, probably because it’s the weekend and these are normally my splurge days (pizza, tacos, chips and queso, BEER). Bad sign to be bored this far in! Really missing DIET DR. PEPPER. Headed out for an 8-miler soon and kind of paranoid about not being fueled with enough carbs. Included a baked potato with dinner last night and forced myself to down the whole thing, then eating a banana and a Larabar before heading out. Overkill?

Day 6:
Morning group run of 5 miles went well. Eating potatoes the night before and banana right beforehand seemed to help energy levels.

Day 10:
Ran a 5K hosted by the local brewery and did better than I expected, 23:44, 20 seconds slower than my PR on a FLAT course and this one was hilly. Also scored a 2nd place award in my age group out of 60 ladies, woo-hoo! Today Brian and I are celebrating our 7th anniversary and so I planned this day as a cheat day, which really isn’t allowed on Whole 30, but we’re all adults here so I say do whatever you want and be happy. Had two and a half post-race beers, then a brunch of eggs and fruit, then dinner later on which included wine, fried calamari, lobster and crawfish etouffee over rice, and a shared dessert of lime cheesecake. The food was spectacular, so #sorrynotsorry. Had more wine when we got home, because why not?

Day 11:
I. Feel. Awful. Just awful. I slept terribly, I feel bloated, congested, sloggy (not a real word, but somehow completely describes how my body feels). Feeling that semi-hungover I want to eat all the things blood sugar dip. Had two eggs and some leftover oven baked potato fries and feel much better. Ready to get back on my Whole30 with no more cheat days in sight.

Day 12:
Had inexplicable urge to obsessively clean/organize the entire house. This is probably less Whole30 related and more the inevitable transformation of me into my mother. Energy levels are awesome.

Day 13:
Headed out for a morning group run of 5 miles and panicked when I realized I hadn’t eaten any carbs beforehand. Energy levels were great and it wasn’t a problem.

Day 18:
Noticing visible changes in my body and am down about 6 pounds now. My knee started nagging me so I’ve been resting it for almost a week, it’s super depressing.

Day 28:
Haven’t been running due to injuries and am missing it so badly. Having cardio cravings rather than food cravings! I’m down to 117 pounds, a loss of 8-ish total. Keeping an eye on this as I don’t want to go much lower on the scale, I just want to work on toning up. The end is near but I strangely have no desire to binge on french fries and pizza like I thought I would.

I could definitely feel the difference in my body at the end, but wasn’t sure if you could see it. I compared photos from day 1 versus day 30:

Whole30_sidePlease pardon the ridiculously short shorts, but if you want to document body changes you’ve got to suck it up and show some skin.

Whole30_frontChanges aren’t super dramatic but definitely noticeable for me, mainly in the core area. I see much less love handle spillage on the sides of those shorty shorts there on day 30.

Yes, I pointed out my love handles to the internet, just for you, readers, in the name of science experiments and keepin-it-real-ness.

POST WHOLE30 PLANS

Now that I’m finished, I  plan to just…keep doing what I’m doing, at an 80 or 90 percent strictness. I just feel so much better and am not really feeling all that deprived over lack of bread, diet soda and tortilla chips. I do miss wine and craft beer, but I now realize how *awful* it has been making me feel. I will definitely be drinking less alcohol and maybe sticking to just liquor with a club soda mixer.

Hopefully after some physical therapy and active rest (yoga, cycling) I’ll be back at it and can give a lengthier, more in-depth update on how running is affected by Whole30 eating.

Whether you decide to Whole30 or not, please do me this favor: if you have a nagging pain DON’T KEEP RUNNING ON IT. Listen to your body and honor its needs. Feed it love and wholesomeness and remember that each run (and meal) is a blessing.

30 things from my thirties

I had an urge to write this list. This Buzzfeed-ish, (mostly) non-running-related, presumptuous since I’m only two years into my thirties list. But as many writers know, if you feel a strong pull to get something out of your head and on paper, you do it or you go mad.

Here are 30 things I’ve discovered in my thirties so far. Maybe they only apply to me. Or maybe they’re golden nuggets of universal truth. Or they’re fodder for bumper stickers and self-published memoirs. And some are lessons I’m retelling in the words of others because they simply tell it better.

To me, they’re important.

1. By letting go of what you thought was going to happen in your life, you can enjoy what is actually happening. This is a quote from the recently passed actor Taylor Negron and it’s right on target. A personal example: the number of kids I thought I’d have and when I’d have them is playing out much differently than I always thought. Letting go of expectations imposed by a more naïve version of yourself and just flowing with how things play out can make you a much happier person.

2. The most attractive thing on anyone is healthy self-confidence. Someone tried to teach me this in my early twenties and the lesson didn’t really stick until ten years later. Insecurity subtracts from attractiveness, even if you look like Bradley Cooper. Also: thinking too much of yourself is unattractive.

3. They grow up in the blink of an eye – parents, that is. So often people tell you that kids grow up too fast and you should treasure each moment with them, and the very same holds true about parents. Suddenly they’re seniors and you’re trying hard not to think about an hourglass with sand slipping through. Spend as much time with them as possible, be generous with hugs, ask them to tell those stories you’ve heard a hundred times already. It will never be enough time together after they’re gone, so make the most of it.

PD-4-2012-1104. Every workplace has drama. Don’t let it disgruntle you. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

5. Make an effort to keep in touch with friends near and far away. Family is the most important thing in life, and sometimes that includes people who aren’t blood relatives but those who The Universe/God/Life has ensured that you cross paths because you’re meant for each other.

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6. You know what marriage is really all about? Forgiveness. Over and over and over again. Camille Braverman said this on Parenthood and it’s among the most realistic marriage advice I’ve ever heard.

brian and me7. Using credit cards is just not worth it. Unless you can immediately pay back your balance every time, just don’t use them.

8. …and neither is cluttering your life with “stuff.” Another awful lie our culture spoon-feeds us from a young age: you need to buy stuff to be happy. Screw stuff. Keep life simple, work hard, do things that make you happy and spend as much time with those you love as possible. That’s all you really need, and usually it doesn’t cost a dime.

9. Try not to be judge-y. Although it’s in our nature to be so, none of us will ever know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

10. Assume nothing. The world, and people, are full of surprises. Smart people know that they don’t know.

11. Taking care of your body really does matter. This is common knowledge. In your thirties, you start to feel why it matters, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

12. Also, accept your body and appreciate it as is. Some things won’t change (without plastic surgery). I’ll always be impossibly short and have birthing hips, a soft belly, a small-ish chest and a big-ish nose. This is okay with me. My body has carried another human around for 10 months, produced breast milk for said human for over a year, run countless miles and carried me reliably through life every single day for 32 years in spite of my own ridicule and mistreatment. It deserves some kudos.

beach13. Death will come for you. It takes this long for the inevitability of death to sink in, because you start to stare it in the face more often as family and friends pass on. Then you want to slap your 20-year-old self upside the head for thinking she’s invincible.

14. Nurture your God-given talents. Don’t deny your gifts.

15. Nurture your wannabe talents. Don’t deny your heart.

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16. Friendliness will get you far. A lot can be said for a smile, a hello and genuine acknowledgement/consideration of others. What you put out there will come back to you, in the end. It’s kindness karma.

17. No one has things figured out. As time passes, you grow wiser and this statement becomes scarier.

18. As it pertains to running: there will always be someone faster and always someone slower. Everyone is on their own path and you only need to think about yours. In the race, you’re up against yourself.

finish19. Take vacations. Put your money here instead of #8. Make memories, open your mind to new things and meet new people.

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20. P.S., don’t look at work email on vacations. Whatever is in your inbox can wait. The break your sanity needs cannot.

21. Home cooked meals are better. In most cases, they’re cheaper, healthier and made with love.

22. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Steve Jobs said this. In other words, go with your gut, even if it goes against what everyone in your life is telling you. If you ever find yourself in this painfully confusing struggle, I feel for you.

23. Roll with change…it’s probably one of the best qualities you can possess. There is so much we can’t control – just let go of what you can’t affect and focus on what you can.

24. Always be all in. “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around like rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” — a spot-on quote from Anne Morris.

25. Failure is good. It means we have tried for something, all in, unafraid. We have learned something. Fail again, fail better.

26. Let others be your mirror, especially your spouse. Take a note from those close to you on how you’re really coming off to others. It’s valuable information.

27. Be direct. I don’t believe in the language of passive aggressive. It needs to be sent to that place where languages go to die. Where Latin ended up, that’s where it needs to go. I think it only intends to hurt and confuse.

28. If you’re angry, shut up until you’ve calmed down. If you’re drunk, shut up until you’ve sobered. No explanation required.

29. Let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling without judgment. This is a hard one. It was advice I was given from a very dear friend during a difficult time and when I followed it I just felt liberated. Honor your feelings, don’t bury them because you don’t think they’re the right ones.

30. Your thirties aren’t actually old. Ten years ago my thirties were old.

But today, I’m just beginning.

Going by heart

10500387_10204599598176445_4306696716305114301_nLast December I set intentions for gratefulness and simplicity in 2014, as if I were one mental battle of will away from a life space of Zen.

The year answered with a big fat oh yeah? and test after trial after complication after unfairness and heartbreak. Humbling lesson after unanswered question.

Some years are bumpy, and it’s to be expected, and then some years you thought you stood in line for the tilt-a-whirl but in the middle of the ride you’re horrified to find yourself on the Texas Giant.

I am grateful to be riding.

But, Dear Universe: could we cut back on the drama for this next one, pretty please? I really hate heights.

Now let’s wade to waters less deep and discuss running goals. How I fared in 2014:

  • More variety, less prescribed “training.” I wouldn’t say I included more variety – although, I was on a hot yoga kick for a while – but I did practice what I would call “going by heart” which means instead of letting a training program dictate I just ran as long/hard as I felt like doing that day. I think there is merit to this, I feel it helped reduce fatigue and burnout and subsequently improved fitness.
  • Race once a month, for fun. I raced every month except for July, in which fitting a race into my schedule was an impossibility. I did two in March. I give myself a pass. This was a great goal to keep because it helped me run consistently and look forward to something each month. I also ended up setting PRs in the 5K, 10K and half marathon distances which I don’t believe would have happened without it.
  • Hit 700 miles for the year. I don’t think I wrote this down but I had this mile goal in mind for the end of 2014. I missed it by a lot…today I’m at 445 and plan to run 5 tomorrow to make an even 450.
  • Complete the Holiday Running Streak. I sneaked this goal in at the end of the year and did well from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, but after getting sick I got completely derailed.

Notable: Running on three U.S. coasts (San Francisco, CA; Westerly, RI; Port Bolivar, TX), running a sub 2-hour half marathon time in a hilly race, completing 40 days of vegan Lent (re: the “eat simply” goal).

My new goals for 2015 are as follows…and, by the way, I believe it’s okay to shoot for the moon and miss, intend for something but find yourself diverted to a different path, and be made a mockery of by the Universe because that’s pretty much what life likes to do, eh? Setting goals means we have at least tried for something.

  • More focus on strength and speed. A recycled goal with a different spin: variety in workouts but for a specific result…more Insanity or weight lifting to build strength and track workouts to focus on improving speed. The husband and I are starting Insanity again together beginning of January.
  • Be social, would you? I’ve always preferred to run alone, but running with others (especially if they’re faster than you) is a great way to improve. I follow a few running groups on facebook and it’s just a matter of taking the initiative to join in on a run once in a while.
  • Run a sub 1:50 half marathon. A little stretchy, but possible.
  • Take on the full mary. It would be great to run a full marathon this year. This will be, as they say, a game-time decision. I probably won’t make the call until mid-year for a fall or winter marathon. I don’t feel ready for a spring marathon and there’s no way I’m doing a full in the summer. In fact, I’m considering trying my luck again this year and sticking my name in the lottery for the Chicago Marathon that’s in early October…
  •  Hit 500 miles for the year.

I have a few personal, non-running goals. Without delving too deeply, these mostly revolve around spending less, drinking less, eating cleaner and working on certain relationships. Probably what every other person on the planet will pledge, too.

Most importantly: I will stay fluid with plans and intentions, because life is a messy, vicious, untamable and beautiful beast that will knock you on your ass and make you get back up repeatedly, and the best way to navigate its treacherousness is going by heart.

On the Downhills

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I’m not big on posting lengthy race reviews, so I’ll give my recap through mostly photos instead.

I will say that contrary to many race reviews I read beforehand, the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco was well-organized and worth the travel, even with more than 25,000 runners to corral, usher, accommodate, ego-stroke and connect with in that personal and emotive I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-ish sort of way in which Nike marketers excel. The emotional branding was dripping from every detail, so plentiful you could have poured yourself a cup for a pre-race booster better than any Gatorade or green smoothie. Oh Nike, flattery will get you everywhere.

One subtlety I appreciated: well placed port-a-potties throughout the course, with little signs indicating “next port-a-potty is 2 miles away” so you can better weigh the decision to make the pit stop or chance a dash to the next one. I’m nothing if not a potty opportunist, especially when running. Oh Nike, you so GET me.

One nice tech-y touch: in a few spots there were monstrous screens broadcasting video of hoards of runners bobbing along, and one just had names of runners scrolling across so that when you passed a certain trigger point you saw your name onscreen and someone with a microphone yelled “way to go, [name]!” Another attempt to personally reach out to 25,000 plus runners. So cheeseball, and I liked it.

Selfie in front of a gigantic replica of the course? Don’t mind if I do.

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Jake’s inner monologue: too many women, get me out of here

I loved the energy. I was discouraged when my Pandora app didn’t connect but I didn’t need my music after all. Drumlines, DJs, bongo players, cheer squads and others lined the course to pump you up along the way.

And the scenery. Swoon. This sums up how I felt about running through Golden Gate Park:

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Those hills. Oh, those hills were rough. But if you did the downhill right, you could make up for some lost time. You could fly.

Mile 10 uphill was just the worst. This was the only hill I did some walking on. It was hard not to as you had to weave through a sea of walkers in front of you.

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(Unfortunately, my watch didn’t connect during the first mile so it thinks the race was 12.6 miles.)

I knew a PR was not in the cards for this race and was thrilled to finish under 2 hours. I took my time, stopped at each aid station to drink water and took one bathroom break. I didn’t let myself think about the what if I didn’t stop here or theres, the how could I have done betters or the did I leave anything out on the course?s. I just enjoyed.

I spotted my wonderful family waving to me right before the finish line:

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I finished at 1:59:25, 345 out of 3737 in my age group and 2424 overall. Top 10 percent what what.

Instead of a medal, Nike gave a Tiffany & Co. finisher necklace:

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Double swoon.

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I’m so glad I did this race. It was a great birthday gift to myself. However, I’m now considering doing another half in Nov or Dec to scratch that PR itch. I can’t seem to help myself. #runnerproblems

This is the second 13.1 this year that after the finish I thought, yeah, I don’t feel like keeling over, I’ve got more in me, maybe I’ll do a full someday. Even if it’s hard. Because what’s hard is what’s good, what’s good is what’s living for, and every uphill battle has a downhill that, if you do it right, makes you fly.

New Normal

Me and Michelle at 8th grade graduation, circa 1997.

Me and Michelle at 8th grade graduation, circa 1997.

I hate mornings, but I love race day. On these days I get out of bed with willingness, nay, dare I say subdued enthusiasm as I work to peel off my grouch face and secure my game face.

Sunday morning before last was different. My alarm cut through a restless, disturbed sleep at 5 a.m. and all I wanted was to pull the covers over my head to prolong that time before facing the day. The things that I usually love about race day – crowds, palpable energy, adrenaline practically airborne amongst runners and catching like a virus – all of it instead gave me a sickly, tightening feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.

Vicious bouts of anxiety haunted me the entire week prior. Michelle is gone, Michelle is gonethis can not be my new normal. I was having a physical reaction to the unexpected death of a dear friend I’ve known since childhood. A friend with whom I’ve created almost 20 years of memories, the hilarious and endlessly repeatable and always cherished kind. The growing-up-with kind. A friend I took for granted would always be there. A friend I still sort of pretend is living several states away and I just haven’t talked to her in a while. The grief expressed itself, and continues to do so, through an earth-shaking anxiety.

In May, I ran the Honor Connor 5K in memory of a teen who drowned a couple of years ago. The teen’s brave mother gave a speech to the crowd of runners and her words came back to me the past couple of weeks. When tragedy bombs your life, you have to realize that you’re never going to get over it, life just sort of builds around the gaping hole it created. You won’t ever completely heal. You just learn to live with the new normal. You learn to carry it, she said. I can’t imagine what it’s like to carry what she does. But we all do it, on different levels and for a million different reasons.

Michelle would have told me I was crazy for getting up so early on a Sunday to run 6.2 miles. But if it is something I wanted, she would have told me to just shut up and do it. After feeling only half functional for days beforehand I think forcing myself out of bed to do this race signified the start of me acknowledging the new normal. Continuing the day-after-day, but sensing a little piece of myself gone and feeling a little more bitter at the unfairness life tends to dole out with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

Life goes on, but I carry you with me always.