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The Value of Trying

ImageI once set off a firestorm.  Okay I set off a lot of firestorms, but this one took me by surprise.  Someone from a Facebook group I belong to asked me to create a one-word theme that would be my word to live by for the new year and share it.  I loved the idea.  Rather than setting a specific goal, having a word to guide my actions through the year seemed manageable, fun and a challenge.  The word I chose: “TRY”.

Almost immediately the comment box was filled with backlash.  “Do or do not- there is no try,” was thrown at me at least a dozen times.  Could they have been a little more creative, at least?

I get it.  “Try” can be a weak word.  It can signify reluctance, doubt and false intentions.

“I’ll try to send that information to you today.”

“I’ll try to remember to pick up some milk on the way home.”

“I’m going to try to eat better tomorrow.”

Yes, when my kids tell me they will try to clean their rooms, alarm bells sound off in my head.  I know they have no intention of vacuuming the garbage off their floor.  I doubt they even see the garbage on their floor.

But in so many ways, “try” is a courageous word.  It can signify a willingness to step into the great unknown- to uncover the undiscovered.  It’s much easier to simply say, “No.”

I’ve tried many activities and failed miserably.  Cooking, sewing, even gardening are skills I’ve attempted but never mastered.  And then came running.

Six years ago I decided to try running.  I’ve been taught from my youth that we all have talents and I was searching for mine.  There was nothing in my past or present that would make me think I had the strength to run, much less run well, but it seemed like something a lot of other people enjoyed.  My first run was wonderful.  The second run was not.  But I didn’t stop.  I knew this would challenge me and I was a girl who loves a challenge.  And so, I kept on.

After a few months, I found a rhythm and even joy in my runs.  A friend told me to try running a half-marathon.  I doubled down and signed up for a full.  Did I think I could do it?  I had no idea.  Really, I’d only run 10 miles at once.  But I knew if I didn’t at least start, the answer would be a definite, NO.

Sometimes it’s easy to be overwhelmed by a monumental task.  To tell someone that their effort has to be all or nothing can keep many of us from accomplishing the incredible.  If someone had told me that once I signed up for a marathon I was 100% bound to finish, I would never have tried.  Knowing that I could take it a week at a time, even a mile at a time gave me the confidence to take that first step.

Whenever someone tells me they could never run a marathon, I tell them they don’t have to.  Just run a mile and see how it feels.  Then another.  Then another.  I never run 26.2 miles at once.  I run a mile at a time and I never let my brain think farther ahead than that.

Yesterday I steamed some broccoli for dinner.  As usual, my oldest said she hated it.  She’s never tried it.

“How do you know you hate it if you’ve never tried it?  How did you know you liked chocolate before you tasted it?”

After much cajoling, she hesitantly tried a bite.  After a moment of reflection, she said with confidence, “I tried it and now I KNOW I hate it.”

At least she tried.

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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Articles

 

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Running and Reunions

Twenty years ago I sat in Mrs. Stewart’s English class with my friends trying to imagine what our lives would be like when we reunited for our 20th reunion.  Some pictured big families.  Some pictured living in exotic locations with exciting jobs.  I pictured… nothing.

ImageAt seventeen, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a corporate bigwig or a mom to ten kids.  Both of those options seem so out of character now that I can’t help but laugh at their seeming possibility then.  The late teens and early twenties are a time of self-discovery.  And while I didn’t backpack through Europe to find myself (my meager salary from Taste of Chicago made sure that didn’t happen), I certainly did uncover parts of myself that were both surprising and wonderful.

Experience taught me I hate cooking.  I’m terrible at sewing.  Gardening is an art beyond my skill set.  Teaching is my call, but not in the way I expected.

But the biggest discoveries came through running.  For many years I allowed myself to be pigeon-holed.  I wrongly believed that because I wasn’t terribly good at team sports, athletics would never play a role in my life.

Then I had kids.  Motherhood was a shock to me.  There were no internet blogs or websites to warn me of the challenges I would face as a mom.  With very little experience outside of babysitting during middle school, I found myself floundering to find solid footing.  I was falling short of impossibly high, self-imposed expectations. Stressed, isolated and even a little depressed I turned to running.

Part of me wanted my pre-baby body back.  Part of me needed alone time.  But the biggest part of me was just trying to figure out how to cope with the unknowns of life.

I can’t explain why I thought running would help.  There was no master plan, no pre-conceived course of action that promised running as a cure-all for my many ills.  I just felt drawn to the physical exertion and the connection with nature running offered.  I craved listening to the sound of my feet and my own heavy breathing.  I craved the immediate sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every run.

And so it began with a single run.  It was short.  It was slow.  I loved it.

I ran away from the insecurity that plagued me during my teens.  I ran away from the fear I had of my future.  I ran away from the distaste I had for my physical body.

I ran toward confidence.  I ran toward peace.  I ran toward joy.  I ran toward acceptance and eventually gratitude for the body I once resented.

I don’t know that I would say running changed me as much as it uncovered a part of me I never knew existed.  The inner athlete was there all along.  It just took a little longer for me to find her.

While I loved reminiscing with old friends delving into my dusty CD collection, I’m happy to put the past behind me.  My glory days are still ahead and I’m running toward them as fast as I can.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Articles

 

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Gimme a Break

Another Saturday and another day of a steady stream of Facebook updates recounting more race results.  I live in a state where there are dozens of races to run each weekend.  Half marathons, 10K’s, ultras, there are no shortages of opportunities to empty the wallets and fill the medal racks.

I love that I live in a place where people are active enough that race directors don’t hesitate to organize race after race.  I love that I live in a place where I can actually walk to a number of these races from my doorstep.  In fact one marathon actually passes my house.  What a blessing it is to have so many options.

It’s also a curse.

When I first dipped my toe into race waters, I was cautious.  I signed up for one race at a time.  Two marathons a year was my limit.  Races were rare events which made them all the more special to me.

When I was young, I told my parents I planned to move across the street from Disneyland so I could visit the park every day.

“That would get old,” they said.

“Never.”

“You’ll get bored with it,” they said.

“Never.”

“It loses its luster,” they said.

“Never.”

I’m not nine years old anymore.  Three days of Disneyland and I’m ready to go home.  My parents were right after all.

And so it is with races.  I quickly grew addicted to the post-race adrenaline rush and began signing up more frequently.  I recognized many familiar faces at each race and then grew addicted to the social outlet racing offered.  For months on end, every Saturday was Race Day.  My medal collection doubled, then tripled and so on.

Apparently I wasn’t alone.  With the new running boom, races began selling out in days, sometimes hours.  I found myself registering for races almost a year in advance.  The beauty of that was the focus it gave me to continue training.  The downside was not knowing where I would be mentally and physically as the races drew closer.

This weekend my nine-year-old running self grew up.  The Disney shine of racing began to wear off.  I was registered to run the Timp Half, a popular half-marathon in American Fork, Utah, and I simply didn’t want to race.

I’m not injured.  I haven’t raced a half in a few months.  There’s no explanation other than I’m simply battling race fatigue.

I’m tired of setting the alarm to wake me up in the middle of the night.  I’m tired of spending two hours driving to a race and riding the bus to the start so I can run for 90 minutes.  I’m tired of stressing myself out worrying about my performance and training.  I’m tired of worrying about my competition and how I stack up.  I’m tired of obsessively checking the weather and trying to plan my outfits accordingly.

Instead of going to battle with my burn out, I dropped out.  For the first time ever as a healthy, injury free girl, I dropped out of a race before I started.  I transferred my bib number to my husband instead.  Almost immediately, a weight lifted from my shoulders.

Race morning my husband, Christian, drove himself to the race while I ran an easy 18-miler with my running partner around familiar roads.  He had a wonderful time and set a new PR by 7 minutes.  He was exhausted, but exhilarated.  I felt refreshed and renewed.

As I looked at my friends’ pics and read their race reports, I felt a little twinge of jealousy that I wasn’t there.  I would have loved to have been there at the finish comparing notes and reveling in each others’ success.  But this self-imposed break was much needed.

Every good marathoner knows you absolutely have to pace yourself to keep from hitting the wall.  That’s my goal this year.  I’m going to race because I want to, not because I can.  Besides, it’s never about the race for me.  I run because I love to run and that’s good enough for me.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Articles

 

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Ragnar 2013: Sneakers Attack: Wasatch Your Back

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Why do I still run Ragnar?

Sometime around 2:00 A.M. I stumble into a dimly lit high school in the middle of a small Utah town.  I have no real idea of where I am.  I’m filthy, smelly and exhausted.  My teeth are coated with sugar and plaque.  My contacts are foggy.  My hair’s full of grit. My hamstring is crying.  I’m sore and desperate for sleep.

 

I duck into an empty bathroom stall inside the girls’ locker room and change from one race skirt into another.  I grab a few wipes and “shower”.  I squeeze in between two other ripe girls and brush my teeth and then stagger to a dark gym covered in seemingly lifeless bodies.  “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get 3 hours of sleep before I wake up and run another 8 miles,” I think.  Yeah.  Three hours of sleep is plenty of time to recover from the 29 miles I ran earlier that day.  Or yesterday.  It’s all blending together.

 

As I set my pillow down on the hardwood floor and play sleeping bag gymnastics in a futile effort to find comfort, I wonder what is wrong with me.  Why would I choose to give up the comforts of home to wander the Wasatch Back for two straight days on purpose?  Why would I do it, not once, but six years in a row?  Why do I do it without hesitation and how am I able to find 11 other crazy souls to join me?

 

In honor of Ragnar’s 10th anniversary running of the Wasatch Back relay, here are my top 10 reasons I keep coming back to my favorite race of the year.  (in no particular order).

 

1.  A chance to see the gorgeous Wasatch Back in a way I never could before.  I’ve driven through these mountain numerous times.  I’ve biked my way through many of the same cities this race runs through.  But the perspective you get as a runner winding your way through some of the most beautiful countryside in the U.S. is unparalleled.  

 

2.  A chance to accept and conquer a challenge.  People ask me all the time if running Ragnar is more difficult than running a marathon.  I can’t answer that.  It’s just different.  All I know is I go home feeling stronger and more capable of handling just about anything life throws my way after two days of running on no sleep and questionable food.  

 

3.  An excuse to eat questionable food.  Where else do I get to enjoy a breakfast of Tootsie Rolls and Cheez-its and not feel guilty about it.  Freedom!

 

4.  I get to stay up past my bedtime.  I rarely see the moon at night anymore.  With early morning wake-up calls almost every day of the week, I’m usually in bed by 9 pm.  What a joy it is to cut the alarm clock ties and just enjoy.

 

5.  Creativity!  I’m always amazed at others’ creativity.  Team “Legs Miserables”, thank you for two days of smiles every time I saw your van!

 

6.  It’s always different.  I have been Runner 1 every year of the six years I’ve run this race.  People ask me if I get bored with the same run.  The thing is, it’s never, ever the same.  Even if the course is the same, it’s different at 3 am than it was last year at midnight.  

 

7.  Running.  Two days with no responsibility other than to run the three legs I’ve been    assigned?  Yes, please.

8.Two days I don’t have to worry about doing my hair.  Okay, I don’t do my hair all that often anyway, but during the Wasatch Back I feel as though I’m among my people.  No judgment.  No finger pointing.  Au natural is the word of the day.

 

9.  Everything’s funny at midnight.  Just ask my van.  What was so funny that we were laughing until our cheeks hurt and our driver almost had to pull over because she couldn’t see through her funny tears?  Diet chocolate cake.  Yeah, I don’t get it either, but it was hilarious at the time.  Everyone needs to laugh so hard they get a six-pack core workout once in awhile.

 

10.  This race changes people in wonderful ways.  Not to be melodramatic, but this race has most definitely changed my life.  Some of my closest friendships have been forged in our stinky van.  Some of those runs are smooth sailing.  Others fraught with potholes.  Sometimes the legs are fresh.  Sometimes they buckle under us and it’s all we can do to finish and pass on the baton.  

 

No matter what kind of run I’m having, no matter how difficult the road ahead, I know I have people in a van following my progress.  I have people cheering me on, offering support and water.  I have people who understand the ups and downs and how quickly things can change.  I have people willing to step in at any moment and run with me if necessary.  I have people to celebrate the triumph of every victory.   

 

The bond forged on the road is a tough one to break.  I don’t see these friends every day.  But I do know that when my daily life feels like Leg 2 at midnight, they are still there to cheer me on, step in when needed, and celebrate when I finish sweaty, exhausted and happy.

 

I’m an introvert at heart.  I’m guarded and shy.  For two days I and five other people laughed together.  We suffered together.  We cheered together.  We often ran together.  We expressed hopes and confessed fears.  We dug into each other’s life stories and came away with a greater understanding of who we are at our core.  This race became a bond, a glue, binding us together in the most wonderful way.

 

This is more than a race for me.  This is a special time spent with special people in the most special of places.   It’s not about the race.  It’s about the run.

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Articles, Race Reports

 

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Demons of Self-Doubt

“Our doubts are traitors,/

and make us lose the good we oft might win,/

by fearing to attempt.”

-William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

As a little girl I was never scared of monsters.  Obviously they weren’t real.  I’m not sure I ever believed in Santa, so why would I worry about some three-headed goblin taking up residence in my closet.

My fears were based more in reality.  Snakes in the toilet, spiders in my bed.  I still check the toilet before I sit down.  Always.

The fears I do battle with most often as an adult aren’t of the green, slimy kind.  They are the little demons of self-doubt.

No matter how well I may master a skill, these little creatures weasel their way into my psyche and wreak havoc at the most unexpected moments.  The longer they linger, the deeper they cling.

Sometimes self-doubt is sneaky.  I will attribute success to being in the right place at the right time.  I will credit luck rather than hard work for a fortunate outcome.

“I’m not a good writer.  I just happened to have a couple good ideas here and there.”

“I’m not a good runner.  All the fast girls stayed home today.”

“I’m not a good mom.  God just graced me with good kids.”

Other times self-doubt is brazen and bold, shouting insults with megaphone-like intensity.

“You have nothing interesting to say.”

“You aren’t fast enough, so why bother.”

“You’ll be lucky if those kids make it to adulthood without needing serious therapy.”

Self-doubt isn’t necessarily a bad trait to have.  For triple-A type personalities like myself who crave control over any given situation, doubting thoughts often spur me to action.  The idea that my past accomplishments are, well, in the past keeps me from resting on my laurels.  One good race season doesn’t guarantee another, so I keep training.

We all need to reflect and ask ourselves if we’re really living up to our potential in any facet of life.   Crammed schedules and constant running to and fro can masquerade for accomplishment when really it’s just busyness.  Sometimes we need to slow down, remember what it is we’re working toward and assess our progress.  A little recalibration can get us back on track.

But there have been moments when those demons have gotten the best of me.  As I stood at the starting line of the Ogden Marathon this year, those little critters didn’t just set up house in my head.  They were in my heart and, apparently, my stomach.  I took one look at all the “real” runners near the front of the pack and immediately discounted myself.

“They all ran in college and high school.  I’m just a mom,” was a thought I’m embarrassed to admit is a fairly common one for me.

I can’t imagine ever telling a fellow runner or friend, “They all ran in college.  You’re just a mom.  Step to the back and let the real runners through.”  I would sooner bite off my own tongue than tell a friend that their training was lacking and they didn’t deserve to toe the line of a race.

If I wouldn’t talk to a friend like this, why do I talk to myself like this?  It’s true I was never an athlete in my high school and college years.  I didn’t find running until after my youngest daughter was born.  I took up the sport not to bring home trophies and earn bragging rights, but to find peace and solace on the road as I struggled to find pieces of myself in the fog of motherhood.  In those early days, every run was a victory and I gained confidence I was desperate for that carried into my role as a mother.

I knew I was a runner.  No qualifications.  I believed in my abilities and was comfortable where I was.  I signed up for races with no hesitation.  I toed the starting line with nervous anticipation, but no doubt.

My goal this year has nothing to do with time or distance.  My goal is to talk to myself as I would talk to my best friend.   To take pride in what I’ve accomplished and find satisfaction in where I am in the moment.    Monsters aren’t real unless I make them real. (But I still check the toilet before sitting down.)

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Articles

 

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Boston Aftermath

“… let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

April 2010- 114th Boston Marathon-  My first Boston Marathon.  I wore my name on my shirt following the advice of a friend who’d run the race many times.  I felt like a rock star the entire way as people shouted out my name.

As I reached the middle of Heartbreak Hill, I heard my name.  Slowly at first, but the closer I got the the top, the louder and faster the chanting became.  I looked ahead to see a large group of Boston College boys cheering my name in unison.  As I reached the peak, they broke out into deafening applause as though they had conquered the hill themselves.  It almost made me want to turn around and climb it all over again.  Almost.

April 2011- 115th Boston Marathon- My second Boston Marathon.  I had been struggling off and on with a hamstring strain and was unsure of how this race would turn out.  At the finish, I was so overcome with relief that I sobbed when the volunteers put the medal around my neck.  As I walked down the line of volunteers, each one I passed reached out and patted my shoulder or squeezed my arm.  The woman who gave me my medal gave me a huge hug.  I didn’t know her, but at that moment we were connected.

April 2012- 116th Boston Marathon- My third Boston Marathon.  It was hot.  Very, very hot.  Spectators were out in full force handing runners extra water.  Some had their sprinklers on in their front yards encouraging runners to run through.  At mile 15 a woman stood on the left shoulder passing out wet paper towels and ice.  I went to grab a towel, but missed.  Knowing that if I stopped running for even a second I would never start again, I kept going.  Not five seconds after I passed this woman I noticed her running next to me.

“Take this.  You need it,” she said.

Before I could thank her, she was gone to pass out more towels to more desperate runners.

April 2013- 117th Boston Marathon- My fourth Boston Marathon.  More acts of love, compassion and kindness than I can do justice in this short space.

Boston is a special place.  It always has been, but now the world has taken notice. The marathon in particular is special.  It’s a place where spectators and runners share a symbiotic relationship.  There are times when the line between participants and cheerleaders is a little blurry.  The cheering is so intense you would think the spectators had a personal stake in your success.  People shed their winter clothes, pull out the lawn chairs, fire up the grill and cheer on runners, and the onset of spring, for hours.  This marathon is the ultimate celebration of life and renewal.

This year the celebrations were cut short in the most violent and unexpected way. In an effort to try to begin healing from the heartbreak of that day, I’ve made an effort to focus on the numerous acts of kindness and try to find something good in all of this to cling to like a life raft.

The healing process is going to take time.  The hardest part for me has been returning to a world that goes on as normal, but I don’t feel normal.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to “normal” again.  The things I saw and felt and heard in Boston that day have changed me to my core, but that’s not necessarily bad.

First, I’ve come to realize lives can change in a moment and those life-altering events don’t always happen to someone else.  I admit that I used to think, “That would never happen to me,” when I’d witness a tragic event on the news.  Understanding that cosmic shifts can happen anywhere at anytime to anyone has been like a bucket of cold water poured on my head.  Since that day, I have been more present and aware of my surroundings.  I’ve been more grateful for the simple joys in life.  I am taking nothing for granted, not even the sound of my children’s snoring.  I’d miss it if I could never hear it again.

Second, I know we all have to heal in our own way.  I have many friends who felt the urgent need to get out and race soon after the Boston Marathon. To finish what others couldn’t was a necessary step. I, on the other hand, craved familiarity.  This attack felt so personal to me, as though someone entered my home and attacked my family.  I needed to hunker down and just be quiet.  Patience with those who were there and are working through the crazy hurricane of emotions is critical.

Third, there is more good in the world than bad.  Two people did some very bad things and their impact was far reaching, but countless others did more wonderful things with endless impact.  They will be remembered long after the two bombers’ names have been forgotten.

Fourth, we are stronger than we think.  Whether it’s the exhausted marathoner who continues running past the finish line to donate blood, or the unpaid volunteer who runs towards disaster to help others to safety, we are an incredible group of people who can rise above unspeakable acts of violence and hate.

This was supposed to be my last Boston Marathon for awhile, but I have some unfinished business there.  To truly heal I need to return to those familiar streets.  I need to draw strength and energy from those familiar crowds.  I need to run past those familiar mile markers.  I need to celebrate with familiar friends and family.  As horrific as the 117th Boston Marathon may have ended, the 118th Boston Marathon will be as special.

May we all continue to be Boston Strong.

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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Articles