Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm a running sinner!  I am a heretic to my own mantra, "Exercise is for everyone!"  I did the unthinkable, fell to temptation, and committed the unpardonable transgression.  I dissed another runner in my heart.

The Evergreen Town Race is a beautiful, downhill 5k & 10k that rolls through and gently down a mountain road on a golden morning once a year.  It is the prettiest scenery I've encountered in a race, and (Bonus!) it can be enjoyed at an easy, coasting slope downward.  Also, it is over after just 6.2 miles--a cakewalk for a marathoner like me.  Six miles is an easy run, a blip in my day, a roll-outta-bed, don't-give-it-a-thought jaunt.  A couple weekends ago, I gave myself the pleasure of enjoying this race.  What a delight, right?

Yes and no.  I finished strong. I ran my most strategic race yet, finishing with guts and gusto, earning a time I'm happy to call mine.  But in the middle of the race I turned into a devil.  The mountains were lovely, the amber sunlight warm but not hot.  I was running at a steady clip, a little fast--perfect pacing for race day.  Next to me was this guy, in long black shorts and a garish yellow tank.  With a belly that, on me, would have indicated a third trimester pregnancy.  He hung in there with me for 4 miles; he sweated, grunted, sucked air, and gave a woop of celebration at each mile marker at our respectable pace.  He is the kind of runner I relate to, and cheer for, and write this blog for.  He is answering the call to represent all runners--to prove anyone can do it, our bodies are made for it, and it feels better than it hurts.  And I resented him. 

On that day, during that race, I forgot the beauty around me, the power of inclusion, and the victory of just finishing.  I ignored my belief that big runners are the best thing to happen to running and health in America this millenium.  Deep in every muscle fiber and fat cell, I want everyone to feel at home in a pair of sneakers.  But on that day, I just wanted to run with the cool kids.  I didn't want to be the fat marathoner, still.

I mean, come on!  I've finished dozens of double-digit mileage runs.  I've completed a marathon or half-marathon for every digit on my hands.  I've suffered and worked sooooo much, and I'm still running next to "that guy."  Damn it!

See?  I suck.  I slipped.  My attitude did not reflect my faith--in running for all, in exercise for everyone.  This went way past a competitive spirit and into ugly-spiritedness.  Mea culpa.  I'm so sorry yellow-tank-man.  You rocked on race day!  I wish I'd said it to you during the miles we shared, or learned your name, or heard a little of your story.  It was way too easy for me to despise my idea of you, full of impression and assumption.  It's a lot harder to look down on an actual person.  My discomfort with you was really discomfort with myself.  I don't care about your gut as much as my butt, which still challenges my self-acceptance.

Having been so guilty, it seems fitting to me I'm now entering the hard stage of marathon training.  It will be my purgatory.  I will use the suffering of long runs, sore muscles, and groaning knees for purification.  Expiation, really.  I haven't just become unclean; I owe amends, restoration for wrongs.  I need to rediscover a (self-)love unaffected by size.  Time to get my heart right. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Magic Hour

I mess things up in extremely consistent ways.  Whether I’m racing or dieting, I go out hard and fall flat by the end.  In the same way that racing is the competitive form of running, dieting is the competitive form of eating.  In both instances, I compete with myself and skinny girls. 

My first mile or two in a race (or the first 10 in the case of a marathon) are always too fast.  Adrenaline and hopefulness kick in and control me.  My energy stores are high, seemingly bottomless, until they’re not.  Similarly, in the first hours of every day, dieting doesn’t scare me.  After years of skipping breakfast, dining on a little something, preferably containing whole grains and a little protein, is a treat.  My determination is strong, seemingly unending, until it’s not.

So toward the end of every race, and the end of every day, all of my intentions and designs, goals and strategies, go out the window.  I slow down.  I dive in.

Because I like gratification!  I want to have my cake and eat it to...the whole thing, thank you very much, with lots of frosting.  When it comes to running, I can forgive myself because the only win I’m after is crossing the finish line.  However, my weight is a different story.  The good news is I’m not dysfunctional about it.  I have a weight loss goal in the single digits; I’ll still be closer to 200 pounds than 100 pounds.  I use the term “dieting” loosely because I actually oppose dieting.  I’m simply trying to, as Michael Pollan says, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  But given my predilection for Snickers and chocolate peanut butter ice cream, this takes actual effort for me.

I start strong, then weaken.  At the end of the race and at the end of the day.  Bedtime: the magic hour.  The kiddos are washed up and read to and tucked in and loved on.  The quiet sets in and I decide to reward myself with the very thing that I was so determined to avoid at the beginning of the day.  And it is soooo good, for the 2 to 10 minutes it takes to eat it.   At which point, the gratification is over and the guilt sets in.  Why is food my favorite reward (and it is still my favorite reward)?  When did the magic hour become the sliver of time in which I’m left alone?  After all, I love and adore my family; they are my favorite people.  Ah, but sometimes silence is golden...and gratifying.

This morning, I read about the recent London riots, about the predominance of gratification in the actions of some of the looters, looking to get a groovy pair of shoes outta the bedlam.  Let me avoid semantics (and avoid the complex issues of justice, opportunity, and class involved in the riots) by saying that by gratification I mean that desire to experience a quick reward.  I mean the need for pleasure, for something that is good to your senses.  Gratification is great; I’m all for it.  Find ways of gratifying yourself!   (Did I just say that?)  But when I talk about gratification I mean something lesser than satisfaction, which comes with effort, and for me goes a bit deeper than the senses and into the soul.  Gratification is cheap and easy, and sometimes needs to be cast aside for something better, like gratitude.  If I’m getting preachy, please know that my audience is myself.

I will continue to need to decompress after the kids go to bed, and I will still allow myself a sweet treat two or three nights a week.  However, I’m trying to shift to just a single serving of the sweet treat, maybe try a glass of wine as a happy substitute on occasion.  And I’m trying to move my magic hour to the morning.  Silence and peace accompany me on my 5 a.m. runs.  The stars fade slowly into the lavender light of early morning.  The needs of other people are temporarily shelved.  I am able to hear myself think--sometimes long enough to have a thought worth remembering, or to say a prayer of thankfulness, or to gather enough gumption to put gratification into perspective.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why Blog?

*Seems like a good question to answer, especially after taking the whole month of July off.

Why blog?  I never thought I’d do it.  In fact, I’ve long thought it is the worst medium for me.  I want to write, to be a writer.  Who doesn’t these days?  However, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and maybe a bit of a prig. 

Perfectionism: I write a little then revise a lot, then sit on the results for several months only to return to it and revise some more.  I’ve got 15 pages of a young adult novel that I still dream about working on.  Just dreaming right now, though.  In order to give it the attention I want to give it, really work it into something I’m proud of, I want to wait until both babies are in school.  I fear neglecting them if I commit to working on writing now.  Worse, I have greater fear of writing in fits and starts only to produce something mediocre.  Let me add that up for you: I fear writing badly more than I fear neglecting my children.  I’m a horrible human being.  If writing well is such a need for me that I would risk ignoring my children’s needs, writing in the offhand, frequent way of blogging is simply a bad fit.  Right?

Priggishness: I love great works of literature.  My best friends growing up were authors, and stories formed me as much as people of flesh and blood.  When I visited my brilliant and accomplished Cambridge doctoral candidate sister, I stood in the Trinity College library, before a Shakespeare First Folio, and teared up.  I was breathless; I actually lost my ability to breathe for a moment.  I aspire to write well, in the vein of the classics.  I don’t expect to achieve greatness, but I don’t want to let go of aspiring to it.  Blogging is relaxed--full of transmutation, contradiction, and mess.  As a reader, I like the informality of blogs.  However, as a writer, I am terrified of the inescapability of writing something I will regret making public.  Probably on a weekly basis.  Yikes.

So why blog?  Why now and why about my running?  Let me start with the “why now?” question.  Why not now?  My only reason to continue putting off making the ramblings public is fear, and I’m not comfortable with fear having too much room in my life.  So I’m embracing my skill at self-deprecation and self-revelation rather than hoarding it in yet another draft on my hard drive. 

Why the blogosphere?  I guess that’s obvious.  Who’s gonna publish me but me?  Besides, I like the democratization of readers choosing to follow or not without a dime of investment, marketing, or media blitz in the mix. 

And why running?  Why make this little hobby of mine the focus of my time and yours?  After all, I slog through miles ungracefully and slow.  No inspiring triumph at the end of this story; I won’t be working my way to a 30-pound weight loss and a Boston qualifying time.  But my running is my own, peppered always with moments of blissful self-forgetfulness or renewed self-empowerment. 

In writing about my running, I don’t risk those I love hating me for dragging them into my delusions of literary grandeur.  Myself as wife, mother, teacher, Christian...these identities are at my core.  However, they are not mine alone.  They are knit, warp and woof, into the stories of people more priceless and complex than my words can approach.  My  beloved babies, my heroic husband, my mom and dad, my sisters, my few friends who I hold as close to myself as family.  They are treasures that I will continue to lock in the box of my private life, safe and beautiful.  I read Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again when I was too young to see past the terrible risk of sacrificing one’s personal world to the universal good of art, which teaches us to love and understand humanity better, but in the abstract.  I’d like to keep my loved ones as concrete as possible, and let them be whole--not cleaved into pieces I can squeeze into paragraphs.

But I’ll tell you all about my running.  It’s just me out there, and times and distances, and embarrassing accidents, and even more embarrassing choices.  When it comes to myself, really I have no shame.  It should make for interesting reading...harmless, interesting reading.