Just a Little Farther…

images-21When Mark and I first got married, he was in the Army and we were stationed on Fort Riley, Kansas. Mark was in great shape and totally fit from daily PT and all of the other physical rigors that accompany military life. I, however, was not. But I had run track in high school and wanted to start with running as a means to get back in shape. Mark wanted to run with me and I immediately disliked this idea. I knew running would be hard, and as a competitive person, I was not ready to suck in front of him. Sucking by myself would be easier to take. But he insisted it would be more fun to do it together. Begrudgingly, I agreed, and just as I had imagined, not long into our first run, I was ready to hit the wall.

{That competitive spirit is how I ended up with a tattoo. Mark thought I wasn’t tough enough to get one. Oh? Really? Is that so? Watch me. Um. So yeah. I don’t recommend that as a consistent way to make life decisions. But at 24, it felt totally legit}

So there we were, running along and Mark chatting away, acting as if it were no big deal (JERK!) while I am out of breath and ready to stop and walk. I’m sure I was ticked off and possibly being a poor sport. I was sucking in front of him! UGH! But just as I was starting to say I couldn’t go any farther, he looked over at my struggling self and said, “See that stop sign up ahead? You can make it to there.” I’m positive I rolled my eyes and inwardly whined that I was sure I couldn’t…But, indeed, I did make it to the stop sign. After all, it was only 100 yards away. Okay. Fine.

But Mark had a method now. As we neared the stop sign and I was mentally preparing to  collapse and take a break, he chimed in again. “See that fire hydrant up ahead? You can go just a little farther and make it to there.” This guy! What the heck! See? This is why I wanted to run by myself! Maybe it was my competitive nature, pride, or just aggravation, but I kept going. I DID make it to the fire hydrant. And then some. And as you might imagine, Mark continued to coach me this way through the rest of the run. And lo and behold, I made it to the end.

Only a few short years after that day, I am sitting in the dark. Staring at the clock. I have lost Mark. He is gone forever and not coming back. I am physically aching to be where he is. The grief is dark and thick and threatens to consume me. I am fully convinced I cannot go any further. And it is then that I faintly remember his coaching, whispering to me now in the night. I hear myself say out loud to the empty room, “It is 11:31. I can make it to 11:32. It is 11:32. I can make it to 11:33…”

I don’t know how long I sat there counting minutes, but I made it through that night and went on to use that coaching many, many nights after that. In fact, 20 years later, I still use it. And I have taught my kids to use it, too. Because you know what? It works. The truth is, you can pretty much always make it through another minute. And then another one. And another one. And the minutes turn into hours, and then into days and weeks and months. And before you know it, you are absolutely doing that which you swore you could not do.

I don’t know what it is you’re facing today that feels too hard. Maybe it’s learning to run, or maybe it’s grief or maybe it’s a hard marriage or parenting or a job you hate– or maybe– maybe it’s just life. Because life is freakin’ hard. Even when it’s good, it’s hard. But I’m pretty sure you can get through today. Take a deep breath and go just a little farther. You can do this.

{And Mark. I hope you are smiling.

And proud.

And…we will keep going…just a little farther… until we see you again someday}


Running Through the Pain

This is not a post about running. I mean, it is. But it isn’t. Running is so metaphorical with life that it’s hard to avoid using it as a continual source of inspiration.  So many of my blogs formulate while I’m running that it can be hard to disconnect. Unfortunately, I  haven’t been running as much lately because I’ve been sidelined with a little injury known as Plantar Fasciitis. This is code for “super intense foot pain especially when you get out of bed in the morning.” If you’ve gone through PF, you feel me right now. Because you remember how totally sucky it is. Thank you for feeling bad. It helps. And so I have spent the past few months on a seesaw of trying to find the balance between resting and running.  Trying to manage the pain. Half-heartedly doing some of the prescribed therapies that supposedly help heal and lessen the symptoms of PF.  But it’s been super frustrating. I am a horrible patient. And my foot was seriously hurting even when I hadn’t run in over a week! I was getting discouraged. And feeling chubby. And feeling jealous  of other runners and runner friends working toward their goals while I sat out. And yet every time I got back out there, the run itself would feel so good–mentally, physically, emotionally–that I got to thinking: Maybe it’s time to just keep running through the pain.

Predictably, this got me thinking about life. And what it means to keep running through the pain. What it means to keep going when you want to quit; when everything feels too hard and hurts too much. And how tough it can be to find the balance between giving yourself tons of slack and tons of grace and time to heal from painful circumstances– or just forcing yourself to get up and get out there, kicking ass and taking names– knowing that life goes on. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into years.  Life is happening right now, whether or not you participate. 15 years ago when my first husband was killed in a car accident, the ocean of grief was deep and dark and frightening. Life with two small, now fatherless children seemed utterly insurmountable.  My first thought when I woke up every morning  and my last thought when I went to bed at night was that I wanted to die. That life was too hard. That I couldn’t face this kind of pain everyday and survive. A year later, that type of thinking  had taken its toll.  I was only 26. I had a whole lifetime yet to be lived. And so did my kids. Something had to change. This was still my life; this new normal. It made no difference whether or not I chose it, liked it, wanted it, loved it or hated it. I needed to learn to run through the pain.

And so here I am again. In life AND in running. It’s not exactly where I wanted or planned to be at this point. And now I’ve sat around with this injury for a while, really feeling bummed about it. Disappointed and sad. Crying. Lots and lots of crying. But truthfully, I hadn’t really followed the advice I was given BEFORE the injury– and then it took several more weeks and bouts of pain until I decided to follow the NEW advice I was given to heal the injury. (I’m a slow learner. I like to take my time with my mistakes and make them repeatedly. You know, just to be sure.) But when I was out there running today, feeling like a rock star in 45 degrees and sunshine, I decided, once again,  it’s time to run through the pain.


My New Running Partner


As I was leaving the house for my run that morning, I was already running late. Torn between skipping it completely or rushing to fit it in, I chose the latter and scrambled out the door. Total self-imposed stress, I know, but still better than berating myself the rest of the day for missing a run. Within moments, I realized I had forgotten my watch but didn’t want to waste time going back for it. And as long as I wasn’t going to time myself, I figured I’d skip using Runkeeper, as well.

If you’re not familiar, Runkeeper is a GPS app that tracks every aspect of your run and also offers voice coaching with time and pace cues. If you’re having a good run, Runkeeper is your friend. On a bad run, you want to throat punch her.

So for the first time in a very long time, I was running without a clock. Without being timed. Without the compulsive need to check my pace and mile split times. Simply put, I was running without the pressure of performing and competing against myself.

My counselor asked me recently if I enjoy running and what I think about when I run. She wondered if it was a peaceful mental place for me. (Yes, I have a counselor. She has this amazing ability to help me process life events and relationships, and in turn, formulate healthy responses and reactions. I adore her and she’s worth her weight in gold) Ummm. Wow. The fast answer would’ve been, “Yes, of course I enjoy running.” And I do. To an extent. But you’d never know it by the self-talk that normally bounces around in my brain:

“Ugh. God, I’m so slow today. Is that all the time that’s passed? This sucks. What the hell is wrong with me? I do NOT want to run 9-minute miles. Mother of pearl- I wanna be sub 8 on this. Or at least low eights. Have I gotten slower? I need to eat better. Less beer would probably help too. I should really cross train. I say that everyday and never do it. Dumb. This hill is kicking my ass. I suck. How did I ever run 2 half marathons when it feels like I can’t run 4 miles today? I’ll never be able to run a full marathon.”

You get the picture. Big sigh. It’s not very nice. I’m kind of embarrassed by it. My counselor went on to ask me if I would ever talk to a friend the way I talk to myself. Ummm no. Never. Ever. So what would I tell a friend who was having a bad run? “Hey! Not every run is going to be your best. Every run is different. You still got out there today! You’re still running! Look at all the people who never exercise or run at all. Be proud of yourself. You’ll do better next time.” Woah. Big difference.
So there I was, running without any self-imposed pressure–and though I was tempted to worry about my time, I made a conscious effort to just simply run at a pace that felt natural to me. And then I did something that felt sort of corny at the time. I started to think about some quotes I’d read recently -the ones about living in the moment and enjoying life and being fully present. So part way through my run, I made myself breathe as deeply as I could and started to meditate on the positive things in my life right now. It’s very possibly been the worst year of my life (or 2nd worst year anyway) and therefore seemed like a loser idea,  but this is what I heard in my head:

“I love that the sun is shining right now. It’s an absolutely beautiful morning. The trees are changing colors and it’s amazing. I’m so thankful I can run this morning. I know my schedule won’t always be like this, but it is today- and I’m thankful for that.”

I could feel the tears starting to come.

“Thank you God for my kids and how well each of them are doing. Thank you that they are happy and healthy and each in a good place. Thank you for my parents and how much they love me and support me. Thank you that I have brothers and a sister that love me and would do anything for me. Thank you for the friends in my life that love me and adore me and think that I am lovable and funny and kind.”

I am in the home stretch now, running down my street with tears streaming down my face. “Thank you for my home. I love my house. My yard. My dog. Life has been so, so very hard- and yet there is so much sweetness too- I am overwhelmed. “

The day I forgot my watch, I probably didn’t run my fastest 4 miles ever, but it wasn’t my slowest either. I loved the happy and free girl I ran with. In those moments, yes, I loved running- but I loved my life, too. And that’s a good run day.

You and Your Stickers

I used to see your stickers and inwardly roll my eyes. Your 26.2s and your 13.1s. Your “Just Run” and “I Run Because I Can” bumper stickers. I used to see them and think, “We get it. You can run. Congrats.” (I’m such a snot, right?) But then I became a runner. And now instead of my petty little jealous thoughts, I feel inspired. Now I see your stickers and I think, “You rock.” Because now I know and understand some of what it takes. I’m working up to my first half marathon in May and I really do get it. The fact that I’m about to lose a toenail really makes me feel legit. (And unfortunately, just in time for flip-flop season. This is totally going to ruin my feet for summer. Boo.)
And so now, your stickers inspire me. It’s a whole different type of jealousy. It’s admiration. It’s respect. And it’s tons of inspiration. I see your stickers and I think, “You did it. You paid the price and you did it. You toughed it out and did it.” I see your stickers and think, if I can run 11.3 miles, then I can run 13.1 miles like you did. I see your stickers and think, “That’s not some crazy Olympian. That’s another chick like me. And she’s got a sticker.”
I used to see the sticker and think it was a little egotistical. A little braggy. Now that I know what it takes, I see the sticker and I think, “Thank you. Thanks for reminding me that if you can do it, I can too.” And when I do, I’m gonna get a sticker.

I Did It.

This past September, I stood at a church picnic, chatting with a few “runner” friends and mistakenly commented that I had always wanted to run the Turkey Trot, an 8K run on Thanksgiving morning and the oldest foot race in the country. Well. You don’t have to say that twice when you’re surrounded by runners. “So why don’t you?”, they asked in unison. “You should.” Major eye roll. Open mouth, insert foot without running shoe. Because in September, I wasn’t a runner. That’s why. And the thought of possibly being able to run 5 miles was completely ridiculous. I was practically sure I would NOT be able to do it.  Inspired by one friend’s comment that running is simply “putting one foot in front of the other,” I started running that week. I had a little over 2 months and decided that I was going to do it. Ugh. 

But I did it! I really did it. I had asked my 19 year-old son if he would be up for it too and happily, he said yes. So together we headed out in the dark on Thanksgiving morning, joined by another friend as well, and made our way downtown. And I could not be more thankful that we did.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, the experience of this race was one I will never forget. I had an absolute blast. And with my son by my side–the fact that we were sharing those moments and running together–well, I was one happy girl. The energy and atmosphere were overwhelming. Thousands of runners, thousands of bystanders cheering us on and wishing us well. Running through the streets of downtown Buffalo. Sprinting through the finish line, a few seconds behind my son and seeing his smiling face as I crossed. A total emotional high that lasted all day and then some. I took mental snapshots that I have already replayed many, many times.

The ultimate ending to the story for me  is that I set a goal and worked hard to meet it. I made new choices and rearranged schedules and set early alarms. I did it. Many days it sucked. Many days I really didn’t feel like running. But I am incredibly proud of myself for pushing through. And believe it or not, that won’t be my last race. In fact, I can’t wait to run another one. Did I mention I’m a runner now?

I am embarrassed to say that what I’m NOT is a goal-setter. I wish I were. But I think this is going to change too. (I was going to write “I hope this will change too”– but then I corrected myself– I didn’t reach my goal by hoping. It was by making intentional choices and a lot of hard work.) This whole experience has inspired to me to find other areas of my life that need a reawakening. The only thing stopping me is me. And I have decided that I am way too smart to be the only thing standing in my way.

Just Do It.

I’m a new runner. By new, I mean I’ve been at it for about 3 months. I’ve gone through running phases in the past, so it’s not like I’ve never done it before, but this time it’s sticking. I know some of you hate me right now and I get it. Really. Because I’ve always sort of hated people who were runners. Like it was this secret club of these virtuous super heroes that had the mental and physical toughness it takes to knock off a few miles. But really, all it took was a decision. That’s it. There was no thunder and lightning, no voice of God, no waking up and suddenly feeling like it was in me. I just decided to do it. And then I did.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s hard. It does take mental and physical toughness. It does take discipline. And despite the cliché that says the first step is always the hardest, it’s not. Are you kidding? I still feel like a rock star at the first step. What’s hardest for me is the first mile. The whole first mile I’m thinking, “This is kind of sucky. My legs hurt already. How could my legs hurt already? I’m still on my street. I can’t do this today. Maybe I should just stop right now and walk. People are still sleeping and I could be too.” But call it pride, or stubbornness (or wanting to eat something fabulous later), but something suddenly starts to kick in and I keep going. I find my groove. My breathing evens out and I’m soaring.

Okay. Soaring is dramatic. And truthfully, I can’t really say if I’ve ever experienced “Runner’s High”. Runner’s Hell? Yes. Been there. Many times. But man, when I finish a run, I could cry. And admittedly, the first time I finished 5 miles, I did cry. I was just so stinking proud of myself. Because I don’t see myself as a runner. But I am a runner now. And the only thing it took to become one was to run. And I did it. And I’m still doing it. For me, it’s a reason to celebrate.

I hope you’re starting to catch a little of what I’m getting at. It’s not about the running. Well, it is for me. But what is it for you? What is it for you that feels just out of reach? Like you want it, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s ever really going to happen? Well let me tell you, it won’t happen by magic. It will happen when you decide you want it to. When you make a decision. When you take the first step and then stick it out for the first mile and then some. A year ago I only wanted a blog. But I’m not an author. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I like to write. So do a lot of people. But one day it clicked– If there are millions of blogs out there, why can’t one of them be mine? Why couldn’t I have one too? The answer was, I could. As soon as I decided to write one. That’s the day I got one.

Sure, the bigger picture is humbling. I may never run a marathon or publish a book. But this year on Thanksgiving morning I’ll be running my first 5-mile race through the streets of Buffalo, getting me one step closer. And every time I decide to write a blog post or make notes for my “someday book”, I’m choosing my future. The only person responsible for your life is you. Go do something about it.