Focused and Free, Shamrock Half Marathon 2016 

In a million ways yesterday was a perfect race. I ran to my potential based on what race day had to offer.  I felt strong and engaged. Mentally I found my sweet spot. 

In one way yesterday’s race fell a little flat. The race clock doesn’t match my potential. 

The story of the race clock goes back long before this race. My quest for a sub 2 hour half marathon started two and a half years ago. At the crawlin crab half marathon in 2013 (Read it here). I lined up ready to break two hours. I failed miserably. When my miles started to fall off pace a few miles into the race, I threw in the towel. I quit, and I finished the race feeling miserable about my ability. 

My second focused attempt at breaking two hours was at the Flying Pirate Half Marathon (Read it here), I showed up more than ready. Again I failed miserably. When my paces fell off, I gave up on the race. I gave up on myself. 

A few injuries, a few marathons, and a few life changes have happened over the last two and a half years, but the one thing that has remained consistent was my quest for sub 2. My training runs resulted in sub 2 13.1 miles, but it’s never translated to race day. This year felt like a no brainer. I showed up at the start line with three goals in my head:

A Goal: 8:xx pace overall 

B Goal: Sub 2 

C Goal: Do not give up on my race. 

For most, the C goal would have been a PR. For most there would be a drastic difference between Goal B and C but for me, it’s what I needed. My head tends to be all or nothing. I knew if I saw sub 2 fading away, my biggest challenge would be to keep my head in the game. Could I fight for a finish that had nothing to do with the time clock? 

Sunday delivered a day that was the perfect test of my strength. A Nor’easter by the name of Winter Storm Regis showed up on the first day of spring. It poured until about half way into the race. The winds fought back with gusts averaging 35mph. This was the day we were given to run, and I embraced it. Everyone was running the same race. 

I started the race with a few of the runners from our training team and the 2 hour pacers. For the first 4 miles I sat comfortably at the back of the pack (note to self: race day pace groups are not for me). There was way too much nervous energy and anticipation in the large pace group for me to feel comfortable settling into my own run. I could feel everyone’s emotions but my own. 

8:56, 9:18, 9:14, 9:16

By mile 5 I knew I needed to let the group go. I was using too much energy to stay attached to their pacing signs. I also needed to adjust my sock since my foot had started to bleed. I used the waterstop to adjust both my sock and my place on the race course. 

9:49

I let the pacers go knowing they would come back to me when the wind was at my back. I kept running north embracing the wind, and I finally felt myself mentally settle. 

9:19

Fort story can be a beast. The winds blow hard, and there were many times I felt myself stumble. I focused on the little things for the next three miles. Get to the water stop. Find the lighthouse. Get off the base. Go see my husband. 

9:20

9:34

9:44

I didn’t look at my watch once during the race for many reasons, but I knew this race was a race that wouldn’t be defined by the race clock. I knew I needed to focus on my C Goal. I needed to fight for my finish regardless of time. I needed to fight just for me. 

As I made the turn back on to Atlantic Avenue, I knew Christian would be there. Having just mentally conquered the hardest part of the course, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was proud of me. I knew at this point the 2 hour group wasn’t coming back to me. No excuses. No reasons to quit. I arrived to Christian a puddle of tears. I mumbled a quick “I’m okay,” and I kept running. He biked beside me for a block or two. He updated me on my friends. I then sent him on his way to the final turn. I needed to own my mental space on this run. I needed this race to belong to me. 

9:09

9:36

10:13 

I ran as fast as my legs would let. After a long stretch of focusing on one block at a time, I made it to the boardwalk. The finish line was waiting for me. 

Focused and free, I fully embraced the last mile of this race. As the finish line got closer and closer, my sweet friend Catrina popped out with open arms ready to support me. It was the best surprise of the day, and I welcomed a congratulatory embrace. 

Without a doubt, I had just finished one of my best mental races. 

Official finish time – 2:04:03

“Ask nothing from your running, and you’ll get more than you ever imagined!” ~Christophet McDougall

  

Take a Leap

The entire month of February has been defined by five simple words.

Take a Leap of Faith.

It became the time for to jump. It became the time for confidence. When asked about choices, next steps, or why, the only answer I can come up with is that I’m taking a leap of faith. I know there is something great waiting for me. I don’t know what. That excites me. I don’t know where. That is empowering. This entire process has filled me with gratitude. It’s striped away nonsense. It’s brought clarity to my priorities. It’s be a refreshing period to take inventory of my worth.

I don’t take it lightly that I have the ability to reassess how I want the next chapter of my life to look. Because I am lucky enough to explore this space, I want to do it justice. I want to do it right.

“She took the leap and built her wings on the way down.”

My intention is make choices that feel empowering. My intention is to make choices that bring strength to my family. Every day is an act of catching myself, and using my strength to take flight.

“You were born with potential.

You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness.

You were born with wings.

You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.

Learn to use them and fly.” ~Rumi

   

Flying through the fog

So far this leap year hasn’t disappointed! 

 

Safety Net

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it life?” ~Mary Oliver 

The past month I’ve felt myself standing on unstable ground. I’ve felt alive. I’ve felt afraid. I’ve felt engaged. I’ve felt committed. I’ve felt lost. My thoughts have wandered down so many paths. 

When I made the decision to walk away from Operation Smile, a good friend wrote four questions on a piece of paper for me. I tucked them away into my journal knowing I’d revisit them when the timing felt right. Today was that day. Each of the questions is meant to guide your thoughts towards defining a life purpose. I let my thoughts wander some more. I wrote down everything. A common theme quickly emerged. 

Home. 

Engagement. 

Safety. 

Support. 

Love. 

These words kept finding there way to my paper. If you were to ask me what I want to be be when I grow up, my answer is simple and complicated. I want to be a safety net. I want to provide my boys a safe environment to explore, to succeed and to fail. I want to be there for Christian when he needs someone to catch him. I want to be someone people can count on to lift them back. 

As all these thoughts took shape on paper, there is one moment that came rushing back to me. 

Utah. 

My heart always wanders back to Utah. During our canyoneering adventure, Christian and I faced so many obstacles that have defined our marriage. This past month isn’t an exception. 

Later in the day on that life changing adventure, we approached the edge of a waterfall. There was one way down. We would lower ourselves using our own strength to get to the pool 30 feet below us. 

  
I was paralyzed. Taking a step down, trusting myself to support myself, froze me in tracks. I sat and stared. I cried. I couldn’t make my next step. In that moment Christian wanted to save me. He couldn’t. I needed to do this on my own. 

I don’t know how long I sat there. I don’t know what convinced me to take the first step. But I do know the fear that I felt. I do know the relief I felt when I made forward (or downward) progress. I do know the rush of satisification as my body was submerged in the pool below. 

 

My facial expersion: fear and relief
 
The past month I’ve been sitting on the edge paralyzed. 

As I filled my journal with words today my vision became clear. If I want to be a safety net, it has to start with myself. I have to catch myself. 

“…there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do —

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

~Mary Oliver

This journey has been messy and inspiring. It’s been confusing and reassuring. It’s reminded me of everything I already know. 

It’s time to start living it. 

  

Finding Magic

Today I unrolled my yoga mat while Chet indulged in a nearly extinct nap. The moment of quiet was a rare treat after a freezing cold weekend kept us bundled up inside all weekend. My heart needed quiet, and my body needed a good stretch. My body is still recovering from the 100k relay. It was harder on my body then I ever anticipated. As I move through the opening sun salutations, my body felt heavy. In Warrior II my arms felt like they weighed a ton each. Everything was being pulled down by gravity. 

Saturday’s running was a mirror image of today’s yoga practice. My legs felt heavy. My body resisted. I forgot that it was well below freezing and that the north wind was whipping  in off the ocean and the bay. I forgot that the streets were frozen. Every step I took was a reminder that I have been working hard, and my body is feeling it. 

 

Every Saturday (and every day) i know i they are there for me
 
Physical my body’s is that space I’ve come to recognize and know so well. I’m in the middle

“The middle is messy, but it is also where the magic happens. ~Brene Brown

I used to fear this middle space. I used to see it and runaway in fear. It is hard. It is ugly. While my entire body feels weighted and like it sinking, every doubt and insecurity is floating to the surface. 

But I’ve been here before. I know this space well. Instead of collapsing on my yoga mat in defeat, I kept moving. My body loosened. My heart lightened. I returned to myself. On Saturday I kept running. Surrounded by my running family, my heart stayed engaged. A tough run was a badge of courage instead of sign of defeat. 

 

Conquering miles and fun
 
The middle isn’t winning anymore. I’m not giving in or giving up anymore. I’m plowing ahead. 

When you’ve done something so many times, you start to see the pattern. Now that my runs are hitting double digits again, I’ve felt depleted at mile 9 every single time. I’ve been tempted to give up. I’ve been tempted to quit. Instead I keep running, I let my running partners pull me, and a half mile later I find a new gear. My energy comes back. My strength is renewed. 

While I am grateful to have this awareness as part of my running, I am even more thankful to have this awareness as part of my life. There isn’t a lot of life to live in beginning and ending. Life is lived in the middle. 

Eight years ago today I started an amazing new beginning. I meet Christian for margaritas on a Friday night, and I fell in love with him before we even said hello. The beginning was amazing, but now we are in the middle. It can be tough. I run out of energy. Somedays I feel like I have nothing left to give. But I keep going because my love for him is always renewed. I’ve asked a lot of him the past few months. I needed him to be my anchor. 

Three weeks ago I closed a door on a dream. Another door is about to open, but I’m living in the middle of the transition. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve doubted myself. I’ve questioned my next steps. I’ve searched for answers and strength outside of myself. My entire body has felt heavy. The answers won’t be found anywhere but inside of me. The answers are mine to find. It’s for me to discover. 

The only way to find the magic in the middle is to keep returning to me. As I finished my yoga practice with my forehead placed on the mat, I made a simple promise to myself. I will trust my strength. I will trust my ambition. I will trust my ability to move forward gracefully and courageously. 

“The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.” ~Brene Brown

With every day that passes in this transition period, with every run I complete, with every gym workout that is accompished, and every time I unroll my yoga mat, I feel more alive. I feel more engaged. I feel my strength and my strengths rising to the surface. With an open heart, I’m moving (or running) forward. This next chapter is already a good one. 

Wednesday’s 8 miler: literally stuck in the middle of no where

Saturday’s run: 12 miles at a 9:30ish pace (my garmin turned off in the middle somewhere)

Blossom

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

A month ago I sat down in a tattoo studio. 

The story of the tattoo is simple: strawberry blossoms and cherry blossoms for my two boys. 

Cole was born during strawberry season. Picking strawberries was our first adventure out of the house, and it brought back a flood of childhood memories. I remembered walking along the wooden planks that seperated my grandma’s lawn from her strawberry patch. I remembered the pinwheels I’d get from the grocery store to place in her garden. Having my own baby in a strawberry patch felt like home. 

Chet has always been my cherry blossom baby. Upset that I was sidelined from my first marathon with a stress fracture, I bought myself a road bike. Shortly after I heard that lululemon was hosting free yoga in front of the Washington Monument during the blooming of the cherry blossoms. A weekend getaway was born. With our bikes and yoga mats packed, Christian and I went out of town for the weekend to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. A few weeks later, we realized we brought home a very special souvenir from the trip. A cherry blossom baby was blooming in my belly. 

 

When I fell in love with the art of a local tattoo artist, I knew exactly what I wanted tattooed: strawberry and cherry blossoms. I gave Abby no other instructions. I let her work her magic. Every time I glanced at my arm to check on the progress, I became more and more amazed. She crawled inside my head and created a piece of my heart on my arm. 

Every phase of blooming in captured in my tattoo. As a late bloomer in life, I feel like I’m always growing, always blossoming. 

Woven throughout the tattoo are bursts of yellow. The tattoo is literally shining. 

  

While the intention of this tattoo was a celebration of my two boys, it has evolved into a celebration of my love. It feels appropriate. My boys have been my greatest life lesson. They have shown me who I am, what I value, and what I need to embrace. Because of my boys, I have the courage to stand comfortably in my own skin and to take ownership of who I am. 

My boys are the reason I bloom. My boys are the reason I shine. 

As I started 2016, I knew this was the year to let go of everything that was holding me back. It was the year to show up and proudly say this is me. It was the year to walk away from everything that makes me feel less than towards everything that makes me feel complete.  This tattoo is just the beginning. 

  

Time Trial 

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” ~Paulo Coehlo

Six weeks until the Shamrock Half Marathon means it’s go time for this training cycle. I have four weeks to being intentional with every workout. I have four weeks to push myself before I allow my body to recover. Then I race. 

This week’s training plan is a nice reminder that it is time to do work. 

Today’s plan: 

EVOFIT workout 

Warmup, 4 mile time trial, Cooldown 

Since I’m currently unemployed, I’m determined to make every workout happen. 

I haven’t run a time trail since high school. I had no expectations going into this run except I knew I was going to hurt. 

 

Today’s start line : seals at the aquarium
 
Mile 1 – My head was filled thoughts. As I wrestle with letting go of the last chapter in my life, I become energized about what is next. 

8:34

Mile 2 – If there was any chaos in my thoughts about life, they transferred to thoughts about the run. Make it half way. Beat the wind. Make it half way. 

8:28

Mile 3 – The hardest part is making it to turn around. All I have to do is finish. 

8:22

Mile 4 – crap. The wheels are falling off. Relax. Relax my shoulders. Even out my breath. Relax. Relax. 

8:11

Finish: 4.01 miles, 33:39, 8:24 average pace 

I ran this entire workout based on feel. My garmin was on my wrist, but I never looked at my watch. When I finished my cooldown, I was shocked at my negative splits. I felt myself coming undone from the moment I crossed the Rudee Inlet bridge. I gave myself permission to simply do my best. I need to fight for my finish, but it was okay if it was my slowest mile. I worked out hard this morning. I ran hard for the duration of this run. 

And then I saw 8:11. 

It was my fastest mile. When I felt like I was falling apart, I held myself together. I didn’t panic. I trusted. And I finished stronger than I started. 

This past weekend when the ladies from #jogandblog were reunited by the river, we took to the country roads to run hill repeats. While I don’t recall any of the conversations on that run (I was too busy huffing and puffing and sweating out alcohol), Kris made a simple statement and it’s stayed with me: it’s hard to not panic in the middle of the run. 

 

Chasing fast girls up and down hills
 

Perhaps this is what I’m learning the most in this transition and this training cycle. I’m learning to take ownership of the process. I’m learning to stay relaxed when the wheels fall off. I’m learning to finish strong. 

Today was the right moment to push myself. Today I embraced the obstacles on my run. I finished stronger than I started. 

A Chapter Closes

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

When Christian and I first started dating, he laid his head in my lap. As he listened to me breathe, he brought it to my attention that my breath was shallow. I wasn’t breathing fully. I wasn’t breathing deeply. In that moment, time froze. My thoughts raced backwards as I remembered every moment in my life when I couldn’t breathe.  

These moments were big life moments. They were moments I had a choice to make. I could take a deep breath, I could make a hard choice, and I could start a new chapter in my life. 

When Christian brought attention to my breath, I became aware of the stress that I was holding. As I pulled my breath deep into my abdomen, I felt myself letting go of the burdens I carried around with me. 

 

Every sunrise is a new beginning
 
Two Thursdays ago, I came face to face with a moment that took my breath away. While physically gasping for breath, I knew I had a decision to make. It was time to start a new chapter. 

Two Fridays ago was my last day at Operation Smile. It’s been a little over a week since I walked away from my dream job. 

Walking away from a dream isn’t easy. Letting go of something I’ve wanted my entire adult life isn’t easy. But when I sat in my bosses office physically gasping for breath on the verge of a panic attack, I knew it was time. 

Not all dreams are meant to last a lifetime. Walking away is actually walking towards the next dream. 

While I don’t know what my next chapter will look like just yet, I am trusting this leap of faith. I’m trusting the universe will catch me. 

Last week was my first full week since I walked away. It was hard. It was filled with every emotion. I was heart broken, and I was filled with hope. I did nothing last week. I let myself feel it all. I ran when I needed to. I hugged my boys when I needed comfort. I sat quietly when my heart needed it. I followed my breath. Whatever brought depth and fullness to my breath, I did it. 

 

This trail always heals my heart
 
 Just when I needed it most, my sweet friend invited me and a great group of gals to her river house for the weekend. It was a weekend filled with no agendas, lots of laughter, and sunsets on the river. As I got in my car to drive home, I felt the chapter closing. I felt myself letting go of everything I felt about leaving Operation Smile behind. 

 

Spread Love
 
I’m ending this chapter with nothing but gratitude. I was able to revisit regrets from my youth, and I was able to live out those dreams thanks to Operation Smile. I’ll never have to wonder what-if again. 

When I’m ready for the next chapter, I’m now equipped with a newfound strength, a newfound appreciation for my worth, and a stronger sense of my priorities. But for now I’m enjoying today. I’m enjoying my breath. I’m enjoying ever deep and meaningful inhale. I’m enjoying every intentional exhale. 

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” ~Sylvia Plath

I quit.

Four years ago today, I waited. I waited, and I waited some more. It’s a story I love telling. December 27th was Chet’s official due date. My intuition told me he would arrive early, and yet I was still pregnant on his due date. Little did I know that I had two more weeks to go.

Chet does things when he is ready. He is stubborn. His will is strong.

Giving birth to Chet will always be a defining moment in my life. In so many ways, his birth defined my entire approach to life. In between contractions, my hands had gone numb, and I looked at my doula with desperation. I can’t do this. She refocused my breath. She calmed me down. Minutes later I saw my baby for the first time.

Raising him hasn’t been easy. He does things when he is ready. He is stubborn. His will is strong.

As we approach his fourth birthday, I’ve had more moments of defeat than success. I’ve wanted to quit more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve reached out to friends when my head feels numb, and I feel full of desperation. I can’t do this. I refocus on my breath, I calm down, and minutes later he is the most loving child.

 
In the days leading up to Chet’s birth, I questioned myself. What am I doing wrong? What more can I do to prepare him for birth? In the weeks after he was born in the midst of many weeks defined by colic, I questioned myself.  What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I comfort my baby? In the middle of his toddler years, I am still questioning myself. What am I doing wrong? When will he be easy?

But Chet isn’t easy. He is stubborn. His will is strong.

I quit. I quit motherhood. I have failed as his mother. What am I doing wrong? I can’t do this.

These statements have haunted me since Chet became part of my world. I suspect they will haunt me for many, many more years. I’ve been embarrassed by these thoughts. I’ve gone to bed defeated.

Today something changed. Maybe wanting to quit isn’t a sign of failure. Perhaps wanting to quit is proof that I’m giving it my all. Maybe wondering where I have failed is proof that I desperately want to get this right. Chet isn’t easy. He is stubborn, and his will is strong. His heart is full of fire. His heart is full of fire just like my heart craves to be the best mom possible for him. I want to make growing up easy for him. I want to be his safety net. I want to fill him with so much love, he never questions himself. I don’t ever want him to wonder if he has failed or to think he can’t do something.

In the moments after I admit that I can’t do this, my body relaxes. I remember to breathe. Maybe, just maybe, it is Chet who is teaching me that I can do anything. Maybe he is the one who is teaching me that I can’t fail. And hopefully one day this child of mine who is stubborn and strong willed will approach life full of heart and determination because he already knows life isn’t easy. He already has his fight.

Together we can conquer anything. I can be his heart, and he can be my fire. 

  

Love is Possible 

The news is overwhelming these days. It’s too much. The other night Cole and I tackled his homework while the nightly news was on in the background. I noticed he had completely shut down. In that moment, I realized what he was watching: news on the refugee crisis, news on the police in Chicago, and news about people getting sick from eating Chipotle. When I asked him what was wrong, his answer was simple. “Our world is ending. We don’t take care of people. We don’t trust people who protect us. And we get sick from what we are eating.”

I sat there stunned. How do I respond to a statement like that? He just watched it with his own eyes. I can’t deny it. I can tell him about all the people who are helping, I can tell him stories of hope, but it’s all still happening. We are turning our backs on people who not only need help but deserve help. Don’t we all deserve a safety net?

He wouldn’t let me sit there quietly for long. I had to answer him. The only thing I know to be true is that this is exactly why we have to love. This is exactly why we have to give. This is exactly why we have to be our best every single day. We are so lucky. We are so lucky to love each other and to live our life the best way we possibly can live life.

***********

In yoga today, the class started by with an intention: find our place of comfort. My body is sore these days. I’ve been doing more than I ever have before. Monday I ran. Tuesday I went to Evofit, and I ran. Today I went to Evofit, and I practiced yoga. I am moving my body, and I am feeling good. I have found my place of comfort.

My body is sore, but my heart is light. My thoughts are clear. I’m inspired by my potential. I’m motivated by those around me. Right now I just feel good.

**********

While I am moving and breathing and enjoy everything that comes with it, there is another mom with two little boys wishing for a life without fear. She isn’t sitting next to her son explaining the things he saw on the nightly news. She is searching for an explanation for what is happening all around her, to her, and to her family.

It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem to be fair. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. I don’t know how to explain to my son why this is happening. I am sad, I am angry, and I am disappointed. When those feelings settle, when I see past the fear, the only words I can find to tell my child as he figures out his own world is to love: love yourself more than anyone will every love you, love your family more than that, love your friends even more,  and love your enemies the most.

“We humans have always sought to increase our personal energy in the only manner we have known, by seeking to psychologically steal it from the others — an unconscious competition that underlies all human conflict in the world” ~James Redfield

We don’t have to put others down to make ourselves better. Focus on being the best version of you that you can possibly be. Find what makes you feel alive. Listen to the whispers in your heart.

I am sad for the mother raising her children in fear. I am angry that people think this is okay. I am disappointed that we believe she doesn’t deserve help. I am lucky. I am so incredibly lucky that I can watch the sunrise while I run, that I can find a group of women who support me while I find my own strength, that I can work for a company that makes the world feel small, that I can tell my husband that I love him every single day, and that I can raise boys to roam free. I owe it to every mother who isn’t as lucky to be grateful for what I have in my life. I owe it to them to be the best version of myself. I owe it to them love freely.

“We can become inspired to shape a higher, more ideal future, and when we do, miracles happen.” ~James Redfield

I have to live my life as if the world exists as it should. I will continue to do all things that make my heart light and my head clear. I will continue to love. One day the world will follow. One day we won’t let fear guide us. One day when someone asks for help, we will offer them our hand instead of judgment.

This is the only answer I have for Cole. If he doesn’t like what he is watching on the news, he has to grow up and live a life that doesn’t follow that same pattern. Life is a balancing act. On one side is a life stuck in fear, and on the other side is a life open to possibility. Our choices and our decisions are what add weight to either side of the scale. The more we chose love, the more love is possible.