Turtle Days

It seems like every run lately has involved a turtle sighting.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I live in the boggy South, where heat and humidity have a summer long competition to see which one can make me the most uncomfortable (humidity won today).  Still, I run a lot, and to see turtles as often as I have lately feels a little like a message.  

Even the trail I often run is sending me the turtle message:

  

As I plunked along this morning, cycles whizzing past me at Tour de France speeds, runners easily lapping me, it seemed even the wildlife mocked me.  I thought of all the turtles I’ve seen over the past months, and it dawned on me:  these are Turtle Days.  

Now, this isn’t really a thing.  I realize that.  But, I have a particular affinity with the tortoise of fable.   I, too, am strong and steady.  And, slow.  

 I may not be fast, but I plod along, solving the world’s problems  in my mind, writing the great American Novel, plunking along until I get to the end.  Then, I go home, shower, live my life, and do it again the next day.  Slow, steady, true.  

Most days, I’m fine being the slow, steady one.  But, I’ll admit, it plays with my psyche.  I mean, will I ever be fast? Or, just faster?  Doubt creeps in and does its ugly number on my mind, and, if I’m not careful, soon I’m thinking, “Why bother?  I’ll always be the slow one.  Why keep on keeping on? ” I’ll admit, it sometimes discourages, even defeats me.  I mean, am I just not built for speed?

Then, I think of those turtles that I’ve seen.  Hmmm…  they don’t allow the fact that they are the slow, chunky kids on the playground to stop them from coming out to play.  Seriously, if my runs of the last few months are any indication, they are the most active kids on the playground.  Turtles are everywhere.  Coming and going, hither and yon.  They don’t allow their lack of speed to stop their progress. 

 There’s a lesson there.  

   
    
 

Most of the time I have no problem being the tortoise and not the hare.  I’m accepting of my lack of speed and I’m ever hopeful that one day I’ll be faster.  Until then, I’ll plod along, getting stronger, solving world crises, and writing the great American novel in my head.  I’m winning all the races in my mind, as well, so there’s that.    

  

I’m in this running game for the long haul, so I’ll keep on moving forward.  Plunking one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that it’s not about speed for me, but endurance.  I want to be running when I’m 90, after all, so for me that means slow and steady now, and maybe always.  

I have a lot of admiration for this little guy though:

  
He’s giving it his all, and what more can we do than that?  
  
I’m running on faith at this point.  It’s gotten me this far, I’m sure it’ll get me where I’m going.  

Salty sanity

    The coming of summer has found me plodding along; wiping sweat from my eyes; slowly, slowly, slowly rebuilding my running base. The older I get, the longer that seems to take. Race season will be here soon enough, though; so, build I must.

    For me, spring and early summer are my favorite times to run.  The “dog days” aren’t quite here yet, but the warm, sticky air brings on a salty sweat that gives me a feeling of accomplishment I just don’t get at the end of a cold weather run.  I like to sweat.  It makes me feel like I’ve done something with my day, and makes even a bad run feel like it was a job well done.  It couldn’t have been a bad run, see how the sweat is pouring off me?  

    The sweat of a summer run cleanses my soul.  It feels like all those winter toxins I built up are pouring out of me and I’m leaving them behind in a puddle on the ground.  That winter coat of depression that I wore like  a crown of thorns melts away the sweatier I get.  My feet move faster, my mind feels clearer, and life just feels good.  Call me weird (you wouldn’t be the first); but give me a hot June morning over a cold February afternoon anytime.  I’ll know just what to do with it.  

    I’m running trails this weekend.  On my own.  They aren’t long, and they all circle back to the campground my man and I are staying at (also deliciously on our own), so there’s no danger of getting lost.  My man is working a race (motorcycle, not foot), and enjoying his Father’s Day happy of a new dirt bike –  his first since “the Broken Leg Incident of 2012″. 

    I’m mostly laid back about the whole dirt bike racing thing.  It makes him happy, just as running makes me happy, so I don’t complain.  Or worry.  That sounded believable,  right?  Anyway, I could wish for a less dangerous hobby that would make him smile, but that’s not who he is.  And, probably any hobby has its pitfalls.  I mean, even growing hothouse orchids could lead to… I don’t know, maybe being taken hostage by an orchid bandit?  At least, with dirt biking, my man takes me to some very serene places to run trails.  And, for that I’m thankful.   

      Already muddy.  

     I needed serenity today.  I don’t live a particularly chaotic life, but, sometimes I allow the voices on the Interwebs to drown out the voices in my head and fill me with despair for the human condition.  This has been a week like that.  Even with a minor miracle that my youngest daughter had at school this week, seeing God work in her life, and then hearing from a beloved nephew about how God is working in his, I allowed the screaming voices online to disturb my peace.  To wonder why God abandoned us to such a place as this, and to wonder if He is ever going to come get us.  

    So, today and tomorrow, I’m running back to sanity and away from chaos.   Not fast (am I ever fast?), but along woodsy trails that have been carved out by strong men like my man.  Paths that run wide and deep in some places, and trickle off to a pig trail in others.  Trails that are filled with ruts and roots and slippery orange clay.  Trails that make me pay attention to where I place my foot, and look extra carefully at that root to ensure it’s not a snake.  

    On my first two mile loop, sweat soaks my hat and slides into my eyes and stings.  My winter white legs are shiny and slick over the salty layer of grass and leaves; my shoes, so pristinely clean when I started, have gained two pounds of Mississippi mud.  I stagger back to camp, fix myself a snack, and sit under the dripping trees to refuel. My skirt, shirt,  and sports bra are damp and clammy and my hair, pulled into a sloppy ponytail and shoved through the back of my hat, makes a steady drip down the center of my back.  I’m sure if you came upon me, you would have to stay downwind, but I don’t smell myself yet, so it can’t be that bad.     

    After a short rest, I head out again.  A soft, warm rain begins to fall when I am about midway.  No thunder or lightening, just  the splash of sweet, clean raindrops that gather on the brim of my hat and drip off in a steady patter.  The smell of clean, woodsy rain fills my senses and relaxes my mind.  I trudge on, carefully manuevering around slippery clay, listening to the sound of unseen critters scurrying around me.  My mind is calm.  My heart is full.   Sanity, or at least my version of it, has returned.  

    After another rest, I head out for my final loop.  I often listen to podcasts when I run, but this loop, my last of the day, was just between me and God.  We talked the entire time, and I won’t share with you all of what we said, but I will say this.  I prayed for our nation in a way that I never have. Humbly, and with full knowledge that I’m part of the problem.  I prayed that we, as Christians, and particularly I, will step away from our keyboards, get down off our soapboxes, get up off our comfy pews, and walk out into the world.  I prayed that we would find people who don’t look like us, act like us, or believe like us and love on them like they’ve never been loved on before.  I prayed that we would begin to be light in the world, because, my friends, we have dropped the ball on that.  I prayed that God would close my mouth and open my heart, teach me to listen more that I speak, and remind me every day of the huge plank in my eye that prevents me from pulling out someone else’s splinter.  I prayed that He would teach me how to love like He does, because that’s the only thing that’s going to save us.  

    Then, I got a shower.   

      

    Simple pleasures

    Today I’m thankful.  I try to live my life in a constant state of gratitude, but some days, God just fills me up.  Today was one of those.  Nothing huge happened.  I didn’t win a million dollars or suddenly drop fifty pounds.  It was just a simple spring day, filled with God’s goodness.  Beautiful, cool sunshine on a brightly colored canvas of a world.  A dental visit that removed two years of coffee and red wine stains from my teeth.  A lunch with ladies that I’ve come to know and love over the last few months, shared with some remarkably beautiful women from the ministry at the Fieldhouse for the Homeless.  A new calling on my life?  An afternoon portrait session with one year old and two and a half year old sisters that made my heart smile and reminded me how much I love photography.  The anticipation of an early morning run tomorrow in this sinfully spectacular weather.  Life is good.

    And now, at day’s end, the simple enjoyment of my lake, my dog, a container of flowers,  a glass of red wine (got to restain those teeth, right?), today’s New York Times crossword, and a good book.  No supper to cook, no house to clean.  Yes, it’s all still there and dirty, but it’ll be there tomorrow, and I’ll clean it then.

    I’m often too busy or too stressed to just sit and enjoy the simple beauty of life.  My man has been a good teacher over the years, simple pleasures are his speciality.  He’s taught and encouraged me to slow down, sip the wine, smell the roses, eat dessert.  So, I do.  And life is better because of it.  Listening to my fat, lazy dog snore at my feet makes me smile.

    One of the things no one warned me about becoming an old broad is that sleep becomes a long lost friend.  I often awaken in the night after a few hours of fitful sleep and lay awake until just before my alarm goes off the next morning.  That’s the time of day I take back all those things I’ve so carefully laid on God’s shoulders, because, you know, He really needs my help in solving them.  I suddenly remember the form I forgot to fill out, the bill I forgot to pay, the worries of and for my kids, the friend(s) whose needs are urgent and dire.  I call it “The Midnight Hour” and it has become a time I dread.

    A few weeks ago, I started counting my blessings during that time.  You remember, like your grandmother told you to do every day?  I just start saying (in my head, not aloud – the old man next to me has no trouble sleeping) I am grateful for _________________.  Some nights, all I can think of is that I’m grateful for my exquisitely soft sheets and perfect mattress, so I start there.  That leads me to that man softly snoring beside me, my healthy and mostly happy kids, work I enjoy, the ability to pay my bills, and on and on.  Usually, I only get to about 10 things, and then I remember no more until the sun comes up and a new day starts.

    So, I’m particularly thankful for the blessings of this day.  Not a perfect day.  Just one filled with simple pleasures.

    Some of us dance

    I’m a solitary gal. I like my own company, and am never afraid of time alone. I fill it with things for me, sometimes selfish things (last week’s pedicure), other times more altruistic things (having trouble thinking of one of those at the moment). Time alone for me is glorious, restful, rejuvenating.

    But, God never intended for us to be lone creatures. He expects us to be part of the world, to live in it and shine His light in all the dark corners. So, while my comfort zone is definitely a carefully drawn perimeter around my sole being, I continue to try to push myself towards others, looking for those connections and trying to maintain the ones I’ve already made.

    Towards that end, I joined a ladies’ growth group at my church this spring. It met all my criteria: meets during the day (lunch), is led by a wonderful friend who excels in logistics and bringing women together, and is held at a neutral location (not someone’s home, not the church). I could explain why I have these criteria, but you already know how weird I am if you’ve followed this blog any length of time, so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I need places/events where I can connect with other women, but don’t feel pressured in any way. Perfect scenario.

    We’ve been meeting for a couple of months, and the women in our group are absolutely delightful. We run the gamut of ages and stages of life, and I confess, that’s one of the things that I’ve loved most about this group. Each of us has something to offer, and God, in His usual way, brings us together with those who can lift us up, or whose lives we can encourage in some way. I’ve enjoyed meeting and getting to know some of them, and connecting with them on a closer level outside of our group sessions. I’ve been inspired by the giving spirit of these women, and how so many of them live their lives in service to others. Sometimes, our leader brings a sweet devotion, other times, we are led by members of our group, as our leader is savvy enough to know that there is a lot of talent to be mined there.

    Today was led by one of the women in the group who is in my stage of life. I won’t call her an Old Broad, although that (in my opinion) is the ultimate compliment, but I will say that she would certainly qualify, were she so inclined. I’ve connected with her before today; because, wouldn’t you know it, she’s an exercise buff. She teaches classes at a local Wellness Center, and she’s fit, fabulous, and full of life. Today, she reminded me of a very important truth (although it may not have been her intent).

    She began by reminding us of the importance of movement and nutrition. She emphasized that we are called to be spiritually fit, but we’re also called to take care of ourselves. This body of ours is actually a little temple, designed perfectly and profoundly by God to accomplish His will in our lives and glorify His name. It’s hard to be concerned about God’s will if you aren’t able to walk to the mailbox and back. Then, Joni led us in a short line dance. She had us all (or all those who were willing) gather around her, and she taught us some simple steps, then turned on the music, and away we went. There was much laughter and little self consciousness, and the lunch was concluded with fun and frivolity. I was blessed indeed.

    I have two left feet. My mind won’t retain even the simplest dance steps long enough to finish an entire song. I am uncoordinated in the extreme and have been known to trip walking across a perfect level floor. Still, I move. I run. There’s not a lot of coordination required, just remember to make sure both feet head in the same direction and don’t get entangled with each other. And, keep your eyes on the road ahead. Running helps define who I am and how I feel, it influences my daily life, physical and spiritual. It keeps my dark clouds at bay.

    The truth that Joni reminded me of was simple, but profound. We’re all different, yet the same. We all have different ways of achieving the same goals, whether they’re fitness, nutritional, or spiritual goals. One size does not fit all. We only hurt ourselves when we compare ourselves (favorably or unfavorably) to others. We’re meant to walk our own path, not veer into someone else’s lane. We can enjoy sharing the path with others, but it’s necessary to find our own way, and not be envious of another’s. We must learn to rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and achievements. Dance with them when you’re offered the chance, and don’t dwell on the fact that your clumsy feet will never enable you to move as gracefully as they do, or, that they seem to have wings on their feet that propel them at speeds you can never hope to achieve.

    compare
    I’m thankful for today’s reminder that while I run to my goals, some of us dance. And, like me when I run, they do it like nobody is watching. With joy, reverence, and thankfulness.

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2a

    I run because I know

    conteffortRunners often ponder deep thoughts as we pound along, and, I guess, I’m no exception, although some thoughts are deeper than others. Some days my mind simply chases its tail as I plunk along, others it busily solves the world’s problems. Mostly, though, it just sits there in a receptive state, eager to grasp whatever little bit God may offer me, and chew on it thoughtfully.

    Today’s run was one of those that I did only because I knew what it would do for me, not out of any innate desire to jump out of bed and meet the cold world head on.

    So, I got to thinking about the reasons that I run, and I kept circling back to the realization that I run because I know. I guess having been a runner for several years, I have internalized some truths that keep me lacing up and heading out, even when I’m not particularly in the mood to do so.

    I know:

    * that on a quiet, cool morning, when the only sounds I hear are the animals rustling the dry leaves around me and my feet pounding along, is when God’s whisper in my ear becomes audible. God speaks to me often, but I hear Him most clearly when I run.

    * that running detaches that little black cloud that hitches itself to my posterior all too often, and dispels the gloom it often leaves behind.

    * that, even though my running won’t detach anyone else’s black cloud, it may make me a little more capable of dealing with them, give me some insight into their clouds, and help me to know what to say (or not say) that will perhaps shine a little light into their darkness.

    * that perseverance trumps talent, discipline trumps genetics. I’ll never be that speedy old broad who sets world age group records, but I’ll be dogging her heels until they put me in the ground. Then, I’ll dog her heels on streets lined with gold. Maybe I’ll catch her then. An Old Broad can dream, can’t she?

    * that the only way to combat the deterioration that age inevitably brings is to meet it head on, chase it down, and wrestle it to the ground.

    * that my day will go better, my relationships/work/life will flow more easily on days that begin with the quiet contemplation of a run.

    * that my interactions with strangers and the world at large, the one that is filled with evil and selfishness; will be kinder and gentler if I start my day off at a trot. Somehow, I like people more after I’ve sweated and gasped for air a while. Strange how that works out.

    * that in the long term, my health (mental and physical) will be improved by incorporating movement into my days.

    * that in the short term, I just plain feel better when I run consistently.

    * that running keeps me moving forward, on the trail and in life.

    challenge

    It’s OK, I ran today

    run slowly

    The best thing about being sick is that, when you’re finally better, you REALLY appreciate how good you feel.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks being in the grips of, then recovering from, a nasty tummy/body bug that had me running fever, fighting nausea (sometimes better than others), and squinting with a headache.  We had two weekends in a row of absolutely exquisite weather, and all I could do was raise my head weakly from my perch in my chair, wrap another layer of blanket around me, and regret not being able to enjoy it.

    Of course, by the time I was finally better, I had to play catch up at work, and the weather had taken a nosedive.  Still, this week has found me feeling, not just better, but wonderful, and gnawing at the reins to go for a little trot.  Other than a short, easy hike along the Natchez Trace with my man (one day when we found ourselves the disbelieving, but excited owners of a few undesignated minutes), I haven’t even put my running shoes on since I returned from my recent trip to Nashville, only to fall victim to the bug that infiltrated our hotel.

    The Natchez Trace is always a favorite place to spend a little time and energy.

    The Natchez Trace is always a favorite place to spend a little time and energy.

    This week, with the return of energy and the departure of ill health, I decided it was time to get my butt off the couch and head back out. The first part of the week here in Mississippi was frigid. Ok. After seeing some of the images floating around the interwebs, I’ll rephrase and say the weather felt frigid to me. And, if you’re not a stranger here, you know that I don’t really do cold. Still, it’s time. So, I dug out my big girl panties, layered several layers of very expensive running gear on top of them, and headed to the Trace. I was the only soul there.

    Cold, lonely run on the Trace

    Cold, lonely run on the Trace

    I’ve been back at Square One so often that I’ve set up a really nice little camp here. My favorite music, new books uploaded to my iPod, trails to get me excited about running again, my favorite running partner (my strong, silent man) and the energy to put into starting a new training plan. They’re all here, waiting for me comfortably at Square One. I’ve actually begun to like it here. Or at least, not hate it.

    I know that the real magic happens when I get outside my comfort zone, so I’m heading there. It’s a journey of many thousands of steps, though, and I’m prepared. I know that starting here, at my comfy little Square One, is only the beginning. That it starts to hurt soon, that there are disappointments and setbacks waiting ahead on the trail. I know these things, and still, I start again. Because I’m going to one day be the person I pray to be, that strong, resilient woman that I envision.

    And, it will be warm again. I found proof in my driveway this morning:

    Promise of spring

    Promise of
    spring

    If you don’t believe me, just watch. ;) (And, yes, that one is definitely on the playlist.)

    Forever the Comeback Kid

    start_finish2014 was a year of rest for me.  Not complete rest. But, no races, no set training goals, just learning to love running again and focusing on staying injury free.  After injury prone 2013, burn out, and even worse, doubt, crept into my training and combined to make me forget how much I love this sport.  So, I took the year off.  I ran when I felt like it, walked when I didn’t;  cycled a lot; hiked with my man from the mountains and beaches of the Big Island, to the urban intensity of NYC and New Orleans, and multiple spots in between.  And, guess what?  I ended the year injury free, and renewed my love affair with running to the point that I’m ready to hit the ground running (pun intended, lame as it is) in 2015.

    To that end, I’ve set some goals.  I usually set my yearly goals on my birthday (in October), but I even took the year off from that last year.

    Fortunately, I’ve been a runner long enough to know that comeback is the name of the game.  There will always be another injury or illness to recover from, always be down time to rev back up, always be another race down the road to make up for the one you bailed on when you had chills and fever.  New years, new challenges, new goals.  I live in conscious and constant thankfulness for that truth.

    As always, my goals are simple.  I’m a pretty uncomplicated gal.  Unless you ask my man.  So, here are my goals, for what they’re worth.  I’d love to hear some of yours in the comments.

    1) Get back to racing form/weight/endurance.  As I think back over decades of struggles with weight, I realize that the desire to be “thin” left me when I started running.  That’s weird to think about now, but my goal has gone from being that “perfect” weight that society or some doctor decreed was “normal” to being the optimum weight to feel good, run well, and race faster.  I would share my goal weight here, but it’s a constantly moving target as I move forward and decide what feels right.  The number isn’t that important to me anymore, the way I feel is.  And, of course, I would like to be faster.  I heard or read the other day that for every pound you lose, you shave 2 seconds off your time.  So…  losing a thousand pounds ought to be just about right.  ;)

    2) Remain injury free.  I’ve learned the best way to do that is to ease back into a training plan and listen, listen, listen to my body.  I’m not a runner who can race a lot, for whatever reason, so I have to be very conscious of selecting races/training plans that challenge me, but don’t require me to run myself into the ground. Because I love the half marathon distance, I don’t sprinkle many 5k’s or 10k’s in my year.  I hope one day to run another marathon, but I have some very specific criteria for myself about deciding when or if to do that.

    3) Read more.  I have at least six books stacked on my shelf, calling my name, and a list of titles on my iPad at least 5 times that long.  So many books, so little time.  So, I’m going to use my time more wisely.

    4) Connect with friends more.  I tend to be a solitary soul, given my choice.  But, whenever I connect with my friends, I remember how much I love good company. I have terrific friends and I’ve joined a couple of groups toward that end.  More on that later.

    5) Seek God’s presence in my day to day life in a more intentional way.

    6) Accept where I am, dream of where I want to be, work like heck to get there.

    Simple list.  Ongoing goals that I’ve set before, and come back to again and again. Yep, forever the Comeback Kid.  I’ll take that.

    impossible_effortless