The Race is On!

I’ve mentioned before that my man races motorcycles, and this weekend started the new Enduro season. I have enjoyed the new freedom I have to travel with him to his races, and have found that I’m beginning to understand a little about the race and a lot about the reasons he races.

We typically arrive on site on Friday with our little camper, and set up before the crowds come in on Saturday. I usually do a trail run on Saturday morning, then we have a lazy day, eat the best steak you’ve ever tasted on Saturday night, head to church, then sleep that wonderful restful sleep that seems to only come for me at sea or deep in the woods. The first race this year was in Clanton, Alabama, and located on private property that is truly one of the most beautiful cow pastures I’ve ever seen. 🙂 This weekend was a little different in that I didn’t do a trail run. I have a 23 miler coming up this week, and I’ve had some issues with my back, so I just rested and walked some. By late Saturday, the campgrounds were buzzing with families arriving and riders registering and working on or playing on their bikes.

Sunday morning dawned cool and beautiful. The air was thick with the smell of gasoline and testosterone as riders zipped around on their bikes, making final adjustments, then headed toward the starting line. I was inspired to write this post as I walked to the starting line and saw a gentleman who I once would have considered an old man, test riding his bike. Concentration, focus, joy, and passion were written on his face in equal measure. It reminded me of the runners I know. I reflected that we all need something that makes us happy in our lives, a sport/hobby that we are truly passionate about, something to keep us young at heart. And, that’s what this is for most of these men. A passion that keeps them young, makes them take better care of their bodies, so that they can meet the challenges the woods throws at them as they race their hardest. Most of the men I’ve met love their sport, but seem to keep it in its proper place, behind God and family. In foot races, we mostly race against ourselves, always trying to best our last PR, and that’s what these riders do as well. Yes, as in a foot race, there are winners divided by age groups. However, I’ve found that most of these men, while attempting to capture first place, are equally focused on just enjoying their sport and performing it to the best of their ability. The dedication to their sport spills over into other areas of their lives, benefitting their families, businesses, and communities. Isn’t that what our passions should do?

In enduro racing, the riders begin in rows of four or five, each row starting a minute apart.
I don’t begin to claim that I understand the somewhat complicated nature of the race, it is divided into sections, and the riders ride each section as fast as they can and are scored depending on how long it takes them. This is a very simplified explanation, it seems a lot more complicated than that, and I probably have it wrong to some degree. But, basically, it’s a race with a start line and finish line and the fastest person in each group gets the best score. Like most racing. The riders accumulate points for each race that decide who the overall winners are at the end of each season.

The start is always fun, the racers line up in their rows and wait for the countdown to begin. I will admit, I like the sound and feel at the start, there is something primal there, a deep seated desire to best your opponent. It’s a little anticlimactic, though. After the start, you really aren’t able to watch the race, as it winds through the woods and goes for many miles and several hours. Some races set up spectator points, but they are notoriously hard to find, or at least they are to the uninitiated like me. There is usually a gas stop about midway through the race and typically you can find your rider there. He usually has a few minutes, then he’s off again, racing the clock.

I love to listen to the riders and their support teams, usually made up of the rider’s family or friends who are injured and can’t ride. That’s another thing we runners have in common with these guys. There is always a group of people who are injured. While we complain with plantar facsitis, pulled hamstrings, shin splints, bad knees, painful hips, and the slowdown that age brings; the riders complain about shoulder surgery, broken collarbones and ankles, legs that have healed badly from a past break, and also bad knees, painful hips, and the inevitable toll that age takes on our bodies. Seems all sports have some things in common.

One of the greatest benefits to age for me has been the gift of wisdom that it has brought. Many people in my life have contributed to that wisdom, but probably the most influential has been my man. In the 30+ years we’ve been together, we’ve both grown and changed. We’ve picked up each other’s habits and mannerisms (good and bad). But, I think the most valuable thing Gary has taught me is that life is about passion. About finding what you love, and making it part of who you are. My parents taught me many things and gave me the foundation I needed to become the faith filled woman that I am, but they never taught me to follow my passions, savor the dreams. I’ve learned that as an adult, and I’m grateful that we’re never too old to learn life lessons.

Motorcycle racing is not without risk. Bones are broken, bells are rung, muscles and tendons are strained to the breaking point. But, isn’t life about risk? Reaching out with both hands, grabbing it by the handlebars and hanging on for the ride? I think so. I’m thankful that I have not only found my passions in life, but have been encouraged to develop them and see how far I can take them. I hope we’ve raised our daughters that way. I don’t want to leave this world without having experienced it. There are many things I’ll probably never do, but it won’t be from a lack of desire or the belief that I can’t do them. At almost 50, I’ve decided that life tastes really good, and that anything is possible with determination and perseverance. The race truly is on. If you aren’t already there, run, don’t walk, to the starting line! You don’t want to miss this!

Remembering why I run

Training is getting down to the wire these days.  It’s 50 days until the marathon, and I received my bib and corral numbers and start time this week.  I’m getting very excited.  I’m already planning where we’re going to eat the Monday after the marathon.  I think Giovanna’s Ristorante on the corner of Mulberry and Hester, Little Italy.  The lobster ravioli and some of their special recipe sangria.  But, I haven’t really given it much thought.

I could wax poetic in these last posts leading up to the marathon about my aches and pains.  The cement that has permanently settled into my ITB.  The hamstring that screams like a banshee whenever it is called upon to bear the load.  The pointer toe that is losing its SECOND toenail.  And, all that is just on my left leg.  But, I won’t bore you with those details.  If you’re a runner and you’ve trained for a marathon, you already know these things.   If you haven’t, well, I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.

So, I’m trying to be positive and uplifting in these posts.  I’m sure I’ll break down and have at least one more whiny post between now and November 6, but I’ll try to reign it in.  It’s bad enough that poor Gary has to listen to me whine and complain.  At least he signed on for it.

As training gets more focused, it’s sometimes hard to remember that I love running.  So, I’m trying to really love every run that I do these days.  On today’s run, that was easy. It was one that took me back to the beginning of my love affair with running and I thought I would share it with you.  Hopefully, it will be more inspiring than the litany of complaints I could bore you with.

When I first started running, I was traveling a lot for our small business(es).   I always took running gear so that I could run in any of the towns I had to overnight in.  Sometimes Gary was with me, sometimes not.  But, I found that getting up and going for a run before the city awoke was a wonderful way to learn and explore the city.  I traveled all over Mississippi, and to areas of Texas and Florida.  Running in downtown San Antonio was a special treat, as was my first run in the predawn of New York City.  Those runs set the stage for a lifetime love of running and are the main reason for NYC being the marathon on my bucket list.  

These days, Gary and I go to Natchez, MS, once a month for business.  We usually stay at the Natchez Grand Hotel, although we’ve stayed in other places, including beautiful Dunleith Plantation.  We’ve toured some of the old homes, and generally wandered all over the city.  If you are a Mississippian, and you’ve never been to Natchez, shame on you.  Get there soon.  They have wonderful events (including hot air balloon races) that spotlight the history of the town, but go anytime.  It’s a step back into our history.  If you aren’t a Mississippian, but love history and amazing architecture, put Natchez on your bucket list.  I love the old homes, the small town feel, the lazy Mississippi River, the barge traffic, the wonderful restaurants.  But, my favorite things in Natchez are the churches and the City Cemetery.  The churches are beyond beautiful and there are a number of them to be awed by.  St. Mary’s Basilica is my hand down favorite, and it is always on the morning run, usually at the end.

This morning I needed to run six miles, so we didn’t run our usual route down toward Natchez Under the Hill.  I have to admit this didn’t break my heart.  It’s a wicked hill that is as vile going down as coming up.  Instead, we headed west toward the City Cemetery.   The sun had not yet risen, and I will admit that I would not have gone there predawn if Gary had not been with me.  But, he was, so off we went.  There was a surprising amount of traffic that early, but the road is fairly easy to run on and even has a sidewalk that parallels it for a good part of the way.  We got to the first gate before the sun came up, and saw that we weren’t the only ones who had the idea of a predawn cemetery run.  A group of four men came out of the gate just as we went in.  At least, I think they were real.  They may have been ghosts of runners past.

The cemetery is immaculately maintained and history is in every step. Spanish moss drapes the tree lined roads and the exquisite scent of sweet olive was in the air.  The cemetery is laid out in “neighborhoods”, as it was built in the late 1800’s.  There is a Catholic section, a section for “strangers”, a Masonic section, even a section designated for Bishops and monks.  My favorite places are The Turning Angel , where an angel monument watches over the burial places of several employees lost in a terrible fire, and is said to seem to “turn” as car lights skim over her when they drive along Cemetery Road at night; and Jewish Hill, which offers an amazing view of the city and the lazy river below.  It’s especially beautiful at sunrise, which we were able to witness this morning.

We ran through the cemetery, stopping to read some of the headstones and plaques.  The Bishop area was very interesting, and we were saddened by so many tributes to children who died young.  We left the cemetery and headed back toward town, turning to run along the walkway over the bluff of the river.  The homes there are enough to inspire anyone to forget their mission, but we soldiered on.  They have recently added a nature walk that goes down the bluff and is a nice variation to the concrete and pavement.  Back up the other side, down to Rosalie Mansion, then left on Canal by Fat Mama’s Tamales.  We turned up State Street, then left on Union to take us to St. Mary’s.  Back to the Grand and a short finish up the promenade and we were done.  Upstairs to clean up, then Natchez Coffee Company for coffee and breakfast.  All in all, a morning nicely spent.

I share this with you to pique your interest.  In running, in seeing all that Mississippi has to offer, in living life to the fullest.  If you can’t make it to Natchez right away, pick up a Greg Iles book from your local library or bookstore.  A native Natchezian(?), all his books are set in and around Natchez, and are actually how I know a lot of the history about it.  They are spellbinding mysteries, so if you like thrillers, you will love these.  Every time we go, I download another one to my Ipad.  I have them all in hardcover, but it’s been awhile since I read them, and seeing the city come to life makes me want to read them again.

I fell in love with running because it allowed me to explore and see new places on my own, in a way that felt very intimate.  The cities that I’ve run in are all cities I’ve fallen in love with.  Running has brought so much to my life, and as I bear down these final weeks, I thought it would be important to remind myself of that.

What a difference a day makes

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know I was suffering some major angst over this morning’s 20 mile run. A day makes a world of difference.  One of my Runner’s World quotes of the day this week was “Relish the bad training runs.  Without them it’s difficult to recognize, much less appreciate, the good ones.”  Having had plenty of experience this summer with the former, I really needed one of the latter to see if this was indeed true.  I’m very happy to report that it is.

The morning came early, my alarm going off at 5 am.  I got out of bed, slapped my carefully laid out clothes on, gathered my camelback and cooler, and headed to Longleaf Trace in the pitch dark.  The weather this week has been everything a Mississippi fall should be, but rarely is, and I set off in the darkness feeling a little colder than I really like to be.  But, I’ll take that right now.  I can complain about the cold after the marathon.  And I will.  Never doubt it.

I started off listening to the Rick & Bubba show on my Ipod, but soon pulled the earphone out to just soak in the quiet darkness.  Strange and scary critters crossed my path in the darkness, but none thought I was enough of a threat to investigate.  I spent a long time talking to God, lifting up my prayers and praising the wonder of the morning.  I watched the sunrise slowly pink the sky, then lighten the woods around me and illuminate the path.  Before long, the strange dark critters become cute little bunnies and fast and funny squirrels.  By the time the sun was fully up, I had 8 miles behind me.  The temperature warmed a little, but now just felt wonderful.  In some of my reading recently, I came across this statement, “True wisdom comes when you see the extraordinary nature of ordinary things.” This morning was filled with ordinary things that seemed extraordinary.  I think it had a lot to do with my heightened sense of awareness, the pleasure of moving through the morning – goal set, then met.

On mile 18, God rewarded me with a doe scampering across my path, followed shortly by her tiny fawn.  The fawn was spotted and not as fast as its mother, and it was very curious about me.  I slowed my pace (which wasn’t terribly fast anyway) and crept up on it as silently as I could.  The fawn simply stood and watched me, not running away even when my run/walk timer buzzed every 30 seconds.  I started taking off my camel back to fish my phone out in order to get a picture, but the new movement was more than the fawn would tolerate and it wandered off in search of its mom.  I watched it move, gracefully and with purpose, then picked my pace back up to finish.

The last mile was pretty tough, but I kept on pushing and before I knew it, the end was at hand.  Having had so many bad runs over the last months, this one was balm to my soul.  Some of my confidence has returned.  I have two more 20 + milers before the big day, but after today, I don’t think I’ll be dreading them.  In fact, I think I’ll really look forward to them.  One of them will be at the beach!

As I prayed this morning, I asked God to dress me in His armor.  He was faithful, as always, and poured out His blessing on my day. I’m a tired, but very happy old broad this evening.

Standing Firm

What do I have in me?  That’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately.  In fact, there has been a cacophony of noise in my head as the voices compete with each other to lace my mind with doubt.  Last week’s  20 mile attempt was thwarted first by rain, then by a last minute decision to try to run it at night before the rain moved in for the weekend.  I’m plagued with the memory of how my gut locked up on mile 12 1/2 and Gary was forced to rescue me in the truck.  Turns out, it was probably a stomach bug, which I’m mostly over, at least physically.

So, tomorrow I try again.  And, the voices are rearing their ugly heads (or mouths, I guess) once more to plant seeds of doubt about my ability to accomplish this goal.  I marvel at those who make marathon racing and training look easy.  If you’ve never attempted a marathon before, know going in that it is no easy task, particularly to those of us who are older and not particularly athletic.

It has always been difficult for me to admit my weaknesses, flaws, or fears.  For some reason, I’ve always felt that admitting them made them more apparent to the outside world.  I forget that you can all easily see my flaws, it’s me that has trouble spotting them.  Training for this marathon has opened my eyes to many of them, particularly self-doubt.  As I’ve searched for inspiration this evening, I remembered a conversation with my sister earlier today about the reality of spiritual warfare.  That reality has been shown to me on many occasions, and this training has really personified my demons.  That self-doubt demon is trying to kick my butt and make me believe that I’m not capable of this.  It points out all the new aches and pains I have and points to past failures when I try to ignore it.

Fortunately, however, I have a secret weapon. I have inner strength that no demon can overcome.  It’s just up to me to call on it.  Consider this passage from Ephesians 6:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

It seems a little melodramatic to compare running a marathon to struggling against the powers of darkness.  But, you really have a lot of time to think when you run 20 miles (especially when you run it as slow as I do), and God is using this time to teach me about myself. I’m having to learn to put on God’s armor to fight all my battles, spiritual, mental, and physical.  I can’t do this in my own strength.  I can’t do anything in my own strength. But, I have power in me that I don’t use.  Power given to me at my rebirth.

I joke a lot about the voices in my head, but they are real.  But, don’t send in the guys in white coats yet.  The world throws negativism at me (you, too) constantly and I internalize it and start to believe it.  Satan is the prince of this world and uses the vast means at his disposal to accomplish his goals: to make me feel unworthy and unable, thereby neutralizing the power that God has given me to accomplish His goals.  It’s up to me to listen to that soft voice that reminds me that I am able, because He is able.  That soft voice is the voice of the Holy Spirit, and I’m glad that it is the loudest voice in my head.

So, as you get up tomorrow morning (Friday) to go to work, school, or play, lift me up.  Ask God to speak loudly to me to drown out the voice of doubt.  In fact, ask Him to sing me a song, I always respond better to music.

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  1 John 4:4

Amen and amen.  I’ll have on the full armor of God as I run in the morning, and the thing about this armor is, it doesn’t weigh me down.  It lifts me up, then lands me gently. It enables me to stand firm.