Slow going

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:25-27

The Olympics are in full swing, and I get as caught up in them as anyone.  I especially love the track and field, of course, but enjoy watching the pomp and ceremony of the opening & closing, the swimmers, and lots of the other sports.  I don’t really sit and watch everything, just kind of keep it on for background noise.  It’s inspiring and exciting, and I’m not one to ever look away from that combination.

Olympic athletes train for years to get where they are, some for their entire lives.  So, why do we, as recreational runners fall prey to the fallacy that we should quickly make gains in our training, even when we’ve only been running for a short amount of time?  I’m sure it’s just because we’re human, but I also think it comes from living in a “fast food” mentality society.  We want (fill in the blank), and we want it now.  Whether it’s to be thin, or fast, or to be able to run far & fast, we think it should happen sooner rather than later.

I’ll admit I’m not immune to that thinking.  I sometimes feel like I’ve been plodding along at a pace associated with glacial movement for way too long.  I also feel that I’ve struggled with weight issues and lack of spiritual discipline for much longer than I should have.  I should be much farther along in these areas that I am, given my level of discipline and attention.  Yet, here I am: slow, still too many pounds overweight, and not spending nearly enough time in the Word and in communication with God.

Then, it comes to me.  I think about where I was when I started this journey.  And, I realize the progress I’ve made.  There was a time in the not too distant past when I would have been discouraged to the point of quitting after two bad long runs in a row (which the last couple of weeks brought for me).  Now, I know that even bad runs teach me something, so I make the adjustments I need to, then keep on putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s the same thing with the number on the scale and getting into a spiritual discipline of Bible study and prayer.  I don’t beat myself up about failure or lack of progress anymore.  I remember that every day brings new mercy and new opportunities.  So, I reach for what the day brings.

I am in strict training, spiritually and physically.  I’m seeking that crown that will last forever. I know that I’ll stumble, I’ll fall, I’ll even skin my knees up.  But, I also know the absolute joy that becoming a more disciplined child of God has brought me.  The peace, contentment, and ability to face life’s difficult moments with calm.  That’s not me.  That’s Him.   I’m humbled and thankful that He’s brought me to this place.  It’s a work in progress and I’ve finally realized that it’s not only okay, it’s absolutely necessary. The things I’ve gained quickly and with little effort in life, I don’t appreciate, and seldom hang onto. The lessons I’ve learned through long, hot runs – the figurative ones as well as the literal ones, are the ones that stick.

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I want to soak up the sun

My sister and niece are training for their first half marathon in the spring (the Disney Princess Half). They aren’t runners, and are just starting a running program, so this is new to them. They will do a run/walk or walk/run for the half, but the Princess is such a fun race, that I know it will be the start of many more for them.

They are going through some of the angst that all new runners face, but the one that is the most serious is one that we deal with at whatever stage we are in our fitness journey. Learning to deal with the heat. I’ve had a couple of conversations with both of them as they work out the kinks of their training plans, and a sinister truth was brought home to me. Getting old really stinks sometimes. As I’ve talked with my 20 something (or are you 30, Skye?) niece, my advice is very different than it is for my somewhat older sister. She’s older than me & I’m 50, so you can figure that out. Starting a training program in the heat of a Mississippi summer takes a certain kind of moxie. Or insanity. Both of which my family has in spades.

Learning to listen to your body is not easy. The abuse a 20 something body can take differs wildly from the abuse a 50 something body can take. I can tell a difference in the way I feel after a really bad run in the heat (which I had this past Sunday) from how I felt after a bad training run even in my forties. I’m affected for days, whereas before I could shake it off within hours. So, I listen. My body told me to take a few days off this week after the relatively short long run I did this weekend in the soup that passed for air. It was a tough one for me, I’m developing a new eating plan (more info on that later), and it’s still in the early phases, so I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.

My point here is very simple. It’s hot. If you live anywhere in the south, it’s really hot. And, steamy to boot. Dial back your training accordingly. Decide what your true goals for running are. Not short term goals, like a race or weight loss, but a life plan. Mine is pretty straightforward. I run for good health, for sanity, for enjoyment, for stress management. I can accomplish all that with a dialed back training plan for the summer. June’s runs were mostly about enjoying new places. July’s runs are about slowly, slowly rebuilding my base so that come fall, I can kick it into high gear as I prepare for my late November half.

Be smart, train smart. Don’t do something to yourself this summer that will cause you to be unable or unwilling to advance your goals when the weather cools. And, it will cool. The seasons are pretty predictable. We have fall every year around here. We don’t always have winter, but we will have a fall.

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How bad do you want it?

Years ago, I belonged to a Weight Watchers group in Hattiesburg.  My favorite instructor was Marsha, a woman older than myself who has been there and done that when it came to weight loss.  Her approach was very direct – no nonsense, and unsympathetic.  Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but it worked for me.  One of the things she always asked anyone who was falling down on their plan was, “How bad do you want it?”.  You have to want to lose weight more than you want that slice of red velvet cake if you’re going to be successful.

That’s a motto I’ve carried with me since then.  Whenever I approach a long term goal, whether it’s weight loss, a running goal, a business goal, or any other personal goal I’m reaching toward, I ask myself that question.  Because, if you don’t want it badly enough, you’re not going to be willing to put in the work required to get there.  Most goals worth setting require time, intense effort, and patience.  Few things in life worth having come to you without effort.

Getting back to running was one of those things for me.  I knew I wanted it in my life, had allowed it to fall by the wayside, and was ready to pick it back up and try it on for size.  Let me tell you, it wasn’t a good fit when I started back.  But, as the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, I established patterns that I’m excited to believe are with me to stay.  I’ve had to overcome a few things, and am still working to overcome some issues, but the end result is absolutely worth it.  I can say with confidence and no exaggeration that I feel better now than I ever have.  And, I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been.

Reawakening the discipline of exercise in my life has led me to become more disciplined in other areas of my life.  I eat much more intelligently now, and see food as a source of fuel, rather than a source of stress relief or comfort.  I’m learning to refine it so that it is the most efficient fuel burner I can make it.  This is a work in progress, but again, I want it badly enough to do it.

I’ve learned that my body doesn’t like it when I don’t give it the daily attention that it needs in the form of prayer, movement, and proper fueling.  On days that I oversleep and miss my early morning run, I’m foggy and foul tempered the entire day.  Summer runs in Mississippi have to be done very, very early out of necessity  in order to beat the heat.  Even 5 am runs can be 85 degrees with 95% humidity, so running any later in the day is a death wish.  I’m not a morning person.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I know if I don’t run or crosstrain early, it won’t happen.  So, when my alarm goes off at 4:30 or 5 am, I have to bargain with myself to make it happen.  Usually, I tell myself that if I will just get up, I don’t really have to run, I can walk my miles today.  Of course, I know that when I get started, I won’t walk, I’ll run, but I have to trick my psyche to make it leave my nice warm nest.  Amazingly enough, that works almost every time.  I guess my psyche is too groggy with sleep to call me on the lie that early, and by the time it catches on, the run already feels pretty good.  Sometimes, I just have to remind myself what a foul mood I’ll be in if I don’t get my run in.  Those moods are serious enough that I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent them, so out the door I go.

So, how bad do you want it?  Whatever your goal is, write it down, pray over it, and let God lead you to the best way to accomplish it.  Know ahead of time that it will take time, much more time than you want it to.  Prepare your mind with prayer, seek good, Godly advice, and most of all, know that as you are striving to achieve your goal, God will provide what or who you need to reach it at exactly the right moment.

My journey is ongoing.  I’m still struggling with weight issues (although I hope to have an exciting post about that in a few weeks) and am still really struggling with GI issues when I run.  But, with age and determination have come wisdom and patience.  I know I’ll get where I’m going, because God has set my feet on this path.  I recognize that this is my journey, and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others. If it took some gray hairs and the permanent sagging of my skin to get me to this place, then I can live with that.  And, I have a really good hairdresser (love you, Amanda!) and excellent skincare that is second to none (love you Fleur de Vie!).    😉

A Job Well Done

God has such impeccable timing.  That is brought home to me often, the most recent time being last week.  We are all afflicted with various personality traits and characteristics that impede our progress on occasion.  One of mine (probably the most effective impeder) is the one that causes me to compare myself to others in an unfavorable light.  It just so happened that last week was one of those weeks that I occasionally have when I felt like everyone in the world was smarter, faster, thinner, more creative, more entertaining, more talented,  and all around better at everything than I am.  As a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a runner, a photographer, a writer, and all the other plates I spin get entwined and fall to the ground to shatter irreparably, I can be really hard on myself.

As I was running long this weekend, I was passed by several runners who made my pace seem comical in comparison.  Granted, two of them were high school boys whose legs were as long as my body and whose body fat could be measured in the low single digits.  But, still.  I felt like I was running through mud.  And, I’m sure I looked like it, as well.  Of course, the run worked its usual magic and elevated my mood by the end, but the comparisons lingered.  My niece, who has recently begun a run/walk program in preparation for her first half marathon (I’m SO proud & excited for her), called me and asked me what her pace should be.  She had been reading a blog written by an idiot  a fool  a sadly misguided individual who advocated that a good pace for a beginning runner is an 8 minute mile.  That is a great goal for her eventually, but not a realistic beginning goal pace.  She was really down because she was comparing this nut’s info to her actual pace & felt she came up lacking.

Enter God.  I follow several blogs, mostly written by other runners, some inspirational, some technical.  Last week’s blog posts offered not one, but two excellent posts on this very topic.  You can read them here and here.  If you don’t follow these two wonderful bloggers, I highly recommend them.  Anyway, I was, once again, stunned at God’s timing.  How could these two people that I don’t even know be aware that this was exactly what I needed to read this week?

The simple truth is that there will always be people who are faster, thinner, smarter, more talented, and more successful than me.  I’ll never be an elite runner.  I’ll probably never write the Great American Novel.  I am who I am.  A marvel of God’s creation.  He made me to be exactly who I am.  Someone who falls down a lot, but picks herself up, dusts herself off, looks around to see if anyone saw her faux pas, then keeps on going.  I think that’s the definition of success for me.  That I keep on keeping on, encountering problems and seeking solutions. Comparing myself to anyone steals my joy, and renders my efforts to improve and learn ineffective.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of A JOB WELL DONE, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  Galatians 6:4 (New Living Translation)

Real Women

I’m not inspired by the media’s idea of what a woman looks like. That over processed, photo-shopped to within an inch of her life, impossibly thin, perfectly proportioned, flat bellied, no pored woman only inspires me to roll my eyes and give a very unladylike snort of impatience and disgust.

What inspires me? Real women. Here’s my definition of a real woman.

A Real woman:
*eats well, choosing nutrition over starvation. She makes good food choices, and stands up to the temptations of red velvet cake and heavily buttered bread.
*doesn’t beat herself up when she yields to those temptations. She simply puts it behind her and moves forward.
*applauds her women friends when they have a 22 pound weight loss in one month, even when her own scale says the same thing it has always said, even after months of working out and eating right.
*is happy in her own skin. The skin which is not quite as tight as it used to be, droops a little here and there, has more wrinkles than it used to, but still looks good, even with many years of wear on it.
*rises early, slaps on her running shoes, and heads out the door, even when she doesn’t want to, doesn’t feel like it, and sees no discernible change on the scale, in the way her clothes fit, or in the mirror.
*encourages her friends and family when she knows they’re facing the same lack of motivation.
*looks at images in the media and realizes that no one really looks like that, not even the one in the picture.
*doesn’t care what she looks like when she’s in the middle of a run and doesn’t mind making a fool of herself in yoga class or being the one who dances off beat at Zoomba. She celebrates her ability to do those things with enthusiasm and joy.
*never looks at other women in judgement, offering only prayers and encouragement for those who may not be at the same place on their fitness journeys.
*rejoices in the victories of her friends, even the small ones.
*grieves with and consoles her friends when they are facing weight issues or any tough life issues.
*only offers advice and help when asked.
*makes taking care of herself a priority. She knows that she can’t take care of her family if she’s not at her best.
*learns to love that face she sees in the mirror and accept its changes as God’s way of showing the life she’s led. Good and bad.
*accepts herself exactly as she is, while always striving to be the best she can be.
*knows her limitations, but constantly toes the line in an attempt to exceed and surpass those same limitations.
*knows that teaching by example is the most effective way to teach.

I’m blessed to know, love, admire, and emulate many of these women. I strive to be that woman. I am in some ways, fail miserably in others. The important thing is to keep on trying. Never give up, never give in. Know that being that woman isn’t just important, it’s life altering.

I could go on about the characteristics that make up real women, but someone else said it much better than me.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks…
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy…
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31: 17-31 (selected verses only)

Strong is the new skinny. Be strong. Choose to be a real woman.

The power of saltwater

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Dinesen

As a distance runner in the southeast, I am very familiar with the healing power of sweat. And, as a long time scuba diver, I am equally aware of the serenity of the sea. As one who has been known to cry at a Disney movie, I can also vouch for the cleansing nature of a nice, healthy cry.

These were my thoughts yesterday as I ran in the South Mississippi morning heat. We’ve had a slight cool front move through, and it wasn’t quite as hot and humid as it normally is. Even so, by the end of my 5 miler, my clothes were soaked to the dripping point and my eyes were burning with the sweat that had run unchecked into them. I don’t really mind running in the heat. It is much more appealing to me than running in the cold, but I do have to be careful and run smart. So, it’s very early morning runs, or, in the event that I oversleep, it’s the dreadmill. I’ve learned not to press the snooze button – the dreadmill is like walking the plank.

My mind has been very full lately with different things. Work that needs to be caught up on after our extended vacation time last month, the troubles of some precious friends, family illness and issues, looking for God’s hand in some of my endeavors, missing precious family who have recently moved away. I’m not a worrier. By nature I probably am, but I’ve learned to let God handle all those things that I can’t seem to control, and it’s made me a much happier person because of it. One of the gifts God has given me to deal with worry is running. The cleansing of a hard run and good sweat. There are no problems that can withstand a hard run in the heat of a Mississippi summer morning. By the end of the run, the problem may not be solved, but it is safely relegated to its place in my life as one of the many things over which I have no control. There is an entire closet in my mind of those things that I’ve had to release to God. Funny how He always knows what to do with them.

A boat ride on the ocean, or better yet, a nice, long dive in warm, blue water has the same effect on me. In the event I’m unable to do either, a beach chair, umbrella, warm white sand, and the pound of the surf can work magic on my soul. What is it about saltwater? I’m not one to seek answers to unanswerable things, so whatever it is, I’m thankful.

I’ve noticed that since running (and profuse sweating) have become a routine part of my life, I no longer seem to have the need of a good long cry. Don’t mistake me, now. I still tear up at a sappy movie, and there are some life events that have to be baptized with tears. But, my mood stays pretty constant, as long as I can get my run in. I know there have been many studies on the mood lifting power of exercise, and I am proof positive. There have been times of deep depression in my life, and I’m humbled and grateful beyond words that God has given me this gift of running to show me how to overcome that without the need for medication.

In addition to learning to embrace the power of sweat through running, I’m in the midst of overhauling my eating plan to a much more natural way of life. My general rule of thumb is if my great grandmother would not or could not have served it, I don’t either. I think about the lives of my ancestors, and I know that running was not a part of their daily routine. Not for exercise, anyway. But, their lives were filled with physical labor, some easy, some overwhelmingly hard. Some of the main scourges of our society today come from the fact that we eat highly over processed foods and sit on our bottoms most of the time. We’ve forgotten the healing properties of sweat.

The following verse is from one of my favorite descriptions of who a woman should be, in Proverbs 31.

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks. Proverbs 31:17

My prayer for myself, and all the women that I love is that we will set about our work vigorously, and prepare our bodies and minds for the tasks ahead. Embrace the power of sweat.

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Taking it to the streets

I tried to get Gary to get a cab back to the hotel on our last night after dinner. We saw this on the walk back. I hate it when he’s right.

Same Washington statue 12 hours later

The view of Copley Square from our room. Boston Public Library is to the left.

We’ve been back for a week, but last week was about catching up – on work, on sleep, on laundry. I’m finally taking the time to post about our wonderful weekend in Boston, I’ll be light on words, and just share a lot of images. I didn’t take my big camera, it was a weekend trip, and we were trying to travel light, so all the images are just iPhone pics. Will definitely take the big camera when we go back.

My favorite way to explore a city is always on foot, and Boston was probably my favorite city to explore this way so far. It is very runner/walker friendly, as it should be, I guess, being the host of the oldest footrace in the country. Over the course of 2 1/2 days, we put over 30 miles on our legs, not all of them running, but the running miles were fairly hard miles (for me, anyway). The weather was perfect, even on our first day when it rained – it was an easy, warm rain that just enhanced the beauty of the run. I could have hurt myself running in this city, it’s that beautiful. Of course, seeing that it took me a week to get back to running after we got home (except one short 3 miler last week), I guess you could say I did hurt myself. I was just tired from all the travel, though, and decided a few days off wouldn’t hurt me.

We walked all over the city, saw many of the sights, spent a lot of time at Fenway Park (sad our Braves lost 2 of the 3 games, but enjoyed the energy and history of the stadium – those Sox fans are serious!), went to see Blue Man Group, ate some excellent food, and enjoyed every minute of our trip. The lobster roll I had at Fenway ranks as my #1 meal at a ballpark ever!

Glad to be home for a while, but will, without doubt, head back to Boston as soon as I can think of a good excuse to do it. Hope you enjoy some of the sights of our trip.

First Baptist Church of Boston

Swan Lake at Boston Public Gardens

The Massachusets State House

My kind of Starbucks

As seen on my run along the Charles River

The closest I’ll probably ever get to the finish line at Boston

Fairmont Copley lobby

Fenway Park!!

Beautiful Trinity Church in Copley Square

The window seat in our room overlooking Copley Square