The magic and the familiar

Running is a whimsical companion. Sometimes she is kind and loving, others she is absolutely without mercy. On a couple of recent runs, though, she’s reminded me that she’s someone I can always count on.

The weekend’s long run was a 12 miler. Having increased by a mile each weekend, my legs were not really looking forward to the haul. Late in the week, however, I found that I would have company on my run, and immediately, the prospect brightened. The doctor released Gary to ride his bike, and I think I was more excited about it than Gary was. I admit that I’ve enjoyed this very small window of time in which I’m faster than Gary, but I’m ready to run with my favorite pacing partner again.

The morning dawned warm and overcast, with a fine mist falling as we loaded up. We wanted to go to a trail, but as it’s still hunting season here in South Mississippi, we decided against the woods and headed for Longleaf Trace. The pace was slow and easy, the company was steady and familiar, and it was one of those magical runs where 12 miles whiz by in no time at all. That doesn’t happen often, so I’m particularly thankful when it does.

Stumpy goes for a bike ride!  My pacer for Saturday's long run!

Stumpy goes for a bike ride! My pacer for Saturday’s long run!

Getting back to our “normal” routine found us on the road this week, meandering through back roads on our way to Natchez. We haven’t made this monthly work trip since August of last year, so we were both looking forward to it. I, especially, was eager, as Natchez has one of my favorite runs. Gary hasn’t been released to run yet, so I tried to curtail my anticipation of the morning. Gary’s a great sport, though, and mostly just wishes me well, although I know he’s ready to hit the pavement soon.

I awoke to a view of the mighty Mississippi at sunrise, gulped my coffee, slapped on my clothes and headed out the door. The warm, wet breeze embraced me like an old friend, making me long for spring and the smell of honeysuckle. I ran alongside the riverbank along the familiar route that Gary and I have run together so many times. Past the magnificent, crumbling old mansions that line the river, through the seedy row houses, then up Cemetery Road to one of my favorite spots in the world, the Natchez City Cemetery. That may seem weird, but there’s something spiritual about that place. The majestic old oaks dripping Spanish moss that line the Avenue of the Generals, Bishop Hill memorializing the remains of many of the state’s Catholic bishops and nuns, Jewish Hill with its amazing view of the river and bridge combine to make the hush of the place seem surreal. Only the sound of my footsteps pounding up those relentlessly wicked hills kept me company. This run soothes my soul. It’s quiet enough that I can hear God whispering in the leaves. No dogs and few cars mean I can zone out and just run.

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery

The view from Jewish Hill.  Don't know who thought the power lines were a good idea.

The view from Jewish Hill. Don’t know who thought the power lines were a good idea.

Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

I stopped on Jewish hill to get a picture of that spectacular view and when I turned around there was a creepy white van stalking me. Sure enough, it was my man. I’ll enjoy this run even more when he can make it with me. I headed back to the river and finished up through the downtown streets at St. Mary’s Basilica, the perfect place to end. Then, back to the room to shower and change, and a delicious Southern breakfast of grits and eggs from the incomparable Natchez Coffee company.

St. Mary's Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary's Basilica - as breathtaking from the back as the front

St. Mary’s Basilica – as breathtaking from the back as the front

Sometimes, when the stars align, runs are magical. Sometimes they’re familiar, like having coffee with an seldom seen friend. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted a run, but I always regret it if I miss one. As one who loves to travel, there is nothing better than exploring new places on foot. Each new running route invariably becomes an old friend that beckons me back again and again.

Learning something every day

I’m not a fan of January.  It’s always been my least favorite month.  As a long time small business owner, it brings to mind taxes and end of the year filing and reports.  As a runner, it means dreary, cold days that send me to the dreadmill instead of running in my beloved outdoors.  I often find myself vaguely depressed and unsettled in January.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  

Last year at this time, I was still nursing a knee injury incurred during training and running the NYC marathon.  I was also battling a huge bout of depression after having that event to focus on for such a long time, then suddenly being rootless.  This year, my man is still recovering from his much more serious injury incurred last September.  He’s doing well, but it’s been a long, slow recovery and I’m as ready as he is for him to be at 100% again.

But, this January has been a little different for me.  I’m learning to embrace things that have previously brought darkness to my life, so I’ve done some things this month that I would never normally do.  In looking for the bright side of January, I’ve discovered some things about myself that are surprising.

In a previous post, I recounted the fun 5k I ran with my daughter.  It was wicked cold, and I would be lying if I said that I loved the race, but what I did love was the feeling that she and I both shared afterward.  The feeling of a job well done, in spite of less than ideal conditions. I learned not to let anything stand in my way to a goal.

I took some time off over the holidays, and really enjoyed that recovery time.  When the new year rolled around, I was ready to get back to my regular training program.   I resumed my strength training, and have found, to my surprise and delight, that I’m actually not minding it.  I usually hate it and grumble about it incessantly.  My running, which was going very, very well in October and November, then not so much in December, has picked back up and feels great again.  I’m building miles and training for an early March half marathon that I’m really looking forward to. I learned that time off from running is not only okay, but will usually make you come back better and stronger.  I also learned that sometimes “just doing it” makes it less of a chore.

This week has been a perfect example of Mississippi winters: muggy, rainy, and warm over last weekend,  cold and rainy on Monday and Tuesday, snow on Thursday, then beautiful sunshine and 66 degrees for the weekend.  You never know what Mississippi weather will throw at you, so you better learn to appreciate all of it.  I ran Tuesday morning in the rain.  At one point, it was hard enough to make my man coming looking for me.  When he saw I was okay and didn’t want to get in the truck, but wanted to finish my run, he drove off muttering something.  I didn’t hear exactly what he was saying, but the words “crazy” and “death of cold” drifted back to me as he drove away.  Of course, as this was coming from the man who is still limping from a dirt bike racing accident, I gave it the weight it deserved.

I really enjoyed that rainy run, the quiet of the morning was broken only by the occasional car splashing by and the honking from the geese that flew overhead.  Love those quiet times, with just the pounding of my feet and the prayers in my mind to keep me company.  Thursday we awoke to huge snowflakes falling to the ground.  I’m adventurous, but I’m not crazy, so I sat by the fire and drank my coffee until the snow passed.  Then, I laced up and headed out.  I discovered that I didn’t hate running in the cold that day.  I was dressed for it (I remembered my neck gaiter!), and the quiet of the morning with the sun peeking through occasionally to flirt with me was a combination too tantalizing to resist.

Dressed for success in the cold

Dressed for success in the cold

My neck gaiter - schwag from the NYC marathon, finally useful!

My neck gaiter – schwag from the NYC marathon, finally useful!

I run long on the weekends, and yesterday brought weather that was almost perfect.  One thing I do like about winter is the fact that I can sleep in, snuggled in my warm bed next to my man, without having to worry about getting overheated on my long run.  I didn’t start my run until after 9, which is really late for me, but the weather was simply breathtaking.  Cool, sunny, the kind of weather that just makes you want to be in God’s beautiful creation.   I met it in the brightest colors I could manage – I wish the picture was a little better so you could appreciate how loud I was. According to the weatherman, we’re going to have sunshine for the week!  Now that’s what I’m talking about!!  It makes me pine for spring a little less when I awake to sunshine streaming in on my face. I learned that there’s something to love in every kind of weather or situation. Looking for the bright side, that greener grass, takes practice, but is well worth the effort.

Neon orange shirt - check; zebra print skirt and arm warmers - check; neon pink compression sleeves - check; I need some neon green!

Neon orange shirt – check; zebra print skirt and arm warmers – check; neon pink compression sleeves – check; I need some neon green!

This year, January has been much kinder to me.  I have my mind set on renewal and redemption, looking forward to the year ahead. Can’t wait to meet its challenges for a change!

Dirty tricks and the beauty of youth

Ready before dawn

Ready before dawn

What on earth would make this anti-cold, 51 year old woman don a tutu and get up in the wee hours on a cold January morning to run a 5K?  When her 23 year old, new runner daughter says, “Hey, Mom, want to run a race?”  Yes, there are many things we do for our children that we won’t do for anyone else.  And, I’m so excited that she’s caught the running bug that I put that tutu on and ran with a smile on my face.  Well, mostly.  It was really cold.  And, she beat me.  But, we’ll see about that come spring.

This race hurt.   I don’t do cold.  I train in the cold weather by carefully calculating the warmest part of the day and running then.  I know, I’m a wimp.  Compared to some, it’s not even that cold.  Even so.  It’s cold to me. I hate the way cold makes my throat and lungs feel.  I turn into a hypochondriac and begin to feel pain in body parts I don’t even have.  If you’ve followed my blogs from the beginning, you know that my first major race was the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon in 2010.  One of the coldest winters Mississippi had in many years.  Seventeen degrees at the start, nineteen at the finish.  Still the race I’m the proudest of, but thinking of it makes me want to bury myself in my nice warm bed on a cold January morning.

But, I’m glad I did this one.  At the start, Kaitlyn was trash talking me about kicking my butt.  Then, she tried wheedling a little by telling me that her self esteem would be terribly damaged if I beat her.  She is her father’s daughter, no dirty trick stays in the bag.  I told her, “Suck it up, buttercup, you aren’t 5 anymore.  If you beat me on this one, it’ll be because you earned it.”  We started too fast, as usual, but we had to get ahead of the walkers.  Kaitlyn was busy mugging for her dad & adjusting her iPod and ran into a sign, probably the best moment of the race.  We were running with precious friends of ours, Amanda Beech, champion tutu maker, and Amanda “Piper” Howard.  Amanda Beech made my beautiful tutu and hers and ran the race even after just recovering from the flu.  She is one on my real life heroes in SO many ways, running today after being sick just adds to her mythic aura.

We stayed together for the first mile, then on mile two, I broke away.  I found my rhythm and headed out.  Unfortunately, by mile three, my rhythm had coated my throat and made breathing difficult.  I felt myself slowing, and sure enough, my girl came thundering past, pausing long enough to pinch me on the rear on her way by.  I had to smile.  She earned it.  I’ll get her when it warms up.

Didn’t PR, but my time was good enough for an AG win.  Of course, when you’re the oldest broad there, that’s a given.   We followed it up with breakfast with my man (who was there to document and cheer us on) at IHOP, then headed home.  I think Kaitlyn slept the rest of the day.  Ahh, to be 23 again…

Kaitlyn at the start right before she crashed into a sign.

Kaitlyn at the start right before she crashed into a sign.

Kaitlyn finishing ahead of me - you can see my blue tutu behind her

Kaitlyn finishing ahead of me – you can see my blue tutu behind her

My beautiful friend, Amanda

My beautiful friend, Amanda

Finally at the finish. I have to say, I really like the tutu...

Finally at the finish. I have to say, I really like the tutu…

The Lesson of the Leg

Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who had been married a really long time.  One day, they realized they were in the most magical time of their lives so far.  Some people called it “middle age”, but they just called it fun.  They worked hard, played hard, and enjoyed life to the fullest.  They loved to travel, and one day they went on a trip to a galaxy far, far away.  They had lots of things planned on this trip, including travels to many places they had never seen before.  To start the trip, the man was participating in a dirt bike race, which was his passion.  Unfortunately, his race was cut short by an evil tree that jumped in front of his bike and broke his leg.  After everyone in the kingdom had a look at it, it was decided he needed to be sent to another galaxy in order to get the best treatment possible.

The man and woman spent a week dazed and confused in a hospital far from home, but after two surgeries by talented magicians and many more people in the kingdom oohing and ahhing over the unusual injury, they boarded a plane meant just for them and flew back to their little nest on the hill.  One more surgery awaited the man, then the healing began.

Being true believers, the man and the woman knew that there were lessons to be learned though any unfortunate experience, so in the stillness that followed, they sought the light.  True to His word, He offered answers, and the first one was immediately apparent.

*Be still.  The man and the woman had worked and played hard for many years, and had often filled their lives with “busyness” instead of business.  The woman struggled with this more than the man, but they both shared the trait.  A broken leg makes you be still in a way you never understood before.  Caring for one who is temporarily disabled makes you prioritize the work in your life.  Being still makes you much more able to hear God speak.

*Bad things happen to good people.  Even when they’re doing everything “right”.  Don’t be surprised or spend your time in anger when they happen to you.  Look for the lesson, it’s somewhere close by.

*Life isn’t perfect.  For every hill, there’s a valley.

*Just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out.  This was a lesson for the woman.  After the first few pain filled weeks, the man began to work out again, figuring out what he was able to do and setting about doing it.  He went to physical therapy, did all the exercises they prescribed when he wasn’t there,  even resumed his strength training to the best of his ability.  The woman was awed and humbled and resolved not to whine so much about her workouts.  That’s a work in in progress.

*Take time to heal.  We all have events (physical, spiritual, and emotional) that are traumatic and life changing.  Give yourself time to heal before you try to resume your “normal”.  And, realize that sometimes, life gives us new normals.

*Take care of yourself.  The man’s healing and recovery were greatly enhanced because he had spent the last years taking care of himself.  Keeping his weight at a reasonable level, working out, and playing hard.

*Pursue your passion.  Many people would be deterred from pursuing their passions when faced with a setback like a broken leg .  But, one thing the man taught the woman through all their years together was that life is about chasing dreams.  Setting the bar so high that you almost have to reinvent yourself to grab it.  Going for the gold requires endurance, stamina, desire, and a little luck, but it also requires a passion.  Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.  Dream big, and work hard.

*Choose joy.  Life is full of hard things.  Illness, injury, brokenness, even death.  Those things are part of our walk, and if we allow them to, they’ll suck us under.  Joy is a life decision that has to be made every day, sometimes every moment of every day.  That doesn’t mean walking around grinning like an idiot, it just means that you choose to persevere through the trials and emerge victorious on the other side.

The end of the story is still being written.  With God’s blessing, there should be many more years of magic.  As the new year dawns, the man and the woman are still learning the lessons of the leg and are limping into the future hand in hand.