Old dogs, new tricks

A long time ago, when I was running strong and couldn’t envision a time that I wouldn’t be, I wrote a post in which I made the statement, “I love my legs.” It wasn’t a boastful post, as my legs are nice, but nothing to crow about. Rather, it was a post about thankfulness. Thankful that my legs took me places, held me up, helped in my quest for adventure. Years later, after many injuries, come-backs, more injuries, and illnesses which sidelined me from running, I have to say that statement stands. Probably even more now than then, I’m thankful for my legs. They take me where I want to go, and I know many people who don’t share that privilege. They’ve led me into new adventures, proving, yet again, that old dogs can absolutely learn new tricks.

Gary and I have been hiking for a number of years, and a few weeks ago, we were hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness area of Bankhead National Forest in Alabama. It’s fall here in the south, and the colors and sights are breathtaking. I made an off-hand comment that I’d be willing to do some wilderness backpacking, and that was all my man needed. Many dollars later, he had us outfitted and ready for bear. If you know me, you know I’m very attached to my perfect mattress and high thread count sheets, but I’m more game in my old age than I used to be, so we took a week and devoted it to hiking and backpacking.

Oh my. I can’t even describe how glad I am we’ve added wilderness backpacking to our repertoire. Come along as I take you on our first foray into the wild.

Thompson Trailhead

Don’t let the bucolic scene above make you believe this is going to be an easy hike. Because it’s not. All the info we read (And by we, I mean Gary) claims this is a fairly easy trail, and maybe it is if you’re 25 and in great shape. I’m not. The trail is medium to hard hiking, with lots of downed trees, slippery rocks, and up and down traverses with tricky footing. But the views…

We hiked roughly six miles in, then set up camp, as it was not too long until dark. As always, my man prepared us well.

After putting the cover on and the sleeping bags in, this was as cozy a nest as I’ve ever slept in.
Filtering water
Not quite Mamaw’s dumplings, but very tasty all the same
Getting ready for dinner

After a solid 12 hours in the sack, we were ready for adventure the next day. We set off in search of the Big Tree, but took a wrong turn somewhere and didn’t find it. No worries, though. Just a reason to come back.

We returned to camp and packed up to head back. On the return journey, we ran into some friends.

Pays to keep your nose clean. No telling where you might meet your pastor.

After roughly 18 miles in two days on bodies not quite as young as they used to be, I’ll admit the last two miles to the truck felt a lot like a death march. We finally made it back, stopped for a hot meal, then headed back to our base camp at Trace State Park in Tupelo for a really good night’s rest.

He’s an artist as well as trip planner. And, I’m pretty sure he’s Superman (Don’t tell anybody).
Forty pound packs are new to me. I felt like I needed ankle weights when I took it off to keep me on the ground.
And, finally, a reminder to bloom where you’re planted. This tree grew on a rock…

There are many more wilderness backpacking hikes in our future, I hope. This one, our first in almost 40 years of marriage, was a magnificent success.

The “D” word

Today’s run was one of those ugly, demoralizing events that made me question whether I should just throw in the towel, quit trying to rebuild my running base and take up competitive eating. I think I would be really good at that. I’m not that great at running.

Yes, it was ugly.  If you live in the south, you know that it’s hot.  No, I said that wrong.  IT’S.  HOT.  Insanely hot. Even for me, who really likes to sweat.  Especially if, through your own laziness and forgetfulness, you get up late, forget there’s a 5k at your usual running spot, and have to drive 15 minutes to another one.  No one to blame but me.  I know I need to be running no later that 6:15, so when I don’t get up until then, I’m already in a deficit.  Anyway, enough complaining.  It was hot, I was late, it was hard, it was ugly, but I got it done.  Four miles, even.  You did not want to be downwind from me when it was done.  And, if there’s any cell phone video of it while it was happening, I’m going to be needing that.  No one else needs to see just how ugly it really was.

Today’s run (and other recent doozies) was a reminder to me that nothing worthwhile (like good health) is easy to obtain.  I’ve managed to let me health decline, while allowing my weight to creep up, and it’s just going to take awhile to get back to the starting line.  As my wise daughter texted me the other day, “I wish getting fat hurt as much as getting fit.”  Ain’t it the truth.  (She’s so far from fat that’s almost laughable, but she knows the struggle is real, so she’s putting the effort in early.)  If getting fat hurt as much as getting fit did, I know for a fact I would be a size 2.  Running hurts.  Pizza feels good.  Not eating bread sucks.  I’m sorry, there’s just no other way to really say that.  

It’s physically and mentally painful to get fit.  It often requires more effort than I’m willing to give it, and this time of year, in South Mississippi, it takes 10 times the amount of effort it took just three short weeks ago.

I know why I do it.  I want to be healthy. I love to live life; scuba diving, hiking, exploring, letting my feet and lungs take me places others never get to go.  I have a hunger to experience life that it seems only my feet can fill.  I like the way the world looks from the trail.  And, I can’t run that trail, hike that hill, dive that reef, even walk all day in a new city, if I don’t keep chasing that running dream.  For me, it’s that simple.  

The reality of that 5 am wake up call is something else altogether.

Which brings me to that “D” word.

2Tim1-7

That verse is the first one I ever committed to memory as an adult out of need. It’s meant various things to me over the years. I’ve called it forth when I was fearful of something, whether it was as simple as singing a solo in church, or as monumental as trying to mend relationships that seemed broken beyond repair. At this point in my life, the “D” word is the one that jumps out. Yes, Discipline. Yuk. There are several translations of the words “self-discipline”, some translate it as “sound mind”, others as “self-control”. This is my favorite translation.

As I’ve pulled it into my heart this week in a daily reminder, I realized something that I don’t think I ever thought of before. This is a gift God has given me. The ability to discipline myself. Discipline as a gift? That had to settle in awhile before I grasped the absolute loveliness of it.

As with all His gifts, He’s given me the choice of whether to receive it or not. I can continue in my life as I have: sleeping in, eating/drinking too much, not allowing this gift of discipline to take hold in my life and set me on the path towards my goals; or I can embrace it with open arms and let it fill me with determination (another “D” word). I choose the latter.

Sigh. I really miss pizza.

warm up

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.

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.)