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

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.)

Love the one you’re with

To be honest, I never liked that song. If you can’t have the one that you want, love the one you’re with? Really? No, get over yourself and go for the one you want and let the one you’re with go find someone who appreciates how amazing they are.

…Anyway…

faith_human nature_marathon

This past weekend, my man took me to NYC. You may remember, this blog started during my training for the 2011 NYC marathon. The first Sunday of November each year in NYC finds thousands of runners of various abilities pounding the pavement through the five boroughs of NYC, aiming to win, hit a personal best, or to simply finish. I was one of those brave souls then, and I’m proud of my less than illustrious finish, even if it wasn’t the time goal that I had originally sought. For me, it was about setting a goal and finding the mental strength and the determination to see it through to the end.  I did that.

This year, when I learned that Meb would be running NYC after his historic Boston finish, I knew I wanted to go watch him run. So, my man and I booked our trip, and last Friday , we headed to one of my favorite places to watch one of my favorite races and try to chase Meb through the boroughs. We had a blast running around Brooklyn, trying to find the best spot to see the elite men and women, then hopping back on the R train and heading back uptown to try to catch them again.

What on earth does that have to do with loving the one you’re with? Let me explain.

I love NYC. Since my very first trip there in 2006, it’s been my favorite city to visit and explore, and I’ve made trips there at least once a year since then. Each trip has various goals, but some goals are the same every time. I always want to: see at least one Broadway/off Broadway show; run a new route; visit at least one new historical icon; run in Central Park; eat lobster ravioli in Little Italy, a hot pretzel, and a Nathan’s hotdog at least once each; go to a new museum; and simply walk the city as much as possible. We achieved each of these goals (some more than once), except the Nathan’s hotdog. That’s ok. I’ll eat two on my next trip. 🙂 And, I’ll spare you a pic of the half dollar size blister on my heel from walking around the city.  You’re welcome.

New York City was one of the first trips I made when I began running again. I visited with my sister and got up early (while she talked business on the phone and blew cigarette smoke out the window of our No Smoking room) to run in Central Park, by myself, with no fear and tons of amazement. I ran a bit, took a few pictures, and dreamed. I dreamed of being a faster runner, of running new paths, of exploring the world through running, and of becoming the woman that I envisioned – one who pursued her dreams while raising her family and being the woman that God wanted her to be. Big city, big goals. I’m still working on those goals, all these years later, but one of those goals I met in 2011 – to run the NYC marathon. It wasn’t pretty, but it was fun, and I finished with a smile on my face.

This year, as I watched the amazing athletes (elite and real people) run the boroughs and reach for the stars, I was awed and humbled. We made the journey to see Meb run (hey, you have your celebrity crushes, I have mine), and were able to catch him at the beginning of the race (around mile 2 in Brooklyn), and close to the finish (around mile 24 in Central Park – geez, those dudes are fast). We were able to see some of my other celebrity crushes, Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher among them, as we waited for the elite men to zoom through.

Elite women in Brooklyn (around mile 2)

Elite women in Brooklyn (around mile 2)

Elite men in Brooklyn (pic by my man since my phone was dead; and yes, that is my Medusa hair as I shot with my GoPro)

Elite men in Brooklyn (pic by my man since my phone was dead; and yes, that is my Medusa hair on the bottom left – the wind was brutal!)

Deena Kastor, mile 24.  God bless the Old Broads.  Although, at 41, she barely qualifies.

Deena Kastor, mile 24. God bless the Old Broads. Although, at 41, she barely qualifies.

Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher

Then, came my favorites, the real people. The ones like you and me, the ones whose eyes aren’t set on winning, but on a dream, a goal. One that’s personal and private. One that makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something, one that makes them believe in themselves. One that reminds them that, as bad as life can sometimes be, there’s always hope. These are the people I love. The ones who know that life really only has the limits that you allow it to have. The ones who understand that nothing is a given; life isn’t always easy; that a life worth living is filled with dreams and hopes, even when it’s hard; and the only person who can fix it/achieve it/fulfill it is themselves. I love these people. Watching them race on Sunday; some with grins, some with grimaces; all different body types – some looking like runners, others looking like me; some in obvious pain, others with a smile of wonder on their faces; some fast, some slow; some walking, some running;, some crying, some laughing; some singing, some barely hobbling along: these people are my people. The ones who know that dreams are achievable, borne to us on the wings of hope, faith, and pain. The real people. The ones who make marathons sing with joy and hope, overcoming pain and sorrow, disease and trouble. My inspiration.

Real people, the ones who really deserve our applause

Real people, the ones who really deserve our applause

And, that brings me back to loving the one you’re with. One day, several years ago, this old broad decided it was time. Time to reclaim my life, my health, my sanity. Time to reach for the stars. In a life only marked by mediocrity, it was time to reach for my own personal definition of success. To embrace the body I was in and begin to seek good health, sanity, a life lived well. If I had waited to start running when I was thin enough, or fit enough; if I had waited for that perfect moment in time when it all came together, I would never have started.

It’s still a struggle. I have good days, weeks, months when running seems effortless; then a long, long string of bad ones. I struggle with injury, with losing weight, with finding time. I struggle with speed, with endurance, with motivation. I just struggle.

Still, I run. I’m taking the body I have and I’m moving it forward in pursuit of the body I want. It’s an ongoing pursuit, a never ending battle. But, I love the one I’m with. I’m content in my pursuit.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0501.

 

 

A few images of our fun weekend in NYC:

I love Brooklyn

I love Brooklyn

Finally walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.  My man has NEVER been able to walk the line.

Finally walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. My man has NEVER been able to walk the line.

Central Park run -  the Reservoir

Central Park run – the Reservoir

The skyline as I left the MOMA

The skyline as I left the MOMA

Central Park in the fall

Central Park in the fall

9/11 memorial

9/11 memorial

And me, keeping the faith and learning to love the one I’m with.

Central Park, Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir; Fall, 2014

Central Park, Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir; Fall, 2014