Determination

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I’ve been steadily moving forward, mile by mile, some days inch by inch.  I’m slower than ever, my legs don’t seem to remember that they can run long, and motivation is ever a fickle friend.   The slowness I can live with; I know the endurance will return; but, motivation is sometimes that mean girl whose a** I want to kick.  I know her well enough now to understand that her ebbs and flows are just part of the plan, and I try not to let it keep me from my task.  I learned long ago that discipline is more important in running than motivation, so I’m calling on all my reserves to remind me every morning as I get up to go about my day.  The mornings that she joins me on my run are inspired and beautiful; but I know I can run without her; and, it seems, I often do.  One way I entice her to run with me is to change up my routes, find new running paths, and look for fresh inspiration on every run.

Today was one of those days that motivation deserted me, turning over in bed at the time I needed to rise, and informing me that she was going back to sleep, so I was on my own.  I gave her a vicious shove and headed out without her.  I headed to our local rails to trails, my go-to trail when I have to run with no motivation.  It’s an easy run; very flat and shady; a run I can do on auto pilot.  At the stage my training is in right now, that’s often what I need.  Runs that remind my legs we can do this, but that don’t require a lot of mind games to accomplish.  

I headed out at my usual starting place (Jackson Road station), mind still not on board, and just ran.  I love our local rails to trails (Longleaf Trace): no dogs, no traffic, just people like me, intent on getting their workout in.  One of the really cool things I discovered about this route last year is that there are numerous trails that lead off the path through the woods that are well marked and easy to follow.  I LOVE trail running, but don’t go to many of our trails often, as they are quite a distance to drive, and my man doesn’t really like me to run them by myself.  The trails off the Trace, however, are a different story.  I’m never far from the main path, so running the trails isn’t quite the lone experience it is in the national forests that surround the other trail runs that are within my reach.  On a whim, I darted onto the first trail I came to, Turtle Loop.  It is a short one (1.5 miles) and that was just what I needed for today.

This is what greeted me:

turtle loop

It was at that moment that motivation decided she would join me. I smiled and welcomed her, and on we ran. The smell of a Mississippi spring is almost indescribable. More talented scribes than I have attempted it. The odor of spring honeysuckle takes me back to my childhood, carrying me back to simpler, sweeter times. Yes, the sweet smell of spring brings my allergies into screaming awareness, but I love it, all the same. The path melted away under my feet, taking me up several fairly steep inclines, but giving in return the promise of renewed strength and determination. Glorious, spectacular day. Motivation was running right beside me, drinking it all in. I was happy to have her along for the ride.

At the end of my run, as I returned to the Trace, I encountered a little guy who was, perhaps, a little too on point (I was running Turtle Loop, after all). This very determined turtle was climbing up one of the steepest inclines on the trail. I stopped and marveled at him a few moments, taking a photo and realizing how much alike we were, then I headed on down to the path to complete my run.
turtle_determination I’m quite sure that he made it to the top.

I’m thankful that I know that persistence trumps talent, because, as running goes, I have very little talent. I am, however, one very determined old broad who knows that determination can bring about results that talent can only dream about.

Keep moving forward, my friends.

Quicksand

A few weeks ago, I made the decision not to race at all this spring and work on a slow build up of miles and a stronger core.  And, just like that, my motivation, inspiration, and drive vanished in a puff of smoke, and I landed, face down,  in the middle of a quagmire of quick sand.  It slowly pulled me in until all I saw was darkness, doubt, and fear.  The cold and dreary weather combined with my lack of a tangible goal to make me doubt all my abilities, to fear reaching out of my comfort zone, to wonder if there would be any more big goals in my future, and to sink into the abyss of inactivity.  During times of darkness like these, I tend to lose contact with my friends, only get the bare basics of living accomplished,  turn into myself and away from all those who can help pull me out, and figuratively(sometimes literally) curl up into the fetal position.

If you’ve never dealt with depression, this post will probably not strike a chord with you.  But as one who has fallen into the quicksand before, I know first hand how difficult it is to pull yourself out.  I learned many years ago the things that help me get back onto the path with the light, and running has always been a key ingredient in that mix.  Take away the running, and BAM, I’m soon stuck in the mire.  Throw in a cold, dark winter; changes and challenges in life that I don’t feel equipped to handle; very poor eating/drinking habits; and too much TV, and I’m embedded so deeply it seems I’ll never find the path again.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook) I’ve been here before.  I’m no stranger to the dark, I’ve just learned to combat it well over the years.  The coming of spring is much anticipated, and I think I’m finally seeing the light.  It always helps me to have a plan, so I’ve been busy laying it all out in my head.  I figured it was time I put it down in black and white, it seems much more real and doable that way.

The first thing has been really simple.  I’m reading the New Testament from beginning to end.  I’ve done this before during dark times, and the beauty of those words, the hope of those promises, the reminder that there’s something much bigger than me helps get my head back on straight.

I’ve begun moving again.  Slower.  Than.  Ever.   But, it’s forward movement, so it all counts.

I’m working on my nutrition, and thinking about everything I put into my body.

I’m monitoring my self talk more.  You know, those voices in my head that make me doubt who I am and try to convince me that I’m not really a runner, I’m too old to think I can run endurance races, I’m an untalented hack, I’m not a good person, and that I’ll never be who God wants me to be.  I was honored this week to be included in a blog post by a UK Old Broad who runs, along with several other Old Broad runner blogs.  I showed the post to my man this morning and I caught myself saying to him, “All the others included are real runners.”  I stopped myself and shut that thought down as quickly as possible.  I am a real runner.  I’m not fast, don’t look like a runner, and running doesn’t come easily or naturally to me; but, as Bart Yasso says, “I’ve never met a fake runner.”

I’ve been listening to some very inspirational podcasts, reading some great articles about people who have overcome much greater hardships than the dark pit of depression, and am reminding myself daily that I can, and will do this.  It always helps to know you’re not in something alone, and I know that many others have struggled with or are struggling with this demon of depression.  I’m always happy to lend an ear to anyone who needs to vent or whine.  I don’t really have any answers, except that which has worked for me.  Sometimes it helps to just say things aloud to someone that you know cares. For me, it helps to write about it.

This verse was in my Bible reading this morning:

What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes.

What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!  

Matthew 10:27

Sometimes, Jesus whispers directly in my ear.  I think maybe the darkness makes it easier to hear Him.  And, being face down in the quicksand will really focus your attention on His words.

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Body Conscious

 I was in a never ending checkout line recently, and in a shopping cart a couple of people ahead of me was a young child, being entertained by his mother.  He was having none of it, though, so she lifted him out of the cart and he snuggled into her shoulder with a sigh of contentment.  I marveled, not at the beauty of the child (even though he was absolutely delicious), but at how wondrously designed our bodies are.  The curve of the mother’s neck was perfectly proportioned to accommodate the baby’s sleepy head, her shoulder nicely rounded to accept his fat little arm, her shoulder blade smooth and flat to feel the tap, tap, tap of the baby’s gentle pats.

The beauty of that moment made me forget the impatience of the checkout, my long list of errands, the pile of work waiting on my desk. I remembered with a smile the long ago days of my daughter’s childhood, the feel of her sweet head curved into my neck, the pat of her fat little hand on my back.  And, I remembered with regret that I didn’t truly appreciate the divine design that made those moments possible.  Instead, I wished I were ten (or thirty) pounds lighter; that the cushioning that had nurtured her into being would fade away and leave me with a “perfect” body.

 Why did it take me a half-century to understand the absolute perfection of the woman’s body?  Why have I taken my own amazingly designed body for granted, not appreciated the divine plan of the temple God created in me?  This woman’s body, the one sculpted to nurture a baby, then toddler, then child is also designed to respond to her husband’s touch; to feel joy, pain, grief, and desire; to feel powerful; to feel fatigued.

 The human body is truly a marvel.  It is designed to alert us to impending danger, whether from a bear chasing us, or an illness overtaking us.  When did we stop listening?  When did we stop marveling?  Why is it so easy to spot the flaws and overlook the perfection?

 We live in a world that judges beauty by harsh and unrealistic standards.  We see images of women that have been altered by technology to the point that they’re often unrecognizable, and we think that’s how we should look.  Never mind that the subject of the photo doesn’t even look that way, or that it is usually physically impossible to achieve that look.

We live in a world that’s conditioned us to accept fast food as an acceptable eating plan. A world that’s designed to keep us imprisoned in a chair facing a computer screen or desk for hours on end.  One that encourages us to give too much of ourselves to mindless entertainment, zoning out and allowing our minds to deteriorate along with our bodies.  One that discourages intimacy and allows relationships to be technology based.

 Was it the world that caused all this, though?  Wasn’t it our choices and decisions that brought us to this place?

It’s time for a change.  It’s time to take back our lives, our health, our bodies, our minds.  It’s time to remember that our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, designed to last us a lifetime.

 It’s time to marvel at the beauty of a baby perfectly curved around his mother’s body.

embrace your body

Wintertime Blues

There comes a time in most relationships when passion wanes and you begin to operate on autopilot.  You forget what drew you to each other in the first place, your mind starts to wander, you may even seek a diversion outside your partnership.  No, I’m not talking about marriage (even though I’m sure that’s true of some), I’m talking about running.

Over the last year, my passion for running has cooled.  I’ve struggled for motivation, dealt with injury, looked forward to tapers and time off with a little too much relish.  But, because I’m no stranger to long term relationships, I know that this, too, will pass.  That eventually the passion will return and I’ll remember why I fell in love with running.  I’ve learned that the secret to overcoming that lack of passion is to “fake it til you make it.”  In other words, keep moving forward.  Find your motivation anywhere you can, race a new distance or location, set new goals, maybe find a running partner.  Run even when you don’t feel like it, when you see no discernible difference in your speed or endurance, or when your mind screams,  “Stop!”  Just keep running.  Maybe throw in some cross training, but if running is your heart’s desire, then you just have to run.

An enduring relationship with running is just like any other relationship.  It takes work, discipline, mental toughness, and sometimes, creativity.  Why keep going?  The same reason you stick it out in any relationship.  It’s part of who you are.

Running for me has been a dream maker, a companion, a comfort, a cathartic release, a creativity boost, a way to iron out problems in my mind, a time to grow closer to God.  It’s carried me through the illness and death of my parents, family struggles, financial woes, the sting of criticism and rejection, and the ongoing journey to discover my way.  It feeds me, nourishes me, punishes me, disciplines me, humbles me.  It allows me quality time with God, a time to hear God’s voice and meditate on His promises.  It threatens revolt when I don’t eat well and kicks my butt accordingly. It makes stair climbing easier, gives life to my legs and lungs, and enables me to live a life filled with adventure.  It gives me strength and makes me stronger, it strips away all pretense and reminds me that I’m not Superwoman, I’m just an old broad who runs who can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.

I’ve been watching the Olympics along with the rest of the world, and even though I like the summer games better (with its track and field events), I’ve really enjoyed watching the athletes as they compete in their disciplines.  It takes a great deal of mental toughness to make it to that level and I want to soak up as much of that by osmosis as I can.  Watching Noelle Pikus-Pace’s silver medal skeleton run and her heart warming reaction at the end reminded me of the other bonus in my life that keeps me running and helps with mental toughness.  My family.  I’ve watched the video multiple times now and I’m not ashamed to admit that tears flowed each time.  Knowing that others believe in us and are willing to sacrifice to help us accomplish our dreams helps give wings to our feet and brush the cobwebs from our minds. Knowing that the legacy I want to leave for my girls is one of strength and fitness keeps me lacing up those shoes, even on hard days.

I know running and I will get through this relationship crisis.  We’ve gone too many miles together to stop now.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

 Isaiah 40:13

challenge

Sometimes, it just ain’t pretty

Sometimes running is amazing. My legs and lungs feel strong, the miles fly by in a blur, the sun shines softly, the breeze caresses me. Creative thoughts flow into my mind and stay with me as I go about my day, getting everything on my to do list accomplished. I love those runs.

They are very, very rare.

Some runs are real dogs. Not the cute, cuddly kind that you snuggle with on a cold afternoon. No, the big, drooly kind that flings himself on you for a hug and a sloppy kiss right after he rolls in roadkill. Or, the snarly, vicious one who runs at you out of nowhere when you’re minding your own business, and causes you to have an unintentional and life-threatening PR on a training run.

Today’s long run was a dog. I finished it, but it wasn’t pretty. Everything hurt, my tummy wasn’t happy we were running eight miles, and everybody I saw was making it look easy and effortless. Yep, this one just sucked.

I posted this quote by Marko Cheseto on my Old Broads Run Facebook page this morning:

“Running is the easiest thing in the world. You just put one foot in front of the other and make sure you are moving forward.”

What I love about that quote, what makes it amazing and repeatable is that Marko was a world class track athlete at the University of Alaska, when after a series of sad events in his life, he lost both his legs. After quite a struggle, mentally and physically, he was fitted with running blades, and is, once again, on the rise in the world of running. His story is in the February, 2014 edition of Runner’s World, and is a must read.

I’ve never been a world class athlete. Truth is, I never will be. And that’s okay. My goal in running (and in life) is to be the absolute best that I can be, to find that elusive mental toughness I seek. I don’t run to win races. If that was all I sought, I would have quit a long time ago. I also don’t run to impress anyone. I run because there is a deep-seated need in me to find my best, and I’ve learned that running is one of the pieces of my puzzle.

Even bad runs offer me answers. I guess I should say especially the bad ones. Because those amazing runs, the ones that are effortless and easy, really just soothe my soul, they don’t teach me anything. Sometimes a good soul soother is exactly what I need, and I know that I’ll have those runs again. But, mostly, I need lessons. Lessons in mental toughness, lessons in enduring. Lessons in making the best of a bad situation, lessons in problem solving. Running teaches me all those things, and more.

I’m not mentally tough. I look at Marko Cheseto, and I shake my head at how soft I really am. This man has no legs. Yet, he runs with grace and perseverance. He puts one foot in front of the other and makes sure he is moving forward.

Life is full of challenges. Some big, some small. The way we handle those challenges defines us. It tells the world (and ourselves) who we are and where we’re going.

Sometimes, like on today’s dog of a run, we just have to take a deep breath, put our head down, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Because running is easy. It’s life that’s tough.

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