Searching for sanity

After taking a few months off from running following my last race in November, I found myself about mid-March mired in a pit of depression, which I blogged about a few weeks ago.  I’ve always known that running does more for my mental health than anything else I do.  So, I pulled myself up by my shoestrings, threw on my favorite running skirt, and started the long journey back.  And, it’s been a journey.  Until I stopped running for a while, I had forgotten just how much it helps alleviate anxiety, reminds me of the beauty of my life, raises my mood, and makes me feel invincible.  Truly, after a good, hard run, I feel bulletproof.  Work flows more easily, creative thoughts fight with each other to express themselves, the little aggravations of life (like the restaurant that over billed my debit card by $40 and won’t acknowledge the mistake), even the real problems of life lose their power to turn my tummy into a pit of burning anxiety and my mind into a swirling vortex of crazy.

My weekly mileage is still low, my pace is absurdly slow, and until today, every run has felt like a job.  Not a fun job.  More like a “clean the toilet” kind of job.  After it’s been used by men.  Still, I’ve continued to plug away.  I mean, someone has to clean the toilet, right?  I knew that at some point, it would feel a little easier and I would be reminded of why I love to run.

Today was that day.

I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of running.  It’s hard,  it’s hot, it hurts.  Almost always.  And, I don’t want you to think that I’m some gracefully gifted runner who flies along the path like a cheetah, feet barely making contact with the ground, hair flowing out behind me.  I know some of those runners, but I’m not one.  I plod along, scraggly ponytail tucked into the hole of my tattered, smelly running cap.  I’m carrying an extra burden of 15 pounds or so that the short hiatus from running and the food trough I fell into packed onto my short frame.  Sweat runs down my face in rivers and turns my pale (not creamy) skin into a blotch of red spots that make me look like I have a contagious disease.  I’ve never been fast; now I’m positively glacial.

Still, I plod.  Then, sometimes, like today, the plodding rewards me and reminds me why I continue to make this journey.  A run that had some aggravating factors before and during (not going to expound on that, just think “crazy people” – if you’re in business for yourself, you immediately thought of someone) turned into the soul soothing, sanity producing, anxiety eliminating run that I so desperately needed.  I  wasn’t running some fun, new route; the earth didn’t move; I didn’t have a celebrity sighting (and, by celebrity, I mean like Meb or Ryan Hall or Shalane Flanagan); I was only marginally faster than Thursday’s run; I didn’t even see any of the cool critters which often brighten my runs.

Even so, my soul was soothed.  My mind was comforted.  God showed up with His Asics on and ran beside me.  Love it when that happens.

If you never want to run, I get that.  I would never tell anyone (especially another old broad) that they need to become a runner.  What I would tell you is this:  If you’re searching for sanity; trying to pull yourself out of the pit; or looking for goals and trying to decide what the next phase of your life holds,  you will almost always find the answers on the trail.  Walk it, run it, or do some creative combination of the two. Just put one foot in front of the other and move.

Sanity lies just over the next hill.

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Confessions

It’s been two weeks since my last confess… wait, that’s not right. Ok, My name is Jayne, and I’m a run-aholic. Hmmm… that’s not right, either.

I haven’t run in almost two weeks, and nothing feels exactly right. In that time, many things have happened. Our government has quit and is threatening to implode, Gary and I had birthdays, fall has arrived, and, apparently, Bruce and Kris Jenner have decided to call their marriage quits. All right, I’m really not sure who Kris Jenner is, but didn’t Bruce get an Olympic gold medal or something? Anyway…

I took a couple of weeks off from running. This has been a craptastic year in the life of my training, and I just ran out of steam. I had a slight head cold, so I let that be my excuse to begin with, then I just decided to sleep in on these exquisitely crisp autumn mornings, snuggled close to my man, not feeling the slightest twinge of guilt. Well, almost. There is always a residual of guilt somewhere in my psyche, I think that’s just the way I’m put together. I do have a race coming up in a few weeks. A fairly long one (a half mary). And, if I had to run it this weekend, there’s no way I would make it to the finish. But, I don’t have to run it this weekend. And, I’m starting to get my head back together.

I’ve learned a really important lesson over the last few weeks. For most of the summer, Gary and I have been fine tuning our diet, and trying to eat clean. We have been mostly successful, allowing ourselves occasional indulgences; but for the most part, eating whole foods, prepared by my loving (if not always gifted) hands, carefully balancing our intake to coordinate nicely with our output. Gary lost weight immediately (of course), and while my weight loss has been slower, it has definitely started, so I’ve been encouraged. Then our birthdays hit. We celebrate three days apart and we allowed ourselves several indulgences, including a chocolate cake. We both REALLY miss cake. We also had some cheese dip and chips, and several other indulgences that we don’t normally include in our diets. Now, first of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed every single bite. My stomach, however, did not. After ridding my body of toxins so completely over the last couple of months, my tummy went into full on revolt. I won’t go into details, suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty. Lesson learned.

I’ve always said that diets never reel me in with their science. However, if a diet can become an eating plan for life, makes sense, and keeps me satisfied, I’m willing to try it. The true test is how the eating plan makes me feel. I have to say, eating whole foods with an emphasis on protein, limiting carbs, and trying to keep a watchful eye on wheat (without going overboard) has me feeling better than I have in years. We’ll see how the weight loss goes – that has more to do with how MUCH food I put in my mouth, not just the quality of that food.

I’ll be at the beach next week, and I think I’m finally ready to hit the running trails again. We’ll be riding our bikes some, as well, but some of that will be easy, fun riding. One of my many birthday surprises was the coolest bike I’ve ever had. I may even let Gary make my picture on it next week. If I do, I’ll post a pic. Here’s the bike:

Pink!  And, it has a bell and coffee cup holder!

Pink! And, it has a bell and coffee cup holder!

I have the best hubby ever. He also gave me not one, but TWO first edition books, one by my current obsession, Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood”, the other by Norman Mailer, “The Executioner’s Song”. I was absurdly excited about these. Guess that makes me a nerd? I finished “In Cold Blood” in record time, am working on the Mailer book now.

In addition to the nutrition lesson, I learned an invaluable one about training. When you’re burned out, stop for a while. It won’t hurt you in the long run, and will most likely lead to important self discoveries. I’m not an elite runner, and will never be one. I want to be the best that I can be, at this time in my life. Learning to listen to my body, and heed its warnings has been the best gift I’ve ever given myself.

Memories and milestones

We all remember where we were this day twelve years ago.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, the memories are still so fresh.  It’s important to remember, to have days set aside to honor those who lost their lives to vicious attacks by mad men.  But, it’s equally important to look forward with hope and joy.

I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, but one of the things I do love on days like today are the tributes people post as they remember and honor on this day.  They’re all beautiful and eloquent, but my absolute favorite was by a long time friend and client.  Her beautiful baby girl turns one today.  On a day that so many of us remember with horror, that sweet family has been given a special gift.  A reminder that there is joy, hope, and renewal, always.  Here is her post (their names have been removed):  Today, our country remembers those we lost 12 years ago, and my family celebrates the one we gained – Beautiful Baby Girl – was born at 12:19 a.m. one year ago today! Praise the Lord for His goodness and for creating a day of blessing for our family on 9/11/12. We are so grateful for our little sweetheart!

As I read this, I was reminded that there will always be evil on this side of heaven.  There will always be mad men and women who do truly abominable things.  Satan seems to win too many battles.  But, there will also always be joy and hope.  Life continues and can be lived always looking for evil and doom, or always lifting our eyes to heaven and looking for good.  As sad as this world sometimes makes me, I choose to live my life looking for and believing in the good.  It’s not always the easy way.  Somtimes, like it was on 9/11/01, it feels impossible.

My training plan called for speed work this morning.  If you know anything about me, you know that me and speed are not good friends.  I’m a slow, easy runner who likes to stop and smell the roses, rather than run for them.  I’ve been known to stop dead still in the middle of a hard run, whip out my iPhone, and snap a picture of something that made me smile.  But, I am trying to get faster, so occasional speed workouts are part of the plan.  This morning’s run included a one mile warm-up, then six one minute intervals in zone 4 (or, as I’ve renamed it, zone vomit), with two minute recoveries between.  Ten minutes to cool down, and I’m done.  Simple, huh?  I actually did seven intervals, as I thought I turned my timer on, but somehow didn’t, so had to start them again.  By the last interval, my coffee was threatening a violent reappearance, but I got it done.  And, as  I cooled down, I was rewarded with the most spectacular sunrise, which I captured inelegantly on my iPhone.

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As we remember the people we lost on this terrible day, twelve years ago, I pray that we celebrate the simple, joyous milestones that fill our lives as well. The ability to run three miles and be rewarded with a magnificent sunrise. The birth of a beautiful baby girl. Earlier this week, Gary and I celebrated a huge milestone in our lives – he is one year post broken leg. We celebrated in the way we usually do, low key and with activity, me by running, him by cycling. In fact, it wasn’t until later in the day when I was paying bills that I remembered the date, and posted a before/after pic on Instagram. He’s running some, too, but cycling seems to be the best fit for him right now. I have to say, he has frustrated, aggravated, infuriated, reduced me to eye rolling, and inspired me (sometimes all at the same time) with his pig headedness perseverance.
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I guess the point of this post was this. Don’t let evil win. Remember to celebrate with joy, abandon, and gratitude – even the little things. Like almost throwing up during a speed session. I celebrate that I was able to start my morning with coffee, a run, and the ability to praise in the sun drenched morning.

Portrait of a perfect day

I’m a simple girl.  You might argue the “girl” part of that, but I am easy to please, for the most part, and try to find beauty in every day and appreciate every moment.  But, of course, some days are better than others.  I mostly enjoy my life.  I have family nearby that I love, work that I enjoy, spend most days with my man,  and travel a lot.  Then, there are days like today.  What does my perfect day look like?

Friday evening date night with my man that included a little history (Hank Aaron museum), a little baseball (Mobile Bay Bears vs Mississippi Braves), an excellent (and seldom enjoyed) hamburger, a little wine, and an early evening.  An early morning run in beautiful, historic old Mobile with my man running beside me.  Weather that makes you feel like you could run for days, with just the barest hint of fall in the air.  A surprise encounter with a photographer/running friend I met at Texas School who lives in Mobile and was out for her early morning run.  Running clothes that look like I’ve fallen into the pool at the end of a seven miler.  (I do like to sweat!)  A delicious breakfast followed by coffee from Starbucks to accompany us as we travel home.  Riding with the top down in my sweet little pony car and Aaron Neville’s silky voice at full volume.  An afternoon stretched ahead of me with nothing to do but write a little, watch a few Big Bang reruns, and read while the ballgames play on our TV.  Simple things.  Things that make me smile.

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I hope your day is filled with simple pleasures, too.

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I am who I am

challenge

If you’ve ever been to an Atlanta Braves game, you know that one of the highlights of the game is the “Tool Race.”  I wish they would dial back the commercialism some, but it is fun in a silly way and a nice break from the tension of the game.  Home Depot is one of the sponsors, so each of the “runners” is a tool (with appropriate logos emblazoned strategically):  “Two Bit” (the drill),   the hammer, the paint brush, and the paint bucket.  The bucket has replaced the saw this year, I think, because I don’t remember seeing him before.  And, I would have noticed, because, as it turns out, he runs a lot like me.  Slow and unwieldy instead of sleek and fast: he pounds along.  He used his cunning in one of the races the other night, and either pushed down or tripped all his opponents to win that race.  Of course, that came back to bite him the next game, when hammer and Two Bit clotheslined him and he fell.   Maybe I would win more races if I knocked all the old broads out of the way and steamrollered through.  Hmmm….I’m not crazy about the karma thing, though, so I guess I’ll keep plugging along and concern myself with keeping my own body upright.

I’m training for a half marathon at the end of November and just entered week 3.  This morning’s run called for an easy six miler, and I accomplished it with the appropriate amount of energy, ending with a nice feeling of accomplishment, and without leg pain, so it’s a win.  It was slow. Excrutiatingly slow, actually.  But, all my runs are, it seems.   I sometimes let that eat away at my self esteem, feel less like a runner, or compare myself unfavorably to other runners, which further erodes my confidence.

As I ran this morning, I plodded along.  Slow and steady, trying to put miles on my legs while staying injury free.  About mile four, a young woman ran by me,  passing me like I was standing still.  The inevitable comparisons started in my head, and I tried to quiet them by concentrating on the podcast I was listening to.  Believe it or not, it was about that very thing.   Comparisons.  Andy Stanley’s messages offer Biblical solutions for real world problems in a way that exemplifies exactly what Jesus taught us to do.  This podcast was from his  “Your Move” with Andy Stanley section, which takes sermon series he’s done in the past and replays them.  It was entitled, “The Comparison Trap – The Land of Er.”

I loved it because it encapsulated exactly what I was feeling.  I want to be fastER, strongER, thinnER, fittER than I am.  All those things, in themselves, are okay.  It’s when I allow the inevitable comparisons with other runners to eat away at my motivation and make me feel less than I actually am that the trouble starts.   The young woman who blew past me this morning was at least 25 years younger than me.  I look at other runner’s times, and think “I’ll never be able to run that fast, why am I even trying?”  My head tells me to stop that, and lists reasons why someone may be faster than me (age, sex, genetics all play important roles), but my heart is heavy with the “Er” factor.  And, your head can say all it wants, until your heart understands, it’s tough to reconcile.

So, I’m working on eliminating the “er” from my life.  I will always want to be faster, stronger, thinner, and fitter, but the only comparison I’m going to make is to who I was yesterday, not who the runner in the corral next to me is.  I am who I am, God’s perfect creation, struggling to be who He wants me to be, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  But, it’s my journey, no one else’s.

Don’t think that means I simply shrug my shoulders and accept that I’ll always be slow.  Quite the contrary.  But I don’t have to be the best or the fastest runner, I just have to be better than I was yesterday.  And, just when I think about quitting or giving up on one day being marginally faster than I am, Diana Nyad gives her 28 year old self the finger and swims from Cuba to Key West with no shark cage at age 64.  Geez.  Talk about an “Er” moment.  She gives me hope and is a reminder to never give up on yourself or your dreams.

4 Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.
5 “Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin.” 6 And yet,“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 (NLT)

I’m running with one hand outstretched, asking God to fill it with ability, contentment, strength, and peace.

Faith, prayer, and doubt

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.  Paul Tillich

I actually wrote this weeks ago, when a friend was going through a particularly difficult struggle.  It felt too personal then, but some events this week have made me very introspective about life and it felt right to post it now.

When I pray for those I love, I have a tendency to ask God to ease their path, to make their troubles go away, to give them happiness, to make their lives easy.  As God has increased my faith, though, I have realized that is the wrong way to pray.

I want God not to calm their storms, but to give them the knowledge that they will weather them, and the peace that comes from that understanding.  Not to make their troubles disappear, but through those troubles,  teach them the lessons they need to live their lives with passion and integrity.  Not to give them happiness, but to give them joy.  The joy that comes with the faith of knowing He still walks on water.

As a parent and a loving friend, those prayers don’t come easily to me.  I have an innate desire to keep my kids (and friends) from falling, to prevent their failures, to mend their broken hearts as easily as I tended scraped knees and bruised feelings when they were young.  I’m learning, though.  As we release our children into the harsh, cold, often evil world, we have to let them go.  Let them make their way, walk their own path, learn from their own failures and mistakes, and, yes, allow them to face the evil in the world.

It’s important to face evil and learn to summon our faith when evil presents itself.  The ability to summon that faith is only learned in the school of hard knocks and at the foot of the cross.  We walk (or stumble) through trials for a reason.  Those troubles define us, and it’s up to us to decide if they are going to swallow us or if we are going to rise out of the ashes and put the lessons they teach us to good use. It’s up to us to use those lessons to discover our purpose in this world.

I often wonder if it’s as hard for God to watch us hurt or fail as it is for us to watch our loved ones.  Parenting and loving people are not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

When our kids are very young, we can shield them from the world to some degree.  But, when they’re grown, we have to completely relinquish control.  For a control freak like me, that’s no easy task.  I want to reach into the lives of my children and friends and mop up the mess they’ve made, or even better, prevent them from spilling it in the first place. Pretty arrogant of me, I know.  I’m not sure if learning to let our loved ones fail is a lesson for them or for us.  I suspect it’s an even split.  The knowledge that we can’t fix all their problems is humbling.  It’s also an opportunity to overcome doubt and realize Who is in control.

So, I pray for wisdom. I pray for the ability to listen without speaking, the knowledge to know when to speak and what to say. I pray for the peace of knowing my loved ones are truly seeking God.

When I was younger, I had all the answers.  Now, I realize that I mostly have questions. I was afraid to admit to doubt, unaware that not only is God big enough to handle my doubt, no question is off limits with Him.  I know that when I’m still enough, He guides me.  When I’m troubled, He calms me.  By the same token, when I’m prideful, He humbles me.  I’m thankful for that much wisdom, at least.

I still wish that seeking God was easier.  That finding the answers was as easy as “Googling” it.  I wish our paths weren’t strewn and marred with the detritus of our struggles.  In spite of the seeming unfairness of that, though, there it is.  I always learn more when I stumble through the darkness than when I walk easily in the light.  Accepting that is a life long challenge.  So is learning the art of intercessory prayer.

I pray that I learn how to pray for those I love.  That I learn not to try to make their paths easy,  but to give them comfort and unconditional love as they struggle. That I learn to keep my mouth shut when I need to, and learn to wait for God’s wisdom to speak.  That may mean not saying anything at all.  A Herculian task for me, I’ll admit, but one that God can easily accommodate, if I let Him.

Deep thoughts and big prayers this rainy evening.  I’m thankful my God is able.

You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  Matthew 17:20

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Divine Intervention

Our traditional pre-race photo.

Our traditional pre-race photo.

Kait, Me, my beautiful friend Amanda, and her running buddy, Brad.  So proud of my girls!! Amanda killed her first half mary!

Kait, Me, my beautiful friend Amanda, and her running buddy, Brad. So proud of my girls!! Amanda killed her first half mary!

There are so many things I love about running.  One of my favorite things is that your only real competitor is yourself.  Even in a race scenario, you’re a winner for training and finishing.  Your main goal is to beat your best time at that distance (a PR).  I knew going into this half mary that I wasn’t ready for it.  I’ve really laid low the last month, trying to get my mojo back, working on reconnecting with my love to run, just taking it easy.  So, instead of a taper week, I’ve had a taper month, with only 5 or 6 runs since my last race.  And, no real long runs for all that time.  But, that was okay.  I made the decision (at the strong suggestion of my coach – my man, that is) to just run this race like it was a training run.  He even encouraged me to run naked (NO GARMIN).  And, I agreed.

Race morning dawned way too early and was a little cooler at the start than I like, but promised to warm up quickly.  Kaitlyn ran the 5k, and smoked it.  I’m so proud of her, and especially proud that she realizes what a huge deal it is to shave four seconds off your time.   If she puts her mind to it, she can really excel at this.  She’s been looking for her mojo lately, too, though.  Hope she found it again today.

If you're still smiling, you're not running hard enough.

If you’re still smiling, you’re not running hard enough.

I started out on track. Left the Garmin at home, just wore my pacing timer. I really did feel naked, but as it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t have the Garmin. It was an awesome race – well planned (thank you, Heather Hood, and the rest of the H’burg Clinic team), plenty of volunteers for all those tricky turns, weather was amazing after the coolish start, excellent race course through and around my alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi-recently hit hard and devastated by a tornado, lots of familiar faces, and I felt pretty good. I didn’t worry about pace, but there’s something about a race that makes you a little panicky when you start passing all those runners ahead of you going in the opposite direction. I let my nerves get the better of me about mile 6, pushing it harder than I should, not wanting to drop the ball too far from my wheel house.

Then, at about mile 7 1/2 something happened to me that never has before. I fell. Hard. On my right knee, the one that always gives me trouble anyway. Fortunately, I was rounding Reed Green Coliseum and there was no one around to witness the event (which would have made if infinitely worse), but there it was. A potential race ender. I picked myself up and saw blood gushing from said knee, then limped on around the coliseum. Race volunteers ran quickly to my aid, helping me wipe the blood up, offering to call someone, and expressing heartfelt and genuine concern. I’ll admit, the thought of a DNF did cross my mind appealingly. But, then, I thought about my man with his broken leg, consistently working out and pushing through pain. I thought of how I would feel at the end of the day to have a DNF over a fall. I thought of how I would feel riding back to the finish line, instead of running across it. And, I looked at the sweet race volunteer and said, “I’m good. I’ll walk it out.” And, walk it out I did. After about a half mile or so, I tested an easy jog. Then, I picked up the pace, and finished the race. Because, isn’t that what runners do? And, I realized, this was Divine Intervention to keep me from stressing about my pace (or lack thereof). I couldn’t push hard on a blood dripping knee.

Still bleeding at the finish line.  But, I finished.

Still bleeding at the finish line. But, I finished.

The last five miles had lots of hills, and I took an easy pace that favored my dripping and wobbly knee. When I was about two miles from the finish, a car went by with passengers who yelled, “Go Mrs. Jayne!” I couldn’t see who they were, but I think it may have been my “Run for God” buddies. I turned around and waved, what a boost that was!! Thanks, guys!

As I neared the end, I realized I had no idea how much time had passed. Considering the two potty stops and the time I spent cleaning my bobo, then limping along, I figured I was pushing the three hour mark. A long way from a PR, but like I said, I was trying not to worry about that. I was very pleasantly surprised when I got to the finish line and the clock read 2:40. Maybe I need to run naked more often. 😉

Finish line photo.  Love my man, he's always right there.

Finish line photo. Love my man, he’s always right there.

I read this earlier this week.  Little did I know how much I would need that.

I read this earlier this week. Little did I know how much I would need that.

I think if there’s one lesson I want to take from this race, it’s this. Don’t wait until you can do something perfectly to do it. If I waited until I could be the first across the finish line, I would never cross one. Reach out, grab the world, and run with it. Even if you fall, you’re still ahead of the people who never even give it a shot.