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.

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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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Some (belated) goals for the new year

I’m a person who tries to focus on the positive.  My life is good, my glass is half full, every cloud has a silver lining, and the grass is greener on my side of the fence.  I see good in everyone, and I generally give people the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, though, 2013 found me walking around with that nasty, proverbial cloud following me.  No silver lining, just a dark, ugly cloud.  I often let anxiety take control of my emotions, and forgot to release my worries to God a lot more than I care to admit.  I think I achieved full hermit status – staying at home, working alone, going to bed by 8 and sleeping in, hiding behind my computer and not reaching out to anyone.  I intend to change that this year.

I’ve set some goals for this year – write something every single day, run a spring and a fall half marathon, lose this pesky weight, give my liver some breathing room by cutting my wine intake, reconnect with old friends, and make new friends. I’m excited and terrified all at once.

How do you even go about making friends at 52?  I want some friends who share my interests.  As much as I love my old friends and as much fun as we have together, not many of them are runners, and few seem to be readers, either.  I want to join (or start) a book club, and find some women my age who enjoy running so we can encourage and motivate each other.

It amuses me that so many of the women who share my interests are either the “crunchy granola”, super nerdy, or over the top competitive types.  Hmmm… maybe I’m not as cool as I thought, and maybe I’m more competitive than I realized.  Food for thought…

Another goal I’ve set is to read more and watch TV/mindlessly browse social media less.  Not batting a thousand on this one yet, but I’m better than I was, so I consider that a small victory.  I have so many books on my “to read” list that I’ll never get them all read if that insidious box (my TV) doesn’t stop squawking constantly.  Lately, I’ve enjoyed sitting beside my man late into the night (at least 9 pm), reading while he watches XYZ on the tube.  Yes, I’m trying to push past 9 pm, I realize how completely lame that hour is.

Baby steps, people, baby steps.

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Don’t grow weary

2013 wasn’t a stellar year for me in running or in life.  Nothing major on either front, just small things that piled on top of each other and kept me from being my personal best.  I’ve taken a few weeks off since my last race, running sporadically and riding my bike some, and the time away has been good.  Now I’m ready to get back to business.

When I received an e-mail from You Version  about selecting one Bible verse to make my personal focus for 2014, I was intrigued.  It only took a moment for my verse to come to me.  Isaiah 40:31, the mantra I latched onto during my last race of 2013.

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.

Of course, this verse speaks to me in the literal running sense, but as I thought about how to apply it to my life, I realized it was perfect for me as a focus for this year.  I, of course, have goals set for the year, some involve running, but many are life goals and I needed this reminder that my faith will give me strength to run my race and not grow weary.

This year I will run and not grow weary:

…as I learn to love people again.  This sounds odd, I know, but it’s very easy to become hermit like when you work from your home and spend much of your day alone.  I’ve grown complacent about reaching out to others and inviting them into my life, and I have some goals to remedy that.

…as I grow used to intentional stillness.  At any given point, you could walk into my home and find two televisions blaring with no one watching them.  Or, you might find me mindlessly checking Facebook or other social media – time better spent in quiet reflection.  That doesn’t mean I’ll give up social media or quit letting Big Bang Theory and NCIS reruns make background noise as I work, but it does mean there will be more time spent in stillness.  I often run without music because I love the quiet reflection and creative thoughts produced.  I’m excited to see how much more creative I’ll become as I let God fill the empty spaces in my mind rather than Leroy Jethro Gibbs or Sheldon Cooper.

…as I tidy up my life.  I mean this in a very literal sense.  The ridiculousness of my closet was brought home to me when I tried to cram another new skirt onto already overstuffed racks.  I’ve used the downtime I’ve had over the last month to begin the painstaking process of cleaning out, selling some on eBay, giving some things away, and trashing some things.  I’m not in a hurry, which is a good thing, as I think this will probably take all year.  I’m being  brutal about it.   I may (or may not 😉 ) have had a slight problem with shoe shopping over the years .  I’ve paired down my shoes to the ones that I actually wear (for the most part), and have given, thrown away, or sold the others on eBay.  I even sold a much beloved pair of Jimmy Choo’s!  My sweet little nephew happened to be here the day I was cleaning out my shoes and he helped me move all the ones I’m getting rid of to my guest room, which is the temporary host to all my junk.  He told me that I had more shoes than anybody he’s ever seen.  Sigh.  Out of the mouths of babes.  Anyway, check out  eBay occasionally, you may find some great deals.

…as I hone my craft(s).  It’s sometimes a little overwhelming to realize how little I actually know and how much there is left to learn.  I’m proof positive that you can teach an old dog new tricks, though, and I’m learning how to be a better writer and photographer with every day that passes.

…as I implement good nutritional habits in my life.  I’ve spent the last year or so discovering what works for my body and what doesn’t.  I’ve learned that dairy doesn’t really agree with me, and that I feel best when I use good common sense in my eating.  For me, this means keeping carbohydrate intake to a minimum, focusing on whole, nutritionally dense foods, eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners, restricting wine intake, and allowing myself occasional indulgences.  The only thing I really miss is cheese, so that’s what I indulge in when I splurge.  My holiday menu would have made you laugh.  Almost every dish included some type of cheese.  I even roasted a brie!

…as I explore newly discovered aspects of my personality.  One thing I learned in 2013 was that I love to cook.  Who knew?  I’m excited to discover other new things about myself.  I hope I never stop learning, exploring, and discovering.

…as I pick myself back up.  This year, just like all the others, holds no magic power to make me achieve all my goals, overcome every obstacle, and reign victorious through every pitfall.  I will fail at things.  On any given day, I will make poor food choices, not feel like running, have road rage, get mad at my family, say something I shouldn’t.  But, the power of faith, the sure knowledge that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, the remembrances of all those other times I’ve tried and failed, then persevered, all work together to remind me that I can not only do this thing we call life, but do it with style, even if I have fewer toenails and more bumps and bruises.

I hope that you’ll focus on a verse for your life this year as well.  The new year is a great time to brush away any mental cobwebs that have accumulated and start fresh.  Happy 2014!

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Stormy seas

I’m racing on Saturday.  A half marathon.  13.1 miles.  Miles for which I am woefully undertrained.  This due to injuries and illness that have plagued my training this year, but somewhat made up for in the last six weeks training with my man.  We ran our last training run yesterday on the course where the race will be held, a ten miler.  The last three miles were ugly and painful, but we powered through.  Or, he did, as I tried to draft off his energy, but fell behind over and over.  Of course, he waited for me to catch up, then hit it again.  Yes, a man with a really fancy scar and very expensive hardware in his leg is faster than me, even though the break was only a little over a year ago.  (But, I’m not bitter.)

That ten miler was truly an exercise in mental discipline.  I mentioned I’m undertrained.  I’m also still struggling with injury.  Something (often everything) hurt from mile 4 until the end.  About half the run, we ran into the wind.  Queasiness set in about mile 7.  I really, really wanted to quit.  The only thing that kept me moving was that man quietly limp/running slightly ahead of me.  Of course, this morning, I’m glad I endured.  The race Saturday will probably not yield a PR for me, but hopefully, I’ll endure until the end, and come out stronger on the other side.

As I sat in our rented condo at the beach this morning, watching the rainy skies and seas pounding the surf, thinking of recent struggles in my life and the lives of those I love, I began to reflect on what makes us strong.   Have you ever noticed how calm and serene the sea is after a storm?  Or how, after a thunderstorm, the world shines with a new glow?  The same is true in our lives.  It’s the storms of life that teach us, that discipline us, that make (or break) us.  I add the “or break” because sometimes the storms do break us.  It’s always a choice.

stormy seas

I read with interest an article which dispels the notion that many of us have grown up believing, that God won’t give us more than we can handle.  The truth is He will, and does.  But, the more awesome truth is, He won’t make us walk through the storms alone.  And, when we seek answers, He always provides them.

Whatever your belief system is, the hard truth is that we will all have storms.  The “trick” is to choose to look into the storm and believe you’ll get past it.  To choose faith, and not fall into the black hole of despair.  That’s really hard sometimes.  It’s not always easy to have faith, and doubt has a way of teasing the corners of our hearts until we give in to it.  What I’ve learned through running is that you put your head down, chase the doubt from your mind, and keep moving forward.  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  It doesn’t have to be fast.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You’ll eventually cross the finish line.  Maybe battered and torn, but you’ll heal.  And, you’ll heal stronger than you were before.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4

 

Grace to get over myself

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’ve had a tough year running.  Injuries sustained long ago have come back to haunt, motivation has been low, minor illnesses that made me feel yuck stopped me.  Generally one thing after another, and, I confess, I’ve been pretty low.  On the verge of real depression, and often really feeling my age and wondering if I would ever run well again.   Not. Good.

As always happens at low points in my life, I turn inward, seeking God’s voice, willing myself to be still and listen, aching for the peace that surpasses all understanding.  And, as always, He comes through.  He has recently reminded me (gently and not so gently) of the grace He’s allowed in my life.  Of the people He’s put here to help me through, the blessings He’s provided for  me, the abilities He’s given me that He expects me to use.  And, I’ve been humbled.

Humbled by the way He answers our prayers, by the many manifestations of grace He allows us to see, and by the way He walks with us in the storms of our lives.  Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen not one, but two, beautiful babies who medical science had given up on. These babies were prayed over on a global scale  and both had  miraculous healings.  I’ve read or heard of the loss of several beautiful lives, all taken too soon, and the grace their families have shown in the loss, as well as the impact these lives had on those of us left behind.  That only comes from God.  The plight of women around the world has been brought to my attention, and I’ve marveled at the strength and courage many of these women have shown each and every day of their lives.

And, I got over myself.  My problems, which seemed insurmountable and completely encompassed me, have been prioritized.

Here are some definitions of grace:

*elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action (yeah, I don’t think this one applies to me)
*mercy; clemency; pardon (now we’re getting warmer)
*the free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man (Bingo!)

Free and unmerited favor. I look at my life and see so much grace. Of course, the most important grace was granted to me on becoming a Christ follower. Realizing that I am a sinner, and only through God’s perfect plan have I been granted the ability to have a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus Christ. And, because of that relationship, I am granted entry to eternity with Him, as well as many smaller manifestations of grace that permeate my life this side of heaven.

As I look at my life, I see His hand throughout. He has provided me with all the grace I need for this journey.  We’re all on that journey; realizing and appreciating the manifestations of grace throughout our lives is optional.

Of course, it’s easy to write platitudes about grace. To quote definitions and verses about grace that make you nod your head in agreement… “Yes, that’s grace all right.”

What isn’t so easy is to recognize grace in your life. To see how God uses everyday situations, people who are already in your life – your work environment, your play environment. To allow grace to seep in through the cracks and fill your life with His goodness. I’m learning to recognize those. I’m learning to be still, to be attentive to God moments, to be thankful for people He’s given me in order for me to catch a small glimpse of Him, His love, His promises, His grace, in my life. I don’t know what it looks like for you, but here is a small part of what it looks like for me.

Recently, my man and I had a very quiet beach vacation.  We used that time to gently kick start my training plan for an upcoming race, ride bikes, kayak in the bay, read, spend time with each other, listen for God’s voice.  It reminded me that the second largest manifestation of grace in my life is my man.  Don’t tell him, but I think he’s pretty awesome.  Okay, you can tell him.  I think he may already know.

Knowing that I’ve been struggling with my running program, he designed a plan for me that will hopefully get me across the finish line of my half next month upright and uninjured. Emphasis on uninjured.  A gentle mileage increase, and lots of cross training.  Not only did he design a plan for me, he’s training right along beside me. You remember my man, don’t you? The one who broke his leg last year; had not one, but three surgeries on it, and is running side by side with me as I train for a race that means a lot to me, but probably not so much to him. He may even pace the race for me, depending on how well the training goes.

That window of time that I ran faster than him? Yeah, it closed on me. He’s back and will most likely be back to fighting form by the first of the year. Oddly enough, that doesn’t make me resentful (well, mostly). It humbles me.  Another example of God’s grace for our journey.

Who needs an anchor? A photo session on our recent beach trip.

Who needs an anchor? A photo session on our recent beach trip.

I’m thankful that I’m grace filled rather than graceful.  Good thing, because I think the graceful ship has sailed.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5: 3-5