Choosing gratitude

  
Do you know what this image means?  No, it’s not Groundhog Day, nor am I Puxatawny Phil (I’m hoping he doesn’t see his shadow on Tuesday).  

It means the sun is out this weekend and the weather is fine.  It also means I’ve found a trail to run.  So, you can’t see it in my shadow pic, but there’s a huge grin on my face.  

I use the term “run” in its loosest possible way today.  I have that pesky foot problem that’s still giving me grief, but after a very painful shot, and two weeks of wearing a “toe condom” (don’t ask) and wearing only comfortable (read: ugly) shoes; the issue is feeling much better.  So, of course, on the first pretty weekend in a while, I decided to put it to the test.  

My man and I loaded up our little camper and headed to the woods yesterday.  He to burn up the trails on his dirt bike, me to skip along them at much decreased intensity.  We’re at his riding club’s lease, so he has lots of company.  And, even though it’s a very large lease, I still have to keep my ears open for flying trail bikes, and get out of their way accordingly.  

He and I took our bicycles out yesterday after we got here so that he could show me the paths and help get me oriented.  What he tends to forget in his perfectly balanced world,  is that I’m always too focused on trying to stay upright as we plow over rough terrain to pay attention to the route.  I won’t ever be a threat on the trail biking circuit, that’s for sure.  I much prefer my feet (flawed and painful as they are)  solidly planted, thank you very much.  And, I nearly always find my way back by myself.  So far, at least.  

There’s something intensely satisfying about a trail run, even an excruciatingly slow one.  Other than the sound of distant dirt bikes, I’m kept company by the sound of the wind and the occasional flutter of birds as I scare them up out of their nests in the ground.  The open blue sky, the rattle of the leaves, the smell of fresh dirt.  There’s nothing likely to make me feel more grateful to be alive and for the ability to run.  However slowly.  

I’m reminded to never take the run for granted. I’m reminded that I don’t “have” to run, I “get” to run, and that every single one of my runs has taught me something.  Especially the bad ones.  Mostly small, inconsequential things, like what not to eat before a run, or to never try out new shoes (or bras, socks, shirts, or skirts,etc.) on a long run.  

While those things are important to me, the real lessons have been subtler.  For instance: everything in life is a choice, including gratitude and happiness.  Yes, those things are affected by circumstances, but the final decision to be happy, grateful, content, rests with me.  And, just like I have to choose whether to run or not daily, the decision to live with gratitude and to be happy is made each morning, also.   

While trail running on dirtbike paths has its dangers, it also has some perks.  It’s hard to get lost.  Between the rutted mud tracks and the sound of engines revving, I can always find my way back, even when I take a wrong turn (as I often do).  But, I think the thing I love most about sharing the trail with men who fly through the woods and around trees on two wheels for fun, is hearing them laugh while they’re doing it. That childlike delight of reckless abandon can be clearly heard above the whine of their engines.  

The sound of pure joy.  

That’s the sound my heart makes when I run.  I’m profoundly grateful for it.  

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In this mile

If you read my last post, you know that my confidence in my running ability has dipped into single digits.  For this week’s scheduled 9 miler, I knew I would have to draw on resources beyond my own and play some serious mind games to get it done.   

My man is racing this weekend (dirt bike, not foot) in Pontotoc, Mississippi – about 4 1/2 hours north of our home.  Having been in the area a great deal over the last years for work (and play), we knew that Trace State Park is a beautiful, serene area to get my run on.  In fact, we stayed here when I was training for NYC in 2011, and I did a long run here then, as well.  I even remember I had to do a 13 miler that day, and the hills and valleys the park provided were just the ticket.  Would it be again?  

After much prayer, some whining (okay, a LOT of whining), some deep breathing (exasperated sighs count, right?), and a new determination, I made my plan. 

 I would hit the trails in the park with no direction except to go where the spirit moved me.  And, each mile, I would purposely, consciously, and with direct intention STAY IN THAT MILE.  I wouldn’t think about how many more miles I had to go.  I would ignore the obscenities my hamstring screamed at me.  I would pay no attention to Lady Garmin’s discouraging data screens that carefully calculate my pace and distance.  I would walk when I needed and run when I could.  

I would carefully place one foot in front of the other until I reached the end.  I would find joy in each mile, and be humbly thankful for it.  

Guess what?  It worked.  Running trails is a great way to stay in the mile, as you have to be very aware of where you place your feet.  Especially prone-to-roll-an-ankle me.  Also, many of the inclines were so steep, there was no way to run up or down them, so I didn’t feel a bit guilty for walking.  

  
Trust me.  The image doesn’t do justice to the steepness of that hill.  

Mile one was all about the sunrise.  

  
The trailhead was about a mile from our camp, so the first mile was on the road.  The stillness of the cool, fall morning and the deer crossing the road ahead of me pulled me to the trail with more anticipation than I’ve felt in a long time.  

Mile two found me doing  The Dance of the Spider Webs.  All trail runners (and cyclists, and ORV riders) know that the first one down the trail gets to clear out all the spider webs.  I’m just thankful I was alone, as my dance skills are somewhat rusty.  On the plus side, I brought enough cobwebs back to camp with me that I could make a quilt.   If I was so inclined.  Which I’m not.  

Miles three and four were filled with deer sightings.  I ran into a clearing and surprised an entire herd (do deer travel in herds, like cows?).  They lifted their heads as one to see what lead footed creature dared to come crashing into their space, saw it was just me (who was just as surprised to see them), then flicked their tails at me in disgust and turned, again as one, and gracefully melted into the forest.  I stood still for a moment, watching after them with envy.  Their movements are so elegantly beautiful, and mine are so clumsy.  Still, I was humbly grateful for the moment, and reminded that I don’t HAVE to run, I GET to run. I never want to take that for granted. 

Miles five and six brought more deer, squirrel, bunny, and spider sightings.  They also brought renewed complaints from my potty mouthed hamstring, so I slowed down even more.  By the end of mile six, I headed back to the trailhead to finish up on the road.  

Miles seven, eight, and nine passed more quickly than I had a right to expect and I stumbled back to the campsite where cold chocolate milk and a banana awaited me.  My awesome man helped me stretch my aching, grouchy legs, and I headed for the shower.

After almost three weeks of craptastic runs, and the realization that the upcoming race is probably going to be my slowest one so far, today was much needed.  Non runners may wonder what keeps us running when it hurts so much and seems to give nothing back for the amount of effort we put in.  I could easily write a thousand word essay on why I run, but I can also boil it down very succintly.

This.  This day, this run, this feeling.  The joy of new discoveries, the aching of my muscles that makes me aware of how lucky I am to be able to run, and the way chocolate milk and a cool shower taste and feel at the end of nine miles of trails.  

The exquisite relief of making it to the end and realizing you had it in you, after all.  

   

She believed she could, so she did.

 
And, she found joy in every mile.  

Salty sanity

    The coming of summer has found me plodding along; wiping sweat from my eyes; slowly, slowly, slowly rebuilding my running base. The older I get, the longer that seems to take. Race season will be here soon enough, though; so, build I must.

    For me, spring and early summer are my favorite times to run.  The “dog days” aren’t quite here yet, but the warm, sticky air brings on a salty sweat that gives me a feeling of accomplishment I just don’t get at the end of a cold weather run.  I like to sweat.  It makes me feel like I’ve done something with my day, and makes even a bad run feel like it was a job well done.  It couldn’t have been a bad run, see how the sweat is pouring off me?  

    The sweat of a summer run cleanses my soul.  It feels like all those winter toxins I built up are pouring out of me and I’m leaving them behind in a puddle on the ground.  That winter coat of depression that I wore like  a crown of thorns melts away the sweatier I get.  My feet move faster, my mind feels clearer, and life just feels good.  Call me weird (you wouldn’t be the first); but give me a hot June morning over a cold February afternoon anytime.  I’ll know just what to do with it.  

    I’m running trails this weekend.  On my own.  They aren’t long, and they all circle back to the campground my man and I are staying at (also deliciously on our own), so there’s no danger of getting lost.  My man is working a race (motorcycle, not foot), and enjoying his Father’s Day happy of a new dirt bike –  his first since “the Broken Leg Incident of 2012”. 

    I’m mostly laid back about the whole dirt bike racing thing.  It makes him happy, just as running makes me happy, so I don’t complain.  Or worry.  That sounded believable,  right?  Anyway, I could wish for a less dangerous hobby that would make him smile, but that’s not who he is.  And, probably any hobby has its pitfalls.  I mean, even growing hothouse orchids could lead to… I don’t know, maybe being taken hostage by an orchid bandit?  At least, with dirt biking, my man takes me to some very serene places to run trails.  And, for that I’m thankful.   

      Already muddy.  

     I needed serenity today.  I don’t live a particularly chaotic life, but, sometimes I allow the voices on the Interwebs to drown out the voices in my head and fill me with despair for the human condition.  This has been a week like that.  Even with a minor miracle that my youngest daughter had at school this week, seeing God work in her life, and then hearing from a beloved nephew about how God is working in his, I allowed the screaming voices online to disturb my peace.  To wonder why God abandoned us to such a place as this, and to wonder if He is ever going to come get us.  

    So, today and tomorrow, I’m running back to sanity and away from chaos.   Not fast (am I ever fast?), but along woodsy trails that have been carved out by strong men like my man.  Paths that run wide and deep in some places, and trickle off to a pig trail in others.  Trails that are filled with ruts and roots and slippery orange clay.  Trails that make me pay attention to where I place my foot, and look extra carefully at that root to ensure it’s not a snake.  

    On my first two mile loop, sweat soaks my hat and slides into my eyes and stings.  My winter white legs are shiny and slick over the salty layer of grass and leaves; my shoes, so pristinely clean when I started, have gained two pounds of Mississippi mud.  I stagger back to camp, fix myself a snack, and sit under the dripping trees to refuel. My skirt, shirt,  and sports bra are damp and clammy and my hair, pulled into a sloppy ponytail and shoved through the back of my hat, makes a steady drip down the center of my back.  I’m sure if you came upon me, you would have to stay downwind, but I don’t smell myself yet, so it can’t be that bad.     

    After a short rest, I head out again.  A soft, warm rain begins to fall when I am about midway.  No thunder or lightening, just  the splash of sweet, clean raindrops that gather on the brim of my hat and drip off in a steady patter.  The smell of clean, woodsy rain fills my senses and relaxes my mind.  I trudge on, carefully manuevering around slippery clay, listening to the sound of unseen critters scurrying around me.  My mind is calm.  My heart is full.   Sanity, or at least my version of it, has returned.  

    After another rest, I head out for my final loop.  I often listen to podcasts when I run, but this loop, my last of the day, was just between me and God.  We talked the entire time, and I won’t share with you all of what we said, but I will say this.  I prayed for our nation in a way that I never have. Humbly, and with full knowledge that I’m part of the problem.  I prayed that we, as Christians, and particularly I, will step away from our keyboards, get down off our soapboxes, get up off our comfy pews, and walk out into the world.  I prayed that we would find people who don’t look like us, act like us, or believe like us and love on them like they’ve never been loved on before.  I prayed that we would begin to be light in the world, because, my friends, we have dropped the ball on that.  I prayed that God would close my mouth and open my heart, teach me to listen more that I speak, and remind me every day of the huge plank in my eye that prevents me from pulling out someone else’s splinter.  I prayed that He would teach me how to love like He does, because that’s the only thing that’s going to save us.  

    Then, I got a shower.