Increased Perspective

12 Mar

The only easy day is yesterday. A phrase that the Navy Seals often utter.

I thought that I had a hard week leading up to my birthday. It culminated on Friday with some backwards steps in completing a crucial April work project, with not fully processing my Grandma’s death but knowing this would be my first birthday without a card from her, with a weird email from someone I was becoming good friends with letting me know that maybe he didn’t want the friendship to progress in the same way I did, with making an error in judging at my gym which led to a new friend having to redo a hard workout and me having to apologize for my error and with an awkward conversation with a coworker asking him to please stop stalking me. My pride was shot on Friday, and by the time my birthday dawned, I was still reeling.

Then I learned tragic news regarding the death of my brother-in-law’s not yet born but nearly full term infant son. Between that and a day spent on planes or in airports, I mentally postponed my birthday because it was all too much.

So then I read this sentence in Service: A Navy Seal at War, on March 3rd. “At 4:27 am local time on March 3, 2002, Neil Roberts became the first SEAL to die in the War on Terror.”

Ouch. I considered postponing my birthday for a full year. Or choosing a different date entirely.

Life doesn’t unfold the way we want it to. That has become so clear to me on this vacation I just took to Montana. Holding a toddler for 3 hours on a plane while her army mother dealt with two broken legs, was not my ideal plane ride. But I’m guessing it wasn’t mom or toddler’s ideal either. Spending 3 days in Glacier National Park and it being so foggy that I honestly could just have easily been in New Jersey for all the stunning mountain scenery I saw, wasn’t my plan. Struggling with cleans and snatches at Crossfit while my friends set PR after PR is frustrating as anything.

But you know what else wasn’t in my plan? A hot tub on a clear night with beer in hand and stars above me and engineers talking shop. Six hours in the forest of Glacier National Park snowshoeing on 7 feet of snow (the trail signs were all buried below us and the trail markers way up on trees were below my hip level) while snow fell lightly and continuously and I felt like I was in Narnia. Hours and hours in a car singing The Decembrists and Milk Carton Kids and Of Monsters and Men songs while gazing at snow capped mountains visiting a state I’d never been to before.

On our last night, we decided on a restaurant for dinner after what took ages. Nothing could top the Mexican and Creole cooking we’d already enjoyed but this place sounded promising.

It was closed.

So instead we ate in a local pub. And the food was delicious. We played cards at our table and made everyone else envious with how much fun we were having. And then we visited the local brewery where we had the place to ourselves. I never would have planned the $8 for 6 sampler beers, the couch and fireplace, my intense love for Huckleberry beer, the rodeo on television, the amazing beer posters on the walls, the root beer on tap, the shuffleboard and games in a balcony overlooking the brewery operations, the fun of being on vacation with no plans on a Monday night. Or the fact that somewhere along the way despite my cold and sinus issues, despite the high altitude and the dehydration and the lack I sleep, I had relaxed. I had stopped working at vacation and started chilling out.

Maybe I would never have planned all the bad stuff that happens in life, that piggybacks on top of itself until I stagger under the strain of it all.

But I would certainly never have planned most of the good in my life either. The friends I’ve made this past year alone – who’ve gone from strangers to soul mates so quickly it’s almost scary (I’m still waiting for them to hit the panic button and eject.) The scariness but excitement I feel over moving in with one of my best friends. The fact I’m actually taking vacations this year.

In Service, Marcus Luttrell often says “thank God for another day.” Can I honestly thank God for all these days? The really great ones and the really awful ones both?

Yes.
The only easy day was yesterday.
But since I never know if I have a tomorrow, I’m going to be thankful for each today.

The Role of Virtuosity

2 Feb

The best part of my Crossfit Level 1 certification was the half hour we spent discussing the role of virtuosity. It’s a word used often in gymnastics, which explains why it is relevant to a Crossfit class.

But its a part…maybe the most integral part…of Crossfit that I think is relevant for every aspect of life.

Virtuosity is defined as “performing the common uncommonly well.”

Isn’t this what we want to teach our kids in school and our direct reports in business and our students in music programs and our athletes on the field?

When it comes to any skill, technique, movement, or art form, we must begin with the fundamentals.  Eventually, we move onto originality and risk, although constantly reemphasizing fundamentals.  But virtuosity is, according to my Crossfit training guide “the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty).”

One of the ways I live a life that is rooted in the present and full of joy is by choosing something to study each week.  It helps keep work and gym and home life intertwined and enjoyable.  This past week, I observed people “performing the common uncommonly well.”  What better way for me to learn virtuosity than from those I interact with daily?

There is the Crossfit champion who performed the same shoulder to overhead movement as everyone else…but with an amazingly impressive cycle time and the ability to push 120% in the last crucial minutes.  The speed at which he moved such a heavy weight made people gasp.

There is my boss at work, meeting with employees on big issues and small issues and handling divorces and mental illness and child trauma with a grace and wisdom that I can only hope to attain a piece of someday.

There is the coworker who writes computer code for me – and does so brilliantly. Efficient, logical, fast, yet he puts his own “handwriting and style” as it were into the code in such a way that everyone else can tell it was his work.

There is the guy at the gym whose box jumps are so lithe and graceful, I am convinced that he is part wild cat.  It’s really hard to jump on your own box and not destroy your shins and still watch him jump on his but it actually (stupid as this sounds) feels like an honor to watch him jump.  That kind of mastery of something ordinary (don’t we all step up on stuff daily) is rare.

There is the former coworker who juggles work and school and three little sons, who is severely handicapped.  She has an amazing sense of humor, a deep love for those little guys, and a hard life.  Yet she, and my friend who just kicked some cancer ass, both approach their lousy odds with a masterful humorous approach and a desire to love life – even the bits that completely suck.

Sometimes its easy to want to skip steps at work (will the auditor really notice?) or skip movements at the gym (is someone else really counting my 75 burpees) or skip chores (will my clean apartment be enjoyed by anyone but me?) but the desire to practice virtuosity – to take the ordinary and mundane and make it uncommonly wonderful – as well as my ethics and personal honor code, always win out.

At the end of my Crossfit training guide, it says: “It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge…[But] If you insist on basics, really insist on them, your clients will immediately recognize that you are a master trainer. They will not be bored; they will be awed. I promise this. They will quickly come to recognize the potency of fundamentals. They will also advance in every measurable way past those not blessed to have a teacher so grounded and committed to basics.”

It is this statement which makes me happy I insisted that all my 7th and 8th graders show all their work on math homework or it was automatically wrong.  Basics matter.  It is this statement that makes me grateful for everyone: the teachers and pastors, my parents and siblings, my gym coaches and running partners, my bosses and coworkers who has taken the time to teach me basics. To insist on basics.  To not rush to anything showy and flashy and impressive but to help me build a solid foundation with the right skills.

Because, before you can perform the common uncommonly well, you have to commit to knowing and doing and finding joy in the common first.  Virtuosity is only a seasoning, not the whole meal.

 

Living Out of Our Depths

20 Jan

“I don’t think it is always necessary to talk about the deepest and most private dimension of who we are, but I think we are called to talk to each other out of it, and just as importantly to listen to each other out of it, to live out of our depths as well as our shallows.” -Frederick Buechner

My last blog post was about burying the pain.  Or, more precisely, not burying the pain. Which is fitting because this weekend brought up lots of painful and prickly parts I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with.

First, there was an accident at my local Crossfit throwdown, where a large guy holding a 235 lb barbell in the front rack position held it to close to his windpipe (according to his partner) and passed out.  When he passed out, he fell backwards, onto the guy I was judging in my lane who was maybe half the size.  So tiny kid ended up on the floor with his legs bent behind him touching his butt, and two 235 lb barbells on top of him (one on his neck, one on his core) as well as a large guy.  Both of them appear to be fine, maybe a knee ligament tear.  The time it took for them to get the barbells off, check out that they weren’t paralyzed, call the EMTs, etc. seemed to take an hour.  It took me 9 hours to fully stop shaking.

Why?  I think part of it can be traced back to the Boston bombings – athletic event, people in pain, unexpected loud noises. And part of it can be traced back to my shame guilt  whatever emotion it is that makes me think I should have done something. Since I was the closest.  Either to prevent it OR immediately after to fix it.  Same with the suicide I saw happen – I still wake up some nights thinking I should have known what that stranger was going to do, or just run a little faster and smiled at her, or jumped in the water after her.  Intellectually, I know that none of these accidents had anything to do with me. And I don’t really have a superhero complex and think its my responsibility.

Living out of my depths means acknowledging that somehow, after years of being the tough little kid who didn’t cry and wasn’t ticklish, I transformed into an adolescent/adult who does experience hurt and pain. Thank God I’m still not ticklish. And I care about other people’s hurt and pain, too. Maybe that’s a normal progression into adulthood?

“We are all of us adolescents, painfully growing and groping our way toward something like true adulthood, and maybe the greatest value we have both to teach and to learn as we go is the value of what Walter Brueggeman calls amazement – the capacity to be amazed at the unending power that can be generated by the meeting and trading of lives, which is a power to heal us and bless us and in the end maybe even to transform us into truly human beings at last.”

The second incident that happened was that I read a book called The Art Forger over the past two weeks.  It was a fun read – set in Boston with places I am very familiar with, based on the true art heist at the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum (a few blocks from my apartment) which is the largest unsolved art heist in history.  The book was about the forgery of the famous Degas picture After the Bath that was stolen.  I like art, I like Degas, I like forgery, I like reading about crime and it all reminded me of the tv show White Collar, which didn’t hurt either.

But there was one character, named Nancy Sinsheimer, that kept rubbing me the wrong way.  As in, the first time I read that name, I had a physical reaction.  I got tense and cold. It took me a while to figure out why.  That was the last name of the defense attorney in the trial I was in this summer.  (I know, I know, I swear I’m moving on, really.)  I’m sure he’s a fine person but he was quite a bulldog, rude to the police officers, rude to us jurors, treated us like unintelligent babies most of the time.  His antics and tactics were probably par for the course when it comes to criminal defense lawyers but it wasn’t an act that I appreciated.

Boston is a small city. Really.  Because I reached the end of the book, and saw that the author personally thanked this particular lawyer for his help in writing her book.  Then it dawned on me – she had clearly used his last name in her novel in order to honor him.  It made me mad. Mad that I hadn’t figured that out earlier. Mad that being an adult means accepting that there are people I don’t like who other people will be best friends with.  Mad that I can’t even read a random book without it triggering a reminder of a trial I would like to move on from. Mad that in some way, reading and enjoying that book, meant reading and enjoying something that he had helped create.

So I spent today choosing to live full of amazement.  The meeting and trading of lives.  Embracing the power and joy in humans being human but also humans being good.

  • The woman offering a Charlie Card to my friend on the bus who had lost hers.
  • Seeing a friend do her first kipping pull-up.
  • Remembering the judge in the lane next to me on Saturday squeezing my shoulder whenever he passed and making sure I was clear of the area before his athlete lifted anything heavy.  His speech on “We’ll watch each other’s backs, this won’t happen again” which calmed me down.
  • The coworker/Crossfit friend who gave me a paleo pizza (grain-free) recipe which tastes just as good as real pizza.  (In case you don’t understand how happy this makes me, after my initial bite, I wanted to bike to his house and hug and kiss him…to thank him for a pizza recipe.  Yep. It was that good.)
  • Baby Hudson’s huge smile when he saw me.  His sign language of “please” which can roughly be translated as “Put me down, Daddy! I need her to hold me right now!”
  • The man in the grocery store letting the elderly woman go ahead of him in line because she looked tired and taxed.
  • My coach keeping an eye on a very packed Crossfit class today, ensuring everyone had space so no one got trampled by a barbell. Maybe no one else cared…but I did.
  • A friend teaching me how to wrap my Rogue wrist wraps correctly. Especially when he incorporated the phrase “wax on, wax off” which gets me every time.

Maybe I’ve had it all wrong. Maybe it’s not the bombings and the suicides and the barbell accidents in life that make us who we are. Maybe the pain is only one piece of our depths, not the whole ocean.

Maybe its this

the shoulder squeeze
the gift of a Charlie card
the perfect pizza recipe
a baby’s smile and unfiltered want
a grocery store Boy Scout
a considerate coach
a helpful friend

that transform us into truly human beings.

Burying the Pain

8 Jan

Most of us are quite familiar with the Parable of the Talents – the men who are each given money to invest.

For those of us who grew up in Sunday School, we know a moral: each of us has been given gifts and talents and we need to use them and invest them rather than hiding them.  Don’t waste your life in fear of displeasing God, because that would displease him the most.

For those of us who went to business school, we know another moral: don’t hide your money under your mattress or bury it in a hole.  At the very least, invest it in something safe because of the principal of compound interest.

So I found it interesting to reread the parable through the eyes of Frederick Buechner who takes a different approach with his interpretation.  An approach that I’ve been grappling with a lot these first few weeks of 2014.

“Bad times happen, good times happen; life itself happens and happens to all of us in different ways and with different mixtures of good and bad, pain and pleasure, luck and unluck. As I read it, that is what the parable is essentially about, and the question the parable poses is, what do we do with these mixed lives we are given, these hands we are so unequally dealt by God, if we believe in God, or by circumstance or by our genes?”

Buried pain in particular and all the other things we tend to bury along with pain, including joy, which tends to get buried too when we start burying things…instead of burying it, to live fully with the faith that one way or another it will work out.”

The next part makes perfect sense for those of us who now live in a world of Social Media.

The trading of joy comes naturally, because it is of the nature of joy to proclaim and share itself. Joy cannot contain itself, as we say. And so it should properly be with pain as well…We are never more alive to life than when it hurts – never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other, if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached…We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then.”

I constantly remind myself to share in other people’s joy. Even if I never have a chance to share in their pain. Because they can’t share it or aren’t brave enough to share it or are too fearful of people not respecting it and just allowing it to be rather than offering advice or shallow words.

I like the thought of trading joy.  Of offering mine to you and taking yours in return. Of delighting in joy as it is – joy – without becoming consumed with the WHO and the WHY THEM, NOT ME and the HOW COME of the joy. Because all of those thoughts tarnish the joy. Even if the person sharing their joy can’t tell, you know deep down that it has lost its shine.

Being a good steward of your pain…involves taking the risk of being open, of reaching out, of keeping in touch with the pain as well as the joy of what happens, because at no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of our of the shallows. There is no guarantee that we will find a pearl in the depths, that our pain will have a happy end, or even any end at all, but at least we stand a chance of finding in those depths who we most deeply and humanly are and who others are. At least we stand a chance of finding that we needn’t live alone in our pain.”

I realize this is heady stuff.  Especially when we are recovering from the holidays (how can something be so simultaneously fun and exhausting?) and planning for our next year and trying to get through the day without frostbite?

But I feel convicted this year to not just continue to Choose Joy.  But to also Choose To Not Bury My Pain.  The truth that one learns as one becomes an adult (and maybe the precise process that forms a person into an adult) is that pain is inevitable.

Since I cannot avoid pain, maybe the next best thing is to accept it?  To accept that there are no guarantees, to find the joy tucked amidst the pain, to allow each pain to help me reach my depths and to allow other people to glimpse my depths?  And in doing so, maybe others will let me into their pain?  You can showcase your joy to any old acquaintance. But only true friends are privileged to share in your pain.

It’s easy to list pain we have buried. Take 30 seconds. Go. Start listing. And stop.  My list was: “the Boston bombings, the murder trial, witnessing a suicide on the Mass Ave bridge, witnessing a boy crushed by an SUV on that same bridge, the loss of a friendship, the lies that nearly ended another friendship, times of loneliness and frustration and being passed up for promotions, and…”  I could have kept going.  As I’m sure everyone else could.

Sometimes at work I get to share in people’s pain. It’s hard, particularly when its divorce, death of a child, returning adopted children to their parents, putting a child on a suicide-watch (I’ve dealt with all of those this holiday season). And it’s hard because I’m not always the person they should be sharing with. And afterwards, I just want to run to shake off their pain. Or go to Crossfit and sweat it out. I resolve this year to try harder to sit with people in their pain, to remember that they are plumbing the depths of who they are. And they don’t want to do it alone.

I remember my second phone call after the suicide (the first one being to the police).  I called a coworker knowing he would already be at work. “You have to come here and be with me because this is too icky and sad to handle alone.” And he did.  And while I waited for him, the cop waiting with me said “Pain diminishes, but it never disappears.” And he looked very old and sad when he said that and I almost wish I had asked him how much pain he was carrying. How he handled a job where not enough diminishes before new pain arrives.

So the question remains as I prepare for work in the morning, clean and jerk a barbell overhead, navigate the streets of icy Boston on bike, sit with employees in their struggles, laugh with friends over silliness: “What do we do with these mixed lives we are given?” Here’s to another year of figuring that out.

Track Tuesdays

12 Nov

Track Tuesdays are not pleasant. Right now, they rank as the most nerve-wracking experience in my average week. Which says a lot as both my job and Crossfit often throw some crazy stuff my way.

Then again, an easy track workout isn’t really a track workout. And Track Tuesdays are as much about learning proper pacing and how to pace by feel as they are about going fast. Painfully fast.

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I run 800m repeats (about half a mile) with a friend. We have a time to hit each repeat in and we tend to – within 2-3 seconds on either end. If I were doing this alone, I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t finish. That my 800m would become 400m which just seems like a happier distance to me. It’s only the friendly peer pressure and competitive streak that propel me forward.

Often I find myself dwelling on the factors why Track Tuesdays are rough (this usually happens on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings as I begin anticipating the pain to come).

- Weather. For some reason, Tuesdays are not a good day in Boston.  Three weeks ago, it was pouring rain and 20 mph winds.  Two weeks ago, it was so cold that I could barely move my fingers to start the stop watch for each repeat. Today it is raining and soon that will change to snow flurrying.  But since I only run outside and have no idea the conditions for our December race, its probably good to be practicing in cold, snowy, windy weather.

Mid Week Evenings. Let’s be honest, Tuesday nights are not conducive to running fast. Any rest I gained over the weekend is usually spent up by Monday night.  By Tuesday night, I’m tired, the time change means its especially dark out, we are running during prime dinner time and the single abiding image in my head is “sweats and my couch.”

The Pain Cave. At some point in the run, it becomes less about a speed workout and more about survival.  This typically happens after we’ve run around the track once (400m) and kicks into gear around 600m (if I’m lucky) and lasts until the 750m-800m sprint.  The breakdown goes something like this:

  • 0-400m.  This is hard but manageable. Focus on breathing. Focus on a good turnover and a strong core.  1/4 done.  Keep breathing, force yourself to slow it down.  1/2 way done.
  • 400-600m.  This is not fun. I can’t breathe, I kinda want to stop.  No, I really want to stop. I wish I could stop. How much further do we have to go? How can we still be this far away?  This is the worst 3 minutes of my life and we have to do it how many more times?
  • 600-700m.  I stop thinking at this point.  I’ve entered the pain cave.  My only thought is to somehow keep breathing and moving my legs until mercifully I cross the finish line and can resume normal griping.
  • 700-800m.  Glance at my watch.  Crap!  We have to pick up the pace and sprint at the end to maintain our time. Maybe if I don’t look over at my running partner, she won’t realize and we can just keep up this horribly fast pace.  Nope, she’s giving me the look, it’s time to push deep, lengthen the stride and get this over with.

Followed by a 400m fast walk or slow jog to recover.  Then we start the cycle all over again.  Honestly, I know that my legs and lungs are capable of the pace when I am hydrated and healthy. But its the mental energy needed to finish strong that makes it incredibly hard.

Our first week, there was a gorgeous double rainbow in the sky. I hoped it was God’s promise to me that I would never have to do another track workout.  It wasn’t.

Last week, I failed.  I know, I know, I failed at something that I have set myself to do – its not like I’m on a track team and these workouts really matter in the greater scheme. For me, they are a means to an end (a faster half marathon).  We did 5 800m and I only managed 3 of them.  I did: 800m, 800m, 400m, 400m, 800m.  Between an incredibly taxing weekend and a bad cold and cough, I reached the pain cave too soon, followed by the “I’m starting to feel dizzy and seeing spots” lack of oxygen high, followed by the sweet release of stopping and violently coughing until I could breathe again.

I had an excuse but it still grates on my nerves to fail at something. Particularly when my friend finished all her 800m repeats (and the 2 without me were her fastest ones!).  The life of a runner involves lots of things that life teaches us whether we run or not: sometimes we will fail.  We have to learn when to push harder and dig deeper and when to back off because our body can’t handle it.  We have to learn to fail with dignity, and then get back up and try again later. We have to learn to cheer for others who are going faster and stronger than we can sustain and we have to do this without jealousy or envy. And we have to learn to not let our past failures keep us from future victory.

With that in mind, I’m drinking my water and nervously watching the sky, preparing for our latest track workout tonight.  I’m hopeful, scared but hopeful, that I can complete all six 800m repeats. Because my shower + my sweats + my sofa are so much more inviting after I succeed.

The BAA Distance Medley & a World Series

8 Nov

Seven days after my latest marathon was the BAA Half Marathon. Although I wasn’t terribly mentally excited to race again so soon, it’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before a race, have a coworker ready to run with you, and know that the race was about much more than just 13.1 miles.

This is the second year of the BAA Distance Medley (5k in April, 10K in June, half marathon in Oct) and my second year participating. It took on new meaning this year after the Boston Marathon bombings as the 10K and the half marathon were the only other BAA races for 2013.

I honestly didn’t care how tired or sore I was from the marathon, this race was happening. Luckily, I wasn’t sore at all and we had a good time.  It’s not a race you can PR on because it is so packed and parts of the final 2 miles in the Franklin Park Zoo are on a footpath wide enough for just one person – and its always a bit funny to reach the halfway point, a few hundred yards from my home, and then have to turn around and run away.

There was a mile long stretch with absolutely no spectators and it was directly after they passed out Gu. You know that awful feeling in the movie theater when your feet are sticky with everyone else’s spilled sodas and buttered popcorn?  It was like that but on steroids.  All you could hear was heavy breathing (we were running uphill) and squishiness (as everyone’s soles were coated in Gu).  It didn’t make me real interested in trying to fuel with Gu again, there’s no way a substance that slick and sticky and sugary is going to be happy in my system.  We gained time on the hills which was great – all those stadium steps and hill climbs and box jumps must be paying off – because we passed people constantly and while I was breathing heavy, I actually enjoyed the challenge.

I remember thinking – well, that wasn’t emotional at all.  But when you see the finish line, and you think back to that finish line, it’s hard to not get a little sad.  I heard one runner say “Well, only a few more months and we can cheer another Boston Marathon and put this all behind us.”  I agree with the sentiment of moving forward faster and stronger and with more determination. But can a tragedy like this ever be swept away, packed away, thrown away?  I don’t think so.

I know personally that it isn’t completely behind me.

Game 6 of the World Series brought an announcement to Fenway residents that Boston Police were expecting riots (regardless of a win or a loss and also for Game 7, should there be one). We were asked to “shelter in place” for the evening.  Those words again.  Those words + the incessant drone of media helicopters definitely had me on edge the entire evening.

Part of me was enjoying my Boston Red Sox not only winning but winning big. It was hard, even during the final 3 outs, to fully comprehend that my team made it. That this was the World Series and we were about to win it.  That I might have been raised to cheer for an underdog losing team but kids born in the past 10 years have been raised to rout for a champion – and its the same team.

Part of me was going crazy with the noise. I had on the air conditioner, a fan, the dishwasher and a radio and all  I could still here was chopper blades hovering overhead – an experience I hoped to never live through again after that week in April. It happened again at 4 AM on Saturday, the morning of the World Series parade.  One minute, sound asleep.  The next minute, awake to the noise of 3 media helicopters already aloft, already circling, making me feel anxious.

It will take time to appreciate helicopters again…to not jump at loud noises…to not panic when I have no phone service (this happened during Game 6 of the World Series thanks to so many people in such a small area all trying to call and text at the same time…once again eerily reminiscent of April).

I am not a pack rat. I throw things away as soon as possible.  Yet I held onto these Sports Illustrated covers from April in case. I guess even then, I was hoping, although not hopeful, that the Boston Red Sox could pull it off.  Triumph from tragedy is, after all, essentially the American dream.  And more than that, maybe the greatest universal human desire.

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Race Recap: The Smuttynose Marathon

28 Oct
October 6th dawned dark and gloomy.  In fact, it really didn’t dawn at all.  Or, if it did, I missed it because I was huddled in my brother-in-law’s car trying to stay warm and texting my Mom across the country to see if she would think any less of me if I ditched the race.

I know, I know. Pathetic.

But sometimes all the arguments of “I trained hard for this and put the miles in” fail you when you’re really cold and wet.  And all you can think of is the sleep you are missing out of.  Honestly, and this is horribly honest, probably the only reasons I actually ran were 1) I had a friend running her first half marathon and I wanted to not wimp out on being there and 2) I had a friend running the marathon that I could run with and misery loves company…even damp company and 3) carb loading.  I had to justify the Flatbread Company pizza I ate the night before, right?  And 4) I’m annoyingly stubborn.  So there’s that.

Fast forward 4 1/2 hours and I was back in the car…even more wet, even more cold, but with a marathon medal and a very empty stomach.  Also a reflective piece of marathon foil (which really does nothing when you’re soaking wet and there is no sun). I turned up the car heat to the highest it goes…and kept it like that for the 15 minute drive to my sister’s house.

And I could leave the marathon story like that. Because it’s all true.

But I could also talk about the rest of it. Which was fun and rewarding and reminded me why I love running.  And that part is all true, too.

I ran with a good friend who also completed the same half Ironman that I did. But of course you can’t really hang out with someone during a triathlon (that is, even if i could keep up with her in the water…which I clearly could not) in the same way that you can during a marathon.  I figured that worst case scenario was I quit the race at the half marathon cutoff. I’m not sure why I was so adverse to running alone…since I like running alone.  Maybe I remembered how long 26.2 miles can seem when you run without any musical distraction and much as I love New Hampshire, I recognize that Hampton Beach isn’t a particularly scenic marathon route.  20 of the miles are run around cul-de-sac neighborhoods.

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So we started together.  And we finished together.  And I felt like we had been running for 2 hours when we finished but not more than double that. I felt good – injury free, happy lungs, cold enough to leave my arm warmers on for most of the race but not uncomfortably cold other than miles 11-13 when the wind and the rain picked up and we were running along the ocean and my hands wouldn’t bend.

We thanked all the race volunteers with words and smiles both.  We ran up the one beastly hill twice (even faster the second time around – which impressed the volunteers).  I fueled properly and laughed and we entertained the other racers around us. Here’s what I didn’t do – I didn’t PR.  There came a moment where I could choose to try for a PR or I could continue to hang out with my friend and push her to a PR.  I chose the latter. And no, it wasn’t all selflessness. I am a pretty good person but a lot of factors went into not making this an A race.   Maybe I could have PRed, maybe I couldn’t.  I’ll never know.  It was a flat race but conditions weren’t perfect. I PRed at my 5k and half marathon distance this summer so maybe I was ready to run faster…or maybe I was overtrained and tired.  I could come up with lots of excuses for not PRing and lots of reasons why I would have succeeded.

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But, I honestly don’t care in the least. After the other races this summer, I was grateful to be outside and running, with a friend, without any discomfort (other than the knowledge that I had run too much in my shoes and needed to) and without any time pressure. There will be more marathons in my future. There will be a race time PR.

But this race included:

- a PR in fueling well

- a PR in “undertraining” for a marathon in less than 8 weeks and feeling better than when I follow a full 16 week schedule

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I referred to myself as the “uninvited pacer” as I basically chatted my friend to the finish line. I’m pretty sure she was running faster than her normal pace not only because she’s in better shape than she thinks and because sometimes you need a slightly faster runner to push you out of your comfort zone but also because she wanted a break from my incessant chatter. I mean, I don’t listen to music on marathons so I come across as that person who wants to commune with nature and hear each painful footfall and heavy breathing and really live in the moment.  And then I become the person who talks and talks and talks and comes up for air only to ask about our pace and time (God forbid I wear a watch) and to realize I’ve missed 4 mile markers and we’re much further along than I thought.

I ran my other marathons alone (except for the partial marathon I ran with a friend where my entire role was to distract her and pretend that my IT band hadn’t allowed me to only run 2 miles and now I was attempting to run 10 times that…)  I guess I treated this marathon more like a long training run.  Maybe I should have capitalized on that and done another marathon or ultramarathon shortly after.  Or maybe I just needed to lie to myself “this is not a marathon, this is just a friendly training run and you can stop whenever you want and go home.”  Lies, all lies.

I was no less proud of this race, my Personal Slowest, than I have been of any other marathon. Since I’m not a competitive racer, although I can be a competitive runner sometimes, I think that makes sense. What’s the point of growing older and wiser if that doesn’t include learning to cut ourselves some slack, to enjoy the memories, to relish the 25 minute hot water shower we take afterwards (sorry about your hot water bill, Debs!) regardless of what goals we met or did not meet.  I started, I ran, I finished. In a respectable amount of time. I smiled, I thanked people, I laughed at myself, I didn’t throw up any Gu, my friend’s husband was waiting at the finish to cheer us for those last pesky yards…then I went home to a hot shower (sorry again) and an afternoon of puzzles and football and Indian food in the crockpot…because the best part of visiting family is that you are separated from your to do list and can do nothing but relax in your sweats (especially after a marathon). What more could one ask for?

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