Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Cleveland Marathon Weekend

During every race, I reach a point when I swear that I will never do this again, which makes distance running surprisingly similar to childbirth.  It wrecks you when you're in the midst of it, but then you're the recipient of a reward (a baby! a free banana and a medal!) and somehow your mind forgets the suffering and you think, that was a pretty amazing.

Case in point, I have nothing but fondness for the city of Cleveland, despite its potholes and the fact that by mile twelve I felt entrapped in some Hunger-Games-like dome where the heat and humidity were cruelly ratcheted up.


Before the race, there's always such promise as runners, who tend to be a friendly lot, stretch and head to their corrals.  Smiles are as wide as lines for the Porta-Potties are long.  Hope abounds.


Of course, at some point you have to start running, which brings more sobriety to the entire event.  As the miles wear on, those early smiles from the starting line morph into expressions of acceptance, then resignation, then weariness, then pain, then gritty determination, then a degree of despair, then outright loathing of life.  This is when you start hating people, even the awesome woman at the side of the road who's spraying the runners who pass with water from her garden hose.

But still, you push on.  

For me, I was trying to reach a goal that's eluded me: breaking the two-hour mark.  I had a poor sense of my pace because my GPS had no signal, but when I reached mile twelve I felt a sliver of hope that this could be the race.  Unfortunately, I also felt lightheaded, which, given my track record with hitting the pavement, unnerved me.
 
I concentrated on the only things I could reasonably control: breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, and remaining conscious.  Like an oasis in the desert, the finish line finally appeared.  And the clock -- the clock! -- came into focus (under two hours!), and each step hurt, and my face contorted into even more of a grimace, and my feet crossed the finish line even though they no longer felt attached to my body.
 
 

Then I felt dizzy, which lead to a helpful volunteer observing my unstable steps and immediately leading me to the medical tent where I sat down, said something akin to "I have a history of hypoglycemia," and felt a bottle of chocolate milk being put into my hands.

It's amazing how a little sugar can bring you back to life.

The temperature rose and the next hour passed while I stretched, waited for Joel to finish the full marathon, and tried to comprehend how -- why? -- people were still running.  My anticipation shifted toward mild concern when the clock surpassed his expected finish time, then greater concern as more minutes ticked by.  Finally, I saw him in the distance, obviously hurting, and made my way to the runner's chute as he crossed the finish.

This time, I was the one ushering him the medical tent as I listened to his story: cramping and getting sick to his stomach starting at mile 18, ceasing to sweat by mile 25.  Somehow the man still finished in 3:57 in a wicked state of dehydration. 

Somehow the man even looks good while getting an IV.  I do not understand this.  But I do understand, even after progressively vomiting on an eight mile stretch of Cleveland roads, Joel's remarkable kindness and thoughtfulness and good humor, as demonstrated with all of his interactions with the awesome medical team.  This is the type of man Joel is, through and through.


It's amazing how an IV bag, just like chocolate milk, will bring you back to life.  Within an hour, he was dismissed from the medical tent and we walked back to the hotel where we showered (always life-changing after a long run), stretched some more, rested, and eventually went out to dinner and talked over the details. 
 
Joel shared how he once heard that nobody quits a 26-mile race at mile 23.  If that's the case, he said, when I started struggling at mile 18, I just had to push for five more miles and reach mile 23, because nobody quits when they only have three more miles to go.
 
That's true grit.  If it's possible, I might have fallen even more in love with him right there.
 
I shared about the girl I had loosely teamed up with near the third mile, how we had run beside each other for eight of the thirteen miles with periodic snippets of conversation until she dropped back, saying that I should go grab my sub-two-hour goal.  I wish I could thank her.  She kept me going and probably doesn't even know it.
 
Over burgers, I deliberated on post-race protocol.  How long is it socially acceptable for me to wear this medal around my neck?  We hashed out Cleveland's sights and sounds: the group who stood outside their church, jamming on guitars and cheering us on, the man in the hot dog costume, the signs held by spectators.  My favorites?
 
"Looks like a lot of work for a free banana." 
"You think what you're doing is hard?  I'm growing out my bangs."
 
And this gem, which made me accidentally snort water up my nose while running past:
 
 
Yes, in the telling of the stories, the pain already had been forgotten.  I had stretched and surpassed my goal.  (LeBron isn't the only one with a formidable wingspan.)  Joel hadn't run his fastest race, but given the circumstances, his perseverance might have been even more impressive than his original 3:37 marathon time.
 
 
Those medals?   Oh, we earned them this time around.  Yes, we earned them.
 
 
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Small Victories (Almost Race Day)

Over the past seventeen weeks -- the duration of the entire spring semester -- I've been training for a half marathon, keeping a brief record of each training run on a single sheet of paper to hold myself accountable and stay on schedule.  I'll have logged 475 miles before pinning on my bib this Sunday morning in Cleveland.
  

The paper documents runs spanning from bitter winter to spring, runs when I flew and runs when my legs felt like lead, and runs on a treadmill when my greatest challenge was overcoming boredom and not succumbing to OCD-ticks, like obsessively counting my steps, or thinking about my breathing, or wondering why any sane person would voluntarily choose to run long distances when they could be, I don't know, lying on a couch and watching back-to-back episodes of Fixer Upper instead.

It's a single sheet of paper, one that's folded and marked, but I already value it more than the complimentary race shirt and finisher's medal I'll receive.  It shows the process.  It tracks the days when I wanted to quit, but didn't, like the afternoon when I didn't feel well but gritted through a seven-mile tempo run on a treadmill while an elderly gentleman slowly walked on the treadmill beside me.  He repeatedly looked over and finally said, "That race you're going to run?  I think you're going to win."

I had laughed and thanked him, dismissing the compliment immediately in my mind.

But looking back, I accept his words.  Clearly, I won't finish first, but there's a certain type of winning that takes place when you approach the starting line, knowing that you've done the work to reach that point.  Yes, I've set a goal time.  And yes, I'm competitive and want to set a personal best.  But today I'm replaying one thing in my mind: the man's assurance that I would win.

He's right.  One step at a time over these past few months, I've already won.  I've already had many small victories.  475 of them, in fact.

Now it's time to add 13.1 more.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

That's the Sound of Stress Leaving the Body

I've cried an odd amount during the past week.  On Saturday morning when I took my daughters to a Mother's Day breakfast at the preschool my youngest attends, I couldn't hold back my emotions when the kids performed the I Love Mom song they had rehearsed with the music teacher.

During church on Sunday morning, I was the woman with tears streaming down my face unashamedly as I listened to the message, one so full of hope and encouragement for any weary mother -- for any weary person, actually -- that I couldn't take notes fast enough and prayed that God simply would work the message deeply into my heart.

And last night while I sat on the sidelines of a soccer field, I found myself wiping my eyes once again for no other reason than I was reading a magazine, not a stack of essays like the ones below, and I was happy.


Apparently, I have no emotional filter at the moment.

I know myself.  I've been pushing too hard for too long, and it's taken a toll.  The good news is that late last week I submitted final grades for my four classes and handled the lingering end-of-the-semester student affairs.  Even though I don't yet feel closure, the academic year officially is in the books.

I've slowly been detoxing ever since.

My waters are a bit muddied, and I'm watching the stress empty in strange ways, like my tendency to cry when any emotion, good or bad, is piqued.  At the same time, I'm filling up in ways that I haven't for months, like getting good nights of sleep instead of five to six hours each night, reading for pleasure, and making mental lists of creative projects I want to complete around the house.

This morning I even treated myself to a solo trip to the local arboretum to enjoy some tranquility.  I'd like to tell you that I strolled the grounds in soul-nourishing silence, but I timed my arrival roughly five minutes before a bus dropped off a swarm of middle school students who, because they're in middle school, traveled in small, loud clusters in their matching neon green tee shirts and periodically asked me to take their pictures with their phones, which I did.

You see, the beauty of dealing with kids who aren't your own is that you can momentarily engage, then just keep walking.

And walk I did.  The tulips, although slightly past their prime, delighted with their simplicity.  Tulips are, and always will be, my favorites.


I listened to the sound of leaves rustle in the breeze,


reminded myself of the inherent goodness of sitting -- just sitting -- in the midst of beautiful sights,


reveled in the freshness of a peony's blooms,


and appreciated that the way to meander was clearly laid out before me, no decision-making necessary.  Just walk and enjoy, the path seemed to say.  Just walk and enjoy.


So I did, listening to the sound of my feet tread along the gravel walkway and wiping a tear from the corner of my eye.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

What Murphy's Oil Soap Smells Like

The other day I cleaned my kitchen cabinets with Murphy's Oil Soap, a rarely considered household chore.  As I dipped my wash rag into the sudsy bucket and breathed the mild soap scent, it reminded me of an afternoon years ago when my parents had been visiting.

I don't recall many details of that particular visit -- when it took place, why they had come -- except that my mother had noticed that my kitchen cabinets were badly in need of attention.  I came downstairs and found her washing the last cabinet, a bucket beside her and a bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap on the kitchen counter.

My mom had observed a need, and because she's my mother, she met that need.  This is what mothers do.

Want to know what Murphy's Oil Soap smells like to me?  It smells like a mother's thoughtfulness and love.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Don't Apologize for the Life You're Living

Before I left for work last Friday morning, my husband casually mentioned that two of our friends, a young couple who had attended our church before graduating and moving to Baltimore, would be arriving that evening and visiting for the weekend.

He thought this was a reminder.  I thought, "Wait, we have house guests coming tonight?"

Then there was a slew of other thoughts: how I'd need to move the massive heap of winter clothes that I had piled on our guest bed and haven't had time to sort, how I should change the sheets and set out fresh towels, how I probably should vacuum and make some effort to tame the tangles of Legos and Barbies and balls and stuffed animals and crayons and craft projects and crumbs that had overtaken the kitchen and family room.

Fourteen hours later when our guests arrived with hugs and bags and greetings, the house was in a worse state than it had been in the morning.  Our friends didn't seem to notice or care.

I'm ten years into parenting, and I'm still learning that I don't need to apologize for the life that I'm living.  That mess?  It's simply proof that we live here, that life takes place within these walls.

I think back to my younger professional days before we had children, when our house was habitually organized and quiet, and my neighbor, a mom of three, walked in, glanced around, and blurted out, "It's so clean in here!"

That's the type of reaction I now have (at least internally) when I witness glimpses of this orderly lifestyle, like when I watched my friend the next morning chop vegetables for a veggie tray that she was prepping for a picnic of college students, noticing how carefully she sliced the carrots and peppers and broccoli, how she gave legitimate thought to the presentation, how she took time to core half of a red cabbage to create a bowl for the ranch dressing. 

If you can call a vegetable tray as beautiful, it was.  It was as if Pinterest came to life in my kitchen.  That doesn't happen with me at the helm right now.

And that's okay.  Because my hands needed to be occupied with other things that morning, like tying laces of cleats, driving kids to soccer practices, and carrying portable chairs to the sidelines of a field.

We don't need to apologize for the lives we're living or the phases we're in.  I'm still learning this.

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