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What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Marathon

The tent was still dark as my eyes opened, my body wrapped up like a microwaved burrito. I had shed my socks, stocking cap and flannel pants during the night. It is one of the anomalies of having a good sleeping bag: the nuclear world within and the frozen world without.

But it wasn’t because of the climatic disparity I woke so early.

It was nerves.

There are now less than 24 hours before I board the bus that will take me to the starting line of my tenth marathon.

It is my third Jungfrau marathon, so you think I would be a little calmer, knowing what to expect.

But a marathon, as I told a friend recently, is a lot like having a baby. You spend months preparing. You know basically what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous because of the thousands of unknown things that might play out.

Your body has changed since the last one–for better or worse; and you don’t know how that will affect the labor.

You don’t feel like you’re doing anything admirable. You’re still the same person who scrubs toilets and forgets to bring her own grocery bag to Lidl. It’s nothing extraordinary. You’re just doing something that you do.

However, it is exciting. It is nerve-wracking. It gives you both self-doubt and self-confidence.

It is emotional.

The first time I ran it, I cried like a baby at the end. Yes, I was glad to finish–but it was so much more than that. A friend of mine accurately described marathon running as cathartic. It is. The weights you carry when you begin are scattered across the path like a trail of breadcrumbs. If someone could read the emotions left behind on the trail, there would be enough stories to last multiple lifetimes.

What is my story this year? What will I leave behind?

I didn’t run a marathon last year. Last year, I spent a lot of time letting my health go to shit. I didn’t take care of myself. I incarcerated myself in an emotional lockdown.

Then suddenly just before my 44th birthday, my husband, my hero-turned-nemesis, died.

At age 53.

The text messages with silly animal emojis stopped.

The skype requests stopped.

The phone calls stopped.

My nightmares stopped.

23 years of history.

Stopped.

Dead. Cremated. Interred.

All I have left are medals & patches & ribbons & photos & these 4 incredible humans who bear half his DNA.

And the memories, of course. However, foggy and (sometimes) romanticized they might be.

Michael had always scoffed at my marathons–calling them selfish or a waste of my time. But he was always the first one to brag to other people about them.

During the height of his psychological problems, I signed up for my first mountain marathon–the Jungfrau.

Michael was always worried about my marathon running: “What would happen to the kids if you got hurt?” he would ask. His years in Alaska search and rescue fed into his fears like a glacial river.

I never ran marathons to spite him. It was therapy for me. My quiet time. My escape. He could never fully understand that. When you marry at age 20 and spend your life homeschooling four children, sometimes, you need a little time alone with your own noggin. Maybe it is selfish–but it is a much-needed selfishness. The type that staves off depression in a weary mom. The selfishness that gives you some semblance of control over your own body, your own mind, when you live a life in which those two elements belong to god, your husband or both–but never to your self.

I ran the Jungfrau depsite his long-distance skepticism. I ran it again the next year, though stress had already begun to gnaw at the edges of my health.

The next year, I skipped the marathon altogether.

Then Mike died.

And I was alive.

Suddenly. Completely.

A princess startled and alert, not from a kiss but by the death of a deep love.

I was alive.

Alive!

Let that word roll around on your tongue for a bit. Let it sink into your mind. Breathe it in and out.

Life means you still have the ability to choose.

You can eat more vegetables or take the dog on longer walks. You can go to the gym and lift heavy shit; or to stay home and drink two bottles of wine. You can choose with whom you share your bed; to whom you give your heart; and you can decide if those two things are mutually exclusive.

You can do the really hard things–like mend broken relationships or walk away from unhealthy ones. You can say what’s really on your mind; to be authentic; to expose your inner thoughts and weaknesses; to forget about busting your ass to be a people-pleaser.

You can make the terrifying choice to be happy, which is like jumping off a cliff, when all you’ve chosen before is to cling to anguish.

I am allowed to be happy?!

Mike’s death is not a crossroads for me–it is a trajectory. Whichever way I point the sharp end, that’s the direction I’ll go.

I am choosing a life that makes me happy, healthy and strong. I can see the person I want to be from here. I can’t lose sight of her–not now, not after going through so much.

The marathon is symbolic for me–this year especially. My whole world has changed. I am happy. On the road to health. Discovering myself along this rocky new trail.

I carry a lot with me this year. The sadness, the anger, the depression and self-loathing. Regrets.

I plan to leave it all behind; and at the end, come out with something beautiful and healthy. A rosy-cheeked bundle of joy.

Kicking.

Crying.

Cooing.

Alive.

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Motivation for the Unmotivated

No matter how many inspirational memes I read, they don’t quite motivate me to get up at 04:30 to run in the pouring rain. Even my dog, with his tail wagging so fast it knocks everything off my nightstand, cannot quell the grumbling (and sometimes mild cursing) that spews from my psyche when my alarm goes off.

The word motivation has two nuanced variations. When you pull your hair into a ponytail and say to yourself in the mirror: “If I don’t go to the gym, I will murder my kids today; and I want to avoid jail:” that is motivation (noun).

When you put on an awesome headband that matches your sport shoes and think “Yay, me!” as you skip away to the gym: that is motivated (adjective).

Often, I am not enthusiastic; I just show up.

For example, I do not wake up thinking, Hooray! It is dark and cold and raining; and I get to go running!

Sometimes I even complain about going to Crossfit. Maybe I dreamt I was drowning all night; or I ate too many tacos the day before; or my knees ache from wearing high-heeled boots; or I still have sore muscles from Friday’s WOD; or maybe it’s just a rainy Monday after school break, and I don’t want to drag my carcass out in public. None of that matters–I shove it aside and go.

I have loved ones who would do anything to simply walk across the room without pain. Sometimes, I carry that with me, and it does inspire (motivate) me to get up and get moving–simply because I can. I am blessed with good health. I don’t take it for granted.

Still, there are days I want to take that job as a test subject for NASA my mom told me about: staying in bed three months while scientists study me.

So, what keeps me going when I do not feel motivated?

I contemplated this while the cold spring rain blasted into my face on my run this morning, which is a fancy way of saying I wondered why the hell I was out there.

Marathon Training

Last year, aside from chasing my dog as he attacked ducks in the park, I stopped running. With divorce issues, visa issues, work issues, and basic life-falling-apart issues; I didn’t make the time for training. I was burnt out. Despite continuing Crossfit training 4-5 days a week, I was stressed a LOT, more aggressive; my creativity plummeted into an abyss of self-doubt; and I slowly came to realize I was missing a part of myself.

Except for last year, I have run at least one marathon (sometimes two) every year since 2010.

Thus, when I saw the ads for the Jungfrau Marathon (which I’ve run twice and said ‘never again’ both times), of course, I had to sign up. I knew it would give me the motivation to get my ass out of bed and go running, whether I felt like it or not.

Which brings me to my second point:

Feeling Motivated is Irrelevant

When I have a goal, my level of enthusiasm doesn’t matter–I just train, rain or shine, or snow or wind or whatever the universe throws at me. It doesn’t matter, because the miles I log absolutely count when I’m running five or more hours up the side of a mountain. I know this. I’ve felt this in my quads and in my soul. 

So even if I only had four hours of sleep, or my calves hurt, or my labrador looks a little sleepy–it doesn’t matter. There are no excuses. I might grumble while I pull on my compression socks, but NOT training is not an option.

I just tell myselfokay, just put on your tights and socks and shoes and gloves and hat and raincoat and grab the dog and get the hell out there. If the wind blows you backwards, try to at least make it to the big barn. If you are not hit in the head by a tree branch, continue to the next town.

As long as there are no tornadoes, swarms of wasps, or sheets of black ice, I should be able to make it as far as the park. Sometimes I think about how wonderful running feels. Other times I bitch the first few miles. But I have never come back from a run saying, “I wish I would’ve stayed in bed.”

It’s the same with Crossfit–on certain days, showing up is my only goal, my only expectation. 

So, for my fellow unmotivated friends: never feel that in order to go to the gym or go for a run that you have to be Sunny Sally Zumba (who is, if you think about it, paid to motivate people).

Romantic ideas of being “motivated” are what hinder people the most. Motivational posters won’t tie your shoes for you.

So don’t wait to feel motivated. Instead, schedule your training on the family calendar. Set an alarm or two and show up.

You won’t regret it.

I promise.


Hope for a Reformed Killer

cala

This is my reason to celebrate this week: the plant.

Let me explain.

Long before all of this wintery wonderland nonsense, I get out of my car, and an old lady standing in her front garden calls me over. She’s about ninety years old, and we often see her working in her yard, which is most likely the original site of the Garden of Eden. She smiles and asks me if I want one of her plants, and then she gestures to a row of several pots in front of her.

I think to myself, “Oh, dear lady. You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

I am notorious for murdering innocent plants. I can’t tell you how many brittle corpses I’ve hacked apart and dumped over the years. There is likely a wanted poster of me hanging in every garden shop in all of Franconia.

My kids make jokes about it (at least they’ve survived to adolescence); and they’ll buy me helpful little gifts, like books called, “101 types of plant disease.”

I do not have a green thumb–though I TRULY wish I did. But somehow, the weeds overtake the garden, insects attack, limbs just inexplicably fall off a tree, I water too much or too little. Somehow, I am destined to kill things. I have resigned myself to this fate.

So, with this murderous history running through my mind, this lady innocently hands me my next victim, a pot of white cala lilies.

I carry it in two arms down the street, and I feel triumphant when it arrives at my apartment, still alive.

During the walk, I dare to dream.

I imagine putting the pot out on the balcony in the spring. And maybe, if I’m lucky, the flowers will bloom again. I think it’s the first time I could actually envision a future for a houseplant in my care, not counting shower mold.

So, here we are, mid-winter. The lilies are gone, but the plant is still living.

Yes, sometimes I forget to water it and the stalks slump over in defeat; but somehow, it keeps forgiving me–it keeps surviving.

I still hope it has a future here. Once I rid the balcony of pigeons, I can put it outside, and we can enjoy the warmer weather. Maybe we will have a chat over morning coffee as the sun rises. We can laugh together, as I swat away pigeons with an old broom.

Sometimes I worry the old lady might take the plant back into custody. Or maybe the plant would be happier with her? But maybe the cala can be the first on the balcony, championing the way for others that have a hardy will to survive.

We’ll see. For now, the cala lily is sunning itself in the window.

I hope she’s happy here.

Now where did I put the watering-can?


Forget Resolutions: Adapt and Celebrate

Celebrate

My youngest son & I celebrating!

The end of 2016 started to remind me of kilometer 36 of a marathon. I was pained and weary, yet it was too early to get excited about the beer waiting at the finish line.

I believe that no matter what the calendar says, a person can always make a fresh start. It just seems that when we have a new year stretching in front of us, it’s clean and unsoiled–full of potential. It doesn’t have the scuff marks and broken wheels of last year’s misdirected piece of baggage.

For me, I think resolution is too strong a word. I prefer “adaptation.” It seems more permanent somehow–not just an all or nothing scenario.

For many, the world seems like a frightening place at the moment. And despite the negativity and (often) helplessness people are voicing, for my family, this seems like it’s going to be a damn good year.  I feel a return of the positive spirit that was ground out of me last year.

So my “adaptation” is to celebrate.

Reason #1 to celebrate: my visa was renewed for two years.

TWO YEARS!!!

If you’ve ever dealt with visa renewal (typically an annual process that makes you feel like you’ve been dunked under water for a month); then you’ll understand that having a two year permit allows me to breathe a little. I can make contracts for cell phones. I can get better health insurance. It means that next Christmas I won’t have to worry about deportation (yes…our visas expire just after Christmas–very festive).

Reason #2 to celebrate: my oldest son!

If you’ve followed my blog, then you’ll know that just over 2 years ago, my oldest son left for Guatemala, and I had no idea when I would see him again. He was back to visit this fall, but the news that makes my Mama-heart leap out of its chest is that he was accepted into a university in the UK, which means he’ll be within driving/train ride distance.

But it’s more than the proximity that makes me happy. When you see your (mostly) unschooled child not only get accepted into a university but into a school where he can become qualified for his dream job (where 95 % of grads find employment, many animating for Disney or Pixar, for example), it definitely makes you want to break out the champagne.

Reason #3: I have too many reasons

Love, life, kids, health, writing, my apartment, a job prospect…

I could go on and on….

My life is far from perfect. I worry about my little dog who’s ten years old and ill. Politics and inequality make my blood boil. I find labrador hair in weird places in my house, even after I vacuum. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to help support my kids in college (I’ll have 2 enrolled this year). When it’s cold out, my car sounds like it’s dying (every time the motor starts I feel like I won the lottery).

However…

…one adaptation I’m making in 2017 is to focus on the celebrations. To find one good reason every day to toss confetti into the often hazy air of my life.

This is why, despite all the turmoil on the world stage, and sometimes in my own living room, 2017 is going to be great.

There is always something to celebrate.


It’s Called Camping, Buttercup

The tent smells like wet shoes and last night’s onions. It is so damp that the calluses on my hands have taken to peeling off by themselves, as if they have decided to go home early. I wake up, certain that my hip bone has dug a grave for me beneath my sleeping bag during the night.

This is camping, Buttercup.

And yet…

..as I wrap my cold hands around a hot cup of coffee and listen to the ever-present rush of the waterfall, I feel a little warmer about this adventure.

The sun will rise over the canyon around 10:30, and a rainbow will appear at the tip of the waterfall. The tent will heat into a sauna, and we’ll unzip the doors.

I find I am still inspired–jotting down scraps of notes at every turn: fragments that will turn themselves into stories.

Reading and writing and running and the setting so spectacular, I can’t fully capture it–not on film, not on paper–only in my memory.

Yesterday we visited the Trummelbach Falle: ten waterfalls, running from the glaciers through the mountains.

We climbed the stairs, which were carved from rock and gleaming with spray from the falls.

There is nothing jagged or harsh in the cave, only rock that is smooth with the ceaseless caress of water.

But for all the gentleness there is also power. The rush of water so loud, you have to cover your ears. Looking over the railing to the broiling brew below, your stomach gets a knot when you realize one false slip would mean an instant end to your life.

Rob told me during training, ‘The mountain will not be kind to you!’

I know it won’t.

Nature is beautiful.

And powerful.

It is a privilege to be so close to it.

To be immersed in it.

To be inspired by it.

I want to take its beauty and strength

and run with it.