Friday, March 28, 2014

Failures and successes in advanced hopping

I almost didn't get into Kindergarten. Not for any academic reasons. But because I couldn't hop backwards on one foot. True story. I don't know what hopping had to do with anything. I was four years old, applying for Kindergarten, not the circus. Still, the test administrators were very concerned about my failures in advanced hopping. But my mom was like "No, she can read, she is going to Kindergarten." And so I did. Because my mom is awesome like that.

In first grade, the school had a jump rope contest in gym class. You had to do a bunch of complicated jump rope moves and if you could complete them all, you would win a Crunch bar. I practiced every day and I won that damn candy bar. I don't know if I felt like I had something to prove after the hopping incident. I don't know if I was even aware of that Kindergarten story until I was much older. I think I just really wanted that Crunch bar. It was delicious, by the way.

I don't know why, but I never paid much attention to naysayers. I don't think it was a conscious choice, but I was just sort of oblivious to the kind of people who tell others they can't do things. I think somehow I knew that, for me, the deciding force in success was not innate talent, but passion. I didn't have to be naturally "good" at things because it would be effort and persistence that made all the difference. If I loved something and I threw myself into it 100%, awesomeness would ensue.

I think about the Kindergarten hopping debacle when I run trails, when I'm jumping over logs and streams, dodging branches and climbing hills. Even when I fall, get back up and keep going. Look who's hopping now, I think. Not because I have anything to prove. But because it's an awesome feeling running through the woods, running over/under/through any obstacle in your path.

It doesn't matter what anyone else says, doing what you love is its own reward. That being said, there are plenty of people who will support you in all your crazy endeavors, who will be running and hopping along with you, telling you all the things you can do, hanging around campfires and sharing snacks afterwards, and taking pictures of your robot socks. And you will be loving every minute of it.

Lyric of the moment: "I take it in but don’t look down. ‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay I’m on top of the world, ‘ay. Waiting on this for a while now, paying my dues to the dirt. I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay. Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay. Take you with me if I can. Been dreaming of this since a child. I’m on top of the world..."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2104 New Things #7: Pilates

I didn't know what to expect from Pilates. For some reason, I thought it involved some kind of weird pulleys or levers and I was a little afraid that I was about to be drawn and quartered. So I was relieved when I entered nu mvmnt for Pilates with Gina and there weren't any strange torture devices or even any horses in the room. Actually, it looked more like an art gallery. There was one painting of a parrot that I really liked (upon closer inspection, the piece was titled Bird Woman, so maybe it wasn't supposed to be a parrot. But that's what it looked like to me). There was also a pretty sweet couch in the front of the room, which was very misleading considering we didn't get to sit much at all.

Before the class started, Gina told me that Joseph Pilates developed the practice as physical therapy for veterans in WWI and it was designed to be done in a hospital bed. Interesting stuff.

Pilates turned out to be sort of like yoga, only with more focus on dynamic movements than static stretching. And with much better music. Don't get me wrong. It was tough. My legs were shaking a lot of the time. But I think one benefit of running so many races with muscle cramps is that I've sort of become inured to pain and, in comparison, muscle fatigue feels mildly uncomfortable but not unbearably so. And afterwards I felt surprisingly loose and open. Tomorrow I'll probably feel like I got hit by bus. A bus of awesomeness, but a bus nonetheless.

I would definitely go to this class again. Good exercise, good people and good music? What's not to like?

Lyric of the moment: "Heart on my sleeve. Not where it should be...Take it slow, take it easy on me. And shed some light, shed some light on me please..."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 New Things #6: Flannel shirt

It's rare that I'm mistaken for a lumberjack. But all that is about to change. Because I'm now the proud owner of a flannel shirt. I think it's only a matter of time before people start asking after my Big Blue Ox and serving me flapjacks.

I didn't even know I was looking for a flannel shirt. I had given up on button down shirts some time ago. They just never seem to fit me right. And while their coziness appealed to me, I didn't much care for the colors of most flannel shirts I'd come across. Then I was at a thrift store looking for a dress to wear for Mess The Dress (which I still haven't found. I need to get on that, stat!), when I happened upon the softest, coziest, navy-green-black-ivory, $3 flannel shirt. I took a chance on it and lo and behold it fit.

I never thought of myself as a flannel kind of robot, but it's just the thing to get me through this seemingly interminable winter.

Funny how so many of the best things I've found were while I was looking for something else entirely.

Lyric of the moment: "I'll follow you into the park. Through the jungle, through the dark. I never loved one like you. Moats and boats and waterfalls, alleyways and pay phone calls. I've been everywhere with you. Laugh until we think we'll die. Barefoot on a summer night. Never could be sweeter than with you...Ah, home, let me go home. Home is wherever I'm with you..."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Adventures in Letchworth Park

Photo by Jim McLaughlin
from the FF group
There are days I get the opportunity to do things I think I cannot do. Yesterday was one of those days. Some friends talked me into running 16 icy, snowy, beautiful miles at Letchworth Park. It's the longest I've run in a while and it felt pretty great.

I wasn't planning on going to this run. Honestly, I thought it sounded kind of crazy. The crew was going to run the Sehgahunda preview run (12 miles) and add on 4 more miles on the roads. After running about 6 miles with Danielle and her friend Saturday morning on the Crescent trail (and I use the term running loosely, since some parts of the trail were so icy we were doing more hiking than running), I decided that Letchworth was a no-go. I don't like running trails in the winter, I really don't like running on ice and I already got in my obligatory fall this winter, so I figured attempting Letchworth would be an exercise in calamity.

But then I got an invitation from Pete, and it's really hard to say no to his positive peer pressure, especially when he offered up a ride from Steven and his tricked out car. So then I was in. Okay, I thought, I'll go and just run 6 miles, maybe 12 if I'm lucky and I feel good, but definitely not 16. Luckily I had brought my spikes and Alison had convinced me to wear them, because the trails were thick with ice and snow, windy and cold in spots. Even in the best conditions, I am terrible at trail running. Picture an elephant trying to do ballet. It's like that, only worse. (Though the elephant does have a really big smile on its face.) The first six miles, I tried to relax and just go with it, following Pete and copying all his moves at the creek crossings. A light snow was falling in some spots and it was really quite beautiful. I felt strangely content and at peace. I say strangely because usually on trails, The Doubts get in the way and I feel nervous. Someone had brought a dog, who was running back and forth herding us, like our own little doggy Sherpa. I loved it.

Thanks to Alison for this photo.
Once we got to the road and stashed our spikes in Jenn's Car of Fun, we headed out for 4 miles (2 miles out and 2 miles back to the car). It was very windy and cold on the roads, but my feet felt so much better without the spikes on that I didn't care. When we got back to the car, I was so tempted to call it a day. But after a quick break to pee in the woods (where apparently I got some burs in my thigh. I only realized it after the run when I was changing my pants and wondered why my leg was bleeding) and put my spikes back on, I was back on the trail for another 6 miles back to the start. The spikes were really hurting my toes by this point. At mile 14, I took them off but then I was sliding all over the place so I put them back on, figuring some temporary pain was better than a potentially ruinous fall. I was starting to feel a little fatigue, but no muscle cramps or anything, so I was thrilled about that. (Today I read something about how during runs over 2 hours you need to take some protein with your fuel, so I will try that next time. I've been running for 18 years but I still learn something new every time.) I'm still surprised I was able to do all 16 miles and 3 hours of running and feel so good afterwards. I was stiff yesterday, but after breakfast with the group (at a restaurant whose name I can't remember, but I do know there was a bear statue nearby. I made a mental note to go climb on that sometime), Batman band-aids for the bur-induced scrapes on my thighs (any day you have Bruce Wayne between your legs, I just can't do it. It's too easy), extra sleep last night and yoga stretches for my hips and legs this morning, I feel fine.

This is a glaring reminder to myself to say yes more often. Had I stayed home and run on my own yesterday, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun or felt as awesome about it.

Lyric of the moment: "A friend in need's a friend indeed. A friend with weed electrolyte tabs is better..."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Riddle of the saucy minx

Whenever I encounter people I haven't seen in a while, they usually ask me "Are you still running?" or "Where's your next trip?" or they tell me about some new explosion of sugary awesomeness. Apparently these are the things I'm known for: running and travel and dessert. Which is fine by me since those are three of my favorite things. But I'm curious about how other people see me. Not that I'm particularly unique or interesting or anything. Just because it's so hard to be objective about oneself. I see things through the lens of my own experiences and other people see things through the lens of their own experiences, so there are bound to be some discrepancies.

I want to be authentically me, flaws and all, both online and in person, but how do I know if other people see me as I really am? I don't want to be oblivious or out of touch with reality. But how would I even know if I am? My interpretation of reality is colored by my own perspective, which is obviously biased.

At work it's fascinating to hear the feedback from our candidates' interviews. Sometimes the candidate's version and the employer's version are so different I wonder if we are experiencing some kind of weird sci-fi alternate-dimension-interview phenomenon. One candidate thought his interview went very well, but we found out from the employer that he was universally disliked and he even swore at one of the interviewers. Another employer complained to us how a candidate kept going on and on about his divorce, then later the candidate told us "It was strange, they didn't even ask me any personal questions."

It makes me wonder if there are things everyone else sees that I am totally missing or situations everyone else understands that I am completely misinterpreting. But how do I know what I don't know?

The only answer I can come up with is insatiable curiosity. Proceed with open arms and an open mind. Probe deeper than my initial reactions and give myself the space to consider new, alternative, perhaps even contradictory ideas and perspectives. I don't have to adopt all of them permanently, nor would I want to, but I can explore them a bit and maybe discover some new perspectives I hadn't previously considered.

With all this Who am I? and What is reality? talk, people who didn't know me would totally think I was on drugs. But whatever. I still want to know. Everything. Especially this: what is it that qualifies someone to be referred to as a saucy minx? What a fantastic expression that is.

 Maybe someday I will figure it out. Until then, I just want to see all the places and run all the races. And learn all the things about all the people.

Lyric of the moment: "I can turn it on, be a good machine. I can hold the weight of worlds if that's what you need, be your everything. I can do it, I can do it, I'll get through it. But I'm only human. And I bleed when I fall down. I'm only human. And I crash and I break down..."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 New Things #5: Sumo Citrus

Wegmans was handing out free samples of Sumo Citrus while we happened to be there grocery shopping, so we tried some. Because fruit is good and fruit with funny names is even better. The Sumo Citrus is a seedless tangerine-orange hybrid originally developed in Japan and named for its resemblance to a Sumo wrestler, topknot and all. We bought two to take home and I'm already a fan. It's sweet, tanger-orangey goodness you can peel and eat without getting sticky juice residue all over your hands. More food in mouth and less on hands is a win-win in my book.

I appreciate the fact that it took over thirty years for the Japanese grower to develop his Sumo Citrus. I imagine it's rare for the fruits of one's labor to literally be fruit. And it's nice to know that some things only get better in their thirties.

Lyric of the moment: "'Cause your mouth made an offer that the bodies cannot veto. No woman can resist a man who looks good in a Speedo...Talk of the town, Mr. Tangerine Speedo. How you get around in your tangerine La la la la la la la la..." (because this song never fails to make me laugh.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 Race #2: Johnny's Runnin' of the Green

Saturday morning I woke up, ran 6 miles, put on my shamrock socks*, then ran Johnny's Runnin' of the Green 5 mile race downtown. This year I wanted to focus on running races for fun instead of stressing out about them. I figured if I ran a warm-up that was longer than the race itself, I could just relax and enjoy the race as just part of another training run. The course itself, an out and back, was pretty boring but it was great running amidst all the crazy costumes. I saw a lot of tutus (I think the next piece of running apparel I buy needs to be a tutu), a man with a green mustache, two women dressed like leprechauns (beards and all), a dude in a Green Lantern shirt (sadly it was not Ryan Reynolds) and someone running with a (fake) bare ass hanging out.

I kept getting stuck behind people (I'm terrible at running in crowds), but it turned out to be a good thing because my stomach started cramping almost right away. Then the cramping moved up into my chest too, which wasn't cool at all. But I just kept going and trying not to think about it. I felt like I was running so slow, so I was surprised that my chip time was 43:48. I'll take that for the end of an 11 mile training run with cramps. But seriously, that shit is getting annoying and I don't know how to fix it.

I wish I would have had more fun during this race, but I didn't get anxious about it or feel upset about my time or anything, so I think I'm headed in the right direction.

Whatever happens, every mile I get to run is a good one.

Lyric of the moment: "Live, that's all you can, it's all you can do. No matter where I put my head, I wake up feeling sound again. Breathe, it's all you can...Be thankful, that's all you can. Ah but don't, don't sink the boat, that you built, you built to keep afloat..."

*I don't have any pictures from the race so you will have to imagine the awesomeness that was my shamrock socks.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Frozen winter shit

Out of all the possible apocalypses, I still think zombies would be the best. But I could get on board with a snowpocalypse too. I don't recall having invited him, but winter storm Vulcan came to visit this week. He dumped a ton of snow on everything and I didn't even get a day off work, but then he was all "Live long and prosper" so I couldn't be too annoyed at the Vulcan. That would be illogical.

I can complain with the best of them, but I try not to because it's kind of a waste of time. Time that could be spent eating cookies and watching Scandal (How did I not know about this show before now? I thought I would hate it because I hate politics but it's surprisingly awesome).

I figure if I don't like something, I can change it. And if it's something I can't change, like the weather, I can at least change my attitude about it. So here are my favorite things about this frozen winter shit:

*I kind of like driving when I can hardly see anything in front of me. It seems more adventurous that way.

*Shoveling always seems like a huge pain in the ass at first, but once I get going I rather enjoy it. It keeps me warm and the repetitive motion is actually sort of meditative in a way. Sometimes I like to count shovelfuls and see how many I can get. It was 100+ when I lost count this morning.

*My absolute favorite thing about winter is those chunks of snow that collect in the wheel wells of my car. There's something about kicking them loose that I find so satisfying.

*My second favorite thing is all the giant snow piles everywhere, especially the ones made by plows in big parking lots. So many things to climb on, so little time.

*Maybe it's just me, but people seem extra weird during extreme weather. I saw a dude out walking in the blizzard wearing shorts and two different cars pulling deliberate U-turns on busy roads covered in all the Vulcan junk (you know, because if there's ever a time for reckless driving it's during a blizzard!)

*But people are also extra nice. When my car got stuck in part of an unplowed road on my way to work, a nice stranger stopped and pushed me out. Thanks, dude!

Enough of that. Let's skip ahead to the days of sun and pants-less runs. My friends, may your winters be short and may you live long and prosper.

Lyric of the moment: "It's sure been a hard, hard winter. My feet been draggin' 'cross the ground. And I hope it's gonna be a long, hot summer. And a lotta love will be burnin' bright..."

Friday, March 7, 2014

The running hug

The other morning I was walking into work, past a woman stretching on the sidewalk, when her dog bounded over to me tail wagging, dragging the poor woman behind him, and started sniffing me. The woman said "I guess he really wanted to come say hi to you." I love the unapologetic excitement of dog greetings. I wish it was acceptable for people to behave like that. Minus all the sniffing. That would be weird. I mean the part about being so excited to see someone you just have to run over to them. As far as greetings go, I much prefer the running hug to the handshake. Though I guess it would be sort of awkward to run around hugging people like that. Sometimes at home I yell "sneak attack" and run over and hug Mike. But living with me is an adventure in weirdness so I think he's pretty used to my antics by now.

Lyric of the moment: "Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break. I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space..."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Release. And for comedic relief, an epic fall.

On my way to work this morning, I stopped at the coffee place around the corner and one of the specials of the day was a Matte Latte. I've been wanting to try yerba mate for a while, and since I really only love tea when it has milk in it, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Then, when I was back in my car, the radio started playing Pearl Jam's Release. (I wouldn't have heard it unless I stopped to get that drink, because otherwise I would have already been inside at work.) When a song I love that normally doesn't get a lot of radio play randomly comes on when I happen to be listening, it feels like a sign, a little hug from the universe. (The cynics will say it's just a coincidence, but maybe that's what coincidences are, tiny shout-outs from the universe saying "Hi, I'm thinking about you and thought you would find this really cool." Since I get to choose how I see the world, I choose to see signs of awesomeness rather than nothingness.)

It was a good reminder too. Release. Sometimes I hold on to the way I want things to be when I should just release them and embrace what they are.

Last Monday, I was running down East Ave before work. The sidewalks were very icy, but I was doing ok. Then suddenly, I slipped and fell flat on my back. It was one of those slipping-on-a-banana-peel falls I thought only happened in cartoons. One second I was vertical and the next horizontal. I almost wish someone had seen it as I'm sure it was quite comical. I would have laughed myself except it hurt too much. I got up gingerly, hobbled a few steps and then slowly ran back home (luckily I was only about a mile and a half from my house at this point). So now I can add that to the list of my experiences: cartoon fall. That, and the fact that my ass has never been so purple! I'm pretty good at bruising myself, but I have to say this is some of my finest work. My lower back and tailbone have been very unhappy, so I've taken subsequent runs inside to the treadmill. I was hoping to be able to run outside with friends over the weekend, but my parts had other plans (Tailbone, dude, I'm so sorry. Most of the time I forget you even exist. But I'm feeling you now. Yowza!). In the past I would have forced it, I would have done what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And I probably would have been the worse for wear because of it. The older me is trying to take a slower, wiser approach. I can still do the things I want to do, but sometimes it will have to be on an extended timeline. I will get there, if I let go of how I want things to be and ride the wave of how they are, if I release my expectations and do the best that I can with what I have in that moment. Some days I can push hard, other days I will have to go easy. My parts will heal on their own time, if I give them the space and courtesy to do so.

Lyric of the moment: "I'll ride the wave where it takes me. I'll hold the pain, release me..."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2104 New Things #4: Ethiopian food

Last night Mike and I went to Zemeta, an Ethiopian restaurant on S. Clinton. I've been wanting to try Ethiopian food for a while and apparently there's been a good place hiding in my neighborhood the whole time. We both got the vegetarian buffet and Mike also ordered lamb. Everything I tried was very good, though I have no idea what any of it is called because the buffet wasn't labeled. They gave us forks, though traditionally I think Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using a spongy bread called injera to scoop up the food. Injera, while good, doesn't really taste like bread. I was curious what it's made of so I asked Mr. Internet and he told me it was teff flour. And that teff is a lovegrass native to Ethiopia and Eritrea. So to the list of things I've eaten I can now add lovegrass bread. If you are what you eat, might as well eat things made out of love. While chilling out to chill out music.

Zemeta is small inside, with only a few tables, but the atmosphere was nice (the TV in the corner was set to music videos of Ethiopian "Chill Out" music), the service was friendly and the food was good. I'd definitely go back there again, but I also want to try Abyssinia on Mount Hope Ave.

Lyric of the moment: "Something good gonna come your way, just look out your door...Tell my boy I love him so,  tell him so he know. Lost in Ethiopia, walk out in that road..."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Things I don't talk about

**Edit: I went back and forth all weekend about deleting this. Because maybe I lied when I said I wasn't embarrassed about it. It is embarrassing to reveal all the dark, ugly things about your insides. But maybe it's better to bring the dark parts out into the light. I don't know. Maybe some people will think less of me after reading this, but that's their prerogative. I know I'm not going to be everyone's cup of tea and that's ok with me. But if only one other person reads this and feels just the tiniest bit of comfort or understanding from it, it will be worth it.**

The road to Awesometown is not all sunshine and giggles. There are struggles. Sometimes you have to go through some deeply personal, existential crisis type struggles. There are certain things I don't talk about. Because I want this to be a place of lightness and love and awesomeness. But it's also a place of honesty. So this shit is about to get real. (If you want to skip it, that's totally cool. Tale of awesomeness and hilarity will resume tomorrow.)

As cliché as it sounds, I used to be that overachieving valedictorian runner with the eating disorder. It happened when I was in college, triggered by stress and change and family problems. Under-eating and over-exercising were my coping mechanisms, my outlets for all the negative emotions I didn't know how to deal with, my way of regaining some control. It's not that I'm ashamed of it or afraid of judgment. Judge away if you want. There's nothing anyone could say to me that is worse than the shit I've said to myself over the years. It's just that it dredges up painful memories that I'd rather leave in the past. I was never hospitalized but I had to go to this outpatient treatment center at Strong. It was the worst, most humiliating thing ever. Wearing nothing except a hospital gown, I had to stand on the scale backwards, because of course they'd never let me see how much I weighed. It was like some terrible judgment day where the doctors would come in and tell me it still wasn't enough. It was never enough. Whatever I was, it was not enough. I couldn't articulate it at the time, but inside I was screaming. This is a really fucked up thing to do to someone. Why do you think I'm here? It's not because I think I'm fat. Sometimes I can't sleep at night because my bones protrude so much it hurts when I lay down. I know I'm not fat. I know I'm not enough, so much so that I can't even feed myself properly. That's how little I think of myself, you fuckers.

If you were to ask me why I run, I would say because it makes me better, stronger, happier and saner. Which is true. But really it's because running saved me. And probably continues to do so. I call it the day I got stuck in slow motion. I was about 20. I wasn't supposed to be running so I'd get up in the middle of the night and run in the dark (I was always very stubborn. Nobody was going to be the boss of me). One morning, I suddenly felt like I was moving in slow motion. I had run a couple of miles and then I literally couldn't run another step. I was so thin and anemic that my body physically had nothing left. It was scary. I'd been on the edge for a while and that was the moment I knew I had to decide which side I was on. I chose life and running, I chose me. I'm not going to say it was easy, but once I made up my mind there was no stopping me. I already had all that willpower and determination, I just had to focus on using it for me instead of against me. A Jen divided against itself cannot stand, cannot run, cannot go on amazing adventures.

So those are the things I don't talk about, the ugly and dark parts of me that I try to leave further and further behind every day. But still, they happened and I can't change the past now. I don't want people to think of the bad parts when they see me or define me by past mistakes. But sometimes I wonder...where I am today - everything I have, all the amazing people I've met, this life of awesomeness and adventure I've been lucky enough to stumble into - was it in spite of the struggles or because of them?

Everyone has their own struggles, and while I may not have walked in their shoes, I understand how the pain and sorrow and darkness can get you down. So I try to live with compassion and love and open arms. As the saying goes "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

So if you are fighting your own hard battle, I get it, man. That shit sucks. But keep going. You are an infinitely beautiful and lovable soul and the world is so lucky to have you.

Lyric of the moment: "Oh, why you look so sad? Tears are in your eyes, come on and come to me now. Don't be ashamed to cry. Let me see you through 'cause I've seen the dark side too. When the night falls on you, you don't know what to do. Nothing you confess could make me love you less. I'll stand by you..."