Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On being a carbon based life form

I can never choose sides. It is impossible. Because there are no sides. The earth is round. And we are all spinning around on it together. I cannot comprehend the Us vs. Them mentality. We are all the Us. We are all the Them. We are all carbon based life forms trying to figure out what it means to be alive. We all want the same things. To be seen, heard, understood, remembered, loved. To have the opportunity to better ourselves and our lives. To find meaning and purpose and happiness. We are all so much the same. Maybe that is why it is easier for us to focus on the things that make us different. And no doubt those differences are what make each of us unique and interesting. But those differences can lead to the fear and anger that breed pettiness and injustice and violence and tragedy.

I do not have any answers. All I know is that very few things are black and white. Much of life is shades of grey. There are so many nuances and complexities involved in peoples' reactions and behaviors. So I try to strive for understanding rather than judgment. I try to remember that everyone has obstacles and struggles, everyone has experienced pain and hurt and suffering. Sometimes their words and actions are a manifestation of that hurt and suffering. There is more to someone's story than I can possibly know, not having lived it myself.

So I don't believe in sides. I don't believe in bad guys or good guys. I believe that everyone has a good heart but sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes the most egregious mistakes are perpetuated through history. I don't know why. It is senseless and so very sad. I don't know the purpose of any of it. But I think that my purpose is to be the best carbon based life form I can be. To be infinitely grateful for this extremely fortunate life I have been given and to do all I can to increase the love and light and happiness in the lives of everyone I encounter during my time here. And that means acting with love and compassion in everything I do. I'm imperfect. I often fail at this. But I will keep trying. Because if there is any point at all to our existence, I want it to be this: to love and take care of each other. Not just when it's convenient or when it's easy. But forever and for always.

Lyric of the moment: "I'm made of atoms, you're made of atoms. And we're all in this together... Ask a scientist, it's quantum physics. We're all in this together..."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trust your footwork

I've been thinking about a conversation I had with Todd when he picked a greyhound as my baby spirit animal and said "You're a very fast runner without really trying and you tend to be chill after running." I wish I was as fast as a greyhound, especially on trails. Todd said "You just need to trust your footwork on the trails a little more." It's totally true. But I haven't figured out how to do that. There are times I want to let myself go and fly down the hills but I don't feel strong or agile enough for that and I have this nagging fear that every step could be the one that leads to faceplant. I know I need to have faith that my feet will find their way. On the trails of my runs and on the trails of my life. But I don't quite trust myself to take the right steps. Technically there are no "right" steps. But I would prefer to take the ones that don't end with me twisting my ankles and falling down ravines.

Have I learned nothing in all these years of running and living? How can I have still be so bad at this? I keep trying to be different, better, wiser. But I'm still the same person with all the same faults and naiveties, somehow both too stubborn and too flexible, wanting too much. (Though even I have to admit that no matter what shenanigans I've gotten myself into, my ultimate life trajectory has been one of increasing awesomeness. So at least I've got luck on my side, if not skill.)

I have a tendency to get stuck in my head, to run through all the worst case scenarios of what might happen, what I might lose, what people might think. And I have all this accumulated armor. The walls I build out of fear, the impulse to flee when everything is too much. But the armor is not protecting me from anything. All it does is weigh me down. I need to let it go and remember that whatever happens, I will be happy. Because happiness is a choice that I can always make. And the truth is that all roads lead to Awesometown. Some hurt a little more than others. But I can't waste time worrying about that. I have to go forth wholeheartedly, let my feet find their way and make wherever I am the best place to be. And if that place happens to be a ravine, I will get ravine red velvet cookies for all!

Lyric of the moment: "The days will pass you by. Don't wait to lay your armor down..."

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 New Things #17: Hygge

I'm a little disenchanted with Fall. He was so warm at first but has become increasingly cold, dark and depressing. And he's always bringing that jerk Winter around. I'm made for sunshine and heat. I cannot stand the cold, dark days of winter. It doesn't help that I live in a city with 6 months of winter. But I've been cold everywhere, even at the equator (I wish that was a joke but it is ridiculously true. Isn't fat supposed to be insulating? I think all of mine is broken. It is also quite possible that I am cold blooded). Still, I don't want to be a whiny little bitch about it, so I'm always looking for ways to embrace Winter, or at least make him more tolerable. Today I'm expecting the delivery of my new puffy coat, which I bought online after reading a review where a woman in Alaska claimed it was very warm. I'm hoping that this coat is the one that will be up to the impossible task of keeping me warm. But I'm not that optimistic. I have been let down by coats and their empty promises before. I think it's going to take more than a synthetic down puffer for me to become BFFs with Winter. So I was intrigued when I read an article about hygge.

Hygge is a Danish word for which there is no English translation, but it means a kind of cozy well-being. Like the warm atmosphere created when you mix good friends, good food and good times. Also, something about candles. I've never been to Denmark but I'm pretty sure I've experienced hygge right here in Rochester. The closest English translation I can come up with is TrailsRoc. I will happily shiver through the never ending darkness and the bone-chilling, soul-sucking cold for all the runs, conversations, laughs and celebrations with friends. My skin may never be warm but my heart will be. If I can't be in the season I love (Summer + Robot 4Ever!), I'll love the season I'm in. I have a cupboard full of oatmeal and I'm ready. Let's make some new traditions and have a winter of epic adventures.

Lyric of the moment: "It's where my heart was made. And where my feet will always land..."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Veterans Day trifecta of awesomeness

Let's get yogurt!
There are three things for which I will happily get up extra early: running, adventures and people. So when I found myself in a car full of friends at 5:30am heading for runs and food and celebrations, I knew it was going to be a good day. Thanks to Pete for organizing our run-eat-run-eat-run-eat honor the veterans adventure.

At 6am, Pete, Steven, Bob, Danielle and I joined the RIT and U of R NROTC Unit and Veterans Alliance for their Veterans Day run. We ran from the U of R campus to Highland Park, where there was a short ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and then back to U of R. It's heartbreaking to think of all the lives lost to past and current wars, and even more so to realize that these cadets, so young and full of promise, could very well meet the same fate one day.

Handsome dudes everywhere!
After the U of R run, Pete, Steven, Bob and I went to the Veterans Day breakfast at RIT, where we saw more moving speeches and touching videos, and where Pete and Steven were interviewed by Channel 10 News (!) about their service in the Navy and Army respectively. At 11am, the 4 of us and Prem ran the Veterun 5K race at Mendon Ponds to benefit the Honor Flight of Rochester (We stopped by Jenn's place on the way to Mendon but she was in the shower, which totally foiled our plans to kidnap her. I mean, um, invite her to join us). The race was faster and more fun than I was expecting. All my training lately has been primarily long, slow distance (because LSD is my jam!) but then I do a 5K and I'm reminded how good it feels to run fast (well, fast for me. My race pace would be someone else's easy pace). Though in hindsight, I think eating eggs at breakfast was a bad choice because I had to have the "throw up or shut up" conversation with my stomach during this race. After the post-race food (I did not have a cheeseburger so I cannot comment on that, but the cookies were pretty decent), we visited Alison at work and then got frozen yogurt. Sooooo good!

At this point we all went our separate ways, but then met back up again for the TrailsRoc Tuesday Trot at Webster Park and post-run donuts (thanks to Jenn!). Three runs, good friends, good times: the trifecta of awesomeness!

Today was my first time ever really celebrating Veterans Day and I enjoyed hearing the stories of both friends' and strangers' military careers. I am always fascinated by other people's lives and stories, the incredible scope of their insights and the profundity of their strengths. Though I am as pacifist as they come, I wholeheartedly support the people who have served and who currently serve in the military. I wish that no one ever had to make the sacrifices they have made. But it is in part due to their sacrifices that I am able to enjoy such an extremely fortunate life, largely untouched by violence and tragedy. And I can't be anything other than eternally grateful for that.

Lyric of the moment: "I got soul but I'm not a soldier. I got soul but I'm not a soldier. Time. Truth. Hearts...."

Monday, November 10, 2014

The end of bad photos

I used to cringe when I'd see pictures of me from races or group runs. Somehow I always managed to look like a lumpy zombie. But then I met Pete. And he loves taking what I would call "terrible" pictures of me. Pictures where I'm driving or otherwise unaware I'm being photographed, pictures where my eyes are closed or I'm making a weird face. His phone is filled with them. I'd complain about how awful they were and he'd say something like "They're not bad, they're beautiful." At first I wanted to delete them but over time I sort of became inured to them. And then I started thinking, well what exactly is the criteria by which I judge a photo of me to be 'bad?' If I look particularly moribund or muffin-toppy? If I don't conform to the narrow definition of beauty depicted in the popular media? Why am I wasting my time and energy on this malarkey? They are simply snapshots of a specific moment in time. It's only my judgment of them that makes them "bad" or "good."

I can't change the photos. They are reality. That is what I looked like at that moment. But I can change my judgment of them. I can change my definition of beauty, I can expand it to be all-encompassing. If you ask Mr. Merriam-Webster, he will tell you that beauty is defined as:

The quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives
pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit;
loveliness; a brilliant, extreme, or egregious example or instance.  
By that definition, virtually every moment is beautiful. Especially those moments where I'm running or enjoying the company of friends, the occasions which typically end up being photographed. Those moments are pleasurable, brilliant and lovely. And the moments we're running are usually pretty extreme, either in weather or duration or monkey business. Photographs are the physical evidence of these beautiful moments. They are not perfect, but they are real. And real is far more interesting.

This is a photo taken by Prem (middle name: Awesome) during the group run at Letchworth on Saturday.

(Apparently I can run with my eyes closed, which will come in handy if I ever need to nap mid-run.) I could point out all the things I dislike about the way I look in this photo. But I won't. Because it was a beautiful run on a beautiful day with some beautiful souls I am lucky enough to know. And when I look at this picture, that's all I want to see. Because adventure is about getting your wings dirty (as Danielle says, it's better to be a dirty angel than a clean angel), it's about getting out of your perfectly coiffed/perfectly posed comfort zone, it's about being fully alive and all that entails - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's all beautiful.

I am declaring this day the end of bad photos. Wherever we are and whatever we're doing in photos and in life, there is love and joy and awesomeness to be found. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Lyric of the moment: "Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize, we're floating in space? Do you realize, that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize, that everyone you know someday will die? And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast. It's hard to make the good things last. You realize the sun doesn't go down. It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round..."

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mind, body, machine

I have been waiting for the inevitable post-endurance race immune system depression to strike.  Usually after long races I get sick. But so far I feel fine. More than fine actually. I feel better the week after my 50K than I did the week before it. Some of that is thanks to the chiropractor. He moved some stuff around, cracked my back, put ice on my knee and hip and reassured me that I'm fine, that all I needed was a minor tune-up. I think it was the reassurance that gave me the most relief. Before the race I had some nagging hip pain and I was worried it was going to be bad news. But I think the worry was more problematic than the minor aches and pains.

A few years ago when I had tendinitis in my ankle and it took for.ev.er to heal, I remember my primary care physician posed the rhetorical question "Are you sad because your ankle hurts or does your ankle hurt because you're sad?" (Did I mention that he totally reminds of me of Jeff Bridges? He is The Dude of doctors.) This was at a time in my life when I was subject to a lot of external conflict. And I am terrible at conflict. I find it excruciating and intolerable and overwhelmingly stressful. And Dr. Dude's comment was a light-bulb moment for me. Of course it would take far longer for me to actually act on this knowledge, but what he said made perfect sense.

And yes, I need to get better at handling conflict. I just want everyone to get along and be happy and turn every disagreement into a win-win scenario involving cookies, but I know that's not realistic and won't always happen (I'm willing to compromise on the cookies. Cake would also be acceptable.) As long as conflicts are resolved relatively quickly (and ideally in a compassionate manner), I'm totally fine. (I mean, I will probably cry. That's just what happens because I'm the kind of person who internalizes everything and then the tears are my outlet for all the pent-up stress, frustrations and feelings. So I will cry and then I'll feel better and everything will be fine.) But it took me a long time to realize that it is nigh impossible for me to be myself and thrive in situations where there is chronic conflict, whether from external sources or self-imposed.

So I guess it shouldn't be surprising that this year I've been able to run farther, recover quicker and feel immensely better than ever before. I've gotten back to my happy running place, where it's all about joy and camaraderie. And I'm in a relationship that's a much better fit for my temperament, that accepts me at my worst and brings out my best.

Probably I have now jinxed myself by admitting I feel so good. When you name a ship The Titanic, it's pretty much destined to sink. Even so, it must be said. It is such a weird and wonderful feeling to be living out all my wildest, most impossible dreams.

Lyric of the moment: "We've been through some things together, with trunks of memories still to come. We found things to do in stormy weather. Long may you run..."

Monday, November 3, 2014

A cosmic 'I told you so'

Last week a strange sequence of events led me to one of those moments where it felt like everything in the universe was conspiring to tell me I told you so. See? Everything works out for the best. Trust us. Apparently I need even more blatant reminders. Because I still had major angst, about everything, before my race on Saturday. Then once I started running, all I felt was this overwhelming sense of love and contentedness. It was cold and rainy, I was tired and achy and questioning both my ability to finish and my sanity. But mostly I was so, so happy to be there. Increasingly that is also how I feel about my life, that whatever happens there is no place I'd rather be.

I am trying to let go of my insatiable curiosity to know upfront how it's all going to play out and just believe. In the awesomeness of people. And that if there was a better way to go then it would find me. It always has.

I am starting to trust that there is hope for me yet. Though at times I still think maybe I am too weird to get one forever person. I don't mean weird as a pejorative. It's just that I am a lot of sometimes contradictory things. Rational and ridiculous, responsible and restless (almost to a fault on both accounts), feet on the ground and head in the clouds. I want to be independent but also feel like part of a team (I think maybe that's called interdependence). I want a life of travel and adventures, of minimal things and maximum people, of running and partying and enjoying up all of my days. But I understand that other people want different things out of life, that maybe I am too much motion, too much ridiculousness for one person to handle. It's cool. We can still share cookies and conversations about our disparate dreams. Come on in. Stay as long as you like. It's going to be quite a ride.

Lyric of the moment: "Every glorious disaster, every bond is gonna bring you faster out into the light..."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2014 Race #12: Mendon 50K

Thanks to super-awesome Stacey for the photo
As a strategy for running a successful first 50K, I would not suggest wearing a brand new running jacket on race day or being too nervous the night before to eat a decent dinner or having an inexplicable baseball-sized bruise on your left hip (perhaps you have unknowingly become involved in some kind of sleepwalking hula-hooping fight club?) and a weird pain in some muscle/tendon/other part near your right hip/back. Not to mention only getting 6.5 hours of sleep the night before and having a meltdown because you are so exhausted and overwhelmed with feelings that everything makes you cry. Or forgetting your deodorant so you have to borrow your boyfriend's deodorant and go to the race smelling very manly. But that is what I did. And this is what happened:

When I arrived at Mendon, it was dark and rainy, not quite 40 degrees yet. Fitting for All Saints Day I suppose. I certainly felt a little haunted. By past mistakes and injuries and bad races. But I started this year with the goal to run 14 races for the pure enjoyment of them, no expectations, no attachment to the results. And somehow that strategy had lead me to the start line of a 50K, something I never thought I would ever even want to do, let alone be crazy enough to attempt. So I shrugged off the ghosts of Jens past and went to sign in and get my race bib, then hung out with the crew until the race started. The course is a 10K loop with some great but hilly trails. No matter, because this is ultrarunning, where hills are for walking.

Thanks to superhuman 100 mile runner Ron for the photo
Loop 1: I started off running with John and Steve and with the combination of fresh legs and funny conversations about prosthetic testes and the differences between eskers and drumlins and gremlins, this loop seemed to fly by. Soon we were back crossing the road heading to the start/finish. Chatting away, we naturally gravitated to the road leading back to the pavilion. I remember saying something like "oh hey, are we supposed to be running where those orange cones are over there?" but not really thinking anything of it until people started yelling at us that we had to move over and run through the finish chute where the timers were. We had a good laugh over that one, as the 3 of us are the kind of runners who could get lost running in a straight line.

Loop 2: Again, the loop seemed to pass quickly, as time usually does when you have good company. By this point, the 10K, 20K and 30K runners had started and we got to see and cheer for a lot of friends as they passed us. It felt like running a race while simultaneously watching a parade. When we got back to the start/finish, we stopped to use the bathrooms. Assuming that all men pee way faster than I can, especially after I had to wrestle with my tights to get them pulled back on (seriously, for me the greatest struggle of this race was pulling my pants back up after the two times I stopped to pee. Those compression tights have a vacuum tight seal), I thought that John and Steve had already started the next loop while I was still in the bathroom. When I came out and didn't see them anywhere nearby, I figured I would just go my own pace for the next 3 loops. They are way faster and far more experienced runners and I thought I wouldn't have been able to keep up with them anyway.

Loop 3: I knew that finishing this loop feeling good enough to go back out for the fourth loop was the key to my being able to finish this race. Each loop was getting progressively wetter and slicker due to the rain. Luckily, the running jacket I'd recently bought for $24 at Marshalls (because it has a sweet pocket on the back with a fold-out hood) was keeping me dry and the perfect amount of warm. Both Alison and Bob stopped to chat/run with me for a few minutes as they passed and that, plus knowing that I was never more than 3 miles from an aid station with friendly faces, made it easy to keep going. Towards the end of the loop, I came upon Andrea and we chatted for a bit as well.

Loop 4: I don't remember much about this loop. I just put in my headphones and kept moving. I got lapped right at the end by two 50Kers on their final loop and seeing them get to stop at the finish knowing I still had another loop to go was a little disheartening, but everyone cheering at the TrailsRoc tent, plus Laura, Bob and Alison's encouragement at the aid station helped me get back out there.

Loop 5; I was so tired I didn't know how I was going to pull off this loop. I felt like I was running in slow motion and my fingers had started tingling at random. Maybe it was just my brain getting fuzzy, but this loop was strangely magical. Early on, I came upon the first deer I'd seen all day. It was walking away from me into the woods but when I said "Hi, Deer!" it turned to look at me like "Hi, weirdo neon/spandex human." As I passed the water tower I was like "Hey water tower, this is the last time I'll see you today. No offense, but I am really getting sick of you." When I got to 25 miles, I thought every step you take from here is the farthest you've ever run on trails and when I got to 26.3 miles I thought every step you take from here is the farthest you've ever run in your life. Later I met a guy named Jamie from Syracuse and talked for a bit as we ran. At the aid station, I heard excited cheering from Liz and from Danielle, who had been pacing Tammy for her last 2 loops. Tammy felt good so she went on ahead and Danielle stayed with me. My whole body hurt but thanks to Danielle, I was having a great time. We were laughing and talking about the adorableness of our dogs and then suddenly without my noticing it we were back at the road crossing heading to the finish. I was so happy to be done running and to see/high-five/hug so many friends.

So my friends, I think I just became an ultrarunner. And even though I broke my rule of not running for longer than I slept (it took me a little over 6.5 hours to finish), I think I'm going to like it here. Oh my god what have I done?

Thank you to Race Director Brian Thomas for putting on such a challenging and well-run race. Bonus points for ensuring some fabulous weather. I was really working on my tan out there.

Thank you to my trail family for all the training runs and conversations and for coming out to run and/or cheer today. The sheer amount of awesomeness at this race was beyond belief. Congratulations to all on your epic achievements out there! You lovely people are the reason I would rather be running 31 miles in the cold and rain than at home sleeping like a normal person.

Thank you to Pete for putting up with my ridiculousness, for letting me borrow your deodorant and your watch, for all the love, support, hugs, dark chocolate, the wings for my shoes and the pizza dinner. And for being the best thing I ever found on a trail.

Lyric of the moment: "I do it for the joy it brings. Because I'm a joyful girl. Because the world owes us nothing and we owe each other the world..."