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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Runner's Corner: Running, You've Lost That Loving Feeling

At the start line with Wrath of the Tetons for the Grand Teton Relay

Anyone who has ever been sidelined by injury probably understands the new perspective you gain after a forced hiatus from an activity you love. You realize how much you took for granted, and you long for just a few minutes back out on the track (or the field) doing what you love. So when I was given the go-ahead to run again after six months on the bench, I promised myself—no more excuses. There wasn’t going to be a day too rainy or windy or cold to put my feet on the pavement.

As a direct result, 2013 has been a big running year for me. And no, I didn’t PR. In fact, ever since I suffered a stress fracture last year, my running times just haven’t been the same. And considering I am a Corral K girl to begin with, that fact has been more than a little discouraging.

But it has been a year of several “firsts.” My first time fundraising and mentoring with Team in Training, my first 25K, my first midnight race, and my first 180-mile relay. Then last month, in Monterey, California, I completed my tenth half marathon. It was my second time running Big Sur, and it remains my favorite race to date.

Midway through the Big Sur half in November
Those of you who read my Why I Run: A Novice Runner’s Manifesto back in 2010, may remember that I have only been running since 2009. When I completed my first half, the Rock n Roll Mardi Gras, in 2010, I barely limped across the finish line and swore never to do it again. But then something happened, and for some unknown reason, I kept running.

It took me a long time before I was even comfortable calling myself a runner. Whenever my newfound hobby came up in conversation, and friends would tell me how much they hate running, I would say, “Oh I do too, but....”

But what? But when I ran, I felt stronger. First it was just one mile and then one loop around the park and then five miles and ten. And then I believed I could take on other insurmountable things in my life. I turned myself from an undisciplined, nonathletic non-runner into an undisciplined, nonathletic runner. And it felt great.

So last week, when the words “burnout” passed my lips, I felt ashamed. The idea that I don’t want to run seemed impossible to me after this year. In fact, any year but this year makes more sense. And yet, there it is. I have lost my desire to run, which is very inconvenient, since I am supposed to be running the Aramco Houston Half for the fourth time in less than five weeks.

Back in August, during the second leg of the Grand Teton Relay, I had a crisis of faith. I had expected to start later in the day, and so I shivered in the cold, predawn in my shorts and t-shirt waiting for our teammate at the transition point. I had only about an hour of sleep, and the sun was just peaking out over the mountains ahead. My dead Texas legs were going to have to carry me a 1,000 feet up to the Targhee Outlook (elevation 7961’), but I didn’t know how.

I cursed my decision to run the relay, and the person who decided the only girl and the only Texan should complete this monster climb, and then I cursed my decision to run at all, and probably at some point, my very existence. I was, in no uncertain terms, completely unprepared for that moment and for the existential angst that came with it. But eventually I sputtered and cursed my way to the top and to one of the most spectacular sunrise views I have ever seen … fueled by my own anger and stubbornness.

With my husband and uncle at Targhee Overlook
The questions from that climb are still hanging on me. Why do I run? I am not in better shape or faster than I was a year ago, so what am I doing? Is it just self-punishment or some sort of perverse willfulness? And is it possible for me to reconnect to the joy of that first sunny seven-mile run around Audubon Park where running and I first began our love affair?

Last year, my husband Richard bought me a necklace for my first Big Sur half. “Run” it says simply, and on the back is etched “Try Easy.” Try Easy is a mantra I adopted from a yoga teacher several years ago. It’s a reminder to embrace what is instead of fighting. Trying hard is hard work—it’s forced effort. Instead, why not adopt an attitude of ease and flow instead of wasting energy on forcing a result? The tap of the necklace on my chest as I run says, try easy, try easy, try easy.

Maybe that advice is just as valuable right now, with the necklace resting quietly with me in this moment of stillness.

Monday, December 09, 2013

LOST: One Childlike Sense of Christmas Wonder

My first Christmas
Nothing reminds me of how tricky time is, how it stretches and shrinks on its own accord, like reflecting for a few minutes on how Christmas felt as a child. December seemed to go on forever then, in anticipation of that magical morning.

One of my favorite Christmas accessories was the advent calendar. Each morning we would open a new door on our paper calendar, one chocolate square closer to the Big Day.

There was a little avarice…okay maybe a lot… that unapologetic avarice children do so well. The Strawberry Shortcake bike, the EasyBake Oven, the dollhouse I “couldn’t live without.”

But the season was more than that: it was Christmas movies on cold nights, stringing colored lights around trees and bushes, singing carols door to door and making cookies in shapes with sprinkles and colored frosting. It was completely enchanting.

I am not sure when December started to speed up, rushing past me in a blink. Maybe it started when it became dominated by semesters and finals. Or maybe it was later, in a blur of office Christmas parties and deadlines and “scheduling” days off. I don’t remember when it happened, but for a while now, I am ashamed to admit, Christmas has felt like just another obligation, more often dreaded than anticipated.

This year's decorating effort
The angst over how many days we can “afford” to take off, the tree and lights and ornaments that never come out of the box, the crowds and traffic and mad rush of shopping is what Christmas has become. The bullet train from Halloween night to Christmas day is a nonstop 30-minute commute, with no time for magical wonder.

Don’t get me wrong. I watch White Christmas every year. I still put Bing Crosby on the sound system. I have my red Christmas sweater and sparkly earrings ready for the party, and hang the stockings above the fireplace. But I look at my advent calendar now and realize a week has passed without my notice.

Nativity advent calendar,
a gift from my parents
I know Christmas as an adult will never be the same as when we were children, but I miss those December days that would unfold leisurely enough for me to actually enjoy them…when the only thing on the to do list was “bake cookies.”

Christmastime may be made for children, but perhaps there is still time for the lost child in us to find that wonder again. I just can’t for the life of me remember how.

The hubby and I - November 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Favorite Mistakes, PART TWO - The Abuser

“How can you be so stupid?” he said, agitated and angry. This man, who I saw in church every week, whose house I cleaned and kids I watched and phones I answered.

This was not the job I signed up for. I had been promised an entry level sales position at his company, but that job never materialized. Instead, I regularly cleaned up after his many children and dealt with his verbal abuse at his office.

On this particular day, I found myself trying to learn QuickBooks so I could fill out several years of his unfiled tax forms. He had dropped the project on me an hour earlier and when he found me reading the Quickbooks manual, he lost it. In his mind, I was wasting his time.

After letting him rant and sputter, I stood up, told him to shove it, and walked out.

I was done.

Nobody ever intends to end up in an abusive relationship. That bewildered 20 year old believed that if she kept working harder, eventually he would be satisfied, eventually he would give her the job he promised…eventually she would be recognized for all of her patience and hard work. Luckily it only took her a few months to realize that was never going to happen.

It only took a couple of months because I knew the signs all too well…I just wasn’t expecting them from my boss.

As I said, nobody intends to end up in an abusive relationship. In fact, in my experience, an abuser is usually quite charming at first, all smiles and eager to please.

My first experience with an abusive boyfriend started with the attention of a talkative boy following me home from high school. Despite my reluctance to indulge him, his persistence eventually paid off. And then things started to change. At first, it was subtle … I would look so much better if I changed my hair or my clothes, and then, I really should work out because I was getting fat, and then, why couldn’t I look as good or be as cool as some other girl in our class?

My ideas weren’t good enough. My friends weren’t right. I was too uptight and uncool. And then there were accusations—where had I been? And with who? And the inevitable distrust and punishments, followed by feigned remorse and gifts. But even then, he would keep track of how much gifts or dinners he bought me cost him and sometimes demand the return of some gift I "didn’t deserve."

I would love to be able to say that when he started yelling at me, calling me stupid (or worse) or any of the other indignities I allowed myself to suffer, that was when I left.

“He grabbed my arm and called me stupid so I told him to shove it and I left.”

Unfortunately, that was not the case. But eventually I did come to my senses. And when I recognized that behavior in subsequent boyfriends, I ran.

I say all of that to say this: we like to make a lot of judgments about how people end up in abusive relationships, how they are weak or have poor self-esteem. Why can’t they save themselves? But on the job, I have seen dozens of people put up with insane levels of degradation and not walk out. And I include myself among them.

In my professional career over the last 15 years, I have had screaming bosses that throw stuff, bosses that undercut the self confidence of everyone around them, lying bosses who think everyone must be as dishonest as them, bosses that sexually harass or say racist things to those who report to them, and bosses that berate coworkers in front of their peers. I could go on, but I think you get the point. And what happens to these bosses? Most of the time, nothing. No one calls them on it, no one quits and no one reports them.

Why do we put up with something from a boss we would never tolerate from a friend or significant other? Is it simply the paycheck or is it something else? I asked myself this question and often the message I get is, “Stick it out.” If I want to get ahead, I need to follow through and pay my dues. If I can’t take the heat, should I be barefoot in the kitchen?

The last time I walked out on an abusive boss, he had called our team in after work and threatened to fire us all for screwing up a project. When I arrived (still in yoga clothes because I was on my way to the studio), our boss was not there. He was hopped up on painkillers and calling us every name in the book by phone. He did not fire us that day, although he made us work for several hours to “fix” a screw-up we continually denied. Only later did we find out that we were right and had not messed up the project at all. It was all just a misunderstanding.

Unlike my 20-year-old self, I never told him to shove it. I gritted my teeth, smiled, thanked him for employing me, and put in my two weeks.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Most Important Meal of the Day Is Going Away

Old-fashioned oats with chai, ground flaxseed, 
acacia honey and fresh blueberries

Don’t get me wrong. I have never been a huge Fruit Loops kind of person. In fact, growing up, my parents were much more likely to serve oatmeal or shredded wheat than Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch. Actually, the impending cereal extinction (if it happens) rests partly on my shoulders since our household often only has one box of cereal in the cupboard most of the time. And that one box is more likely to need carbon dating than milk or sugar.

When I first read the story, I thought, well of course. Ever since this hate-on started for carbs and wheat and corn and gluten and sugar and preservatives, there have been plenty of breakfast foods that have moved from the healthy category to the “eat this only if you want to die” category.

I hope that one day soon wheat toast with butter and jam, two sunny-side eggs and a glass of cold milk will be considered a nutritious breakfast again, but that is not my biggest worry.

Homemade yogurt with mandarin oranges,
granola and a drizzle of honey

The part of the article that struck me most is the fact that less than half of Americans eat breakfast at all. The article states: “And people just don’t have time to sit down for a bowl of cereal anymore.”

We don’t have time to eat a bowl of cereal? Seriously? I get that we may not have time to cook up a pot of slow-cooked oats, but pouring cold cereal from a box into a bowl is now too time-consuming?

And that isn’t the only thing I have heard a lot lately. Coffee-only breakfasters are finding that brewing up coffee in a pot is now a time waster. Instead, more and more folks are willing to pay top dollar for Keurigs and other single-K cup machines to shave a few minutes off the morning routine. Because we don’t even have time to drink “breakfast” in the morning apparently.

We invent more and more gismos and shortcuts designed to save time, and yet our free time continues to dwindle down to nothing. Even breakfast isn’t sacred any more, despite scientific reasons why eating this meal is so important.

I am a big proponent of breakfast. I will eat breakfast for dinner or late on a Sunday afternoon (yes, I know technically that is brunch but really it is breakfast for lazy people like me). But I especially miss having breakfast for breakfast. Some of my favorite memories are eating breakfast with my grandfather as a child. He would cook up cinnamon oatmeal with raisins, waffles and pancakes, or scrambled eggs with cheese and crumbled bacon, and often he made up fresh loaves of bread served hot with butter and homemade preserves or honey. Now THAT is breakfast.

Ham, egg and cheese breakfast casserole and hash brown casserole

But even in the rush of school year breakfast, it was still a moment for my family to sit around the table, exchange pleasantries and talk about plans for the day before the rush of commutes and classes and meetings began. I remember actually having time to eat my breakfast, not just shoveling food in as fast as possible while I ran out the door.

To me, the ritual of breakfast matters more than the “what we eat” of breakfast. Eat a protein bar and a yogurt if you want, but do it at your own breakfast table. Take 15 minutes and actually taste your food, have a conversation or read the news, and take a deep breath before diving into the day. After all, it is still the most important meal of the day … and it deserves to stay that way.

PLEASE NOTE: All breakfasts pictured here actually created and consumed by blogger.

Dollar waffles