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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