Friday, June 27, 2008

Summertime. The Livin' Really is Easy

Remember when summer seemed to last forever? I distinctly recall when the final bell of the school year would ring and as a mess of kids exited the building, the sense of anticipation for the months ahead to do with whatever you pleased was palpable. That's precisely how I felt when I bolted from my apartment in DC, now six weeks ago.

Really, I had every intention of finding a full-time job in New York and saving the world in my spare time, all within three months. I'm not sure how it's possible that the Fourth of July has already passed and my biggest accomplishment so far has been updating my blog exactly twice.

To be completely honest, I haven't felt so relaxed and healthy in years. I have no complaints--whatever it is that I am meant to do, wherever it leads me, it will happen in its time. I believe my job right now is to take full advantage of a situation that may never happen again: responsible for nobody but myself, living in a gorgeous home on a lake, enjoying the copious time I'm getting with my friends and family, going into the city (often) to run and play, writing to my heart's content, and training my face off for my next big race. In a way, I really do feel like a kid on summer vacation. Although I had been awake and working for hours, I actually answered the door in my pajamas at 11:30 a.m. today.

Even the pressure of triathlon training--something that tends to overwhelm me when I'm in the thick of it--was alleviated this year. There was no way to prepare properly for any races this season while I was moving--and I vowed to focus on my running this year anyway--so I turned my Tupper Lake Tinman half ironman race into a relay. I did the swim and run legs, while my teammate, Bill, completed the bike.

While the weekend was a blast, the race itself was an odd experience and I'm not sure how I'd even go about writing a race report for it if I wanted to. I had a dreadful swim--probably the worst I've done in 30 years of swimming. That's a lot of swimming, countless races, and a bold statement. But it's 100-percent true. Coming off a great winter of swim practices, I was derailed by my move and didn't take full advantage of the body of water right outside my door after I settled here. Also, my weekly running mileage is gradually building to a level I've never done before, so the motivation to also get swim workouts in during the week dwindled. Lesson learned: you can't race a swim you haven't trained for...and it also helps to stay on the course instead of zig-zagging across the lake countless times (I'm estimating I swam at least 2 miles, instead of the 1.2-mile course!).

So, as I trotted into transition, Bill was pacing, wondering where I was.

"I was getting worried!" he said.

Yeah, you and me both, buddy.

Off he went on his 56-mile ride. It was Bill's first race experience on his bike, leaving me with a few hours to kill before I had to run the half marathon. So, I met up with Josh, who was there supporting everybody, and we strolled across the street for coffee, I made a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and we cheered in our teammates who were finishing the sprint race. It was the oddest transition I've ever had. After about three hours had passed, I meandered over to my car to exchange my flip-flops for my running shoes, get my race bib, and head over to our transition area. I chatted with others waiting for their teammates and passed some time with other friends who had already finished their sprint races.

Another hour passed, the sun came out, the temperature soared, and it was my turn to wonder what had happened to Bill. He had been out there longer than I knew it should take him. I was hoping nothing bad had happened and was selfishly starting to get worried that I'd actually end up being the last runner on the course. Soon Bill showed up all in one piece, mumbling about a flat or something as I headed out onto the course for a 13-mile run.

I've never actually worried that I'd get lost in a race before, but I had to stop in the beginning to ask if I was going the right way -- on the way out, I passed the finish line, where a lot of people were now wrapping up their races. Depressing. Thankfully, the loneliness didn't last long as I took one mile at a time and saw teammates out there ahead of me on the out-and-back portions of the course. I kept the pace just comfortable in the heat--there was no need to treat it as anything but a training run. My idea of success was to get the miles in, not tax myself, and feel like I could have run farther when I was finished.

All of those goals were accomplished and I feel great about where my running is right now, as well as excited about what's to come. I didn't break any personal records (by a very long shot), but that wasn't my goal either. I feel strong and energized. More importantly, I wake up in the mornings looking forward to the day's run. This hasn't happened in years and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Speaking of which, seven miles await me out there this afternoon, so I better get moving. It's summertime and all is well.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Welcome to Rural Pennsylvania

I'm not going to pretend that I don't remember where I came from--I am always going to be a Pennsylvania girl when it comes down to it. But I grew up in the decidedly suburban town of Hershey and went to college at Penn State, which is a city unto itself. After that I headed to Manhattan for a six-year stint, before I went to Washington, DC for another four years.

So here I am now, in Saylorsburg, PA. Where? Yeah, I know. It's sort of south of Stroudsburg, in the Pocono Mountains. I'm only about 75 miles from New York City, but, as "they" say, really a whole world away.

For example, the other night we had an Apocalypse Now-like thunderstorm. The lights flickered on and off, the outdoor furniture was tossed around kind of like those cows in the movie "Twister," and the lightning felt like it was going to strike me down right in my family room. As soon as it passed, I saw a man on my porch peering into the house through the sliding-glass doors, which in my previous urban life would have been cause for some degree of alarm for a single gal like myself. Here in Saylorsburg, however, it was actually just the neighbor checking in on me to make sure I was okay. Yes, they do that here. They also help you do your yard work out of the goodness of their hearts. I had no idea such humanity still existed.

But no matter where I've lived, like most runners, I've found that the absolute best way to get familiar with new surroundings is by foot. This philosophy has proven useful once again, as I've settled in here. What I've seen while running is very telling so far--a vast array of all walks of life exist here in Saylorsburg--people live in run-down huts, as well as full-on mansions, and everything in between. As far as the local culture, here's a little taste of what I've experienced so far:

1. Some folks are territorial. And really like firearms. A woman who runs a flower market in "town" (believe me when I say, I'm using that term loosely), posted a sign: "Beware of Owner: She has PMS. And a Gun." I also run by a driveway every morning displaying a sign: "No Trespassing. Violators will be Prosecuted. Or Shot." I would've taken a picture of it, but I sort of feared for my life.

2. The local Citgo station convenience store sells a Star Spangled Ice Cream line, from a company that apparently gives 10 percent of its profits to "conservative causes." Flavors include Iraqi Road, I Hate the French Vanilla, and my, um, personal favorite, Gun Nut. According to the Web site, the ice cream is "...NOT Kosher certified. It is manufactured by a small producer, so nutritional information is not available." Is it pathetic that I'm yearning to be friends with the people with the Obama sign in their yard, about a tenth of a mile away from the gas station?

3. The wildlife is unlike that of Central Park or the National Mall. I have been chased by deer while training. Twice. Forget aggressive dogs, I just want to know when exactly deer started to attack?

4. Men driving pick-up trucks don't like sharing the road with small women running. They yell things like, "Get out of the way." I view this as a healthy way to hold on to my cynicism, so that all my overly nice neighbors don't make me too soft this summer. After all, I have reputation to uphold, and a journalism career to worry about, which requires a fair amount of skepticism. I give thanks to all those guys with mullets who try to run me down in their 4x4's. Really, I do.

Everyday is an adventure. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings...


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Enjoying the View, At Last

Um, I don't miss working in a cubicle. At all. Above is a tiny taste of what I look at from my new desk here in Pennsylvania, where I have to confess that my productivity level is at an all-time high and my stress level is at an all-time low. I hate to gloat, but I think I've finally figured out what peace is all about.

The short end to a long story is that I made it. For the most part, I'm all settled in here for my summer at the lake house. Those ridiculous movers finally did show up, they threw my worldly belongings in their truck, and now all those things that I thought I couldn't live without are in storage. And guess what? I'm living just fine without them.

I thought I'd be plotting my escape back to civilization by now, craving the buzz of the city and going stir-crazy from the quietness of rural Northeastern PA. So far, I haven't been bored for a second (knock on wood -- which, by the way, is not hard to find around here). I've easily transitioned into the rhythm of the country life without effort or much thought...I think the trick was just to surrender to it. Nobody is more shocked about all of this than I am.

I actually cook nutritious dinners, I visit farmer's markets, I sweep the porch, and water all the flowers. I snack on locally grown fruit. I run on the enormous hills every day, swim in the lake, and kayak to my heart's desire. And I write...a lot. It's amazing how the creativity flows when my head isn't running in a thousand other directions. I hit the pillow hard every night, contently exhausted from it all, and wake up as the sun rises every morning to start my new routine all over again.

Will it last? Who knows. It's not perfect, but it's close enough for now. And I'm a firm believer that I shouldn't try to fix something ever again that isn't broken. I made that mistake once, four years ago. And maybe that, after all, was the lesson learned.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Victory Lap, Part II

So, I looked at him and shrugged.

"Sure. What do you want to know?"

"How many miles do you run every week?"

Ok, definitely not what I thought he was going to ask, though to be honest, I didn't really know what a shirtless street hockey player in front of the White House would inquire about.

"Um, it depends on what I'm training for," I said, as I made a subtle move to continue my run.

But he kept talking.

"Oh. But why would you run? It's not fun."

At this point, the guy is being borderline offensive.

"Well, why do you play hockey? That doesn't seem like very much fun either," I retorted.

"But hockey isn't hard. Running is hard. What do you do for fun?" he persisted.

I wracked my brain. Is it wrong that it has naturally filed running into the fun category?

"Triathlons?" I said, knowing that this wasn't going to be the right answer either.

He laughed.

"How about dating? Do you date?"

Ah, finally, he cuts to the chase.

"Yes, I date."


"Yes, I date guys," I said.

"Do you want to date me?" he asked.

Give the him points for courage. Or maybe he's been hit in the head several times with a puck.

"Why would I want to do that?" I asked, thinking it was a fair question to pose, under the circumstances.

Clearly he wasn't prepared to answer.

"Because I'm going to be famous one day," he said...not very creatively.

"Oh really. What for?" I asked.

"I'm going to write a book about my life," he said.

"Is your life really that fascinating?"

"It might be," he said, handing over his digits, which began with a Northern Virginia area code.

"Ah, well, I'll take my chances--if it's meant to be, I'm sure I'll run into you again one day," I said.

"But I'm not the kind of person who will remember the little people, so you should call me," he said. "Or, you can give me your number and I'll call you."

"I'm moving out of DC tomorrow, but if you ever find yourself wandering through Northeastern Pennsylvania or Manhattan, perhaps our paths will cross again," I said, now not-so-subtly moving away.

"Ok, but I could have made you famous, too," he said.

"How do you know I wouldn't have made you famous instead?"

"I guess we'll never know," he said. "But with all that running you do, I doubt it."

I've run hundreds--perhaps more--miles in DC in four years, but that was the first pick-up attempt I've experienced while pounding the pavement. It reminded me of one thing that has taken me by surprise while living in Washington: how often my love of running has factored into the dating equation.

There was the Coast Guard guy who smoked cigarettes behind my back, but in an act of desperation to spend time with me one fall Saturday morning, tagged along on a 17-mile training run (the farthest he had ever gone before was 6 miles...once). There was the oh-so-attractive guy with the adorable dog, who couldn't understand why I continually chose to rise with the roosters to run before work, instead of getting drunk with him every night at the bar du jour. And then there was the Ironman, who was even more obsessed with his schedule than I.

I reminded myself that part of the reason I decided to move on is to help regain perspective and balance--something I've been lacking for far too long -- and not just on the dating scene. I guess my little street hockey guardian angel was there to hand me some of that perspective I am looking for: running is one thing that makes me happy, no matter where I am. And that's not a bad thought to have when the big moving truck is scheduled to pull up in the morning.

But as I arrived at the door of my apartment building, ending my last run as a DC resident, I began to question whether those movers will ever actually arrive.

To be continued.