Saturday, December 26, 2009

It Takes Two. Really?

Dear Pottery Barn,

Greetings from my new home in Flagstaff, AZ. Yep, that’s me, gleefully crossing the border into Arizona, nearing my final destination after approximately 2,500 miles of driving with my good friend, Jeff. Thank goodness he volunteered to come along—I was all set to do it alone. That would’ve been a long haul.

Why Flagstaff? There are a few reasons, none of which are terribly earth shattering. It’s there, it’s beautiful, the people seem nice, and I think I can eventually make a happy life for myself for a while…or maybe forever. Who knows? But you see, Pottery Barn, I’ve gotten this question a lot. In my estimation, 93.4 percent of the time, it has been immediately followed in rapid-fire succession with: Is there a boyfriend there? Are you moving for a job?

The answer to both those queries is a definitive “no.” For the record, I make a decent living as a freelance writer, which I can do anywhere I please. And, sadly, most folks just don’t know what to do with that. Why the heck would a single lady move the whole way across the country to some mountain town, where she knows next to nobody, for no other reason than to give it a try?

Because I can and I want to. And if both those things are true, then I don’t see any rational reason to wait until there’s a man or a job or a ready-made group of friends to legitimize the decision. I could either spend the rest of my life on the East Coast wondering what it would be like to live out west, or I could live out west and find out. Doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.

I’m not a bitter woman. I haven’t watched too many episodes of Sex and the City. OK, that’s probably a lie. I have, but I promise I’m not jaded. I’ve had good relationships, none of which turned out to be Prince Charming. Maybe he’s out there. But I’m not going to sit around waiting for him to show up so I can get on with the rest of my life. I’d miss out on a lot of fun if I did.

As such, I’ve learned to do all sorts of things myself. All by myself. Like, I figured out which new SUV to buy, then I hitched a U-Haul trailer to it. With my own two hands. I drove it home and backed it into a garage. Have you ever backed a trailer into a garage—or even just a parking space—Pottery Barn? It’s not easy. I loaded that trailer up with furniture and boxes that weighed a lot more than I do. Alone. And when a blizzard dumped 2-feet of snow on Flagstaff within 48 hours of moving in, I shoveled it. Numerous times. I have forged on with my Boston Marathon training schedule, despite not making friends with the 7,000 new feet of altitude in my life. A few days after the blizzard, I completed my first long run, battling ice, snow, 30 MPH headwinds, and more than a couple of hills. I admit, I was dangerously close to tears during the first mile, wondering why I had willingly made my life so difficult in so many ways. It all seemed like it was finally too much to handle all by myself. But then I hit the halfway point, turned around, and felt the wind at my back. It would be OK. I even figured out how to install new toilet seats later that day, after I lugged a coffee table up a flight of stairs.

Here’s the thing, though, Pottery Barn. I was really excited when my new desk showed up, right on time, with your logo emblazoned on four boxes, each bigger than myself. UPS dropped them off on my driveway. I shoved them into my garage and let them sit there for a few days, trying to decide how, exactly, I’d be able to get that new desk into my new house. Had I reached the final stop on my lifelong independent streak? I thought I had. Those boxes weren’t just big, they were also really heavy. And, honestly, I’ve started feeling a little exhausted.

Then one night, I mustered the energy and I spent the better part of the evening wrestling everything out of the boxes and into my new office. A few new bumps and bruises later, I was almost finished. Until the directions you included slipped out of the last box. And there it was: “It takes TWO to assemble this furniture,” the piece of paper declared, followed by a nice graphic of a couple of folks putting my desk together.

I wondered who that other person was in the picture. Maybe it was somebody I hadn’t met yet. My new best friend? The man of my dreams? A friendly neighbor? The possibilities were endless, but the truth remained: whoever that nice, helpful person was, he wasn’t going to show up that night…or maybe even in the next six months. Inspired to write my way to fame and fortune on that desk (or at least make enough to pay the rent), I hoisted the top of it to its rightful place and finished the job that I had started.

Please don’t misunderstand, Pottery Barn. I have the best friends and family a girl could ever ask for—they make it impossible to ever feel true loneliness. It’s just that 99 percent of them don’t happen to live within 3,000 miles of my house. But they send me endless love and support no matter where I go or what whacky thing I decide to try next. It’s precisely where my strength and courage comes from, of course.

Alas, this world is designed for two, Pottery Barn, and I know that it’s not your fault. I agree that when the stars align, life is usually more fun that way. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to find that guy in the picture. He looks kind. And stronger than me. In the meantime, maybe you could include an addendum or disclaimer to those instructions, for those of us who find ourselves alone every now and then. It only takes one person to put that desk together. One with determination, a healthy sense of humor, and a certain amount of confidence that she’ll look back on this time in her life and know it is precisely when she was finally convinced, without a doubt, that she is capable of anything.

Thanks, Pottery Barn.
Erin S.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Go West (Part V): Into Thin Air

“Too often…I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” –Louis L’Amour

I don’t think my eyes were capable of opening wide enough to take it all in. I had never seen anything so beautiful and foreboding all at the same time. Intimidating. Inviting. Awe-inspiring.

I wasn’t even 10 years old, in the back of a white rental car my father was driving somewhere toward Park City, UT, my face practically glued to the window.

“Dad, are we skiing on those mountains?!” I asked, not at all sure whether I wanted the answer to be yes or no.

His blue eyes smiled back at me in the rearview mirror.

“Yes, we are,” he said, matter-of-factly, with a hint of eagerness to share his love of the mountain west with his uninitiated daughter.

I had so many questions, yet had nothing to say. I just kept staring out that window, trying to comprehend how my skis—not even long enough to put on the roof rack—were going to get me down such steep, powder-covered slopes. My East Coast skills and sensibilities were clearly of no use here.

At the top of our first run, I stood close by my dad, the tips of those tiny skis hanging over the edge of the trail. We stood there in silence for a minute or two, surveying a landscape beneath us that was beyond anything my young self had ever imagined.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it? Take it all in. Appreciate it,” he said. “And don’t be afraid. You can do this.”

With his quiet confidence, and a gentle nudge, I was on my way.


Anybody could try to throw out a bunch of words to describe running on Waterline Road. But they’d just be a bunch of words. No meaning. No context. No emotion. No regard to what it really is: an experience; and my guess is that it can often be a personal one, depending on what kind of day you’re having.

We stood at the bottom of the trail on Friday morning, once again feeding off the enthusiasm of our coaches, who have probably logged hundreds of miles on the dirt road before us and still can’t stop raving about it. We’d climb to 9,000 or so feet, depending on how far each of us went. On a clear day, you can see the Painted Desert. The thick Aspen groves, the views of Flagstaff below, the steep, rocky cliffs dotted with huge Ponderosa pines…all of it encapsulated in a solitary morning ascent, twisting up the side of the mountain.

It was the only run all week that I found myself alone, with a few people so far ahead, I couldn’t keep them in view, and some who were far enough behind, that I never heard their chatter. I had it all to myself, this ridiculous scene. It was as if somebody was kind and generous enough to let me in on a big, special secret—the type that you feel honored to keep.

Maybe it was the ever-thinning air, but my mind felt free to wander all over the place that morning, opening up to all sorts of possibilities. My surroundings were daring me to make decisions and be brave. Stagnation was not an option. I had to keep moving forward, keep climbing as far as my body would allow, so I could see it all.

There are times when life’s options suddenly become clear—and it usually happens during those rare moments when the noise in your mind is quiet and all you can hear is what your heart is telling you. These are the moments that can’t be forced—you have to be lucky enough to recognize them and simply listen.

There was nothing about that week or that run up Waterline that felt comfortable to me. Perhaps the physical challenges wreaked some havoc with my perceptions, but nothing I experienced in those six days that made Flagstaff seem like home. Nonetheless, as I neared the end of the first half of that morning’s run, something told me quite clearly that I’d be back.

For many years there had been valid reasons to push away a dream and an instinct to move west. Those valid reasons were beginning to diminish—the one still weighing heavily though was a desire to stay close to my grandfather for as long as possible. What I didn’t know on that Friday morning was in just few weeks time, he would unexpectedly be gone.

I discovered that when all those reasons no longer exist, all that’s left are excuses. Most of those excuses just boil down to nothing but fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Moving by myself, far away from everything I know and everybody I love would be scary. Perhaps one of the most frightening things I’d ever do. Moving back to New York, where everybody and everything was comfortable and familiar, would be the easy choice. Somewhere deep down I knew that it was time to take a risk, make myself uncomfortable, and stop being afraid of making a mistake.

I turned around to head back down Waterline Road, to find Mike and Vince running up behind me.

“Keep looking left all the way down,” Mike urged, as they continued on. “Enjoy that view. Take it in.”

“And don’t be afraid,” I thought, as I started my descent. “You can do this.”

With a quiet confidence--and a few gentle nudges--I was on my way.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Go West (Part IV): Pines and Peaks

“Traveling…forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things—air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky—all things tending toward the eternal, or what we imagine of it.” –Cesare Pavese

When I decided I would head to Flagstaff for the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project Retreat, I didn’t know anybody else who had committed to it—a departure for somebody who has spent a decade worth of summers on vacation with 20 best college friends, in a massive house, on a beach, with unlimited, familiar amounts of laughter and antics. Would I make friends? Will I die of an asthma attack (or sheer embarrassment) at 7,000 feet on some random trail in the woods? Will I be too slow? What if nobody wants to run with me?

For a split second, I had all the anxieties of my 8-year-old self going to my first sleep-away swim camp. I also remembered that even back then I always managed to find somebody to eat lunch with.

So I registered. It was early spring—my focus squarely on Boston, my fitness at its peak, my confidence soaring. The thought of spending a week in a place that seemed a little magical and mystical to me, exploring the trails where the fastest runners in the world train, and having the opportunity to share the experience with a group of new people sounded like a fine way to jolt me out of my routine.

It was pre-injury. Pre-Boston Marathon deferment. Pre-disappointment. Pre-aggravation with all-things running. The week before I headed west, my hamstring relapsed into a painful state and was trying desperately to drag my spirit down with it. Thankfully, my head is by far my strongest asset and my saving grace (except, of course, when it’s really not…). Besides, what’s a little leg pain when you’re preoccupied with gasping for limited amounts of oxygen anyway?

We walked into the Embassy Suites lobby and were warmly welcomed to Flagstaff by my coach, Mike, who has lived there for about three years. Any trepidation I was harboring by that point vanished—the mark of a great coach is often an infectious enthusiasm at just the right time, and I won the jackpot when I signed on with Mike more than a year ago. His love of Flagstaff, of running, of fun, and of people made it impossible to be anything but eager for what the week held. And the fact that e-mails, phone calls, and texts had been our sole sources of connection for so long made the time together there even more meaningful.

On our first early morning run in Buffalo Park, I got my chance to meet the peaks and the pines, looming in front of us as the group embarked on its first jaunt. Finally, I understood what all the Flagstaff fuss was about—I was completely distracted by the surroundings, the cool, fresh morning air, and the opportunity to run with others, after a year of training nearly 100 percent by myself.

It marked the beginning of a week’s worth of breathtaking morning runs that gave us just a small taste of the endless trails to explore. It was the kind of training that never required a watch to keep track of pace or mileage—the altitude giving permission to run easy, the beauty and the company giving reason to simply savor each moment. The early hours gave way to leisurely breakfasts, which eased into afternoon sessions with a few of the best and brightest in the sport, generously sharing their time and expertise in everything from nutrition and fueling to injury prevention, recovery, and the art and science behind fitness and performance. There was gait analysis and track drills, an afternoon dip in a cold Sedona creek, and a “recovery day” of hiking at the Grand Canyon.

It was part vacation, part running camp. There was a lot to learn, more to observe, plenty to absorb. Lessons learned? Yes, plenty. A few in unexpected places:

Lesson 1: Choose wisely. When you enter a university cafeteria for lunch, give yourself one extra minute to really think through your options. Be cautious. And never, ever consume a tuna fish sandwich.

Lesson 2: Live and learn. So, you opted for the tuna fish. Fine. Now you’ll be throwing it up (and much more) all night long. If the running and altitude haven’t already caused dehydration, your body is certainly thanking you now for pushing it right over the edge, and adding a gigantic calorie deficit and sleep deprivation to the mix. By 6 a.m., though, it’ll be time to put on a happy face and head to Sedona, where you’ll fake your way through a run, jump in a creek, and pose for a Runner’s World photo shoot, knowing full well that when that issue hits the newsstand in the spring, your only thought will be, “I’m never eating tuna again.”

Lesson 3: Be grateful. I was truly surrounded by some of the kindest people in the world that week, which I would’ve recognized under normal circumstances, however I obviously added an entirely new dimension to the experience. Does your coach bring you smoothies when you’re sick? Or take you to Starbucks as soon as you’re all better? Mine does. Do your friends stay in, eat ice cream (yep, finally had reason and opportunity to visit Dairy Queen), and watch bad reality television with you when you’re not feeling well? Mine do (thanks, KC!). I even dragged myself out of the Grand Canyon, fueled by nothing but a handful of dry Cheerios, an obscene amount of Gu2O, and the constant encouragement of two fantastic hiking buddies (thanks Sue and Everett!).

Lesson 4: Laugh it off. I mean, really, if you can get through a bout of food poisoning and still manage to have an absolutely amazing experience, you know it was worth the price of admission and much, much more. Run S.M.A.R.T. put together an extraordinary week, with just the right balance of work and play. And they were relentless in their effort of ensuring everybody was having fun. If I wasn’t laughing or smiling through most of it, I have to think it was my own fault (see Lesson 1).

Last, but certainly not least, Lesson 5: It should always be about more than running. My favorite part of this sport is the ways in which it enriches every other part of my life. Thus, the best parts of the week were when conversations turned from calorie counting, PRs, racing goals, and training gear, to something more substantial (like Death Cab for Cutie, for example ;)). With any luck at all, while running may have brought this and many other groups together, the reward is when we look around the dinner table each night and it doesn’t much matter who is gunning for Boston, or is a world champion duathlete, or an Olympic trials qualifier, or the “World’s Best Coach.” The joy isn’t in discovering who wants to break 3 hours in a marathon or has found the ultimate training shoe. It’s finding out that the woman at the end of the table is on her first vacation in 14 years, the guy sitting next to you was on life support five years ago, the man across the table once landed a plane in some random farmer’s field during a blizzard, and a few people who were once just acquaintances have evolved into cherished friends.

Clearly I learned a lot…about running, about myself, about making smart sandwich decisions, and about the people around me. What I didn’t know, however, was that I had one more discovery to make, on the most beautiful run yet.

(To be continued…)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Go West (Part III): I Don't Like Your Girlfriend

“Travel at its truest is thus an ironic experience, and the best travelers…seem to be those able to hold two or three inconsistent ideas in their minds at the same time, or able to regard themselves as at once serious persons and clowns.” –Paul Fussell

What would you do if you could instantly have an hour of your life handed back to you? Would you treat it as a do-over, or simply go about your existence as if you didn’t just get 60 minutes added to it?

It’s difficult to say if that hour is truly adding anything valuable when you’re spending it within the confines of Page, AZ, save more time with good friends. Scenic? Yes. Odd? Extraordinarily (though maybe not as eccentric as Kanab, UT). Cultural mecca? Really, no. Dairy Queen? Of course not.

By crossing that Utah border into Arizona, there is yet a whole new time zone at your disposal. In that spirit, we were sure to stop by the local Safeway to stock up on a few bottles of wine, to be ceremoniously consumed in our three-bedroom apartment-style accommodations at Debbie’s Hideaway, across the street from Bashful Bob’s motel.

Perhaps there were red flags that I chose to ignore, like the fake flowers planted outside our door or the distinct feeling that I’d landed at grandma’s house, where odd collections of trinkets like Monopoly pieces and dusty old books are displayed in glass china cabinets in the family room. I rattled around our fully stocked kitchen and discovered that if we wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner, we were set. If we wanted to uncork a bottle of wine? Not so much.

At that moment, while KC and Alissa had retreated to their bedrooms to get ready for dinner, there was a knock on our door. Rick, the not-so-proud manager of Debbie’s Hideaway, was there to collect a credit card.

“You don’t happen to have a wine opener anywhere, do you?” I asked.

“You know, that’s the second time this week somebody needed one and I don’t have one,” Rick said. “But I did come up with a solution. I’ll be right back.”

I knew he wasn’t lying, because I was still in full possession of my credit card.

Rick came back with an electric drill, a pair of pliers, and a screw. He was right. He had a solution. To this day I still regret that I didn’t capture it on camera, but it suffices to say that we had two open bottles of vino ready and waiting, and nobody got hurt in the process. I’m also strongly considering packing power tools the next time I go on vacation.

I followed Rick over to his “office” (complete with metal-frame futon couch) to pay for our stay. Along the way I took the opportunity to ask if the sushi restaurant in town was good. And by “good,” I meant, “safe.” Consuming sushi in the desert seemed dubious to me.

“It is really good. And I’m a sushi snob,” he said. “I moved here from L.A.”

“Ah, so you share my concerns—the three of us are (mostly) from New York,” I responded. “How did you end up in Page from Los Angeles, anyway?”

“Did you see the motel down the block? Bashful Bob’s?” Rick said. “Bob is my dad.”

“Is he bashful?” I asked, naturally.

“Actually not at all, but he’s in his eighties and he needs help, so I moved here 13 months ago,” he said.

“So that must be a big adjustment. How do you like it?”

Rick looked at me earnestly and replied, “It’s awful. I haven’t had a date in 13 months. And it’s not like I can go around sleeping with all the guests.”

“Clearly,” I thought.

I made as graceful an exit as I could muster while Rick extended an invitation for the three of us to join him on the patio after dinner, where, he said, he and his buddy would likely be having a few beers.

So when we returned from dinner—Mexican, because the sushi joint was closed for a private party!—we tried to get into our room from the opposite side of the building. In our deliriousness, we were actually attempting to break into the wrong room. Oops. We hastily b-lined to the other door adjacent to the patio, fairly certain we went unnoticed.

I poured the wine. Into three coffee mugs. Already aware that there was no corkscrew in the kitchen, I’m not sure what part of my logic assumed there would be stemware.

We toasted to our week that was—all that we had seen, done, talked about, laughed at, and experienced. And after one mug of wine, it was time to get the party started. And by “party,” I mean “dance party.”

There was vintage Madonna, among other 80s faves, but then out of nowhere, iTunes kicked out Avril Lavigne. Funny how we’re all responsible for our own playlists, yet nobody claims the random guilty pleasure until it is too late. Music libraries—and the shuffle—never lie. Avril was passionately declaring, “Hey, you, I don’t like your girlfriend!” and for some reason it struck a nerve (really, ladies, who hasn’t felt that way at one time or another?!).

“I think you need to new one!” we sang, very badly, and very loudly, while laughing hysterically.

And then, another knock on the door, which froze us in our haphazard footsteps. We stared at each other for about 10 seconds. Then instantaneously ran to the back of one of the bedrooms, reminiscent of getting busted at a high school party, though we stopped short of escaping through the window. After about a minute of giggling uncontrollably we realized how ridiculous it was that three adult women were scared of getting in trouble. So we sent KC out to be the grown up. Alissa and I continued to hover in the back corner of the bedroom.

Guess who? Yep. Rick. Who, after about 2.5 mugs of wine, was officially being referred to as The Ricker. As long as we were dancing to 80s music, we thought we’d also pay some homage to Silver Spoons. And as you might imagine, we were so NOT getting busted. He “heard” that we were still up, so he extended that patio invitation one more time.

We took him up on it, topping off our mugs and heading out to the picnic table to join The Ricker and his buddy (whose name escapes me). After trading tales of our travels and hearing a little bit more local lore—apparently Bob’s, umm, exploits make him the complete opposite of bashful—Rick disclosed that he was a struggling actor in L.A. Not a shock. His claim to fame? Besides some disturbing, inappropriate photos of some Hollywood party gone horribly wrong, his big break came as a character on the television series Bablyon 5. I didn’t know what it was either, but I gather from the trading cards that The Ricker shared, it entailed playing some weird science-fiction creature and a lot of makeup.

If the trading cards weren’t enough of a hint, the nearly four mugs of wine and the prospect of the week-long running retreat in Flagstaff beginning the next day, made me come to the conclusion that it was time to call it a night. The Ricker was sad to say goodbye, of course. He took my hand, refused to let it go, kissed it, and declared, “You are so cute.”

Alissa couldn’t contain her laughter long enough to get us behind our closed door, as I just rolled my eyes and lamented, once again, that I have the unwelcomed ability to seemingly only attract the oddest, most desperate of men. On the upside, at least this one came with his very own trading card.

So, now we can see what can happen when you have 60 minutes handed back to you in a day.

Morning seemed to come way too fast, as it usually does following a bizarre, wine-infused late night. With an aching head and parched throat, I threw my belongings into the car and waited for my partners-in-crime to return from Starbucks so we could make a quick escape out of dodge.

After greasy breakfast and a stop at Horseshoe Bend, we were heading south on Rt. 89 to the final destination of Flagstaff. The desert started to fade behind us and the lush mountains loomed in front of us, as the car thermometer dropped from 105 degrees to 69 degrees in a matter of 10 minutes. A brand-new week was ahead and I was beyond excited to see what it would bring.

As we pulled into the Embassy Suites parking lot, the three of us broke into laughter. What to our wandering eyes should appear, just across the street from our new home-away-from-home? Dairy Queen.

It was a sign.

(To be continued…)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Go West (Part II): Mother Nature…and Dairy Queen

“Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so-called certainties of this world. Vagabonding is about refusing to exile travel to some other, seemingly more appropriate time of your life. Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate.” –Rolf Potts

It’s highly possible that we didn’t qualify as bona-fide vagabonds, but it was about as close as we could get in five-day’s worth of a road trip through a fraction of the southwest, lugging our bags in and out of a different motel each night, spending our days exhaustively exploring the stunning surroundings on foot.

Everywhere we went, my eyes drank in natural beauty that my mind could never put to words. A simple walk to a nondescript Mexican restaurant outside of Hurricane, UT had me staring at a backdrop of deep red bluffs and a mountain range basically sitting at the intersection of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Plateau. As the cars zipped by us on a road that drivers made clear was not often frequented by pedestrians, I wondered if all these people saw what I saw, or have they been here so long that they don’t even see it anymore? Or perhaps, for some, it’s all they’ve ever seen?

We had inadvertently chosen some of the hottest days of the year to spend entirely outside. Despite our best efforts, morning running followed by coffee, breakfast, packing lunch for the day’s hikes, and driving to the next destination usually resulted in beginning each trek at just about noon. Brilliant. By then, temperatures were usually reaching more than 100 degrees—I’m fairly certain that we left about 95 percent of ourselves in sweat on some of the most scenic trails in Utah. I was also convinced that my water bottle was going to have to be surgically removed from my right hand in order to pass through airport security on the way home.

At Zion, we took on a trail that led to Observation Point—a round trip of 8 miles, including a steep ascent of 2,000 feet to the top of Mount Baldy, where you could see most of the attractions of the canyon and beyond. At Bryce, we fashioned a 6-mile route out of the Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Trail, through Queens Garden and up to Sunset Point. At Lake Powell, we cooled off in the water at Lone Rock, after touring Antelope Canyon, on the Navajo Reservation in Page, and visiting Horseshoe Bend, where a short hike ends on a cliff nearly 1,000 feet above the emerald-green Colorado River, just where it makes an astounding turn around yet another enormous sandstone-rock formation.

What we saw was, of course, amazing. At some points I was convinced we landed on a different planet. The mysterious hoodoos jutting straight up in the air at Bryce, the creams and pinks and reds of the sandstone cliffs against the brilliant blue skies at Zion, and the smooth, spiraling rock in the narrow slot Antelope Canyon were all equally breathtaking in surprisingly unique ways. And when I stopped to remind myself that they are all natural formations, it made them all that much more awe-inspiring. Reading a brief bit of Navajo history later on, it said that entering a place like Antelope Canyon was akin to going into a cathedral, where Native Americans could “leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves.”

Yes, that about sums it up.

When all was said and done each night—when we were finally settled in for some hard-earned sleep—I couldn’t help but think that the parts of the journey that will forever stay with me will include everything I couldn’t capture with my camera: The talks the three of us had on every trail, from silly to serious, to thought-provoking, to laughter-inducing (“Would you rather have to marry [insert name of the most horrible ex-boyfriend on the planet here] and spend the rest of your life with him, or be forced to eat four circus peanuts every day until you die?”); the spontaneous Aretha Franklin sing-a-long in the car driving out of Bryce; the rare moments of quiet when each of us seemed deep in our own heads (or, um, tagging photos on Facebook...); the daily peanut butter-and-jelly lunch breaks on the trails; my solo early morning runs, when I discovered serene parts of the world I convinced myself that nobody else has ever seen; the sweet, sweet relief of sitting in that cold stream at Zion after the hottest, sweatiest hike ever; finally finding that perfectly tart lemonade I had been fantasizing about for days; parking lot yoga; and two words that the three of us will never be able to utter again without laughing: Dairy Queen (ever notice that the one time you’re actually craving it, you can’t find one to save your life, further proving the theory that we always want what we can’t have…?).

Before it was time to head to Flagstaff and bid farewell to Alissa, we had one last night to celebrate it all, in the metropolis of Page. What happens when you combine three exhausted women, iTunes, a couple of bottles of wine, and a motel called…ready?...Debbie’s Hideaway? Yeah. Stay tuned.

(To be continued…)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Go West (Part I): Three Girls, a Prius, and a Running Retreat

I was ready to lose myself. On the trails. In the mountains. Through the canyons. Running. Hiking. Walking. Swimming. Sitting. Giggling. Talking. Listening. Watching. Contemplating. Learning. Loving. I just wanted to lose myself. In all of it. In an adventure.

The plane touched down in 107-degree Las Vegas that Wednesday afternoon, and as I patiently waited for my bag to make its way back to me, the inevitable fogginess of airplane travel quickly lifted, replaced by giddy excitement for the 10 days ahead. I’d see things I never saw. I’d meet people I never knew. I’d think about things I never considered. I’d be challenged and humbled. I’d be amused and awed. I’d be tired and rejuvenated. I’d be completely grossed out by more than one hotel-room comforter.

I couldn’t wait.

Part One of this expedition was a journey across the Nevada border, into southern Utah to explore Zion, Bryce, and then northern Arizona’s Lake Powell, before two of us planted ourselves in Flagstaff for Part Two: a week-long running retreat. Alissa pulled up to the airport curb, KC and I loaded our bags into the back of the trusty Prius, and we took off down the Strip, toward the highway east. We were on our way, already engrossed in about 15 different conversations before we even hit the fountains in front of the Bellagio.

It didn’t take long until we lost track of time. Literally. Three cell phones, a watch, and the car clock couldn’t agree on a time zone. One was still on Eastern. Another on Pacific. And yet another declared Mountain. And if you’ve ever experienced a trek across the Nevada-Utah-Arizona region, you can commiserate. It took three women with a plethora of higher-education degrees among them, a Google search, and one comical call home to a confused brother back in New York to figure it out.

Not that it mattered. It seemed we really had nothing but time on our hands—the way vacation always feels in the beginning. It’s liberating, being off the clock and out of touch for a little while.

And there is something about heading west that instantly relaxes my mind and puts me at an ease I rarely achieve in my everyday eastern existence. Maybe it’s the mountains. My eyes can never get enough of them. I stare and admire and gawk and I never tire of their majesty. They make me feel so small, in every good way possible—in a way that the concrete and steel monstrosities of the city never could. I look at the peaks and want to run to the top of every one of them in search of whatever’s up there, and to look through clouds at the towns below, making up stories in my mind about what’s going on down there. Mountains give me fresh perspective and imagination and curiosity. I can’t get enough.

And so we began on our journey unaware of what it would become. What conversations would be had, what mysteries we'd solve, which sites would be seen, what characters we’d encounter, which stories we’d tell when it was all over, and which ones would remain our little secrets.

It was the perfect summer excursion: Three Girls, a Prius, and a Running Retreat. Enjoy the ride.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Forward Motion

Lots of writers find inspiration in personal tragedy, whether real or perceived. They are most introspective and creative when they’re in a dark place.

I’m not one of those writers. I don’t enjoy the dark. I’ll pick a sunrise over a sunset any day. When life feels wrong, I suddenly have absolutely nothing to say. Luckily for my livelihood (and, um, sanity), despite its share of challenges, life has almost always felt right, or at least how it is meant to be.

But all the thoughts and words I’ve wanted to pour out over the last few months have been locked inside my mind the way water gets stuck deep in your ear after a day of swimming. You feel it in there and it’s agitating. No matter which way you move or how hard you shake your head, it won’t come out. Every day, I sit down to write, settling myself to work in the very place that has triggered more imagination than I’ve ever known what to do with, and I’ve got nothing. It hasn’t simply been a case of writer’s block. It’s been a case of stagnation and self pity. And I’m done with it.

I started out a run yesterday on what I’ve dubbed my “comeback trail”—during the ongoing healing and rehab of my hamstring injury, it’s a place that ensures I stay on flat terrain and take it easy. And as I take my first few steps, content to keep jogging a dreadfully slow, but exceedingly safe pace, I start to finally feel a gush of emotions. And I take off at a speed that my horribly unfit body and my left leg have no business sustaining for the next 60 minutes.

The sensation of moving ahead as fast as possible feels glorious after months of feeling like I was all but standing still. I begin to realize that it has nothing to do with the act of running itself—it’s almost as if my body’s motion is on autopilot, forcefully showing my intellect that I have the ability to press forward, that nobody except me is holding me back. Rationally I know that what I am doing is wrong, that I could hurt myself all over again. But my heart pleads for a run that isn’t measured in minutes or miles. It wants one measured in faith and conviction and confidence and passion—all the parts of me that I had gradually lost along the way, so slowly that I didn’t even know they were gone.

I think about where I am and know that it’s not where I belong. I think about what’s keeping me here and come up with no answer. I think about the gifts that I’ve been given, and know with every ounce of my being that I’m not honoring them or using them for the greater good. I think about how beautiful my surroundings are and how I haven’t appreciated them in far too long. And the truth makes me angry, because that’s never been who I am. I don’t need an office or a boss or a dream job to make a difference. I don’t allow life to be dictated by fear. I don’t shy away from love or risk or adventure because I’m afraid of getting hurt.

It makes me run faster, that outrage. But with every gasp for air, I feel a stronger sense of the person I am more familiar with: she’s the one who can concoct a plan out of nothing and make a good idea work. She has purpose. She has direction and discipline and an appreciation for mischief. She loves to work hard when she believes in the work being done. Most importantly, she has a sense of humor and embraces fun. She laughs. All the time. She knows that the life she dreams of can be hers, if only she keeps moving forward.

I smile.

For the first time in a while, I know I’m running toward something, instead of away from everything. My face is caked in salt from sweat, instead of tears. I will feel a sleepiness at night that I have craved for months—the kind induced by physical exhaustion and a productive day, instead of the lethargy that is the result of ongoing procrastination and anxiety.

I relax my pace as the end of the trail nears, and my cadence slows to a walk. I turned back to look at my Comeback Trail and know that the pounding I just gave my legs may have been one big mistake. But I’ll own it and take responsibility for it.

It’s then that I realize that I don’t run because it’s a hobby. I don’t run because I’ll ever be the fastest. I don’t run to compete. I don’t run to bring home another cheap medal with a 2-cent ribbon strung through it. I don’t run for pride or ego or a certificate to hang on the refrigerator.

I run because it makes me who I am.

Friday, June 19, 2009

When it Rains...Go Dancing

I used to be that girl who sat on the sidelines. At bars, weddings, parties, concerts—it didn’t matter—you were never going to catch me making a fool of myself dancing, no matter how many gin & tonics I had sipped.

Genetically speaking, there’s really no reason why I should feel comfortable cutting a rug. I don’t come from a long line of outrageously outgoing people. Nor can I find a whole lot of rhythm floating around the gene pool—musically gifted, yes, but there’s an important difference there. I enrolled in years of tap-dancing lessons as a small child. But even at age 6, the significance that I was the smallest girl in the class and I still ended up in the second row at recital time didn’t escape me. No matter, though. I loved the sound of my tiny little black shoes hitting the hard-wood floor, the pretty costumes, and the one night of the year we were allowed to wear makeup. The time we got to dance—and sing!—to Annie, dressed up as orphans on stage may have been the highlight of elementary school (I can see all women of my generation nodding their heads in unison and appreciation right now).

See, if I surrendered to DNA, I’d probably be clinically depressed and dead by age 40. And so, some time ago, I stopped paying attention to self-imposed inhibitions. Also, I seem to have acquired friends who simply don’t accept insecurity as a reason to say “no” to, um, anything. I learned the hard way that being dragged to the dance floor caused far more embarrassment than my lack of dancing skills ever could.

And thank god for that. Now, I dance. And I have long-since stopped caring what I look like when I do it. Lately, I’ve danced a lot. Because, as anybody east of the Mississippi can attest, it’s been raining for like two months. And I’ve officially been living in Saylorsburg, PA for a year now, which is approximately 365 days longer than I ever planned. And I still can’t run more than 20 minutes at a time. And I don’t know where I want to move or what to be when I grow up.

These are all valid reasons to board a flight to Vegas and meet 40 (yes, 4-0) friends for a completely ridiculous 48 hours of, well, ridiculousness. We all know the rule about Vegas, but I can divulge that for the first time in maybe forever, I left my running shoes at home. I, of course, packed my party clothes and dancing shoes. And they got quite a workout—still going strong even after being awake for more than 24 hours. It’s amazing what can happen to a gal fueled by a killer buffet. And, yes, a couple of gin & tonics, too.

A few days later, I went to Queens to celebrate Avi and Courtney’s newly minted marriage. Oh, yes, there was dancing there, too. And it was good.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks: No matter what’s going on, it’s impossible to be mad, frustrated, or grumpy when you’ve gathered up a bunch of friends and are moving to the music, even if you have as few moves as I do. Dancing and smiling are inextricably linked. Try it without cracking a grin—I dare you. Music + movement =instant therapy…or at least temporary amnesia from whatever ails you. Also, have you ever seen what happens to a roomful of 30somethings when a DJ plays “Livin’ on a Prayer?” Mayhem.

So, at least until the sun finally shines again (literally…figuratively…), don’t be surprised if you see me cuing some music and flailing about my living room...or swaying while washing the dishes. I don’t need a trip to Vegas or a wedding anymore to get me going.

Gin & tonics, although always appreciated, are also not required.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Happy Summer

Here we go again...the unofficial start of summer. In honor of the season upon us, I thought I'd share an adorable little video somebody sent my way. Who knows where all those miles in the next four months will lead you?!

Enjoy and let the fun begin!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To-Do List

1. Take on an assignment for a running magazine that involves interviewing a sports psychologist about how he helps injured athletes cope.

2. After an hour-long “interview,” realize that the psychologist was basically saying that I really need to get a life.

3. Feel relief that I didn’t pay for therapy.

4. Contemplate what getting a life really means, when I live in Saylorsburg, PA.

5. Book a trip to Vegas with college friends.

6. Consider writing a training plan to prepare for the debauchery in Vegas. Start with a half a beer and vow to gradually increase volume over the next six weeks.

7. Slip into delayed-onset depression, answer the door in my pajamas for the FedEx man at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

8. Convince myself that cross training on a Nordic Track, circa 1987, is a fabulous idea.

9. Nearly fall off the Nordic Track, realize that I should probably work on some balancing skills, and hope that cross training doesn’t result in additional injuries.

10. Does my Achilles hurt?

11. Suddenly realize it’s been raining for about eight days straight and the wildlife outside seems to be walking two-by-two , heading directly toward the row boat on the lake.

12. Come to the conclusion that it’s time to see a doctor. Shouldn’t a strained hamstring be healed by now?

13. Fight with health insurance company.

14. Reminisce about childhood that included being the daughter of a doctor and a nurse, as well as a granddaughter of a dentist, then become enveloped by bitterness that adulthood and self-employment often result in crappy health insurance.

15. Become a new fan of universal health care.

16. Head to Philly for a night out with friends.

17. Eat my weight in guacamole and gulp down three margaritas while waiting for cheese-laden enchiladas to arrive.

18. Proceed to a bar to wash down Mexican night with a glass of wine.

19. Laugh. A lot.

20. Wake up the next morning without regret. It was part of the training plan (see #6).

21. Travel to Hershey to visit mom on Mother’s Day and go to the doctor.

22. Realize that no visit with mom should last more than 48 hours, but stay for three days anyway.

23. Eat Sorrento’s pizza, drink wine, and watch American Idol. It’s a party.

24. Buy expensive new cell phone as a personal Boston Marathon consolation prize and play with it. All. Day. Long.

25. Finally see the doctor, who says I’m well on my way to recovery. Four more weeks and it’ll be time to ease back into training (of the running variety).

26. Resist urge to kiss the doctor.

27. Wait patiently for medical bill to arrive, while contemplating if the new cell phone is more or less valuable than my left hamstring.

28. In a wave of optimism, book trip to Flagstaff for a summer Running Retreat.

29. Hope that I don’t die in Flagstaff in a desperate search for more oxygen.

30. Realize that I kind of like the life I had six weeks ago.

31. Give up trying to find a new one. It’s exhausting.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009 (Part II)

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”

I took a giant step back. The way I saw it, I had woken up that morning with the same choice I wake up with every morning: be happy and grateful for what I have, or be miserable and focus on what I don’t. If a running injury was the biggest obstacle I had to face right now, I had a lot to be thankful for in the grand scheme of things.

I could spend the rest of the weekend moping about my lost opportunity, or be there to support my friends who had worked just as hard to make it to the starting line, and join the others who had nothing but fun on tap for the next 24 hours.

Was I sad? Unbelievably. Angry? Absolutely. Was it productive to dwell on it? No. Anger and sadness would do nothing to change the situation, so I found no point in hanging on too long to either.

With the option to turn back home or continue to Boston, my friends continued heading north. I don’t know why or how, but the one thing I seem to have done right in my life is to find the most amazing friends to share it with. After I finally qualified for Boston, when they told me they’d be there to watch me run, I found it overwhelming. To know that they were just as willing to make the trip to help lift my spirits was extraordinary.

Saturday night's pasta dinner at Josh's parents' house.

I started to see the bright side. Instead of a dinner of force-fed pasta, I could do a few things I hadn’t done for far too long: head to a bar, drink a beer, and eat some nachos. I could devour a delicious, ginormous black-and-white cookie for dessert. I could stay up late, hysterically laughing during an impromptu and ridiculous game of “Truth or Dare” in my hotel room (in case you’re wondering, you’re never too old for that…or a good slumber party). Instead of waking up at 4 a.m. to quiet my nerves and catch a bus to Hopkinton, I could sleep in, take a walk along Boylston Street before it was enveloped by a mass of humanity, and have a leisurely cup of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong: I would’ve traded all of that and maybe more for one injury-free left leg. But those weren’t the cards I was dealt.

We staked claim to some prime Boylston Street real estate and settled in for a day of watching, cheering, and absorbing all that is the Boston Marathon. While I felt small flashes of disappointment when I heard the thunderous boom of the start and glanced down toward the fabled finish line, I also felt acceptance that these weren’t mine to have right now. Not yet. But they will be. After all, a dream doesn’t die until you’re ready to let it go. I’m still holding on to this one—tight.

I relished the rare opportunity to watch the elite athletes finish their races—always an inspiring scene to witness. To my surprise, however, the best part of the day came as the stream of runners just like me started flowing through. We had unknowingly picked a magical place to stand. It was right at that point when the finish line was all but assured, when everything that each runner had worked toward was right there within view. The smiles came by the thousands—and they were infectious. There’s no way to adequately explain that unique mix of joy, euphoria, relief, pride, and sense of accomplishment all in one—if there were, I’m pretty sure everybody would train for marathons.

Ryan Hall airborn, cruising to his third-place finish.

But, it’s also a gamble. No finish line is ever promised. Every time we embark on a journey toward one, pouring everything we have for months or years at a time into arriving there, we take a risk that it may not work out, that we’ll get hurt, that we’ll be disappointed.

Those are chances I’m still happily willing to take. When it comes down to it, that’s just life, isn’t it?

I came home with resolve to heal, get stronger, and get back to it. I miss my weekly training schedule more than I care to admit publicly and a part of me wakes up sad each day I don't have the option to run. I realize there are big lessons I’m learning in all of this, but meanwhile there’s a bag that sits in the corner of my bedroom that I haven’t yet unpacked, filled with the shorts, singlet, and shoes I was supposed to wear in Boston.

If I wait long enough, I won’t have to pack for 2010. The journey continues…


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009 (Part I)

I woke up in Boston a heap of nervous energy. I reached for the running clothes I picked out the night before, carefully choosing just the right socks, and gingerly tying the laces of my Zoom Elites.

I headed downstairs to stretch, breathe, and gather my thoughts, quieting all the “what ifs” and fears zipping around my mind. My stomach was in knots, too uneasy to choke down breakfast. I had never worked myself up into such a state for a run—not even at the starting line of my first marathon.

This was it. After all the many months of working toward my Boston Marathon goal, it all came down to this: a 20 minute jog the day before the race.

The next few minutes would tell me everything I needed to know and I was terrified of taking the first step. Either I would make it to the legendary starting line on Boston’s 113th Marathon Monday, or I’d join the mass of spectators lining the course. The outcome of the test jog would give me the answer.

I had spent the ten days after pulling my hamstring doing just about everything I could possibly do to make it better. I rested, I slept, I elevated, I iced, I walked, I stretched, I strengthened, I ate, I hydrated, I swallowed Advil, I massaged, and I repeated. Religiously. Like it was my job. I visited some of the kindest and most knowledgeable people on the planet at Wharton Performance. I thought all good thoughts. I believed that I would heal. I was confident that I would race.

So I stepped out the door on Sunday morning, into a beautiful sun-drenched day and had faith that my journey still had 26.2 miles left in it. After all of this, how could it not?

A cautious shuffle turned into a light jog. A dull ache twinged, but it was not a deal-breaking pain. Ten minutes passed and a light jog turned into a familiar, easy pace. Five minutes passed, and just like that, I had my answer.

That sudden, sharp stabbing sensation ripped through my leg. I stopped running for a few steps, denying that this was really how this was all going to end. I picked up my right leg to quicken my pace again, and as my other leg swung to do its work, the pain shot and radiated up and down the lower left side of my body.

It was over. Apparently there is more than one way to experience heartbreak at the Boston Marathon—and it needn’t involve any hills.

As I limped back to my friend Jo’s house, where I was staying, I let the tears streak down my face. I allowed myself to finally cave to all the wretched thoughts I had been suppressing for a week. I climbed the stairs and picked up my phone, encapsulating the entire experience into a text message of no more than 200 characters. I sent it to Mike, who was on a plane heading to Boston, and did the only thing I knew would sooth me: I poured myself a cup of coffee.

“I know this is not what you want to hear right now, but it’s true: Everything happens for a reason,” Jo said. “And if I were you, I’d punch me in the face right now.”

I chuckled, because she spoke the truth, and delivered it in a manner that only a closest friend could. And she would know. A world-class lacrosse player, once captain of Penn State’s soccer team, former collegiate lacrosse coach, and a marathoner to boot, I will never experience anything in athletics that she hasn’t already been through, including a game-ending hamstring injury.

“I know and I believe that too,” I said. “I just wish that shitty situations came with a label explaining what that reason is.”

As Jo headed to work, I packed up my car to check into the hotel I had reserved for myself, and all my friends and family that were en route to cheer me on at a race I was no longer running. I went to the expo to defer my race entry, dodging the scores of excited runners picking up their bib numbers and Boston Marathon memorabilia. I tried not to hate all of them. It was hard.

I retreated back to my hotel room for fear that the sight of one more royal blue and yellow, unicorn-bearing jacket might finally make me vomit. I sat alone for a while, aimlessly staring out the window at the planes coming in and out of Logan. I started thinking a lot, about everything. And I came to a few important realizations.

To be continued…

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Highs and Lows

Last Sunday I had the race of my life. Today, I spent Easter downing Advil and taking an ice bath.

A lot happened in between.

Let me back up. Last Sunday I had a goofy grin on my face for most of the day, feeling quite pleased with myself. After five months, I had conquered that nasty winter without the use of a treadmill, a left Achilles injury, a right hamstring injury, a nutrition makeover, and more mileage than I had ever run in my life.

Earlier that morning when I stepped to the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler starting line on a stunning spring day in Washington, DC, I had absolutely no idea what I could do. I just didn’t know where I stood.

Relaxed, calm, and totally controlled, I found out 1:12:57 later: a personal best time of almost 5 minutes. No worse for the ware, no “I’m going to die” moments, no twinges of pain, no post-race soreness—I had clearly made it to spring in the shape of my life.

No matter what you’ve put your time and effort toward, those are the days you dream of—when it all pays off and everything finally comes together better than you could’ve predicted. It’s like you’ve been working on one of those 10,000-piece puzzles for five months and then finally figure out how to finish it in five-minute’s time. And that was just how I wanted to feel heading into Boston just eight days from now.

With a plan to do some last sharpening workouts and head into a 10-day taper before the marathon, I was eager to take my rush of confidence and get back to business.
And then it snowed again. Seriously. After a couple of minutes filled with words I can’t type (my mom reads this blog, you know)…in a déjà-vu moment, my track workout was rescheduled for later in the week and I settled for doing a couple of easy runs in the winter gear I thought I was finished wearing for a while.

But not more than 24-hours after the last snowflake hit the ground, spring was back, it was 60 lovely degrees, and I was headed to the local high school track for one last chance to remind my legs that they can go fast. On deck, after a 20 minute warm-up: Just 5x1000 with 200 meter recovery between each, with permission to kill the last two faster than the previous three, if I had it in me.

I hit the first two right on target. I was feeling sluggish and my legs were kind of tight, but no acute pain, so I went for the third. As I rounded the curve a neared the 800-meter mark, I was abruptly stopped by that familiar searing, shooting pain in the hamstring. Sadly, it was not the previously troublesome right hamstring. No, apparently my left one also wanted to have its very own pity party.

First I denied it and tried to jog it out. That didn’t work. I stretched lightly. That didn’t work. Reluctantly, I headed home, trying to make the responsible decision in the final days before the marathon. Plus, I was convinced that it was nothing more than a little twinge that would go away in a day after some rest.

It’s been four days now and there’s still significant pain. A test run yesterday resulted in a 2-mile shuffle that hurt from start to finish. So I’m pulling out all the stops. Bring on the Advil. Bring on the ice baths. Bring on the miracle cure. I’ve got eight days to kick this thing and get myself to Hopkinton in one piece. Thankfully, though my tendons may have other plans, I am still confident that it’ll all come together just as it should. I refuse to believe the ending to this story is anything but happy.

But after I cross the finish line in Boston, I’m totally shopping for new hamstrings.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Heal Thyself, Part II

I love coffee. I love it so much that I can’t remember the last time I went for 24 hours without it. The best part about my love of coffee is that although I need it every day, I don’t desire that much of it. Just a cup or two in the morning and my fix is done.

Coffee isn’t so bad for you, as it turns out. And some studies have shown that it may have some health benefits as well. However, when you drink it at the same time you’re eating nutritious breakfast and taking your multivitamin, it manages to suck the life out of all the good nutrients you’re trying to intake to jumpstart the day. It messes with iron absorption—something that female distance runners already have enough problems with—and is a diuretic. In short, it flushes all the good stuff out of your system.

As I mentioned, my friend Christine—holistic health counselor extraordinaire, triathlete, and all-around amazing woman—has come to my nutritional rescue many times in the past couple of years. The best part about Chris is that she delivers advice and suggestions without any sense of judgment about bad habits—and almost always makes me laugh in the process. She’s managed to remove 95 percent of any refined sugar, white flour, and a lot of gluten from my diet, without me missing any of it.

Naturally, as I thought about my eating habits and what they meant in terms of aiding my body’s recovery from the marathon-training beating I was giving it, I knew Christine would have some wise words.

“I would never tell you to stop drinking coffee—I drink it too,” she said. “But here’s the trick—drink it separate from your meals. Timing is key here—try to space it an hour or so before or after eating.”

Sounded easy enough, and it has been for the most part. But speaking of all those nutrients, I really wanted to know what kinds I should be focusing on. Obviously my tendonitis was a signal of a lot of inflammation. I thought that eating the right food was a better answer in the long-term than popping Advil every four-to-six hours for six weeks. For starters, I needed to be more diligent about taking in the necessary carbs and protein within 30 minutes of completing runs of more than 6 miles. That alone would start to improve my recovery time.

Aside from that, I do most of my own cooking at home, so changing things up with different ingredients and recipes wouldn’t be difficult.

Christine suggested that I add some healthy fats to lubricate joints and muscles, including fish, avocados, olive oil, and nuts. To reduce inflammation and promote healing, antioxidants are key. I can officially proclaim to be a new fan of pomegranate and acai juice, on top of the blueberry obsession I’ve always had.

“These are the colors in your fruits and veggies—make sure you’re eating a rainbow of these foods every day,” she said. “Mostly try to add citrus, leafy greens, and orange and yellow veggies.”

Do you know what else has antioxidants? Dark chocolate. So the day that I decided to make whole wheat banana bread (with flax seeds, for good measure), I also tossed in some dark chocolate chips to the recipe. Mmmm…I was going to freeze half of it, but I confess I ate almost the entire loaf myself. Yikes.

So, six weeks later, I’ve stuck to all the advice that the Holistic Guru has offered. I have followed the training schedule that Mike has diligently and patiently written, altered, and written again (and again) depending on how I’m feeling on any given day. I’ve taken his words of encouragement to heart and kept that ever-important positive attitude. I have spent a lot of time icing my leg and getting to bed early, even when I wanted to do neither of those things.

I’ve done all that I can do. And I am happy to say that it has all worked. The shooting pains in my right leg are gone, my energy level is increasing. The normal marathon-training soreness persists and some days are better than others, but in two weeks when I’m at the starting line in Boston, I’ll find peace in knowing that, without a doubt, I did everything in my power to prepare.

And no matter what the outcome, I’m eternally grateful for the unyielding support along the way.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Heal Thyself, Part I

It was the week I got back from my California adventure, running an easy eight miles on the rolling hills surrounding the lake, when it happened. A dull ache in my right hamstring that had been nagging for a few days suddenly turned into a sharp, searing pain shooting through the back of my knee. In one random stride, I was stopped in my tracks.

I’ve been injured before and have made all those mistakes we know not to make, but do anyway—like stubbornly running through the pain in some lame attempt to stick to a training schedule. When you give so much time and energy in pursuit of a goal, it sometimes takes even more discipline to give it a rest and realize that the time-out contributes just as much to achieving those goals. Luckily, I have people.

After a phone call with Mike, which ended with a mandate to skip the next day’s speed workout and a few pleas to keep smiling, I decided to wipe the worried look off my face and think about ways to speed the healing process. Yes, I know—classic control-freak tendencies coming out. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could do to feel as though I had some power over my own recovery.

First of all, Mike encouraged me to think about what might have led me to this place. What had I done in the days or weeks prior that may have contributed to the breakdown?

“Often it’s what we do outside of training that sabotages our running—it’s not the running itself that leads to injury or illness,” he has reminded me, several times.

That was no mystery to me. After I had returned from California, I had an unusually heavy workload. Good news for my bank account, but it wreaked a little havoc on my sleep. Between the work and the sleep deprivation, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was eating—which is to say, that I was not eating enough of anything, or at the right time.

It was a perfect recipe for disaster during the time that we were also holding weekly mileage at up to 65 miles per week. Training at that intensity means that the body needs adequate sleep and the right nutrients to constantly repair itself. If it doesn’t have the resources it needs to properly recover, it will simply stop working.

The lesson in this? There are many, but a key point is that when life becomes hectic outside of training (and, unless you’re a professional athlete, whose doesn’t?!), I’m better served by tweaking the training schedule, in order to remain healthy. Sacrificing some miles is a better answer than forcing them in just to feed my ego. I’d rather be running less than sitting on the couch covered in ice packs.

With this part figured out, I still had a fantastic case of tendonitis to deal with and just six weeks left until the Boston Marathon. My OCD wasn’t done with me yet. So, I fired off an e-mail to my good friend Christine—a.k.a. the Holistic Guru—to find out what I should be eating in order to promote healing.

As usual, she had some sage advice.

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I’ve been in a funk. I confess that I used to think that Seasonal Affective Disorder was a load of crap. People honestly want to blame the weather for their woes? Really? Well, let me tell you. Spend one harsh winter training for a marathon by yourself in the Pocono Mountains and you, too, will become a believer.

Fortunately, I’m not one to wallow. The endless inches of ice and snow, the gray skies, the wind-chill factor, and the general feeling of isolation were starting to bring me down. I was struggling with the simplest work assignments. And Mother Nature had interfered with one too many of my workouts. So, two e-mails and a plane ticket later, I was on my way to visit friends in Southern California; a bag of running gear and my laptop in tow.

My California adventure began in “the O.C.” with the O’Briens—friends who I love dearly and can never get enough of. With a new house I hadn’t yet seen and a new son I hadn’t yet met, it was the perfect opportunity to visit. And thankfully they didn’t seem to mind that I invited myself. Yes, I have good friends.

I could write a lot about how nice it felt to head outside in shorts and a tank top, instead of the usual three layers of winter gear. I could talk about how I couldn’t help but feel unadulterated bliss in the California sun on that first morning, looping around suburbia for six easy miles. I could recount the 16-mile, hamstring-burning adventure on the fire roads that twisted up and down and up and down the canyon hills.

But what I really cherished were my afternoon runs with Finn.

Finn is all of 22 months old. Did you know that kids don’t even have patellas at that age? No joke. He’s got no knee caps yet--well, technically they’re there, they just haven’t ossified yet. But, I’m telling you that the boy can run. And he loves it.

Finn, who hasn’t been slowed down in the wake of taking on “big brother” status, lives the life of an elite, professional runner. He wakes up early, has a healthy breakfast of plain yogurt, cheerios, and “nanas!” before he hits the playroom for his morning session of tricycle riding, sprinting around the playground, and climbing on the jungle-gym play set. After a few hours, he heads in for lunch, downs some milk, water, and almond-butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, and takes a nap.

And then the afternoon running session begins. Finn was kind enough to invite me to join him, preventing me from becoming too lazy after my own training was long over for the day. Once sprung from his stroller, Finn takes my hand and takes off, squealing with joy, pulling me along for the journey.

His face? Glowing with an enormous smile. There is nothing in the world the boy would rather be doing than moving forward as fast as he’s able. He views running as freedom and fun. He doesn’t worry about pace, time, mileage, form. He stops for water when he’s thirsty. He looks at the scenery along the way, especially enamored with anything resembling the shape of a circle (“Kirkle!” ). He says hi to other people passing by. He doesn’t know what tired is or that what he’s doing is hard work. When he meets a hill, he charges at it, screaming, “Up, up, up, up, up!!!!!”

Running in Finn’s world is simply play. And after more than a mile of running hand-in-hand in his world, I started to think of it that way too. What can I say? It was infectious. And I suspect that on April 20th in Boston, I will hear that enthusiastic little voice in my head as I tackle Heartbreak Hill: Up, up, up, up, up!!!!

Yes, thanks to the little guy, it wasn’t just the California weather that started reinvigorating my attitude and perspective.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Let's Talk About the Weather

The snow is falling. Again. It will be followed by a coating of a quarter-inch of ice. Again. And the temperature on a good day this week will hit a high of 25 degrees.

I'm not sure that this winter could be any crueler.

The other day I delighted in an afternoon that brought just enough sun that I could run in only one pair of tights, instead of two. I shed my usual third top layer and traded in my fleece hat for a head band to keep my ears covered. There was nothing frozen falling from the sky. It was liberating. It was also short-lived.

I don't mean to whine or complain--there is nothing anybody can do about the weather and nobody is forcing me to train for the Boston Marathon--but I think my core body temperature has been hovering somewhere around "really cold" since early November. 

The view from my window

I was thinking about all of this the other day during an easy run. I planned a nice little out-and-back jaunt on a course I use on days I don't feel like dealing with a lot of hills. As I plodded along, trying to share a road narrowed by ice and snow accumulation with a plethora of school buses, I started convincing myself that I was getting acclimated to the difficulty of it all: the constant shivering, the loss of motivation, the ability to cut myself some slack when conditions are unsafe to get out there. Oh, and the addition of shoveling as cross-training.

"I'm getting tough," I thought. Well, I've always been on the tough side. Tougher, perhaps?

After a few miles, it was time to turn around. So I did. And it hit me like a slap in the face: a headwind that just ripped right through all those layers like I hadn't taken the additional 30 minutes out of my morning to put them all on.   

My tougher self trudged on, realizing that the remaining miles would be anything but easy. While I've developed a "suck-it-up-and-deal" training (and life) philosophy, it didn't stop me from noticing that I hadn't even felt the tailwind for the first half of the run. No doubt it was there, easing my effort. 

So, I made a silent promise to myself to take note and savor those times in my life when the wind is at my back, helping me along, allowing me time to gather strength. It's when things seem well that I can let my gratitude wane, perhaps taking the good times a little too much for granted.

Because, let's face it: These days you just never know when you're going to turn around and be forced to fight a nasty headwind.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wishes, Predictions, and Resolutions

There have been few New Years in recent history that I haven't at least partially rung in with my BFF Aimee. Aimee has a magnificent way of creating and perpetuating traditions like no other, which only fractionally explains why she has approximately 10 bazillion friends and is one of the best moms in the world, too.

One such ritual Aimee has upheld for herself and the lucky few who find themselves snuggled up on her couch watching football on any given New Year's Day, is to take a few minutes to write down one wish, one prediction, and one resolution for the year ahead. She hands out envelopes, and after you seal up your thoughts, she files them away until the following year. No sharing required--just a little letter to yourself. Inevitably I always forget about it, but then that plain white, self-addressed envelope, with the words "Do not open until December 31st" written on the back mysteriously appears like clockwork amid the rush of holiday greetings. 

I confess, I couldn't wait until December 31st this year to rip mine open. I could hardly contain my curiosity about where my mind was at this time last year. I knew I was not feeling much like my sunny disposition self--all sorts of things had just gotten way out of hand in 2007 and I was ready to make some drastic changes, though even without opening the envelope, I was 100 percent sure I hadn't predicted that I'd take up residence in Nowhere, PA, no matter how out of whack life had become.

My prediction? That I'd register for Ironman Lake Placid. The reality? I focused solely on running all year and couldn't be happier with the way that decision panned out. My wish? Well, honestly, who doesn't wish for happiness and health for yourself, friends, and family? The funny thing about wishes is that I can keep wishing them over and over again with the same amount of hope that they'll come true. My resolution? To dial down my OCD tendencies in just about every aspect of life--work, volunteering, training--and to spend more time with my friends and family. Mission accomplished. Except in training...I've made peace with the fact that I'll always be kind of compulsive about that.

I suppose it is fitting then that on this December 31st, I ended the year with a 5K run in Bethlehem, PA, with my good friends Michelle and Suzanne. I had a grand total of 8 miles on tap for the day and thought it would be fun to throw the 5K race in the middle of it. We braved the 10-degree temperatures, 30-MPH wind gusts, and swirling snow squalls and were each rewarded with our own box of Peeps for registering (yes, those marshmallow chicks coated in yellow sugar, commonly found in grocery stores around Easter time--bet you didn't know those are made in Bethlehem!). When I got back from tacking on two miles after the race, we discovered that somehow I managed to win my age group, and hence I was given a medal from a human-sized Peep. I could only surmise that most women aged 30 to 39 have the brain cells that I lack, and alas had good sense to stay home that day.

Later, we met up with with Aimee and her family in an absolutely frigid downtown Bethlehem to see the insanity that is the Peep being dropped at midnight. We didn't stick around until midnight, but we did see the plastic Peep suspended from a crane near City Hall. We were underwhelmed. It was plastic, about 25 lbs., and best described as a glorified rubber ducky. We retreated to a local bar within 30 minutes.

In the midst of such hype, we didn't have the time--or maybe it was a lack of inclination--this year to record our wishes, predictions, or resolutions for 2009. Perhaps we all just needed a break from forecasting what our lives might be, in favor of simply leading the lives we have as well as we can for each of the next 365 days ahead. 

Truth be told, I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland this year anyway--the part where she reaches a fork in the road and asks the Cheshire Cat which way she should go.

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," the cat says.

"I don't much care where," Alice responds.

"Then," the Cheshire Cat says, "it doesn't matter which way you go."

"As long as I get somewhere, " Alice adds.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," the cat says, "if you only walk long enough."

Happy, healthy new year to you--may it be just what you've imagined and a little bit of what you never could have.