Life at Home Upon Returning from a Theology and Arts Conference

“How was your weekend?” a co-worker asks. (I’ve just returned from a three-day Theology and the Arts conference at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina.)

How to say… it was the most inspiring event I’ve been to in a solid five years, I watched some really important poets read verse that made me cry in its beauty and brilliance, and it was a ridiculous privilege to listen to the some of the brightest minds in theology and the arts today discuss Creation and New Creation. Instead, I simply nod: “It was great” and go about my office(ial) duties, all the while wondering to myself what is the definition of “eschaton,” “mimetic,” and “Principio,” and what is Judith Wolfe doing right now. And how my life is such a confluence of difference, how I go from squeezing in between MDivs and PhDs to find a seat, to speaking to someone about the dress code, watching 9th grade girls giggling in the corner, preparing remarks for conservative Mennonite patrons at PTF, re-stocking the toilet paper, and wondering how to get students to sign up for my newspaper class.

All the while my soul is literally mopping the floor in Goodson Chapel.

Ah well, I keep all these things and ponder them in my heart.

Every evening after school, I come home and put on some tea (a little pre-run caffeine), and sit down with Michael O’Siadhail’s new poetry book, The Five Quintets. In my bare feet and business-wear, I step out on my new, secluded, second-story deck (I just moved) and sip tea, and read some of the best poetry I’ve encountered. (I discovered O’Siadhail at Duke Divinity School’s DITA conference two weeks ago. After listening to a lecture in which he outlined his latest volume and then read to us, I’ve become completely enamored with his reliance on form, his grasp of language and philosophy, and for that matter, I suppose if Duke’s renowned New Testament scholar, Richard B. Hayes, introduces O’Siadhail as having written one of the most important works in the English language that will be published in our lifetime, one does sit up and take notice.) (Not only that, but order the poetry collection from Amazon immediately!)

20190917_165312

After tea and sonnets, we change into running clothes. It’s about 6:00 o’clock and it’s soon golden hour. The sun is moving toward setting, casting a golden hue through all the forest-green trees. (The running’s been so great in my new neighborhood, I’ve been leaving my iPod at home – it’s THAT good around here.) I found this excellent route with virtually no traffic and all the best scenery: muscular horses, a pasture of lambs, a lonesome swan, a miniature pony…

It’s amusing to me how fulfilled I feel living out in this part of Lancaster county. I never really took myself for a country girl, but I’m flooded with memories of my childhood on the Ohio plains. I remember my friends who milked cows and the way their clothes smelled, I remember playing with kittens in my friend’s haymow, rambling in pastures spotted by craggy oaks, taking long walks down farm lanes, bike rides with Dad, the miles of corn, the quietness, the solitude.

It’s been so long since solitude like this.

I pass a farm lane, and it occurs to me that everyone knows this lane. Everyone knows who has walked this lane. Everyone knows who drives this lane. Everyone knows how to drive down this lane. Everyone knows what goes on this lane. The ruts, the gravel, the weeds, the hat, the arm dangling outside the pickup truck… a cat picking its way along the corn… This knowing occurs to me, and I inspect it.

20190921_102214

I easily finish my evening run, ending with a negative split. After cleaning up, I pull out Bach and practice Singet Dem Herrn, plus more than a dozen other pieces for an upcoming concert. The Russian doesn’t come so well. There are more pieces, some German. I think of Papa, and my pronunciation of Herrlichkeit. Two hours later, I heave a deep sigh, and start cooking dinner.

I’m eating by 9:00 p.m., opened up to the Word, and soon I’m crying again. I’ve been crying nearly every evening at dinner since I moved to my new place. I’m so grateful for this space, a second-story apartment above a rambling country home, lightyears closer to work and church. I feel entirely lucky.

I think about the winding drive home from school yesterday, through fields bursting with life, and I think, “You know, on these roads I feel the most ‘at home’ I’ve ever felt since moving away from home in Ohio in 2013.” And I get this huge lump in my throat because some of you know how big of a deal that is for me.

There is a paradise this side of heaven that bursts softly through the clouds. It quietly rests on the most unsuspecting of us.

You know, Christian Wiman says, “All art is making visible what is not visible.”

Perhaps that is why I blog at all. Perhaps this blog (while you’ll have to pardon its “particularities,” and “definite pictures”) is a little temporary installation, lit up by that “Paradisal light.”

And so.

Here’s to art-making.

It Doesn’t Always Get Worse: Thoughts at New Year’s

Happy New Year’s from Shasta’s Fog!

This New Year’s I’m celebrating in the best way, brilliant sunshine bursting through floor-to-ceiling windows at my favorite coffee hotspot downtown, a buzzing atmosphere for family and friends enjoying embarrassingly late brunches. (Travel tip: there’s free parking in downtown Lancaster on federal holidays!)

On the first day of the year, I’m taking a few moments to breathe in the newness, and as I open my planner, I notice a new scent.

I smell violent adventure.

In many ways, the year ahead looks very hard, full of change, decision-making, exploring new opportunities, meeting new people, networking.

It all sounds adventure-y, yes. But also terrifying for this self-proclaimed introvert.

Despite the fact that it’s easy to writhe under the day-to-day grind of vocational service, sometimes it’s easier knowing exactly what the next twelve months hold, vocationally.

If you find that you don’t have that luxury this New Year’s Day, I offer you this observation gleaned from the endless stream of running podcasts I listened to driving back and forth from Ohio for the holidays. #midwest #roadtrips

Lindsey Hein, interviewing ultramarathoner Jessica Goldman, asked her about mental fortitude on the trail: “How do you navigate the ultramarathon mentally? What makes a person able to conquer distances of 100 miles or more?

Goldman responded, “One thing I repeat to myself is, ‘It doesn’t always get worse.’”

When you’re in mile 20 of a 100-mile race, you may be feeling awful, your legs screaming at you. When you look ahead to the fact that you have 80 miles left to go, there are two options. You may be tempted to think that you don’t have enough in you, and that if this is how things are going now, there’s absolutely no way that you can finish, because you cannot handle it if things continue to go downhill. (Heh heh.) Or, you have this option: you can glean from the experience of Goldman and others who know that sometimes it doesn’t always get worse. Sometimes life-giving running rhythms develop in the back half of the race, and it’s only in those first 20 miles that you experience mind-numbing distress.

Take this as a running tip and also as a booster for your New Year’s day. Perhaps this is the year in which your lived experience collides with never-before-experienced wellness.

Because that, my dear readers, is hope.

Hope is flexible. Hope is open to new experiences. (Truly, hope believes that new experiences are in fact possible.) Hope trusts that God gives wisdom for navigating new places and people. Hope believes that the power of Jesus gives us everything we need for a godly life. Hope is humble and ignores the awkward feeling of trying to do things differently. Hope is ambidextrous, employing multiple modalities for seeking spiritual and mental health.

J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote: “The world indeed is full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

I think Tolkien points to a hopefulness much needed in our world. (Even though as I’m blogging, I’m at the same time reading at Peter Hitchens article over at First Things called “Vice and Fire” that questions the religious ambivalence of Tolkien’s work and also prophesies the cultural effects of religious indifference promoted by George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Hitchens brings clarity to the way in which Tolkien and Martin create nonreligious fictional worlds which have no need nor vision for the spiritual; indeed Hitchens writes that Martin’s “fantasy greatly disturbs me, because it helps to normalize the indifference to Christianity which is a far greater threat to it than active atheism.” So on second thought, perhaps Tolkien’s hopefulness doesn’t go far enough. What fair-ness, for example? And what, really, is its undergirding? Human wistfulness? Sentimentality? That is the last thing we need.)

As you step forward into growth this new year, I pray that the hope you encounter is real and true, creational and cosmic, impossibly larger than human sentiment.

In 2019, perhaps Isaiah is the prophet we need:

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

Years That Ask Questions, and Years That Answer

Remember that AIO episode where Eugene Meltzner packs his bags for California and victoriously declares, “I’m going on a journey… to find myself!”?

Bernard Walton (every evangelical’s favorite sarcastic saint) replies, “Sounds like a pretty short trip.”

I feel like I’m approaching this year in the same way: with both parts inspirational stirring and bemused pragmatism.

Last winter I made the crazy decision to take a year off from the English classroom, and I spent most of this summer furiously job-hunting, most interviews going something like this:

Image result for i've always been passionate about being able to afford food

Saved by the bell (a literal school bell), I got an administrative assistant job just weeks ago in a local high school. While I was initially looking for more distance from a school setting, I’m not going to lie that I look forward to #everyholidayoff and #snowdays.

I thought I would make things easy for myself as I adjust to a new job by packing up my entire apartment and moving across the county. Things I’m gaining: roommates who cook, a dishwasher, a yard with big trees, and a patio. #suburbia

Things I’m leaving behind: cement, my favorite running trail, the clip-clop of buggies, and the infamous Menno Wal-Mart. (Tons more diversity in this part of Lancaster. I went for groceries, and I’m pretty certain I was the only white person there.)

Oh, and did I mention that this summer I also threw out all my beginners’ training plans and ramped up half-marathon training to chase an early fall half-marathon PR. (So laughable because my new neighborhood lies on top of countless, impossibly-mountainous hills.)

A lot of people have been asking me why I quit teaching this year, and I can’t say it better than Zora Neale Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

2018 is that year for me, and I feel incredibly blessed to have the luxury to take time off to ask deep questions of myself, my career, and of God.

Don’t get me wrong, this year I have an incredible to-do list. I have an incredible reading list. I have an incredible amount of research and academic networking to do. (Step 1: Mennonite Studies conference at University of Winnipeg in November.) And as always, I have writing goals, running goals, and music-learning goals.

“But wait,” my friend said. “Are you going to actually take the time to rest and do the re-focusing that you wanted to do in the first place?”

(Thanks, Nancy, I need the reminder.)

Because at the outset, I scheduled this year as one big fat giant reminder to rest… a sort of personal maintenancing. I have a feeling that the silence of rest will at first sound like a roar. (Especially as I force myself to answer some deep questions.)

You know what they say: “Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.” I hope to be asking that question for this entire year.

Image result for in any moment we have two options

One of my new next-door neighbors is from West Africa, and he said this about Americans: “You ask American, ‘How are you?” They say, ‘I’m fine.’ Could be living catastrophe. Could be shot by bullet with blood coming out, they say, ‘I’m fine.’”

Here’s to a year of asking myself, “How are you?” and answering honestly.

Because the truth is, readers, if you’re running a rat race, you’re allowed to DNF.

Destroying DEVOLSON

If I take a month-long break from blogging, you know two things happened:

  1. Life got insanely busy, and
  2. I spent important time fixing life.

I’m done now!

In the last month, I’ve:

  • Had my car in and out of the shop
  • Suffered an Achilles strain after working to improve my average mile time
  • Been teaching Pride & Prejudice, Macbeth, like a gazillion Spanish verbs, Thomas Paine, Creveceour, and a little bit of Poe just for funsies
  • Wrote a syllabus (from scratch) for the AP Rhetoric and Argumentation class that I teach in order to send it to the College Board for approval (oh, hello, American rhetoric, speech, and Transcendentalists)
  • Rehearsed music to record for Blue Sky Music last weekend (check out my composer friend Lyle Stutzman’s new website: https://blueskymusic.net/)
  • Took a much-needed travel break to Virginia with dear friends in which I took in a livestreamed Gospel Identity Conference by Tim Keller and saw a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars playhouse, the world’s only recreation of the original indoor Blackfriars Theatre in London circa 1655! (We saw The Fall of King Henry; it was tragic.)
  • Practiced problem-solving. Back story: you know how the world’s funniest blogging teacher, “Love, Teach” has coined the term DEVOLSON to describe the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November? To be honest, I’ve actually never really understood the term because for me the Vortex (that is, the most deplorable winter blues) doesn’t come until January, February, and March. (You’ll remember last year’s tearful post about the drudgery of winter weight sessions.) Friends, DEVOLSON has arrived! October was brutal! And November’s evil time change? What in the samhill is a 4:30 sunset? #extremelygrouchyrunner.  In the midst of all childish whining, I stumbled upon two fantastic articles about mental and emotional health (which, if you are wondering if you have, means you might have some adjustments to make). I discovered I have room to improve when it comes to managing stress because, in fact, more often than not, I *don’t* manage stress. I just complain about it. (Not exactly the most emotionally healthy thing to do.) I’m learning that it’s necessary to *deal* with stress and work to remove it. This requires grit, determination, and flexibility.
    IMG_1623So in the interest of knocking DEVOLSON in the teeth, I’m developing all kinds of goals for January, February, and March in order to practice the emotionally healthy habits I’ve learned about, including but not limited to:
  1. finding balance between work, rest, and activity by increasing daily prayer and Bible reading, and by exchanging empty activity for more restful, renewing activities like reading (lots of great titles on my Christmas list and current bookshelf)
  2. continued problem solving around large and little daily stresses
  3. minding physical health by developing a winter workout regimen (which I created while eating a giant piece of chocolate cake from my friend). Ugh. Guys. This year’s Thanksgiving morning run was a fantastic, sun-lit jaunt over flat Mid-western plains (oh, how I’ve missed you, Ohio!), and the joy I experienced during that run reminded me why activities of discipline are so important for my life. Anyway, winter running goals for me include (guess what) more problem solving! Particularly around Achilles injuries and what to wear on windy winter runs. I think eccentric single-leg calf exercises and Black Friday deals will do the trick for me!
  4. practicing thankfulness in order to be more positive (which actually brings health benefits!) Today’s thankful list:
    • my car is out of the shop,
    • what Achilles pain?
    • my syllabus is on its way to the College Board,
    • a brand new Tim Keller book for the mornings and Psalms for the evenings,
    • the poem I saw on Sunday, driving home from our concert after recording, during the most storybook of purple dusks in Lancaster County, as two dark, slow cyclists crested a hill, and I wound through quiet farmland, past farm ponds still as glass, lavender mirrors, with carols ringing in my head, and bare scrags and gray trees silhouette against the good, good sky.

The One with the Marathon

I arrived too early. Squatting for an hour in the dark under orange lights on a parking slab, staring at my shoes, and pondering the upcoming insanity was a little much. I couldn’t play calming music because my old ipod’s battery was barely going to last during the whole marathon. Also, I’m *shy* and private about my running, so talking to other runners wasn’t really a possibility. So I basically stood in the forever-long bathroom lines, twice. I finished dynamic stretching and then sucked down an espresso-flavored GU gel. I hopped the fence into my slow-poke corral and jammed my earbuds in, but the thumping starting line drowned out Newsboys from 2006.

 

 

Akron7.PNG

I tried not to cry.

Akron8.PNG

Next, we (10,000 other runners and I) jogged toward the start line, and were off. I forced myself to slow down because I had heard that the entire first mile was downhill, causing runners to go out too fast. A bobbing labyrinth of neon-colored, nylon-covered runners snaked out in front of me, the end disappearing where the periwinkle horizon met dark row-houses. The sun wasn’t even up yet.

We were breathing hard. It was only 60 degrees, but we were all drenched in sweat after the first two miles due to the 89% humidity. The sun played hide-and-seek behind white clapboard homes while we followed the Akron Marathon’s infamous blue line down streets of pot-holes and fresh black pavement.

 

21587007_1653835554650181_8718144749855113000_o.jpg

The neighbors came. Little kids with grandmas, retirees in athletic wear, a confused-looking foreign family in dress clothes, cops and firemen, a woman leaning out her second-story window, someone’s grandmother dancing in her front yard with a tambourine, Neighbor Bob with a cardboard table full of vodka shots, and soccer moms with cow bells. Everyone was there.

I couldn’t wait for the first six miles to end. It was in these first few miles that I gave in to the heat and humidity. I desperately wanted to finish all 26.2 miles, so I made the most careful decision of my life. (Who am I kidding, all of my decisions are the most careful ones.) I majorly slowed down so that I wouldn’t overheat later, or develop cramps.

One of the most beautiful moments of the race was in this first six miles, when we crossed the All America Bridge for the second time. I had shaken out my nerves, I was nearing the end of my “easy” section, resigning myself to the idea of running for several more hours, and the sun was dancing through the trees below the bridge, music was pumping, and a crazy volunteer in an animal suit was cheering through a megaphone.

Sports-Akron-Marathon-2.jpg

Taking my first on-the-road gel at mile 6 felt like a good milestone, and accomplishing another climb and downhill section around mile 9 felt good as well. I tried to ignore the fact that at mile 10 I started to feel it in my legs. It felt like I had already “worked,” as it were, which is sort of a problem since I usually try to conserve enough that I don’t feel like I’m working at least until the half-way point at mile 13. And I knew I had a big climb at mile 13.

And mile 13 couldn’t come fast enough. The race was CLOGGED for the first 13 miles. At 12.5, the half-marathoners turned left, and the 900 marathoners plus umpteenth relay-ers went right. (By the way, where were my marathon compadres? I felt totally alone in the second half, seemingly surrounded only by relay-ers in their fresh, non-sweaty pink spandex!) Sweet jazz band on Market Street, by the way.

By the time I conquered the hill at the half marathon mark and charged ahead a few more miles, I was on a roll. I *knew* I had it in the bag. Mile 16 thoughts: “Ten more miles? Easily done. Only two sets of five miles.”

Akron3 - Copy.PNG

My biggest complaint from this part of the marathon was that around mile 18, none of the fluid stations were cold anymore. It’s actually amusing how angry I got. I had nothing else to direct my emotions toward, so I sabotaged the dear race volunteers.

“You had one job. ONE. JOB!” I seethed, forcing down yet another swallow of warm Gatorade, as race volunteers cheered me on, next to stacks of pre-poured paper cups that were roasting in the 80 degree sun.

As far as hydration and fueling is concerned, I alternated between the provided Powerade and water, but I did wear my hydration belt because of the heat. A few of the fluid stations were spaced further apart than I was comfortable with for the weather, so I decided to play it safe and bring my own fluids just in case. I took gels at miles 6, 11, 17, and 22.

The heat was VERY noticeable during the last quarter of the race as we wound our way through shady neighborhoods, but the course spectators were amazing. Every year, practically the entire community tail-gates in their front yards, offering sweet snacks, icee pick-me-ups, marshmallows, and the occasional garden hose spray-down for heat-weary runners. I zig-zagged from side-to-side down these streets gliding under spritzing hoses.

Heading back into the downtown area, it felt strange to me that in miles 23-24, I really struggled to celebrate my accomplishment. It would have made sense to me if in that moment of the race I began to feel a rush of exhilaration, a rush of pride, but I didn’t. As I was finishing the last few miles of the race, I wrestled with why I wasn’t feeling joy. I thought it was strange, considering that I was about to complete a goal that had been 10 years in the making. (When I was a teenager, I was inspired to run a marathon upon hearing that a family friend of ours [one of the sweetest, most Godly, feminine, and soft-spoken young woman I had ever met] trained and ran a 26.2 mile race. “That’s… strong,” I thought.)

At that point, while I’d been avoiding non-race-official fluids and snack stands (at the advice of race directors), I threw all caution into the wind and started grabbing any-and-everything shoved in my face by cheerful spectators. I also demanded ice at official fluid station #17 as I jogged by.

“There was some in the water,” a volunteer said, wringing her hands, “but it melted!”

You lie! I hissed to myself, as a bag of ice was shoved in my face. I dumped a fist-full of ice into the water, shook the water, grasped the cubes again, and started shoving them down my shirt. I gulped the ice-cold water.

I rounded another bend of orange cones, and I was greeted by the familiar downtown streets and lines of traffic as roads started opening up again. A Hispanic man sat by himself in a lawnchair, under a tiny city tree, the yellow sun boiling above his bucket hat. A small cooler of ice and Gatorade sat by hit feet.

“Ice,” I hoarsely croaked.

He pointed to the cooler, and I grabbed another fist-full to stuff down my clothes. SO. HOT.

I was starting my last mile when the leg cramps started. I knew if I didn’t start walking soon, I would go down on pavement. A tiny bottle of ice cold water was shoved in my face. I greedily took it, sipping a few drops and pouring the rest on my head.

I forced myself to start walking. Where’s the blind girl? I asked myself. Only a few paces back, I had passed a vision and hearing-impaired runner. I only knew she was so, due to the sign pinned to her back. She probably ended up beating me.

Up ahead, I saw the turn into the baseball stadium, and I noticed the official race photographers. Yikes, can’t be walking now! Quickly reverted to running form and formed the biggest cheesiest smile I could manage. (Not that I wasn’t happy. I was. But I also pose for cameras.)

21950689_10155383303758110_5630215613657862020_o.jpg

Hundreds of runners lined the yellow finisher shoot as I ran toward the finish line. I leaned over it in my victory stance.

13898298 (1)

I

Finished.

My papa yelled my name above the baseball stadium din and snapped some photos with his flip phone. (Dads are awesome.)

Jogging through the finisher festival to get my medal, I found an empty patch of grass for stretching. I lay on the field, in the green grass, the warm sun warming my tired body. It felt heavenly.

21765668_10155383303708110_2772013956281873844_o.jpg
My biggest fans, my best supporters. 
21768607_10155383303663110_7978366816733970746_o.jpg
My sister, who left her babykins at home, drove two hours to cheer me on. 

The biggest question that this marathon needed to answer for me was where I stand with running. I’ve heard it said that your first marathon is defining in that people finish and say either two things, “THAT WAS AWESOME! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!” or “Never. Again. In my life.”

Before the race, I was really worried how I would respond.

And now I know.

“That was awesome! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!”

Case in point? This morning, Saturday, I got up at 6:00 and ran four miles before meeting friends for a 9:00 a.m. brunch.

The running life = the good life.

Silencing the Cynic

A smile spread across my face as I jogged out of my friend’s driveway, hitting pavement in the morning hush. The familiar running rhythms spread through my body. I lifted my eyes, surveying dewy cornfields spread for quiet miles. A pink, bouncy-ball sun peeked out above the tree-lined horizon. This is going to be a good run, I smiled, ignoring the fact that I had 18 miles staring me in the face.

Inhaling a prayer of gratefulness, I laughed out loud at the morning’s beauty. Last night’s thunderstorms left a cool breeze and some wisps for clouds. I begged God for more cloud cover as I rounded my first turn, heading west, and the sun rose higher.

A trip to Indiana for a friend’s wedding meant last week’s long run was a bit of a guilty pleasure—flat country roads are my familiar Midwestern playground. I scheduled three six-mile out-and-back loops, setting up a fueling station near my car. That morning, my sentimental gratefulness soon ground to a halt as dark, negative thoughts crowded out my mind’s sunny atmosphere.

This year’s marathon training has hit me pretty hard in the mental game area. Lacking the wisdom of Solomon, I signed up for Ohio’s hilliest marathon for my first 26.2 mile race. I reasoned that since I would be training on hills in Pennsylvania that a hilly race would be no big deal. Besides, several reviewers mentioned that the hills “aren’t so bad” and “break up the monotony.” Several first-timer marathoners also praised the race’s organization and experience, so I thought I was making a good choice. HOWEVER. Let me be the first to say that running/racing on hills definitely takes some practice. The hills I’m training on are destroying my times, not to mention my brain game.

Long runs on hills have been abominable. Besides applying laser-like focus to dynamic stretching, race nutrition, hydration, and negative splits, I’ve been working at developing hill techniques, which include adjusting my stride and ignoring my times (but not too much!) Erg. IT’S SO HARD.

Lacking success in most of these areas, I nearly accepted the mediocre non-progress I’d been making. I was so grateful to just finish 18 miles last weekend on flat roads just to remind myself that I can actually run that distance (on flat roads, that is).

But the mind games! I find it so strange that my body is stronger than my mind! I ALWAYS have more when I get to the end of a run. It’s my MIND that refuses to cooperate, offering these sort of passive/aggressive de-motivators:

“You’ve worked enough, maybe stop running for a bit.” “This isn’t that important of a run.” “In this humidity, it’s impossible to give more.” “If you give everything you’ve got, you’ll run out of steam.” “Careful, that’s too fast.” “See? There’s no way you can keep that pace.” “Hills? That’s for athletes, people who actually run.”

FOLKS, IT HAS BEEN ROUGH!

I’ve been aggressively googling “How to Improve Your Mental Game,” and finding glib little mantras to repeat to myself during my runs. Which, strangely, actually help. Things like,

  • “Be ‘now’ focused.”
  • “For hills, focus on effort output. Keep the effort the same as straight stretch running.”
  • “Being overtime is good, just pull back a bit. Being undertime is good, all you need is a little more. Turn BOTH statements into positive ones.”
  •  “What you do in training, you will do on race day.”
  • “Run the race that you know you can.”
  • “Finish every run with a half-mile hard effort, no letup, not an inch short.”
  • Plus Christopher McDougall’s mantra from Born to Run, a la Tarahumara: “Think easy, light, smooth, and fast.”

Other bits of advice I’ve been clinging to are:

  • “Pessimism is a runner’s top mental roadblock.”
  • “Negativity, whether it’s worry or doubt, often leads to self-defeating behaviors including slowing down, cutting a workout short, or dropping out of a race.”
  • “Fatigue is simply a sign that you need to put your mind on something positive.”
  • “Determine what you want to accomplish the most, and make the necessary lifestyle changes to make that dream a reality.”
  • “If you take action, results follow. Do speedwork; get faster. Eat less; lose weight. Stop negative thinking; punch through pain.”

I’m a pretty cynical person. I’m not the type to draw strength from little mantras, quotes, or self-help. But it’s been so illuminating for me to notice how my thought patterns of negativity, pessimism, and cynicism have been affecting my running, effectively destroying my progress! (Not to mention the that I’m sure these thought patterns affect me in more than just running.)

I’m learning to silence the cynic by simply being more positive, celebrating the tiny wins, and, despite non-progress, continuing to make good self-care decisions.

For example, besides the syrup-slow adjustment to hill training, I’m focusing on sleep. Eight or nine hours is the goal at this training volume, but with school back in session (WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!), sometimes I’m doing well if I get six hours of sleep a night. In any case, I’m working on guarding my sleep like a dog and I’m honestly turning down social invitations in order to *not die* from sleep deprivation. #whateverittakes

Interestingly, after weeks of disappointing non-progress… after weeks of avoiding friends, fries, and ice cream… and after weeks of mediocre runs, unmet goals, and apathetic eating… I HAD THE MOST FANTASTIC TWELVE-MILE LONG RUN on Saturday!

Leading up to the run, I *ignored* the mediocre, flat 18-miler the week before, and instead carefully trained and hydrated, even skipping a run, choosing sleep over training. Throughout the week, I filled my crockpot with protein and healthy carbs. I bought gluten-free bread in hopes of it curing a fueling problem.

After a solid 9 hours of sleep Friday night, I trudged to my kitchen and calmly ate my peanut butter & honey (gluten-free) toast and sipped my earl gray. The temperature was barely above 60 as I strapped on my running belt full of water, Gatorade, and GU gels. Feebly trotting up the first hill, the dark thoughts returned with a vengeance and never left until mile 4. But by mile 4, I was running faster than goal pace, which I kept inching toward until mile 10, when I just let loose and ran like crazy! I seriously did not start “working” until mile 10. The gluten-free fueling, the perfect weather, the focused mind control, weeks of persistent training, and resolve to GIVE YOUR GIFT resulted in one of the strongest runs of my life. (Pennsylania motorists were probably more than a little curious at my silly grin which I could not wipe off my face.)

I keep forgetting how daily decisions are an investment in the future me. I’ve never been more surprised at digging deep and finding strength. But this week I was reminded how daily discipline is the key to lasting strength. This has spiritual meaning for me beyond running, so while I’m celebrating a somewhat frivolous “win,” I continue to ponder the possibilities of the future me, and how my daily decisions support (or don’t support) that person.

And I’ll work on ignoring that little Cynic on my shoulder.

IMG_20170607_163209_475.jpg

 

 

Just Say No to Netflix

Soooooo. How many times have YOU thought about the Resurrection this week?

Lent this year for me has been a personal oasis. Let me tell you why.

I’m not sure how to say this without you judging me, but: I haven’t done super well living by myself this year. I’ve sort of developed some bad habits…. including, but not limited to: silencing all cries of boredom and pain with media and food.

netflix.jpg

My bad habits also include generally ignoring a specific request that God has asked of me—to intently seek Him for the next year-ish (that’s a long story, but it’s a very specific thing I know He wants me to be doing right now).

Back in January, I attempted to address a few of my bad habits through my New Year’s resolutions:

1. No social media until after school.
2. Run a marathon. (Already nixed because of my up-coming surgery this summer.

netflix2.jpg

But I decided that Lent would be a time where I could push even harder. For Lent, I decided to give up Netflix/Youtube/movies, plus snacking!

The reasons for this were two-fold. I knew that the amount of time of I was spending watching shows was not allowing me the time I needed for personal meditation and sorting out life. Second, watching shows plus snacking basically ALL THE TIME sent me on a suspicious trip to the scales. My heart sank, but I finally admitted what I had known all along: you just can’t say “Yes!” to whatever you want!

bro-just-say-no.jpg

So I decided a little discipline and fasting were in order. Plus, I really, really LOVE celebrating Lent! For one, it is my personal agenda to increase all hype around the Easter holiday because it is excruciatingly under-celebrated in most Christian circles, which in no way relates to the God-created fasting and feasting tradition of Old Testament Judaism, nor to what I imagine God intends for healthy faith communities today.

Anyway, Lenten fast = easier said than done! The first week was PAINFUL. I didn’t grow up watching TV, but in the past couple of years, Netflix has made it really easy to get addicted to shows, and a quiet house plus a solo dinner makes it easy to watch a show (or two, or five). (There you go again, judging me.)

For the first week, I whined a LOT. To my family, out-of-state. If you find yourself having the same withdrawal symptoms (irritability, grouchiness, general laziness, mild anger), call a loved one. They will be more than happy to deliver a swift verbal kick in the pants, tell you to quit your griping, that you DO have bad habits, and good riddance to them! (My sweet family.)

netflix3.jpg

Despite how hungry I was the first week (me: “You mean I actually have to cook decent MEALS?”), I admitted (only silently to myself, of course), that I suddenly had so much time for cleaning! Dishes, dishes! Scrubbing the sink! And, since I was banned from social media, I had time to listen to a couple of apologetics debates during those dishes!

I learned I needed to eat better meals, and then just gulp water if I was feeling hungry. Not related to Lent, but more related to that scales trip, I also decided to hit the workouts hardcore. Again, these were SO SAD. The first week I was literally crying while lifting weights because of how much I did not want to lift! (Oh, Esther. It’s just one small little death.) However, it’s great to already feel results after just two weeks of weights, cross training, and core. Not to mention a few runs here and there because: spring!

I also found that even though I chose to do Episcopalian style Lent (you can cheat on Sundays), I found I didn’t want to! I had carved a new groove in my behavior, and my body and mind initially didn’t WANT to snack or watch shows on Sundays, when the time came around. This was invigorating for me!

(But I mean, I still had ice cream.)

I’m still working on that intentionally seeking God bit. But the beauty of it is, I still have 17 days to figure it out.

Through discipline, and learning to say no, I, for one, am feeling my heart and mind slowly thaw from its winter slush, and I feel a small green shoot pushing through the thick, dark mud of mindless yes.

 

Eyes on the Prize

Hello friends! Just a little update on my birthday-present marathon!

DSC_1679

So this year I turned 26 on the 26th, and following a very magical golden birthday celebration, I planned an even more epic celebration: running a 26.2 marathon!

And this post is announcing that….

Last week, I dropped out.

ALL THE SAD FACES.

Five weeks ago, I suffered an injury in my right foot which I have yet to identify as either a slight sprain or plantar fasciitis. Two days after my 18 mile long run (which I can only describe as exceedingly exotic, one of the most perfect long runs I’ve ever had), I went out for a short run on a route I don’t normally run. Two mistakes: I didn’t stretch out properly, and I was running on uneven ground. The following day I was experiencing noticeable arch pain and bruising on the right side of my foot. I immediately R.I.C.E. ed and quit running for two days. Foolishly, I went out later that week for six miles, running at normal pace. I was able to endure the tightness in my foot. By the time for my next long run, I could barely pound out four miles, and I limped home, collapsing in my laundry room like a tipped-over bucket of tears for my roommates to clean up. Determined not to give up, I resolved to stay off my foot for a solid week and a half. I turned to biking and circuit training to maintain my physical fitness. I wore a brace, iced religiously, and did stretches and therapy daily. (Though I fought the urge to throw in the towel and simply eat copious amounts of baked goods.) Instead of running my last long run of 20 miles, I opted to bike instead, after a morning workout. This was a very low day for me. I was quite upset about not having the chance to run 20 miles. (Yes, I understand not very many people can relate to this!) I slowly returned to running by first walking several miles, then slowly increasing mileage over the next week. My next mistake was thinking I could throw in a longish 13 mile run the same week. I felt the need to run that distance because I had missed my last long run, and I wanted to test myself to see if I could expect to finish a marathon distance in two weeks. I finished 13, but I was grimacing the last three miles. An ice bath and stretching didn’t amend the pain I was feeling in my arch. With two weeks til race day, my hopes were slowly fading. I eased up on running again and focused on stretching, icing, and easy balance exercises. However, the closer it came to race day, and the more reading and research I did, I realized that it was wisest to drop out, heal up, and focus on healthy running, rather than a defiant finish that could have finished my running career forever.

So this weekend, instead of running 26.2 miles, I celebrated four solid months of valuable long-distance training by skipping town with this chica, a running buddy and very dear friend.

IMG_20151017_143056

We began our day with retail therapy at IKEA,

IMG_20151017_121637

before consuming allllll the steak at a the very delicious Wildfire restaurant in Oak Brook, just west of Chicago.

IMG_20151017_152326

I enjoyed the Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Tenderloin Tip with grilled red onions and wild rice, and I will spare you the details, which is really just me saying, “OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS THE BEST MEAT I HAVE EVER TASTED.” The benefit of running is learning to eat good protein, and I’ve certainly branched out in this area due to training.

IMG_20151017_143707

The sun shined brilliantly as made our way from shop to shop, leisurely browsing some of our favorite stores, and discovering new favorites (including Anthropologie, which I’ve never had a particular fancy for, until this Saturday, when I found these cunning blue coasters, each one featuring an extra-large, drab bird perched atop an ugly, crooked horse creature.) The find of the day.

It wouldn’t be the end of marathon training without a significant dessert, which I chose to be the Cheesecake Factory’s chocolate tuxedo cream cheesecake, topped off with Starbucks coffee.

IMG_20151017_212502

It was a very happy day indeed, despite the disappointment of a missed goal.

I really do hope to run my race sometime. No matter when I finish, it will be significant, but as thethingaboutchange says, “just less poetic.” Yet I refuse to look at this as four months of “wasted” training because I’ve learned so many lessons, and, additionally, I simply just feel great! Yay, fitness goals!

IMG_20151003_113020

For now, I can turn my attention back to the classroom, and relish in all those little moments that make my day-job worthwhile. Like pointing out to my students that I actually HAVE descended from a witch (my mother’s maiden name matches that of one of Salem, Massachusetts condemned witches), like watching tenth grade boys laugh hysterically while listening to stories about apostrophes in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and, at our school’s annual open house, convincing students and parents alike, that, yes, you actually CAN eat cactus, and isn’t it nice, and doesn’t it taste like pickled peppers?

IMG_20150912_123700

So long, everyone!

A Running Commentary

Favorite running moment this month: meeting this huge Spanish-speaking cycling group on the outskirts of Nappanee. Leading the group of 50+ cyclists was a pick-up truck carrying a huge image of a saint and a giant vat of red flowers. (?) I couldn’t cross the country road where they were passing, so I turned left and started running against them yelling “Buenos dias!” like a hacienda was on fire. One cyclist gave me a high five, and I heard one man say, “Sabe que no es un señor.” (“She knows she’s not a man.”) Hahaha! #runningskirtsforever

Summer is winding down! From hiking the Rocky Mountains, to relaxing with my family, to enjoying a quiet month at home (my roommates were gone for the month of July, so it was definitely quiet around here), I definitely feel refreshed.

Even though I’ve been taking time to rest, I’ve been working on a few goals. This month my goal is: perfecting my long run.

IMG_20150808_100828

Currently I’m working toward a long distance running goal that’s been a dream of mine. To be honest, I haven’t been *exactly* diligent in my training due to my relaxed summer schedule, but now I’ve got my regimen down, I’m halfway through my training schedule, and I’m currently working on perfecting my long-run ritual. It’s a good idea to follow a ritual when planning long-distance runs. That way there are no surprises on race day, and you are confident that your fuel and gear are appropriate.

Okay, so now I am going to go ahead and geek out about running.

In case you were wondering, right now I’m working out about four times a week. Two workouts are short runs (4-5 miles), one workout is circuit training, and one workout is biking. On the weekend I complete my long run distance (currently it’s 14 miles). This distance will increase by one mile every week (up to 20 miles). One of the terrifying things about running your first marathon is that you never actually run 26 miles until race day. Many training schedules only take you up to 20 miles before you decrease mileage for two weeks in what is known as a “taper” period. Decreasing activity and resting during that period, followed by drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of carbs means that your body will be more than ready to conquer the full marathon distance on race day.

Maybe some of you are wondering how it is possible to run 26 miles without stopping. Well, it’s not. Most marathoners take short walk breaks every now and then. We newbies typically take short walk breaks every few miles, especially when we come to water stations.

During my weekend long runs, I’ve been working at perfecting my hydration. It’s been really tricky with the heat we’ve been having. I finally decided to buy a fanny pack hydration belt.

20150731_100847

(One of my friends said it should be called a chastity belt. Lol.) I really like this design by Nathan which can hold several different kinds of liquid. It’s comfortable, holds A TON of liquid, and has great little pockets for storing gels and my keys. Now I can easily take a sip every now and then when I’m feeling thirsty. Or at the end of every song. Whichever comes first.

I’ve also been trying out a new source of fuel. (“Fuel” is runnerspeak for EATING WHILE RUNNING, which is totally a thing. Runners simply burn too many calories not to refuel mid-race. So we eat and jog at the same time. And no, it’s not very glamorous.) Last year for my half marathon, I used protein gels, which weren’t so much for energy, but rather for muscle-building. This year, I’m focusing on using fuel as energy. I’m also exchanging gels for gummies. I find that energy gummies are so much easier to consume, and they feel better in your stomach rather than that full yogurt-y feeling after squishing down a whole gel pack.

muscle milk

Besides hydration and fuel, I’m learning about my mind.
NERVES. All the nerves! These last few long runs have been nightmares! I wake up in the morning feeling queasy, sick to my stomach, and a nervous wreck! Two weeks ago, it was so bad that I put off my run for two hours, laid on my couch, called my mom, and wailed to her that “I can’t do it! I can’t run that far! I feel SO SICK!” To which my mom sort of giggled and said, “Well, I mean, isn’t kind of mind over matter? Just go out there and run it! You’ll be fine.” So I did. And I was.
My. Mom. Basically the best running coach ever.

Anyway, it’s a really weird feeling to know that your body is strong enough to do something that your mind is not. I’m finding that one thing I canNOT do is think about the run, or dwell on race logistics the night before. Eating pizza and thinking about something else is about the best thing.

Running is such a crazy mix of emotions. Strange feelings of anguish, uncertainty, and euphoria can all characterize the same run. The crazy run that I thought I couldn’t do? I had this nervous stomachache for like 3 miles, but mile 8 was totally insane, and these crazy endorphins had me smiling ear to ear, and I felt like I wanted to jump into the swimming pool of happiness that is the world. And these are the things that keep you running. Rustling corn. Warm sun. Rolling fields. A town’s rhythm.

Yes! I’m SO EXCITED for October!

Half Crazy

Taking a break from my regular teacher-type reporting (if you need funny teacher bits, go here) to give you an update on the Indianapolis Half Marathon!

20141018_080022

The only teacherly comment I will make about running is that it really is important for teachers to have Other Hobbies besides teaching and learning. Otherwise you will go insane and poke your eyes out with Office Max thumb tacks. The latter is to be avoided, so I have taken up long-distance running. I’ve enjoyed running as physical exercise for several years now, but only last year did I get the idea to start racing. Last October, after training for three months, I spent my “first” half marathon on the sidelines, in bed, nursing a nasty case of strep throat because (a) first-year teaching gives you all the germs, and (b) I didn’t take vitamins or get enough rest.

Now I eat vitamins for breakfast, and I guard my sleeping hours like… a kind of lazy watch dog? Anyway, today I ran my first half marathon. Let me tell you about it.

IMG_20141017_230700

The Event
The Indianapolis Marathon and Half Marathon is a mid-size event, with a little over 2,000 participants. I would describe the race as quiet and serious. I’ve had friends tell me about crazy race atmospheres with high-fiving camaraderie, crazy cheering onlookers, and live bands along the road. This is not that race. Beforehand, participants gather around fire pits, or calmly wait in extremely long lines to use the port-a-potty. Only one runner wished me good luck. I guess we had our fair share of funny spectator signs, but the cheering was pretty half-hearted. Except for the girls at the mile 8 water stop who cheered my name (from my bib number) as they handed me my Gatorade. My favorite sign was this one woman’s sign held high: “You think your legs are tired? What about MY ARMS?” Sarcasm = my favorite. It’s a great race, though. The event staff make everything go smoothly. And the post-race cookout is worth eating.

20141018_113736

The Location
Indianapolis’s Hilton North hosts the Indianapolis Marathon’s Friday Packet Pickup and Expo (where you pick up your shoe chip timer, runner’s bib number, and free shirt). The hotel also hosts the Friday evening pasta dinner, which I passed up because I am VERY religious about pre-race rituals. I always eat Pizza Hut pizza the night before a long run (so many carbs). So that’s why I spent an hour driving around Indy the night before the race trying to find pizza, rather than enjoying my really nice hotel room. The event staff also coordinates morning shuttles to take runners from the Hilton to the race site. And I, ever the late one, arrived at the last second to get on the last shuttle, which was actually, a giant school bus, only to find out that I was the very last runner needing shuttling. So a very nice bus driver drove me, all by myself, in the giant yellow school bus to my very first half marathon. I sat quietly in the middle of the bus, sipping my Irish breakfast tea, quite amused. (Tea for caffeine. I had downed my ritual protein and carbs (peanut butter and honey on bread) back at the hotel).

20141017_192245 IMG_20141018_131939
The race loops through Fort Harrison State Park. October weather affords some very nice scenery. When I wasn’t freaking out about randomly over-heating or how to eat protein gels while running, I happened to notice some very pretty yellow tree leaves. There are two “significant” hills on the race, one at mile 3 and one at mile 10. Some guy told me the one at mile 3 was no big deal, and he must be certifiably insane because, because it was a killer hill. After I made it up the hill, I started overheating in a way that I never do. I couldn’t cool down, and I was freaking out. I actually threw my gloves in a trashcan because I was so hot and I didn’t want to hold them anymore. Then like two miles later, I cooled down and my hands were freezing. Anyway, the mile 10 hill wasn’t bad at all (but then, I am a careful runner, and I save a lot for the end, so I still had plenty of energy left).

The End
Miles 3 and 4 crawled by, but miles 10-13 went so quickly! It was almost over too soon! I collected my medal, my race results, and then my calories.
I spent some time by the finish line, and I got to see some really great finishes, including the first-place full marathon winner, a couple holding hands across the finish line who were celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary, some runners representing World Vision, and a soldier running in full military gear. (I also saw a guy dressed like a Bavarian, complete with lederhosen and a feather in his hat. Not sure what that was about.)

IMG_20141018_132327

Racing
I’m so grateful to God that I maintained my health until race weekend. I also had an injury-free training, which was another improvement from last year. I set a very moderate goal, and due to a bit of discipline, I was able to achieve it. (Yay! Met my goal time!)
Racing is very different than solo running. Running, for me, is a very solitary hobby, one that I do to clear my mind. I normally run by myself. Racing with thousands of other runners was a very different experience. It was kind of cool to see how running can be a community sport. I mean, I took up running because I saw it as an individual sport, something to do by myself. I’ve enjoyed running alone, but now I’m thinking that at some point, it would be really cool to have some running buddies.
So, 13.1 miles later, by the time the other marathoners had returned home to rest in their beds and watch the Notre Dame game, I rested too went car shopping (because someone needs new wheels), and then drove to school to pick up books for lesson planning (because I really feel like staying awake right now). Rawr, my life. Amazingly, Grande Caramel Macchiatos, extra-hot, can do a miracle for one’s productivity. 😀 Actually, I’m feeling great! I’m barely sore at all, and I’m already thinking about my next half marathon. Yes, the next one. During the race you think that long-distance running is the stupidest thing in the world. You tend to get emotional. Mile 6 I literally had tears streaming down my face, and I was thinking, “I just want to be at home with my Mom!” But as soon as you finish, you think, “That was fun! I should do that again!”

Hee hee hee. What’s YOUR favorite race?