As I was slogging through my morning run today in this ridiculously toasty weather, I found myself lamenting about my current condition. I was hot, thirsty, my legs were feeling rather log-like, and I was kind of whiny. I was only a little over a mile in when I began thinking. . .
“Running is so hard.”
“This is so damn hard.”
“My legs felt worse today than a week ago when I was out for hours on an extremely tough trail.”
“NO WONDER people always talk about how they want to run, or used to run, or have tried to run–but it’s just TOO HARD, so they don’t.“
Dang, I get it. I get what they are saying. Running is hard. So hard sometimes. Running is one of the hardest things that I have done in my life, especially when I was taking those first steps years ago or on the days like today, when, for a million reasons or none, the run is damn hard.
Knowing I just had a couple of miles to go, I vowed to suck it up and get over myself. I remembered that I would be done soon, and I’d be relaxing on my porch. “Yeah, running is hard,” I thought, “but that hardness is temporary.”
As I kept running and working to get a better perspective about my current temporary condition, the words of a dear friend popped into my head. She once said, “Running is easy, it’s life that is hard.” (This is coming from a woman eats 20-mile training runs for breakfast, mind you.) For the rest of my run, I thought about those words. My mindset shifted immediately. She was so right. Running is easy. Life is hard. So fucking hard sometimes.
Job loss, cancer, mental illness, chronic pain, chronic illness, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, sexual violence, divorce, homelessness, domestic violence, trauma, miscarriage, child abuse, emotional abuse, aging, addiction, separation, depression, anxiety, recovery, loss, death, grief, and all of the other hard things that life brings. That shit is hard. SO. FUCKING. HARD.
Running. . . yeah, that’s the easy stuff.
Running is what has created space in me to be able to face the hard things. I know in my heart that if I hadn’t become a runner when I did, I wouldn’t be writing this now. I’m pretty sure I’d be curled up in a corner, a sobbing, gooey mess most days. But, I’m not–because, I run.
I can be brave. I can face life’s challenges, even when I don’t want to–because I run.
I can grow from my struggles and be a better human. I can heal from the hard shit–because I run.
Because I run. . .
Who are you? What can you do. . . because you run?
I hit the trails today for the first time in weeks. It didn’t matter that the “feels like” temp was -20, ALL of my being just needed to be outside and moving, regardless of the weather or how I felt. (Multiple illnesses kept me down during the last half of December and I’ve not had the greatest of attitudes about it. Believe me when I say I NEEDED this time on the trails.)
The run was hard. The trails that I know so very well are now snow-covered, which added an extra element of challenge to the journey. At times, I struggled to find my breath in the icy-cold air. My legs, far from being at full-strength after minimal workouts over the last few weeks, felt like jelly after only a couple of miles. I was dressed in multiple layers, which kept me toasty warm, but the layers also made it difficult to move.
Midway through the run, I was struggling a bit. My outer layer of pants was twisting and it was irritating the crap out of me, not to mention making it even more difficult to keep pace. I found myself starting to get whiny but then I looked up for some reason and the sun hit my face. Even though it was frigid out, the sun was so warm on my skin. I stopped for a moment to soak it in, extremely grateful for that moment. Then, after a minute, I decided to fix my pants the best I could, but more importantly, I decided to fix my bad attitude.
Instead of being upset about trivial things like twisty pants and jelly legs, I decided to get over myself and just be grateful for all the glorious things I had going for me. I was grateful that I had legs that could feel my twisty pants and grateful that I had legs that could move, despite their current jelly-like state. I was grateful for my usual good health and grateful that my current illness, while annoying, is only temporary. I was grateful for the sun, And the snow. And the opportunity to be there, in the woods, at that moment, soaking up all of God’s beautiful creation.
I finished my run, twisty pants and all. It was far from fast or spectacular, but I left the woods feeling rather bad-ass anyways for getting out there and getting it done. And, of course, feeling grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Cheers to 2018. I will be striving to greet each day a grateful heart for all that life brings.
(August 2014). As I stood in the chute waiting for my teammate to arrive, I wondered for a minute how I got here, to THIS very moment in my running journey. Dick Dale’s Misirlou was blasting from the speakers (BTW, one of the greatest songs ever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIU0RMV_II8), people were cheering, and I was about to take off on a six-mile jaunt, in the sizzling hot midday sun, the first six of the 16 miles I would be responsible for in the next 24 hours or so. I was excited and nervous, not because I didn’t think I was up for the challenge, but because for the first time I was running with a team–a team of runners I barely knew. There were times I thought I might explode with nervousness (or maybe it was the carb overload I had going) but nonetheless, I knew I HAD to finish each leg of my journey to the best of my ability. There was no room in my head for letting my team down. I was prepared for blood, sweat, tears, and crawling, if needed, to finish each of my legs of the relay. . .
(August 2016) I wrote those words two years ago, in the hangover stage (the hangover stage is the day after Ragnar ends and even though you are glad to be home, you can’t stop thinking about all the fun you had and you wish that you were back in the van for just a while longer) that occurs post-Ragnar. If you aren’t sure what Ragnar is, I lifted the official words from their website for you.
What is Ragnar?
Here’s what we do: long distance, team, overnight running relays that take place in the most breathtaking places in the world. Teams come together to conquer a course over two days and one night, and push their limits, on little amounts of sleep, with friends and a community of runners by their side.
In reality, or at least in Van Two of the Rusty Nuts team, Ragnar is 36 hours of six people crammed into what becomes a very smelly van over the course of two days. Sleep is minimal, hygiene is ridiculously sketch, and Wisconsin cheese curds suddenly become a food group of their own. F-bombs may or may not be dropped frequently and we have an arsenal of Van Two inside jokes that will live on for eternity.
As for the actual running, we journey just over 200 miles with our other six teammates, all taking turns on pre-assigned legs of the course. Each runner is responsible for three runs, including running overnight. The course is challenging, the weather unpredictable and often unforgiving. The mental and physical challenge of running with little sleep, no recovery time, and at least in our case, terrible fueling (said cheese curds for example) adds to the overall toughness of the event. At times, this race can be downright brutal. I’ve been near tears, thrown up (cheese curds and pizza and then ran for another eight miles in the dark), fallen face first on concrete in the middle of the night, been swooped by a bat, and currently, it’s extremely challenging for me to sit down and stand-up due to leg muscles that are screaming, “What the hell did you just do to me?” There is not a single mile that I could have logged without the support and care of my teammates.
But, back to the beginning. When I first started writing about my very first Ragnar in August of 2014 (a bucket-list run for me) I had just completed that journey with people that I barely knew. In fact, I didn’t meet most of the Rusty Nuts until about a week before our first run. I figured that Ragnar would be a one and done. I’d have this fun experience with some cool people and then I’d check it off my bucket list and move on. Except, that’s not what happened. That’s not what happened at all. Two years and three Ragnars later, our team has morphed from a mismatched group of strangers that love to run into a little running community of great friends that love to run. That’s a pretty cool thing in my book.
And now it’s 2017 (Yes, it’s taken me three years to write this.) After running in 2014, 2015, and 2016, for a multitude of reasons, the Rusty Nuts took a year off from Ragnar in 2017. The fact that our team stayed intact for those three years was a little miracle in itself (we only had one person drop from our original team after the first year.) At first, I was okay and ready for a break, but as the months went on, I realized that I missed this race–A LOT. Really, a lot.
As far as running races go, the fact that I miss this race so much doesn’t make sense. For starters, the race is mostly on the road. It’s always hotter than hell. We get virtually no sleep, we eat crappy food and are stuck in a van for hours upon hours. And the smell. Oh, the smell!
What it is though, is simply this. It’s the people. The TEAM. This group of people that were strangers to me just over three years ago have become like family, a little running family. I cannot imagine my life right now not knowing any of them. Crazy isn’t it? I am so grateful for every mile that we have run together over the years. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year all you Nuts! I am looking forward to every single mile that we will run in 2018.
It occurred to me last night as my body was going into its post-four-day-holiday-feeding-frenzy total meltdown, that I realized that I really missed (and need to be) blogging about all the things health and wellness that I used to when I began my fitness journey nearly six years ago. So, here I am, back at it, determined to keep writing.
Six years. For real. It’s been that long. It was a journey that began with me just wanting to lose weight. Instead, it has evolved into a journey that I never could have imagined. One that has had me rejoicing on mountaintops to painfully falling on my face (literally), more than once, mind you. From taking life for granted to learning to navigate the grief and challenges that accompany a devastating loss of life. From not being able to run a mile to running marathons. And a whole lot of other things along the way including people. Amazing people have come into my life. Each twist, turn, celebration, and fall from grace that this journey has brought me on has been an opportunity to grow in strength, patience, courage, grace, humility, joy, and so much more. I am grateful for all of it.
As with every departure from writing regularly that I’ve taken, it always feels a little awkward hopping back in. I always feel the need to recap the gaps in painstaking detail and catch y’all up to speed but that usually turns into a novel that ends up completely emotionally draining me mainly because I haven’t written for so long and I have so much to get out. (Most of the time–for a million reasons or none– I end up not hitting the publish button anyways! Ugh!) Naturally then, because of the mental angst, I don’t write again for a very long time because it was so hard to write the last time. Which ironically doesn’t make much sense because writing is one of the things that I need to practice as part of my core-level self-care routine so, in theory, I should be keeping up with it. But, I don’t. Then I get caught in my own vicious cycle of feeling bad about things I should be doing to keep myself well but fail to do. Soon, because of my failure to do what I need to do for myself, the shitstorm of shame begins. (For the record, it’s a ridiculously vicious cycle to get caught up in as shame can wreak havoc in a person’s life. And as a side note in this parenthetical note. . . I know that I’m not alone in this as I am guessing a whole lot of you reading this have your own shitstorm of shame stories to share when it comes to health and wellness. Life is a treat sometimes, isn’t it?)
So, I’ll spare you all the gory details of my hiatus and just recap the highlights of the last couple of years for you, in bulleted form. (Things always seem easier to digest in bullet form, don’t they? Also, I have managed a couple of yearly updates during this time so some of this might be familiar to a few of you. )
Since my first DNF (Did Not Finish) on my first attempt at a 50k race in September of 2015, I’ve failed two subsequent times, once in 2016 and once in 2017. Although there is a part of me that cringes when I think about those failed attempts, I’ve grown immensely as a runner from each experience. Considering six years ago at this time I literally could not run a block, the fact that I’ve attempted 50k’s seems like a freaking miracle. I’m trying really, really hard to celebrate how far I have come on my running journey, despite the many setbacks.
In 2016, amidst a whole lot of life-changing experiences, the old fat girl tapes started replaying in my head during a particularly tough long run. “What are you doing? Fat girls don’t run. What are you trying to prove? You aren’t a real runner. Real runners don’t take walk-breaks. Look at those thin fast runners whizzing by you. Why are YOU out here?” And on and on it went in my head for miles. It took me over a year to get to the root of that break-down. Again, like my race failures, I learned greatly from that experience although if truth be told, it still haunts me a bit.
I’ve discovered over the past couple of years that writing, practicing yoga, and trail-running are my essentials for my optimal mind, body, and spirit wellness. I need them all to thrive, to breathe. Unfortunately, I don’t practice what I need to. Although I run several times a week, I don’t always get to the trails, which is what soothes my soul. Writing and yoga? Well, they are sparse, but I know that I need them as much as I need to run. I haven’t figured out what is exactly stopping me from doing what I need to do for myself, although I have a pretty good idea. (Hint, likely relates to the old fat girl tapes mentioned above and there is definitely NOT space to unpack that baggage in this post.) I can, however, wholeheartedly say that I am working on it all.
With the exception of falling off the wagon briefly over the last few days only to eat meatballs and a bit of bacon (my brother and uncle both make incredibly delicious meatballs that I will never pass up and then, of course, there’s bacon, because bacon) I’ve stopped eating red meat and I really don’t miss it. At all. In fact, I feel better NOT eating red meat. Now, if I could just stop eating sugar. . .
Although I doubt that I’ll ever follow a completely vegan or vegetarian diet, I will be incorporating more and more vegan recipes into my diet. It is crazy how good food tastes when it’s not laden with a bunch of animal products. During the holiday feeding frenzy we baked/cooked/made the following vegan recipes:
Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting. It was decadent and was seriously one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. (Okay. A chocolate frosted cake is not really a healthy option ever, vegan or not. Just wanted to acknowledge that.)
Green-Bean Casserole. You know the kind with the crispy fried onions. Instead of the crappy canned cream-of-something soups, we used a recipe that made a cream of almond milk, garlic, vegetable broth, and a bit of flour. In my opinion, it was much better than the original version.
Vegan Monkey Bread. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when we decided on this recipe, but WOW, I was blown away by the taste. While this was still a sugar-laden treat, applesauce replaced the butter making it a better option. It was incredible!
Vegan Waffles. Just as fluffy and delish as regular waffles.
Vegan Wheat Bread. Five ingredients. Bam. So good.
When I began my weight-loss journey in 2012, my original goal was to lose 100 pounds, a goal that I didn’t come close to reaching. I have, however, lost 70 pounds and kept it off for over five years. Although I know now that my original goal was likely one that was a little too lofty, I do have a solid 20 pounds that I want to be gone, not because I don’t like the way I look, but because I know that I will feel better and be able to move faster and farther. I’ve already unpacked all of the reasons and excuses as to why I’ve remained plateaued, and details aside, it comes down to the fact that I’ll need to return to the hard work of being mindful about what I eat (like when I began) and to commit to not being lazy about my choices. Because I am very active, it has been relatively easy to keep the weight off. Easy is lazy. Lazy is comfortable and fun. It’s easy for me to eat chocolate cake and then run it off. It’s not easy for me to NOT eat the chocolate cake and still go for a run. Flawed? Of course. Am I working on it? Slowly but surely.
I’ve learned that health and wellness are SO MUCH MORE than just diet and exercise. True health and wellness come when we are taking care of our WHOLE selves–body, mind, and spirit. Please know that self-care is not selfish. In fact, self-care is essential for life. When you believe that you are worthy of taking care of yourself, you will begin to experience life in a beautifully different way. It was when I was finally able to accept and love all 250 pounds of myself, as is, and then embrace all of my lived experiences wholly for what they were–nothing more, nothing less–was I able to commit to loving and taking care of myself. I’m still a work in progress and always will be. I’m okay with that now. I wasn’t okay with that when I began this journey.
I have learned that wherever you are at in your quest for better health, you are never alone. There is a wonderful health and wellness community out there, loving and supportive folks that will have your back. Find people that will be there for you along the way, people that will be there for you to help you through the struggles as well as celebrate wildly with you when you reach your goals. Be accountable. Don’t fall for the plethora of weight loss and health gimmicks available. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Be patient with the journey. Remember that you are worth it. You will gain a much better perspective on life when you stop beating yourself up. I know this from experience.
So, that’s mostly it in a neatly bulleted nutshell! And, I decided as I was writing this that I am not setting resolutions for the upcoming new year, as I do every year, instead, I’m setting them now: write often, run a lot, do yoga, evolve. Sounds like a tee-shirt. Maybe I should get one made.
P.S. Although I will hold myself accountable for my goals, accountability partners are always appreciated! What intentions are you setting for yourself when it comes to health and fitness? Share if you like!
P.S.S. THANK YOU to every single person that has been a part of my journey over the last almost six years. There are so many of you! I have treasured all of the runs, walks, talks, hugs, tears, recipes, challenges, workouts and everything else along the way. And I am looking forward to so much more of all of it!
There are no coincidences. The soul seeks its own path. ~Angela Gwinner
The other day, I stumbled upon a box of treasures from my youth. Having no recollection of packing it all away, I was clueless to its existence. So, when I realized what I had found, I excitedly started digging through the old stash.
Tucked within the memorabilia, most of which was deeply sentimental, was this edition of Young Miss, circa 1980. Of the hundreds of magazines that I read growing up, this one was the only one that I saved. For real. None of the juicy gossip mags (hello, Tiger Beat) full of pictures of all the 80′s heart throbs and hair bands. Nope. Not those. Instead, I saved this one.
It’s funny because I was not a runner growing up. I would not become a runner for 33 more years after this magazine came out.Now, I cannot imagine a life without running. In fact, running has saved me in ways I’ll never fully understand. I guess my 11 year-old self instinctively knew what my grown up self would need? They say the soul knows. . .
As we say in our family, “It ain’t a trail run unless you’re muddy and bloody.” Today’s run delivered both and more…
Still feeling the lingering effects of a ridiculous sinus cold that set in a couple of weeks ago, I headed out on today’s run with no agenda. No set number of miles to complete. No time goals to hit. No anything other than just being outside on this glorious February day. I hopped in my car and headed south, not really even sure of my destination. I ultimately settled on the park that grounds my soul. Every. Single. Time.
The space of time between the snow melt and the new buds of spring gives opportunity to explore new trails, ones far less traveled than the paths that I usually traverse. Trails that are not visible during the overgrowth of summer, had now become visible and invited me in. Sites unseen, I opted out of running for the remainder of my time and instead settled on a fast hike as to enjoy the woods through a new lens. The eagles were soaring and the geese were gathering, honking loudly overhead as I eventually traveled back to the big river in the park.
No time in the woods is ever wasted but some runs are just a little more special than others. Today it wasn’t about the mileage or my mile-per-minute pace, but instead about so much more. I left the park with a grateful heart and a peaceful spirit, in awe of the gift of nature.
It has been a year since I’ve posted here. I’m really not sure why it has been so long. There are a million things floating around in my head and scribbled in my journal that I need to write about, things that are bursting at the seams to leave my realm and hit the pages of this blog. I could provide an ample amount of excuses to why I haven’t been writing, excuses that would pretty much be all valid but I’ll spare you all and just dive in. I almost feel it’s like a rebirth here with this post and if I’m being honest, it is. 2016 was a year of struggle, change, and growth for me but through it all, I am re-emerging. . .
On January 23, it will be FIVE years since I began my journey to better health. Five years since I faced the scale and bared my soul in a blog about my struggles. Five years and 75 pounds! I remember that terrifying day like it was yesterday. . .
Change has abounded in that time and life is completely different now than it was back then. Many of those life changes I have written about and are buried within the recesses of this blog. Many more of those changes are scrawled across the pages one of my many journals waiting to be shared here, and yet others, I still have to process. In short, there is no way I could have foreseen what life would have in store when I began writing about my journey so long ago.
Every year since has brought its own successes and failures and 2016 proved to be no different, with the exception that my successes and failures this year unexpectedly came with a far greater meaning than they ever had before. Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser now, or maybe it’s because I had just fallen so far away from myself that I needed some hard lessons to find my way back to me again. I’m not really sure.
The fitness flops of 2016 (that stupidly started with the failure to follow a training plan and spiraled downward from there) began to erode my self-confidence and eventually the failures began to chip away at my self-esteem. It didn’t take long for my already waning self image to erode rather quickly. It wasn’t too much longer after the erosion began that I started feeling pretty sorry for myself. (FYI: Self-pity is selfish and leaves no space for gratitude. Without gratitude, it’s hard to remember how far you have come.) Before I knew it, I was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g with where I was at in my journey, especially when it came to running. It finally took a 17-hour mountain summit in late July (when 100 feet from the top I was absolutely sure I couldn’t climb anymore, but did it anyways) and a middle of the night 10.5 miler during a relay race in mid-August (in which I had a full-on mental breakdown complete with the old fat girl tapes playing loudly in my head, but finished the run anyways) for me to begin to really examine at what was going on in my life. The icing on this figure-your-shit-out cake came for me in September (after my second failed attempt at a 50k) when I was reminded of the the phrase our growth is in our struggle. I’ve been ruminating ever since. Our growth is in our struggle. . .
What I’ve discerned through it all is that is exactly that–our biggest growth always comes through our biggest struggles. Always. Failures are nothing but opportunities for growth. I’ve also figured out that growth only begins when self-pity ends.We just have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves long enough to figure it all out.
Cheers to the lessons of 2016. I am grateful for the struggles, and failures, and growth. And here’s to 2017. I am looking forward to another year of facing fears and finding me.
P. S. Thank you, as always, to all that have been there for me along the way. Our journeys aren’t meant to be traveled alone and for all you that have been along for the ride, I am so very grateful. Happy New Year. With love.
Two of my biggest struggles growth moments, not only of last year, but probably of my life. Both of these photos are raw and at my most broken open of moments. Picture one is on the summit of Longs Peak ( 14,259 feet) in Colorado. I took this photo seconds after realizing my accomplishment, something I never could have imagined when I began my fitness journey five years ago. Picture two is shortly after I finished one of the most grueling runs of my life, not physically grueling, but mentally. Every old fat girl tape that has ever played in my head suddenly replayed during the first miles of a long, middle of the night relay run. It didn’t help that I was getting passed by runners like I was standing still. I recovered though and finished.