the soul knows

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. . .

I guess they’re right.

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Baby-steppin’ it to better health

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Goal setting.

If you do a little Google search on the term goal-setting, you will find 28,100,000 results in .30 seconds. Literally. You will also see this toward the top of your search page:

Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality. The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life.

The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life. . . 

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Additionally, if you want to dig into it a little farther, you will find meme after meme stating things like this:

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or this,

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or this,

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To keep us alive? Ahhhh! And on and on it goes. It can get scary as fuck (pardon the language) quite quickly. If you aren’t careful you can go from simply wanting to make a positive change to being overwhelmed in exactly.30 seconds with 28,100,000 examples of how to do it. If I was new to goal-setting or to the fitness world,  I probably would have said fuck-it (done swearing now) after Googling goal-setting and walked away. But, I am not new to either one so I will tell you this. . . goal-setting IS a powerful tool that WILL lead to lasting and sustainable change, IF you are SMART about it.

The acronym SMART as applied to goal-setting means creating goals that are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic, and time-bound. It may sound a bit intimidating but trust me, it isn’t. Using the SMART acronym to will help you reach the goals you have made for yourself and that, in turn, will keep you moving forward on your journey to better health. Let me give you a hypothetical example of setting a proper SMART goal and hopefully it will make better sense.

Goal: To run a marathon by February 25, 2016. That’s a great goal if you are already an experienced runner that consistently runs substantial miles every week.  The goal is specific (to run a marathon), measurable (26.2 miles), achievable (you are already an experienced runner), realistic (you’ve been logging the necessary miles), and time-bound (you have a specific date.) There is only one problem with this scenario–you are not an experienced runner. You are a 42-year old couch potato that hasn’t run since high school (which was me in 2012 when I began my quest to better health.) If I would have set a goal like this for myself early on in my journey, I would have failed MISERABLY. The failure would have likely set me up for additional failures because I was already feeling bad about the inability to achieve the first goal (albeit wildly unrealistic) I had set for myself. (Some of you know that downward spiral. A person can go down the drain of self-despair pretty quickly sometimes.)

Keeping with the hypothetical couch potato-to-marathoner scenario, what if the goal-setting looked more like this:

My goal  is to run a marathon in December of 2016. Currently, I do no physical activity so I will begin work on my long-term goal by setting smaller, SMART goals to help me achieve my dream of running a marathon. My first step will be to walk for 10 minutes per day for the next week so my body can begin to get used to moving. This small, short-term goal is specific (walking for 10 minutes per day), measurable (10 minutes), achievable (most any able-bodied person can walk for 10 minutes per day), realistic (it’s 10 minutes), and time-bound (one week.) The most important point here is that this small goal, with some effort, is achievable. With achievement comes a mindset for success. This success mindset will help you  to create your next goal, and your next goal, and your next until you suddenly find yourself cruising across the finish line in a 26.2 mile race. Make sense? You can dream big but to achieve great things, we have to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually small. And that somewhere always involves time and effort; but, starting small makes the big dreams possible. Think baby-stepping it small like Bill Murray did in the movie What About Bob?

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Baby steps. Set small goals that are achievable (achievable not easy, there is a difference) and go from there. It really is that simple. Baby-steppin’ it to better health. We can ALL do that.

Where are you in your journey to better health? What goals have you or are you going to set for yourself in 2016? Write them down and go for it! One baby step at a time.

 

For those times that you think you suck at life. . .

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Me, after a morning meltdown that resulted in me stating that I suck at life. I got over myself pretty quickly and made it to the office–grateful and happy. After all life it too short to be anything else. Right?

This morning, I sucked at life, or at least I thought I did. Thankfully, it was a temporary suckfest that all started when I didn’t follow through with my original morning plan.

I told my husband the night before that I HAD to get up when he did. HAD TO. I wanted to get my run in for the day before the sweltering heat returned. I told him no matter what I said to him in the morning that he should make sure that I get out of bed. He should not listen to any excuses that I may offer on why I am not ready to get out of bed. (And for the record, I am fully aware that it is nobody else’s responsibility but my own, to get out of bed. But that’s beside the point, right?)

Well, the time to arise came and went. When he finally reminded me that I said I was getting up with him so I could run and that the time had definitely passed, I told him that I was going to run later and that I already knew I was going to be sorry that I wasn’t up yet because the heat was going to suck. He replied, “Well, as long as you know.” (Perfect answer, honey, perfect answer.) 

I reset my alarm. A full hour and a half and three snooze button hits later, I rolled out of bed. I had already decided it was going to be a “bun” day for my hair so I wouldn’t need much time to get ready, which was good, because the three snooze hits had really set me back. Then the suck began to snowball. . .

The bun didn’t work. What I had planned to wear didn’t work either. I poured too much milk in my coffee, and I had already started the defeatist self-talk that went a little something like this. . .

“Why didn’t you get out of bed and run? You are lazy. What is wrong with you?”

Which progressed to . . .

“That shirt looks terrible on you and shows your rolls. Yuck, start working harder on your weight loss!”

And kept going. . .

“Why do you have a closet full of clothes that make you look terrible? You supposedly had that all figured out. You need to get better organized.”

And so it went. Two pairs of pants, two hair-dos, six shirts, and three pairs of shoes later I was finally ready to head out the door, a full half-hour later than I needed to be. At least I was dressed and out the door, right?

At some point during the fiasco of the morning, I stopped the madness to check the time, which at that time should have been the time that I was leaving work but I was not yet dressed nor did I have hair that was anywhere near work ready. It was at that point that I said, “WTF, YOU SUCK AT LIFE!” And at the time, I believed it. Dramatic, I know. Ridiculous, yep. Nonetheless, I had went there and it really hadn’t taken that long, after all, I’d only been out of bed for a short time. Suck sure multiplies quickly if you let it.

I sat in that yuck for a minute or two and then took a breath and began to shake it off. I thought for a minute about the struggles that I had this morning and realized pretty quickly that it was no surprise that I had ended up in a mini mental suckfest. Life has been a little bit more intense than normal for me the last couple of weeks. This morning’s meltdown was simply the by-product.

For starters, there have been some big personal and professional happenings in my life, all good thankfully, but these goings on have zapped my energy. All of that has added stress to the usual amount of life stress. The added stress has taken a toll on me mentally. To add to all of that is the constant ebb and flow of grief in my life, which right now, of course, is flowing like a raging river. To top it off, I am trying really hard to cut excess sugar from my diet and to actually follow a running training plan, both of which are new for me. After reflecting, I realized pretty quickly that I did not suck at life (which I knew) but I was simply having a tough morning, which was the result of a few tough weeks. I took a deep breath and focused on the things I was grateful for (at the moment I was grateful that I had a closet full of clothes that fit me so I had options during my meltdown) and extended myself some grace for my shortcomings.

By the time I finally got my butt out the door, my mind was racing. I am a physically, mentally (although not this morning, obviously), and spiritually healthy person with an amazing support system and a stable life. My life is really good and yet I STILL struggle sometimes. Soon, my thoughts wandered to those times in my life that I have not been in a good place. A morning like this could well have triggered some really yucky emotional stuff that could have quickly spiraled out of control. Then, I thought about all of the people that struggle with this every day that are maybe not in a good place. What do they do when they can’t escape the suckiness?

I kept thinking about it while on my commute and soon realized that no matter where you are or what you have going on in your life, there is always a way out of the suck-fest.  I promise you that if you mindfully practice the following, you may begin to see the light at the end of the suck.

To begin with, BREATHE. Yes, BREATHE.  Close your eyes, inhale deeply, hold it in, then exhale forcefully. Repeat this. Again, and again and again.  Then repeat some more. Eventually you will begin to feel calmer. When you are calm, you can think more clearly which creates space for reflection. Besides, breath is a life-giving force, literally. Use it your advantage.

Next, with your newfound clarity, take a moment to REFLECT. Why are you thinking the way that you are? Any changes in your life recently? What is your stress level? Have you been practicing self-care? By taking the time to reflect on the happenings in your life, you should be able to figure out why you are feeling the way you are right now. Be honest with yourself and you will be able to gain some clarity.

After that, take a hardcore GRATITUDE check. The absolute quickest way to get yourself out of a funk is to make a list of all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for. Gratitude is the antidote to self-pity and every single one of us has something to be grateful for. If you can’t think of anything to put on your list, start with this. . . be thankful you have the ability to read this, that you have access to the internet, and that you are breathing.

Lastly, learn the meaning of the word GRACE. Life is hard, so hard sometimes! Most of us though, are doing the best we can with what we have been given. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life but we can choose how we respond to what does. Start by choosing to go easy on yourself. We are all human and we all struggle. Practice showing grace to yourself first and then learn to extend it to others. Eventually, you will find that grace is pretty amazing.

If all else fails, B-R-E-A-T-H-E again and remember that this day is only 24 hours long. You can get through it. For the next few hours, give yourself to permission to sit in your suck and then vow to begin the next day with a fresh perspective. Breathe in the good and breathe out the suck. Sleep it off, and the next day, start anew. Life is just too short and amazing to let it be otherwise. 

Five reasons to love running outside during a Minnesota winter. . .

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(This post is nothing but a desperate attempt at positivity.) 
 

It’s November 10. Two days ago I s-h-a-t-t-e-r-e-d my 5k personal best and I am currently 169 days into a runstreak. I am desperately trying not to let this early winter storm–that has arrived in FULL FORCE–dampen my running spirits.  Now, when I am running better than I ever have, is not the time for winter to settle in. Why, Mother Nature? Why?

I rolled out of bed around 9:00 a.m. (As luck would have it, I had decided last week to schedule today off work.) I immediately peeked out the window. I could see through my curtains that the ground was white but I was intensely hoping that the weather predictions had been wrong.

UGH, even worse than I imagined.

So many inches already on the ground! I knew if I was going to get a run in I would have to do it now–or I’d likely succumb to the negative thoughts (it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s slippery, you don’t need to run etc.) that were already creeping into my head. I’d soon cave to the negativity and then head on over to the neighbors who had graciously offered up their treadmill.

But, I refuse to succumb to the drone of the treadmill.

Well , at least this early in the season. Not just because I don’t like the dreadmill treadmill, but because my mental health requires that I get outside and run. Running outside soothes my soul like few other things do.

Not really seeing much of a choice in the matter, I bundled up and headed outside for my first winter run of the 2014-15 season. Alas, woe is me.

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Beauty of a look , I know. And yes, the white behind me is blowing snow.
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While these shoes work perfectly for winter running, I already miss my regular shoes.

I set foot into the snow and surprisingly my legs (albeit reluctantly) settled into a running form of sorts. I made it out of the yard without falling and headed down the road on some tire tracks. The snow was deeper than I thought and it was blowing hard enough that the visibility was less than two blocks. The snow stung my eyes and I ran the first block with them mostly closed. I’m sure I was a sight.

About a quarter mile in, I was already wringing wet with sweat. I had definitely overdressed.

About a half mile in, my calf muscles were screaming at me. “This is not normal! Why are we trying to run through this white stuff?”

At my turn around, my lungs were definitely more taxed than normal. I had forgotten how cold temperature affects breathing. By this time, the negative self-talk was beginning in full force. “Why are you running in a snowstorm? This is dumb. You are dumb. Go home. Head back to the gym.” And on it went, eventually progressing to a full-on whinefest in my head.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the things that I hated about winter running. Breathing is hard. My mile-per-minute pace slows significantly. Runs are usually shorter. I can never get down how many layers I need to stay comfortable. Shoe choices are limited. Running on the trails I love so dearly is nearly impossible.  And I slow down. (Oops, did I already mention that?)

Apparently though, I began to settle into the run because as I got closer to home, I made the decision to run a little farther (despite my crap attitude) than I had originally planned. I had realized that it was going to be one helluva long winter if I was going to be grumbling miserably already. I thought back to last winter. What were some of the things that I actually liked about winter runs? Was there anything?

Amazingly, I discovered,  there were a few things I actually loved about winter running.

5.  Winter running clothes are pretty cute (and black running tights, which I wear all the time, make my legs look rather toned.)

4.  Winter cross-training activities are a blast. Snowshoeing anyone?

3.  Running while it is lightly snowing is incredibly peaceful and beautiful.

2. Moonlight runs on a calm winter’s night are some of the most soul-soothing runs,      EVER.

1. Running outside in Minnesota in the winter is just plain, BADASS.

 And who doesn’t want to be badass?

What about you?

Winter running, love it or leave it?

Reflections on a 100-plus day run streak

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Me! After my 100th day run!

I’ve been streaking now for 100 118 days. . . (I fully intended to finish this on day 100 but fell asleep while writing. Over two weeks later, I am finally getting back to it.)

Inspired by the Runner’s World Magazine’s challenge (http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/rwrunstreak) to “run at least one mile per day, every day, from Memorial Day to Independence Day” (40 consecutive days of running), I set out on my streak journey on May 26, 2014. Those 40 days flew by, and before I knew it, Independence Day had come and gone. I am not sure when or why, but at some point I made the decision to keep streaking until I could streak no more. Here I am, 118 days later, still going strong.

As I was on my 100th-day run, I reflected upon my streaking journey. Even though I hadn’t thought about it much, I suddenly became very aware that I had grown as a runner over the last few months (for somebody that struggled to run a mile just over two short years ago, this is a pretty big deal) but even more so, I had grown as a person (for somebody that works hard at being a better human, this is even a bigger deal.) Despite the difficulties of this streak, I am so completely grateful for every step, both literally and figuratively, of the journey so far.

Here are a just few of the realizations I’ve had about the last few months. . .

   1.  I have gained the confidence to run in shorts, in public, in front of people. As a former overweight, eating-disordered person with body image issues, I cannot explain to you in this short blog what this means to me. The funny thing is, I don’t weigh much less than I did last shorts season but the confidence I have gained from running every day has given me the courage to run in shorts and more importantly, to be totally okay with however I look or wherever I jiggle. Perhaps though, most importantly, is the fact that somewhere over those 100 days I finally gave up being concerned about what others might think of my less than perfect, bright white, jiggly legs, and I just run. I just run! For a person like me, this kind of freedom is incredible.

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That’s me, in the green shirt and hat, with the bright white legs, (incidentally, I am the tannest I have ever been! other redheads get this) excitedly waiting for my awesome Ragnar teammate to hand-off. At one time in my life, this picture would have mortified me. Thankfully, those days are behind me.

 2.  Running every day has made me mental rockstar. There are some of you reading this that know EXACTLY what I mean when I say this. Even though there are days that I only run for a mile, the discipline of getting out there–regardless of what is going on in my head or my heart–forces my mental muscles to do work. And we all know what happens when we do work, we get stronger. Some days I use every ounce of mental muscle that I have just to just physically get through my run and other days I use my run time to reflect, plan, create, grieve, pray, give thanks, and gain focus. Then, there are some days when I just let my mind run free and I focus on soaking up every drop of beauty surrounding me. A couple of weeks ago, I even ran through a full-blown, grief-fueled anxiety attack. 4.7 miles later I was feeling fine and was grateful for the ability to overcome. (More on that run at a later date.) Being a mental rockstar doesn’t mean I don’t have struggles–because obviously I do have big ones–but having the mental capacity to deal with them and still thrive is something that I cherish.

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The wildflowers on the trails this year have been absolutely breathtaking. My favorites are the less than perfect ones–ones that despite their imperfections, still stand tall and proud–like these beauties here. Some days when running I soak up every single ounce of beauty surrounding me. Being in nature clears my head and soothes my soul.

3.  Running every day has made me physically stronger. I suppose that almost goes without saying right? That moving every day would make a person stronger? I am not the fastest or lightest on my feet but I can move for hours when I need to. Knowing this gives me the confidence to tackle physical challenges that I wouldn’t have previously. Which leads me to the next thing. . .

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Me, earlier this summer, standing at the top of one of the hills in one of my favorite places to run. At one time, I couldn’t make it to this point in the trail without stopping several times to gasp for air. Now? I can run to this point, without stopping, a feat I never thought possible.

4.  Running every day has given me the confidence to tackle physical challenges that I wouldn’t have had the courage to say yes to previously. Case in point. . .Ragnar. It has been just over a month since I had the amazing experience of being part of a Ragnar team. (In a nutshell, we relay ran 204 miles over two days.) I got the call to join when a last minute vacancy came up on a team of local runners, most of whom I did not know. Even though I was extremely nervous, hadn’t been training for the running I would need to do, and had a desperate need not to let a team full of strangers down, I still knew that I could do it. I had been logging the miles and had the mental strength to complete the challenge which enabled me to muster the courage to say yes. I am happy to report it was one of the very best yesses I have uttered. (More on this awesome, life-changing journey at a later date as well.)

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This is the amazing Ragnar team that I am SO completely grateful to have been part of! You get to know people very quickly when stuck in a van with them for 36+ hours. I woke up the day after, clean and comfy in my own bed, wishing I was back in the van. Yep, it was that good. Can’t wait to do it again. RUSTY NUTS, WE ROCK!

5.  Running every day has given me the opportunity to get to know my body well. I have learned when I can keep pushing myself and when I need to back off. I have learned when to step up the miles and when to ease off. I have learned how to hydrate and fuel my body for longer runs and have learned that I won’t die without water on the shorter ones. I have learned that some days my body feels like I’m young and other days, it feels like what I imagine it would feel like to be really old. Some days I feel like it’s my first day running, and other days, my I feel like I could go on forever. Every time I run, I learn something new about my body and its capabilities. Knowing my body’s strengths and weaknesses is empowering.

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Here I am with my beautiful Aunt Lori, who also happens to be one of the people that inspired me to start running in the first place. She got to join me in a hometown race this summer. It was during this race that I FINALLY was able to achieve my goal of breaking 30 minutes for a 5k. Running every day gave me the strength to push myself to do better than I had ever done before.

Although this journey has had many challenges so far, and despite the fact that I can procrastinate a run for hours (for instance, I have been dragging out the writing of this all morning), I have yet to regret a single run. EVER. Besides. . .the benefits have far outweighed the challenges. As of now, I have no plans to stop streaking. I guess I’ll know when the time has come, but until that day is upon me, I plan to make the most of every single mile and give thanks every step of the way. And now, I’m off to run. . .

Staying present when life gets crazy

Hello Blog, it has been a while. . .

Not the first time I’ve written those words on these pages for the world to see and probably won’t be the last. Luckily I don’t blog for a living. Whew!

My hiatus from the blogosphere started unintentionally, of course. Then one day, I realized that it had been a while since I had written. By then I had so many things on my mind to write that I didn’t know where to begin.

So, I didn’t.

Then, the pile in my mind of things to write got bigger and bigger.

And I became a little lot overwhelmed.

So, I stopped. . .

And I wondered why I was struggling to create space in my life for something that I love to do?

Then, I realized. . .

Sometimes life comes at us so fast that we barely have time to breathe. It’s in those crazy times that we need to just hang on and stay present so we don’t miss a thing.

So, I did. . .

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And a funny thing happened when I simply stayed present–in the midst of this crazy, amazing, beautiful, chaotic time–space had been created for awakening, change, and growth in my life. The uncomfortableness I wrote about a couple of months ago? Yeah, well, it settled in, created some angst, then finally allowed me to follow my heart and to make some tough changes. Even though some things have been messy, I have had faith all along that I am heading in the right direction. After all, God has yet to lead me astray.

Staying present throughout the insanity of the last few months has also allowed me to fully embrace the life I have before me and the person I have become. Life is SO completely different than I could have ever imagined it could be. As much as I have tried to compartmentalize my life, especially when it comes to writing about it, I can’t. Life for me isn’t about family, or friends, or faith, or grief, or joy, or loss, or running, or serving, or weight loss, or healing, or even about orphans in Uganda. My life is about ALL of those beautiful things wrapped into one. Even though there are parts of my life I would have never chosen, I couldn’t be more grateful for the beauty that has risen from the ashes. I have come to fully understand that life is truly what we choose to make it. We can’t change what happened a second ago, let alone yesterday, and we surely cannot, with any sort of certainty, know what the future has in store for us. We only have now. So, take a deep breath, stay present, and hang on for the glorious ride. You won’t want to miss one crazy, amazing, beautiful, messy, awesome moment of this incredible life.