Monthly Archives: August 2011

Go slow to go fast

Way back when Kurt and I were newly-hooked Porsche people, we tried every competitive event that the Porsche Club offered — gimmick rallies, time/speed/distance rallies, quiz tours, gymkhanas, autocrosses, time trials, concours, and technical quizzes. Tonight I want to talk about the qualifying period that you have to go through before you’re allowed to go out solo on a high-speed road course and do an actual time trial. This period is called “driver training,” and it’s a humbling experience, especially for the guys who’ve been driving fast ever since they got their license and think they know all about cars. But I found it educational as well.

First, I never dreamed that a car could start or stop so fast when you really stomp on the appropriate pedal. I’d simply never driven that way before, and I found the full start-stop action of a Porsche exhilarating but a bit scary. Second, I had no idea that the cars could go through corners so fast, seemingly defying all the laws of physics and making terrible tire-squealing sounds while doing so. I’d been taught that cars weren’t supposed to make sounds like that.

But all of those things were about learning how to go fast, something I’d never tried to do before. I had to learn those things just to catch up with what the guys already knew. The real learning, for me as well as Kurt, was that actually going “fast” isn’t the fastest way around a road course. We learned to “go slow to go fast.”

If you’re always going hard on the accelerator, then you have to go hard on the brakes to get through those corners. Going hard on the brakes means that it takes a little longer for the car to settle down and go smoothly through the turn. Going too fast means the driver is less likely to stay on the “line,” the imaginary series of as-straight-as-possible lines that are actually the shortest way around a winding road course. So you have to learn to slow down just a bit and focus on being smooth, precise, and consistent. That’s how you get faster — by practicing going slow, steady, and smooth. In fact the tortoise did know something that the hare didn’t.

I never got to be very good at time trialing, as I never really stopped seeing imminent death at every corner — I never learned to stop thinking and just let the car do what it was capable of doing so very well. But I did remember the lesson of “go slow to go fast.”

When I started running I had no illusions that I’d ever be fast. I had weird feet, a few too many pounds, and I hadn’t done any exercise except yoga (the ultimate “go slow” exercise) in way too many years. But it did feel great to go out there, and just be slow and enjoy the trees, water, sky, and wildlife along the trail.

Being the highly rational and learningful person that I am, I soon discovered there is a lot of science and philosophy around this whole running thing. I’ve learned about Yasso 800s and fartleks (don’t ask), both of which involve going fast for short periods. I don’t really enjoy those things. A single 10-minute mile is still a dream for me. I might be able to do one but then I’d be done for the day. I’m simply not built to go fast. But after long, slow, steady practice I can now run 4+ miles before my first walk break. I can run 5 miles in less than an hour, I can run each of those 5 miles at a fairly steady pace, and I usually finish feeling like I could do more. That’s slow happy running, and it’s steady progress.

It also leaves me time to enjoy the wildlife. Today I saw a female red-breasted merganser in the water just offshore, keeping a close eye on four very cute half-grown baby mergansers that were huddled on a rock just above the high tide level. I stopped to try to take their photo so I could show you how cute they were, but all four dived simultanously off the rock and skedaddled to mom’s side. I guess I didn’t approach them slowly enough…

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Not another thousand words tonight, I promise

Well, I did tell you that writers write, didn’t I? Writer’s block has never been an issue for me.

But tonight I’ll truly try to be brief. It was a good-minute, bad-minute sort of day. Remember that book Who Moved My Cheese, about how change is constant, and not to be feared, and those who scurry off into the maze will find the new cheese place, and then life will be good again, as long as they remember to be prepared for the next time someone moves the cheese? I had to sit through a discussion about that on a team teleconference at work, and all the time I was thinking: But what about when they move the maze? What do you do when the maze suddenly goes over the edge of a cliff?

Today is August 30, another one of those hellacious anniversaries. One year ago today Kurt and I got the official word that his cancer was stage 4. Remembering that day produced a lot of bad minutes, and I was feeling rather awful when a friend called with really GOOD news about something that had just happened in her life. It was good enough news that she, her husband, and I all went out to celebrate, complete with a bottle of champagne. Lots of good minutes, and long-overdue good news for my friends!

I guess that’s the way it’s going to be. One step at a time, up and down, turning this way and that.

I’m really looking forward to going running tomorrow afternoon, after my usual 3-days-post-long-run recovery. My middle-aged knees appreciate a few days’ rest, especially after I worked them extra hard on Sunday with a 9.38 mile (15 km) run along the waterfront. I figure I’ll do an easy 5 miles tomorrow, and right now I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll run another personal best at the Victoria BC half marathon on October 9.

Grief is always there, sometimes quietly at the margins and sometimes sitting on my shoulders and screaming. But life DOES go on. One foot  in front of the other.

Writers write. Runners run.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

I’ve been a writer for as far back as I can remember; my fondest memories of elementary school are about the short stories that I wrote and the positive feedback that I got from teachers about them. During my high school years I took myself ***very seriously*** as a poet. I’d convinced myself that poets and other creative types were special because they were all sensitive, depressed, and a bit crazy — and my adolescent self felt a special kinship with anyone who was sensitive, depressed and a bit crazy.

I took a few creative writing and poetry classes in college, which improved my craft as a writer but caused me to question the authenticity of my voice. Did I really have anything new to say as a poet? In all my other classes, I had to learn to write in a scholarly way, objective and unemotional. Eventually, I lost whatever potential I’d ever had as a poet.

Yet I never stopped writing. I have kept a personal journal since I was 12. It has seldom been a daily practice, but I have journaled my way through relationships, job changes, parenthood, buying and selling all those cars with Kurt, packing and moving and unpacking and trying to create places that felt like home and packing and moving again. I journaled my way to the insight that I needed to go back for the long-deferred graduate degree (and then another, and another). I journaled my way to a detailed vision of a career change, and then I made that career change happen. The idea for my dissertation was born in my journal. My dissertation was a three-year writing exercise, which I did both alone and with others, spiraling inward and outward multiple times and going a little deeper each time.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I journaled my way through that, and I shared that journal with friends and family. Writing is how I process things. Writing is how I learn.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Writers write. So many people talk about “that novel I’m going to write someday,” but writers don’t just talk about writing. They write.

When I started to run, I did not dream of calling myself a runner.

For my 53rd birthday I asked Kurt for a treadmill, as I wanted to walk off the ten pounds I’d put on as a PhD student, and I hoped that walking might help relieve the chronic foot pain and weakness I’d suffered from a half-successful bunion surgery followed by a broken foot. The ever-chivalrous Kurt indulged my request, expecting that it would be garage sale fodder soon. I proved him wrong. I did 146 miles on that treadmill, first walking and then cautiously jogging, before I dared to go out in “the real world.” I did another 90 miles before I finally bought my first pair of running shoes (sandals and hiking boots weren’t working so well). That was April 2009. I had registered to run a half marathon in June, but I still wasn’t thinking of myself as a runner.

Not having a clue how to properly train for a half marathon, I injured myself and missed that first race, but I didn’t give up. I was still doing mostly treadmill time, but when we went down to Palm Springs in the fall of 2009 I had to decide if I was serious enough to run on the streets at the crack of dawn. Apparently I was. I ran my first half marathon in Palm Springs in February 2010. I was slow but I finished. When we came back home to Washington I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon in June, beating my PS time by 5 minutes.

Then in July we found out Kurt was sick. Soon afterwards I realized that I genuinely enjoyed running and needed to run. I had to make time for it, but it was time that I got to spend not thinking about him, or us, or what was going to happen to us… time to just put one foot in front of the other. At some point I began to think of myself as a runner — well, let’s qualify that — as a slow happy runner. I’m not fast, I’ll never be fast, but running makes me very happy. Running helped me cope with the stress of nearly 24×7 caregiving, when I needed every scrap of happiness I could find.

With the help of good friends who provided respite care for Kurt, I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon again this June. I didn’t know he was going to die four days later, but I don’t regret the time I spent training for and running that race. I beat my previous year’s time by 10 minutes, and I took every one of those approximately 23,000 steps on sheer will power. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, made best-selling hay out of the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at anything. Want to learn to play a musical instrument? 10,000 hours of practice. Invent the personal computer? 10,000 hours of fiddling with electronic gadgetry.

Since October 2008 I have run 1,206 miles, and spent a mere 260 hours doing it (go ahead and do the math – yes, I’m slow and I’m happy). I am but a mere babe as a runner (a spring chicken, as Kurt would say). But I’m picking up the pace now, consistently doing three times a week, doing more long runs, finding my way step by step.

Runners run. I am a runner.

Writers write. I am a writer.

What do you do? How do you spend your finite measure of hours? Who are you?

Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking…

Antonio Machado

What it means to be a “slow happy runner”

It means taking one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other. It means trusting that there is still solid ground under my feet, that the next step will not lead into total darkness or off a cliff.

It means I have to take each step all by myself, but that friends are there to cheer me along the way.

It means learning to enjoy the journey for itself, because on some days there is no one but myself to cheer me along the way.

It means learning to be in the moment, every moment, even the ones when it really hurts to be here now.

It means that there is no such thing as mediocre, because every step is an affirmation that I can and will do great things… one small step at a time.

It means finding the courage to start, the strength to endure, and the resolve to finish.

It means that every day can be a “personal best,” simply in the fact of getting to the finish line. It also means that on some days, just getting out of bed is “getting to the finish line,” while on other days… anything is possible… and both of those extremes are fine.

I’v borrowed liberally from some of my favorite running quotes here, because one of the things I’m learning is that running is a metaphor for life… so even when I’m writing about running, it’s not always only about that.

I’m slow and happy, and so glad that you are here with me.

One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

That’s how I’m trying to live my life, and that’s how I’m going to do things with this blog. I have been blogging semi-publicly for over a year now, but that blog was focused on keeping friends and family informed of my late husband’s fight against stage 4 lung cancer. It’s now been two and a half months since I lost him… and I have discovered that besides (obviously) missing Kurt, I also miss blogging.

I am going to try something new with this blog, make it a bit more visible to the world, and see what may develop.

I’m a learning and development professional, an amateur philosopher, a mid-life PhD, who took up running in 2009 when somebody advised me to find a short-term goal to avoid the post-dissertation blues. I’m never going to be competitive (unless maybe I’m still running at the age of 100, which I sort of doubt), but I have indeed found happiness through running… so I’ve now proudly taken to calling myself the “slow happy runner.” I’ve completed three half marathons since February 2010, and I’m currently registered for three more within the next six months.

When I needed to give myself some respite from caregiving, I ran. When nothing else would stop the anguish of pre-grief screaming in my head, running stopped those thoughts. When I needed to cry, I welcomed opportunities to run in the rain. As I try to recreate my life as a “young widow,” I’m thinking about taking running vacations… going to places I’ve never been and running while I’m there.

I expect to write a lot about running in this blog, but that is only a part of multi-faceted me. So you might get a little grieving, a little philosophy, a little environmentalism, and who knows what else may capture my interest.

I hope you find things that are interesting to you here as well. Your comments will always be welcome… I only ask that you play nicely.