Monthly Archives: October 2011

Tonight’s post, take 2

It seems that from my too-comfortable position in my reading chair, I accidentally hit the “publish” button much too soon. The full post that I intended to write is out there now, if you are interested…

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Alone in a big house on a dark night

I have often given credit to Kurt for building up my courage, helping me find my strengths, and encouraging me to follow my passions. It’s absolutely true that we met when I was at a low point, beaten down by mentally abusive husband #1 and looking for a way out of that mess — which he offered me, first as a friend, then as a lover, and finally as my life partner in the grandest and fullest sense of that term.

What I’ve sometimes overlooked in that narrative is that I’ve always been tough, ornery, opinionated, reasonably courageous, and extremely strong-willed. He had the good luck (for him) of catching me at a low point when I really needed to find exactly the person that he turned out to be. Still, I had to find the courage in myself to trust the future that he was offering to me.

I suspect that we females are discouraged culturally from showing and acting from our full strength. Bad things actually do happen to women who dare too much. I once tried to explain to Kurt that the possibility of assault is always in the back of my mind, that I never walk alone in empty places, especially in urban settings, without a tickling fear at the back of my neck. He utterly didn’t get it, said he’d never felt it and didn’t know any guys that would confess to such a feeling. Granted, he was a guy who was so low-key and believed so strongly that he lived a charmed life that he (as he frequently bragged) could sleep through “incoming” in Vietnam.

Well, I was five months pregnant with my daughter when a pathetic loser trapped me in a public restroom, and I had to use my wits and my courage to get myself and my unborn child safely out of a very threatening situation. I don’t think that men have experiences like that as often as women do. It happened to me, and I learned that I am courageous.

Still, I am possessed of a large helping of common sense. So yesterday morning when I pulled into the parking lot at a trail access where I’ve run several times before, there was no one there. It was cold and drizzling, but that seldom stops Pacific Northwest runners. I was puzzled, but I got out of the car. Then I noticed that the porta-potty was gone! This presented a biological pre-run problem, but more importantly it was just plain weird. The park suddenly took on an eerie, abandoned quality that I didn’t like one bit. So I got back in the car and I drove to a more heavily-used trail access point. This didn’t feel like giving in to my fear, but simply being sensible.

My location change forced me to run through the center of town, as my favorite part of the trail is closed right now for mudslide repair. I don’t enjoy running in town, because it can smell of diesel fumes and fiberglass down at the yacht works and marina, and because much of the surface is hard concrete. My 6.2 mile slog through the mist yesterday wasn’t all that much fun, but I did it and came home feeling good about making prudent choices, not exposing myself to unnecessary risks, and taking care of myself.

Tonight, however, is Halloween. I’ve never much enjoyed the whole trick-or-treat thing — I don’t like opening my door to strangers and would normally never consider doing that after dark. Kurt used to like to sit near the door and be the jovial guy handing out candy (and he would always buy way too much so he could eat the “leftovers”). Last year he was already too weak from the chemo to do the honors, so I rather sullenly agreed to be the candy-distributor while he watched nearby.

This year there was no way I was opening my door to anyone for any reason. I figured I was just being paranoid until I mentioned my decision to friends and they immediately agreed. I’m here all by myself and I see no reason to advertise that fact to the flocks of teenagers who come through later in the evening. I turned off all the lights, unplugged the ones on timers, and went upstairs with the makings of a picnic dinner — bread, cheese, and wine. The light is on where I’m sitting, nowhere else. It’s been very quiet; I don’t think anyone has ventured through the front gate and up the dark walkway to my front door.

That’s fine. I am not afraid, merely prudent. I do not feel trapped, but rather voluntarily and temporarily cocooned. Tomorrow I have things planned that will get me out and about again. What’s different from a week or so ago is that I now feel in charge of making those decisions about how I will choose to live. I’m starting to make my life happen again. That’s an important and most welcome shift in my perception.

I can do this. I am really going to be OK. There may be ghouls and zombies outside right now, but inside it’s rather peaceful.

Stepping carefully on shifting ground

I can’t yet say how or why (and I fully expect more setbacks, explosions, abyss-falls, and the like), but something is… shifting. The last few days have not felt so bleak. It’s becoming easier to imagine my life as “Lori, becoming Lori.”

I’m starting to figure out that I really do need other people, want to be around other people, find that being around other people is energizing and kind of fun. I’m really not going to be a hermit locked away with my cats for the rest of my life.

I’m going to be OK.

I can’t say any more because I don’t want to start over-thinking this and freak myself out and mess everything up.

But I think I’m going to be OK.

Will run for beer

OK. So we’ve established that beer is a powerful motivator for me. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do enjoy my beer, but the combination of running and beer always seemed a little odd — until I tried it. I guess my first run+beer experience was my race in June, but then I started following this guy who calls himself The Beer Runner. I found him first on Twitter and then I started reading his blog for Draft magazine. I’m not sure I mentioned it, but at the Victoria half marathon they were actually handing out beer at about 9.3 miles (I passed, but I made up for it at lunch afterwards).

It seems that beer running is becoming quite the thing — and when you think about it, it makes sense. At least when it comes to afternoon runs, nothing else quite quenches a post-run thirst like a good beer — carbs plus hydration equals all good stuff, right???

So tonight the North Olympic Running Club held its first of what I hope will be many beer runs, meeting at a local brewpub called Barhop. Maybe ten people showed up. It was cold, and darkness was already not far away at 5:30. I figured I’d take it easy, run 3-4 miles, and come back for a beer. I parked my car about a block away, and while everyone was milling around trying to decide what to do, I went to my car to put my jacket away (knowing that even though it was in the mid-40s, I’d be way too warm running with a jacket). As I was walking away from my car, I saw the whole group crossing the street in front of me — and then the signal turned and I stood there waiting while a bazillion cars went by. By the time I was able to cross, the pack was 1-2 blocks ahead and only three people were in sight.

Stupidly, I decided to catch up. Incredibly, I did catch up with and pass two people. I was running at an unsustainable (for me) pace of just under 10:30. It was starting to get quite dark, and I turned on my headlight and turned myself around at 1.75 miles. I took a shortcut back to my car to retrieve my jacket, finishing at 3.46 miles in just over 36 minutes, which is a 10:34 pace, which is faster than I’ve ever run even one mile in my slow happy running career. I didn’t catch my time at 5k, but it would have been a PR for me. I have never run three sub-11-minute miles back to back in my life before.

And then there was beer. It wasn’t free beer, but it was locally brewed and wonderful. The pizza was meatless, free, and good. I am a most definitely a slow happy runner tonight.

We want to make it a weekly thing, and it helps that the Barhop’s owners are runners. I had a great run and got to spend some time relaxing with fun people.

By the way, I saw my doctor this afternoon, who told me to stop worrying, take off the heart monitor, and enjoy running because I’m absurdly healthy. Those charts that say “NEVER exceed xxx beats per minute” based on an age formula are AVERAGES, and apparently I have a high-revving heart — which is something I actually first noticed way back in high school.

Oh — one more thing. I’ve been honored with another blogging award — thanks Conchsaladesque! But I can’t claim it until I’ve found five more new blogs to recommend. I think this is a plot by WordPress to make people read other people’s blogs — and it’s working! But it will take me some time to pass along this award. Stay tuned!

Is it safe to come out yet?

I must be starting to feel bettter, because I do feel like poking my head out of my wormhole and looking around to see what might be going on in the world. The last week has been rugged, but I’m amost ready to reclaim my place amongst humanity.

Reading some of the other blogs that I follow, I’m discovering that crashing, getting sick, not wanting to move a muscle, etc. are actually common post-race symptoms. As this was my 4th half marathon, you’d think I would have learned that before now, but looking back through my running spreadsheet I can see how I might have missed that lesson.

I ran my first half marathon in Palm Springs, California on Valentine’s Day, 2010. I didn’t know very much yet about how to train for or recover from a race. I’d learned about tapering and done that part well enough (my knees were hurting in the last weeks before the race, so I backed way off and simply resigned myself to being REALLY SLOW but finishing, which is exactly what happened). I didn’t know about stretching afterwards. I went home, slept for three hours, and then got up and went out for a big meal with Kurt, who treated me like a world-class hero. Needless to say I was agonizingly sore for days afterward. I then completely stopped running for several weeks, but I kept myself active by doing an ecotour down to Baja California to get up close and personal with gray whale mother-calf pairs (an experience I highly recommend if you ever have the opportunity). Clambering in and out of a small boat kept me limber, and I came home eager to resume training for half marathon #2, back home on the Olympic Peninsula in June 2010.

I read a lot about training, made what I thought was a sensible plan and followed it, and approached that race feeling pretty good. Still, I pushed too hard in the last month and I came down with a cold a week before the race. Although I started the race feeling tired and sniffly, I was doing fine until it started to rain at mile 8. Believe it or not, although I live in the Pacific Northwest I had NEVER run in the rain before (you may recall that I started this whole running thing on a treadmill). The rain slayed me, and I finished exhausted, but so happy to once again see Kurt there cheering me on. I then quite sensibly took off two full weeks before I ran another step.

Then Kurt got his cancer diagnosis, and races that I’d planned to run got tossed off my calendar along with everything else that had constituted normal life up to that time. Still, I made the commitment and found the time to keep running, and as I’ve written here, it was the running that kept me sane through those terrible months.

I ran the local race here again this June, knowing of course that Kurt didn’t have much time left, but not dreaming that he only had four days. I missed seeing his smiling face at the finish line, but even worse was realizing afterwards that he had no longer even understood what I was doing out there.

Needless to say I didn’t have a “normal recovery” from that race. I don’t remember feeling any muscle soreness, but I have large gaps in my memory from that time. I certainly wasn’t any more fatigued than I’d been for the last month. I was busy dealing with many other things, but I did go out and run 3.1 miles 11 days after that race and a week after he died. My spreadsheet tells me that I moved right along that day. It must have felt good, but I do remember having to skip past most of the songs on my iPod because everything was associated with a bad memory.

With all of that as a baseline, I approached the Victoria race feeling more or less in control of the running part, at least. I suppose I was right about that, as I did run a race that still amazes me and makes me wonder how much more room I have for improvement! What I was completely unprepared for was the crash. I assumed that I could just go out and run again (I gave myself all of a week to recover, and then went all out for 6 miles). THEN I crashed.

Now I can see that I needed to give myself more time, both to recover physically and to acknowledge the enormous emotional load that I am still carrying. I couldn’t perceive that second part until I read a lot of bloggers who were writing about getting sick, feeling depressed, not knowing what to do with themselves.

The cure seems to be to plan and start preparing (but not too soon!) for the next race. John Bingham, known and beloved by runners as “The Penguin,” is one of my running idols. He’s famous for being a back-of-the-pack runner and has inspired millions with his writing about running. In the photo that I use as my avatar for this blog, I’m wearing a shirt with a Penguin quote on it: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I bought that shirt the day before my June 2010 race (when the biggest thing I had to battle was a cold), and the photo was taken at the 8-mile mark just before it started to rain — that’s why I’m still smiling!

About a week ago the Penguin wrote a blog post about finish lines, which was something of a philosophical treatise about why we run. He quoted Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was the gold medalist in the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. He wrote that “for her, there is no finish line, and she encourages others to think the same way. Each finish line, according to Joan, is an opportunity to set a new goal, to raise your personal bar, and to go in search of a new achievement.” John Bingham’s concluding thoughts, however, were what really rang true for me: “for many of us there is a finish line. And not just one. Some of us have to keep crossing those finish lines to remind us that we can.”

I run because I have to keep giving myself a reason to believe in myself. A reason to get up in the morning, get out of the house, and do something that makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity and to the earth. And I have to keep putting finish lines out in front of me to keep proving to myself, over and over again, that I can do this. So…… I’m ready to slowly get ramped up to training for my next half marathon, back in Palm Springs next February.

I actually did get outside today to go take care of some personal business, but it was breezy and cool (we didn’t see 50 degrees today; autumn is definitely here), so I couldn’t summon the will to go out and run. However, I did 2 miles on my treadmill this evening. And tomorrow our local running club is going to try its first beer run — we’re meeting at a local pub at 5:30 to run 3 to 5 miles and then drink some beer. I think I’ll bundle up and give it a go.

Down a wormhole?

Maybe I did vanish down a wormhole for a while. It’s been a strange few days.

Basically — I crashed.

I’d been having that fighting-a-cold feeling — which only happens to me when I’m pushing myself too hard, not eating well and not getting enough sleep. I tried to back off, but I was also trying to meet deadlines at work, so I had to keep going. Until 1:30 Friday afternoon, when I gave up, went to bed, and didn’t get out of bed (except for brief forays downstairs for food) until 21 hours later.

Once I finally got up yesterday (Saturday), I took it really easy, sat around all day reading and thinking and being still. I resigned myself to the obvious fact that I wouldn’t be doing my usual Sunday morning long run. I haven’t run for a week now. That’s only the third time this year I haven’t run for a week. The first time was the week Kurt died; the second time was the week of his celebration of life. I guess this was the week that I figured out I can’t do everything and be everything for everyone at once — not if I want there to be a ME who has any sort of life at all from here forward.

I’m going to have to just sit and grieve when I need to. I can’t keep going and pushing all of that to the background. Grief has shown me that I need to give it time and attention, or it will just keep pushing me off a cliff. I’m learning that I don’t much like falling off cliffs or plunging down wormholes.

But I’m a slow learner, it seems. By late this afternoon I was really starting to worry about the biggest of my three work deadlines, and I spent four hours slogging through that tonight. Now it’s midnight, and while I’ve made progress, it’s obvious I won’t get it done tomorrow.

Earlier today I was planning to write something much more philosophical than this, and I still have some ideas that I want to develop. But now is not the time.

Trying to put my heart back together

I have 6,919 songs (and counting) spread across my various iDevices. I think that’s a rather large number, at least for my generation. Some of them were free or nearly free songs from my music vendor of choice, which I elected to download primarily because they sounded like good potential running songs (as in, “it has a good beat, I can run to it”). Some of those songs have been real winners, and I’ve gone on to buy their respective albums like a good little consumer.

A couple of years ago I picked up a song called “Trying to Put your Heart Back Together.” It’s just an ordinary song about trying to get over a breakup, but it has a great beat and yes, I love to run to it. One day I noticed that the name of the group was “Slow Runner.” This was probably not long before I started to refer to myself as a slow happy runner. I’m sure there is a connection there but I honestly do not recall how I came up with that appellation for myself.

Anyway, while I loved the song, when it came up in rotation while I was driving just a few days after Kurt died I discovered that it was one of the MANY songs that I could not bear to hear. There aren’t a lot of lyrics, but the primary feature of the song is that hook, “trying to put your heart back, trying to put your heart back together,” repeated several times.

I’ve reached the point where I can enjoy listening to it again, although it still makes me sad. But this morning I finally listened to ALL the lyrics of the song. What I found there was advice. Not profound, but useful advice. Some things I’m already doing, some just don’t suit my personality, and some I’m not yet ready to do — but all are worth considering.

Watch the snow fall          (I don’t want to contemplate winter, but this sets the mood)
Make some phone calls     
(needed, but difficult for this phone-phobic person)
Spend your whole life
Trying to put your heart back
Trying to put your heart back together.    
(that about sums it up for me right now)

You go out dancing                              (not yet)
With the beautiful and handsome        (oh, that’s scary)
Spend the whole night                         (very scary)
Trying to put your heart back… etc.

Where’d the day go                          (I ask myself that question every day!)
Out the window
Through the meadow
Down a wormhole
                            (now that sounds about right)
Each day you draw a new line     (HOW to keep moving that line forward, not back?)
This is the last time                (standing with one foot in the future and one in the past)
This is the last time
                     (unable to move on though you need and want to)
Trying to put your heart back… etc.

You can google the song if you want to; I found several versions of it on YouTube. It’s got a good beat — you can run to it, cry to it, argue with it, or just go ahead and put your heart back together. What I don’t want to do is to simply sit and watch the snow fall.

Last Sunday I did go out running, for the first time since the half marathon. I ran 6 miles and yes, I ran the whole way, on a pace about 30 seconds per mile faster than my half marathon pace, which made it just about the fastest 6 miles I’ve ever run. The last mile of the section of trail that I ran (which I’ve run many, many times) is slightly uphill — only about 100 feet but it can be daunting at the end of a run and I’ve never just run that mile before on a run of any length. My knees are a little tender today so it may have been a bit too much, but it felt great at the time.

As I’ve come to expect (but seem to forget when I get down in the dumps) running helped me break through the logjam. I went grocery shopping. I took myself out to dinner. I was actually (most miraculous of all?) very productive at work today. Maybe I’ve turned a corner? Probably not a major one, but the road immediately before me looks a little brighter at this moment.

Tomorrow is another day (or so they say)

I’ve really been struggling the past couple of days, feeling very blue and paralyzed, as I’d attempted to describe the other day. I basically squandered today — a Saturday! — I woke up with a list of things to do and did only one of them, and then only late this evening. I didn’t get out of the house at all, although it was reasonably nice for mid-October. I felt dizzy, anxious, and weak. I’m getting used to the feel of anxiety attacks, but they normally subside over the weekend. This week, not yet.

Some of this, I’m sure, is the post-run endorphin crash. My sore muscles subsided days ago, but my brain has not been willing to go out and run after work on a decidedly crisp autumn afternoon. But tomorrow morning our tiny local running club is meeting at my favorite place to run — where the Olympic Discovery Trail crosses Morse Creek — so I’ll try to find the energy to get up early enough to eat, drink, break out the cold-weather running gear, and go for a run.

Four to six miles at a SLOW and STEADY pace sounds about right, but as usual I’ll play it by ear. My next half marathon isn’t until February, down in Palm Springs under warmer and drier conditions. I probably won’t get serious about ramping up the training for that race for another month or so.

Right now I seem to need down time, think time, do-nothing time. But I also desperately need to force myself to spend time with other people, and that’s a real challenge for me. When you spend as much time alone as I have this week, you start to think that going outside your door is like visiting another planet. I don’t want to become a hermit. I’m really trying to fight this urge to stay in, but I STILL haven’t gone grocery shopping. Fortunately I had a well-stocked pantry, but some fresh vegetables would taste really good about now.

So I’m going to try to get some sleep (how did it get so late already?), and I will drag myself out of bed and put on my running shoes in the morning. I’ll try to make tomorrow a brighter, more fluid, more hopeful day than today. At the very least, tomorrow (they say) will be another day.

Janus… or, Stuck in the middle with me

As I came off a bit from the double-high of running well in Victoria and being recognized as a “versatile blogger,” I found myself increasingly sad and immobilized as today went on. I’d started the day full of plans for all I was going to accomplish at work and in the rest of my day, but by late afternoon I hadn’t made the phone calls I needed to make, and I couldn’t summon the energy to go grocery shopping even though there was basically no food in the house. I got so paralyzed that I couldn’t even take myself out to dinner, so I ended up scrounging around and throwing something together from odds and ends in the pantry.

Grief has a way of coming back and hitting me in the head when I’m not looking. Just when I think I can imagine a future life without Kurt (or when I’m so engrossed in the moment and whatever I’m doing that I’m not even thinking about having to create a life without Kurt), it whacks me again. My slow descent into paralysis today caused me to delay taking out the trash until it was nearly dark and getting quite cool and damp. Then I remembered how taking the trash up to the alley was always Kurt’s job until last year when he got sick, and how I’d had to learn (and it seems I’ve subsequently forgotten!) that I’d better get that job done by mid-afternoon because taking the trash up to the alley is a miserable job when it’s dark, cold, and wet or icy.

So I ended up standing in the kitchen throwing together my scavenger-hunt dinner, crying, choking on my beer, and — thinking about Roman gods?

I was looking for a metaphor for how I’m feeling right now. One foot in the past, one foot in the future, and nothing that feels securely planted on the solid ground of here and now. I want things to be the way they used to be — but they can never be that way again. I want things to get better — but I’m not ready to go too far, too fast, in too different of a direction. I know I can’t force or push or steer the grieving process, but I want to be in control of this process that cannot be controlled. I want to let go — but I can’t very well just say, “Oh well, 25 years, got that behind me, now what’s next?”

So I thought of Janus. I don’t know why. I’m not all that well-versed in Greco-Roman mythology, or in anybody’s gods for that matter. I had to go to Wikipedia to confirm what I thought I knew about Janus, which is that he was “the god of of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.”

That’s me right now. I’m stuck in the middle of this transition, trying to find new beginnings, both seeking and dreading the gates and doorways that lie ahead (to say nothing of cliffs and chasms). I don’t want that past time to end, yet the future is both alluring and terrifying — and from moment to moment, I don’t know which facet of the future is going to hit me. It’s an experience of two-facedness not in the cliched sense of being fickle or inauthentic, but in the sense that I do not know which way to look, which way to step, which way I want to go… or even, really, who I want to become.

It’s no wonder I feel paralyzed, why I have trouble getting out of bed sometimes, why I move items on my to-do list to the next day, and the next. I feel paralyzed because I am paralyzed, in this liminal state in which anything is possible and nothing is doable.

I run, perhaps, because the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other allows me to suspend for a little while the emotional imperative to take the steps toward thresholds I’m not yet ready to cross. At the end of a run there is a finish line (or at least the satisfaction of hitting the STOP button on my Garmin), a cool drink, a refreshing shower, and a sense of accomplishment. I feel strong and brave when I run, and capable of doing whatever I really set my mind to do. But in this place where I am right now, there is darkness in all directions and I feel utterly lost and alone.

Versatile Blogger Award

This post will be a work in process, as I haven’t yet found and followed all of the 15 other bloggers required to fully accept my own Versatile Blogger Award, but I figure it’s better to get started now and then update this post as I go along. 

Rules of the Versatile Blogger Award:

1.  Thank the person(s) who shared the award with you by linking back to them in your post. 

2.  Pass this award to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know that you included them in your blog post. 

3.  List 7 things about yourself.

1. Thank you Running Thriver for this award — your story of overcoming domestic abuse is inspiring, and your extreme running feats are astonishing!

2. I would like to pass this award to (in no particular order):

  • The Pudgy Runner – I first bumped into you on Twitter, where I enjoyed your series of upbeat tweets counting down to the Victoria Half Marathon. Only today (when I went looking for worthy blogs to recognize) did I discover your wonderful blog. Your story about your grandmother was very touching — thank you.
  • The Obfuscated Jogger – great name, warped Aussie sense of humor, and I think you were my first follower whom I don’t know personally.
  • RunOnPurpose – another inspirational runner whom I first found on Twitter.
  • Cake Walks & Ice Cream Runs – this is a new running-focused blog by one of the people that Running Thriver brought to my attention.
  • Ms993 – she doesn’t blog frequently but I’d like to encourage her to write more often, as she’s witty, inspirational, and dedicated to growing her circle of strong female friends.
  • Ahimsamaven – UPDATE!! Ahimsamaven weaves together post-modern philosophy, first-person experience from deep yoga practice and running, and life’s everyday challenges — and manages to be both insightful and entertaining along the way.
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD
  • TBD

3.  Seven things about me (yikes, this gets tough):

  1. I currently have three cats. I’ve had three cats at various times over the years, and I think three is the ideal number: entertaining, dynamic, while still remotely manageable. The way these three gallop around my house, I’d be afraid to have any more.
  2. Yes, I’ve really owned 19 Porsches, but I love the one I have now and I fully intend to keep it for a very long time.
  3. I’m left-handed, but the older I get the more ambidextrous I become, which is really weird.
  4. My favorite subject to photograph is the meeting of horizon and sky.
  5. Notable celebrity encounters: I once spent an entire evening in a bar sharing pitchers of beer with Arnold Schwarzenegger; I chatted about local organic produce with John Wayne; and I mistook Dyan Cannon for a cocktail waitress.
  6. Speaking of cocktail waitresses, long ago I once nearly quit my job to run off to a small town in Colorado and become a cocktail waitress. I’m glad I decided not to take that road.
  7. Although I loved being a graduate student, in retrospect I can now say that blogging is a lot more fun than writing a dissertation.
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What is the Versatile Blogger Award? (versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com)