Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I used to be a wimp. I really did. Not just a wimp in the sense that I couldn't handle a little pain or criticism or something like that. I was wimpy in that way, but I was a wimp in every way imaginable. Running has made me a stronger person, a better person.

You see, running is applicable to every part of life. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." It sounds good but I think that's just a saying to most people. Runners get the full sense of what it means to "get going." So many times, when life gets tough, I want to quit. I want to do the easy thing. I want to come up with excuses, but then I remember. I am a runner.

Every time I run a race, no matter the distance, I come to a point where quitting is not only possible, it’s actually kind of reasonable. I even play in my head all the “reasons” or excuses I could tell people for why I didn’t finish or PR or whatever. …..

“Man, I got the worst cramp at mile 10 and that was it…”
“Dude, I don’t know…. My leg was aching a bit and I just couldn’t pull it out….”

When the alarm goes off at 4am I have excuses galore for why I should miss my run or bike or swim; a whole laundry list of “good” reasons not to do my work out. No one would know anyways. But on race day, when it matters most, everyone will know. You can’t hide behind excuses and you have no choice but to bare your soul to the running gods. You either did the work or you didn’t. I have done both and I can tell you one felt a whole lot better than the other.

So for me, I relate everything in life back to that experience.

Work is tough? No big deal. Stay the course, persevere, find a way to get through it and reap the reward at the end.

Marriage a bit rocky? Welcome to mile 22 of marathon day. Are you going to drop out or keep putting one foot in front of the other?

Your heart is broken and you feel like you can’t catch a break? Aaaaaah the joys of a good speed workout. Sucks right now, your heart feels like it could explode but if you just keep pushing, it will end and you won’t die in the process.

Feel like the task ahead is insurmountable? Sounds like a hill run to me. Slow down, breathe deep, trudge on…. You’ll get there!

I used to make excuses all day long. I would blame shift or try to explain my way out of stuff. And then I started running. Running keeps you honest. You either do the work or you don’t. I tell people running saved me and I really believe that it did. It saved me from a life of underachievement. It saved me from giving up on dreams and hopes and ambitions. Running took away my fear of the unknown and gave me the courage close my eyes and take the plunge. You’ll only under-train for a marathon once. And then the memory of that day will follow you… Every time you think of an excuse you’ll remember that pain and humiliation. You might think you are tough but a 5K will let you know just how tough you aren’t.

Someone once told me “Life isn’t about surviving one storm after another. Life is about learning to dance in the rain.” So, put your rain boots on, I hear the music playing…….

Thursday, August 13, 2009


There it is. Right in front of you. You can't see the top til you get there. Once you do, you can't see the bottom anymore. It's like hell on Earth while your pedaling. But when it's over, you don't remember how bad it was and you wonder about the next one, the bigger one, the steeper one, the harder one.... and so goes life....
Last weekend, I went to the mountains of North Georgia for what I refer to as a vacation--- full days of biking up the hardest mountains you can find, running the trails, and swimming carefree miles in the cool, open waters. For me, I can't imagine a vacation better than days with conquests so challenging you can't believe them when you see them. And nights so exhausted and yet strangely exhilarated by the fact that you did! Such a dichotomy of emotions....
We spent hours on the bikes during the three days we were there. It was good for me, for my mind and for my heart. I fill my life with people because I love people. I love their stories, I love to watch their reactions and emotions. People fascinate me with their unique struggles and backgrounds and dreams. I love the intimacy of quiet conversations about love and hope and despair. And I love them more when they are shared over the open road in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning. The last year has been so tough for me. I lost my baby, I lost my best friend and in some ways, I think I lost my mind. The pain in my heart is so intense that I feel the only expression is physical. I take the pain in my heart and disperse it into my workouts. When my body is tired, my mind is still.
As we biked up the steepest climb in North Georgia, I thought at moments that my quadriceps might rip from the bone. The air was thin, my lungs were hungry and at one point the darkness was closing in so rapidly I thought I might not even get my foot down in time. My chest was pounding as my heartrate maxed and I don't even know where the strength came from to take even one more pedal stroke. Each corner we turned revealed an even steeper climb with only the promise of another corner ahead. An hour and five minutes uphill. Pure Torture. But, when we reached the top and looked out over the valley, it was so clear, so beautiful, and so obvious. We couldn't see the whole picture until the end, not until we could really appreciate it. That's just how it is.... That mountain view would have been nice to someone who had driven up there but it would never have compared to the view we got to see. We put in the work and thus reaped our own reward- a deeper satisfaction in our work and a greater appreciation of the challenge.
We high-fived and gave our pats on the backs and exclaimed that we had never seen such a beautiful sight. Most importantly, though, we couldn't believe how far we had come. In the moment, in the pain, it was just about squeezing one more push out of tired legs..... left, then right, then left, then right. Now with the whole picture in view, it was the realization that the journey, no matter how hard or how long is always worth the effort.
I climbed back on my bike and started down the mountain.
I never hit the brakes.
40 mph clipped into a bicycle is a freedom and fear like nothing else.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sweat beads of Blackness....

In a normal day in my life, it is not unusual for me to go from one activity to another. I might meet a client or group to run and then head straight over to work in the studio with someone recovering from injury or someone on the pilates reformer. The other day was no exception, but as I was driving back to the studio I noticed that my clothes stunk. Not just a little un-fresh, either. Full on stinkage! I tried every trick in the book—baby wipes, smelly lotion, wiping down using the sink in the bathroom—all to no avail. I apologized to my client who politely said she didn’t smell me. Of course, she then suggested I try soaking my clothes in a bucket of double strength Oxi-clean until I was ready to wash them. BRILLIANT! Why didn’t I think of that? So, I bought some Oxi-clean and set about filling an industrial size mop bucket with water and cleaner and in went the workout clothes. This was GREAT! How exciting to have fresh-as-new clothes again! I felt like a kid getting ready for the 4th grade science fair…. Ah, the memories….plants and bugs and Jell-o and ….. but, I digress...

Knowing the stench contained within my poor, overused workout attire, I settled on 24 hours of soakage before extracting the clothes and washing them. Such a long 24 hours, too…. I could barely contain myself (embarrassingly). It was like getting a whole new wardrobe again, all clean and stink-free.

This is a testament to the mundane-ness of my life, I suppose…. Or to my inner nerd.

So, I put on my lab coat and goggles—ok that is a bit of an exaggeration…. But, I went out to the garage and began removing the clothes from the bucket and I was completely taken aback. I expected the water to be dingy, I really did. But, the water was BLACK, not tan or muddy or cloudy. It was Black, so black you could not even see the bottom of the bright yellow bucket. Disgusting. Truly and really, that is just gross. And embarrassing. And eye-opening. How could that much filth be contained in something that looked perfectly clean and bright and completely UN-filthy??

Most of the time when I run, I allow my mind to ponder things, to think deeply and to access the emotions and fears and thoughts that dwell deep inside of me. It is normal for me to talk to God as I travel through the early morning darkness. It is when I am the most honest, when I speak most freely, and expose myself. The wee hours of the morning allow me to admit to the places in life I come up short, to realize just how little I really know about life and marriage and all the things a person might wrestle with as they travel their worldly journey. Running takes all the uglies inside of me, brings them to the top and allows them to crack through the surface. Sometimes, I cry for things lost and days past. Other times, the rage within me can only be quelled by a workout so intense it would be frightening to witness. But mostly, I find joy out on the road. I clear my heart and I clear my mind and I make a little more peace with my place in the world and a mission too big to accomplish alone.

Maybe therein lies the answer to the black water. Maybe each drop of sweat carries a little of the blackness and darkness from inside my heart to the outside and each breath of the fresh morning air replaces it with lightness and joy……. Who knows? What I do know is that no matter how good or bad life is at any moment, I have a constant. Every morning I can get up and lace up my shoes. Sophie will always meet me at the door and God is always waiting to talk knowing I will discover another piece of the puzzle in the miles ahead. And when I return all sweaty and tired, my clothes will contain the filth. They won’t look dirty, but every stitch will be full of the worry and fret I left behind. And me? My heart will be full of the joy and possibility of a new day, a new challenge, a new mountain to conquer.