Living life one pair of running shoes at a time.

Love and Running

To call tomorrow a special day would be a whopping understatement. Tomorrow I head East en route to the Boston Marathon. Take the usual mix of pre-marathon nerves and excitement and add to that the emotional magnitude of this year’s race, and you’ve got a whole lot of “!!!”.

Tomorrow also happens to be the one-year anniversary of my first date with Robin Hood.

How to celebrate both? I’ll tell you a story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I began my relationship with running almost 19 years ago. We met naturally, running and I — my dad has always been a runner, my mom ran, and each of my three older siblings had been brought into the fold. So when my freshman year of high school loomed on the horizon and Dad asked if I thought I might join the cross-country team, I was surprised. Wasn’t that a given?

I did join the team. I ran cross-country and track in high school, and kept running, though not competitively, in college. By the time I received my diploma, I had officially fallen in love with the sport. I had dealt with a couple of injuries, had my share of unpleasant runs, questioned my sanity, and had reached a conclusion. This was going to be a long-term relationship.

I ran my first marathon when I was 22, and got bitten by the bug. I ran 10 more marathons after that (11 come Monday) and never once along the way did I question or even reflect much on my relationship with running. It’s been mostly good, with the ups and downs of any relationship. Running has always been there for me, just an outfit change away, and I’ve never really, truly given serious consideration to its place in my heart.

Maybe you see where this is going.

If you guessed “other relationships,” bingo. I’ve dated a handful or so of men over the years. They were all nice, and to their credit, not one of them minded my running. They all thought it was cool that I ran, and never whined about my running cutting into our time together.

Except, well, these men and I never spent that MUCH time together. Even in the relationship that I would call the most serious of the lot, we never saw each other more than two or three times per week, so it wasn’t exactly a challenge to fit my running around that schedule.

Enter the man I’ve now been dating for a year.

I met Robin Hood just before I ran the Boston Marathon last year. He asked me out and I told him I was going out of town that weekend. I didn’t tell him the reason — not because I was shy about it; I just didn’t feel like having the “oooh, you’re a marathon runner!” conversation right at that moment.

We had our first date after I got back from Boston, and since then, things have been…well…great. He learned that I’m a runner. I learned that he’s a hunter. We’ve both accepted these things, and appreciate what they yield: he gets a happy girlfriend, and I get a happy boyfriend.

The issue is time. It’s not even an issue, really — just a new experience. I’m in a relationship where we both actually want to spend lots of time together. It’s wonderful! But as I prepared to train for Boston 2014, I asked myself, “What’s going to happen? Will I have the willpower to do those weekend long runs instead of going out to brunch? Will Robin Hood be alarmed by the amount of food I eat, or those lovely marathoner mood swings? What if one day I’m on my way out the door for an eagerly-anticipated run and he calls me with an emergency?”

The place in my heart that running had occupied for years was shifting, and it caught me off guard.

Again, maybe you see where this is going.

I needn’t have worried. I’ve been able to do my long runs. Robin Hood doesn’t mind my appetite and takes my mood swings in stride — incidentally, we’ve both learned to keep snacks on hand to avoid those mood swings. Plus, God bless him, he’s okay with the aroma of Icy-Hot. I’ve had to adjust the intensity of my training a bit, but that’s because of my body, not because of my man. We even run together once or twice a week. No, that’s not part of my training plan and no, I don’t care. I get to share my love with my love, and when that happens, I stop caring about which one I love more. It doesn’t matter.

I’ve learned a lot about love in the last year. I’ve learned that the main reason I love running is because I know it will, in fact, always be there for me, no matter how often or how well I do it. I’ve learned that it’s not only okay, but probably advisable, to gently shift running to the back burner sometimes.

But most of all, I’ve learned that love doesn’t need to be thought of in terms of front burners and back burners. There’s room for it all on one burner.

And it’s awesome.

Shoes

It started with the first sounds of baseball floating into my living room from the high school next door. It quickened as shorts began to supplant long pants for my after-work runs on a regular basis. It hit me square in the nose when I caught the unmistakable whiff of a charcoal grill.

Spring fever!

The sap has begun to run. Things are blossoming; you can just smell it in the air, and it most definitely has an effect on people as well as plantlife. I don’t just mean allergies, although I will say that whoever invented over-the-counter Claritin is nothing less than an angel straight from Heaven. When Spring takes hold, it affects our moods, energy levels, eating habits — heck, even the traffic seems different.

I’m fervently trying to relish all of it, and I admit, sometimes the results are…slightly less than rational. Staying up later and not caring so much about it? Check. Eating out more often just because it’s easier and more fun? Check. Pondering a 5k called the Hula Hustle a week after my marathon? Er…check.

But what can I say? The glorious window of time when I can have my windows open, with neither the heater nor the air conditioner slurping up electricity, is all too brief. Even though it’s still Lent, it almost feels like a second Mardi Gras, with people trying to enjoy life between the chill of Winter and the broil of Summer as much as possible.

Many of these efforts center around being outside, whatever the activity. I can’t walk past my flower pots, bereft for months of actual living plants, without fantasizing about what I want to grow on my patio this year. Peppers? Succulents? Herbs? Vegetables? All of the above? So many possibilities! And speaking of patios, my friends and I are practically counting down the days when it’s warm enough to hold our weekly gatherings outside at our favorite watering holes.

Running-wise, I feel the pull of the trails. Enough of the comfort zone of paved paths — my legs itch to get re-acquainted with soft surfaces, climb hills, and feel like they’re part of nature. I have to exercise a little restraint right now because of that whole marathon tapering business, but I did venture into the foothills this week for a jaunt on one of my old favorite routes. After so much pavement-pounding these last few months, it felt rebellious — but GOOD.

One of my favorite things about this stage of Spring is that it feels like a jumping-off point, in the best way possible. I don’t know about you, but my calendar is about to get downright bustling: Boston next weekend; Colorado two weeks after that for a friend’s wedding; a family trip to France shortly after that; not to mention weekend archery shoots, whatever my running future holds in store, and of course the aforementioned patio garden planting.

It will be busy, but exciting. My horizons will be broadened; my eyes will be opened to new things.

Maybe you’re going through something similar — maybe you’re scurrying to make summer vacation plans, or planting a garden, or searching for a post-graduation job. Just remember to stop and smell the charcoal once in a while.

Grumpectomy

The windy season has arrived in Albuquerque with gleeful pugnacity.

Between that and a particularly long day at work, my mood at the beginning of a recent run…and in the middle of it…and a mile from the end…was full-on grumpy. I was tired; the wind wouldn’t quit; my pool of ideas for what to do with wind-blown snot was severely depleted; and I still had two days to go before the weekend. Taking quarter at Taco Bell and stuffing my face with chalupas was sounding better and better.

I needed a grumpectomy: a neat, clean removal of the grump.

To that end, I came up with a list of things that have lately plastered all kinds of happiness on my heart:

Opening Day of Major League Baseball: It’s baseball season! I may not be among those who think that Spring doesn’t officially start until the first pitch is thrown, but you can bet I wore my Colorado Rockies colors on Monday. No matter that they lost their first game. I’ll be cheering on Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and the boys all season long. And if I don’t make it to Coors Field for a game this year, I can at least be thankful for Albuquerque’s Triple-A team, the Isotopes. I can taste the hot dogs already.

My Grandmother’s 89th Birthday: Needless to say, an occasion to celebrate. My grandma is a magnificent lady. It seems like last week that she was walking me to the school bus stop, teaching me how to play my first card games, and making brownies with me. She is still one of the spunkiest people I know, and if some day I have half the great stories to tell that she does, I’ll consider myself lucky. Grandma, if you read this (and I know you will), have a glass of something tasty right now!

Playing Outside: Despite the wind, the weather is getting warm enough so that, at least in ABQ, layers upon layers of clothing are no longer required for outdoor activities. To revel in this, Robin Hood and I went hiking on Sunday and had a splendid time exploring one of the local canyons. The trails were busy with folks shaking off the winter blahs, the scenery was pretty, and we had ample snacks. Win!

Archery: Who doesn’t like to play with bows and arrows? The Sandia Crest Bowhunters Association (SCBA) is starting their shoots back up. Since Robin Hood is a Range Captain (meaning he helps set up & take down targets, among lots of other helpful things) he’ll be out at the range pretty often this year, and I intend to be there with him as much as I can. Last weekend we went to an “open house” (read: free) shoot, where we roamed the course, slung arrows to our hearts’ content, and even managed once to get bulls-eyes on the same target! Fingers crossed that my archery luck lingers a while.

Running, in general. Because many people don’t have this, or think they can’t have this. And because in just a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Boston for what is sure to be one memorable marathon weekend.

And what do you know? My grumpiness was alleviated.

What are your favorite ways to brighten up a snarly day?

LynxBullseye

Replace, Replenish, Relax

I bought new running shoes!

They aren’t anything earth-shaking — they’re the same make, model, and even color of my last two pairs. I could tell Randy, the owner of my favorite running shop, that I’m going to swing by for a new pair of shoes and he would have them ready and waiting when I walked in the door. Reliable, yes. Exciting, no.

Except that these shoes are the ones. They’re the shoes that will support me (pun absolutely intended) through my marathon taper. They’re the shoes that will travel, at God knows what pace, through a handful of Massachusetts towns, up and down hills, and finally along Boylston Street to the finish line in Boston. They’re the shoes that I’ll place firmly but lovingly in the basket by my front door, where they will remain for at least a week after the marathon. And they’re the shoes that will bring me back to running, no matter how the race goes.

I also stocked up on energy gel. Again, nothing really exotic — I’ve tried different brands and have concluded that I’m a Gu girl (those Ghirardelli squares during the Nike Women’s Marathon notwithstanding), so I stuck with the familiar. The amount I bought may not get me through the marathon itself, but it’ll do for these final weeks of training. They’ll keep me from hating my last few long runs, or at least hating them due to hunger. And even if they don’t taste like, say, a delicious Cadbury Creme Egg, I know somewhere in the recesses of my brain that every one of those shiny little pouches carries me closer to another shiny object that’s not nearly as squishy or messy: a finisher’s medal.

New shoes? Check. New gels? Check. Thinking more and more about the 26.2-mile jaunt that’s now less than a month away? Ahhh…check.

A tricky but so-worth-it part of the taper process is getting your mind off the darn race.

This means that, in addition to my longest training run, I have done the following recently:

* acquired and learned how to operate a smartphone (see last week’s post)
* gone to a friend’s birthday party
* had a good long visit with my hair stylist for a cut and coloring
* bought wedding presents for my friends Emily and Robbie, and
* gone shooting with Robin Hood.

That last one was a fun and downright character-building day. Robin Hood was testing out his new M1A rifle and, after he was satisfied, wanted me to try it. I balked — an M1A is two or three healthy lunges forward from the .22 pistol I’ve grown fond of — but gave it a shot (heh, heh. Last pun, I promise). My first effort wasn’t pretty. Even though R.H. showed me how to stand, how to hold the gun, and warned me about the noise and the recoil, it freaked me out a little. But after a few minutes and a few deep breaths, I asked for the gun back, planted my feet, and fired every round in the magazine.

Hooray for getting back in the saddle! Kind of like when you have a bad race but sign up for another one, right? Maybe. However…

Final thing to remember during taper time: stop analyzing so much.

The Plunge

I finally got an iPhone.

After years of holding out, after months upon months of saying “Oh, I’m sure I’ll get one sometime soon,” and then another several months of my brother praising Verizon’s “Sign up for a two-year contract and get a free iPhone 4s” deal, I succumbed.

My decision was actually fairly anti-climactic. There was no last-straw bad experience with my old phone; there was no dramatic march into the nearest Verizon store. I just thought to myself, “Enough piddling around, I’m going to do this,” and then I went to the Verizon website and the whole thing was done in three blinks of an eye. Maybe four.

As I waited the advertised two days for my phone to ship, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. Okay, I was getting this cool new phone, and I would be able to listen to music on it and take better pictures and have Google Maps at my fingertips, but it was a smartphone. I don’t have the best history with smartphones. When I try to use friends’ smartphones, I have a tendency to mis-swipe and come perilously close to downloading something illegal. Plus, as documented here, I tend to be wary of technology in general.

Luckily, before my doubts could take hold, I found that magical little slip from FedEx on my door. I went to FedEx, crossing my fingers that no mail hiccups had happened and that my phone would indeed be waiting there for me.

It was. All neatly packaged and shiny and everything.

I wish I could tell you that it was love at first sight and that I was a video-recording, app-downloading fool from Minute One. But that would mean I’m tech-savvy, and Lord, that just isn’t so. We’ve had some growing pains, my new phone and I. I was sorely tempted to take that phone in all its new, shiny, app-a-licious glory and throw it against a wall. As I write this, though, we are on much better terms. I’ve downloaded a few apps that I like [Pandora, I know I'm late to the game, but I love you] and I’ve discovered the splendor of being able to tweet something exactly when I want to tweet it. And the selection of ring tones?? Oh my.

What my iPhone experience has highlighted for me is the concept of Getting On With It. If you know you’re going to do something, and you just keep skirting the edge of it, why not just plunge right in? What’s the hold-up? I know I do this, and a lot more often than I’d like. Do we do it because whatever we’re skirting isn’t something we “need” right now? Is it because we think life is perfectly okay without it?

Doesn’t life deserve to be better than perfectly okay?

Plunging in can lead to anxiety and discomfort. It can lead to a really fierce desire to throw things at a wall. But it can also lead to spontaneous Pandora radio dance parties. And, almost every time, it makes life much, much better than just perfectly okay.

I say plunge right ahead. Bite the bullet. Because that bullet could turn out to be not a bullet at all, but a delicious morsel, and you’ll never know if you don’t try.

iPhone

When people hear that I run marathons, a common follow-up question is: How do you run that far?

I’ve learned that it’s best to not pull any punches. Brutal honesty is the best policy. “Well,” I answer, “I put one foot in front of the other. And then I keep doing it.”

Okay, I’m not always that smart-alecky. But that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? There aren’t any magic tricks or shortcuts. Training fads come and go. All the wisdom and cleverly-spun observations of the great runner-philosophers will not put your shoes on and lift your foot to take that first step. You do it yourself.

I ran 18 miles last Saturday, and it was…long. The first half felt fine. I was taking it slow, but that was the plan. I reached my turnaround point, sucked down my chocolate energy gel and felt optimistic.

It turns out my legs had other plans. As the miles progressed, they felt more and more leaden. Not to mention I felt that old familiar feeling in my belly — you know the one; the feeling that automatically makes every toilet and adequately-discreet shrub in a 5-mile radius disappear? Yep.

I tried every tactic I could think of. I ran tall. I told myself, This has been a good run and will continue to be a good run. I prayed for any friend or loved one who popped into my mind. As I entered the last two miles, though, it became clear: I could muster every psychological trick in the book, but the only thing that would get those miles covered would be the simple — almost cruelly so — act of me putting one foot in front of the other to move forward.

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I finished the run, even managing a few smiles at passers-by (well, I tried to smile. If you saw me and were frightened, I’m sorry). I found a Porta-Potty (no more detail there, I promise). And I was reminded that really, truly, there’s no secret of how to run, whatever the distance. It all boils down to just doing it.

There’s a passage in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when one of the main characters confesses to her mother in a letter that she’s afraid she doesn’t know how to love. The mother responds, “Do you think any of us know how to love?! Do you think anybody would ever do anything if they waited until they knew how to love?!…God knows how to love, Kiddo. The rest of us are only good actors.”

It also reminds me of a recent Kristin Armstrong column in which she writes about the value of simply moving forward when you don’t know what else to do in life.

If running doesn’t exemplify that, I don’t know what does.

With running, there’s no “Aha!” moment where you snap your fingers and say “There, I’ve studied and queried and observed enough; now I’m ready to start.” There’s no mystery to it. That’s one of the reasons why I love it.

So if you’re thinking about lacing up running shoes for the first time, or increasing your distance, go for it! It may not always be easy, or pretty, but it’s not as complicated as it may seem.

My First Gun Show

I was mildly alarmed when I saw that the gun show was directly across the street from a Cat Show, especially since Robin Hood and a lot of other gun owners are self-professed dog people. But I was determined to keep an optimistic and open mind. I was here to learn things, engage in some stellar people-watching, and maybe even enjoy myself.

Robin Hood and I walked through the doors of the Expo New Mexico building and immediately had to check in — that is, Robin Hood had to get his guns tagged. Before you go thinking that my boyfriend is the kind of man who routinely swaggers around dripping with firearms, know that gun shows (as I have officially learned!) are the kind of event where you can not only buy guns, but also sell them, whether to vendors or other “average Joe” attendees. The authorities, understandably, want to keep track of which firearms are being taken into and out of the show, thus the need for the tags.

Once Robin Hood and the guns he wanted to sell had completed that staging process, we paid our admission, and…

Whoa.

I can’t think of an entirely fitting comparison for what spread before us. It was somewhere between the pre-race expo of a large marathon and an indoor flea market. There were people and guns everywhere. The people spanned all kinds and all ages, and the guns? Actually, the same can be said of the guns. And there weren’t just guns. There were gun accessories. There were tables stacked high with neatly-arranged towers of ammunition boxes. There were books about guns. There were conceal/carry purses for the ladies. There were, God bless them, jewelry vendors.

I tried my best to look casual, although it’s hard to look casual when you have a pellet gun slung against your shoulder while your man examines rifles. We moseyed our way up and down the aisles, Robin Hood chatting with the vendors, poking around the displays and trying to strike deals, and me trying to absorb at least a fraction of what I saw and heard. Let’s just say I was glad the show had food and coffee vendors.

The one thing lacking, which I would have loved to see, was a booth geared toward women (the conceal/carry purse vendors notwithstanding). I know there are LOTS of women out there who are expert gun handlers and don’t need or want special catering. However, I bet there are also LOTS of women out there who are brand-new to this whole gun thing, who are curious, who fully understand the seriousness of guns, who do not wish to be judged for considering a pink gun, and who would frankly appreciate a tiny bit of special catering.

Just sayin’.

After three and a half hours, Robin Hood and I had finally had our fill. He had sold several guns, so he was happy. I had found a treasure of my own (not a gun — not this time), so I was happy.

Would I go to another gun show? Sure I would. I learned a lot, I met some interesting people, and I got to see Robin Hood in his element.

As for the cats across the street? Don’t worry. They were fine.

gunring

Root vs. Reach

As you no doubt can glean from the title of my blog, I have a thing for sunflowers.

I especially like the ones that really tower, that grow alone or in patches to heights over six feet. Talk about extending yourself! Whenever I see flowers that tall, I’m impressed by two things. One is obviously that height. Two is this: just how deep and far must that root system go? And then I wonder: how do those sunflowers, or any plants for that matter, know when to push their roots down, and when to reach up? Or does the process happen simultaneously to achieve that perfect balance?

I envy the plant world that balance. When I’m confronted with a challenge, I teeter like a novice gymnast on a balance beam. Am I ready to take that big step forward? Am I strong enough to change directions? Am I capable of just letting loose and successfully executing a hop-twist-flip maneuver? Or…

Or is it better to just stand still on the beam, maybe crouch in a tuck, maybe even (!) climb off the beam for a moment?

The same dilemma applies when I’ve passed the point of confrontation with a challenge and I’m struggling in the middle of it. To press on (there is character being built here!), or…not?

I’m all for building character, but at what point does all that freshly-built character resemble nothing so much as an impressive but extremely unstable tower of Jenga blocks? Character — hard-earned, more often than not — deserves the chance to be reinforced before even more is piled on unchecked.

At the same time, though, who’s going to come out and say that building character is a bad thing? It makes us better people; it humbles us and strengthens us and, quite frankly, probably makes us better-looking. At least that’s what I like to tell myself when I return from a run with sweat, snot and spit all over my face.

Thus the need for a balance.

I have days when I come home from work exhausted, with seven kinds of hissy fit simmering just below my surface. On those days, I hear my name being called with equal amounts of sweetness by a nap, a good book, and a tall glass of wine, while the thing I’m supposed to do (go for a run) just sort of stands there with its hands in its pockets, not calling my name at all. But I opt for the run (sighing and muttering as I tie my shoes) and it works like magic to restore my equilibrium.

Then I have days when I come home from work exhausted, and I take the day off from running. Or I opt to not go out and be social, or not run errands, or whatever the plan was. Instead, I relax. I put my feet up. I cook something simple and filling, usually involving cheese. I read that book, I have that glass of wine, I go to bed early, and guess what? It works like magic to restore my equilibrium.

I’m nowhere near adept as a sunflower at knowing when to root and when to reach. But I can learn from it: I can keep aiming towards the light, with an uncomplicated trust that everything will work out just fine.

Bosque State of Mind

Running in short sleeves and shorts in mid-February has a slightly bizarre, dream-like quality to it.

Apologies to everyone living in a colder place, but Albuquerque has been idling in a warm spell, with afternoon temperatures reaching the upper 60s. And the wind has been downright subdued. [Now I have to apologize to everyone in Albuquerque in case I just jinxed us.] This weather is unnatural, doesn’t help the drought, and probably means something ominous in terms of global warming.

Probably. But I like it.

Almost as foreign to me as the weather is my recent return to the Bosque. I know the word “bosque” isn’t Albuquerque-centric, but here in the Duke City it refers to the land/trees alongside the Rio Grande. It boasts woodland trails and some neat scenery, but one of its most prominent features is a paved path that extends for miles. The path is used by cyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladers, and the occasional coyote. It’s long, straight, and flat, with equal power to soothe a runner and make her question her sanity.

Between the risk of the latter and the fact that running on that path requires me to drive to it (I admit I’m spoiled by where I live), I’ve avoided it for the last couple of years. But my legs have been asking, politely and not-so-politely, for a break from the rolling hills of my neighborhood, so I’m giving them one.

I’ve done two long runs on the Bosque path now. It’s a change from my usual route, no doubt about that — not just the terrain, but the people. The Bosque’s central location attracts more of a mix. There are Official Training Groups. There are shiny new runners, some who brave it solo and some with friends encouraging them. There are Ethiopians and Kenyans. There are folks on long runs, and folks taking advantage of the path’s quarter-mile markers to do some quality speed training. There are professional race-walkers. There are gobs of cyclists.

That’s just the people. There’s also a field where two alpacas live. And last week, towards the end of my run, I passed a field full of resting Sandhill cranes. Shortly after finishing the run, I saw another flock of cranes (maybe the same ones?) gracefully descend onto a pond while others wheeled above, eventually flying off to who knows where.

Why do some of our most poetic experiences happen when we’re at our most tired and sweaty?

Somewhere on that run, between seeing a runner-mom stop to point out ducks to her child and seeing those cranes flying above me, I let go. I let go of my prejudice against the Bosque path; I let go of my stubborn loyalty to my usual routes. I realized, Hey, if the cranes are comfortable here, why shouldn’t I be? I began to entertain a new attitude:

The Bosque state of mind.

It goes like this: Flat and straight is okay. A change of scenery is okay, especially when it means dealing with much fewer intersections and stoplights than I normally have to. A busy path dotted by people of all athletic abilities is better than okay — it’s something to marvel at, and savor.

Kind of like wearing shorts in the middle of February.

Sweetheart

It’s a situation every girl imagines. She pictures it in full detail: the season, the clothes, the hairstyle, the food, the audience in attendance, and of course, the person beside her when she lifts her head, smiles, takes that first step…

…And runs a 5k with her boyfriend.

Okay, that’s a stretch. By “every girl,” I mean “possibly just me.” At any rate, you can bet that last month, when I realized Albuquerque’s annual Sweetheart Run was coming up, and I just happened to have a man in my life, who just happened to have accompanied me on multiple running adventures already, I just happened to make short work of getting us registered for the 5k. As a team.

Yes, I asked him if he wanted to do it.

At least I think I asked him.

I may have asked him.

I was excited. This was the first time that Robin Hood and I would actually run a race side-by-side, instead of me bee-lining to a given event’s 10k or half-marathon, leaving him to square off against the 5k. Sure, we’ve run together once or twice a week for a while now, but as any runner knows, even if it’s a distance and a companion you’re wholly familiar with, it’s just different when you add numbers, safety pins, timing chips and official starting lines to the mix.

It heightens your senses. I felt almost shy standing there waiting for the race director to send us on our way. I wondered what “5k Robin Hood” would be like. Heck, what would I be like running a race with my boyfriend? Would I push the pace too hard? Would he outkick me at the end? Would he get irritated if I talked too much? And why oh why hadn’t I thought to plan matching outfits???

When the starting horn sounded, we trotted off much like we do on our weekday running dates. Only this time, we wore those numbers and safety pins and timing chips. We added to our mix, and the result?

The result was that his 5k-self and my sharing-5k-with-boyfriend-self proved no different than our regular selves. And that was cool.

The result was that the pace never got pushed too hard. He did launch into a marvelous kick at the end, but then he waited for me so we could finish together. That was cool, too.

But the coolest result? To put it simply, and to prevent the gushing from triggering my own gag reflex, I got to share one of my favorite Sunday-morning activities with one of my favorite people. He even claimed to have enjoyed it.

It was a definite plus that there was food at the end.

It was a definite BIG plus that there were lots of ducks and geese about to distract a certain hunter from his post-race discomfort.

Try sharing something you love with someone you love, whether or not that love is romantic. It may open new levels of the relationship, or it may just reinforce levels that already exist. Either way, add a little something to the mix. I can almost guarantee you’ll make it sweeter.

P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day, Robin Hood! I love you, even if you don’t want to wear matching outfits.

Sweetheart

Expectations

I’ve lived in Albuquerque for seven years now.

Funny how life can take our expectations and just shake them senseless before handing them back to us.

I never intended to live here this long. I was thinking…maybe…four years. When I was ready to leave Florida, my brother suggested Albuquerque as a place where I could figure out what I wanted to do next. In my head, I billed it as Shannon’s Western Adventure! I expected that I would hang out in the desert, work a quirky job for a little while, then move on, or maybe head back East.

Riiiight.

Instead, I’m still here, in the same apartment where I unloaded my worldly possessions back in 2007. Yes, I admit to feeling a frustrating stagnation occasionally, but I certainly don’t think it’s geography-related. In the past seven years I’ve come to love things like Balloon Fiesta, green chile, the sunsets and the foothills. I’ve even begun to accept the wind.

I’m still working the job that I landed a couple of months after moving here. Do I see myself spending the rest of my professional life there? NO. Are there days when I want to pretend my computer is a discus? Yup. But I’m not ready to leave quite yet. I’ve worked, and continue to work, with some of the best people I’ve ever met, and the job is teaching me unarguably useful skills. Skills like patience. And dealing with cranky customers. And choosing my battles. Priceless, all of them.

I did expect that I would still be running, but I did not expect that I would have trained for six marathons out here. I most definitely did not expect that after training for those six marathons, I would PR in none of them [altitude training, my fanny!]. Disappointing? Sure. But my love for running has grown stronger, and my approach to it has — or so I like to think — gotten smarter. In Albuquerque, I’ve begun to learn there’s more to running than PRs and proving “toughness.” There’s meeting other members of the running community, appreciating the scenery, and realizing that acting “tough” usually leads to injury, which leads to gazing wistfully at other runners traipsing around the trails. I’ve learned that much better than “toughness” is longevity. And as I continually adjust and re-adjust my expectations for my next marathon, let me tell you, that is one comforting thought.

Romance-wise, I admit to being one of those women who thought she would be married by the age of 30. I don’t know if I expected to meet Mr. Right in Albuquerque or not, but once 30 came and went with no ring on my left hand, I re-set my expectations. I did my best to swallow all the “it will happen when the time is right” stuff, and made the motions of getting on with my life. Lo and behold, I met Robin Hood last spring…and my new expectations? Well, it’s hard to say when he keeps exceeding them. Sheesh. Men.

What becomes of our expectations usually has us scratching our heads — sometimes, laughing out loud. People say “let go of expectations.” I say don’t let go of them. I say let them go. Set them free, because they might come back and give you more than you ever imagined.

Outside

With Robin Hood chasing oryxes (oryces?) around Alamogordo last weekend, I did what any sensible woman would do when her boyfriend leaves town: I packed my bags, filled my tank, and got out of Dodge myself.

Instead of Alamogordo, though, I pointed my car north, toward the slightly chillier climes of Alamosa, Colorado. Both town names allude to cottonwoods, which I find kind of poetic.

Anyway.

I went to Alamosa to visit my sister and her husband, knowing full well that the temperatures there would range from -10 to the mid-20s, and also knowing full well that those temperatures would not keep us indoors. These are the kind of people that Erin and Adam are, and I love them for it.

Spending time outside is a non-negotiable for me. Even on days of truly wretched weather, if I don’t go outside at least a little bit — taking out my trash or walking the short distance to and from my apartment complex’s laundry room totally counts, by the way — I feel strange. Almost guilty, as though I’ve let a day go by wasted. Outside equals fresh air; a change in scenery; a release from surrounding walls. It makes my life better.

Of course, “outside” can extend beyond just stepping through a door. Sometimes that kind of outside doesn’t cut it. Sometimes we need to go outside our towns, even outside our countries, whether temporarily or permanently. We need that change. And it doesn’t have to be brand-spanking-new, I-don’t-speak-the-language, what-is-going-on change. It can be familiar change.

I like visiting Alamosa because, other than the fact that I enjoy spending time with family, it’s precisely that: familiar change. I know the route by heart, from optimal departure times to the best place to stop for a restroom break, and I know that, for whatever reason, I’ll sleep like a rock for the duration of my visit, which is nice. Familiar. What’s also nice is the change. Alamosa is smaller, colder, flatter, and slightly higher in elevation than Albuquerque. Running on the dirt trails up there, seeing microherds of deer and passing fields still blanketed by glittery November snow [did I mention it was cold?], it’s hard to cling to worries that originated three and a half hours away.

But “outside” doesn’t have to be geographic at all. Lord knows it’s trendy and heavily encouraged these days to step outside your comfort zone. I’m almost sick of hearing about it, but the thing is, making that step really is beneficial. Inside the comfort zone lies, well, comfort. It’s taking a hot shower and then wrapping yourself in blankets and eating lots of hot food when the weather turns icky. Outside that comfort zone lie adventures, challenges, and previously-undiscovered strength. Outside that comfort zone lie new friendships, great romances, testing yourself, and passing that test. Outside that comfort zone lies dealing with icky weather. Outside that comfort zone lies GROWTH.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

I for one wholeheartedly admit that it’s a concept and practice that I’m still working on.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if outside was our comfort zone?

I’m happy to report: we successfully ran 12 miles in Alamosa without losing any appendages to frostbite. And Robin Hood got his oryx!

Seeking The Quiet

Over Christmas vacation, there was a moment when three or four of us were sitting in my parents’ living room, each of us reading a book. It was quiet.

On a more recent evening, Robin Hood and I sat side by side, each of us reading a book. It was quiet.

Both of these moments made me feel cozy and secure. Like being in a snug, warm nest. I loved it. I want more.

Maybe it’s a reaction to the rush of the holidays, or maybe as I get older I’m just increasingly content to stay home instead of constantly striving to find the most fun and excitement possible. I’ve done that striving thing before. I’ve done it often. It is fun, and it is exciting, but it also…wears thin.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing away all of my party clothes yet. I’m not about to become a hermit; I still love to have a good time and I intend to have plenty more fabulous adventures in the years to come. But between all those adventures, isn’t it nice to have a time — and a place – where you can rest a spell? Maybe it’s a physical rest, maybe it’s just a mental rest, but the idea of a
rest – of a nest – is one I cling to.

In order for that idea to take and maintain its shape, though, it requires attention. We have to take care of our nests; otherwise, they’ll fall into disarray – and so will the coziness and security we associate with them. I take this partially on a literal level. If my apartment gets too cluttered, I get tense. I have a hard time relaxing in my living room knowing that there is a full-on mess in my bedroom. If I leave too many dishes in the sink, a gentle guilt tugs at me every time I walk by them until they get washed. And there goes my snug state of mind. I’ve accepted that my apartment will never be in Better Homes and Gardens, but as long it’s moderately tidy, I’m much happier.

But non-literal nests count as much as the literal ones. Probably more so. Consider how often the general public sees the inside of your home. Now consider how often the general public sees you. When you’re in public, you’re a reflection of your frame of mind, your mental nest. And if your mental nest is a mess? I think many of us have been there, and I think we can all agree that it’s never good.

Seeking quiet, whatever little pockets of it we can find, patches the lining of our mental nests.

For me, running is one of the best ways to find the quiet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a three-mile or twelve-mile run. When I put on my running clothes and step outside, I step into my mental nest. Sometimes it’s just to take a survey of the grounds. Sometimes I dive into that nest, eager for its comforts. And sometimes I enter it with sleeves rolled up, knowing the place needs serious organization.

Whatever the situation, somewhere in the middle of it, I find what I’m looking for:

The quiet.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always curling up with a book.

Where do you find your quiet?

The Stalk

Robin Hood has a great story about a bear hunt he went on last summer. To put it briefly: after trailing a bear for some time, he got within 10 yards of it. He readied his bow, crouched to take his shot…and his knee popped. The bear fled.

Frustrating? YES. But Robin Hood says that was one of the coolest experiences of his life.

Marathon training can be like stalking a wild animal. You prepare perfectly. You have your goal in sight. You have that sense, that little quiet certainty, that things are going your way. And then something pops. Maybe it’s not a knee; maybe it’s suddenly horrid weather, or sickness, or — shudder — a race cancellation. Or maybe it is an injury.

Training doesn’t always go according to plan. Actually, in my experience, it rarely goes according to plan. But we’re talking about multiple months of your life here. Is it really worth spending that much of your time fretting over every little hiccup along the way?

Nope.

I’m not saying it doesn’t stink when obstacles pop up — when it seems that your goal, like Robin Hood’s bear, has skedaddled. It does stink, and it happens to all of us. But all that it means is that we need to adjust our perspective. Instead of just focusing on the end goal, it’s beneficial to occasionally direct our gaze to the process leading up to the goal. The whole “life’s a journey, not a destination” idea has become a cliche, but that’s because it’s true.

How do we pull off that occasional focus readjustment? And I say “occasional” because goals are, in fact, good to have. They’re usually the whole reason we’re training in the first place, right? I think it makes sense to start the way we start most things: small. When we’re cramming that training run in after work and we’re frustrated with the lack of daylight, we can take a moment to appreciate the sunset. When we’re stocking up on oh-so-appetizing energy gels, we can take the opportunity to try new flavors. If, during these winter months, we get a break in the weather, we can savor every second of it. And if we have a truly sensational training run, especially one that surprises us (maybe we were tired or cranky or just plain busy beforehand), we can celebrate it! We can treat ourselves to an indulgent meal, or buy a pair of those fancy-shmancy socks we’ve been eying!

Just as walking quietly on a hunt gets easier with practice, so does appreciating the process of a training cycle. And the cool part is, as we get more in-tune with the process, we get more in tune with everything — namely, ourselves. And getting more in-tune with ourselves means…well, I’m no scientist, but I’d guess that means we become better at training. Which means a better likelihood of attaining that goal. Hooray!

Anything can happen during training. Maybe, at some point, your goal will imitate that bear and slip away. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy every bit of the stalk. Because there’s an excellent chance that your goal isn’t gone for good; it’s just gone into hiding. And if you just relax and give it a minute, it will poke its head right back out at you.

I had a special moment at the grocery store last week: I bought tart cherry juice for the first time since April. In my world, that means another marathon training cycle has settled in to roost.

Marathon training means becoming hyper-aware of your body: its energy, its appetites, its sluggishness, its tinglings, its singing (yes, bodies can sing), and everyone’s favorite: its discomforts.

A little soreness is inevitable, especially for those of us who already have a marathon or eleven under our belts. I think our legs, with experience, grow more apprehensive. They’re quicker to realize, “Hey, we’re not getting a massage…we’re training for another marathon! *&#@!!”

So the discomforts must be dealt with. Foam rollers are great. But sometimes, we need a little more. In which case A) We can take anti-inflammatory pills like it’s going out of style, or B) We can take to the refrigerator!

Yep, there are lots of foods that reduce inflammation. I like to remind myself of them at the start of each marathon training cycle, so I thought I’d share a few. I owe thanks to www.runnersworld.com and www.health.com for the information.

DISCLAIMERS: 1) I’m not a doctor. If you see anything below that’s incorrect, please correct me! And 2) All the cherry juice in the world will not cure you of an actual injury.

Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation.

Dark Chocolate has lots of magical things called flavonols (they’re also in milk chocolate, but to a lesser extent). Research suggests that these ease inflammation.

Basil, Garlic, Onions, and Olive Oil all work in a manner similar to NSAIDs [anything in the ibuprofen family], shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation.

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which reduces levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood.

Dark green veggies, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens all contain vitamins that play a key role in protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules.

Nuts, particularly almonds and walnuts. Almonds are rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamin E, and walnuts have high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat. I know, it’s science-y – but it all just translates to “inflammation fighters.”

Soy contains isoflavones, which can help lower inflammation levels, especially in women.

Hot peppers (like chili and cayenne) have lots of capsaicin, a chemical that reduces pain and inflammation. **NOTE, however: peppers are nightshade vegetables, which may exacerbate inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Tomatoes also reduce inflammation, but they, too, are a nightshade vegetable.

Beets and beetroot juice can reduce inflammation due to their fiber, vitamin C and plant pigments called betalains.

Ginger and turmeric. Turmeric helps to turn off NF-kappa B, a protein that regulates the immune system and triggers the process of inflammation. Ginger, meanwhile, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the intestines. Which could make those long runs much more comfortable. Just sayin’.

Berries have anti-inflammatory properties, possibly because of anthocyanins, the powerful chemicals that give them their rich color. Especially raspberries, blueberries, and….

Tart cherries. In a 2012 presentation, Oregon Health & Science University researchers suggested that tart cherries have the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.” ‘Nuff said!

What other foods should I add to my list?

cherry

Hello, 2014

Well, well, well! Here we are at the dawn of another new year. Like most people, I took time this past week to think about 2013. And I can say (with some surprise; it’s amazing what a little reflection will help you realize) that it was one of my best years in recent memory. Sparing you the minute details, I think the most fitting phrase to describe my 2013 is open door. Sometimes the open door served to let out; other times, the open door served to let in.

And it was good.

So far, the word that best sums up my feelings about the new year is curiosity. In the mild sluggishness of my mind that always descends after Christmas, when I return to my quiet apartment after being surrounded by the sensory-stimulating bliss of family, questions drift about. How will my marathon training go? How will my first-ever European vacation (a trip to France in May, woohoo!) go? What new friends will I make this year? And the most pressing question: what in the world will happen this season on Downton Abbey?

Maybe when the jet lag wears off or my coffee kicks in a little more, I’ll feel that ol’ New Year’s burst of enthusiasm, but for now, I’m content with curiosity. Curiosity paves the way for action and exploration, but leaves room (kind of like putting a pretty median in the street) for some careful consideration. I don’t think grand, dramatic resolutions do that. Grand resolutions are more like superhighways with no median whatsoever.

At work, at the end of each year I have to complete one of those dreaded Performance Evaluations. Frankly, I would rather go to the dentist, optometrist, and gynecologist all in one day than tackle a Performance Evaluation. But it’s mandatory, and believe it or not, I’ve found that one portion of it can actually be applied to reflections about the past year and thoughts for the upcoming one. It’s called “Start, Stop, Continue.” It’s pretty self-explanatory. My “Start, Stop, Continue” for 2013/2014 goes like this:

START: Going to church on a regular basis again. I pray and I have faith, but actually attending Mass provides affirmation and comfort that are mighty difficult to find at home, at yoga, on a run, or anywhere else.

STOP: Trying to earn my own inner Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on a daily basis, for pete’s sake. Also STOP thinking that I should look like the Runner’s World cover girls. Perfection is dull, not to mention exhausting.

CONTINUE: That “open door” metaphor I mentioned earlier. I want to continue to open myself to let out what I don’t need, and open myself even wider to let in what I do.

I don’t expect that I’ll be accomplishing all of those overnight. Or over a week, or a month. But in my curiosity about the new year, as I wonder about events to come and start proceeding forward, I’ll have those things to consider. I’ll have those pretty medians in the street to guide me, graciously.

What would your “Start, Stop, Continue” look like?

Happy 2014!

Two years ago, I got a wild hair and decided to take a crack at putting a runner’s spin on a classic Christmas poem. Call it nostalgia or lack of a better idea for a Christmas post, but I just felt like re-publishing it. Here goes:

Runner’s Night Before Christmas
Or
A Visit from Coach Nicholas

Based on the poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town
Not a runner was stirring, their Garmins powered down.
The Balegas were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Coach Nick soon would be there.

The sprinters were curled up, snug in their beds,
While visions of starting blocks danced in their heads.
And the marathoners in compression socks and triathletes in swim caps,
Had all elevated their legs for a post-long-run nap.

When from the piles of old running shoes, there came such a clatter,
I shuffled achily out of bed to see what was the matter.
Armed with a massage stick, I peered outside,
If not for my noisy creaking joints, I could hide!

The moon on the running shoeprint crisscrossed snow
Gave the shine of a finisher’s medal to objects below.
When, what to my raccoon-tan-lined eyes should appear,
But a miniature press van, and eight high-arched reindeer!

With a lean, steel-abbed leader, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be COACH NICK!
Faster than Kenyans his harriers they came,
And he cheered, and rang cowbells, and called them by name!

“Now Deena! Now, Kara! Now, Shalane and Lauren!
On Ryan, on Meb, on Mo, and on Dathan!
To the top of the hill, conquer that wall!
Now use your kicks to dash away, dash away all!”

As empty Gu packets that after the water stop fly,
When they’re tossed by a racer, float to the sky,
So up to the housetop the harriers they flew,
With the little van full of running toys, and a wise coach, too.

And then, like a starter’s gun, I heard on the roof
The stridings and high-knees of each calloused hoof.
As I scratched my pony-tailed head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Coach Nick came with a bound!

He was dressed in technical fabric, from his head to his toe,
And his clothes were all reflective (safe and stylish, don’t you know).
A bundle of running gadgets he had flung on his back,
Like a race expo vendor, with tons of merch on the rack.

His eyes – clad in Oakleys! His nose with a Breathe-Right!
He sported a headlamp to see in the night!
His well-chapsticked mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And his retro painter’s gloves were whiter than snow.

A well-stocked fuel belt he wore snug ‘round his waist,
And his head in a toasty Beanie was encased.
He had a long stride and a feather-light tread,
And brand-new shoes in a festive shade of red!

He was tall and fit, a picture-perfect old coach,
I didn’t dare laugh, for fear of reproach.
But he carried no stopwatch, nor menacing glance.
This wasn’t a hard workout, but a relaxed circumstance!

He chomped down a PowerBar, then got to the task at hand,
Filling those socks with visors, and BodyGlide, and fresh new hairbands.
Then, laying his finger aside of his nose,
Blew a righteous snot rocket, and up the chimney he rose!

With an explosive sprint to the little van, Coach Nick whistled,
And away his team ran, like long-distance missiles.
But I heard Coach exclaim, ‘ere they raced out of sight,
“PRs and sound bodies to all, and to all a good-night!”

Everything I Need

I walked into the lobby of the Cloud 9 Divine Hot Yoga studio and began peeling off layers like an onion. Gloves, jacket, long-sleeved shirt, short-sleeved shirt, sneakers, socks, windpants. Nothing like hot yoga in the wintertime!

As soon as I walked into the “hot room,” though, I forgot all about the cold weather outside. The warmth that I hadn’t felt in way too long enveloped me like a cocoon. I realized how much I’d missed it. I missed my favorite spot in the back row. And I’d missed rolling my mat out with a happy little anticipation very similar to what I feel when I’m lacing up my running shoes.

I had gotten to class early. I laid on my mat and dozed, er, centered my thoughts, thinking how nice it was to just be still. No stressful work environment, no constantly updating my mental list of things to do before Christmas. Just stillness.

The instructor, Jason, strolled in, and class began. I’ve been in one or two of his classes before, and I’ve decided that I am perfectly okay with his sometimes-hard-to-understand accent, because a) the accent is actually quite entertaining (“‘A-gaze’? What the heck is an ‘a-gaze’? Oh, EYE-gaze!”) and b) Jason is blessedly merciful when it comes to the downward dog position. As in, doesn’t make the class hold it for what feels like five hours.

We stretched, reached and balanced our way through the positions. Per my habit in hot yoga, I concentrated primarily on breathing. I’m finding that just breathing gets you through quite a lot in life. Car sliding on ice? Just breathe. Watching your boyfriend clean animals after a hunt for the first time? Just breathe. Grappling with a challenging yoga pose? Just breathe. Just breathe and everything will be perfectly….

…Uggggghhh.

Okay, sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it gets too hard, breathing isn’t enough, and you have to STOP MOVING and just take a moment. You have to take the proverbial (or literal) knee. One of the great things about yoga, though, is that it teaches us that this is okay. It is okay to pause. When we pause, we reconnect. With our sweat-dampened mats, with our breathing, and with ourselves.

Towards the end of class, Jason delivered some nuggets of wisdom. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist goes like this: “Everything you want, everything you need, all love, is already within you. Sometimes we get distracted by our senses — our eyes, nose, and ears may make us think we want or need something, but everything we need is already inside us.”

I like that. All we need is love, and it’s already inside us. It’s ours for the discovering, the nurturing, and above all, the sharing.

After class, I layered clothes back on. I braced myself for the chilly re-entry (re-exit?), and part of that bracing was promising myself that I would carry Jason’s counsel through the holiday season. If my flights get delayed, it will be okay. If I don’t get exactly what I want for Christmas, it will be okay. If my running consistency slips a little during vacation, it will be okay.

I already have everything I need.

I wish everyone a peaceful week, safe travels, and plenty of time to pause.

…marathon training!

I’ll be honest, running and I have had a complicated relationship lately. On one hand, there have been days – more than I’d like to admit – when it feels like running is just one more item on a long to-do list. One more thing to check off, one more task to just get done. On the other hand, during frenetic times like the holidays, my appreciation for running increases tenfold. It doesn’t matter if I do a bare minimum distance, or run a little faster than wisdom would dictate because of a tight schedule. I go for a run. Why? Frankly, I’m starting to finally learn the true value of “me time” and, as so many other runners already know, running offers a spectacular means to that end. I cling to that notion and because I do, I’m thankfully able to keep running on a basis that kinda-sorta resembles regular.

So the runs get done. Even when they feel like a chore.

It’s funny, though, how the light can shine through and bop you right on the nose when you least expect it. It happens a lot this time of year. You know what I mean: when you’re running late, stuck in traffic, ready to tear the fake reindeer antlers from the hood of a stranger’s car, and then all of a sudden your favorite version of “Silent Night” comes on the radio. Or you’re standing in line at Starbucks, twitching because the person in front of you ordered seven eggnog lattes, and then you learn that they’ve paid for your order. Stuff like that.

It happens in running, too.

Like I said, my running has lately had a “just do it” tinge. Nothing particularly poetic (except for gorgeous New Mexico sunsets); not even any creative new running routes. But the other day, I was running along in the cold late-afternoon air, thinking about a thousand different things, wiping my nose with my gloved hand, when I felt something in my legs.

No, nothing bad. A pep. I felt a pep in them. The best comparison I can think of is that very first warm-ish breeze, towards the end of winter, that means spring will come. It doesn’t mean that it will come the next day, or that there won’t be any more freezes, but that spring will come eventually. It’s a tiny promise, but a glorious one.

Right before the start of marathon training, it’s common for runners to feel a little uncertain. Whether or not they’ve run marathons before, the questions arise: “Can I do this? Can I go from running however I want to running based on a training plan? Is there room in my life for marathon training?”

What a pleasant surprise, then, to be running along, and then suddenly realize that instead of reflecting your mental doubts, your legs at that moment feel downright energetic! Like you could turn a four-mile run into an eight-miler, easily!

My legs that day were like that kind person at Starbucks. They were like that first warm breeze.

Marathon training begins for me in a little over a week. I’m a little uncertain, and winter will remain for a while, but I’m keeping that peppy run in my heart.

It was a tiny promise, but a glorious one.

The cold air hovered, ready and waiting for me. It pinched my cheeks, nipped my nose, and kissed my eyelids.

I tugged at my knit cap and scrunched further into my sleeping bag. From the cot next to mine, Robin Hood’s voice floated, muffled by layers of blankets.

“Are you warm enough?”

“I’m fine,” I answered, since my brain cells and vocal cords were too chilled to produce really satisfactory profanity.

We hunkered down. We were in Texas, in a cabin on land owned by Robin Hood’s family. Our mission: for him to hunt deer the next day, and for me to watch and learn. The cabin is a work in progress. It has insulation but no heating system, save a propane device that, hilariously, decided to start leaking right when we needed it. Out went the propane. On went layers of clothing and blankets. Lots of them. I aimed grim warnings at my bladder to stay calm so that I wouldn’t need to make a shivery trip to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

Yup, hunting is fun stuff.

Sometime before sunrise, the alarm went off. I heaved myself out of bed and into more layers of clothing with more speed than I’ve shown in a long time that early in the morning. It was a good thing, too: we were racing the sun. I hastily slurped down some instant coffee (the cabin does have a microwave, thank God), scooted to the outhouse (if one can “scoot” in layers similar to Randy’s in A Christmas Story), and we were off to Robin Hood’s tree stand.

If you’re not familiar with tree stands, picture a rudimentary tall-ish ladder, topped by a small bench, in or very close to…you guessed it…a tree. I eyed the contraption warily as we approached, conscious of my unwieldy outfit, general clumsiness, and occasional mistrust of heights. But there was no time for any fretting. The sun was rising, deer were potentially lurking about, and Robin Hood was standing there asking me if I wanted to go up first.

Okay, then.

I clambered up the ladder and angled myself onto the bench. Robin Hood followed with his bow and arrows, and blankets that we arranged under and over ourselves. The bench had a rail around it, giving me a small but much appreciated sense of security.

Then we sat.

You’ve probably heard stories of folks on tree stands suffering from a combination of bitterly cold temperatures and boredom. I had braced myself, but surprisingly, two hours went by fairly quickly. I guess all those layers paid off – and as for boredom, taking time out of a busy schedule to sit quietly outside, with an attractive gentleman no less, really isn’t a bad way to spend a morning. I watched birds, prayed, whispered occasional comments to Robin Hood, and of course looked for deer.

The deer, it turned out, had gone somewhere else for breakfast. After a while, Robin Hood decided it was time to exit the tree stand and patrol the woods. We walked around for a bit, then went back to the cabin.

We wouldn’t go back out to hunt till just before sunset, so we had time to kill. Robin Hood had brought a couple of guns along, including a .22 pistol. We plinked away at some cans and plastic water bottles, which provided me some target practice and provided a cottontail rabbit a possible stroke – he shot out of the brush right next to where we were shooting immediately after the last round was fired!

A little later, Robin Hood’s parents and brother joined us, bringing lunch and good company. We relaxed, visited, and enjoyed the warmer afternoon temperatures. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for the evening hunt.

Robin Hood chose to swap his bow and arrows for a rifle, and the tree stand for a reportedly prime ground spot. We set ourselves up at the spot and again sat quietly.

The air cooled. The sky pinkened. Coyotes howled – not just the yips that I’m used to hearing, but howls. I didn’t even care about the cramps in my legs. It’s not every day that you can be a true witness to nature, and I was having a great time.

And then I looked up the hill. And there she was: a doe, paused for a moment on the hilltop. I knew I wasn’t supposed to make noise, so I sort of quietly swatted at Robin Hood until he confirmed that yes, he saw the deer. He aimed his rifle. The doe walked briskly towards a patch of trees. He got up and stalked silently after her, murmuring for me to stay put. I stayed put, and nearly gave myself whiplash as I first turned my head uphill to keep up with the doe stalk, then downhill to see if any other deer presented themselves, then back uphill.

No dice. Robin Hood came back shaking his head – the doe had been too quick. The sky darkened, with no other deer sightings.

We called it a day, packed up, and headed back to Fort Worth. The hunt had been fruitless, but the experience? Far from it. I got my first real taste of the world of hunting. I can’t say that I love it yet, but I would definitely go back for seconds.

Just maybe with a functioning heater.

Pie from a Turkey

Albuquerque had its first snowfall on Friday night. The overcast pall and the steadily dropping temperatures made it seem like a sure bet, but still, when I peered outside and saw the white stuff on Saturday morning, I got excited. Snow! Hot chocolate! Bundling up for runs and coming back red-faced and smelling like the wind! The HOLIDAYS!

I had to experience this first-of-the-season winter wonderland for myself, so I pulled on my layers and headed out the door for a leisurely weekend morning run. I eagerly anticipated cold air, a few flurries in my face, and my feet padding over snow or maybe, if the air was warm enough, benign levels of slush. You know, one of those Norman Rockwell running scenes.

I got a slap in the face instead.

Soft snow? Benign slush? Try black ice and large puddles. A few flurries in the face? Try wind gusts of – conservative estimate here, and living in Albuquerque for nearly seven years, I know my wind – 35 mph, pelting me with stinging little granules of snow from seemingly every direction. It snatched my breath away, leaving me gasping, and reduced me to walking more than once. During one such moment, squinting against the granules, leaning at a slightly unnatural angle, it occurred to me that really, I didn’t have much control here. Apparently, God thought I needed a little batting around by the elements.

After I finished the run and was stretching on the leeward side of a convenient wall, I realized that maybe this was just what I needed. I feel like my life is already a blur, and with the holiday season officially here now? Yikes! That run gave me a jolt, in the best sense of the word. It opened my eyes to my own stamina – hey, I didn’t give up and turn around after the first block! – and reminded me to keep a sense of humor about my running (I wish I had been able to see the facial expressions of the drivers passing me!). Most of all, though, as frequently happens during or immediately after runs like these, it made me thankful.

I’m thankful for running, even when the weather is cruddy. Because if I’m out in those conditions, it means that I can run, and that’s a blessing.

I’m thankful for my family, who loves and supports me no matter how many miles separate us.

I’m thankful for my friends, who are also my family, just with different last names. They are always there when I need them, whether in person or in spirit. And if they move away, it just gives me new places to visit.

I’m thankful for the man I love, who has changed my life in too many ways to count. The most recent? Taking me on my first trip to Fort Worth, Texas to share Thanksgiving with his family. As you read this, that’s where we’ll be – here’s hoping that my efforts to help in the kitchen won’t burn the house down!

And I’m thankful for all of you Running Sunflower followers, and the blogosphere in general. You inspire, encourage and enlighten me. You’re better than an aid station at Mile 23 of a marathon, and I look forward to sharing many more miles and stories with you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thicker Than Water

My hair rested in a state of gentle frizz. An overcast sky sent down the occasional shower, but nothing too serious — the rain depleted most of its energy in the summertime. I wore shorts and a t-shirt in mid-November, and my skin, usually dry to the touch this time of year…wasn’t.

Florida!

The last time I visited Jacksonville, home of the Southeastern-most branch of my family, was in August of 2012. Its landscape hasn’t changed much, but other stuff? Oh yes. For one thing, the running. If you’ve never experienced running during a Florida summer, I highly recommend you do it at least once. The cumulative sweat resembles the amount present during the final vinyasa in a hot yoga class. This time of year, there’s still some sweat, but mainly the moisture in the air just feels glorious. Add to it the mist that has permeated Jacksonville recently, and no wonder I left my Jergens lotion two time zones away.

Other changes? My niece and nephew. Ava and Ethan are seven and two now, and every time I see them I’m awed at how quickly they’re growing and changing. Last August, Ethan was at the “aim and launch” stage of toddling, and not quite talking. Now he struts like a pro, calls me Aunt Shannon, asks to get lifted up if he needs a better look at something tall, and probably works a computer better than I do.

As for Ava, I’m trying to hang out with her as much as possible before she reaches that “too cool for family” phase. Which is why on Monday, I swung by Five Guys, picked up a hamburger, a grilled cheese sandwich, and some fries, and drove to her school to surprise her with a lunchtime visit. She spotted me in the cafeteria right away, ran over to give me a hug, and we set up camp at a special table [the school has policies in place for such visits]. She waved over two friends to come eat with us. Thus began the most entertaining lunch I’ve had in years. The other two girls discussed their recent trips to Orlando and Dollywood, respectively. I learned about the different kinds of drills they do at the school (fire; weather; intruder alert). We played several rounds of “Telephone.” Remember that game? Yup, kids still play it! Over the extra fries that Ava and I decided we should share, we talked about the 5k run the girls did this year, and how exciting it was to get t-shirts and medals afterwards, even though the run was hard work. When lunchtime ended, the girls did an impressive job of cleaning up after themselves, and I got hugs from all of them.

It was awesome! The venue may not have been very glamorous, but the experience? Unforgettable.

With every year that passes, I appreciate my family a little more. I’m learning the true, monumental importance of spending time with all of them, both younger and older. I’m learning the importance of getting to know my parents, grandparents and siblings not just as parents, grandparents and siblings, but as people. Really cool people.

So I breathed in the humidity and Spanish moss and salty ocean air. I ran and sweated. I swung on a porch swing and ate seafood. And I was thankful.

AES

Pop.

Strangely, the Earth didn’t move.

Nor did I break out in a cold sweat, or get struck by a bolt of lightning.

I just shot my first-ever gun, that’s all.

I suppose this moment was inevitable – isn’t it just the natural progression of things when you date a man from Texas?

I kid, I kid.

Seriously, though, Robin Hood (who is from Texas) hunts with both bows and firearms, and for a while now has promised to take me shooting some day. I initially smiled and rolled my eyes at the idea, but gradually began to warm up to it. What can I say? I was curious, and apparently, archery is a gateway drug. Not to mention I have a couple of girl friends who own guns and who firmly maintain that all women should know how to shoot one. Feminism and learning a new skill make for quite an alluring combination.

After a couple of lessons from Robin Hood on the parts of a gun and how to safely handle one, “some day” became last weekend. I got in an early-morning run on Sunday – I figured if I was going to be handling firearms, I should have that calm, post-run mindset; also, if I accidentally shot myself in the toe, I could at least have my run for the day already taken care of. We met up with a group of friends and drove to an area that I believe is marked on official maps as “the boonies.” How remote, you ask? I’ll just say we drove up a hill so steep I felt like I was in a truck commercial.

Once the group found a spot they liked, we parked and started unloading gear. I squished my earplugs into my ears, as instructed.

Yup, this was gonna happen.

It was time to put my previous lessons to work. Bringing me a pistol and some .22 caliber bullets, and watching me like a hawk, Robin Hood had me follow all the steps: Making sure the gun was pointing in a safe direction. Checking to see if it was loaded. Making sure the safety was on. Loading it. And so forth.

Next, we walked over to the target, a paper bulls-eye on a cardboard box weighed down with rocks, and worked on my stance a bit. It reminded me of a baseball/softball batting stance, with knees bent a little, relaxed body, proper hand position, and both eyes way the heck open!

And then he said, “You’re ready.”

I squared my feet and made sure my hands were where they should be. I lifted the pistol and pulled the hammer back. I peered at the tiny white dots that comprised the sights of the gun, aimed at the bulls-eye, and squeezed the trigger.

Pop.

Not “Bang!” Not “Ker-POW!” Just pop.

That first one, admittedly, did make me squeak a little. But I didn’t run away to duck and cover or anything (victory!). And I didn’t hit the target that time…but I hit it before the end of the first ten bullets!

gun

I’m not about to join the NRA, or buy myself a gun anytime soon (although they do come in pink…hmmm). But I’ve learned that guns, when handled safely and responsibly, aren’t so scary. They can even be kind of fun.

The Go-To Run

Do you have a go-to run?

I mean a route that you’ve run for years, whether two or eight or thirty. You’ve seen this route in every season, and it has seen you in countless stages of life, and moods. The length of this route lies probably somewhere in your “middle distance” range – it’s long enough to be special, but short enough that you can do it on a regular basis. Maybe there are people who you see on this route whose names you’ll never know, but seeing them still provides a tiny reassurance that all is okay.

I have a go-to run. I didn’t realize it fully until a day recently when I had an absolutely wonderful run along that route. It’s a trail run. I call it, blandly but fittingly, my “six-mile signpost run,” because the round-trip is about six miles and my turnaround point is…you guessed it…a signpost.

I had the day off from work, so I pounced on the opportunity to run in the smack-dab-middle of the day. It’d be too hot in the summertime, but this time of year? Perfect. The air was crisp, the sun warm, the breeze mild. A God-given run. As I ran along, I felt that weird, underappreciated mix of joy, humility and gratitude that results when a great run collides with a general happiness with life.

I realized I’ve run this route a LOT since moving to Albuquerque in 2007. It was one of the first runs my brother took me on when I arrived here; my lungs hadn’t acclimated to the elevation yet and I hated it. Since then, it’s been my “long-ish but comfortable” run when I’m not training for a marathon; my “God I need a break from calculated workouts” run when I am training for a marathon; and all the other times…well, it’s just my go-to run. I’ve run it when I’m tired, when I’m elated, when I’m sad, when I’m furious, when my feet just itch to run on trails and my eyes itch to see flowers, cacti, maybe a coyote. It’s not a cure-all run; I’ve sometimes returned home still feeling any or all of the emotions mentioned above.

But there’s always a point of pause when I hit that turnaround signpost (I actually do give it an affectionate pat). The post is a welcome sight after the mostly-uphill first leg, and when I turn and see Albuquerque spread out before me, I’ve taken to just standing still for a second. Sometimes the second is to consciously summon up something that’s bothering me, and just as consciously leave it there at the signpost. Sometimes it’s to pray a request. Sometimes it’s to say thank you. Sometimes it’s just to hear quiet.

Kristin Armstrong described one of her favorite running routes as a “This Is Your Life” kind of experience. And, if we have a favorite route, it has seen a significant portion of our lives. Landmarks along the route – trees, signposts, even porta-porties – retain and trigger memories. The route becomes a trusted friend.

If I ever move away, I’ll miss my signpost run terribly.

If you have a go-to run, the next time you run it, pause for a second and think how your life has changed since the first time you ran it. Say thank you. And maybe even give that signpost an affectionate pat.

Home at the Range

It was a dark and stormy night.

At least, it was dark and stormy off in the distance. Riding shotgun in Robin Hood’s truck on the way to the Sandia Crest Bowhunters Association’s annual after-dark “raccoon shoot,” I watched the horizon. Lightning flickered across the sky, and sporadic rain had been falling all day. Would the shoot go on?

With the SCBA’s communications being somewhat rudimentary, and having no other plans for the evening, we figured we would just drive out there and find out.

We arrived at the archery range to find – hooray! – stabilized weather. We layered up in preparation for the chill of the East side of the Sandias, grabbed our bows, arrows and flashlights, and headed to the first target.

Don’t worry: in this “raccoon shoot,” we weren’t aiming at actual raccoons (at least not intentionally) but rather, flat paper targets that just looked like raccoons. Not having touched my bow in over a month, I was mildly concerned as to how the evening would go. Missing the target(s) completely and having to do arrow search-and-rescue isn’t much fun, let alone in the dark.

Then again, I was out enjoying nature; I was with fun people; and I was breaking in my new winter hat. Surely there are far worse ways to spend a Friday night.

archery1

Well, guess what? I didn’t lose any arrows. I may not have hit those paper raccoons every time, but all in all, considering how long it had been since the last shoot, I pleasantly surprised myself. And I didn’t hear any real raccoons, or any other nocturnal critters, squeaking in terror, so I considered the evening a rousing success.

The next morning found us back at the range, this time for the Halloween 3-D shoot. What does that mean? It means we traded the excitement of shooting in the dark for the excitement of shooting at things that resembled actual animals, only made of foam.

archery2

The weather was fantastic. Everyone wore tons of layers that got peeled off as the morning progressed; after the turbulence of the previous evening, it was a postcard-perfect Fall day. To make things even better, Robin Hood and I got paired up with a couple who’s practically royalty around the local archery scene. Peggy is a national champion many times over, and her husband Charles has been president of the SCBA twice and is an excellent archer in his own right. For all their experience and tremendous skill, they are also tremendously nice, and we chatted and laughed as we made our way around the range. I did have to do a couple of arrow search-and-rescue missions, but it was still fun.

Note: hot pink feathers (“fletchings” in the lingo) are not only pretty; they’re downright practical when you’re trying to find them in the dirt.

With the relaxed vibe of our group and my [hopefully] discreet observation and [attempted] emulation of Peggy’s shooting style, I shot an archery PR of 224 points!! Robin Hood had a great morning as well, hitting multiple 12-point (read “perfect”) shots. And he’s only been at it for about a year! I suppose that’s why I call him Robin Hood.

Next up? A shoot the weekend before Thanksgiving. The listed prizes: turkeys and pies.

I’m liking this sport more and more.

archery3

Pumpkin Patch Kids

It began innocently enough.

Robin Hood and I arrived at McCall’s Pumpkin Patch, in Moriarty, New Mexico, late Saturday afternoon. I was excited; for years I had heard McCall’s touted as THE Halloween destination for the greater Albuquerque area, but had never gone. I love a good pumpkin patch – growing up in Virginia, my family and I would go to one called Fort Pumpkin. The details are fuzzy, but I do remember blissfully playing amongst bales of hay and eating lots of locally-grown apples. I couldn’t wait to see how McCall’s measured up.

And it did not disappoint. After finding the place and parking without much trouble, we walked through the gates and found, before our eyes, a veritable theme park. We saw multiple gift shops, food vendors, a corn maze, a pumpkin cannon, lots of activities for kids including a slide that went directly through a stack of hay bales, and hay rides that took visitors out to McCall’s crown jewel: an enormous pumpkin patch where you could select your own pumpkins.

My eye was immediately caught by a fudge shop (fudge shops and I, we find each other). Robin Hood was game, but we agreed to come back to it after we got the lay of the land. We strolled around, bought gigantic tin cups of soda, and witnessed the launching of several pumpkins. Sadly, I don’t have a video, but I will say that if you ever get the opportunity to watch pumpkins getting fired out of a cannon, DO IT.

McCalls1

We had to hustle to catch a hay ride to the pumpkin patch, but it was worth it: we found two beauties! We lugged them back onto the ride and rolled back to the park, where we found…the fudge shop had closed for the day. Crestfallen, we paid for the pumpkins and stowed them in my car, but we didn’t have time to mope.

The sun was setting.

At night, McCall’s becomes a Haunted Farm, with its main attractions being the “Haunted Barn” (an enclosed building) and the “Field of Screams” (a scarier version of the corn maze). Robin Hood’s roommate and some friends were meeting us for those “delights” – I say “delights” because I am NOT a thrills ‘n chills kind of gal. I just kept assuring myself that it was healthy to get out of my comfort zone, and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t wet my pants. My main consolation was that the fudge shop had re-opened for the evening. Hooray!!!

I successfully avoided wetting my pants. I did, however, cry like a little girl upon exiting the Haunted Barn. Luckily, Robin Hood gallantly talked me down from making a bee-line to my car and my box of fudge, and I was able to walk to the corn maze feeling just a little sheer terror.

And it went okay! Maybe I just needed the catharsis of the first experience, but I almost enjoyed myself walking through that corn. Or maybe the night’s early-autumn chill had numbed my nerves, or the fudge had put me in a euphoric stupor. It doesn’t matter.

Lessons learned: 1) Push yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally; it will probably turn out better than you think. 2) Fudge really does make the world a better place.

McCalls2

Crisp

An adjective that’s inescapable this time of year is crisp. The October air, a refreshing change from the heat of late summer, is crisp. Good apples, fresh from the orchard, are crisp. I’ve even heard the word used by commentators during football games to describe a precise quarterback’s throw.

Crisp is a good thing. Its opposite, which is what – limp? Droopy? Wilted? – not so much. Droopiness is something we generally avoid, wrinkle our noses at, or flat out discard without a second thought. No one hovers in rapt anticipation over a flower waiting for it to wilt.

So how do we get crispness from droopiness? In the case of the air we breathe, Mother Nature (or air conditioning) takes care of that. Produce can be put in water or the refrigerator. Quarterbacks just…practice, I guess. But what about the rest of us, in our daily lives? Don’t we all have droopy times? You know what I mean: those times when we’re tired and just can’t seem to find a good night’s sleep, or when we’re so stressed about hundreds of little things that we can’t find the spirit to get excited about something that’s really worth it, or when we’re just plain in a blue or grouchy mood that we can’t shake. Not to mention those times, especially during cold season, when we’re not quite sick but not quiiiite 100%.

How do we go from wilted, fuzzy versions of ourselves to crisp, invigorated better versions of ourselves?

I suggest running.

Picture a celery stalk taken from the refrigerator and placed into a glass of water (or perhaps a martini). You can practically see the celery’s transformation taking place, no? Is it so different when a runner changes into their running gear? Starting from the bottom: off go the stiff work shoes, on go the comfy socks and fit-just-right trainers. Off go the slacks or skirt, on go the so-much-more-flexible shorts. Off goes the buttoned shirt, on goes sleek technical fabric. And finally: on goes the sunscreen that veritably shrieks “outdoor adventure,” then a pair of cool shades, maybe a hat, maybe a don’t-mess-with-this ponytail.

Just writing about it energizes me!

Running provides energy in more ways than one. Sure, it gives us more pep in our step, boosts our immune system, and all that, but it also lends a certain inner vitality. Lord knows we can be just as droopy and wilted on the inside as we can on the outside – if not more so – and running zaps that droopiness. It’s water for our mental state; it’s a little burst of fresh air for our emotions. It provides the strong breeze that blows away all of the dead leaves that clutter up our minds, leaving room for new growth – or maybe just creating space for much-needed peace and quiet.

I don’t know about you, but when I go running in the coolness of autumn, under a cloudless blue sky, it’s awfully hard to return not feeling less droopy. Walking a little taller. Sturdier on the inside.

Because life’s too short to be a mealy apple.

F is for…

The letter F gets a bad rap. I mean, the poor thing will forever be associated with the worst grade possible. In its defense, I offer up three things I am loving this week, all of which start with the letter F.

    Fiesta.

As in Balloon Fiesta, one of Albuquerque’s crown jewels. As of the writing of this post, we’ve had phenomenal flying weather so far for this year’s Fiesta. I’m once again crewing for my friend Charity and her balloon, Blew By You. As usual, it’s been fantastic. The ballooning community is full of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and hanging out with them – not to mention the gorgeous balloons – is worth every bit of waking up when it’s still night time.

This year, I’ve had the additional fun of introducing Robin Hood to the world of hot air balloons. First of all, he gets major boyfriend points for his willingness to get up before 5 a.m. on multiple days. Second of all, as a new balloon crew member, he has knocked it out of the park! From being quick to heed Charity’s instructions to buying breakfast burritos for everyone, you’d think he’s been crewing for years. Most importantly, he’s enjoying the experience. Fiesta win!

    Food.

Okay, I always love food. But recently, two items in particular have been frequenting my kitchen: Pigskin Pie and High Octane Bars. Pigskin Pie I invented back during my pie phase. I was craving Italian sausage one day, and before I knew it…PIE. I liked the result enough to make it a staple of my repertoire, but I only bake the pie during football season (hence the name).

Pigskin Pie:
Make or buy a double pie crust to fit a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. On the bottom crust, apply the layers in this order, with amounts to taste:
Grated mozzarella cheese
1 pound cooked, crumbled, and drained Italian sausage
1 red bell pepper, chopped
Chopped white mushrooms
Grated cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
Sliced black olives
Grated parmesan cheese

Add the second layer of pie crust, crimp the edges, and slit it for venting. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

High Octane Bars I owe to my friend Meghann’s mom. She served them at a party and I asked her for the recipe; she generously obliged, but the recipe sat in a binder for years before I finally dusted it off. I was trying to come up with a tasty and somewhat nutritious snack for Robin Hood to take on hunting trips, and that recipe practically grabbed me by the collar. The result? I’ve made three batches in one month. However, if you make these, beware: they are dense. It’s a lot like eating a Clif bar.

High Octane Bars:
2 C quick oats
1 C peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
1 C honey
1 C dark chocolate
1 C dried cranberries
1 C ground flaxseed
1 C vanilla whey protein powder

Mix all ingredients together and stir until blended. Spread mixture into an 8×8-inch pan and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Friends.

Not just one but two of my good friends here in Albuquerque will be moving away soon. Talk about a wake-up call. I’ve been consciously trying to spend more time with each of them, because let’s face it – calls, texts, and Facebook are nice, but they’ve got nothing on actually sitting across a table (or counter, or couch) from a friend. Never, ever take quality time with friends for granted, because you never know when life will pluck them straight out of your zip code.

This is a huge lesson for me right now. I’m in a very cool relationship, and I’m having a wonderful time seeing where said relationship goes, but I cannot afford to neglect my friendships. It can be challenging, and requires some creative time management tactics, but it is 100% worth the effort. My friends help me grow; support me; and guide me when needed. We make each other laugh and listen to each others’ frustrations. Give that up? No way.

After all, I can’t eat all this Pigskin Pie by myself.

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol

Bal2

The blue, green and yellow one at the top is Blew By You.

The blue, green and yellow one at the top is Blew By You.

Storing

I took a nap after work on Monday. I won’t say I “indulged” in a nap, because that’s not accurate. My body wasn’t giving me a choice. I didn’t indulge; I obeyed an order. And, may I say, it was delicious. No other word could properly describe it.

Last Saturday morning, I watched TV for two or three hours. Thoughts of productivity and self-imposed obligations occasionally tried to nudge their way into my consciousness. I gave those thoughts a courtesy nod, and then let them pass.

Finally, for the last few days I’ve taken a hiatus from running. With two recent back-to-back half marathons under my belt (under my running shoes?), the start of marathon training just over two months away, no scheduled races in my immediate future, and mutterings from my vulnerable-to-overuse body parts, I know that now is as good a time as any. I still have plenty of lovely autumnal running days to enjoy when I get back to it, and this way, I won’t dive into marathon training feeling…*shudder*…burned out.

What’s my point in all this? No, it’s not to encourage laziness or chronic procrastination (for the record, after my leisurely Saturday morning, that afternoon I went for a run, cleaned my bathrooms, and went grocery shopping). I prefer to think of what I’m doing and promoting here as storing.

The animal kingdom is on to something. Look at the squirrels this time of year, with cheeks full of acorns, intent on storing them for winter. Look at the bears, munching whatever they can in order to store body fat. Look at the deer, carefully organizing hidden stashes of pilfered garden plants. Just kidding. I hope.

It’s all about storage. And while we humans may not physically need to fervently collect food, or line nests snugly, or eat non-stop to prepare for what’s ahead, there are nonetheless times when we hover at the brink of a challenge. In these moments, when we sit just up-river from a long tricky stretch of proverbial rapids, it’s beneficial – maybe even crucial – to pause and store up. Store up on energy. Store up on patience. Store up on faith. Store up on generosity, so that we can willingly and readily share what we store with others when we’re paddling through the thick of those rapids.

This weekend is the start of Albuquerque’s International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. I am excited!! I’ll be crewing again for my friend Charity (she’s a balloon pilot; visit her blog here) and I’ll be bringing Robin Hood along for his very first up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes hot air balloon experience. Plus, the sight of hundreds of balloons filling the sky all the way to the horizon? Tough to beat.

However, with guaranteed early mornings and late nights, the weekend will require stamina. On top of that, at work we are rolling into one of our busiest periods of the year, so that, too, will require stamina. And after that ends, it’s time to start gearing up for holidays and lots of travel and…you get the idea.

Darn right I’m storing up.

If we take the time to store up, whatever we’re preparing for, whatever challenge lies just down-river, will be that much easier to handle.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some acorns to find.

Run What You Sow

I’m writing this on the first day of Fall. Even though I’ve been ready for a good couple of weeks, even though the high school marching band next door started their morning practice sessions last month, and even though the temperatures at sunrise and sunset have had that telltale edge, it still somehow crept up on me.

A brand new season!

I don’t have kids yet, so I don’t mark the beginning of Fall by the hustle-and-bustle of buying school supplies, or the start-up of sports practices. I notice the seasonal change in other ways: the New Mexico State Fair (I went this year, and had an absolute blast). The abundance of apples and cider at the grocery store. The aforementioned high school marching band practice – I feel sorry for folks trying to sleep in on weekdays, but I LOVE walking out to my car to that peppy music.

And, of course, the running.

For a lot of runners, Fall = racing season. Just look at all the marathons and half marathons that occur from September through November, including Chicago and New York, two of the biggest marathons in the world. Thousands of runners spend the hot summer months training and preparing, whether it’s for one race or a series of them. What, exactly, those months of effort will yield is determined only on race day.

It’s not just harvest time in the agriculture world; it’s also harvest time in the running world.

Here in New Mexico – and in other regions, I’m sure – harvest time isn’t just about work; it’s about celebrating. We kick off September with an event in Santa Fe called Zozobra. The high point of this event is the burning of “Old Man Gloom,” an enormous effigy said to represent the worries and cares of the previous year. Kind of like the Yule Log at Christmas. Then we have the State Fair, and this weekend is the Corrales Harvest Festival. Celebrations, all – a collective exhale after a whole lot of labor, planning, praying, and worrying.

Sound familiar, runners?

If you’ve begun your racing season, or if you’ve got a Big Race around the bend, remember to let a little bit of celebration in. You’ve done long runs, short runs, speed workouts, and Lord knows what else in the relentless heat of summer – or possibly in a downpour, depending where you live. Yes, racing can be stressful, but the hardest part is out of the way. Now it’s harvest time. Building a corn maze, making apple pie, drinking cider, running a PR: are they really so different?

And after the harvest, what then? Harvest time has a lot in common with New Year’s Eve. Not only is it a time to revel in the fruits of hard work, but also to take stock. What do we want the future to hold? What do we want to do after our race(s)?

As for myself, I’m still trying to figure that out. Do I want to run another race or two, or just maintain fitness before starting to train for Boston? Do I want to go to yoga more often? Do I want to stop trying to decide all this and just make an apple pie??

It’s harvest time. Whatever it is that you’re harvesting, enjoy it!

apples

Dirty Salsa, Part II

My friend Kim and I decided to run Albuquerque’s Chips and Salsa Half Marathon together in the way that many momentous decisions throughout history have been made: over beer. At Horse & Angel Tavern one evening, she described her preparation for the race. I chirped, “I’ll come cheer for you!” She said, “Or you could run it and pace me.”

Half a beer later, I agreed.

Flash forward to race day. My legs had recovered adequately from the half marathon I’d run the week before. The weather was perfect. Oddly, I had butterflies in my belly.

Theory: Butterflies gain strength when you’re trying to help someone else get a PR.

I quieted the butterflies by wandering around, visiting the Porta-Potties repeatedly, and hanging out with my group. Every one of us was running that morning – how cool is that? Kim and I would tackle the half marathon; my boyfriend (code name “Robin Hood”) would run the 5k; and another friend would also run the 5k – as her first race ever!! Our support crew was…each other.

After a brief separation from Kim at the start line, I found her and we commenced our 13.1-mile journey. I let her set the pace, as she was wearing a Garmin and knew exactly what kind of splits she wanted. My role was primarily moral support.

I liked it! We chatted, with periodic, comfortably quiet interludes dotting the stories we swapped. Once in a while Kim would check her Garmin and adjust our pace accordingly (I admit it, I have a compulsion to not just pass people, but pass them decisively, which leads to scoldings from Garmin. Oops.). The previous night’s rain had created some Olympic-sized puddles – I swear I saw fish swimming around – but luckily, only one necessitated careening through the middle of it. Phew!

Shortly after we passed the 11-mile marker, I was called to bat. We were doing beautifully, on target to at least meet Kim’s goal if not break it, but she was tiring. She told me to produce a 20-minute story. Knowing all too well the mutinous rumblings of legs in the last miles of any long race, and the value of a good distraction from them, I scrambled for a story. Mountains popped into my brain, so I told Kim about my adventures with two fourteeners last summer.

Somehow, between the ghastly toilets at the Mt. Yale trailhead and the best doughnuts EVER at the top of Pike’s Peak, we covered those last miles. With less than half a mile to go, I figured I should just keep talking, so I babbled about running form. I’m sure it was just noise to Kim, but no matter. The finish line came into view. I waved her forward and watched her finish, and it was one of the proudest moments in my life. She had beaten her goal by minutes!

Robin Hood was waiting in the finish area with a big hug, and as I munched the breakfast burrito handed to me by a race volunteer, an idea that’s been percolating in my mind for a while finally crystallized: achieving success and happiness for yourself in running is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much unless you reach out and help someone else find it, too.

Cheers to the fall racing season!

Dirty Salsa, Part I

I went a little crazy and decided to run two half marathons on back-to-back weekends.

One of them, Albuquerque’s Chips ‘n Salsa Half, I agreed to because a friend asked if I’d like to pace her. I said “Sure! Why not?” The second one, the Dirty Half, involved this thought process: I’m ready to give trail racing another try [my first experience wasn’t pleasant]. But wait, it’s the weekend before Chips ‘n Salsa. But I don’t plan on 100%-racing either one. But I haven’t really trained for a half marathon other than that 10-miler I did two weeks ago. But I have the stamina to at least finish. But…eh, I’m going to stop over-thinking and just do both.

That’s how Sunday morning found me at the starting line of the Dirty Half Marathon. I didn’t plan on racing; I just wanted to enjoy it and re-introduce myself to trail races.

Famous last words.

With the clang of a bell, we started. We climbed uphill immediately, which I managed decently, but I faltered on the corresponding downhill – I have yet to become fully comfortable flinging myself pell-mell down a trail peppered with the three R’s (rocks, roots, and ruts). Having people fly by me was a little frustrating, but the throng gradually thinned, and by the fourth mile I was running at a comfortable pace, with ample room. I started to enjoy myself.

Before I knew it, I was approaching the turnaround point. I counted the women running towards me – the women who were ahead of me. Only three! Relax, I told myself, you’re just out here to enjoy yourself, remember? Right. But…

The competitor in me smelled blood.

I passed the 3rd-place woman soon after the turnaround. Stay relaxed, I told myself. You’ve still got plenty of miles to run. I did my best to stay relaxed. I don’t know if the trail itself, with its hills and those three R’s, forced me to check my pace, but I felt like I had more energy than I would have in a road race. I could actually say thank you to the volunteers on the course, instead of just grunting!

I spotted the 2nd-place woman around the 8th or 9th mile. She was walking up a hill, and I scooted past her. Ok, 2nd place is awesome! I said to myself.

I kept trotting. At the next aid station, a volunteer said, “You’re 30 seconds behind the first woman. Go get her.” I left the aid station wondering how that first woman was feeling. Maybe she was a little tired. Maybe she was feeling confident and had decided to relax. Maybe the heat was getting to her.

Maybe I could catch her.

I spotted her with about three miles to go. And continued to spot her for a half mile or so; as I ran down a hill, there she was ascending the other side. I didn’t feel like I was accelerating much, but who knows: I caught her!

From there, my strategy was simple: Just move myself up the uphills, however slowly I ran, and on the downhills? Let the long legs God gave me do their thing, and try not to break any bones.

It worked!

Lesson learned: You just never know.

And thank you to the organizers of the Dirty Half Marathon for rekindling my faith in trail races.

Dirty

Travel Time

Labor Day Weekend = travel time. I think it’s a law.

Me? I went to Alamosa, CO to visit my sister Erin and her husband Adam. I was looong overdue for a trip up there.

It proved to be a weekend of fun, relaxation (I always sleep like a rock in Alamosa), and a couple of firsts. One of the firsts came on my drive north on Friday night. I left a little later than usual, and wondered if I would see any wild animals as the sun set. Sure enough, I saw a coyote standing on the shoulder of the highway near the New Mexico/Colorado border. Thankfully, he stayed put! The ride was incident-free after that, and I rolled safely into Alamosa.

After a much-needed sleep-in on Saturday morning, Erin and I went for a run and then a bike ride (Adam had a work function). One of my favorite things about running in Alamosa is all the trees. Trees = shade. Shade = HEAVEN. Albuquerque running has its benefits, but I swear, sometimes…my kingdom for a well-shaded path. As for the bike ride, I’m finally starting to get more comfortable on a bike, so that was fun. Even when one of the numerous deer that have made residential Alamosa their home decided to saunter directly into my path. Ever wonder who would win in a bicycle-deer collision? Not to worry, the deer sauntered away before I got too close. Whew!

Later, we went to a fabulous book sale (10 books for $7!), and when Adam got home, we all went to visit “Early Iron,” a vintage car show held annually in a local park. After ogling cars ranging from Ford Model A’s to Chevy Bel-Airs to 1972 Mustangs, there was only one thing to do: watch the “slow cruise,” the parade of the cars up and down Main Street. A light rain fell, but the crowd still cheered and antique car horns honked gleefully.

On Sunday, after another run, we packed lunches, hats and sunscreen, and drove to the town of Salida – another first for me. Salida is north of Alamosa and sits right on the Arkansas River. We parked, poked around some cool shops, and ate our lunches on a bench overlooking the river, where we watched inner-tubers having adventures and…er…misadventures. Entertaining stuff. Once our food digested, we went hiking in the foothills nearby. Good trails (and lots of them) and scenic views. Definitely a favorable introduction to Salida.

All long weekends must have last days, but Monday was a great one. After another good run (you know it’s good when you finish with dirt caked in your shoes, right?) we went for bike ride #2. Lo and behold, another first for me: my first cycling experience with a grumpy driver! The driver didn’t like the side of the road we were riding on, even though we were riding on the right-hand (i.e., legally correct) side. On a positive note, I got solid practice in maintaining focus in the midst of distractions, without crashing or falling. After that, the ride was lovely: long, flat, straight road; cows grazing; sun shining.

I’m back home now, but the sun is still shining, inside and out. Here’s wishing the same to all of you.

One word describes last weekend: adventures.

On Saturday, I participated in my first weekend archery shoot. Shifting from lower-key Thursday shoots to a bigger weekend one meant it wouldn’t just be my boyfriend and I meandering from target to target – we would be in a group with four or five other people. All of them more experienced than I.

Oh well! I was determined to have fun and to not take things too seriously. Learning = good; fretting = bad.

Well, wouldn’t you know, we were assigned to shoot with the best archers at the range. I kid you not. One of the guys ended the day with a score that more than tripled mine.

Wince.

Honestly, though? I didn’t mind. I made a conscious effort to keep my focus on fun, and it worked. And the guys in our group were great, keeping the mood light and offering me matter-of-fact-but-tactful advice. The advice must have paid off: even though I have a long ways to go, I shot better that day than I ever have.

BONUS: I got first place in the Women’s Traditional class!!! Small matter that I was the only one in that class.

Archery

On Sunday, after I snuck in a long run, we went to an event called Survival New Mexico at Las Golondrinas. Las Golondrinas is a very cool living history ranch/village near Santa Fe, and the event was a veritable festival of wilderness skills. Here’s a sampling of things visitors could learn to do: candle-making, food preservation, building a fire with flint, making bows, flint-knapping, blacksmithing, tanning hides…the list goes on. We got to throw atl-atls, taste homemade beef jerky and parched corn, poke around a grist mill, and talk to all sorts of interesting people. It was not only fun, but downright educational. I would definitely go back.

From Las Golondrinas, did we head back to Albuquerque? Nope! The boyfriend wanted to drive out to Abiquiu to scout out some hunting ground. One Sunday road trip, coming right up!

The drive out was pleasant: we had full bellies thanks to a Navajo taco we’d shared at Las Golondrinas, and we had a book-on-tape (or the 2013 equivalent) called How I Got This Way by a very funny man named Patrick McManus. We cruised along, and before I knew it, some of the prettiest vistas I’d ever seen in New Mexico spread before me. We were in Abiquiu, the former stomping/painting grounds of Georgia O’Keeffe. All of the recent rainfall in the region had made the place a green, blossoming paradise.

Ah, yes. The rainfall.

We found the small mountain that was our destination, and commenced driving up its dirt road. It was narrow, winding, and steep.

With no guard rails.

Did I mention the recent rainfall?

With less than a mile to go…we turned back. The road was just getting worse, and neither of us cared for the idea of getting stuck overnight. Back to Albuquerque we went, disappointed in the futile effort, but certain that turning around had been the correct, responsible decision. And on our way home, we did that which makes any road trip absolutely worthwhile: we stopped for Moon Pies.

Summer was made for adventures. Go out and have some great ones while there’s still a little of the season left!

Tour de Bad

I don’t claim to be a true “Breaking Bad” fan. I watched my first episodes of the show less than a month ago. I enjoyed them, but the last eight episodes of the series are airing, er, NOW.

Problem.

Solution: I went to the show’s official website and read the summaries for each season. Boom, all caught up!

Comfortably settled in my latecomer’s seat on the “Breaking Bad” bandwagon, I wanted to celebrate. But how? “Breaking Bad”-inspired treats from Rebel Donut or The Candy Lady? Nah. Take the ABQ “Breaking Bad” Trolley Tour? Okay, I love the ABQ Trolley Tours, and I’m sure they do a smashing one for the show, but…nah.

Then, last week, some friends and I were talking about the various locations on the show – Walter White’s house, Hank’s house, the car wash, etc. We were trying to figure out where Hank lived, because it looked like an area close to where several of us live.

We consulted the Internet…and that’s how I learned that I live less than two miles from Hank’s supposed house, and less than three miles from Walt’s.

Inspiration!

How would I celebrate my newfound enthusiasm? With my running shoes!

I opted to hunt for Hank’s house first. On Friday after work, I memorized the directions, grabbed my phone (for its camera function), and got to trotting. I had two choices: a slightly shorter, but steeper route, or a slightly longer, more forgiving route. I chose the longer, although I don’t know that it actually made much of a difference. I was running east of Tramway, and as you ABQ citizens know, in that area, steep is just steep. Particularly on an afternoon as hot as that one. But I found the house! Luckily, no one was around, so I could snap a couple photos without feeling too much like a stalker.

BB1

BB2

Satisfied, I made my way back downhill. Part one of Tour de Bad was done.

On Sunday morning, it was time for Walt’s house. This run would be the opposite of the first in terms of difficulty: mostly downhill getting there; mostly uphill coming back. Not to mention traveling busier, more commercial streets instead of quiet high-country residential neighborhoods. No matter! I was craving an adventure.

Phone once more in hand, I set off, and found the house pretty easily. No one very close, but there were some folks outside about a block away. I feigned a curbside stretch, snapped a quick picture, and scooted along.

BB3

The return trip was, as anticipated, a challenge, with a nice looong steady incline. Adding to that pleasure, an off-leash collie decided it would be fun to chase me. Not trusting the tone of his/her bark, I turned around, summoned up what I hoped was a scary voice, and told the dog to go home. That seemed to work. Or maybe the dog just saw a squirrel and got distracted.

The run was uneventful after that, and I and my tired quads made it back home feeling satisfied once again. Part two of Tour de Bad = DONE!

To conclude: both neighborhoods are every bit as mild-mannered as the characters who dwell there would love you to believe.

Gotta go – time to get ready for a new episode!

Constant

We all have something in our lives that we cherish and fiercely protect, something we keep in our lives deliberately, no matter what else changes or goes away. Something to keep us sane and, sometimes, to give us a handhold by which we can remember and reclaim our individual identity. I say something and not someone, because family and friends are valuable in their own right, and that’s a subject for another post.

The something could be prayer, or yoga, or fishing, or playing video games – anything, really, that helps us disengage from the world for a little while, and return better for it. Lose focus to gain focus, as I like to say.

For me, that something is running. It has been a constant of my life for the last 18-plus years. I ran throughout high school, college, through my first years of independence, and into the present. I’ve moved and changed jobs; been single and not-single; been training for races with dogged determination and…not. Through it all, I’ve kept running. I can honestly say that I love it, and all it asks for in return is a little bit of time.

My life has gotten busy lately. The kind of busy where I find myself deciding, frequently, whether I want to hit the snooze button once more, or whether I want that snooze time to floss, put on make-up, and make the bed [sleep usually wins]. The kind of busy where I have to pick between people in my life or chores in my home [yes, dirty dishes and laundry can and do wait].

My priorities are starting to shift. I know it’s a healthy thing, but that doesn’t make it easy, or always pleasant. It means…adjusting.

I’m learning, gradually, to be okay with this. I’m also learning that no matter how much my priorities may shift and tumble around like the contents of a washing machine, certain things Need. To. Stay.

Like running.

Running helps me lose focus to gain focus. It makes me a better person. Not always a happier, more serene person – not all of my runs yield the so-called “runner’s high,” believe me – but a better person. When I’m running on a regular basis, I feel more balanced, more capable of doing the things that need doing. The satisfaction that comes when I peel off my shoes after a run, and the benefits that each run brings, carry into the rest of my life.

I’m not talking about physical benefits; I’m talking about the other benefits: A tiny morsel of freedom? Check. A feeling of accomplishment? Check. Something I do for me, that reflects who I have been, who I am, and who I hopefully will be for a long time to come? Check. Something that reminds me that no matter how chaotic life gets, there will always be something in my day-to-day life that I love? Check. Something that, to paraphrase Kristin Armstrong, fills my pitcher so that I may fill the cups of others? Check. Most sincerely, check.

I’m not racking up the mileage that I was five months ago, but I’m running. For now, that’s good enough.

What’s your constant?

Sun1

Sun2

Thanks to my big brother for the home-grown sunflower photos!

Girl Meets Bow

I bought a bow!

Maybe it was inevitable, given how much time I’ve spent in the archery community over the last couple of months. Whenever I was around anyone with a bow in their hands, they’d ask, “Where’s your bow?” or “When you gonna get a real bow?” [I’ve been shooting with a specimen which I lovingly call my “training wheels” bow, but which no self-respecting archer would use on a long-term basis. It would be like running a 5k in Keds].

Anyway, the questions kept coming, but I wanted to make an informed, well-considered decision. I wanted to be sure of my desire to do this archery thing, since bows deliver a pretty little wallop to the wallet. On top of that, I had to decide what kind of bow I wanted: Compound? Traditional? Long bow? Recurve? Would I need a right-handed bow, or left-handed? The answer to that one isn’t as simple as you might think. Did I care about brand names? And then, after all that, where did I want to make my purchase? At a local shop, or a website, or from one of the multiple people in the archery community with bows for sale?

Decisions!

I’ll spare you the details of my thought process, not to mention my emotional process, in sorting it all out, and just tell you the result: I bought a right-handed traditional bow. It’s beautiful. It’s a recurve, which, to use the very most technical terminology, means that its tips are swirlier than those of long bows. The brand is Groves. To my understanding, it isn’t the most famous brand, but highly regarded nonetheless. Maybe it’s the Brooks of bows. Plus, it’s a New Mexican company; I like that. I bought it from a local guy named Darryl, who seemed confident that his bow landed in good hands. Here’s hoping!

The night I decided to buy that particular bow (it had come down to two) also happened to be my first quasi-competitive archery shoot. I say “quasi-competitive” because it was a Thursday night shoot – much more low-key than a weekend one. I was excited about it, but definitely felt a butterfly or two in my belly. This was the first time I would be shooting for an actual score!

The evening got off to an auspicious start: it was wonderfully cool and cloudy there on the East side of the Sandia Mountains, and a general Thursday-night relaxation permeated the air. I let myself feel confident. I could do this! I would have a stellar archery debut and knock the bow socks off of everyone!

Or, er, not. I didn’t do terribly, but I sure didn’t earn a Rookie of the Year title. With 14 targets and two shots per target, the highest possible score per target was 20, and the highest possible score for the course was 280.

I shot an 80.

I figure it’s similar to scoring 80 in a bowling game, which…Hey, I probably bowled less than that in my first bowling game ever, so I didn’t do all that badly with archery, right? Right??!!

Well, there’s always the next shoot. And now I have my own bow that I love very much.

Life is good.

Archer1

Archer2

A Bike Tale

Once upon a time…

There was a woman who wanted a bike. A bit odd, perhaps – for 18 years, she had been a runner. Not one of those runners who likes to dabble in triathlons or do a lot of cross-training on a bicycle, but just a plain old runner-runner. She even had a nebulous, dark distrust of cyclists. They were on two wheels, not two feet! They popped out from around curves on paths and trails like cheerily-adorned, sneaky ninjas! They had suspiciously cool pouches on their shirts that held not just energy gels, but actual food! Not to be trusted!

Yet secretly, deep down, she wanted to be one. As much as she judged them for their seemingly-reckless downhill speed, she envied that feeling of flight, of cool breezes on hot days, of speed that spared knees and shins and IT bands. She liked the bottleholders and other storage doohickeys on bikes. She liked the idea of pedaling casually about, ringing a little bell, and never ever crash-stopping. Well, hardly ever. She thought to herself, “Hmm. That’d be nice.”

But she didn’t act on the dream, because she was a runner, remember? She watched triathlons and bike races; she never participated, and was fine with that. She gazed in horrified awe as riders in the Tour de France, packed liked sardines, hurled themselves around sharp curves on narrow roads. *Shudder*. Plus, she lived in Albuquerque, a town rife with hills that were not at all conducive to the bike that shimmered and wheeled in her fantasies: a cruiser.

So she went about her business, running and doing cross-training in the form of the occasional hot yoga class. She was content.

Then one summer day…

The woman’s sister and brother-in-law came for a visit. They phoned to say they were pulling into the woman’s apartment complex. “Cool, come on up,” she said.

“No, come down, we need you to help carry some stuff.”

“Okay.”

Lo and behold…

It was the dream bike!! And PURPLE, no less! With a basket and a beverage holder! Not to mention a diviiiine cushiony seat. After a great deal of shrieking and hugs and a tasteful victory dance, the bike was carried lovingly into the apartment, where she – yes, the bike is a girl – was promptly christened Jensie (pronounced “Yenzee,” after the very cool and long-riding cyclist Jens Voigt. Seriously, the guy is amazing.). The next day, the woman bought a helmet and a lock, and took Jensie for a test spin around her apartment parking lot. The ride was a little stiff, but wonderful. No crashes occurred, no blood was shed by the rider or any innocent passers-by, and profanity was minimal.

It was the best present the woman had gotten in a long time. As she pedaled along, with a vise-like grip on the handlebars and a smile on her face, she foresaw many glorious cruiser adventures.

EPILOGUE: The woman (a.k.a. yours truly) has taken Jensie on numerous laps around her apartment complex since Jensie’s arrival. She is building confidence and plans to progress to an actual bike path very soon. She is also on the lookout for some good fluttery tassels for her handlebars.

Bike

Ready, Set, HILLS!

My running has been on cruise control lately. I’ll do a few miles at a time, with the occasional longer run of six to eight miles. Speed work? Hmmm. There was that 10k I ran right after returning from the West Coast, which felt like a body slam. Then there was that other 10k more recently, which got canceled due to lightning. Does dashing to my car count as an interval?

In other words, I’ve been running however I feel like, with no goal race or rigid training plan in mind. It’s actually been quite lovely.

So when my sister, on her most recent visit, suggested we go for a run along a route that I would describe as a dedicated hill workout, I heard an inner voice say, “Eeep!” Sure, living near the foothills of Albuquerque means that no run is completely flat, but the suggested route rolled steadily from start to finish. Was I ready for a spontaneous hill workout?

Since she was the guest, not to mention she’s my sister, I kept my mouth shut. Hills it would be!

As the three of us (her husband completed the trio) started out, the appropriateness of the hilly route began to sink in. Running in general, but especially running on hills, has a way of clarifying things. It helps us to figure out what matters and what doesn’t; what we want to hold on to as we run up those hills, and what we can drop as trifling, unnecessary ballast. In the couple of days before that run, I had been struggling with forgiveness. Someone close had committed a fairly minor transgression (Ha, so easy to say “fairly minor” in retrospect!). It caught me totally off guard, and I didn’t react very well. Kind of like…well…kind of like a surprise hill workout, when your body says, “Um, EXCUSE me??”

In both situations, we have choices. We can stop, wheel around, and call the whole thing off. We can just stand there shuffling back and forth. Or we can put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, and get over it. In every sense of the phrase.

My emotions cooled off gradually and I regained my senses, with a lot of help from this blog post. To quote from that post, “Kindness is right. Forgiveness is right. Happiness is right.”

Running on those hills, family at my side, plunked the cherry right on top of the forgiveness lesson. My latest mental trick for getting up hills is to imagine long, invisible strings connecting my head, arms, and knees to the sky. The string is constantly tugging on those body parts, so it’s impossible (in my mind, when optimism is winning) not to pump up those hills and charge victoriously over them. With each hill I ran up that day, I thought to myself, “Focus on the strings. Focus on moving forward and up, and for Heaven’s sake let go of being upset over silly things, because no one wants to be in a crummy mood when they reach the top of a hill.”

Let go of trifling bits of ballast. It makes you feel lighter, faster, and happier – and when you’re running hills, that is gold.

I’d like to devote some words to one of my great loves – a love that has gone neglected in this blog for too long:

Festivals.

Last weekend was one of my favorite Albuquerque festivals: the Lavender in the Village Festival. Held every summer (except for that one year when it went on hiatus), the Lavender Festival boasts not one, not two, but three venues in Albuquerque’s North Valley neighborhood. Frankly, we folks from other parts of town just get excited for the chance to be around so many tall trees.

The first venue, kind of the festival’s “home base,” is an actual lavender farm. Here, festival-goers can walk along fragrant rows of flowers, pick their own lavender, and buy all kinds of lavender products, from soap to the dried stuff for cooking. This year, you could even buy lavender lemonade or lavender sorbet to enjoy (particularly delicious on a weekend as scorching as this past one) while perusing the other attractions of the “home base,” such as:

Animals! Various animal breeders and rescue/protection programs proudly showed off their critters to educate and entertain. There was an owl, two or three kinds of hawks, a miniature donkey, a mule, and – oh my Lord – BABY ALPACAS. I fervently tried to think of a way to take one home, but came up with nil. Maybe next time.
Music! Provided by a catchy bluegrass band, the tunes put an unquestionable bounce in my step. I’m sure people would have been dancing, but we were all too busy gulping down our lavender lemonades and trying to stay cool.
Food! I will say that I nibbled on one of those giant turkey legs for the first time in my life, and that is all. P.S.: It was magnificent.
Art! What would any festival be without local artists hawking their wares? Maybe it was the lingering taste of smoked turkey in my mouth, or the heady aroma of lavender everywhere, or maybe it was mild dehydration, but I happily succumbed to temptation and bought two pieces of sunflower art.

Lavender1

Another venue at the festival was the Casa Rondena Winery. After strolling purposefully around the first venue, it felt fabulous to just…sit. On grass, no less. Under a tree. By water. You Albuquerque people will understand my excitement here. Casa Rondena looks and feels like somebody plopped a Mediterranean villa in the middle of the high desert. Yet it works. They have a dimly-lit, classy little tasting room, which I walked right through. I knew what I wanted: lavender sangria, made for this event only. Y-U-M.

Lavender2

Here’s a recipe for summertime afternoon bliss: Procure one cup of lavender sangria. Mosey over to an empty patch of grass, preferably under the shade of a cottonwood and within toe-dipping distance of a (okay, man-made) pond. Repeat to taste.

I wish I could tell you more about the third venue, which was a local elementary school, but sadly, time ran out and the festival closed for the day. I did hear good things, about it, though!

‘Tis the season for festivals. Whether they’re centered around flowers, food, or just for the sake of having a festival…here’s to savoring every drop!

Lavender3

The Bowslingers

Once upon a Saturday…

It felt like a race morning.

Except for the McGriddle I ate for breakfast.

I woke up at 7 am and an hour or so later, I arrived at the Sandia Crest Bowhunters Association (SCBA) archery range. The occasion? The SCBA Make-A-Wish Benefit 3D Shoot. I was there to act as support crew, which in this case meant carrying water and car keys, and doing my best not to get shot by an arrow.

But going back to my original statement, replace all the bows and arrows with running gear, and you’d have a 5k. Early weekend morning? Check. Proceeds going to charity? Check. A broad range of skill/experience, from veterans of the trade down to little kids? Check. People warming up before the start? Check. A butterfly or two in my belly, even though I wasn’t competing at all? Er, check.

bow1

bow2

After warm-up time, though, it started feeling more like a golf tournament. For this particular shoot, the participants had 27 targets, spread out like golf holes, all of them 3D. This means instead of the typical flat bulls-eye target that we all remember from P.E. or summer camp archery lessons, the targets were 3-dimensional fake animals, such as deer, bear, boar, etc. to better simulate the hunting experience. Pretty cool.

The participants were divided into groups of between three and five or six people, and each group started at a different target. Each person was allowed to shoot two arrows per target. The distance a shooter stood from the target depended on their bow: compound bows (the fancier kind, with more power) faced the longest distance, with traditional bows (not as fancy) a little closer in, and the kids obviously standing the closest.

Once everyone in a group finished shooting and scores for that target got tabulated (Picture a miniature golf scorecard. No, seriously.), the group moved on to the next target. Now, our group only had three official shooters, so we moved pretty quickly, but we had to wait for the group ahead to finish before we could continue. Multiply that all around the course, and…well…it was an all-day event.

No matter! The guys in our group were really nice, and we chatted and got to know each other as we made our way around the course. One of them even let me borrow his bow so I could do a little practice shooting. As we talked amongst ourselves and with the other groups, I felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden treasure. I had thought archery/bowhunting was fairly esoteric – Brave and The Hunger Games notwithstanding – but here was this crowd of people, all of whom seemed incredibly friendly and more than willing to share and teach this interest of theirs.

After all the groups were done, it felt once again like a race: there was food, an awards ceremony, and a raffle. With a full stomach and a free t-shirt, I was a happy cheerleader/groupie/neophyte. And as everyone mingled during the post-shoot festivities, a question I heard exchanged between participants just as much as “How’d you shoot?” was “Did you have fun?”

I did.

I might just need to go back.

bow3

creative

I am doing a happy dance: I’ve been nominated by runningtoherdreams for the “The Most Creative Blogger Award”! An enormous THANK YOU to her, and if you haven’t visited her blog at http://followyourheartandlifewillfollow.wordpress.com/, go check it out!

The only condition for a blogger to fulfill in accepting this award is to provide their own perspective on: their creativity and their source(s) of inspiration. Then, nominate and notify 10 other bloggers for this award.

Okay, here goes…

I’ll start by pointing at the title of my blog. Running is a bottomless pit…no wait, too scary…running is a limitless source of creativity. When I can’t think of a subject to write about, I tug on my running shoes and hit the road (or trail). By the time I come back, I usually have at least the seed of an idea. And running does more than provide a mental stir-up. Often the run itself provides material, whether it’s something that happened during the run – perhaps narrowly avoiding a snake, or suddenly catching sight of a spectacular sunset – or the fact that this particular run is a “milestone” run: My first marathon. A race where I’ve set a personal record. My worst hill workout ever. My last run as a single person [okay, that one hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, I’m certainly going to write about it!]. You get the idea.

Another source of inspiration: travel. I love traveling, whether it’s for a race, or to visit people, or just because. Traveling frequently means stepping outside my comfort zone. It means meeting new people, running unfamiliar routes, eating new foods, and occasionally getting thoroughly lost on streets that I don’t know. Each of which, after the panic subsides, stirs the creative juices like crazy.

Traveling can also mean re-discovering my comfort zone. This happens any time I visit family. Returning to the nest, however briefly, grounds me and strengthens my roots. And sometimes, when life is chaotic and thoughts are flying around my mind with little to no cohesiveness, that grounding is exactly what I need to tap into creativity.

Finally, I draw tons of creativity and inspiration from, quite simply, the people around me. I see my friends doing phenomenal things with their lives, even in the face of events that would deliver a knock-out punch to most other people. Divorce? Illness? Death of a loved one? My friends go through these and come out the other end stronger and better than ever. They inspire me as a runner, as a writer, and as a person. Same goes for my family. Through their own examples, as well as their constant support and encouragement of my pursuits, from running to writing and everything in between, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.

And I really think it’s a two-way street: when family and friends support you, do it right back. Creativity, inspiration, motivation, whatever label you care to slap on it – when it’s shared back and forth between people, it generates a kind of kinetic energy. And that’s when really cool things happen, whether in the athletic, professional, or personal realms.

All that said, here are 10 blogs that exemplify that kinetic energy of creativity and inspiration:

Flake and Cake
MOMS RUNNING IT!
run pretty run fast
Vita.Vida.Vie
Belles and a Whistle
All In Stride
Blowin’ Around
shazruns
C’est La Vie Cuisine
The Sassy Swan

Late Tuesday afternoon of my West Coast adventure, my friend Jax picked me up at the Portland airport. She whisked me away and before I knew it, we were cruising along the highway through one of the prettiest landscapes I’d ever seen: the Columbia River Gorge. Our destination? Hood River, Oregon.

A1

To visit Hood River is to step inside the pages of Outside magazine, in the most fabulous way possible. It is a summer sport mecca. Running, hiking, and mountain biking? They have miles upon miles of trails and scenic roads. Water sports like windsurfing, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and kayaking? They have rivers. Skiing in the summer? They have the celestial Mt. Hood, standing sentry over the town. Feel like taking a breather from all that outdoor exertion? They have multiple yoga studios. And after a day of doing all that, they have so many delicious restaurants – many of which use “gorge-grown” ingredients – and microbreweries that it more than makes up for the fact that even in the summertime, layers of clothing are required.

And yet…the place isn’t intimidating. Yes, the residents are extremely active, and most have an incredible collection of stories about their adventures, but these people are nice. They don’t make you feel like you’re not active enough or not green enough; they make you feel welcome. I found this out almost as soon as I arrived in town.

From the airport, Jax brought me to her place, where I dropped my bags and met her boyfriend, Lance. He’s a native of the area and is a photographer specializing in extreme sports – super cool guy. We then drove to a place called the Ruins, site of a weekly al fresco Hood River shin-dig featuring live music, local beer, wine, and food vendors, and general socializing. We immediately bumped into some of Jax and Lance’s friends. Suddenly I had a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. Who was I to argue? To top the evening off, a couple of fire dancers took center stage. As I stood there among new friends, watching wide-eyed and clapping with awestruck delight as the dancers twirled various flaming objects about, I said to myself, Welcome to Oregon!

The next day, Jax and I went for a run along the Columbia River. It was a gorgeous day and as we trotted around, I reveled in being in one of the most runner-friendly states in the USA. Okay, maybe Hood River is a little more surfboard than track spikes, but still. It felt awesome.

After an absurdly pretty mountain hike later that afternoon, we took a field trip to the neighboring town of Mosier (population 430), home of the Thirsty Woman pub. Every week, a group of people ride their bikes from Hood River to Mosier for the sole purpose of going to the pub. They ride on a historic highway that’s closed to cars, and go through really cool tunnels along the way. Jax made the ride that day, but Lance and I opted to drive instead, meeting the bikers at the pub. We all hung out, drank some yummy beer, and had the best tater tots I’ve ever tasted.

A2

A3

Nothing follows an evening of beer and tater tots like…a 6 a.m. hot yoga class. Jax and I sweated and stretched and twisted our way into waking up, and it worked. Which was good, because we had some work ahead of us. Jax and Lance are getting a puppy soon, and in anticipation of the pooch’s arrival, they’re building a fence. That day, the three of us and their friend Justin put up fence posts to begin the process. Let me tell you, stirring concrete to pour into the holes around the posts is not exactly like stirring brownie batter. But we were outside, doing honest “immediate-gratification” work on a beautiful day. Tough to complain about that.

Even tougher to complain, considering what that evening held in store: an exploration of one of the Columbia River Gorge’s finest assets. I refer, of course, to breweries.

Our Tour de Brew commenced at Everybody’s Brewing, a place across the river in the town of White Salmon, Washington. We tried their sampler beer flight and enjoyed the town’s aptly-designed crosswalks:

A4

A5

The next stop was Pfriem, a newer spot in Hood River by the water. This place featured big community-style tables and probably the classiest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a brew pub. Hey, it’s the little things, right?

A6

Our last stop was at Double Mountain, a local favorite and one of the older breweries in town. Here, we finally gave in to our tummies and ordered pizza. Perhaps the beer clouded my judgment just a tiny bit, but that pizza was PHENOMENAL.

Unfazed by the Tour de Brew, we got up early-ish the next morning to do some serious scenic hiking. We headed over to Dog Mountain, a hike of 7 or 8 miles round-trip. Don’t be fooled by the area’s proximity to sea level: the hike was tough! The trail cut steep swaths up into mossy pines [firs?] and ferns and Lord knows what else. As we trekked steadily upward, giving the balls of our feet a solid workout, there were times when we had to push through all the greenery – praying that we weren’t rubbing against any of the rampant poison oak. The view from the summit was worth every bit of it, though:

A8

A7

We cruised back down the mountain, stuffed our faces with delicious Thai from a food truck, and then…sadly…it was time for me to scoot out of town. But Jax and Lance, flawless hosts, managed to slip in one more show of Oregon’s splendor along the way:

A9

Thank you to Chris, Tanya, Jax, Lance, Hudson, and Roscoe for showing me a stellar West Coast vacation!!!

There we were, power-hiking up Dog Mountain on Friday morning. We had soft, damp dirt beneath our feet; moss-draped trees, ferns, and ivy within arms’ reach; and the rolling hills, mountains, and waters of the Columbia River Gorge as far as our eyes could see.

Toto, I was not in New Mexico anymore.

People joke about the fervent environmentalism of the San Francisco Bay Area and points north, but to take just one step outside in those places is to understand that sentiment. The very air is green. Moisture abounds; plants flourish; the oxygen is practically visible. When visitors inhale that air, they get an instant craving for fresh vegetables and recyclable grocery bags. Or at least I did.

I arrived in the Bay Area [specifically in Kensington, a town right next to Berkeley] on Saturday morning. My brother Chris and his family live in a gorgeous home that has multiple patios and has a backyard view of Tilden Regional Park – an enormous network of hills, dirt trails, paved paths, and the occasional grazing cow. I’m starting to drool a little bit with envy just thinking about it.

Bay4

After I got settled in and did some necessary snuggling with my extremely adorable year-old nephew, Hudson, we all headed off for a run in Tilden. It was definitely more rural than the runs of my previous visits, but it was beautiful. We finished the run, went for a short hike that featured one of those San Francisco views (Bay Bridge on one end, Golden Gate on the other, and everything else in between), and refueled with some delicious Thai food for dinner. I was wearing jeans and three layers on top – a far cry from Albuquerque’s 90-degree evenings!

The next morning, I went for a Father’s Day run with my brother and a friend of his, again in the Regional Park area. Now, my longest run since Boston had been six miles. What the three of us did that day was around 12 miles of some of the hardest, prettiest running of my life. We ran on trails, on roads, up hills, through jungle-thick greenery, up bigger hills, past cows, up BIGGER hills, under eucalyptus trees…and felt good at the end. Good enough to enjoy the heck out of a lunchtime cookout, sip some locally-brewed Pyramid beer, relax, and then, later that afternoon, accompany my brother’s wife to a yoga class. I felt a little like a stereotype strolling around Berkeley with a yoga mat tucked under my arm, but I loved it, and my first California yoga class did not disappoint. Nor did the deep-dish pizza we devoured for supper that night. YUM.

The next day was…my birthday!!! With everyone at work (or in Hudson’s case, stirring up mischief at the nanny’s), I had the place to myself. I went for a run in an entirely bright-pink outfit, possibly blinding some garbagemen and a woodland creature or two, but no matter. It was wonderful. I kept to “exploring” pace, found a spectacular view, and just breathed for a minute. Not a bad way at all to kick off the big 32.

After a shower and a quick bite at the house, it was time for exploratory mission #2. According to my brother’s wife, Tanya, there was a coffee and sandwich shop not too far away. This was my destination. It was just a matter of getting there: Kensington/Berkeley is criss-crossed by a system of really cool hidden stairways and paths, and I aimed to find at least a couple of them to expedite my journey. Armed with a map and a prayer, I set out, and after a handful of wrong turns and hopefully-discreet pauses at intersections, I found the place! Hooray!!!

Bay5

Bay2

With difficulty, I refrained from doing a victory dance, and did my best to calmly walk into the shop to place my order. I parked myself on a bench, gobbled up my lunch, and braced myself for the walk back uphill to the house. But it was fine: I took my time, stopped to snap some pictures, only trespassed on someone’s property once, and was relaxing on the patio with a book, a beer and Roscoe (the family dog) before I knew it.

Shortly thereafter, Tanya came home, Hudson in tow. She went out for a quick run while I hung out with Hudson, and then it was birthday dinner time! Chris had to work late, so unfortunately he couldn’t join us, but Tanya, Hudson, and I enjoyed a scrumptious meal of tapas and people-watching on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Ahhh.

Tuesday morning was a blur of an early wake-up call and last-minute packing, but I managed to squeeze in one last run. The morning air was cool, the pines and eucalyptus were releasing their fresh-new-day fragrance, and I took in the views one last time before heading back to my family.

I was ready for the next leg of my adventure.

Bay3

32

I turn 32 in a couple of days.

Time doesn’t just fly; it zooms so fast that we should measure its speed in a number with a “Mach” before it. If my recurring realization of this fact has taught me anything, it is the absolute necessity to slow down whenever and wherever possible.

Thirty-two isn’t a particularly “banner” year – it doesn’t bear new legal privileges or a new decade or even a new age group at races. Nevertheless, it is a birthday, and I love birthdays, and I intend to ease my foot off the proverbial gas pedal and enjoy this one.

The advantage to having a summertime birthday is that the weather practically forces you to slow down. Albuquerque, and I’m sure many other places, has hovered in triple digits this week. Those conditions do not allow for barreling through life. They just don’t. Those conditions call for slowness and deliberation.

I’ve been in the process of resigning myself to this, since that whole slowness and deliberation thing is, in fact, a lesson I have to re-learn on a regular basis. In order to fully immerse myself in the idea, I looked to the one activity guaranteed to take anyone to a whole new level of slowness and deliberation: hot yoga.

Sure enough, it worked like a charm. I stretched, shuffle-stepped, and sweated my way carefully through the poses. The act of slowing down my movements, concentrating on breathing, and embracing the concept of Relax and let go made me think, “This is how to get through the heat of summer; this is how to, at least mentally, keep time from zipping by so quickly.”

Also, it’s a great tactic for savoring a birthday week.

So I’ve slowed down. Physically, that hasn’t been hard at all – thanks to the temperatures, my runs have stayed at a lethargic snail’s pace this week. I keep hoping that maybe if I run slowly enough, a kind passer-by will hand me a margarita. No luck yet, but it can’t hurt to keep hoping, can it?

In other areas, it’s a little more challenging to relax and let go, but I’m working on it. This past Sunday, I had a few plans and productive things I wanted to get done, but instead decided to accept a last-minute invitation to attend an archery shoot. I wound up having a terrific time, and met some truly good people who I look forward to seeing again. On Monday evening, I was tired, had more things to get done, and wanted to go to bed early like a disciplined citizen. I got an invitation to a homemade etouffee dinner. My knee-jerk mental reaction was, “Ehhh…well…”.

Then I took a breath. I let it out. And my wise, inner-yoga-self serenely chirped that one should never, EVER turn down a homemade etouffee dinner. So I went, and it was delicious, and I didn’t regret it one bit.

Slowing down. Realizing that plans and day-to-day business are like highways: they’ll always be there, ready to whisk you away and keep you moving at top speed. Learning to look for and appreciate the exits from those highways; the roadside stops; the scenic backroads.

These are the lessons I hope to carry with me through my birthday this year.

Joyful June 2013

Last year, I decided to make the most of June with a project I called “Joyful June.” Every day of that month, I did one thing that made me ridiculously happy. The activities ranged from the simple (running a route I hadn’t run in months, or walking to the grocery store instead of driving) to the somewhat-extravagant (shopping at Lululemon).

I enjoyed the experience so much that I had no choice: I had to bring it back this year.

It got a great kick-off last weekend, when I helped my friend Charity move into her new house. Moving is always exciting. Sure, there’s stress and tons of tiny details – but it’s EXCITING. It means a fresh start, whether you’re moving across town, an hour up the highway, or across the country. Helping someone with that, especially someone who’s been looking for a fresh start as much as Charity has, is tremendously rewarding. Plus, there’s nothing quite like moving to show you the immediate results of your labor. Between the time that a group of us arrived at Charity’s old house on Saturday morning to empty it out, and the time that I left her new place on Sunday after helping to set up the kitchen, somehow, a brand-new home was born and a new life was started. What a cool thing to be a part of.

I also got to pet-sit. As I’ve said before, I enjoy pet-sitting because a) it allows me to set up temporary camp in a home besides my own, b) I get to see and explore new neighborhoods, and c) I get some quality “fur therapy” without the responsibility of full-time pet ownership. This particular job took me to downtown Albuquerque to hang out with two Italian greyhounds and one sassy cat. How could I not enjoy the experience when their owner has a painting of a sunflower on her living room wall?? Plus, the house sits within walking distance of one of my favorite restaurants in town, the Standard Diner. You can bet I moseyed down the block for a dinner – and even better, the TV in the bar was showing a Colorado Rockies game. Bliss!

While pet-sitting, I got to go exploring in my running shoes, which always makes me happy. I’ve run in downtown Albuquerque before, but always during a race, never on my own. On Saturday morning, I did an out-and-back run. I picked my turnaround point based partially on what my watch said, but also on a tried-and-true practice for running in an unfamiliar area: Trust your instincts. When the houses you run past cease to look cute and the barking of the neighborhood dogs starts sounding…er…hungry, it’s time to turn around. I trotted back to the house without incident, although I was sorely tempted to stop at a house emitting absolutely heavenly breakfast burrito aromas. Yummmm.

I picked a different route for Sunday’s run, aiming for the zoo. I found it, ran around the surrounding blocks a little bit, then headed back. Since it was before 9 am on a Sunday morning, the streets were pretty quiet. No heavenly aromas on that run, but still some fun exploration.

Now if I could only find a race with breakfast burritos at the end.

Summer Lovin’

Can you feel it?

It’s in the sunnier evenings. It’s in the scent of sunscreen mixed with sweat. It’s in the firm shutting of the “winter running shirts” drawer; in the soothing drone of the air conditioner; and in the shrieks and splashes coming from swimming pools.

Summertime!

I know, it’s still technically May today. But summer is hovering right there, just the way you hover right there when you’re next in line to go down a waterslide.

I love this time of year, not only for being on the cusp of summer, but for being on the cusp of one month in particular: June! June is my birthday month, so obviously I love it for that, but it represents so much more.

In June, the memory of cold temperatures is still recent enough that we all coo over the warm weather, welcoming it with open arms. In June, the heat (ok, unless you live in Phoenix) has yet to become oppressive. Most hurricanes are still just twinkles in the ocean’s eye. We desert folk still harbor dreams of a monsoon season. No one complains about the dog days of June.

Growing up in Virginia, June meant freedom. The last day of school was in June, and after that? Blank space on the calendar! Opportunity! Sure, we had intermittent summer camps and sports practices, but in between? Ahhhhh.

Things are a little different now, but just because most of us have year-round jobs doesn’t mean we can’t get excited for June and the unfurling of summer. Maybe we don’t have as much freedom as we did when we were kids, but we still have opportunity. It’s the beginning of a new season – one that beckons us to get outside and live a little. Or at least go to a festival or two.

I don’t know about you, but when a new season rolls around, I like to have a couple of plans. Flexible plans, mind you, especially for summer – isn’t the point of summer to keep things flexible and relaxed, after all? – but they make me happy. I think of them as mini-resolutions. So far my plans involve two of my favorite things: travel and running. In the middle of June, I’m heading westward to San Francisco to visit family and spend my 32nd birthday in one of the coolest towns in the world. Then, from San Francisco, I’m heading up to Oregon for my FIRST-EVER visit to that state (!!!) to visit my fabulous friend Jax in the town of Hood River. If any of you have been there and have recommendations for restaurants, running routes, or other cool activities, please share them!

As for running, I believe I’m going to make this The Summer Of The 10k. It’s been over a year since I’ve run one, and Albuquerque has a couple of fun ones coming up. I figure my legs deserve a break from all the longer-distance racing, and could use some shorter, speedier stuff. You say, “Running fast in the season of leisure? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Nope! I say running fast means getting to sit in the shade with a cold beverage that much sooner.

Here’s hoping you all enjoy the last drops of May…and have a splendid start to June!

Following the recent retirement of Mr. Posh Spice* from professional soccer/football, and since I love the Spice Girls unabashedly, I feel obliged to dedicate a post to their creed: GIRL POWER.

There are times in every woman’s life (maybe men go through something similar?) when she feels an urge to surround herself with awesome women. I say the urge should be heeded and embraced. Especially when you can’t remember the last time you spoke to those awesome women, much less spent quality time with them.

Such was my situation, and I felt bad. Thus, I’ve been trying to fix it.

I started on Friday night, by going with my friend Meghann to see Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert in concert. We ate dinner at Nexus Brewery (Albuquerque people, if you haven’t eaten there yet, go immediately) and then headed over to the Isleta Amphitheatre for the show. We spread a blanket on the grass, kicked our shoes off, drank over-priced beer, and had quality catch-up time. We laughed over each other’s man stories, people-watched, and successfully kept the blanket and our shoes from getting blown away by the wind. Oh, and the concert was fantastic (Miranda Lambert? Now THAT’S girl power!).

On Sunday, my sister Erin and I ran the World’s Toughest 10k. The race is almost entirely uphill, so the name probably isn’t too far from the truth – but we had fun! We ran side-by-side most of the way, in matching hot pink tank tops. She finished 4th woman overall, and I was 5th. One guy in the finish area even commented that we made a good team. We (graciously, of course) agreed.

That afternoon, I had the privilege of accompanying my friend & expectant mom Melanie to Babies ‘R Us to get her gift registry started. Between thoroughly testing various glider chairs — after all, one must be thorough — and the intoxicating power of the registry gun, we both had a splendid time.

On Tuesday, after a quick run to get the workday off me, I grabbed a bottle of wine and sailed across town to my friend Emily’s apartment. Emily and I are Sex and the City kindred spirits, and we had said for months that we needed to get together and have an SATC party. That evening, we finally just DID it. We did the show proud: Emily whipped up some delicious fish tacos and cosmopolitans, and we kicked back, chatted, and watched one of the best TV shows ever for a good two to three hours. P.S.: Texans know how to make a cocktail.

Wednesday was Meghann’s birthday, which of course required celebrating. We met up at one of our favorite local spots, The Barley Room, with another friend, Cherise. We sat out on the patio, drank some Batch 19, inhaled delicious food, and rang in Meghann’s birthday in a manner that I’m coming to appreciate: by just relaxing. We ended the evening by doing what we should have been doing all along – we made an actual appointment for our next get-together. None of this ambiguous “Let’s do this more often” fluff.

Because girl time = good time. And we all need more of that.

* No offense to David Beckham or his impressive athletic skills. Also, Mr. Beckham, if you’re reading this, and have any single brothers, please let me know.

Choices

Last Thursday, I was tired. Just plain tired. With my social life’s recent shot in the arm (a positive thing, right?), my once-sharp vigilance over my bedtime had disappeared, but wake-up time remained at the same pre-dawn hour. Add to that a string of uber-draining days at work, plus my realization that I had committed the absolute sin of forgetting a friend’s birthday, and the result was: ARGH.

By the end of that day, I was leaning more and more towards skipping my post-work run in favor of a nap and beer. I worried, quite sincerely, that on that day, if a driver or fellow pedestrian did anything to irk me, I might actually resort to violence. Gotta love those days.

Before I made my final decision, I visited www.runnersworld.com to see if Kristin Armstrong had published her weekly blog post yet, since I can generally count on her writing for a mood boost. Lo and behold, she had! And, as usual, she hit the nail on the head: Stuck in a tough patch? Do a hill workout, immediately. Read for yourself: http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/equilibrium.

Thoughts of napping and beer began to recede. As did thoughts of “Okay, I’ll just do two or three miles.” They were replaced by thoughts of “Well, I was going to run to Simms Park Road – why don’t I take a page from the Armstrong Book of Wisdom and run to that road, then up it?” Curving and climbing a little over a mile into Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, Simms Park Road is what I like to call a “big girl” hill. The times I’ve done repeats on it, I’ve done 3, and that suffices.

Filled with a new determination, I threw on my running clothes and got to trotting. No repeats today; I just wanted one challenging climb, where I could unload mental ballast along the way, and let go of the last of it when I reached the top and took in the scenery.

I reached the base of the hill and started up. As I climbed, I found myself dwelling on the things that had been bothering me, and not in any productive way – it just made me grumpy. I remembered that Kristin had written about praying as she ran along, and I gave that a try. I said prayers of thanks. I said prayers for friends and family members. I said a prayer for the lady cyclist who called out “Good job!!” as she pedaled past me that day. And multiple times, I prayed the words intoned by, again, Ms. Armstrong, in earlier posts: Thank you for hills and the strength to climb.

I don’t know how quickly I ran up that hill. I probably would have run faster if I had let the day’s frustration and anger fuel my strides, but you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. I got to the top, took a few breaths, and turned around, ready to let the scenery sink in and work its therapeutic magic.

I didn’t need it. I was already there.

Talk about an “Aha!” moment.

After enjoying the view for a few token beats (it is a great view, and deserves appreciation) I jogged back down the hill and back home.

No nap, no beer. Just a little restored equilibrium.

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 931 other followers