Living life one pair of running shoes at a time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

There’s a lot to be said for blank pages.

True, they can be intimidating. But they’re also opportunities.

When I first sat down to write this post, I was inspired. I was motivated. My fingers flew across the keyboard. It was easy. Then I paused, read what I had just written…and hit Delete.

All I had done with that burst of creativity was write a paragraph of venting about holiday stress. It didn’t make me feel any better – actually, it made me more stressed just looking at it – and I knew it wouldn’t make anyone else feel any better. I was back to a blank page.

This time of year, the opening of the holiday season, is a blank page. We can fill that page with to-do lists and to-buy lists. We can fill it with things that keep us busy, make us stressed, and make us mad. We can even crumple that blank page into a ball, or tear it into pieces, and throw it away.

Or we can do something else with it.

We can fill the page with a list of things we’re thankful for. Of people we’re thankful for. We can draw a picture of a holiday scene (I recommend using crayons or scented Magic Markers. It’s just more fun that way.). We can use the page to wrap a present for someone.

In the spirit of today’s holiday, here are a few things and people I’m thankful for:

Fireplaces. I am loving fireplaces right now. Maybe it’s because for the first time in years I’m living in a home that has a fireplace (even if it’s gas instead of wood-burning), or maybe it’s just because it’s cold outside, but if I’m in a room with a fireplace I find myself unable to stay away. Ahhh…warmth!

Trying new things. Namely, a new church. I like the place and the people and the general feeling I get just from walking through its doors, and plan to attend more services there.

…But not letting go of old things. Namely, running. Between the not-always-cooperative weather of winter, and the frenetic pace of the holidays, it can be tough to keep running in the picture. But knowing what even 20 or 30 minutes of running does for me (especially on the days when that’s the only time I have all to myself) is enough to keep it a high priority. Not to mention the chance to sport my fluorescent pink running jacket always makes my day a little more awesome.

My family. What can I say? I love them and I don’t think I could ask for a better one.

The “Good-Enough Housekeeping” page of Good Housekeeping magazine. Thank God for this. It’s never pretty when we work ourselves into such a state of anxiety that we snap like a turkey wishbone. Can we all just give ourselves (and other people, while we’re at it) a break?

My boyfriend. For having a fire in our fireplace when I get home. And doing a startlingly good turkey imitation. And lots of other mushy love stuff.

This time of year is a blank page. The cursor is blinking. What are you going to write?

fireplace

Medic!

Robin Hood had a touch of food poisoning last week.

While I would never wish anyone the experience of watching a loved one go through that, I will say that it taught me some valuable lessons.

I know that love means thinking of others, and realizing that their needs equal and sometimes trump your own. But last weekend really hammered that home. And the kicker was that I didn’t mind. At all. There was no resentment, no feeling that my time was being infringed upon. I didn’t care that I was up in the middle of the night, Googling symptoms that I shan’t describe. I didn’t care that I used one of my own sick days to care for someone else (hello, I’m not going to work when my boyfriend has been stationed in the bathroom for hours). I didn’t care that I skipped my run that day. Frankly, watching Robin Hood finally sleeping soundly, and then later, actually eating again, brought me peace of mind that could rival any post-run glow.

I realized that I am truly invested in someone other than myself, and it felt nice.

Another thing I learned was humility. No one has all the answers or all the healing powers or all the anything. I helped Robin Hood as best I could, but there was little I could do other than make sure he was comfortable and somewhat hydrated. I camped out in the hallway by the bathroom so I could at least be nearby, and while the floor was surprisingly cozy, it was still frustrating. I didn’t know what to do – drag him to the emergency room? Force water down his throat? Continue doing Internet research and conclude that he has some sort of awful Ebola/E. coli hybrid? I know Googling symptoms is a terrible idea, but I’m not my most rational self at 3:00 am.

Or…wait and hope for the best?

Well, just after I had resolved to drive him to a doctor as soon as he was able to stand, he fell asleep. And slept. And slept.

Then another lesson emerged: patience. And right on its heels, its cousin: faith. After Robin Hood fell asleep, so did I. When I woke up and confirmed that he was still sleeping, I padded to the kitchen. I fixed myself breakfast, and then, sitting at the table, pondered what to do next. I figured, why not revert to routine? I got my devotional books, did that day’s readings, and prayed. I prayed for Robin Hood to get better, and prayed for guidance for myself.

I don’t know if it was the food or the prayer – probably both – but the next time I peered in at my patient, it dawned on me that the best thing to do was to take a deep breath, relax, and let him get the rest he needed.

That night, as I watched him munch toast and sip Gatorade, I thought about the lessons I was learning. I said a quiet prayer of thanks for them. But I suspect that when it comes to realizing the power of prayer, the power of the human body, and the power that we all have to be there for loved ones when they need us…I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Arizona Dreamin’

As I write this, the temperature in Albuquerque hovers around 30 degrees. In 24 hours, I went from running in shorts and a t-shirt to running in long tights, multiple layers, and gloves.

Sheesh, Winter. You could have knocked!

The cold snap makes me doubly grateful for the trip I took last weekend.

About a year ago, my friends Tara and Randy moved from Albuquerque to Scottsdale, Arizona, taking with them their adorable daughter, Avianna, their two Italian Greyhounds, and some fabulous memories. I wished them well and told them, and myself, that I would be out there soon to visit.

Well, life happened, and almost a year later, I had yet to make good on those words. When this dawned on me, I cringed. Then I gave myself a kick in the butt. Then I took action. I checked my calendar; Tara checked hers; and I booked those plane tickets.

It was just a quick weekend trip, but it was so worth it.

Tara picked me up from the airport, and the catching-up began immediately. We arrived at their house, where we were greeted by Randy, the dogs, and a sleepy toddler. After tucking the toddler in, the grown-ups had cookies, wine, and chatted until we were all falling asleep in the living room.

The next morning, after a quick run around a ridiculously beautiful neighborhood (palm trees, saguaro cacti, flowers…ahhhh) we went to watch Avianna play soccer. Have you ever seen three- and four-year-olds play soccer? If not, do so immediately. It was the best Saturday morning entertainment I’ve had in a long time.

After the game ended and each tiny athlete got their snack, we headed to downtown Phoenix to check out a family-friendly Fall Festival. Granted, my weakness for festivals in general makes me a little prejudiced, but it was great! Local restaurants had tents where they sold samples for a dollar apiece – and I didn’t taste one sample that I didn’t like. Pumpkin soup, homemade ice cream sandwiches, tacos, the darkest chocolate I’ve ever had (80%!!)…all of it delicious. And for kids, there was a bouncy house, face painting, temporary tattoos, and a variety of art activities. The sun was warm, the lemonade was cold, and a good time was had by all.

That’s how the weekend went. Hanging out with people I’ve known for years – they were among my first Albuquerque friends – didn’t feel nostalgic so much as just comfortable. When I relaxed on a couch with the dogs in my lap, talked in the kitchen during mealtime preparations, and read stories to Avianna, it didn’t seem at all like a year had gone by. It seemed like we were just picking up right where we left off.

Don’t you love friendships like that? Friendships where there may be hundreds or thousands of miles between you, but when you reunite, the rhythm that you established however many years ago picks right back up? I’m blessed with several such friendships, and knowing their strength has provided comfort more times than I can count.

Tara and Randy: thank you for a terrific weekend. And during my run tomorrow, when I’m all bundled up with my face going numb, I’ll just imagine I’m in Scottsdale, trotting along under citrus trees, in shorts.

Identity

Last weekend I received that oh-so-fun call from my credit card company. Do you know the one I’m talking about? The one where they inform you that a charge has been made waaay out of your usual zip code? Yup. That one.

Thankfully, my credit card company was on the ball and sounded the alarm immediately, so we were able to freeze the card before much damage was done. As I listened on the phone to the very kind and helpful representative, I asked myself wryly, Geez, what about my identity is cool enough that someone would want to steal it?

These days, the phrase “identity theft” is equated with money. Compromised credit card equals loss of money equals stolen identity.

But is our identity gone? Are we defined by nothing more than a small plastic rectangle and/or a string of numbers?

Lord, I hope not.

True, my finances are a part of my life, and necessary, if I want to pay for food, rent, clothing, and other essentials. They’re not, however, my identity. I don’t say “I am my bank account.”

This begs the question: what is my identity? What makes me who I am?

The list is long, but would go something like: I am a runner. I am a writer. I am a daughter/granddaughter/sister/niece/aunt/cousin/friend/girlfriend. I am a Catholic. I am an American. And so on. I’m not including things I do, because I do plenty of things that I don’t associate with my identity. Household chores, for example, are precisely that: chores, not defining characteristics.

I’m realizing, though, that defining characteristics may seem permanent (I’ll always be a runner! My relationship is indestructible!), but are far from it. They’re just as vulnerable to compromise as our credit cards. Just as we have to be vigilant about our credit card information – Is that website really secure? Are we checking our billing statements regularly? – we need to be just as vigilant elsewhere.

In fact, our finances and our “real” identity have a lot in common. It’s generally considered wise to put money into a savings account, right? Well, when I run, those miles go into a bank. Call it the bank of mental and physical health. When I visit my family, that goes into a bank, and when I pray, that goes into a bank. Devoting time to the different aspects of my identity adds value to each one – and the more I add now, the more I can draw from when the need arises. The euphemism “staying afloat” is not just a financial one.

It’s also a common financial practice to invest – to branch out into new areas once we have a secure base. We do research, we pick something worthwhile to invest in, we give, and hopefully, we see growth. Isn’t this something we also do with ourselves? We seek growth, so we look for things to add to our personal portfolios, i.e., identities. How often do we say “I want to be a…”? Going from that statement to “I am a…” takes work, and a little risk, but how gratifying is it when that new investment pays off?

What’s your identity? What are you doing to keep it secure and help it grow?

Scaredy-Cat

Happy Halloween!

All month long, Robin Hood and I have been watching scary movies. Older ones, newer ones; obscure ones, classics. Some have turned out to be goofy; others have turned out to be terrifying.

I have a low fear threshold when it comes to movies. I’ve banned myself from watching scary movies in a theatre for two reasons:

1) I have a tendency to scream precisely when the director wants me to scream. Loudly. Robin Hood claims that I make movies twice as scary for him to watch because of my vocals. Thus, to prevent public embarrassment and to avoid accidently giving some innocent stranger a heart attack, I think it best to keep to my own living room.

2) In an effort to avoid the screaming, sometimes I’ll just look away from the screen or close my eyes when I know something awful is about to jump out. While watching the most recent version of Evil Dead, I had my eyes closed for approximately the entire second half. My point is that I’m not going to pay movie theatre prices if I’m not technically even watching the movie.

The situation is not helped by the fact that Robin Hood has been out of town a lot recently — earlier this week he was in Amarillo for work, and this weekend he’s out hunting (hopefully not running into any zombie elk or possessed bears). Needless to say, I’ve been a little more…uh…careful at night when he’s gone. Leaving a couple of extra lights on and keeping a knife in the bedroom is perfectly normal, right??

Why then, you ask, do I watch the scary movies? Why do I seek them out and cram my senses and imagination full of them? Why do I want what I fear?

The most obvious reason is that it’s a festive thing to do this time of year. And yes…I admit that seeing my boyfriend jump a mile when I shriek is a tiny bit funny. But honestly?

It’s to prove to myself that I can. I can approach something that freaks me out, face it (or, okay, at least listen to it), and stick it out till the end.

Maybe this is also why I’m okay with Robin Hood being away. Maybe I need to get comfortable with being alone in a house at night. Being alone in a house is different than being alone in an apartment. It just is. Shadows and noises that play tricks on the brain are good reminders to breathe, summon up some rational thoughts no matter how difficult that is, and know that everything’s going to be fine.

And maybe it sounds goofy, but I like to think that if I make time once a year to actively seek that which I avoid the rest of the year, it will make me a stronger person. I can watch The Shining and Paranormal Activity and manage to sleep like the dead (heh heh) afterwards? Shoot, I can do anything!

To everyone who hates scary movies: Try a couple. They’re not so bad, really.

To everyone else: Try something that freaks you out a little. I guarantee you’ll feel stronger afterwards. And if, while you wait for that feeling to kick in, you turn a few extra lights on, I won’t judge.

The ‘S’ Word

I’m going to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and just say it:

I am in a running slump. My running has hit doldrums; it has been becalmed; I can almost hear the wind leaking out of its sails: ppffffssshhh.

Boredom has set in.

I know it’s not the end of the world — any runner who has been at it for a few years can tell you that running can get mundane. If they deny it, they’re lying. The routine and discipline we runners pride ourselves on can sometimes be downright wretched. It’s just a fact of the sport. This statement is usually followed by a smile and words to the effect of “But that’s the beauty of running! That’s what gives runners their mental and physical strength and awe-inspiring endurance!”

HA. <—- That's the slump speaking.

The slump will pass eventually. In the meantime, I'm appreciating little shots in the arm. Earlier this week, I went for a run and got rained on — yes, legitimately rained on, in Albuquerque. It felt fabulous. The temperature was cool but not bone-chilling, the rain fell in more or less straight lines, and my ponytail was a gloriously tangled mess when I got home (which no longer bothers me since I've discovered the phenomenal powers of conditioner. Gobs of it.). That rain refreshed me in every way possible.

Then, on another day, I was running along a street in my neighborhood when I heard a vehicle approach from behind. I sensed the vehicle slow down and I turned, not sure if it would be fight or flight, only to see…Robin Hood! He was grinning his head off and blasting the Chariots of Fire theme as his truck rolled alongside me. There is nothing like a surprise cheerleader (especially a handsome one) to brighten up a weekday run. Days later, I’m still smiling about that.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that A) slumps (in running or anything else) rarely pack up and leave on their own, and B) relying on external shots in the arm, like rain and great boyfriends, only gets us so far. Sooner or later we have to start tugging on those bootstraps and pulling ourselves out of the slump.

There are countless ways to de-slump. We can change our focus. We can quit concentrating on ourselves so much and do something for those around us, whether through words or actions. We can try something new. We can acknowledge a challenge that’s been dangling in front of us for ages and go for it rather than continuing to shy away. We can even, yes, give ourselves a break, because many a slump recedes after nothing more than a good night’s sleep.

I think my ticket out of this one is a race. I’m not sure which race, or even the distance, but I want something to focus on. Something to give me a rock-solid reason to lace up the running shoes and get out the door. I have this tiny craving to chart a training plan, crank up that “discipline” thing again, and see what happens.

What’s your favorite way to de-slump?

Chili for the Soul

In Kristin Armstrong’s “Mile Markers” column last week, she wrote about the importance of treating yourself to little luxuries. Nothing huge, just everyday stuff that makes other people shrug and ask “What’s the big deal?” — but makes you blissfully happy.

I loved this and got to thinking about a few little luxuries that I’m enjoying right now:

Homemade cooking. I made my first-ever chili last month (don’t worry, New Mexico readers, I love chile, too). Luckily, it was edible, and I decided I wanted to try more recipes. And by “recipes” I mean “throwing together whatever is in the fridge and pantry, saying a quick prayer, then sipping wine from the bottle that I opened to add some fun zing to the chili.” I made my second batch last weekend, and now I’m hooked. There’s just something about soup simmering in a warm kitchen and filling the house with yummy aromas as the weather turns colder. It’s good for the belly and the soul.

Daylight. It’s almost fall-back time, and already you can notice the sun bowing out a little earlier. Let me put it bluntly: I DON’T LIKE IT. I used to enjoy that extra hour of sleep, but now I realize that the extra hour is only noticeable for one night. I’d happily give up an hour of sleep for more daylight. These days, I’m trying to get outside and enjoy late afternoon sunshine as much as possible while it lasts. Although I admit: I do love being able to watch sunsets during my wintertime runs. Silver lining. Speaking of running…

Running. Running enables the aforementioned daylight savoring. Not to mention October is arguably the finest month of the year to run just about everywhere. The temperature, the natural scenery, the abundance of races…it’s tough to beat. And all of those races? You don’t have to run in any to benefit from them! You can’t surf the running web these days without seeing an article about a race that either just happened or is about to happen. It’s instant motivation for a workout.

Not running. I’m not training for any races right now. I’m running simply because I love it. Which feels deliiiiiightful. I can (and do) go for spontaneous long runs…or I can (and do) go and get my hair done. I can decide that today is an “I must run up a hill over and over again” kind of day…or I can run a couple of miles, then come home and do exercises in the living room with ’80s music blaring. I don’t have to worry about any one workout leaving me over-tired for the next day, and I don’t feel (too) guilty about skipping a day. I recommend the experience.

Living with someone. Yes, I count this as a luxury. Living with someone means that I have someone to share that homemade cooking with (and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he contributes to the cooking). Living with someone means that I had someone to help me find, and extract, the microscopic-yet-agonizing splinter in my foot recently. Living with someone is particularly wonderful this month, because it means I don’t have to watch my annual pre-Halloween spate of scary movies by myself. It’s nice when you’re not the only one who wants to leave the lights on all night long.

What kinds of small luxuries make up the chili for your soul?

Family Ties

Yesterday, in an attempt to shake morning sluggishness and distract myself from missing my parents — these visits go by way too fast — I decided to run some hill repeats.

My first ascent was, unsurprisingly, adrenaline-charged and a tad too eager. Panting at the top of the hill, I reminded myself that I wasn’t done. The second ascent, in sharp contrast, was lackluster and unfocused. Apparently, my sluggishness was not to be shaken so easily.

Trotting slowly back down the hill for #3, I tried to come up with motivational tactics. It didn’t work; my mind wandered. I thought of my parents, who were at that moment driving up to Colorado for a visit with my sister and her husband. I thought of my sister, who’s in the home stretch of her first season as a middle school cross-country coach (and doing fabulously). I thought of my brother and sister-in-law in California, who are getting ready to welcome their second child into the world.

When I swatted the street sign signifying the start of my next repeat, it may as well have been a swat to my own head. Motivation? Duh. Family!

For each of the rest of my hill repeats, I concentrated on one family member. I pumped my arms and legs for them; I prayed for them; on their behalf, I gulped air and swiped errant drool off of my chin. I can’t say the last few repeats were any prettier than the first, but they sure felt better.

We talk about the connection to our families in a variety of ways: as “family ties,” “coils,” “tentacles,” and plenty of even less flattering metaphors. All of them illustrate the power of family to pull us in and keep us close. They illustrate the difficulty, or utter inability, we have in completely breaking free of our families.

But what about the other end of those coils?

Sure, ropes and cords can be used to capture, snare, control, and punish. We can look at them and shudder, or fight them, or bolt from them.

They can also be used for good. They can be used to reinforce, extend, connect — and free! Think about bungee cords: people go bungee-jumping all the time. The cord is simultaneously the means to safety and thrilling adventure. Think about hot air balloons: ropes and lines keep the balloon steady on the ground, but ropes and lines also hold the balloon together, enabling us to have the breath-taking experience of floating in the sky.

We can look at our family ties as a rope that controls, or a rope that enables. When we’re with family, especially the family members who have known us all our lives, we can’t hide from who we are. NOT always a pleasant thought. But the ties are also there to strengthen. They’re bungees, to let you have adventure and security. They’re hot air balloon lines, to give you stability and help you fly. They’re lifelines, to pull your thoughts away from yourself for the length of a workout, or to pull your days away from wearisome routine for the length of a visit, or to pull your life away from bad habits for the length of, well, a life.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take mine double-knotted.

balloons2014

Fall Break

In college, every October we would have a four-day weekend known as Fall Break. Maybe the administrators felt bad about having Spring Break with no corresponding respite in the fall, or maybe they thought that from late August to Thanksgiving was too long to go without any downtime. Whatever their reasoning, no one questioned Fall Break. It was a chance to flee campus for a few days, to exhale the air of lecture halls and inhale the changing of the seasons.

I’m bringing Fall Break back.

My parents arrive in Albuquerque later today, and I’ve taken a week off from work for the occasion. A full, glorious, week!

Usually when they visit, it’s in the summer. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we always have a lovely time, but this time of year in Albuquerque…ahhhh.

If you ask any resident of Albuquerque, “What’s the best time of year to visit?” the answer will likely be October. The main reason for that is simple enough: Balloon Fiesta. And Balloon Fiesta IS a huge deal, frankly because it’s bona fide awesome. I’ve seen the most jaded people I know get downright gushy when it comes to Fiesta. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer watching balloons fill the sky from afar, or whether you like being down in the thick of the action with a camera in one hand and a breakfast burrito in the other. It’s an event definitely worth checking out.

Balloon Fiesta is great. But it’s hardly the only reason October is loved in this town. October brings the real and true arrival of fall weather. Needing a jacket in the morning but shedding it in the afternoon? Delightful! The smell of roasting green chile lingers in the air, and the changing leaves on the east side of the Sandias and along the Bosque are enough to make you forget you’re in the desert. October means visits to McCall’s Pumpkin Patch, and a fluttering among the local running community courtesy of the Duke City Marathon.

October!

My mind is spinning with ideas for things to do with my folks, and I know we’ll have all kinds of cool adventures. We’ll probably go hiking — and not, ahem, have to worry about overheating or starting out early enough to beat the heat! Maybe we’ll get some freshly-roasted green chiles and have them with supper. And we most certainly will get up in the dark hours of the morning, all of us clutching nuclear-strength coffee, to get a look at those hot air balloons.

But I’m also going to relish the unfolding of one of my favorite months. I’m going to take in and remember the look on my parents’ faces when they see the Dawn Patrol balloons all light up at the same time. I’m going to savor the feeling of long sleeves on my arms when I go out for morning runs. I’m going to indulge in a Pumpkin Spice Latte or two…and who am I kidding; I’ll probably indulge in a few yummy pumpkin-flavored beers as well (does anyone have a favorite to recommend?).

The seasons are changing. The air has shrugged off its summertime weight and replaced it with a new vigor. Take some time to breathe it in.

Rocking the Red Tent

I think this was all brought on by watching Spice World on Netflix recently. Even if you were never a Spice Girls fan, it’s wildly entertaining, and I especially recommend it if you have young daughters.

“Girl Power” has almost become a parody of itself in the last decade. People roll their eyes at it, or slap a clever hashtag on their tweets and call themselves feminists.

What would happen if we gave Girl Power more consideration? I don’t mean strutting around in platform shoes and being loud all the time. I mean appreciating the women in your life, and showing it.

Days after watching the movie, I noticed a parallel in the two morning devotional books I’ve been reading. They both emphasized the value of female friends in our lives, and the importance of nurturing those friendships.

As Kristin Armstrong notes:
“Remember slumber parties, playing with one another’s hair and talking and laughing deep into the night? That bliss of friendship is not reserved only for young girls. It is available and desirable to all of us, at any age. God knew we needed each other. He intended us to live in community and share our lives with one another. Think of the girlfriends you cherish today. Thank God for them. Call them. Write to them. See them. Love them.”

Distance doesn’t matter. Neither does the plain fact that life happens and sometimes months go by without seeing friends, even if they live in the same town. There are all kinds of ways you can maintain friendships.

Different books, different authors, same message. For two or three days in a row.

I got the hint.

I’d been meaning for months to visit a friend who moved away last fall; I finally booked that flight. I’d also been meaning to call another friend who I know is going through a tough time; I called her to check in and sent her a care package. Last weekend, I went to a bachelorette party and a jewelry party, and hung out with really cool women at each. And I had the privilege to cheer for (from afar) another friend who did a triathlon in Colorado.

None of these things took a lot of time. I had to ask myself, how often have I brushed off a golden opportunity to spend quality time with a friend(s) because I’m “too busy” or I think my man would disapprove or be offended?

Facing the answer to that question was like doing downward dog in a yoga class: horribly unpleasant, but beneficial.

I don’t want to be the kind of woman who ditches her female friends just because she’s in a fabulous romantic relationship. Or the kind of woman who makes new female friends courtesy of that relationship, and neglects the ones who knew her before. The ones who thought she was terrific with or without a man. I don’t want to wake up one morning and realize that I am completely alone in my red tent (read The Red Tent after you’ve watched Spice World).

When women support each other, phenomenal things happen. And really, truly, it doesn’t take much. It’s not necessary to schedule a twice-a-year four-day girl’s weekend at a five-star resort. A call, or email, or even just a simple “How’s it goin’?” text message can make someone’s day. And a few of those? They could be the difference between a woman being a shrinking violet and a woman who changes the world. Between a woman saying “Oh, I used to run…” and a woman who smashes world records in her 40s (last assignment, I promise: if you don’t know who Deena Kastor is, find out!).

I’m going to try harder to be a good friend. I’m going to hug my man for encouraging me in doing so. And I’m going to dust off my Spice Girls CDs and blast them.

Cheers, ladies!

That Rodeo Feeling

The New Mexico State Fair is in town! That means twirly rides, mind-blowing fried food, magnificent livestock, vendors of everything under the sun, and yes, 10-year-old 4-H girls who make better pies than I do. Sigh. But not to be outdone by any of this is one of the most exciting events I’ve ever watched: the RODEO!

It’s been years since I went to a rodeo, and sitting in the grandstand at Tingley Coliseum on Tuesday night, I asked myself, Why don’t I go to these things more often? I loved every bit of it, from the slightly-alarming-yet-adorable mutton busting to the way the barrel racers just came charging out of that gate. It was awesome.

The most exciting parts of the rodeo, though, were the bronco and bull riders. Talk about being on the edge of my seat, for each and every one of them. The defiance of the horses and bulls; the determination of the riders — how do you fit so much sheer grit into a period of eight seconds or less?

On my run the next day, I got to thinking about adrenaline. Not just your average heightened-senses adrenaline; I mean rodeo adrenaline, the kind that bull riders must feel: a primal, enormous surge of energy that’s met with an equally primal, ruthlessly-pinpointed focus. Where do the rest of us, the ones who aren’t regularly faced with the threat of trampling or kicking or goring, find that feeling?

Well, there were no hooves or horns involved, but the closest I’ve gotten to that feeling recently is through racing.

I ran a 10k last weekend. Correction: I raced a 10k last weekend. I wasn’t looking for a 6.2-mile training run; I didn’t want to see how my legs felt after the first mile and go from there. It had been over two years since I had pushed myself over a 10-kilometer distance, and I wanted to race. I wanted that feeling back.

It came back. The day before the race, I felt some little jitters. I eyed the other runners picking up their packets, sizing them up. I ate a conscientious dinner, and laid out my running gear before going to bed. I put myself to bed at a reasonable hour. Geez, I muttered at myself, it’s not THAT serious. But I went with it.

The morning of the race went fairly smoothly. I arrived with plenty of time to jog around a little, stretch, and make sufficient use of the Porta-Potties. It seemed like no time before I was at the start, doing my usual pre-race quasi-swaying while the race director gave his spiel.

The horn sounded, and we were off! I told myself, For the love of God, don’t go out too fast, and surprisingly, my legs actually listened. I felt good. I settled into what felt like a steady pace. I was racing!

My mile splits confirmed that yes, it had indeed been a while since I had raced a 10k, but no matter. I was pushing myself. I was passing (and being passed by) other runners. I took corners like I meant it. I even finished with some semblance of a kick!

Maybe it wasn’t rodeo-level adrenaline, but it lasted a lot longer than eight seconds.

Where do you find that rodeo feeling?

I didn’t have a plan for the Creede Mountain Run, other than “keep moving forward, even if it means stepping on a chipmunk.”

I had increased my mileage and done a few long runs in preparation, but other than that? There was just a lot of “I think I can, I think I can,” with vague memories of my one previous experience with this race four years ago.

Standing at the start with my sister and her husband, I felt optimistic. Conditions were clear and calm with a touch of chill. In other words, perfect. Erin and Adam knew a few of the other runners, so there was some friendly chit-chat — always an effective deterrent of pre-race jitters. I had gotten a good night’s sleep the night before.

Hmmm, I thought. Maybe this won’t be so terrible.

Fast-forward to the third mile. Erin and Adam were up ahead (I had firmly told them to not hold back on my account), and I was in a loose knot of runners spread along a dirt road that felt basically vertical. I pumped my arms. I more or less lifted my feet. I kept my head up. I peeked around, seeking inspiration from all the awesome runners who were sharing in this ordeal.

All of them were walking.

Crap.

I know that in mountainous races, walking can be strategic and sometimes the downright smartest thing to do. But for some reason, I really, really didn’t want to walk in this race. My time wouldn’t be record-breaking, but the least I could do was run the whole thing!

…Said the woman, i.e. yours truly, who was watching walkers pass her by.

At that moment, it ceased to be about finishing. It ceased to be about making it to the top of the mountain, or even to the top of the current hill. It became solely about Choosing To Not Take The Easy Way.

Was this a pride thing? Absolutely.

I dug around in my brain for scraps of mental toughness. I came up with “Put one foot in front of the other. Now keep doing it. Work those arms!” Practical words, but I needed more than that.

“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

!!!

I know, it’s paraphrased within an inch of its life — there’s heavy paraphrasing of the Bible during footraces — but those words from the book of Joshua stuck like glue.

Kinda funny how, when something becomes a “pride thing,” God sticks his head in the door, isn’t it?

Anyway, it helped. I kept running, and made it to the point where the challenge shifts from running up a mountain to running down one. Screaming quads, anyone?? But as I charged downhill — involuntarily; gravity forces you to charge — I looked around. The view of the surrounding valleys and mountains was spectacular. The weather conditions were still perfect. I breathed that high-altitude air deep into my lungs, and told my legs to just get me to the finish line.

They did (no chipmunks perished), with Erin and Adam graciously cheering for me in the homestretch. After we collected our finishers’ schwag (engraved rocks as a nod to Creede’s mining history), we lurched over to a coffee shop. Sipping much-needed java, I reached two conclusions. One: It might be at least another four years before I tackle that run again. Two: If you do a mountain run, you may as well have gorgeous views, and for that, Creede is pretty tough to beat.

Creede

If you take an avid runner and an avid hunter and put them in a relationship, this question must arise: what happens in the fall?

Fall is a prime time for both parties. The runner is probably training for or running in at least one long-distance race, and the hunter leaves town most weekends in pursuit of everything from grouse to bear.

Where is that middle ground?

Robin Hood, my hunting boyfriend, has participated in some of the races I’ve run, and I still fully support hunters doing the running thing. But lately, I’ve started to appreciate the other side of the coin, because it turns out…hunting is excellent cross-training.

Here’s why, in terms of physical cross-training and mental:

PHYSICAL:
1) Cardio. You get a respectable cardiovascular workout — I love those rolling hills of northern New Mexico — but you’re walking, which doesn’t pound your legs as much as running. At least, hopefully you’re walking, and not fleeing from an angry animal.

2) Strength training. Last weekend, Robin Hood split our gear fairly evenly into two backpacks. Granted, my backpack didn’t make me tip over backwards, but after a morning of hiking over hill and dale, I was feeling that burn. And it’s not just upper body work — guess who carries around her waist the in-case-of-emergency gun and ammo, not to mention the GPS? Yup, the girlfriend!

3) Coordination. Also known as walking quietly. Also known as (for me, anyway) reversing a lifelong habit of generally crashing around. It’s tough! Effective hunting requires balance; agility; the ability to maintain quiet, even breathing (even when climbing a long, steep hill); and a stronger core than I ever realized. It’s basically wilderness yoga.

4) Tolerance of the elements. Heat? Check. Extreme cold? Check. Wind? Snow? Rain? Sweat in the eyes? Hunting exposes you to them all. If you’ve sat in a tree stand or in a blind for hours at a time wearing approximately seven layers of clothing, trusting that you’ll get the feeling back in your toes eventually, guess what? You can handle any kind of weather a footrace will throw at you.

MENTAL:
1) Patience. You don’t give up on a hunting trip if ten minutes go by without spotting anything. You also don’t rush recklessly through the woods trying to make things happen faster than they should. Not so different from running — you can’t judge a marathon by the first mile, and you learn to pace yourself.

2) Persistence. Hunting is not as easy as it looks on TV. You aren’t successful every time. Sometimes, there is in fact a long time between successes. Some hunting trips are downright wretched. Sound familiar, runners? Just because you have one less-than-awesome experience doesn’t mean you bag the rest of the season. You make adjustments — you tweak your training, or you move to a different hunting spot — and you try again.

3) Perspective. Hunting is not the be-all-end-all of existence. Neither is running. Last weekend, Robin Hood and I were bear hunting. We saw not a single bear. However, we did see three flocks of turkeys, several grouse (grouses?), scores of chipmunks, and absolutely gorgeous scenery. We stopped at a cool little general store and ate Klondike bars while sipping coffee, which turned out to be delicious. All in all, really not a bad weekend. How often do we runners have trouble finding that silver lining when a run doesn’t go exactly as planned?

4) Reinforcement of a major commandment of both runners and hunters: Thou shalt suck it up. Sleep-deprived? Cold? Hot? Hungry? In a bad mood? Uncertain because of past experiences? Wind blowing in a disadvantageous direction? Rarely are conditions picture-perfect for a run or a hunt. But the thing that makes runners and hunters so cool is this: we do it anyway.

Whether you’re hunting for fast times or big game, good luck this season!

camogirl

Shift Happens

I just pressed one of those big adhesive outdoor thermometers onto the window above the sink in my new kitchen. The action felt fraught with significance, like I was putting an official stamp on something.

Let me ask you: how do you define “home”?

For me, home is a place where I can walk in the door and immediately kick off my shoes. Home is a place where I can sing at the top of my lungs and dance like a fool. Home is a place where I can plunk my sweaty, post-workout self just about anywhere, or shamelessly contort my body into every indiscreet position imaginable on a foam roller, without worrying whether any of it is “proper.” Home is a place where I can swear if I want and cry if I need to.

In short, home is a place to relax: to be able to feel, sometimes physically, the stress of the outside world slide right off my shoulders.

It takes time, creating a home like that. It’s not just a matter of load-up-thin-out-take-down-move-up-move-across-move-in-unpack-rearrange-BAM-new-home! Moving into a new home and actually making it a home require effort not unlike making a new friend. You can’t rush it. You have to get to know each other: the strengths, the weaknesses, the fabulous open spaces, the pesky corner that you keep bumping into but love anyway, the nooks and crannies easily overlooked but bearing great potential.

And while you’re at it, you’ll probably get to know yourself better. I’m not saying new home = new you, but darn if the process isn’t similar. If you want to make a serious change in your non-real-estate life, what do you do? You examine your life, and figure out what you don’t need. You let certain things go. You realize what you cherish and would never dream of parting with. You rediscover treasures you had forgotten about. It dawns on you that you could be sharing what you have with others, without asking for anything in return. You do all this, and keep working at it, and slowly but surely, shift happens.

Somewhere between hanging the last piece of artwork on the wall (using a 5-lb. dumbbell because I couldn’t find my hammer — I was at Level Orange of Interior Decorating Mode, people) and pressing that thermometer onto the kitchen window, I started to feel a shift. A shift away from toil, sweat, sore muscles, and the dread of facing seemingly insurmountable piles of boxes. A shift toward filling the newly-stocked kitchen with yummy aromas, curling up with one of the books that I consciously chose to not give to Goodwill, and savoring the simple pleasure of having an in-house washer and dryer. A shift toward thinking, “Hmmm, maybe my interior as well as my exterior could stand a little of the load-up-thin-out-take-down-move-up-move-across-move-in-unpack-rearrange treatment.”

Best of all, it’s a shift away from combining my home with Robin Hood’s home, and a shift toward creating our home.

When I think about that, the stress of the outside world slides right off my shoulders.

Feelin’ Cloudy

It’s been a cloudy week. Clouds bring dreariness, drowsiness, and after the sad passing of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, the clouds have instilled in me a deliciously tempting desire to curl up on the couch and watch Mrs. Doubtfire, To Have and Have Not, and whatever other movies starring those two exceptionally talented actors that I can find on Netflix. There’s the minor hitch that I haven’t yet learned how to operate the TV in my new home, but that’s a story for another day.

One thing I will say about clouds, though, or at least Albuquerque’s recent ones: they bring rain. And rain brings cooler weather. And something about cooler weather — not wintry cool, but heavenly, refreshing summertime cool — makes life a little easier to deal with. Especially when change is afoot.

This is an ambiguous time of year. On the one hand, school has started up again. The back-to-school vibe has nudged the vacation vibe out of the way, and rush hour has an extra dash of, well, dash. Morning hot air balloon sightings are becoming more frequent, Robin Hood is getting ready to go hunting again, and the aroma of the first crop of green chile roasting has slowly begun to drift around town.

On the other hand, hey, it is still [technically] summer! There will be more hot days. There is still camping to be done. And I don’t know about your gardens, but my peppers and squash are not nearly finished yet. Heck, we haven’t even had our big Labor Day wine festival, much less the state fair!

I am not ready to let go of the season yet.

One seasonal-type change that I am okay with is the change my running is undergoing. For most of the summer, it has had kind of a “hang in there and just do it” air about it. From my attempt at a Juneathon, to dealing with a minor injury, to traveling, and finally moving, running has been present in my life (thank God) but it has been, to put it mildly, unfocused.

That’s changing.

On Labor Day Weekend, I’ll be running the Creede Mountain Run in Colorado with my sister. I’ve run it once before and there’s not much you can fake when you’re running 12 miles on a mountain road, so I’ve been running more consistently and getting back to doing weekend long runs. I ran roughly 9 miles last weekend and it felt, much to my surprise, really good. I might just finish that mountain run in one piece!

Two weeks after that, I’ll be running Albuquerque’s Chips and Salsa 10k with some friends, which will be tons of fun, especially if they hand out burritos at the finish line like they did last year. And after the Chips and Salsa? I have no idea. All I know is that it feels good to be tip-toeing back into the groove of training and having at least a hint of a routine.

Hmmm. Maybe I’m more ready for change than I thought.

Lessons in Moving

The finish line of my move is in sight. My apartment is vacant save for a pile of things destined for Goodwill, a couple of nonessentials, and cleaning supplies. Oh, and small herds of dust bunnies. My new home is full of boxes, Hefty garbage bags bulging with blankets and pillows, and furniture awkwardly standing about like someone who doesn’t know what to do with themselves at a party. There’s still plenty of work left to do, but for now I’m thankful that what I need is at least under the right roof.

On my run today, I thought about what I’ve learned (or, more appropriately, been reminded of) about moving during this adventure:

* Don’t make a mountain out of a mountain. Long-distance runners know this rule as “take it one mile at a time” or “break your race up into small sections, rather than contemplating the whole thing as you toe the starting line.” When you know a move is imminent, start the process as soon as possible — pack one box at a time. Fill one dumpster-bound or Goodwill-bound bag at a time. The same goes for when you’re in your new home, surrounded by boxes, all too ready to never smell cardboard again, ever. Recognize that it will take a while to get settled. Unpack one box at a time. Give yourself a break.

* Look up every once in a while. Moving and making a transition in your life are very exciting… and very time-consuming. The details, even if you go about them sensibly, can gobble up your time faster than you can say “change of address.” Remember that there’s more to your life than moving. For me, that means doing a hard-stop every evening, sitting down, and relaxing. It means making time to hang out with my friends, and it means I don’t let valued habits, like running or writing, fall by the wayside just because life is temporarily hectic.

* It’s okay to miss the old neighborhood. My apartment was next to El Dorado High School, and this time of year is when the marching band starts practicing on the back field. Packing boxes last weekend, I heard the familiar sound and realized I would probably never hear it again, and it saddened me. What I’ll miss even more, though, is the running. Living less than a mile from a 9-mile-long paved bike bath, and just a little farther than that from Albuquerque’s glorious foothills, spoiled me rotten. And while I’m really not that far from the foothills in my new neighborhood…what can I say? It’s just not the same. But that brings me to my next point:

* Explore your new surroundings! And what better way to do that than by running? You can find parks, playgrounds, public bathrooms (oh so important), and cool little neighborhoods, just by lacing up and heading out the door. It’s a great way to meet neighbors, even in post-run sweatiness. And yes, sometimes you’ll find a block with lots of large, loudly-barking dogs who look and sound like they maybe want to eat you. Just all part of the exploration process.

* Last but not least: keep an open mind and an open heart. I keep noticing sunflowers in my new neighborhood. Just a coincidence?

Ground

As I hurtled out of control down a slope at the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, keeping upright only by the grace of God, my life didn’t flash before my eyes. The only thing flashing before my eyes was terror (yes, I think terror can be visible) and the ground, as I flailingly tried to stay perpendicular to it.

I didn’t look up to admire the gorgeous mountainside scenery around me or the pretty little river below me. Nope, my instinct said, with ferocious authority, “Eyes to the ground! Focus only on the earth right in front of you or you’ll go head-over-hiking-shoes!” Actually, my instinct used much stronger language than that. I listened to it. It worked.

I’ll back up: last weekend, Robin Hood and I drove to Sipapu for a two-day archery shoot. If you’ve never been to that part of New Mexico, right around Taos, I urge you to go as soon as possible. Beautiful country. On the way up, driving through Chimayo, we saw a sunset I don’t think either of us will forget anytime soon.

Anyway.

The course for the archery shoot was on the ski slopes. Not right below them, not paralleling them, but on them. I may not be an Ironwoman, but I’m in decent shape, and walking that course was a legitimate workout. One of the targets sat on a hill that was the definition of Why We Have Chair Lifts. I shot my arrow and scrambled to the top of the hill without incident, and made it about halfway back down when…my foot slipped.

A few minutes / eternity later, I stood panting, emitting noises that I suspect sounded like those of an injured turkey hen. I was staring at the ground. Robin Hood trotted down the hill — making it look so easy, darn him — to confirm that I was okay. No, I wasn’t, I had just ALMOST BROKEN MY NECK, and the incident had done NOTHING to improve my relations with, and longstanding mistrust of, super-steep trails.

But Robin Hood spoke good words, I stopped sounding like an injured turkey hen, and I began to feel a teensy bit silly. I did have a decision to make, though: call it a day, or brush off my clumsy display in the spirit of “the shoot must go on”?

I took a few shaky steps forward, stopped, then took a few more steps. I remembered that the ground was something I could trust. I kept reminding myself of that, one step at a time.

I wish I could tell you that I had the best archery shoot of my life that weekend. I didn’t. At all. But as I kept walking around, I got confident enough in my footing that once in a while I would look up. And when I did, the view — the mountains, the canyons, the wildflowers everywhere — put postcards to shame.

Would I have appreciated the beauty around me as much if I hadn’t almost smashed into the ground? If I hadn’t tasted some humble pie; if I hadn’t been reminded to focus on and appreciate what’s right in front of me? I doubt it. “Grounding myself” just took on a whole new meaning.

Here’s to taking it one step at a time.

sipapu

Eye of the Hurricane

It is HOT. I’m talking the kind of hot where, immediately following a run, you could put flour, shortening, and water on my head, and that tortilla would be bubbling in no time. Earlier this week, I ran, came home, and plopped down on my living room floor to do some sit-ups. My body just said, “Unngghhhh. Noooo.”

Know the feeling?

Even with the heat, though, I’m still thanking God for running every time I lace up my shoes. And maybe a few other times during the day, too. Because frankly, I need it.

Life is a little hectic right now. At work, we’re in the thick of what we call “earnings time,” which in the wire service business happens at the end of every financial quarter. Companies send us massive press releases and are uber-tense about them, on top of regular work. I’ll just say that it keeps us on our toes. Constantly.

Meanwhile, on the homefront, I’m in the process of pulling up roots and moving from an apartment into a house (finally, I can hear some of my friends saying). A rented house, sure, but a house nonetheless. With a driveway and a yard and everything! It’s an exciting time, but a lot of stuff has accumulated in my apartment over the last seven years, and that stuff needs sorting. And throwing away. And taking to Goodwill. And packing. And hoisting. And then when it actually gets to the house…well, after all that heavy lifting, can you blame me for wanting to get out and do some quality cardio?

Running is my moment of calm. It’s the eye of my hurricane. It’s my time of day — even if it’s just 25 or 30 minutes — to shrug off work stress and moving stress. It’s my time to process the fact that I’m about to share a home with the man I love, which means negotiating fear, joy, apprehension, awe, humility, or any one of a panoply of emotions, depending on the day.

I thank God that it IS summertime right now, and I thank Him that it IS 90+ degrees when I’m outside running, because you know what? It forces me to slow down. On multiple runs recently I’ve caught myself going right from my front door into a hustling pace, because my schedule is tight and I have other things I want to get done. Then the sun, and my current not-exactly-marathon-ready level of fitness, join forces to slap me upside the head, and I remember.

I remember that running is a GIFT. And a gift is something to not only be used, but valued. If I rush through a run, treating it as nothing more than just another task to check off, is that really valuing the gift? Is it even really using the gift?

I’m not saying that everyone should run slowly. I’m just saying: Pay attention. Inhale. Exhale. Remember why you run in the first place. If that motivates you to run quicker that day, great. If you realize that’s the first time all day that you’ve been conscious of inhaling and exhaling, and you settle down for a more mellow pace, that’s fine too.

Whatever is the eye of your hurricane, relish it.

The nice thing about waking up at 4 am is that you’re too tired to think about how crazy it is to wake up at 4 am. At that hour, everything takes on monosyllabic simplicity: Get up. Wash. Dress. Eat. Drink strong black stuff. Blink.

Such was the pre-dawn as Robin Hood and I prepared for a bona fide New Mexico Adventure on Saturday. Our destination: San Gregorio Reservoir, in the San Pedro Wilderness. The reason for our journey: fishing. Rumor had it that San Gregorio’s rainbow trout would practically jump right into your frying pan.

We arrived at the lake — after a pretty little hike in — around 7:15 am. Robin Hood found a spot that he liked, and we parked ourselves by the water’s edge. He had his fishing gear; I had my book. Not that I’m opposed to fishing, but I wasn’t about to turn down the chance to relax by a lake and enjoy quality, much-needed reading time.

SG1

While I read (frequently looking up to savor my surroundings), Robin Hood chatted with a gentleman fishing nearby, and before long…there was a tug. Then a splash. Another tug. And in two shakes of a trout’s tail, he had his first catch of the day!

SG2

That catch was followed by more. We relaxed, we snacked (no, not on sushi), we laughed at cavorting chipmunks, and we enjoyed the absurdly gorgeous weather. I even took a couple of turns with the fishing rod, and landed two fish!

Around 1 o’clock, we had caught our limit, released a few more, and were beginning to go numb from sitting on rocks all morning. After cleaning our fish [that was all Robin Hood; I was content to postpone that particular experience], we packed up and made our way back to the truck.

But we weren’t done.

Driving back, we saw a sign for another New Mexico lake: Fenton. I’d never been there, so Robin Hood suggested checking it out. Embracing my lakeside state of mind, I answered “Sure!”

Fenton was more touristy than San Gregorio, but just as easy on the eyes (and soul. I miss trees and water more than I let myself admit). We meant to just drive around a little and then get back on the road, but in cruising by, Robin Hood swore he saw a New Mexican Moby Dick in the water, and the Need To Fish seized him.

He opted for his fly reel this time. I perched on a tree stump and just stared all around at the pines soaring upward and the shimmering expanse of water before me — keeping a wary eye as to where that fishing line was being cast about. No involuntary body piercings for me, thank you very much!

Fenton

Alas, Moby Dick eluded the hook. With both of us beginning to feel the effects of getting up at 4, we called it a day — but couldn’t resist taking the scenic route. Riding through the wonderland that New Mexicans know as the Jemez, I felt like a little kid: do we have to go home?

Before you roll your eyes too much, I admit that it wasn’t an ENTIRELY perfect day: I woke up the next morning to the itch of a poison ivy rash on my leg. Oh well. What’s a great trip without a souvenir?

Here’s to exploring your state.

P.S. The trout was delicious.

Homestyle

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” I say, “Rubbish!”

What he may have meant was that, after leaving the nest, you can’t go back and expect home to feel exactly as it did when you were 10 or 11. This is true enough. Frankly, would you want it to?

What Mr. Wolfe didn’t mention was that, after leaving and then coming back, home can still be great, just in a different way. Dare I say that home can feel even better once you’ve given it some space?

My friends who have also moved away from their hometowns all agree that the longer we live elsewhere, the less recognizable our “hometown” becomes. New roads are built; familiar buildings get torn down; trees fall; old acquaintances leave. When we return for a visit, we have to sit and think, or even consult a map, before driving routes that we used to know like the back of our hand. Can we even call it our hometown anymore?

This conversation is usually accompanied by sighs and head-shaking. Everything’s changing, we say. And it is a little sad. But isn’t it also kind of…right?

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my hometown to be exactly as it was 20 years ago. The potholes would be nightmarish!

A little change is natural and healthy. Take the lake up the road from my parents’ house in Springfield, Virginia: Lake Accotink has been a part of my family’s life for decades. It’s lovely, with a fun marina and a roughly 4-mile trail that circles it, providing a terrific resource for runners and other pedestrians who want to escape the pavement.

When we first moved to Virginia, the Accotink trail was…a little rough around the edges. There were several steep, heavily-rooted hills; a couple of ravines prone to flooding; and a handful of other attributes that could turn a trip around the lake into quite an adventure. They’ve since put in bridges and paved over some tricky spots, none of which detracts from the natural beauty of it all. Not to mention, the marina now hosts a variety of camps and outdoor education programs for kids and adults alike.

Now that’s what I call progress.

Accotink

Creek

Another example is Mount Vernon, a.k.a. the home of George Washington. When I went there on elementary school field trips in the late ’80s, I vaguely remember touring the mansion and walking around the grounds a little, but nothing about it really excited me. Now? There’s a museum, an education center with really cool movies about Washington’s life, a stellar restaurant, and so much to see on the grounds.

If Mount Vernon had stayed exactly the same, what would have happened? Would it have become “Mount Vernon Town Center”? An outlet mall?

Thank God it didn’t.

mtvernon

When we leave our hometowns, we don’t stay the same — we grow, we mature, we discard parts of ourselves that hold us back. We do our best to become better. Why should we expect anything different from our hometowns?

And just as we all can and should be proud of how we’ve changed and improved over the years, if things change a little back home, we can and should be proud of that as well.

After all, if we bring someone to our hometown for their first visit, it would be a shame if they plummeted into a bottomless pothole.

Four for the 4th

Happy 4th of July!! And to my non-American readers, feel free to celebrate anyway!

I tried to think of a way to narrow the focus of this post and couldn’t do it. There’s too much to be excited about! As luck and coincidence would have it, though, I was able to narrow my favorite things from this week down to four.

* THE WORLD CUP! I know soccer/football is the world’s most popular sport. I also know there are plenty of people who do not follow it at all (such as yours truly). For those of us in that category, the World Cup is like the Olympics — every four years, we get wildly passionate about a sport that, for the other three years and 300+ days, evokes only vague interest. We learn the names of superstars, with a high probability that we’ll forget them immediately. We gobble up scandals and groan at questionable calls. And if our team makes it further than anyone predicted? Well, “frenzy” is an understatement. My point is: sporting events like this add a fun undercurrent to the daily news feed, and I always support that.

* ARCHERY! Last weekend, the Sandia Crest Bowhunters Associaton hosted the annual Make A Wish Shoot, in which all proceeds went to that foundation. It was a great day. Robin Hood and I were placed in a group with one of the SCBA’s most respected men and his three grandsons, all of whom shot very well — one even got his first bullseye! Afterwards, we stuck around to help take the targets down. This proved more enjoyable than you’d think — I suspect because I got to ride around the archery range on the tailgate of a pickup truck. Let me say: roller coasters have nothing on canyon-deep ruts. After the clean-up, Robin Hood and I shot some arrows at the range’s permanent targets. By the time we decided to take our dusty selves home, we had spent eight hours at the range, and enjoyed every minute.

boyz

* USING ALL THE OUTDOOR COOKING GEAR! It doesn’t matter if it’s a campfire, fire pit, grill, or the sidewalk. This time of year was hand-crafted for outdoor cooking. As you may have ascertained from last week’s post, I’m a huge fan of campfires; this week, my new Dutch oven got its maiden voyage in Robin Hood’s backyard fire pit. Granted, some sweat probably got into the elk stew that we made; there was some minor smoke inhalation; and we smelled like the fire for hours; but it was awesome! And the stew was pretty tasty. I’ve already got my sights set on putting “Dutchie” to work again next week, so if you have any Dutch oven recipes you’re willing to share, let me know.

Dutchie

* TRAVEL! I’m spending this weekend at my parents’ house in Virginia, and this time I’ve brought a little more than I usually do. Specifically: Robin Hood! He and my parents have met before, but this will be his first time visiting my hometown. I plan to take him to the creek where I used to float boats made of twigs. We’ll go to Lake Accotink, and I’ll point out the place where I did a high school science project, the place where I face-planted during cross-country practice, and the place where a pair of bald eagles have a nest. We’ll watch fireworks over the Mall in D.C. And we will soak up every drop of that infamous humidity and relish it while we can.

How are you celebrating the 4th?

Around the Campfire

I swear, you can smell a good campsite even before you lay eyes on it.

On Friday, a group of us — our number would eventually total 14, plus two dogs — left Albuquerque and headed north. Our destination: a lovely piece of land near the small town of Youngsville, New Mexico, where a couple of the guys had camped previously. We more or less knew where we were going.

We found our site a little after dark (we had left later than planned, but hey, it was Friday, a day for tardiness if ever there was one). I liked it as soon as I saw it in the headlights. A big clearing. Trees. Grass. Cool temperatures. A little stream that we could hear gurgling nearby. Yup, we were in northern New Mexico, all right.

As soon as everyone got their respective tents pitched, we turned our attention to the focal point of the weekend, meaning, of course, the campfire. If you live or have lived in New Mexico, or anywhere in the Southwest, you know what a valuable and rare commodity a campfire can be in the summertime. This time of year, fire restrictions bloom across the land faster than a red wine stain on a white shirt.

We had taken care to select an area which did not forbid campfires, and soon ours was glowing and crackling beautifully. Note: if you do not yet have an expert campfire builder in your circle of friends, recruit one immediately. We pulled up chairs, passed around brownies in celebration of my birthday earlier that week — is there a better place than a campfire to hear “Happy Birthday” sung to you? — and, quite simply, relaxed.

The next morning, we slept in as late as the sun would allow (not very late, given how quickly a tent heats up). After savoring instant coffee and stuffing our faces with delicious, freshly-made breakfast burritos, the day opened before us like a marvelous present. No errands to run, no schedule to keep. I love camping.

We went for a hike up a gravel road that turned into a trail, winding through tall pines. We played an impressively well-organized cornhole tournament, complete with team names and brackets. The boys, unsurprisingly, had brought a few firearms, which led to — at a safe distance from camp — spirited target practice. There were long, idle conversations under the shade of tarps. That night, again, there was the campfire.

Saturday’s dinner was mouth-watering elk fajitas a la Robin Hood, with s’mores for dessert. When was the last time you toasted marshmallows over a campfire? If you can’t remember (I certainly couldn’t), get out there as soon as possible. It may just be the greatest dessert in the world; not to mention the lively debate that usually ensues: light the marshmallow on fire, or just slow-roast it?

Sunday morning was a lot like Saturday, only with breakfast sandwiches instead of burritos. Again, delicious. What is it about eating outside that makes great food taste even better?

After the dismantling of tents and packing of gear (tinged with a little sadness, as always), we all headed home. Several hours later, I showered, did laundry, and relished indoor plumbing.

But I can’t wait for my clothes to smell like a campfire again.

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Love Like Crazy

Two quotes are running through my mind. One is “Love like crazy,” from one of my favorite country songs. The other is “Thank you for hills and the strength to climb” — I don’t know who said that first, but I like it.

Recent events have gotten me thinking about what’s important and what isn’t.

Two concepts often fight for priority rights in my mind (maybe in yours, too): people and things.

We all have things we love. I love my bow and arrows. I love my floppy sun hat, the quilt that my friend Hillary made for me, and the smell of old books. Activities also count as things — I love running. Gardening. Reading. Archery. I could fill a whole blog post with that list.

Things are good. They give us the means to fill our time in fun and productive ways. They give us goals. They fuel passion and ambition. Without things, life would be pretty dull.

But things have their limits. My floppy sun hat, although it protects me from sunburn, doesn’t make me laugh until I’m doing a weird shrieky cackle. Gardening may give me food, but it won’t give me a bear hug. My most recent archery shoot was fun, but not because of the way I shot.

It was because of the people there. Those people made what would have just been an afternoon slinging arrows in dusty, blistering heat into an enjoyable experience that I would do all over again.

People make life. But how often do people get put aside because of things? I’ve often turned down invitations or put off calling someone because I “had to” do this or do that. I’m not saying we need to constantly surround ourselves with people — pssst, I’m an introvert — but seriously, what’s more important: washing dishes (chores totally count as things) or calling a friend to wish him a happy birthday?

I know you’re thinking, “What about the things that make us better people — the things that smooth our rough edges and help us to be great friends, spouses, parents, etc.?” And I would agree; there are plenty of things that do this. I’m thinking especially (surprise, surprise) of running.

Running does make us better people. It makes us healthier and happier. It makes me frankly easier to live with. But it does more than that. To borrow from a theme of one of my favorite writers, Kristin Armstrong, running prepares us. Tackling hills, negotiating gnarly trails, sweating through the last miles of a difficult long run – all of this mentally strengthens us to handle challenges elsewhere in life with grace and aplomb.

But rather than dilute the “people priority,” I think things like running strengthen it. How many of us run, as stated above, to be better spouses, parents, etc.? How many of us start doing something because someone special introduced us to it? Growing a garden is fabulous, but what if we didn’t have anyone with whom to share our freshly-grown vegetables? And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the best parts about all that strength we get from our chosen “thing,” running or otherwise, using it to help other people? To share their loads?

Loving things is okay. Just as long as you don’t forget to love people.

Living it Up on La Luz

Robin Hood and I had been planning to hike La Luz (home of the annual La Luz Trail Run) since our anniversary back in April. Other priorities kept popping up like moles you whack in that carnival game, and way-laid our hike — until last weekend!

Our plan was to park at the trailhead early on Sunday morning, hike up the mountain, eat lunch at the restaurant at the top, and ride the tram back down. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

We thought so. We started our hike a little after 6:30. The sun still sat behind the mountains, but provided sufficient light to see the trail. The temperature was gloriously cool. We had walked for about a mile when we were struck by what I like to call the “La Luz Conundrum.” My car was at the trailhead. We were going to take the tram down the mountain. The base of the tram was…not at the trailhead.

**Insert sound of forehead-slapping here**

Aaaaaand poof, we could look forward to a few extra miles of hiking! Luckily, there was a connector trail from the base of the tram to the trailhead, so we wouldn’t be completely stranded.

Anyway.

Robin Hood and I took our time, with liberal water and snack breaks, which frequently turned into “Shannon experimenting with her smartphone camera” breaks. When we got close to the end of the trail, we parked ourselves on a huge rock for one last rest and gazed around, marveling at how much we could see and how far we had come.

I’ll say this: if you want to get to know a person better, go on a long hike with them. Long hikes are excellent tests of patience, stamina, sense of humor, patience, adaptability, and patience. EVERYONE in the hiking party will at some point:

* get tired
* get hungry
* want to walk faster or slower
* get sick of leap-frogging the same people repeatedly
* need to pee in the bushes
* wonder if this is the correct trail, or if it’s actually a trail leading to the lair of a giant man-eating chipmunk

…and the list goes on. It’s all about the balance of things. When someone gets tired, someone else suggests a rest stop, or tells amusing stories as a distraction. When someone needs to pee in the bushes, someone else acts as the lookout. It can absolutely work. And if the hike ends with no one having been hurled off a cliff, that friendship/relationship is golden.

Thankfully, Robin Hood and I reached the top without any hurling of bodies. I daresay we were even smiling. We devoured a delicious lunch (a burger for him, a turkey sandwich for me, paired with arguably the best coleslaw ever), bought our tram tickets, and rode in ease back down the mountain.

I wish I could tell you that the hike on the connector trail, back towards our car, was a delightful lark. I wish I could tell you that. We were no longer in shade. It was the middle of the afternoon. True, we had plenty of water, but I’m pretty sure I was on the brink of hallucinations, and I’m also pretty sure that Robin Hood nearly threw a cactus at me when I tried to lighten the mood with some [slightly off-key] singing.

Ah, romance!

But we did it. We made it back to the car. We were smiling. We still liked each other. I even want to do it again some day.

After all, he is an awfully good lookout during a trailside pit stop.

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The Downhill

On Sunday I found myself considering a run in the foothills. The distance I was considering was the longest I’d run since the marathon, and it had been even longer since I had run in the hills at all. After a teensy bit of hesitation, I made up my mind: summertime heat or no, grasshoppers or no (seriously, check it out: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/06/03/grasshoppers-new-mexico-weather-service/9906329/), it was time for a reunion with the trails.

I always forget how long that initial ascent across the Bear Canyon open space can feel, especially after a lengthy separation from it. I took it slowly this time, trying to appreciate the beauty of nature around me as my body began its gradual reacclimation to summer running (after years of experience, I can confidently maintain that I’ll be reacclimated by mid-September). Finally, I reached what I call the “foothills proper” — steeper hills, yes, but also prettier views.

I continued on, trying not to let my breathing and/or appearance cause too much concern to folks I passed. Yep, nothing like getting back to hill workouts!

When I got to my turnaround point, I paused, took in the view of the hills around me and the city below me, and murmured a slightly wheezy “thank you” to God, to myself, frankly to anyone who was within earshot. Then I ran back down the hill.

Ahhhh.

What else is there in running that compares to going downhill after a long ascent? I’m not talking about those super-short, crazy-steep numbers, I’m talking about looong doooownhills.

When we’re running uphill, we’re focused; our movements are driven; all else falls aside in the wake of Getting To The Top. But sometimes, on really long ascents, the focus…erodes. Our confidence dissipates, and the only thing moving us onward and upward is…what? Muscle memory?

Not like muscle memory is a bad thing, because hey, it Gets Us To The Top. And at the top we can revel in the moment and do a totally-earned victory dance. But then what? If we stay at the top for too long, those muscles that carried us to the top will tighten up. We’ll get cold. Mountain bikers might run us over. No good.

The downhill is essential. The downhill loosens our muscles back up. The downhill gets our blood flowing again, but in a way that doesn’t exhaust us. The downhill provides an opportunity to relax, regroup, and refocus. Our breathing no longer frightens strangers, and everything falls back into place.

After the beautiful, hectic blur that was May, my life is in a brief but lovely downhill stretch. I’m no longer living out of a suitcase. I’ve more or less re-entered my pre-May routine, as far as working, sleeping, and living go. I’m running on a regular basis again — I’ve challenged myself to run every day in the month of June, and I’m determined to do it. And it will be a full two weeks before my next road trip!

It’s the little things.

So, to anyone who is engaged in a long uphill climb of any kind right now, rest assured that you will make it to the top, and you will get your downhill, and everything will fall back into place.

And somewhere in between, I really, really recommend doing that victory dance.

We arrived in the city of Verdun on Tuesday via the TGV, whose motto is: “Someone’s steering this thing, right?”

With only minor head-scratching over the map, we walked from the train station to the hotel. Not only was Le Coq Hardi a lovely hotel, but it had a gloriously towering monument right up the street. I guess when the street name is l’Avenue de Victoire, that’s to be expected.

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Once we dropped our bags in our rooms, we headed out for a late lunch. I had a tasty assortment of cheese and my first beer of the trip.

* Sip of History: Verdun lies in the Lorraine region, which, together with the region of Alsace, went back and forth between French and German ownership several times. The Germans may not have been perfect, but they did encourage an appreciation of beer.

After lunch, we explored. We walked along the Meuse River, passed through the old city gates, noted tempting-looking eateries [who am I kidding? They were all tempting!] saw a handful of monuments, and found the city’s Citadel.

* Sip of History: Verdun was the site of two World War I battles. The first was in 1916, between the French and Germans, when the French famously declared “They shall not pass.” The second was in 1918, this time with the U.S. involved — this was the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

That evening, we ate dinner at our hotel’s restaurant, where I had the best fish — filet of sole — that I’ve ever eaten. Let’s just say there was butter.

Wednesday was touring day! While Erin, Adam and I went for a run, Mom and Dad picked up the rental car Dad had reserved. After breakfast, we all piled into the car — a Mercedes, somehow, diesel, with everything so automatic that it was spooky — and ventured forth into the Lorraine countryside.

Our mission that day was to trace the steps of my great-grandfather, who fought in the 1918 battle. We did just that. We started at Chattancourt, visited Le Mort-Homme (Dead Man’s Hill), and drove through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. We made a side trip to the American military cemetery.

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* Sip of History: The American military cemetery at Verdun is the largest in France. Yup, it’s bigger than Normandy’s.

We walked quietly amidst ruins where towns once stood, and as we drove along, kept seeing signs that noted a “Village Detruit” — a village completely destroyed by war. As we drove along the remote forest-lined road where Great-Grandpa last fought before thankfully coming home, it felt like time had stood still. Sure, the trees had grown back, but other than that, not much seemed to have changed in the last century. I guess that’s a monument in itself.

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All in all, a humbling day.

The next day was devoted to the 1916 battle. We visited two forts: Fort de Vaux, and Fort de Douaumont.

* Sip of History: The forts were part of a chain designed to render Verdun impregnable. It was a terrific idea…on paper. Unfortunately, the forts’ designers didn’t count on weaponry advancements and the effect of constant artillery pummeling.

We learned that at Fort de Vaux, the French held out for an unreal length of time before finally succumbing to the Germans. We learned that the Germans captured Douaumont and clung to it with all their might for eight months before finally succumbing to the French. We learned that in both forts, life was rotten: over-crowding, cave-ins, fires, sickness, and the occasional release of poisonous chemicals were all standard.

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Again, a humbling day.

* Sip of Here-and-Now: Not many Americans visit Verdun, probably because we weren’t involved in World War I for very long. My opinion? More should. There is plenty to learn and see, from the grim French sign advising “Better to die under the rubble of the fort than to surrender,” to the expansive American cemetery, to the somber dignity of the German shrines.

* Food Note: When in Verdun, the best way to do lunch is on the side of the road with a baguette, a couple different cheeses, and a bottle of beer. Also, eat as much Quiche Lorraine as humanly possible. Maybe more.

* Running Note: Verdun is proof that it’s tough to beat a run alongside a river. We ran along the Meuse several times, and it was lovely. We even saw a fly-fisherman.

With a new respect for the past, we returned to Paris on Friday.

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EPILOGUE: The weather finally turned gorgeous at the end of our trip. Better late than never, right? On Saturday, we visited Montmartre. We snapped photos of the Moulin Rouge, ambled through the exquisite Basilique, and walked down the famous staircase. We ate lunch at a bustling cafe, walked through the cemetery (in which we nearly got lost) and by the end of the day, we were darn near experts at riding the Paris Metro!

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We ate yet another delicious supper, and for dessert, at the risk of making this post superlative-heavy, I had the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had. A fitting end to the journey, I’d say.

The next day, we got up early, caught our shuttle to Charles de Gaulle, and before we knew it, we were over the Atlantic, westward-bound. I thought of the traditional words of customers leaving a French cafe:

Merci, au revoir.

The time: Friday, May 9, a little after 4 pm Eastern.

The place: Dulles International Airport.

The people: My mom, my dad, my sister Erin, her husband Adam, and myself.

The destination: Paris, France.

The emotion: Wheeeee!

Somehow we juggled all of our luggage in a manner that did NOT knock any unsuspecting strangers unconscious. We maneuvered our way towards the gate from which our Air France flight would depart, and I think all of our eyes widened.

The plane was a double-decker, and it was impressive. We filed to our seats and tucked in for the six-hour flight ahead of us. Since we would arrive in Paris around 6 am local time and napping that first day is ill-advised, I wanted to try and get some shut-eye, but that would wait until after dinner.

Two things about dinner: 1) I can’t remember the last time I had an actual meal on an airplane, and 2) It was one of the best meals I’d had in a while, period.

The trip was off to a good start.

I did eventually doze off, and the time passed comfortably. We touched down at Charles de Gaulle just in time for a French sunrise.

We were in France!!!

Buoyed by a tasty onboard breakfast and the adrenaline of arrival, we made our way through customs and baggage claim, exchanged dollars for euros, and found the shuttle that would take us to our hotel.

Navigate Charles de Gaulle Airport? Check!

Before long, we were walking through the doors of Hotel Therese. The hotel is beautiful, with gabled rooms, a steep, curving staircase [we actually encountered a lot of those during the course of our vacation], and great views. Here’s the view from one room:

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Also, it’s within walking distance of the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and dozens of other fabulous places, which doesn’t hurt.

We walked to a nearby cafe for breakfast: Coffee. Pain au chocolat. Croissants. Nuff said.

Fortified, we started acquainting ourselves with the neighborhood. The weather was cool and intermittently rainy, but that didn’t slow us down. We walked, savored, and walked some more. We ate lunch in the Latin Quarter, and I learned a new definition of blissful contentment: Just standing outside Notre Dame and looking at it.

We had an appointment to keep, however: a bicycle tour through Paris. Our guide was a well-traveled Dutch girl named Amber. Amber was very nice. The tour, however, was one of the more nerve-rattling experiences of my recent memory. Steering a bike through Paris traffic, through dense crowds of people, through narrow gaps between sidewalk posts…not for the cycling novice! That said, we did see a lot of cool things, and if you’re into cycling, I would certainly recommend a bike tour as a way to see any new city.

On Sunday morning, several of us stepped out for a run on a route which promptly became one of my favorites ever: We ran the short distance from the hotel to the Louvre, then just ran straight out, through the Jardin des Tuileries, past the Obelisk (commemorating the site of many a beheading), up the Champs Elysees, to the Arc de Triomphe. Talk about a Rave Run!

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After breakfast in the hotel (two delicious pastries and coffee for 6 euros) we did some more exploring. We strolled through the Jardin and meandered up the Champs Elysees, trying to imagine how it will look just a couple of months from now for the end of the Tour de France. We reached the Arc de Triomphe and did some exploring there, including a visit to the top. Like Notre Dame, the Arc did not disappoint — it is every bit as magnificent, if not more so, as you’d imagine.

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We couldn’t leave Paris without visiting the Louvre, but having been warned about the immensity of the place, we went in with a game plan. On Monday morning after our run (darting between early-morning commuters on the Champs is a flat-out fun way to do an interval workout, FYI) we entered the museum with the goal of seeking out the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and a couple of other specific items. We succeeded, but good GRIEF is it easy to get lost in there!

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After the Louvre, we decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower. We had been unable to get tickets to the top before our trip, but Dad was feeling lucky, and we hoped that the wind and rain would keep the competition — er, other tourists — indoors.

Again, success! We got tickets and climbed in. One elevator takes you part of the way up, then you have to get in another to finish the journey. Before we got on the second elevator, we stopped for coffee and a panoramic view of the city, and warily eyed the weather, which wasn’t getting any better. No matter. We were there, we were DOING THIS.

At last we stepped out at the top…and were met with rainy gusts of sufficient force to keep everyone at one end or another, away from the wind tunnels that comprised the other two sides. I think I stayed outside for all of four minutes. Oh well!

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Couples in Paris have taken to putting their names or initials on padlocks, attaching the padlock somewhere prominent, and throwing away the key.

Couples in Paris have taken to putting their names or initials on padlocks, attaching the padlock somewhere prominent, and throwing away the key.

We made our slightly soggy way back our hotel’s neighborhood, where we had another delicious meal, and then called it a day. The next day we would be taking the train to Verdun for an immersion into World War I history.

End Notes:

* The people of Paris were lovely. I can’t think of a single complaint about them.

* It’s worth keeping a few one-euro coins handy. There are public bathrooms in Paris, but you frequently have to pay to use them.

* Every church we saw was awe-inspiring. Every. One of them. Especially Saint Chappelle, with its towering stained-glass windows. Definitely worth visiting if you’re in Paris!

* To conclude: I loved Paris.

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Next week: France, Part II — Vive Verdun!

Greetings from the inside of my suitcase!

When you read this, I’ll be en route to France for my first-ever European adventure, and two weeks from now I’ll have all kinds of stories to share…hopefully none of which will involve a dog atop the Eiffel Tower, a la National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

For now, though, I have another adventure to talk about: Colorado!

The Colorado visit was dual-purposed — to kick off the celebration of Robin Hood’s birthday, and to attend the wedding of my friends Emily and Robbie.

For the first leg, Robin Hood had decided that he wanted to go to Pueblo, CO to fly-fish in the Arkansas River. He’d had success there before, and itched for another go, particularly since Albuquerque is not exactly known for its stellar fishing opportunities. He was the birthday boy, so he got his way: we would leave Albuquerque on Friday, stop over in Pueblo, then continue to Denver after the fishing on Saturday.

We arrived in Pueblo late Friday night, and drove to the river the next morning. Robin Hood suited up, got his fishing license checked by the game warden, and picked his spot. I slathered on sunscreen, grabbed a folding chair and the latest Runner’s World, and picked my spot. What followed boils down like this:

Negatives: I forgot that Robin Hood might need to find me on the riverbank, and wandered around a bit. Apparently, tramping around in waders under a hot sun trying to find your girlfriend isn’t much fun. Oops. Also, the fish in that river had all left town. None were biting. Boo.

Positives: The sun was shining. The Arkansas River was lovely. And I got to take pictures of my fly-fisherman!

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Late in the afternoon, we called it a day as far as the fishing went, and trucked up to Denver. We had to hustle a little, as we had tickets for that night’s Rockies game, but it worked out fine: we checked into our hotel (the Magnolia; I recommend it), showered, and covered the walking distance to Coors Field just in time for the Rockies to get a grand slam! Okay, so we were fashionably late to the game, but we enjoyed ourselves, and the Rockies WON!!

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Sunday: The Wedding.

I’d looked forward to this day for a long time. Emily and Robbie are wonderful people, and a ridiculously cute couple. They fell in love pretty much within seconds of meeting, and they are absolutely made for each other. Plus, I knew the wedding would be amazing — Emily did loads of DIY decorations, and Robbie brewed the beer in addition to making the food [see? they’re wonderful].

Sure enough, the event was awesome. Since it took place deliberately on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you!), that theme was prevalent. Even the beers had names like “Rebel Red” and “JedIPA”. How cool is that?? The venue, an industrial studio space, was light, airy and perfect. The music — a string quartet for the ceremony; a jazz band for the reception — was great; and the food and beer were delicious. And there was dancing! I can happily report that Robin Hood and I danced with minimal toe trampling.

But the best part? Seeing two really, really cool people launch their life together, while showing that love can be elegant, fun, simple and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

Emily and Robbie: May the force be with you guys, always.

Rebuilding

There’s nothing like the time immediately after a marathon to shift your focus outside of yourself.

I will be joyfully attending the wedding of my friends Emily and Robbie this weekend, and as for the rest of the month — well, let’s just say that the birthday card aisles of Target and Walgreen’s always get to know me really, really well in May.

Last Saturday wasn’t a birthday or wedding, but I had the privilege of participating in something just as worthy of celebration: fixing up a home.

My friends Dustin and Shannon sit on the board of Rebuilding Together Albuquerque, a non-profit organization whose mission is to renovate the homes of low-income homeowners who are elderly or disabled. Dustin and Shannon invited Robin Hood and I to help with a renovation project. Robin Hood, being handy, accepted eagerly. I, having a more elementary grasp of handiwork (hey, at least I’ve never hammered any fingers!), accepted more…cautiously. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t entirely sure how useful how I would be.

We arrived at the designated house just after 8 am — it felt nice to get up early on a weekend for something other than a run, I must say. After some introductions, distribution of safety goggles, and my grateful observation of the onsite porta-potty, we got to work. Robin Hood got assigned indoor duty, which meant tearing up floors and doing other such tasks that raised lots of noise and dust.

I was sent to the yard.

The other Shannon and I trooped outside, sporting sturdy gloves. We wielded a shovel, two rakes, an armful of Hefty garbage bags, and grim determination. And we needed them all.

It’s been a while since I’ve tackled serious yard work. Sure, I’ve helped friends pull weeds over the years, and assisted with some gardening, but living in an apartment, my “yard work” consists primarily of dumping potting soil into flower pots. Fairly mild stuff. As I began tugging at the weeds that carpeted that yard on Saturday, eying at the same time the haphazard piles of lawn debris and leaves that needed raking and bagging, I shuddered just a little.

However, we soon fell into a rhythm of pulling, raking, and bagging, and our chatter made the time pass quickly. There’s something about uncomplicated manual labor, especially the outdoor variety, that just feels good. You put in honest hard work, and you see the results instantly. My back may have gotten a little achy, but the part of me that loves to organize was positively dancing.

One of the best parts of the day was meeting the gentleman who owned the house, as well as his granddaughter. They were as nice as could be, and thanked us repeatedly for everything we were doing. Meeting them, and seeing how just a little bit of work can go a LONG way in helping someone, was humbling.

I can’t begin to describe how impressed I was by the Rebuilding Together team. From the leadership, to the doling out and management of the many renovation tasks, to food, to the porta-potty (I get excited by convenient toilets, okay?), to the can-do attitudes of everyone, these folks did a stellar job.

When they do another project, my work gloves will be ready and waiting.

Blur

I’m writing this from the increasingly-familiar cocoon of post-travel detritus. Partially-unpacked bags test the patience of my couch; dirty laundry slumps dolefully in a corner; unsorted mail spreads across my kitchen countertop like seashells after the tide.

Oh, and the lingering presence that clearly indicates precisely what kind of travel I’ve just done: soreness that renders my walk somewhat comical, and my efforts to descend stairs downright embarrassing.

Yep, it’s marathon recovery time, alright!

I remember last weekend as not just one blur, but a series of them. Friday morning was a sleepy blur of good-byes, hugs, I love you’s, and shuffling onto the plane. The next 19 hours in Virginia were a blur that went by way too fast, but I did seize an opportunity to walk barefoot on my parents’ lawn. I don’t think Albuquerque has grass that lush even on its golf courses. Saturday was a blur of East Coast highways, big cities, small towns, pretty rivers, and, so help me, the finest rest areas in the USA.

And then: BOSTON. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency downtown, and for its treatment of runners and support crews, I would recommend the place to anyone and everyone. Not to mention its stellar location.

We met up with my brother Chris, got settled in, and rustled up some food in the Faneuil Hall neighborhood. It teemed with runners, families of runners, street performers, and I’m sure plenty of locals who thought the whole lot of us were crazy.

On Sunday, we went to Easter Mass, had brunch, then launched ourselves at Circus Maximus, a.k.a. the Boston Marathon Expo. Talk about a blur! After maybe an hour (give or take the purchase of three shirts and the sighting of Kara Goucher’s profile) my senses were maxed out and I was ready to go.

Then back to the hotel room where, mercifully, the blurring stopped. A moment of relaxation. An early, delicious Italian dinner in the North End, followed by a visit to a pastry shop down the street [Mike’s Pastry Shop. Go there.]. And more relaxing at the hotel.

Monday morning. The race was probably the biggest blur of all. Considering my training, I concluded that while it wasn’t realistically a PR day, I should be able to cover the 26.2 in less than 3:30:00. Standing in my starting corral, I set my brain to “steady.” And proceeded to hold true to that…sort of. You know how, in some marathons, you just float through the first half, while in other marathons you have to concentrate during the whole stinkin’ thing? This marathon was the latter for me.

I coaxed my legs along and tried to absorb every drop of energy that I could from the spectacular cheering crowds. And they were spectacular. Vivid points in that blur? The girls at Wellesley. The lady who handed me a much-needed Vaseline stick. Every water stop in the last five miles. Hearing my parents shouting encouragement at the corner of Commonwealth and Hereford. Finally, the race clock, still reading “3:29:……” as I heaved my exhausted self those last few meters.

Official time: 3:29:27.

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

I returned to Albuquerque on Tuesday evening. Now it’s a tradition, with Robin Hood and I and some friends of ours, to meet at a local bar for a bite and a drink every Tuesday night. Thus, after Robin Hood picked me up at the airport, we stopped at my place to drop off luggage, then headed to the bar. As we pulled into the parking lot, he said, “So, we were thinking that since we weren’t able to cheer for you at the marathon itself…” and then I looked down at the other end of the lot and saw a small crowd gathered, holding a blue and yellow paper finish line across the road, ringing cowbells like mad and hollering their lungs out. Robin Hood produced a portable speaker, and into the air burst the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”

I was dumbfounded.

Did I break a cardinal rule and run the day after a marathon?

You bet I did!

photo3

Thanks Hyatt Regency!

Thanks Hyatt Regency!

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.

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