Living life one pair of running shoes at a time.

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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.

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* 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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CO2

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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CO4

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!

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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.

Pie from a Turkey

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

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

I got a slap in the face instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thicker Than Water

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

Florida!

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

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

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

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

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

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

AES

Pop.

Strangely, the Earth didn’t move.

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

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

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

I kid, I kid.

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

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

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

Yup, this was gonna happen.

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

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

And then he said, “You’re ready.”

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

Pop.

Not “Bang!” Not “Ker-POW!” Just pop.

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

gun

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

The Go-To Run

Do you have a go-to run?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home at the Range

It was a dark and stormy night.

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

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

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

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

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

archery1

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

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

archery2

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

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

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

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

I’m liking this sport more and more.

archery3

Pumpkin Patch Kids

It began innocently enough.

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

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

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

McCalls1

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

The sun was setting.

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

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

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

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

McCalls2

Crisp

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

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

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

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

I suggest running.

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

Just writing about it energizes me!

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

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

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

F is for…

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

    Fiesta.

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

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

    Food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friends.

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

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

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

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol

Bal2

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

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

Storing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darn right I’m storing up.

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

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

Run What You Sow

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

A brand new season!

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

And, of course, the running.

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

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

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

Sound familiar, runners?

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

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

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

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

apples

Dirty Salsa, Part II

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

Half a beer later, I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to the fall racing season!

Dirty Salsa, Part I

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

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

The competitor in me smelled blood.

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

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

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

Maybe I could catch her.

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

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

It worked!

Lesson learned: You just never know.

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

Dirty

Travel Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One word describes last weekend: adventures.

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

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

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

Wince.

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

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

Archery

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

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

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

Ah, yes. The rainfall.

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

With no guard rails.

Did I mention the recent rainfall?

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

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

Tour de Bad

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

Problem.

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

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

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

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

Inspiration!

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

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

BB1

BB2

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

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

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

BB3

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

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

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

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

Constant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like running.

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

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

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

What’s your constant?

Sun1

Sun2

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

Girl Meets Bow

I bought a bow!

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

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

Decisions!

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

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

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

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

I shot an 80.

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

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

Life is good.

Archer1

Archer2

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