What is Success, Anyway?

I had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful people on a recent trip to Colorado.  One of them felt like a “new old friend” – one of those people who for no readily-apparent reason I just instantly like and can talk with easily, as if meeting with an old friend.

Like me, she’s had setbacks, including painful injuries.  while admittedly, I don’t know all that much about her, but she is smart, pretty, and has accomplished a lot in her trips around the sun.  She told me, quietly, that she doesn’t think she’s successful.  I asked her, “what does it mean to be successful?

She told me that she’d have to think about it.   It told her that I would, too.

Dictionary.com lists three definitions for the word “success.”

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.

I don’t really feel that any of those definitions defines what I look at when I attempt to define “success” as it applies to me or to those who I encounter in daily life.

If I accomplish one set of goals, I may have achieved success, but am I still “successful” if I simply stop there?  Are the possession of wealth, position and honors a good measure of success, really?

Is my success as a lawyer determined by my financial gain or by the number of people whose lives I touch?  Is my success as a measured by keeping my children alive to adulthood, or must they thrive on their own in an adult world?

I didn’t feel very successful as a young adult.  I don’t know what my personal measure of success was at 28, but I do recall that I was nervous about meeting my biological grandparents because I was divorced, a single parent and overweight.  I didn’t consider that the fact that  I was employed, working hard and buying my own home may have looked like success to my grandparents.

As a 33-year-old undergraduate student, I tutored a young man in math.  I was not a top math student, but my scores were higher than his, so I learned how to solve the problems and then I taught him to solve them, too.  We both passed the class.  That was definitely a success.

My personal framework for success is evolving.  At one time, I would have deemed myself a success having received a college degree.  When I attained that goal, I was proud for a moment, but I still didn’t feel successful.    Now that I have a BA and  JD and my own law practice, I feel successful when I win an argument and I don’t feel successful when I compare my paycheck to that of a colleague working for a big firm.

Since my conversation a month ago with my new, old friend, I have put some thought into answering the question of, “what is success?”

I’ve trained for two half-marathons.  In both cases, I logged hundreds of miles in training.  I did not finish my first attempt.  I did finish my second attempt.  Was I a failure the first time and a success the second time?  If “success” is measured by completing a race, then that is the case.  Although I felt momentarily defeated when I was “swept” from the course on that first attempt, I was proud of having successfully completed a training program, losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a lot of self-confidence.  I overcame a lot of obstacles in order to chalk up that failure.  Overall, that experience, and the fire it lit under me to finish the next time was definitely a contributing factor to my later “success.”

Speaking of that weight – I still have a sizeable amount to release.  am I a success for having lost over 100 lbs and keeping most of it off, or must I reach that elusive “goal weight” to be a success in the health arena?  Do my A1C, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements contribute to success?

I’m very much a success story in some arenas.  In other areas, I’m a desperate failure.  I choose not to focus on those because I can only fix one or two things at a time.

One person who reads my musings may call me a “thought leader.”  Another recently told me I was full of Bull***t.  Guess which one I listened to (and then look back at the space between my blog posts in recent months…)

For today, I will define “success” as living a life consistent with my values.  That’s a higher bar than one would think some days.

What is “success”?  Do you feel successful?  What will it take for you to feel like a success?  Leave em a comment.  Let’s have a conversation.

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Who are You Going to Listen To?

Here’s a quick recap for those of you who don’t really know me or have lost touch.  I got hurt badly in a fall just before law school.  Already significantly overweight before law school, the injury, horrible diet (can you say free pizza?) and hours and hours of studying coupled with a completely sedentary lifestyle added up to a middle-aged woman who was not just morbidly obese – I was “super obese.”

Some years later, through changes in diet, DDP Yoga (check it out – it’s amazing) and putting on a pair of running shoes for the first time in my life, I lost over 100 pounds.

My Facebook feed was full of photos of the meals I prepared and notifications from Nike Running Club that I was going for a run.  When people “liked” my post, the app would cheer.  It was really motivating!  I attempted a half marathon in 2015 and was “swept” at mile 8 (I couldn’t maintain the minimum pace).  I didn’t give up.  I was training for a “rematch” with the same half marathon course when I read a Facebook post written by a law school classmate who I considered a close friend.

I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of the post was that people who aren’t serious athletes shouldn’t post about their workouts – that we just are attention seekers and our “friends” don’t really care about our workouts.  Especially guilty were those of us who enter a competition and fail to complete it.  I was devastated.  He didn’t write my name, but I was all of those things.  I did manage to finish the 2016 half marathon attempt (just barely), but afterward, I lost my mojo.  I would run a few times a month, but I never got back into a predictable schedule.

I stopped posting, so I lost the “cheers.”  I stopped running, so I lost the endorphins that exercise releases.  I started eating potato chips again.  Life took some really tough turns, and instead of going for a run to ease the anxiety, I turned back to food.  Over time, I packed on nearly 50 pounds of weight.

As a self-employed person, my health insurance premiums became really expensive.  I switched from traditional health insurance to a health share plan, and in order to be approved, I had to agree to work with a health coach.  He doesn’t tell me what to do.  He helps me to set goals, and when we check in every week or so, he asks me how I did.  With his help, I’ve dropped 30 pounds.

I’ve missed running.  I’m very slow, so running any distance requires a significant time commitment for me.  My “homework” from my coach a couple of months ago was to sign up for a race.  I signed up for the Cleveland Rite-Aid Marathon Weekend 5K / 10K Challenge which was held this weekend (May 19-20, 2018).  The “overachiever” in me couldn’t just sign up for the 5K.  I had earned 3 medals in 2016 for completing a challenge, so registered for both the 5K and 10K and I set out to repeat that feat.

Here in Ohio, the weather has been miserable.  To top it off, my left foot has decided to grow some benign, but uncomfortable “lumps.”  These two factors combined to make a very serviceable excuse to skip training runs.  I skipped lots of them.  Basically, I didn’t train – I just ran a couple of times when the weather was nice.

I checked the weather forecast mid-week.  Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be stormy.  I ran the 5K / 10K in 2016 when Cleveland had sleet, hail and thundersnow (yes, that’s a real thing) in mid-May.  I nearly didn’t pick up my race packet.

By Friday morning, the forecast had improved.  The forecast showed clear windows for both races.  I posted about not being ready and about my food hurting, and a running friend (an ultramarathoner, no less) encouraged me to join the ranks of the injured and undertrained and do it anyway – so I did.

Saturday was the 5K.  I did really well.  I ran the fastest 5K I’ve run since I started running again.  I was stoked.  Sunday, I arrived at the start and it started raining.  I very nearly turned back, got on the train and made my way back to my car.  The voice of my “friend” was back in my head.  I was going to finish near the very back of the pack.  I hadn’t made it to anywhere near 6 miles in my training runs, and to be honest, other than yesterday’s 5K, I had only run once or twice in the past month.

I was just about to allow my “friend’s” imaginary voice that was telling me that I did not belong on the course to persuade me to return to the car when another  law school classmate saw me and talked to me for quite some time.  He was running his first race.  That brief conversation gave me a minute to chase the other classmate out of my head.

I was sore from the 5K.  I held back the first half of the race because I knew that I was under-trained and I was virtually certain to run out of steam.  I was fine until about mile 4.5 when we had to climb a really steep hill.  I was really tired.  I wasn’t in pain, but it was hard to make my feet go faster than a slow walk.  My pace had dropped, and that guy’s voice in my head was working on me again – “You didn’t train for this.  Nobody cares about your posts.  Nobody cares about your run.  You’re a fake!”

I was discouraged.  I felt like crying when a voice cried, “Betty!”  Yet another law school classmate stopped in the middle of her own race to grab me and wrap me in a hug.  Take that, “mean guy.”  People do care.

The last mile and a half was slow, but I didn’t care.  I was soaked to the skin (the rain never did completely stop) and out of energy, but I had a grin on my face that nobody could erase.  I crossed the bridge over the Cuyahoga River that was just before the finisher’s chute.  I collected my medal.  I found my way to the tent where I received another medal for the completing two races in one weekend, and ran into yet another law school classmate.  She cared, too.

This is a long, long story.  The moral of the story is be careful who you allow as a “tenant” in your head.  Nearly every time I post on social media about a run or a race, I receive a whole bunch of “likes,” which I translate as a positive thing.  Maybe it *is* attention seeking, but if that little reward keeps me on the track or trail, I think it’s worth it.  Anyone who is not interested has the power to block, unfollow or simply “mute” me on social media.

I allowed one post by someone who was probably going through his own issues YEARS ago to be an excuse not to do things that are good for me.  Even sadder, that same guy wrote a post a couple of months ago apologizing to his social media friends for basically being a jerk a couple of years ago.  Months later, I was still allowing his years-old post to be my excuse for not trying.

I ran more than 9.3 miles this weekend, most of them in a cold, miserable rain.  I didn’t use an app that “cheered” me, but I received live, in person love from people I haven’t seen in person in years.  I collected 3 medals to hang from the cane that I used to need to hobble around my law school.  Most importantly, I’ve issued an eviction notice to the imaginary “friend” in my head because I don’t want to renew his lease.  It’s time for him to go.

The announcer at the race said that 15,000 people were registered for today’s events.  The fact that I found three people I knew, some at just the right moment to keep me from “throwing in the towel,” and one to share my joy in having finished went beyond coincidence.  I believe in miracles, friendship and a bit ‘o luck.  Today I experienced all three.

To all of the people who have told me that I am an inspiration and the reason they started doing something hard – whether it was going back to school or exercising – even running: I’m back.  Being told that you’re an inspiration can be uncomfortable.  I wonder why people say that sometimes because I am so imperfect.  Perhaps it is that very imperfection that inspires.  I get back up time and time again.  It’s okay to stumble.  It’s okay to lose your way from time to time.  Finding your way back to the path  is what matters.  Thank you for believing in me when I stopped believing in myself.

To the friend who accidentally found his way into my head:  I didn’t write this to call you out.  It looks like your life today is going in a fantastic direction.  I miss you and I’m proud of you….I just don’t want you in my head anymore.  Okay?

The moral of the story is:  when you have to choose between listening to people who love you and want you to succeed and people who are going through a hard time and complaining about something they don’t like on social media, choose wisely!

Peace out, I’m going to go hang up my medals!

~Be~

 

Day 5 – Be Authentic

I learned many lessons during Day 4, but I didn’t write about them. I was in a dark mood. I didn’t feel like doing anything except knitting and wasting time on social media, so I didn’t.

I spent a few minutes reviewing some of the comments that readers have left on my previous blog posts. One of the comments that I received recently made note of the observation that although there have been very difficult times in the past year or so, my posts have been (mostly) positive. That is by design, but I realize that perhaps that isn’t the for the greatest good.

I write as a way to cope with my emotions. Being sad, depressed or lonely feels bad. Being angry and anxious feels bad. For me, and I believe for many others, emotions each have a physical sensation that feels “good,” “bad,” or “neutral.”

These past months have been extraordinarily difficult. There have been many days during which I have lashed out at people who care the most about me. There have been days that I have cried and days that I have shirked responsibilities. I have made nasty comments under my breath and though unkind thoughts.

I will be the first to admit that I am extraordinarily imperfect. I strive to be positive and to show kindness. Some days I fail. Some days I am a miserable person to be around.

There would be something wrong with me if I only felt happiness while my mother was dying. I experienced sadness, rage, confusion and frustration on a daily basis. I had some really bad days.

I wrote in a journal daily. I let the feelings out. I didn’t keep them inside, and by letting them out in the light, I was able to deal with them. Writing about the negative emotions felt like opening the curtains on a dark room and throwing open the windows to allow the clean air to come in.

Many problems don’t look so big or so scary when you put them on a piece of paper.

I started writing in a new journal 3 days before Mom was hospitalized in August. I chose a book with black paper because I felt like even a grocery list could look elegant written in white ink on black paper. I filled every page of that book. Today I filled the last page. I’ve never been so relieved to finish filling a journal and being able to move on. Instead of a black book with black pages and a black cover, I’m next writing in a beautiful book wit a purple cover embellished with beautiful colors. The pages are ivory and they have lines so that my writing doesn’t end up all crooked.

I hope that the sadness and anger that sometimes filled those black pages becomes a thing of the past as I move out of this dark chapter in my life.

Death visits us all. My experience is not special or unique. Losing a parent is the “natural order” of things. Although I won’t allow myself to wallow in grief, the words of a dear friend remind me to be kind to myself. “You are never truly prepared to say goodbye to your mother, no matter hard you try.” He was right.

I’m not feeling very happy or positive today. I’m also not feeling very negative today. I’m pretty close to “neutral” on the emotional spectrum, and I think that’s a pretty good place to be at this stage in the grieving game.

Spread kindness, sprinkle joy. Be authentic.

This one’s for you 

There was a time not so many years ago when I would write for the joy of writing. I would write stories and poems.  I wrote term papers and articles.  I enjoyed writing.  I enjoyed sharing my writing.  One day it came back to me through the grapevine that someone felt that my writing was “passive aggressive.”  They felt that it was directed at I them.  Maybe it was. I can’t tell you what was in my head at the time.  

Writing was an outlet for my feelings.  Feelings are not always right or wrong.  Brooke Castillo (check out her podcast) says that the thoughts that we have about a circumstance cause our feelings.  If that is correct, then we can change our feelings by changing our thoughts. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. 

I get anxiety. I won’t say that I suffer from it (although I sometimes do), but the fact is that I experience anxiety is truth.  I am feeling anxiety right now. I am anxious that this blog post isn’t eloquent or polished.  I get anxious that people will think there’s something inferior about me because I admit that I have anxiety. 

Anxiety has a physical quality. My tummy feels a little funny and it feels like someone is squeezing my voice box. Sometimes it feels like my heart is beating in my throat. Sometimes anxiety has an identifiable source. Other times, it’s just there. 

My anxiety has a host of symptoms that accompany it. Sometimes I worry. I play a scenario out in my head and invent a dozen potential outcomes – some of them catastrophic. It’s rather like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Sometimes there aren’t conscious thoughts – just a feeling of impending doom. 

I used to love to add to this blog. I allowed anxiety to take it away from me. I worried about what other people might think of me as a person or as a professional. I stopped writing. 

Like other things in life, anxiety ebbs and flows. When anxiety reaches its high tide mark, I stop creating. It takes too much energy. There is nothing left for music or writing. I can get through the things that I have to do, but there isn’t energy left to create.  

When my anxiety is high, I hope for an invitation to spend time with someone then make myself sick being anxious about it. If I can push through the anxiety, I nearly always have a great time. It’s getting there that is the problem. 

I know some remarkable people who have anxiety.  Over time, we learn ways of coping with it, or even harnessing it. I’m no expert on treating anxiety- or even coping with anxiety, but I have survived anxiety for at least 35 years, which qualifies me to say it can be done. 

I’m constantly seeking and evaluating new approaches to dealing with anxiety. Some work better than others. My anxiety toolbox includes exercise, meditation and essential oils.  Sometimes it has included medication and therapy. 

May is mental health awareness month. Perhaps this post would have been more appropriate last month, but the truth is that admitting you have anxiety causes…(you guessed it…) more anxiety!

My hope is that there is someone out there who reads this who will say, “I am not alone.”  I’m putting this blog out in the world unedited, flaws and all, to prove to myself that it’s okay to do C+ work once in a while.  If you think this is for you, it probably is. Tell me what you think.  We can talk about it. It would make me anxious…but I think I’d like it.  

Sometimes it’s as simple as changing shirts

I’m still nursing some injuries and working from home when I can (and this morning, I can).  Last night I was chilled, so I put on a men’s long-sleeved t-shirt as a pajama top.  It worked out great for sleeping, but as I went about my morning routine, I found that the too-long sleeves were getting in the way.  I tried pushing them up, and then I tried rolling them up, but the end result was that no matter how I pushed and rolled, the sleeves kept creeping back down over my hands and getting in the way.

The solution was simple – change shirts. It’s warmer this morning, so I put on a short-sleeved shirt. When I finally changed shirts, I wondered why I had tolerated the pushing and rolling for so long.  Now I can type without annoyance.  I can staple papers without pushing my cuff out of the way.  I can pet the dog without the fabric getting in the way.  It took about 15 seconds to locate and change the shirt.

I’ve spent a lot of my life pushing back metaphorical “sleeves.”  I keep doing the same things that aren’t working over and over, thinking if I roll the sleeve instead of pushing it up, it will be different this time.  It seldom is.  In truth, if it works out, it’s probably because the shirt shrunk in the wash.

Changing your life isn’t as easy as changing your shirt.

My family is “changing shirts” right now.  I’m continuing to practice law, and my husband is going to continue to practice his professions, too, but the model is changing.  It’s a much bigger deal than changing shirts.  It’s a lot like replacing your wardrobe with a new look and giving the old stuff to charity.  We could go back to the way we used to do things, but why would we really want to?  We’d have to go back to pushing up our sleeves every 15 minutes.

When you don’t have to spend a lot of time pushing up your sleeves anymore, you have time to do other things, like crochet washcloths and go to Cedar Point.  You may have time to branch out into another business or to write blogs.  You may find time to find new interests and new friends.  Who’d have thought that simply changing a shirt could be such a big deal?

Just write what you know…

~Be~

Comfort and Joy

Happy New Year!  I’m quite late for a New Year post, I know, and believe me, that’s actually a good thing.  You see, 2016 is the year when I make good on my promise to be good to myself.

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

Historically, I have run in the new year and then spent hours poring over journal entries and blog posts from the previous year, decade, etc. to see where I’ve come from, and what track my life is taking.  This year was different – the clock struck midnight and my husband and I shared a sparkling grape juice toast with our youngest son before heading upstairs – together – and falling peacefully asleep.  There was no attempt to review the past – no tears shed at past hurts, and only one resolution:  to be good to myself.

2016 is the year of comfort and joy.  This is the year of self care and learning to say, “no,” when necessary.  I’m taking time (and making time) to do the things that bring me joy.  I’m allowing myself to enjoy the things that bring me comfort.

This is the year of silly songs at the break of dawn, loose leaf tea in fancy teacups, essential oils that smell like liquid joy or comfort in a bottle, and beautiful fibers that wind themselves into scarves and blankets while my eyes watch the television.

Thanks to the efforts of my husband and children, I once again have a “sacred space,” (named the Betty Room by my hubby) where I can sit quietly to read, pray, meditate, and contemplate.  I’m also getting a new bathtub with enough depth to soak – more comfort (and some joy, too).

My first bit of advice for 2016 is to make room for comfort and joy in your own life.  Experiences that comfort us and that allow us to feel joyful replenish the energy that we deplete when we give.  Although giving to others without expectation of receiving anything in return brings its own rewards, when people take from us without giving, over and over, it can take a spiritual and physical toll.  Seek out joy.  Seek out comfort.  Make your own happiness, and then share from that vessel that is no longer empty.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” – Psalm 23:5

We can pray for comfort and joy, or we can seek it out. I had a difficult Monday with a difficult adversary in a difficult proceeding at work.   It was bitterly cold, and when I stopped my car for gasoline, I opened my back door to retrieve a hat.  When I went to shut the door, it would not latch.  Believing it to be frozen, I took it to a local auto repair place hoping they could quickly thaw it so that I could be on my way to a court proceeding.  It turned out to be a broken latch, not a frozen one, and replacement parts had to be ordered.  There was no way to fasten the door shut (except, possibly the rope and duct tape that my cousin suggested) for the 45 mile drive, so I had to beg for mercy from the party with all of the power in that situation.  The tone for the tense email exchange that followed was probably largely imaginary.  The tone of the voice in my head as I read the email response was set by the morning I had already had.

I wouldn’t go nearly so far as call that person an enemy, but it nevertheless the terse nature of the exchange (real or imagined) created a drain on my joy.  I set my little table with one of my favorite teacups as I brewed a fragrant pot of tea.  I rubbed a few drops of my favorite essential oil blends on my temples, and I allowed the aromas from the tea and the oil to surround me with beauty, comfort and joy.  That’s probably not what the Psalmist had in mind, but soon I was singing again.

My husband said, “boy, you’re in a good mood!”  I explained my quest for comfort and joy.  Sometimes you have to “fake it until you make it.”  When you’re faking joy, though, it quickly becomes real as it infects others with smiles (or even laughs).

I’ve had a tough week so far, but my cup runneth over.  Being good to myself is my only resolution for 2016.  Actively seeking comfort and joy is the first step toward achieving success.

Happy 2016.

~Be~

Winning in Last Place

I’m registered for the Run Disney Princess Half Marathon in February 2016.  I went last year and didn’t get to finish (Read more here:  https://justwritewhatyouknow.com/2015/02/27/the-bus-of-shame-or-the-saddest-ride-at-walt-disney-world/).

I’ve been training for the event, and my pace has increased.  Although the minimum pace is a slow 16 minutes/mile, that’s been a real challenge for me.  Recently, I completed training runs at 15 – 16 minutes/mile.  I did a 10K in September with a slow 17 min/mile pace, but that was mostly in the dark.

Submitting a proof of time of finishing a race of at least 10K with an “acceptable” time helps one to get placed in a corral nearer the front of the pack at the Princess.  The goal is 3 hrs 15 min or less for a good corral.  Proof of time must be submitted by November 17, so I didn’t have much time.  I chose a race in Michigan based on the fact that it is near one of my “invisible” (not imaginary) online friends, and she invited me to stay with her.

As the weekend approached, I began to dread the race.  I hadn’t gotten in as much training as I hoped.  It’s a long (2.5 hours) drive each way.  I’m swamped at work, have been busy most weekends and evenings…and about a dozen other excuses.  Add that all to the fact that I was staying in someone else’s home, and my social anxiety kicked in.  I almost chickened out.  I made up my mind to honor my commitments, and I packed my bag Saturday morning, stopped at a local shop for a hostess gift

As I hit travelled west to Toledo and turned north to make my way into that state where “a rose never grows” (Once a Buckeye…) it began to rain just a little. The sun was shining, but tiny droplets were hitting my windshield.  As I looked toward the east I saw a beautiful, vivid rainbow.  A rainbow is a promise.  The rain soon stopped.  I drove farther and the showers began anew, with a brand new rainbow.

I was treated to three rainbows along the way.  I took them as a sign that I was going to have a fabulous weekend.

I arrived at my friend’s home and met her new puppy.  She nearly peed on my foot (the puppy, not my friend), which was a sure sign we were going to be best friends.  I had fun chatting with the grandkids and showing them videos of my own silly dog.  My friend and I ducked out for dinner, then came back, got into pajamas and stayed up late talking.  what a special lady she is.

I went to sleep in her very comfortable guest bed and woke in time to have a cup of coffee and some fruit to fuel up before my race.  My friend had planned to drive me to the race site and cheer me on, but when I realized it was going to be near freezing and that one of the grandchildren had an ear infection, I told her to stay home and I’d be back.  I dressed in my favorite yellow long-sleeved tech shirt with my hippie runner headband that says “I’m so far behind I think I’m in first place.”  I topped off the ensemble with my kaleidoscope tights, my favorite running skirt and bright orange shoes.  My friend’s son asked me if this was a “color run.”  I explained that this was the “Big Bird Run,” and by golly, I was doing my best to look the part.

last headI made it to the race site with plenty of time to spare.  I found a parking spot right in front of the building.  Things were definitely going my way.  I felt great.  I felt fast.  This was MY day.  I picked up my packet, looked at the race shirt, and grabbed the information sheet to read more details about the 10K.  It said, “timing will stop at the 80 minute mark.”  My heart sunk.  I knew I would probably come in about 95 – 100 minutes.  My last race had been 105 minutes.  The one before that 115.

Although the sun shone brightly, I felt as if a dark cloud covered the sky.  I felt inadequate.  I pinned my race bib on, and contemplated what I should do.  I thought about trading the 10K bib for a 4K bib and just having a “fun run.”  A 10K is a lot of work for me.  I decided to try the 10K and just have fun – I would run it as a “fun run” and bring some sunshine to the back of the pack.

At the last race that I ran, although I was slow, I was not last.  There were quite a few runners who were even slower than I am.  As I have improved, I have stopped worrying about finishing last.

I looked around the parking lot.  These were serious runners. Although it was less than 40 degrees out, there were guys in short shorts foam rolling on the freezing concrete.  I was the only “fat girl” (or guy) running the race.  My confidence started leaking out.

I gave myself a pep talk.  I looked at the sky and thanked God for a beautiful day to run.  I gave thanks that I was in no pain.  I sang happy songs to myself.  I cheered as the 1 mile and 4K races started, but I really wanted to cry.

The blue sheet that told me they would stop timing before I finished had asked slower runners to start int he back, so I made my way to the very end of the pack.  The starting gun cracked, and I watched EVERYONE move away from me.   It was like I was moving in slow motion.

I hadn’t gone a full block when the police car pulled behind me with its lights going.  It was going to be a long 6.2 miles.  This was an extraordinarily well staffed and marked race course.  There were multiple police officers or volunteers at every single intersection.  I decided to thank every single one as I went by.  Each one I thanked said, “No, thank YOU, and you’re doing GREAT!”  I didn’t believe them, but I appreciated the encouragement.

My police escort would slow down then catch up with me again.  I passed the 1 mile marker and volunteers with stop watches were giving out splits.  I could barely believe them when they said, “13:49.”  That was my fastest mile ever.  I was still in the very back, but I had the boost I needed.  My running watch was set to chirp every 45 seconds.  I would run as hard as I could until I tired and then cut back to a jog until the next chirp.

At mile 2 I was just under 30 minutes.  At mile 3 I realized I would break my personal record for a 5K.  By mile 4 I was tiring, but I caught up with the two women I had been following.  We would trade off places for the next mile.  At mile 5 the timekeepers asked if I knew if I was the last one, and when I answered “yes,” a young lady asked if she could run the last mile with me.  “I’ve never run a mile before,” she said.

Together we ran that last mile.  I was tired, but she kept telling me I could do it.  I told her I hadn’t voluntarily quit a race yet, and I wasn’t about to start.  As we ran, I told her that I had lost over 100 pounds since I began running in March 2014.  “Look at you now,” she said.

We rounded a corner together with the finish just ahead.  The timing clock was still going.  I came in at just 91 minutes – by far my personal best.  I asked the time keeper if they were still submitting times although 80 minutes was past, and he said “yes.”  I thought “I’m going to Disney World,” and I recovered a tiny bit of spring to my step.

I collected my free banana and my bottle of water.  I thought back to the rainbows that decorated my journey the night before.  Everything about the race conditions Sunday was perfect for me.  I love to run in the cold.  The pavement was dry and mostly flat (except for the highway overpass).  I had my own police escort – I alternated between joking with volunteers about being chased by the police and telling them that I was a very important dignitary who needed personal protection.

I finished dead last, but I finished.  Finishing wasn’t the difficult part – starting was the real problem.  Once I convinced myself that a time was just a number and decided to have fun and show thanks to all of the people who volunteered to stand in the cold on a Sunday morning, I had a wonderful time.  I won.  I felt honored to finish in last place.

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The good people of Roseville, Michigan made me feel like a winner.  Nobody made me feel like I was inconveniencing him by being slow. The elite runners didn’t look at me as if I was somewhere I did not belong.  I was a runner.  I was part of a community, and I was doing something I could not do for many years.

We runners have a saying:  “Dead Last Finish > Did Not Finish > Did not Start.”  I won in last place.  I won big.

I returned to my friends’ house for a shower and a hot bowl of chili.  We visited some more and said our goodbyes and I began the long drive back home.  What had started as a day full of anxiety and self-doubt became one of my proudest moments.  Later I would review my Facebook feed and be reminded that five years ago that day, I had been sworn in as a lawyer, another achievement I never believed was within my ability.

I gained a real sense of accomplishment this weekend.  I submitted my proof of time.  RunDisney says I will finish the half marathon in 3 hours and 22 minutes.  I know I can do better than that.  Those balloon ladies aren’t catching me this year, but if they do, I’ll smile and thank them for volunteering their time on a cold, dark morning.