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~

 

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Day 1 in the life of a motherless mother. Seek Beauty.

We buried my mother yesterday. She died on a Friday and we buried her on the following Monday. There was no real time for grief between death and burial. As the oldest child – the only child living in the U.S. – the responsibility to make arrangements fell squarely on my shoulders.

There was shopping for suitable clothing for burial to be done, clergy to be found, scriptures to be selected. Although Mom had “pre-planned” the service, there was still a 2 hour appointment at the funeral home.

there were phone calls to be made and announcements to be written. Worst of all were the fires that needed to be put out and the ruffled feathers that needed to be soothed.

Death brings out the worst in some of us.

I spent Sunday night doing difficult work – consciously working through anger and resentments and letting them go. I learned that forgiveness TRULY is for the forgiver and not for the perceived transgressor. I entered the funeral home on Monday with only love and sadness in my heart.

I didn’t arrange a meal, but my cousin surprised us all with a trip to Denny’s, where we enjoyed fellowship and more than a laugh or two.

Today, though, it is my first day back to “normal” without my mom. Tuesday is always my “day off.” That doesn’t stop me from fielding a handful of phone calls and responding to emails, and today is no exception.

As with most days, I had a to-do-list. Mine was pretty simple: run, cry and get a massage. I managed two out of three. I decided that calling to make a massage appointment would take too many spoons, so I let myself off the hook on that one.

Grief is a funny thing. I can be laughing one moment and then something that Mom would say or do hits me in the gut. Something will happen and I think, “I should call Mom.” I think of all of the days when I forgot to call her, or when I was tired and thought to myself, “I’ll call in the morning.”

I remind myself that forgiving myself is possibly more important than forgiving others.

I ticked “cry” off of my list early and often. “Run” was harder. I donned my cold-weather running gear quite early in the day, but I found other tasks to put off the run. I revised my monthly Amazon subscriptions (twice), I rearranged some flowers that I brought home from the funeral. I made tea, ate a snack and played with the dogs.

finally, I kicked myself out the door. I wore a heavy fleece jacket over my long-sleeved technical shirt and a baby-alpaca cap on my head. I drove to the park where my favorite trail “lives” and I checked Facebook and Instagram for “likes” while willing myself to get out of the car and run.

I took a deep breath and opened the car door. I shed the cap and the sweater, knowing I would be too warm after a mile or so. I queued up my playlist and started my GPS watch. I think I made it 200 or 300 yards before the cold wind cut through and chilled me to the bone. Teeth chattering, I turned tail to call it quits. On the (short) trip back to the car a small voice spoke. “You have a jacket and a cap. Use them.” I did just that.

I paused the GPS and I pulled on the warmer clothing. Returning to the trail, I set off at a slow, steady pace. I paid attention to my breath and to the path. Fallen leaves covered hidden roots and rocks. Running safely became an exercise in being present. I did look around me and saw the brilliant hues of autumn. As I emerged from the first loop to the second (of three), I saw bluest skies in the clearing. As I ran through the meadow I skipped over puddles from the previous days’ downpours.

I stopped time and again to take photos to attempt to capture the moments of sheer awe at the world I have the privilege to run through on my two feet. I exited the second loop to make my way to the third loop and found what is normally a trail to be a six-inch deep pond / stream. I decided “let’s not get crazy now,” and decided that multiple loops around the “middle” loop would do.

I looped the “middle” loop three times, all in the same direction. Each trip round the loop I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. On the first trip it was the view of the fields and trees across the clearing. On the second trip it was the low-hanging branch that I could reach up and touch. On the third trip, it was the prints of an unknown creature in the mud beside my own footprint.

Although I did, indeed, become quite warm in my cap and jacket, I made it 3.5 miles. I got to check “run” off of my mental list. As I guided my car through the twists and the turns of the parking lot to return home, I saw a brilliant crimson tree with the sunlight shining through its leaves. It was so beautiful that it took my breath away. I stopped the car to snap a photo which, of course, didn’t do it justice.

I returned home and inhaled the heady fragrance of a yellow rose the size of a peach. I sought out color and fragrance and sound that gave me glimpses of joy, and that joy brought me comfort. #Comfortandjoy was the hashtag I adopted for an abandoned attempt at building a MLM empire. It’s become my new theme for living through grief.

Today’s lesson was evident – seek beauty. It is everywhere. Enjoy it with every breath. Seek out beauty and find joy. In them, find comfort.

They call it the present because today is a gift.

I love it already!

There is a story about an old woman, recently widowed, who is moved to a nursing home.  The woman is blind and cannot live independently.  She waits, without family, in the lobby as her paperwork is completed and her room made ready.  A staff member describes the room in great detail to her as she waits.  “I love it already!” the old woman exclaims.

The nursing home staff member asks her, “How do you know you love it?  You haven’t been inside it yet.”

The old woman, blind but wise, says, “The actual room and its furnishings has nothing to do with it.  I’ve already decided that I love it.  Happiness is a decision you make on purpose.”

I’m paraphrasing the story.  I saw it originally on Facebook, and a google search showed that a similar story, but not quite the one that I remember was written by Joyce Meyer in “The Mind Connection:  How the Thoughts You Choose Affect your Mood, Behavior and Decision.

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog post.  To be honest, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself.  We discovered at the beginning of August that my 88 year old mother’s cancer had caused pathological fractures in her spine and right hip.  She elected to have 10 radiation treatments to “beat it back” to alleviate the pain. Although I begged her to come stay with me for the duration of the treatments, she steadfastly refused to leave her home.

The treatments were harder than she expected.  Due to the area that was being treated, there was a lot of irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.  She was frequently nauseated and vomiting, and there was nothing that I could do about it.  Once the treatment started at the cancer center near her home, it couldn’t be transferred to the sister center near mine because of differences in equipment and dosages.

The day after her last treatment we received a call that she was gravely ill, and that management at her independent living community had determined that she was no longer independent enough to stay in her home.  She was a danger to herself and potentially others.   She had to leave, and I needed to be there when they broke the news to her.

I finished up some urgent matters at my office and drove south to Mom’s home.  I packed up a handful of things in case I needed to stay overnight.  When I arrived, Mom was sitting in her chair.  Although we hadn’t spoken, she acted like she was expecting me.  “I’ve decided to take you up on your offer to come stay with you. It will be a little vacation at your house – let’s see how it goes.  I need some help.”

I was delighted that she had made the decision on her own.  I knew that once she arrived at my home, she was unlikely to return to hr own, but we didn’t talk about that.  I tried to get her to just get into the car so that I could help her (and so that my family could help me…)  She refused.  She needed to “clean the house,” and she couldn’t miss her doctor appointment in two days.  I decided to stay with her for those two days.

To make a very long story very short, the doctor appointment never happened.  Instead, my very sick mother slipped into a rapid decline and ended up spending the next two weeks in a series of moves that included two emergency rooms, three hospital rooms, two nursing home rooms and a bunch of procedure rooms.

I was with her night and day for more than a week that seemed like an eternity.  Somewhere around day 4, my mom started to disappear.  She changed from my loving mother to a scared, angry woman who told me that I was evil.  She went from praising the staff to believing that they were possessed by Satan.

She was treated for electrolyte imbalances and a urinary tract infection. Each time they discovered a deficiency, I grasped onto hope that correcting it would bring my mother back.  It didn’t.

She finally settled into a nursing home for rehabilitation.  She was unable to do even the most basic self-care chores for herself.

I really, really wish that I could tell you that she is like the old woman in the beginning of this post and that she was determined to like her room before she even saw it.  Instead, each time I would visit her in the nursing home, she would berate me.  She would accuse me of tricking her into agreeing to stay with her so that I could put her into a nursing home where they torture her, make her fly on trapezes, tie her to the bed, punch her in the stomach, and leave her alone in the dining room for hours and hours without help.  Gradually, I came to accept that the person that I love as my mother has rather suddenly disappeared.

One trip she told me that I am not her daughter anymore.  Another time she told me that there are two of me.  One is evil and one is her daughter, and she is not sure which one I am.  She tells me that she wants to go home – but now she thinks that home is in Kidron, where we lived for many years, but she hasn’t lived there in a decade.  Every visit, she asks me how her mom is – my grandma – who died when I was a little girl.  Every visit, she tells me that she wishes that she had just died.

For two weeks at least, it seemed that everything made me cry.  I stopped doing the things that I love to do.  I stopped doing the things that help me to function – to stave off anxiety and depression.  Instead, I cried.  Sometimes I raged – I would scream in the car driving down the road when nobody could hear me.  I have often told other caregivers “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” but when faced with the same sort of scenario in my own life, I poured and poured and poured until there was nothing left to give, and it still was not enough.

I would start projects  – writing projects, crochet projects, cleaning projects -and then I would abandon them.  My living room became filled with half-done afghans, dish cloths and hats.

One day a few weeks ago when I didn’t have court or client scheduled, I didn’t get out of bed until past 10:00 a.m.  I’m an early riser.  I get up, make coffee and then journal, meditate, and study.  My husband knew then that something was very wrong.

We were blessed with a beautiful weekend in late September.  My husband suggested a boat trip to an island.  Reluctantly I agreed to leave – immediately.  Instead of packing a large cooler full of food to prepare, we left with just our clothing and toiletries, a couple of packs of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, a bag of trail mix and another of potato chips, and elected to treat ourselves to a whole weekend of restaurants.

Although I used to run many miles each month, I had stopped doing that, too, over the course of the summer.  There was a charity run scheduled for Saturday that weekend on the island, and I decided to register and do my best.  I joined several hundred runners at the start line.   There were several times that I had a hard time seeing the road because the tears were flowing so hard.  I wasn’t in physical pain -it was a mental and spiritual battle. I crossed the finish line with tears streaming down my face.  I started something, and I finished it.  The 5k run didn’t become another unfinished project.

I wish that I could say that I snapped out of my funk and began living life again immediately after that 5k, but the truth is that it took another week of slowly beginning again to use the tools that helped me to function after the last crisis in our family.

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook or in my blogs for any period of time knows that I tend to post the happy things.  My life is spent cultivating joy whenever possible.  It’s easy to find joy in a flower when life is smooth sailing.  Applying the tools is much more difficult when the waves are crashing and it seems that the world is burning down around you.

I’m learning that people can’t hurt our feelings.  It’s our own thoughts about events that hurt us.  It’s our own thoughts about life that bring us joy.

For those weeks in September, I spent all of my energy trying to find a solution for Mom’s mental decline.  I spent hours combing my memory trying to find signs that the dementia was there all along and I just missed it.  I spent hours trying to convince her that she’s in a place for help and that she still has a life to live if she just tries.  that “project” took all of the time and attention from all of the other “projects” in my life.  I finally realized that making myself miserable and allowing depression and anxiety creep back into my life – forgoing joy and happiness won’t bring my mother joy.  It won’t bring her peace.  It won’t make her want to live.

I choose life.  Mom will be 89 in a few weeks.  Whether or not she emerges from this event, her life is nearing its natural end.   My visits always upset her.  I no longer see her every day.  It’s not good for her, and it’s really horrible for me.  If she tells my kids that she wants something, I send it.  I’ve stopped worrying so much about what other people think about the matter.

I’ve finished crocheting two cowls and I’m almost done with a poncho that I started at the beginning of summer.  I ran again this week.  I am back into my morning routine.  I go to sleep giving thanks and I wake up anticipating a great day.

I am here to love my life, no matter what may come.  It’s the only life I have, and I’m not about to waste it.  This weekend I am setting up my office in a different room in the same building.  I don’t know exactly what furnishing will fit or how they will look, but I love it already.  I’m going to learn to knit on Thursday.  I don’t know what I will make, but I love it already.

I don’t know what may come, but I’m certain that I can find beauty and comfort in it.  I love it already!

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.

We’re All Winners!

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I believed that “participant” trophies and awards for every child on a little league team or bowling team were silly.  After all, we need to teach these kids that we don’t all win, right?

I believed in my own misguided way that it was okay for just the “winners” to get trophies.  Sure, the coach should take everyone for ice cream, but they don’t all need sprinkle – “Sprinkles are for WINNERS!”  You get the drift…

I believed that – I really did.  Then something unexpected happened:  I discovered running.

Now my wall in my workout area is adorned with bling from races in Ohio, Florida and Nevada.  I’m signed up for three more in the upcoming months, each with its own medal (or at least a shirt!).  I’ve never won a race.  Several times I’ve been dead last, but I won that medal fair and square.  Sprinkles may be for winners, but medals are for finishers, and I want mine!

maumee twilight shawshank

A lamp for my feet – a light on my path

I just came home from vacation this week.  It was a wonderful week of activity, people watching, and enjoying nature.  I’ve been running for about a year and a half now.  I run mostly in Ohio, and mostly in an area that is very flat.  We have a few hills, but you really need to go out of your way to get to most of them.  As a result, my runs have very little elevation change.  I also tend to run in the early evening, while it’s still quite light out (and the bugs aren’t too bad).  Although summer just ended, as summers go it wasn’t terribly hot in Ohio.  All in all, it’s been a mild, pleasant summer for a novice runner.

As we were planning our vacation, I scouted for running events that would fit our timeline.  I discovered the Twilight Lake Las Vegas run and signed up for the 10K distance (they had 5k, 10k and half marathon available).

I took a very bad fall a few years back that left me with a leg broken in 4 places with a full complement of hardware installed to keep my skeleton together.  Although my balance has improved significantly since I began running and doing #DDPYoga, it still isn’t one of the strengths.

The day of the race, we started walking from our hotel of the Vegas Strip to the Avis office a mile or so away.  I stepped off a curb and landed on my knees and elbows.  While I wasn’t badly injured, it hurt.  My knees and hands were scuffed up, and I had fallen on the knees that has the worst arthritis of the pair.  We kept going and picked up the rental car.  We left Las Vegas and drove to Hoover Dam where our hotel was located.  We did some sightseeing and checked into our room.  It was 108 degrees.  I’ve heard it said that “dry heat” is cooler than the humid heat we have in Ohio, but no matter how you look at it, 108 degrees is HOT.

I spent the time leading up to the race hydrating and fueling.  My training plan fell apart in the weeks leading up to the race, and although I wasn’t concerned about being able to cover the distance, I knew I wasn’t going to be fast.  I grabbed a cooling towel and we headed to packet pickup.  We drove through the Lake Mead area and enjoyed the views, stopping at multiple scenic overlooks.  The red rocks and landscape seemed so alien compared to the lush Lake Erie landscape that I’m so accustomed to.

My husband dropped me off at the start line and drove back to enjoy Lake Mead some more.  The half marathon runners lined up first.  Their race began at 6:30 p.m.  I listened to the directions – make sure you have a flashlight or a head lamp.  The course is unlit.  I checked the lights in my trusty ball cap with “head lights.”  They functioned.  I decided I was good to go.

The half marathoners were off, and the 10K runners lined up.  The run was just starting to dim.  It was still quite hot, but not as hot as it had been moments before.  I tested the injured knee – no bad pain.  I re-tied my shoes and took a last chug out of my water bottle before recycling it.  The horn sounded and we began.

The course was paved and pretty wide.  As it wound through the desert landscape, I saw succulent plants.  I wondered if there were snakes, scorpions, or other critters out there.  I’m a “back of the pack” runner, and this race was no exception.  As I neared the 1.5 mile mark, some of the fastest 5K participants passed me.  Soon, I was all alone.  The 5K runners had turned around, and most of the 10K runners were ahead of me.

I watched the sun set, and I turned on my “high beams.”  I was dismayed.  Although that hat was great for letting people know that I’m out there on the road, it really wasn’t a great light source.  I ran off the edge of the path once and resolved to stay closer to the middle to avoid matching hardware in the other ankle.  As the course progressed, my eyes became accustomed to the dark. Although I couldn’t see well, I could at least see the path.

A volunteer told me to turn left “Everyone goes up the hill.”  Wow.  What a hill.  I wasn’t prepared for this.  I made it up the hill, huffing and puffing.  I went back down the other side and soon found myself running near a freeway.  The oncoming headlights, while a safe distance away, destroyed my night vision, and I was soon stumbling along the edge of the path again.

My cooling towel began to dry out. I got hot.  Then, I heard something I couldn’t identify and I got scared.   I began to question the wisdom of signing up for this hilly race in the desert with no lights.  I began to question my ability to run the distance.  What if there were a rattlesnake on the path enjoying the warmth?  I wouldn’t be able to see it.  What if I fell and nobody found me?

An aid station was in the distance.  I stopped for water and a volunteer asked if I would like my cooling towel re-soaked.  Gratefully, I said “yes.”  I finished the water.  I wrapped the cold towel around my neck, and I took a few deep breaths.

As I began to run again, I felt a sense of calm.  As my overheated body began to cool down, the words of a praise chorus I used to sing while playing the piano came to mind.

Although the sky didn’t get brighter (and neither did the lights on my cap), I felt a sense of calm wash over me as I sang the words quietly.  I looked out at the horizon and saw the lights of Las Vegas.  As the trail turned away from the freeway again, the quiet desert greeted me again.  The course turned downhill. The going was easier.  There was a lightness in my step.

As I passed the 5K turnaround again, I saw a woman who was laboring heavily to get to that mark.  She had a wonderful team of supporters there to encourage her.  I remembered my first tentative running steps at over 300 pounds.  I remembered the difficulty and the fear.  I tried my best to encourage her as I passed her on my way back to the finish.  Soon thereafter I encountered another struggling runner with a walker.  She, too, was accompanied by friends.  Although I was running unaccompanied, I wasn’t alone.  There in the dark, all I had to do was cry out for comfort.  My “support team” was there, guiding my steps.

I crossed the finish and collected my medal.  I grabbed some snacks and a cool water while I waited for my husband to collect me.  I don’t know if I’ll do another night time run, but if I do, I’ll have a brighter headlamp, and I’ll remember that although I may be the only runner in sight, I am never truly alone.

The Wo[man] in the Mirror

I’ve never had a good relationship with my mirror.  It shows the wrinkles, the stray hairs, gray hairs, and flaws in my physique.  In the mirror, everything is backwards to me.  Because I’m used to seeing only my reflection, photographs look off to me.  My hair is parted on the wrong side. I just look a little different.

Truth be told, I don’t like many photographs of myself either – for much the same reason as I don’t like my mirror much.

This past week, though, I had an unusual experience – I saw myself in the mirror and I LIKED what I saw.  In fact, I liked what I saw so much that I took a picture of myself.  I took that picture and placed it side-by-side with a picture of myself near my heaviest weight.  I even had my husband take photos of myself from every angle.  

Looking at that comparison, I saw, for the first time, the remarkable changes that have taken place during my journey thus far.  I realized that because I tend to avoid mirrors and looking at full length photos of myself, I have a skewed self-image.

In the shower, I see the way the skin sags and the remaining fat rolls.  I see each part in isolation.  Although I live my life in this miraculous machine – my body – because I’m am in the inside looking out, I do not see myself as others see me.

I shared one of those comparison pictures on a facebook group for members of DDP Yoga with thousands of members.  It even showed my tummy, but I was so thrilled that I didn’t care.  I didn’t worry about judgment.  I knew the people in that community would be supportive.

Comment after comment referred to my transformation as “inspirational,” and I resolved, in that moment, to try to see myself as others see me.  

This week, a wall of mirrors went up in my workout room – my “fortress of solitude.”  I look at the woman in the mirror.  She has skinny collarbones, and I can see a hint of definition around her abs.  She smiles at me – and I smile back.