Take an ultra leap without looking

I’ve never been the kind of person to leap before I look until recently.

Last year, I made a decision to do a half ironman before I even knew how to properly swim. It’s still the plan for September.

My Canadian twitter friends were tweeting the other day about a race called the Midnight Moose, which caught my attention. As it turns out, it’s an ultra marathon in Quebec, and now I’m planning on running it in 2018. Just like that.

They invited me to come run with them, and I’ve wanted to run an ultra marathon for years. What better way to start than with a 50K overnight trail race in Ottawa? The website warns it’s a tough race and that scares me a little, so hey, I’m there.

These aren’t, of course, immediate leaps because the training takes time. But it’s good to just jump and go for something, especially if you’re like me and agonize over decisions. With decisions like that, you learn to trust yourself and you learn your own strength.

Running a nighttime trail ultra is going to be really hard. I don’t completely know what I’m getting into, and that’s the whole point. We can do hard things.

And maybe it’ll even make me an honorary Canadian.

Why I broke up with my purse

One of the things I dislike most about carrying a purse is the way it gets in the way.

Even the purses with the long shoulder strap. I can’t stand the way it bounces against my side and twists around as I walk so it’s hitting the front of my thigh.

Somehow, every bag turns into some Mary Poppins-esque magic carpet bag I can’t find my keys in. Even the one that’s as small as a wallet manages to swallow my stuff.

A few weeks ago, I had enough. I put my ID, credit cards, cash, chapstick, earbuds and some safety pins into a small change purse I bought in Turkey nearly 11 years ago. I put it in my coat pocket, and I was free.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s clothing and fashion. I’m not alone.

My friend Caitlin Constantine put a post on Facebook with a link to this great piece about ridiculous shirts. The dozens of comments were outstandingā€”women saying, “Enough of this shit. Give us clothes that fit. Give us pockets. And forget about shirts that necessitate a goddamn strapless bra.”

Oiselle’s CEO, Sally Bergeson, has written and talked about the powersuit and enclothed cognition. She writes about clothes that hurt us: “These acts of oppression that we don’t even see because they are deeply embedded in our female souls.”

The purse is one great example for me. I’ve never been excited about bags or brand names. The only reason I carried a purse was because women’s pockets are all but useless for, you know, using.

And do I need all that crap I lost in my purse? No. I didn’t use most of it. Dutifully, I carried a Piccadilly notebook with me with this romantic idea that I’d stop on a park bench and write poems or whatever. But I rarely did without planning ahead of time. Most of the time, I write at my desk or sitting on the floor while leaning against my bed.

This rebellion against the rules of women’s fashion has spilled over into other areas of my life. I no longer care whether my wardrobe is varied enough (it never was, but I was still concerned). I wear three pairs of shoes to work year round. I can’t remember the last day I haven’t worn the same pair of bad-ass grey boots to work (October?). Don’t get me started on bras. Forget it. I’m not interested in those torture devices. Thankfully, Oiselle has me covered. I haven’t stopped wearing the Lux bralette, and have ordered another one.

Maybe I am a bra-burning feminist now. Don’t even care.

I want my clothes and gear to work with me, not annoy me. I want to move easily and freely.

Not carrying a purse has been liberating.

Michigan had it’s first 70-degree day today, and I stuffed the small, red change purse into the pocket of my skinny jeans, put my keys and phone into other pockets and walked into the grocery story without some stupid bag pestering my side. Free.

Running is supposed to be fun

Do you ever just play?

That’s what I did today. I drove to a nearby state park that makes me feel like I’m up north, found the trail head and jumped onto the nearest trail.Ā I didn’t have a map and didn’t know how long it was (not always the best idea, but I have a decent understanding of the layout of the park).

And so I ran on the snow-covered mountain bike trails. I jumped over logs, flew down hills and pushed up them. Although it was my only second run back after two weeks off, I felt stronger than I have in a while. I was free.

The Huron River

That’s what I’ve been looking for; that’s why I took a break.

During that time off,Ā I realized I’ve been so keen on achieving goals (running a 3:30 marathon) and fearing I wasn’t achieving enough that I dug myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of.

Running is supposed to be freedom, not a burden. The process is what matters.Ā The process has to be full of joy to keep it sustainable.

I have big goals in this sport, but in the end it’s just running. And I do it because I love it.

 

My week without running

I started running at age 11.

For much of the past 17 years, I’ve run 5 or 6 days a week. I’ve run marathons, done tempos and fartleks, done 20-mileĀ long runs and enjoyed hundreds of easy six-mileĀ runs. Running and I have had many ups and downs, but I’ve never completely lost the love.

As I’ve written, running and I haven’t had the best of times in the past two years. It might be added life stress that’s interrupting my training. Regardless, training has been a real struggle.

After pushing myself to get out the door for months, I decided to give myself a break. My body is fatigued and hurts, and I’m just not enjoying myself. So I’ve takenĀ a week off and haven’tĀ miss running at all.

I’ve been going for long walks and hikes in various parks, swimming, riding my bike on the trainer and doing strength workouts. What I’ve realized is I have to move.

The hills of Hell are legit. I’m going to get fit here.

“Movement is the essence of life,” said ultra runner and biologist Bernd Heinrich.

One benefit of this break is seeingĀ some new places. I’ve hiked at two state parks I’ve never before visited, including the beautiful and hilly Pinckney State Recreation Area. It’s near Hell. I cannot wait to go back for trail running.

One of the views from the trails at Pinckney State Recreation Area.

Right now, my body is telling me running isn’t its movement of choice. Instead of resisting it, I’m letting things be what they are and switching my focus to triathlon. That’s been my goal for the year, anyway, but I hadn’t yet changed my mindset.

I’m going to set up a training schedule for my first triathlon this spring. I’ll run about four days per week instead of my usual six.

I still love running, and I still have big goals. But we all need a break from time to time.

It’s been eight days, and I still don’t feel like running. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow, but maybe not. I’ll run when I feel like it.

Pressing pause and changing directions

I’m pressing pause on running this week.

Running has been a struggle for me for about two years (and I’m sick of writing about it). I haven’t been able to find a good, consistent rhythm in my training. Everything feels incredibly forced. I don’t expect perfection; in fact I expect a lot of mediocre days. That’s OK. But as runners, we know when something else is going on. For me, running needs a reset. I need to hit the refresh button and rejuvenate my training.

In the past twoĀ of years. I’ve pondered aboutĀ what to do. I’ve allowed myself rest days and easy weeks, and I’ve pushed through as best I could. None of this has made any difference.

On a walk yesterday evening, I realized I’ve struggled with running since I moved to the town I currently live in. It’s an OK town and there are decent places to run nearby, but it’s not a place I love. My environment plays a big role in how I feel. My apartment lease isn’t up for a year, so I may be where I am for a while longer because I have to consider the finances.Ā 

Until then, in my quest to be proactive, I’m doing a few things:

  1. Inside Tracker.Ā  It’s time to get my blood tested and see what I can do nutritionally and otherwise to get myself on track. I know iron has been a problem for me, and my regular doctor hasn’t been able to shed any light on that. I’ve heard great things about Inside Tracker, and I’m excited to check it out.
  2. Triathlon. This is the year!Ā While I am pressing pause on running this week, I’m going for walks and swims. This isn’t a rest week. I hope adding triathlon to my life will improve my running. Other runners I know have had success with this. I’ve been running for 17 years, and it’s definitely time to switch things up.
  3. Meditation. One of the constants of my move is stress. I have a bigger job, and I live in a busier area. My job is great, but it takes a lot out of me. That stress definitely hasĀ an impact on my running.
  4. JustĀ keep going. I’ve wondered if I babied myself too much. I’m trying to walk a line of achievement inĀ running and in my career, and that’s not easy to manage. I knowĀ things are not always going to go my way, and sometimes all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Doubt and anxiety have plagued me, and it takes a lot of energy to keep feeding them.Above all, I need to have faith in myself that I am capable of doing all these things.

Head up, wings out.

Memo to self: I can’t carry the world on my shoulders

I had planned a 10-mile run for today, but I’ve been hurting.

This year is getting to me. Stress shows itself in me with physical symptoms of fatigue and weakness, and it makes running and swimming way more difficult than they are when I’m feeling good. We’re all familiar with this.

Today I decided to let myself off the hook. I didn’t want to run, and I’m not training for a specific race, so eff it. I’m not going to run.

I drove to a nearby state park I’ve never visited and went for a 3-mile hike instead. Nature is always a place I go when I need to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, a recent car crash deprived me of a weekend up north, and I haven’t had a fix in a while.

The walk was rather like an exorcism. My brain pulled old memory files that I’d rather not think about, and my heavy winter boots dragged on my legs. Even my shoulders felt weak.

After about a mile, I yanked back control over my mind. I paid attention instead to the sun on my face, the cool breeze on my skin and the sounds of raucous chickadees in the forest.

This was the prettiest spot on my walk.
This was the prettiest spot on my walk.

Above all, I sat with the discomfort of all my emotions and let them be. And I realized I can’t carry the world on my shoulders. That’s not going to end well. Stress and anxiety are tricky. They sneak up on me and suddenly, I’m feeling terrible and I don’t even know why. After all this time, those bastards still surprise me.

Being concerned about the world and wanting to do my part to improve it is one thing, but I can’t take this on as a solo project.

The walk wasn’t actually that much fun. The park was fairly boggy and it wasn’t that pretty, but it did the trick. I felt lighter on my drive home.

Letting myself off the hook for not getting in the miles helped, too. I can’t add to my stress by being mad at myself for not running. Maybe I’ll take a week off and go for daily walks instead. I’ll forgive myself for it because I can write my own rules. Life is hard. I’ll take the pressure off myself and not make it harder than itĀ is.

This time it’s for someone else

I’ve signed up to volunteer at my first race, the Ann Arbor Marathon at the end of March.

Guys, I’ve been running for 18 years and run in a lot of races (maybe 100. Or more. I don’t know how many, but it’s a lot). There’s a bit of embarrassment that I haven’t shown up to support my fellow athletes and the wonderful people who host the races.

And they make a difference. Patient, kind volunteers have helped me out a lot out on the race course. It’s high time I give back and cheer on those incredible runners.

With the current, divisive and fearful climate we have in the United States right now, the best thing I can think of to do is give.

In 2016 and so far this year, I’ve made several small donations for incredibly serious problems like helping kids in Flint with their health and a mobile medical hospital in Aleppo, to my favorite podcast and helping an eventer achieve a dream. I’ve never made so many donations in my life, and I haven’t been a person to volunteer.

I’m writing this not to brag, but to own up to my past of not giving a lot. I used to feel quite selfish, but also felt I didn’t have much to give. Being a journalist, I don’t have a ton of extra income, and typical volunteering at a soup kitchen has never been interesting to me. Over time, I’ve discovered I do love helping people, but I know it doesn’t have to be through an obvious channel.

Most importantly,Ā I’ve grown from a place of scarcity to abundance, and I’m finding more room to give. That’s a wonderful feeling, and I look forward to giving more to this world with a big smile and lots of love.

On March 26, I’ll see you at the finish line!