Just the first two books in what will likely become a full-blown Wonderland library.

I’ve got this thing that I’ve been keeping secret, playing pretty close to the vest, really. Partly because it’s one of those things that’s special and it’s fun to take it out and marvel at how shiny and pretty it is — without having to worry about actually doing too much about it.

But, I think it might be time to share. Some of my peeps already know — I rolled it out to a few to gauge reaction, get some love before sending it out to the world (or, you know, the dozen people who read this blog).

I’ve got a dream. Well, actually, more of a goal — a plan, even. Next year — summer 2018 — I’m going to thru-hike the Wonderland Trail. It’s a 93 mile trail in Washington state that circumnavigates Mount Ranier

I can almost see your confused, cocked-to-the-side heads with an “…and?” thought bubble over you.

For me, this is a huge thing. HUGE. Bigly, even. I’ve been on one backcountry backpacking trip and it was guided, so I didn’t have to worry about things like what gear to take or any of the logistics. I just showed up with some clothes, hiking boots and followed along.

This trip, on the other hand, is all me. All the logistics. All the gear. All the planning. If there’s no food on day 3, guess who’s to blame?

I’m hoping to have company on the trip, but this was my idea and so it’s my baby to birth. I have this sense of responsibility to make it awesome, for myself and anyone else who’s brave enough to join me on this adventure.

And I’ve been afraid to talk about it, to be honest. Am I training? Yes. Kind of, at least. Am I making plans? Sure. But I’m afraid. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m too old or too out of shape or too something else that I’m not imaginative enough to think of right now? What if I put this out in the universe and the universe laughs back?

However, last time I checked, I’m not getting any younger. And it’s not like I can put this off thinking that there’s some magical future time when getting in shape is easy. Like a wise meme on Facebook stated: “One day or day one. You choose.”

I’ll be slow, sure. And will my hips and back like sleeping on the ground any more than they did a few years ago when I did it last? Probably not. Thing is, I don’t have to do it like everyone else. I can take my time, drink in the scenery, take lots of picture breaks. And why not, right? It’s not like there won’t be anything to look at while I stop on the trail to catch my breath.

I want this pretty badly. I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect trail to tackle — logistics are a breeze compared to something like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail — and it feels so doable. One of those challenges that I look at and while understanding that there’s a lot of hard work between me and the finish, knowing with a certainty that surprises me that I can do it. I know I can.

So — Day One. Wonderland, here I come.

Why wouldn’t you want to hike this?

I’ve got a new obsession — it’s a podcast called “Writing Class Radio”, which I serendipitously stumbled across in some other podcast or blog, and I downloaded one episode, just to see what it was like. The verdict? It’s awesome. So I downloaded a bunch more episodes and went out walking, because that’s how I roll.

So I’ve been walking and listening and listening and walking and came to an episode today that asked the question: “I wish I had more time to _____”. And like so many of their episodes, my brain turned the idea over and over, poking and prodding at it and wouldn’t let it go. I got back to the house, all sweaty and red-faced, and I did what they do in their class — I set a timer for 8 minutes and started writing. And this is what came out:

I’m not married. There are no kids to cart around to a dizzying number of activities. I have a stable 9-to-5 job (that actually runs from 6am to 2:30pm) and a lazy dog that doesn’t like to be walked outside. Suffice it to say, time is something I have. I work. I workout. I write and learn new things occasionally. You get the idea — while other women my age are barely getting enough sleep to be coherent each day, I’m basically living a life of luxury (assuming time = money, right?).

And yet, the prompt gnawed at me. What do I need more time for? What is it that I can’t fit into my empty-schedule days? And it struck me …

I wish I had more time to fight my fears.

Fears are funny things. They seem to uncontrollably grow to completely take up any space that they’re given. Like that weird expanding spray insulation, our fears understand that only by using up all available headspace can they create the kind of paralysis that makes free time worthless. Because what good is free time if you don’t spend it doing the things you truly want to do?

I have a few hours after work to go running with the running club? Fear creeps in and snatches it away — “no one there will run as slow as you are and they’ll probably laugh at you behind your back”. I sit back down on the couch, flip on the TV and silently agree. Maybe then I’ll crack open the laptop and work on that idea I have for an essay? Fear laughs and freezes my fingers — “why bother? You’re no good anyway. And you don’t have any ideas that anyone wants to hear about anyway.” Good point, I think.

How am I supposed to reclaim my time from the fears that take it away? How do I get past the reptile voices in my head that insist that I’m not good enough or that I’m trying to get too big for my britches?

Same way you eat an elephant, I suppose: one bite at a time.

Job one is recognizing the fears. Naming them. Job two is letting them know that it’s okay that they’re around — after all, they’re just trying to stop me from making a fool of myself — but — and this is job three — that I’m in charge now. I’m in the driver’s seat making the decisions and no, they can’t hold the map or suggest a destination. Hell, they’re not even allowed to fiddle with the radio. It’s my car, my journey, my rules.

And here’s how it works —

You fear #1, yes you — the one that makes me think that I’m not good enough to run with other people anymore. I’m naming you Dumbass. Dumbass, I know you’re doing everything you can to try and save my ego, but there’s no need for it. The running club people are really nice and inviting! And anyway, paces go from walking pace to running really fast. Guess what? I’ll fit in just fine. Dumbass, you can wait for me at home. In fact, you might want to find yourself other tasks, like doing the dishes and taking out the trash, because otherwise I think I’ll put you out of a job.

And you — fear #2, the fear that makes me think that my writing, my voice isn’t good enough to share. That I’m being vain or letting my ego call the shots when I post something on my blog. I’m going to call you Annoying Gnat. AG, you keep buzzing around my brain, infiltrating my thoughts and I know you’re going to try and gum up the works whenever I try and write, so I think it’s time you leave. Perhaps you should go back to the bike path and hang out with all your friends. Remember how much fun you used to have accidentally being swallowed and choked on by some poor random bike rider?

After that? Fear #3 and #4 and so on. I’ll keep at it as I find them, because there are certainly more than two, more than I can count, probably. But that’s how it’s done. Name them. Understand that their voice is not my voice; I should never, ever talk to myself the way those fears talk to me. And then make it clear that if they do intend to stay, that they abide by my rules. A little fear isn’t a terrible thing as long as they know that I’m the one in charge.

And bit by bit, I’ll take back the time that all my fears have been stealing from me.

Of course, it’s one of those “simple but not easy” things to do. But there’s the game plan, all laid out for myself. Just a matter of a little implementation. And after that?

I wish I had have more time to …. dream. And live! And do anything else I fucking well want to do, scary or not.

Isn’t that the point?

Disclaimer: what follows is about 3,000 words of me prattling on about my day hiking in Sedona. If you’d like to just see the pretty pictures, click this link and you can skip all the stuff between here and there. There are no big life lessons to be learned or buddha-like wisdom to be gained (except, perhaps, that one should occasionally trust their navigational gut instinct rather than their GPS) — only my story, sometimes funny, occasionally merely eye-roll inducing. You won’t hurt my feelings by going right to the end. Promise.

For those who decided to stick with this, here we go:

I was heading to Phoenix for the on-a-whim trip to the International Women’s Summit, a 4-day extravaganza of talks by some of the most brilliant women of our time. Of course, in true Laura from, I opted to go a little early to get some hiking in. Originally I had intended to stay in the city, but when I realized that I had most of the day, and that Sedona was a mere 2-hour car ride, my plans changed.

My alarm clock went off at 2:45am — the punishment for choosing a 5:15am flight that would get me into Phoenix at 7am. I was surprisingly semi-awake (probably because I kept waking up every 30 minutes, afraid that I would sleep through my alarm) and was out of the house by 3:20am, just as I had planned. And everything flight-wise was even better than anticipated — I had an empty seat next to me AND we landed about 30 minutes ahead of schedule! In my head, I started re-working my timeline for Sedona a little, figuring that I’d get there earlier than my anticipated 10am arrival.

No bag to pick up (I somehow fit what seemed like 12 weeks worth of clothing into a carry-on … it was magic, I swear) and the rental car was waiting for me, so off I went! I had decided to stop on the road at a Subway sandwich shop to pick up something to eat while hiking. This effort gave me the first sense of foreshadowing that my good travel luck might be ending.

Now, Arizona does a great job of putting signs for every exit saying what food and gasoline establishments are at that particular exit. Makes it easy for an out-of-towner, right? So, I’m looking for a Subway, but am not finding anything. The commercial outlets are starting to thin as I drive away from the city, and so I decide that a Panera would work just as well. I exit and look around — nothing. I drive in the direction of the arrow. Nothing. I go another mile? No Panera in sight. I finally turn around, figuring I missed it, somehow. And? No, I didn’t (or, I missed it twice). Frustrated, I get back on the highway.

In another 5 miles, I understand that not finding Panera was just providence looking out for me — here’s an exit with a Subway. I get off and drive the 3 miles to the west as the helpful sign told me. It’s out of my way a bit, but it’s right where it said it was going to be. I walk up to it, pull on the door and almost dislocate my shoulder — the door is locked and it’s closed. What the what? Wait – doesn’t Subway serve breakfast these days? How late of a breakfast do people eat around here?

Turns out, it didn’t open until 8am and it was 7:45am. I started googling to find out if there was something else close by. Nope. So, I waited. Serves me right for being picky, I thought.

But – finally – the girl working there unlocks the door and I get inside (I’ll say this – she did look surprised to see me – I’m guessing a Subway breakfast isn’t a popular thing around here). I get my sandwich for the road and finally feel like things are falling into place.

“On the road again…” Willie Nelson croons in my head as I continue north towards Sedona. Seeing the brown and cactus turn to red rocks made my heart happy. Let’s just say that Phoenix isn’t my most favorite city and getting out of there was a good thing. Time speeds by and soon I’m heading into Sedona on Rt. 89, noticing all the new construction from when I visited last time, almost 20 years ago. But still absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t wait to get on the trails! And I was excited to be getting there a good half hour earlier than planned, so plenty of time to soak it all in.

The day before, I had plugged my destination — the Yavapai Vista Trailhead — into Waze and had it calculate my path there. I got into the city and made a left and started getting into some promising territory, except that I was pretty sure that the trailhead was supposed to be right off the main road. Trusting technology, I continued onward — eventually, I ended up at a very out-of-the-way resort. Very decidedly NOT what I was looking for, but, as it turns out, if you don’t carefully type things into Waze, it picks a destination that kind of sorta sounds like where you want to go. Not cool, Waze, not cool.

I turned around and retraced my steps back to the main strip, decided that I had simply passed the trailhead since I hadn’t really been looking for it. I had little doubt that it had to be there.

I stopped at a McDonald’s in town for a little sustenance and then headed back south out of town to look for the trailhead. The internet had told me that it was a little south of the Little Horse trailhead, so I had a marker to look for. I drove and looked and looked and drove … and … nothing. Like the Panera that was supposed to be there but wasn’t, the Yavapai Vista Trailhead wasn’t anywhere in sight. I couldn’t imagine how I had missed it, so I did the up and back route a few times, to no avail. Finally, I turned off 89 to follow the signs to Red Rock recreation area, thinking that maybe it was in there.

The drive was slow but beautiful, with twisty roads and great views at every turn. I finally made it to the entrance of the park and decided to ask the ranger before entering whether I was at the right place. He smiled and politely told me “Nope.” and then handed me printed directions to something else. Apparently I wasn’t the first to end up in the wrong place.

So, I headed to where the slip of paper told me — Crescent Moon Ranch, as it turned out. There was no ranger around when I drove in, so I paid the fee and figured on finding a map. Um, no map. Okay – I lied – there was a map, but it only showed that particular area and where the picnic tables were. Helpful for someone, I’m sure, but not for me. With no one around to help (and a non-existent cell signal), I left there and headed back into Sedona to do more research.

At this point, I had wasted so much time! Instead of being on the trail by no later than 10am, it was already 11:30am and I was still driving around in my rental car. Sure, listening to my podcasts was fun and stuff, but that’s not what I was there to do. I was altogether frustrated and almost — but not quite — ready to just go back to Phoenix. Instead, I hiked up my big girl panties, got to a place where there was a cell signal and gave myself one last shot to get this right.

I pulled up Google maps and REALLY took a look at the area. Funny enough, there are essentially TWO main strips into Sedona (who knew?) and I was on the wrong one. Finally feeling like I knew where I was going, I started out again, and, after about 15 minutes, I saw the trailhead! It existed!! I pulled in, but knew I had to buy a Red Rock pass to park there. I was going to buy one from the vending machine, but then remembered my friend telling me that there was a visitor center not too far down the road where they had better maps, and, after my poor navigational showing so far, thought that might be a good idea. One of my smarter moves, that much I’ll say.

Another 10 minutes down the road, there it was. I pulled off and went inside to chat with the park ranger. She asked where I was planning to hike — I told her and another ranger dude standing off to the side exclaimed, “You’re going to do Templeton?! Wow! That’s like a 9 mile hike!” at which point I started panicking. It was already noon and I didn’t have time (or inclination) for a 9 mile hike. I asked the ranger who was helping me if it really was that far — because I didn’t think so — and instead of answering me directly, she mentioned that there was another trailhead that would get me to Cathedral Rock (which was the destination I was looking to get to) but would be shorter and went along the creek. Personally, I think she looked at my frazzled self and was gently trying to say, “Girl, we don’t want to have to rescue you from the trail like a lost puppy, so why don’t you be smart, listen to me and do this easier hike?” without actually saying those words.

Being the intelligent (and frazzled) person I was, I saw the wisdom in her suggestion and jumped at it. Something more like 4 miles round trip seemed imminently more doable in the amount of time I had. I gathered up my maps and headed out. I was going to hike! Finally!

I drove out to the trailhead — a little more out of the way than the one I had planned on — but it was perfect. I got myself together — water, food, sunscreen, hiking shoes and all sorts of necessary gear — and set out.

Immediately I noticed all the wildflowers that were out in force — every time I turned my head, I found a different wildflower that needed to have its picture taken. The oranges and yellows and reds and purples were brilliant and I couldn’t believe my luck that I seemed to have arrived at exactly the perfect time! And to think, I almost opted to just head back to Phoenix.

So, have I mentioned my navigational prowess? Yea, even on marked trails I can’t seem to do things right. I came to a T in the road, read the sign, took a picture of the sign and then proceeded to go in the absolutely opposite direction of where I was supposed to go. Luckily, not far down the trail I encountered a couple who were trying to figure out their way to their car. Between their GPS and my maps, we figured it out. And, lucky for me, also figured out that while they were headed in exactly the right direction, I wasn’t. Crap.

Going back from whence I came, I was finally headed in the right direction. Of course, there were a few more false turns, but I figured those out (all on my own!) rather quickly. Before I knew it, the trail was sidling up to Oak Creek, gorgeous with burbling water and big trees providing shade from the sun.

Oh yea, did I mention that it was a little over 90 degrees out (much cooler than Phoenix, but still!) and the sun felt like an oven roasting my skin? So, the shade really did feel awfully nice.

It didn’t take long before I started hitting switchbacks. My nemesis. I know I can do them, just slowly with lots of “photo stops”. These were hitting me pretty hard, though and it struck me that getting up in the middle of the night might not have been the best start for an afternoon of hiking, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Well, I wasn’t going to let it stop me for more than 5 minutes at a time, at least.

I hauled my butt up the switchbacks and then things leveled out, allowing me to catch my breath and take in the views. And the views were spectacular! Aside from there not being any shade up there, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I wound my way around the rocks, following the trail until it ended at the bottom of the scramble up to Cathedral Rock.

I had to admit: I was tired. No, more than that — I was exhausted. But I had come that far! How could I not summit Cathedral Rock? So, I gamely went upward. It started out a trail, but soon was more bouldering and finding a way up the slickrock (it’s also possible that there was a trail but that I — once again — lost it). I got about halfway up, sat down to catch my breath, and had a heart-to-heart with myself. I didn’t want to give up, but I knew that I was getting dangerously close to my breaking point. I had enough water, I was covered from the sun, but the cumulative effect of the day’s travels had done a number on me.

Stick a fork in me. I was done.

I reluctantly (but also, I confess, thankfully) headed back down, making sure to be careful of my footing because I really didn’t want to need to be rescued. I made a promise to myself when I got back to the bottom of the Cathedral Rock trail: I’ll be back (said in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice).

After that, it was just the 2 miles back to my car, mostly level or downhill. I still kept stopping to take flower pictures — I just couldn’t get enough! — but felt myself getting more and more tired. It finally occurred to me what was happening — like a ghost back from my triathlon days — I was bonking. And bonking HARD.

[note to non-endurance athletes: bonking aka “hitting the wall” is the situation where you go from doing just fine to sudden fatigue that makes you want to do nothing more than lay down on the ground and nap for a few dozen hours. It’s usually caused by a nutritional deficit of some sort.]

Stumbling down the switchbacks, I finally made it back to the creek, where the shade made it cooler and the water made it peaceful. I found a spot to sit down on the roots of an old tree by the water and I relaxed and ate some food. It helped a little bit — I knew I needed calories more than anything else. I would have done anything for some cold Gatorade in that moment, but apparently the Red Rock park people didn’t think to put vending machines out there. Such a shame — I would bet they’d be a big money maker.

After sitting for awhile, I decided to get back to it — the sooner I started moving, the sooner I’d get back to my car and my air-conditioning and a comfortable place to sit.

I saw a lot of people going up while I was coming down and I think every single one of them asked either if they were on the right path or how much longer they had to climb upward before it leveled out. At least I wasn’t the only one who spent a lot of the hike being unsure if I was headed in the right direction. Vindication!

I death-marched back to my car, reminding myself not to stop and take more flower pictures (they were so gorgeous!), and while I absolutely knew I would make it, I’ve never been in that kind of condition on a trail. I remember feeling that way during the back half of the run in my last half Ironman, but that’s about it. It’s a scary feeling because you mentally know that you’re just walking, that’s all, nothing too it, but your body doesn’t agree. Or maybe it’s the opposite? Maybe it’s the mind that’s in the midst of giving up?

I knew that I wasn’t far. I knew that I had enough water. I knew I had more food. I knew, without a doubt, that the worst case scenario would be that I would need to sit down and rest for an hour or so and I’d be okay. Even still, there’s nothing quite like being out in the wilderness and having your body rebel in a way that it’s never done before.

Spoiler alert: I made it back to the car, safe and sound, without even needing to lay down and sleep for a few hours first. Go, me! And once back in the car? Oh yea, I didn’t have anything to drink. And I had already finished my water (the water lasted as long as my hike).

I finally found myself in the parking lot and after some too-long moments of not being able to find my car keys, I was comfortably in the car, A/C on and wondering if I had enough time for another short hike (just kidding! I had already peeled out of the parking lot, headed towards the nearest place to buy something cold to drink!).

[side note: I believe I saw a roadrunner running (obviously) across the road in front of me as I was driving out from the trailhead! He (or she) was gone before I could stop and grab my camera. Weirdly, I didn’t see Wile E. Coyote or anything built by Acme. There dies another childhood fantasy.]

I drove out of Oak Creek (where I actually was instead of Sedona, as it turns out), looking for a place to stop. Fast food joint, gas station, anything. And…? Nothing. Finally – finally! – a rest stop. With vending machines. And Gatorade! Perfect!

I put my $2.60 in (actually, I fed it my credit card – gotta love technology) and stooped down to pick up my drink from the machine. Before taking a step, I twisted the top off and took a sip, and it was like a miracle elixir — not only was it nice and sweet and thirst-quenching, but it was slushy from being partially frozen. Even in my dreams I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

And with that, I drove on back to Phoenix, headed to what would end up being a life-changing conference, just satisfied with life and loving that these gorgeous sanctuaries that still exist.

The End.

Turns out, I can do things on a whim! I’m impulsive! A few weeks ago I happened to think to look up where Elizabeth Gilbert was going to be speaking (I had seen her a month or so ago and, although she doesn’t know it, she became my new best friend). I wanted to hear her speak again and it turns out that she was going to be at this conference with all these other women that sounded amazing (a few of whom I recognized and was already in love with, as well). And so, a little under two weeks before the event, I signed up, bought some plane tickets, booked the hotel and voila! Here’s me running my life by the seat of my pants.

I was down in lovely, HOT Phoenix, AZ for the International Women’s Summit conference. According to their press, “Three days of empowering experiences featuring a stellar lineup of female visionaries” — and while it sounds a touch hyperbolic, their claim really wasn’t far from the truth. Of the ten talks I had the opportunity to listen to, I would say that seven were absolutely fantastic, two were only pretty amazing and there was only one that didn’t really resonate with me. Not bad, right? And I have to tell you — the speakers weren’t even the most valuable piece of learning that I took away from this conference, either.

Just to set the stage: I got up in the middle of the night to catch a flight, drove up to Sedona to hike for a few hours (a blog post in and of itself), and then, straight from the trail, drove back to the hotel.

So there I am, back in Phoenix, standing in the lobby of the very nice Sheraton hotel and waiting in line to check-in. Remember the story I haven’t yet told you about hiking in Sedona? Well, I’m utterly filthy — no kidding, my lower legs were coated with red dirt — and I stink so badly I can smell myself (hey, it was over 90 degrees out there hiking and this Chicago girl sweats when she simply considers doing something akin to working out) — and I’m fall-over exhausted. And, of course, because I’m a wreck, the check-in line is substantial.

But here’s where things shift a little from what I would have otherwise imagined; in my state of post-hiking-mess, other women in line were not only not avoiding my eye, but actively starting conversations with me. “Huh”, I thought, “didn’t see that coming.” And, I might add, they were not simply asking me to step downwind of them. Little did I know that these conversations foreshadowed the whole of the weekend.

After checking in, hauling my weary body up to the room and finally taking a long shower to make myself vaguely presentable, I went back downstairs to check in to the summit and pick up all my registration materials. There are all sorts of women milling around and I was directed to the proper place — I got in the correct line on the first try (something not everyone accomplished, according to my eavesdropping) and picked up my packet. It felt like packet pickup for a triathlon or run but with more hairspray, fewer boys and no one concerned about where they were going to pre-race carb-load.

Here’s where I start with the confessions: at this point, I started to get overwhelmed. Everyone was so very nice, but there were just so MANY people around. Of course, it wasn’t Lollapalooza-in-Chicago-in-95 degree-heat crowded, but I find I’m sensitive to even small-ish crowds and instead of sticking around and chatting people up or looking at the vendors, I fled back to my room to hide. And debated not going to the first keynote speaker, which was that night (the downside to whimming my way through things? I didn’t even read the schedule closely enough beforehand to know that things other than just packet pickup were going on that night).

I reasoned with myself — I was tired, I had been up a long time, the talk started past my bedtime if you went by Chicago time (9:30pm! yes, I have the bedtime of a second grader), I was sore and whiny and cranky and wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. In fact, I’d probably just fall asleep right in my chair. Wouldn’t that be awfully rude of me?

Then, the bohemian in me took over. I paid for this conference. And I paid a lot to fly out here, stay in this hotel and have the opportunity to hear women speak of the things they were passionate about. Maybe I wasn’t familiar with the speaker, but the least I could do was slip in the back unobtrusively and only leave if it was awful or if I really was going to start snoring (not that I snore, of course, that’s just a hypothetical I’m throwing out there…).

Hard to see from my back row seat (where I was DEFINITELY NOT snoring), but it’s Melissa up there!

You understand how this is going to go, don’t you? I went. I listened. My jaw dropped, my hands exploded into applause. That first speaker? Melissa Harris-Perry. Her absolutely compelling talk explained how we need to understand the humanity that exists on the other side of the aisle — the phrase she kept coming back to was “The stories you tell affect the actions you take” — and as such, you must allow your stories to induce action that furthers understanding of those who don’t think as you do. This whole experience jump-started both my brain and my heart, a situation that wouldn’t end until the weekend did.

As I mentioned at the top, the speakers were amazing. But, for me, the speakers were only half of the revelation that unfolded during the summit (and one which I’ll address in yet another blog post). The other half? It turns out that this introverted, shy girl has some chattiness buried deep within her.

See, I’ve never liked going to things where I wouldn’t know anyone — so deciding to come to this conference scared the daylights out of me. My go-to move is to stand in a corner with a drink, not knowing how to approach anyone and wish that either the floor would swallow me up or someone will take pity on me and approach. Or that someone would just pull the damn fire alarm so we could all leave. That would have been okay, too.

The story I’ve always told myself: I’m just not good at meeting new people. To simply walk up to someone and start a conversation? My story always had an awkward and unhappy ending. And to be sure, there have been many such awkward moments in my life, but it’s also easy to forget when things have gone okay. And so, after being overwhelmed at registration, but then getting a taste of what this summit could be like, I had to recalibrate. I had to let go of my old story and create a new one. Go into the experience with a beginner’s mind, allow myself to be open to people and ideas. Be vulnerable. Ask questions. Really hear what the other person had to say. Be someone who was GOOD at meeting new people. How hard could it be?

And this women’s summit was different and a perfect place to try out this new story. I got my first taste while standing at the check-in line at the hotel, where people improbably made conversation with me, the dirty, dusty, stinky girl. And all weekend, the scene repeated itself (though, luckily for everyone else, not the dirty, dusty, stinky part) — no matter where I went, if I wasn’t in my room, conversations naturally started. Some just a basic “How are you doing?”, some asking opinions on speakers, some even more in-depth than that. It was amazing to me. You couldn’t be in a public place without talking to someone. AND I LIKED IT.

I can’t articulate how much this differs from my day to day life. While always friendly, I have never sought out conversation with strangers. It’s not that I don’t think others have anything to offer, it’s more that I have this deeply ingrained belief that not only do I suck at initiating conversations but that I’d actually be bothering someone by intruding into their day. I’ve always thought like this: leave that poor person alone, let them go about their business, they’re not looking to have some inane back-and-forth with you. Why embarrass yourself that way?

I figured out why I was quickly falling in love with this environment — it was like two of my favorite things combined: a women’s triathlon where everyone is so “you go, girl!” friendly and supportive and a great university class where students intelligently and thoughtfully discuss ideas and philosophies To my surprise, I found myself not wanting to go up to my room to hide out — I wanted to hang out where the people were, having conversations and connecting in ways that my story wouldn’t usually allow me to do.

I left on Sunday afternoon, head full of ideas and plans. As I did the airport thing (which is nothing more than one queue after another punctuated by waiting patiently for things to happen), I found myself breaking my own rules and starting conversations with strangers. More than just a polite “excuse me” or “thank you” — actual conversations. I didn’t even realize it at first, to be honest — I was just in that mode of thinking still. And you know what? People are pretty open to being talked to. Who knew?

Melissa Harris-Perry kept coming back to a main point — “The stories you tell affect the actions you take.” She may have been specifically referring to the stories you tell yourself about others, but it holds equally true for the stories we tell to ourselves ABOUT ourselves. My story — that I’m not good at meeting people — was blown out of the water this past weekend. I had to make the decision to let that story go, for at least a few days, and to create a new story in its place. This summit cooked up the perfect environment for it, but I still needed to do the work and make it happen. I needed to catch people’s eye and start a conversation. I needed to listen — really listen — and want to find out more. I also had to believe that my thoughts were valuable and worth putting out into the world.

And the results made me believe that I’ve been misleading myself for a long time. What stories do you tell yourself? What parts of your personality seem set in stone and unable to be changed? And what could you do to create a different reality for yourself? As someone much wiser than me once said, argue for your limitations and they will be yours. Instead, why don’t we start arguing against those self-imposed limitations? Why not tell a different story? Why not create the life you want rather than the life you feel stuck in?

How do you define “success”?

  • making a certain amount of money?
  • winning an age group medal in a race?
  • moving into the coveted corner office?
  • going viral on social media?
  • having your blog read and shared by thousands of followers? (okay, count me guilty on this one…)

The other day I was listening to my new best friend podcaster, Jonathan Fields, and he was riffing (his word!) about success, how we measure it and how we might be doing it all wrong. Fields has a knack for putting his own distinct spin on things that we take for granted; instead of thinking as success as an outcome, we’d do better to think of success as putting the work in on the process.

Just last month, I was writing about my finish of the run at Pere Marquette Park and that I felt defeated by what should have been a victory. Simply put, I defined my success — or lack thereof — by how I did compared to all the other runners out there. There are so many things wrong with this!

First, unless I’m spiking pre-race water with, say, prune juice or something else to slow everyone down, I have no control over how the other racers will perform (I’m still working on my mind control skills).

Second, comparison, as I hear it told, is the thief of joy. Or something wise like that.

Third, it’s foolhardy to pin my happiness and feelings of success based on the performance of other people. Doesn’t it make more sense to simply challenge myself?

In the end, it was the metric that I was using to measure success that did me in during that race. It wasn’t that I was slow or that the course was tough or that the other runners were too fast — to salvage both the race and my opinion of myself, I needed to redefine what made me a winner in my own mind. And that definition needs to be under my control and not dependent on external circumstances. So, what makes me successful?

  • Training and going into the race with a good attitude
  • Giving my best effort out on the course
  • Finishing the race, completing what I started
  • Giving myself the credit I deserve for doing everything within my control to turn in a good performance.

I had set pace goals for this race, but even that’s a dangerous way to measure success. Yes, I beat my goal, but if I didn’t and I still left my best out there on the course, would I be any less successful? It’s hard for me to change this way of thinking, but yes — I would still be successful. Last time I checked, I wasn’t earning money doing this, so I get to pick which lens through which I want to view my performance.

The key is this — I can’t control other people and I oftentimes cannot control any sort of outcome, so the best way for me to get the “W” is to measure myself based on those things that I can control. Yes – outcomes are awesome and rewarding, but my focus always has to be on the things that I can do to get me the outcome I want. It’s a weird line to draw, but it’s important: as long as I do everything I can to get the outcome I want, I’m successful whether or not I actually get that outcome. Make sense?

And this applies to so many areas of my life:  if I want to lose weight, I need to stop focusing on the numbers and instead focus on what influences those numbers — eating healthy and working out. If I want to be a fast runner, I need to focus on training. If I want to be a famous blogger, I have to write awesome blog posts and spread the word about my awesomeness. I might not get the results that I’m looking for, but if I gave my best effort, then it’s not a failure. I might need to change tactics or tweak my process to get different (and desired) outcomes, but the work that I’ve put in already gives me enough to feel good about.

Short and sweet, that’s the lesson I learned this week.

My running shoes have a definite opinion about things. Belle seems to listening closely.

As I was heavy-breathing through the last few intervals of my run the other day, I started thinking about my long history with this weird little pastime. I don’t need to survive by catching my dinner. I’m not being chased by anyone. And hell, I’m on a treadmill so I’m not even moving forward. So, why do it? For a long time, running was nothing more than punishment for being late to practice (one reason of many to be on time for everything) — to pair the words “running” and “fun” would have left me scratching my head in confusion. As long as I could get from home plate back around to home plate without needing oxygen, I was in good enough running shape for anything that I might need to do.

And then, I broke my arm playing softball. The tl;dr version of the story is that I spent an inordinate amount of time in occupational therapy trying to get my hand and fingers to work again and I think the thrice-weekly torture sessions wore me down enough so that when one of the therapists there asked, “Want to run a half marathon?” I dumbly nodded in response, which was interpreted as an enthusiastic “YES!!”. Thus roped in, I began what would become one of the most important relationships of my life — my relationship with running. If Facebook had been around, we would have been Facebook Official within weeks.

Currently, running and I are circling each other and giving each other the side-eye, not sure if it’s going to work this time around. For a long time — you know, before I broke up with it — running was my constant companion through ups and downs and while I might not have thought so at the time, ended up teaching me a lot about life:

Don’t leave things mostly done; it feels better to wrap things up the right way.  It was one of those days where I didn’t really feel like running, but did it anyway, knowing that I’d appreciate the good kind of tired that comes from a hard run. As I cruised up the driveway, I stopped my Garmin — 4.93 miles. I sighed, whispered some NSFW words to myself, and headed back down the driveway to go to the corner and back. Less than a minute later, I’m on my driveway once again. My stopped Garmin now showed 5.01 miles. NOW I had officially finished and could go inside and relax. That’s one of the rules of running (didn’t you know?) … you can’t stop when you have less than a tenth of a mile to the next mile. That’s just how it is.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.  It was March 2008 and we were lined up for the start of the Wacky Snacky 5K. Not very windy, chilly but not overly so — a good day for running. Starting out, I didn’t have any real race plan in play — I was there for the post-race food, after all (it’s the Wacky Snacky race and BOY did it live up to it’s name!) — and went out strong, figuring I’d see what I had in the tank. First mile was good, second mile was a touch faster. I knew there was a potential PR out there. At around 2.25 miles the burn started to happen. Physically, my legs were screaming at me. Mentally, my brain was telling me that I ought to slow down a little because if I didn’t, I’d blow myself out, that this was just too hard to do. I spat back at myself:  “if this were easy, everyone would be doing it” and kept running, keeping an eye on my Garmin for pace and doing my best to ignore all other thoughts. I PR’d that day, by 13 seconds and took 7th in my age group. And then I ate candy and cookies and Hostess snacks, easily out-eating my calorie deficit. The fact that it wasn’t easy (both the run AND the post-race snacky binging) is what made it all sorts of awesome.

Never judge a book by its cover. Corollary: never judge a runner by their shoes.  I have a confession to make — I’m a bit of a fanatic about running shoes. I love buying new ones (I can’t be the only one, can I?). And when I was running 20-30 miles a week, it was (almost) justifiable. My problem was that while the shoes I would buy at the running store were invariably awesome and fit great, I couldn’t help going online and buying shoes that I thought looked cool, regardless of whether they were stability shoes or lightweight trainers or some other type that was utterly unsuitable for my feet (case in point: Vibram FiveFingers (my poor heels and Achilles tendons!)). You can see my point a mile away:  sometimes the coolest-looking shoes were the absolutely worst shoes that I could be wearing. Sometimes the boring old Asics Kayanos were what I should really have been running in. Or really, any sort of shoe that had some semblance of stability in them. Just because they looked good, didn’t mean they would work for me — there’s more to a shoe than just it’s fancy-dancy color and fashionable look.

You can’t count on motivation to get you to do something.  I knew — or at least passionately hoped — that the marathon I was training for in 2011 would be my last. I wasn’t in love with the distance, or the training it required, but I wanted to have just one race where I did everything possible to give it my best shot. Which meant a rigorous training program. During that summer, I was running 5-6 days a week, including a long run on the weekend. My mileage topped out at around 45-50 miles a week and I can tell you with complete honesty — I didn’t really enjoy it. Did I enjoy some of the individual runs? Of course. I was still a runner, still got a high out of getting outside and pounding the pavement. But overall? Not much fun. And I learned, over and over and over, that motivation was never going to get me to the start line (much less the finish line). I needed to draw upon something deeper than an inspirational video to get me moving. By reminding myself every day how much I wanted a good marathon finish, I turned off the alarm, got out of bed and got the miles in, even when I utterly unmotivated to do so. I knew that a good marathon mattered more to me than the “I don’t wanna” feeling toddler-tantrum I wanted to throw. Motivation would come and go and carried me through maybe half of my training. Pure guts and a clear eye towards my goal got me through the rest. And I’ll tell you something else — there’s no better feeling than kicking butt on a training run that you didn’t want to do in the first place.

That’s just a short bit on how running has changed my brain. And now that I’m not a runner, but keep wanting to be one again, I wonder what the next lesson is that I’ll learn. Is it that no matter how hard something is, if you try hard enough that anything is achievable? Or is it that sometimes you can’t go home again and moving on is the best way to gracefully deal with life?

Hellooooo 2017! Welcome, welcome … come on in. Make yourself comfortable. Stay awhile. Maybe try not to kill so many beloved celebrities as your predecessor 2016 did.

As I’ve been doing for a number of years now, I pick a word for the year.  I find a word that embodies what direction I want to take in the new year, something that will remind me of what’s important and what my goals are and this year, it’s ENGAGE. And no, not the kind of engagement that ends with a ring and a ceremony, the kind of engagement that means I should get off my couch every once in awhile and go interact with the big, scary world out there, at least more often than my once-a-year average.

Seriously, though, I spent 2016 mostly looking inward and while that was necessary and worthwhile, I think it’s probably time that I started pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and finding new tribes of people. In Jonathan Field’s Good Life Project parlance, my connection bucket needs some filling! It’s stuff I’ve been talking about doing, but never quite managing to get it done. And because I don’t make a lot of noise about it, I’m really the only one that knows that I got scared or nervous at the last minute and opted to back out (I always had a good reason, like, Belle looked lonely or I ought to stay home just in case FedEx came with a package that needed to be signed for).

Of course, I’m still an introvert and need my down time, so my resolutions for the coming year are a nice mixture of getting out there and sitting home — I’ll never be a party animal, so don’t set your expectations for me too high.

Join a running group  Close to me is the Frankfort-New Lenox Running Club. I’ve joined their Facebook group and they seem likely extremely nice people. And it even sounds like they can accommodate people like me who are starting at the beginning, still doing the run/walk thing. Why haven’t I done this yet? I don’t want to get up early on the weekends. It sounds hard. I’m injured. I shouldn’t run that much. I might love it and then have to flog myself for weeks for being too nervous and intimidated to join them earlier. You know, all the usual excuses.

Take some classes at the local community college  Already done! I’m such an ahead-of-schedule over-achiever! I signed up for a yoga class that meets once a week starting at the beginning of February. Should be interesting because I might be the least bendy person that I know, but people keep telling me that it’ll be good for me. So – I’ll give it the ol’ college try (ha! see what I did there?). I also want to find a photography/Lightroom/Photoshop class to take as well. Treated myself to the new DSLR and want to make sure that I really learn all the ins and outs of it.

Complete my 2017 Challenge Everything challenge  I’m going to challenge myself every month with one thing to do for 30 days. I’ll have a page set up on this blog (see the page link on the left side of the page) to track my progress and detail it all out for you. I’m starting easy on myself — in January, I will eat vegetables every day. You’d think this would already be happening, but it’s stunning how many days go by where not one green thing is on my plate. The stupid part of this? I really like vegetables. So, this is one of those things that has no downsides and perhaps it’ll even get me into a healthier eating pattern. A sneak peek at February? Yoga every day. Boo-yah (I have no idea how that’s actually spelled. Just imagine me saying something like that with a lot of verve).

Spend less money  I spent way too much money in 2016. Way too much! I keep a pretty close eye on my finances because my goal is to retire early, so I’ve known this was going on, but it was juuust under control enough for me to ignore it. This year will have some strict rules — the only money I can spend on non-necessities is money that’s in my PayPal account or as a credit on Amazon. Money in my PayPal account comes from selling something on eBay, so if there’s something I want, I can always get rid of something else that I already own. Amazon credits are pretty small — it’s a kickback for using their credit card — but it’s a little something.

Travel somewhere new to hike  This is the one exception to the no-spending resolution. Last year’s trip to Utah reaffirmed what I already knew: spending time in nature is a balm to my soul and one that needs to be applied as often as possible. My retired life will include more mountains and a lot more hiking, but until then, I need to make a concerted effort to get out there.

Online book club  Right now the book club that I started with the Good Life Project book is going awesome and I LOVE all the ladies who have decided to participate! It’s been a lot of fun for me. Once we’re done with that book, I’d love to continue with looking at other books, but if not, then I’ll find another venue online for this. I love the discussions and give and take of opinions. It’s a fun way to make my brain do a little extra work without it feeling like extra work.

Keep active  With no expectations of losing weight or getting in better shape, I’ve learned that simply getting my body moving does me a world of good. I did a little experiment as 2016 came to a close where I did absolutely nothing active for almost 2 weeks straight. Yes, I had headaches, but that can’t be an excuse (though I used it as one, for sure!). And then, I didn’t do anything because, you know, I was running an experiment … didn’t want to ruin the scientific process. What did I find? My mood took a hit. My joints hurt (specifically, my fingers, though I can’t explain that for the life of me). I didn’t sleep as well and, weirdly, slept a whole lot more than I should (somehow, while 12-13 hours of sleep a night sounds decadent, it really isn’t all that good for me). Being active is integral to me feeling good, so, as I’ve done in the past, a mile a day is my minimum and over the course of the year, I’m shooting for 80% adherence rate.

Complete the Storycourse fiction writing class  There are something like 7 or 8 sections to this and I’ve gotten through just one. It requires a fair amount of time — there are materials to read, audio to listen to and then, of course, the writing — probably around 2-3 hours per section at least. Fiction has never been my forte — I always find it easier to write about what’s happening to me — but I’ve been curious about it for a long time and this is just what I need to not only learn the basics of putting together a good story but also doing the work and getting words down on paper.

There are other things I want to do — make a point of talking to strangers and starting up conversations more often, figure out how to limit my Facebook time, figure out how to get the news but not spend hours down a rabbit hole reading ALL the articles that are online, evaluate my charitable donations and make sure that the organizations that might now need more help get my help — but what I have listed up there is quantifiable, trackable and more than enough to keep me busy. Everything else will be on my internal, in-my-head list, but you’re not allowed to hold me accountable for those ideas.

So what’s your word for 2017? What do you want to accomplish? Do you have any resolutions or goals or do you eschew them as something that’s bound to fail?

I know I probably have fans forming a metaphorical line around my virtual home, waiting for my take on the year that has just passed, and who am I to disappoint you?

2016 wasn’t really all that bad a year (except that 97% of the celebrities that I love decided to die … hang in there, Betty White!!), but I’m ready to be done. To be honest, I’m always ready to be done by this point. I realize that I could give myself a fresh start on any given morning — January 1st holds no special magic that makes resolutions more sparkly and successful — but I always feel the tug to conform and keep on keepin’ on with my 2016 resolutions to the bitter end.

Some highlights from the year: a great trip to Indy to do a trail run that I had no business doing, an awesome family reunion under the bright Vegas lights, my introduction and falling in love with Zion National Park which I then consummated with a week-long girl’s vacation in October, another trail run that I *really* had no business doing (even though it was gorgeous), finding and actively training on the Swallow Cliff stairs (which regularly kicked my ass), jumping on the Jonathan Fields bandwagon and starting up what’s been an awesome book club with a bunch of awesome ladies ….  and basically making it through the year in one piece (always something to celebrate!).

And now you’re probably wondering how I did on my 2016 resolutions, right? I mean, if I were in your shoes, I’d totally be on the edge of my chair, almost frantic with my desire to know. In fact, I’m not entirely certain how y’all have made it this far.

Shall we get on with it?

2016: The Year of Hustle. The year where I would get off my butt and really get things done. The year where I would be in motion and moving towards all the things that I desired, rather than waiting patiently on my couch for all those things to magically make their way to me. And here’s what I said I’d do, with the actual results following each entry in italics.

Race every race. This sounds frighteningly straight forward, doesn’t it? You’d think there would be no problem with this one, except, historically speaking, there is. I’d sign up for a race, all excited and such, and then the day would come around and I’d be tired or it would be raining or I thought Belle looked sad that I was contemplating leaving her and I’d skip out on it. I have a drawer full of race shirts that I’m (almost) too embarrassed to wear because I didn’t earn them. But this year? None of that funny business. I’ve signed up for 5 races already, I did one today and have got 4 to go. Also – just to keep me accountable, I’ll post hilarious and/or tear-jerking race reports that will become instant viral hits. Or at least I’ll post a race report. Well … this first one wasn’t quite as successful as I hoped, but it wasn’t awful either. I did not race every race — I skipped two of them, if I’m remembering correctly — but I did pick up three extra races along the way, just for fun. So, while I didn’t strictly fulfill this resolution, at least I did in spirit by completing five races. And there was that week-long trip to Utah where I hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked some more. It’s almost like I’m an overachiever, right? 

Train for every race. This will take some work. But, I’ll say one thing — it’s desperately necessary! Feeling like you’re going to collapse on a race course isn’t an especially fun thing (it’s possible I have recent firsthand experience with this), so I’ll do what I can to make the whole racing thing more enjoyable. Which means becoming best buds with my treadmill this winter. I’m glad we have a decent relationship so far. (shuffles feet embarrassingly) Perhaps I didn’t do this as well as I could have. Or perhaps I did this almost not at all. I did train for my Utah trip — I set a goal to be able to do 20 flights of stairs at my local torture forest preserve and I accomplished that. With that said, I didn’t do a whole lot of running this year — I meant to, really I did! — with no excuse other than it didn’t feel all that good to run. Later on in the year, I started biking more (on the bike trainer) and that seemed a little more joint-friendly, so I’ll look to mix it up a bit in the coming year.

Work through the freecodecamp.com curriculum. In all, doing this evenings and weekends, it should take me a little over a year to finish. I’ve got a little coding background, so I’m hoping that it will go a little faster for me, but we’ll see — web design is not my forte. What’s my end goal with this? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know I’ve been enjoying learning it and another skill to add to my skillset backpack (you keep your skills in a backpack, too, don’t you?) is never a bad thing. While I’m not leaving my job until they either kick me out or I retire, having a side hustle in my pocket (that’s where you keep your side hustles, right?) gives me just a little sense of security. And perhaps a little sense of smugness, too (just kidding!)(okay, maybe not!)(no, really, just kidding). Didn’t happen. Still on my radar, but just didn’t have the time to devote to it and it’s not something that you can pick up and do once a week — it requires consistent dedication. 

Read less than last year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still have a 50 book goal for the year, but with all I want to do, something’s gotta give. No more wild and crazy 60+ books this time around. #FAIL I just can’t stop reading!! Though, I think I’ll stay under the “crazy 60+ books” demarcation line, so there’s that. Beyond that, it’s been a good book year — I think that this year has brought me books that I love more than any other books I’ve read. There might be a blog post in there somewhere.

Give 100% to Living Brave course. I signed up for Brene Brown’s online semester course and while I have the track record of letting these sorts of things fall through the cracks, I’m determined to really get something out of this. It’s based on two of her books — Daring Greatly and Rising Strong — and what it has to teach is something I need to learn. Of course, one of those things is “you should really follow through on things that you pay money to do”. We’ll start with that lesson. #FTW!!! (in 2016, I totally got into hashtags … now I’m totally cool, right?) Man, I totally demolished this course … and it demolished me in return. I learned more than I thought I would going through this course, and I highly recommend it if it comes out again. There was a point where I wanted to give up because it was shedding light on stuff about myself that made me a little uncomfortable, but self-growth is so satisfying once you get through to the other side and can see where all the pieces fit. 

SLEEP. Last night I was going through a worksheet designed to ferret out goals and intentions and what I found myself mentioning over and over was how much getting enough sleep affects my life. It’s difficult when I’m getting up 4 days a week at 4:30am, but it’s doable; I’ve done it before and I can do it again. And really, I can’t overestimate how frickin’ important this is for me. If I want to have the energy and motivation to get all the things done that I want, I have to SLEEP. Without that, I come home from work, collapse on the couch and barely move until it’s time for bed. Which doesn’t really facilitate goal-reaching and stuff. Though I do end up very well-versed on Modern Family re-runs. Still incredibly important, still something that I go through periods where I struggle to get enough. I’m so much more mindful about it, though, so at least I know when I’m screwing myself up.

Turn off the TV. First, get rid of cable. I don’t need the cost, I don’t need the channels (and then I can spend all that cable money on running clothes, am I right?). All I have to do is get someone in here to mount an antenna on my roof and run the necessary cables to make it all work. My pie-in-the-sky goal? Limit TV watching to 10 hours a week. There’s just so little that’s on TV that I need to watch to enjoy life. I GOT RID OF CABLE!! And I’m so happy about it! The bill was just getting bigger and bigger, and I cut it off at the knees. Now my only tie to Comcast is for my internet connection (which is still too expensive, but — unfortunately — not something I can live without). I did end up subscribing to SlingTV, which gives me ESPN and a handful of other cable stations, but the fact is that I no longer turn on the TV and start flipping to stations to find something to watch. Because there is no on-screen menu of what’s on, my TV watching goes like this:  grab my phone, put in my passcode, bring up the TV Guide Listing app and see if there’s anything on that I would want to watch. If not, the TV doesn’t even get turned on. And I find that these days, even though the TV is on, I’m rarely really watching it — it’s just background noise. Facebook and online newsmedia has taken the place of evil timesucker these days (Facebook is mostly the gateway to all the articles). Especially with the election and all the fall-out, I want to stay informed and updated with politics. Of course, this leads to never-ending streams of articles that I want to read. And it disguises itself as something that’s feeding my brain, and so it feels educational, somehow, and not wasting time. I’ll need to figure this out in 2017.

Bring more creativity into my life. Write more, listen to more music, even do some adult coloring books (which sounds dirty now that I’ve typed it out, but here’s a link so you know I’m not a pervert with crayons). With the TV off, that gives me more time to do the things that allow my creativity to flow, whether from writing stuff here, finding new music to listen to or just journal writing. Creativity is good stuff, people. You should check it out. I did a few writing classes, which are always so damn gratifying. I also signed up for an at-your-own-pace online fiction writing course, which I’ve just started — I’ve never written fiction and decided that it was time to stretch that muscle a bit and see what it’ll do. I created a couple of playlists on Amazon Music that I love (who else out there misses the days of painstakingly putting together a mix tape for your friends? I LOVED doing that). I even took a ton of photos in Utah which reminded me how much I love photography and how I missed having a real DSLR camera — which I then remedied by spoiling myself and getting a refurbed Canon. 

So, that was 2016 in a nutshell. It was a good, stable year, for the most part. I had a few casual friends turn into always-have-my-back friends. I went an entire year without having to mess with my antidepressant meds because they’re doing such a great job. I now have a group of #sturdygirl hiking friends that I can take AWESOME hiking trips with. I’ve been weight-stable (weight +/- 5 pounds) for well over a year now (first time in 5 years that I haven’t gained weight!). I lost a roommate but gained a former roommate who’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. My family is happy and healthy, as am I. What more is there to ask for?

A solid 2016. Thanks for the memories, 2016, and now I look forward to the lessons that 2017 has to teach me.

See? Not just me saying it. It’s official and everything. No wimps. No whiners.

Once again, through the wonders of peer pressure, I found myself out in the cold, freezing my tuckus off, waiting for a race start. The Pere Marquette Trail Run — the race whose motto is “No wimps and no whiners” — was going to be 7.5ish miles of climbing and descending (i.e. 7.5ish miles of pain), by the sounds of it. We were sitting around the fire, trying to keep from freezing pre-race, and I shook my head at myself and smiled, knowing that I’d be warm and cozy at home if it weren’t for these crazy people that I called friends. And that despite the appeal of my couch, I wouldn’t have it any different than to be here with them.

Of course, that was before the race. Let’s just say that over the next 2+ hours, it’s possible that I violated the “no whining” rule, you know, once or perhaps twice. Just a note to make it clear how ill-prepared I was for this race — the last time I ran 7.5 miles was when I raced my last marathon. In 2011. My very flat 2011 marathon. So, yea. I knew I could finish, but I also knew I’d be slow.

The race didn’t pull any punches — the first mile contained about 400 feet of climbing, right off the bat. Just in case I didn’t know what I was getting into, the course reduced me to a walk even before I started sweating. I was on the tail-end of the racers — we were all in the last wave to go off, and I was in the back of that last wave — and there were a handful of us smiling and joking about the climb. Good times, good times. As the climb continued, we got strung out and by the end of the first mile, I only saw glimpses of other runners, most ahead, but a few behind me.

I have to admit, it was kind of a weird feeling being so isolated and yet knowing I was in a race. Back in my former life, I was consistently in the top 10% of my age group, usually, so I was never without a crowd of people. And even now, there’s usually a bunch of people who amble along at my current pace. But this particular race — maybe it’s the length or the hills — doesn’t attract a whole lot of slow runners, as I was to find out.

The “no really, I’m not a fire!” warming fire.

But it was a gorgeous place to run. Or walk/hike/run, which is what I was actually doing. Being slow meant that I could occasionally stop and take pictures — some of the climbs forced me to have to catch my breath anyway, might as well snap a few photos while I was at it, right? And while it was cold outside, it was cold in the way that runners like — as soon as you get going, everything warms up and it’s quite comfortable. It reminded me why I used to really enjoy winter running. And my strategy worked well: hike the uphills, run the downhills and do the best I could with running on the (very few) level sections.

Things started to go downhill (ha! I’m punny!) somewhere just before the 4 mile mark. I was feeling okay, but tiring quickly and it soon struck me that I was only about halfway done. I think if someone had been watching me, they would have seen my shoulders slump dramatically, like I was a teenager being told, no, they couldn’t go to that party where all the super-popular people were going to be even if it meant that would make them a social pariah. You remember how that goes, right?

Regardless, my mood took a hit, but I wasn’t whining quite yet. I was getting cold — I hit a section that was windy, and that cut through me like the Snowmiser from the Christmas cartoon — but the hills weren’t quite as bad. Plus, I might go uphill at the speed of a grandma with a walker, but I can descend like a bat out of hell. Or a bat out of someplace much colder than hell, in this instance.

Throughout all of this, I didn’t see more than a few other runners. One woman, who had done something bad to her knee and was limping to the aid station, provided me with some much-needed small talk while I walked with her until the aid workers came. While I ordinarily don’t mind being on my own, I was starting to realize that I missed having people around me to chit chat with when the going got a little tough. Again – this race was unlike any other than I had done recently.

The beginning of the first unending uphill.

Back to the race. I moved on from the last aid station, which I believe was at around 5.5 miles, and my attitude soured. I was tired, I still had two miles to go, and I was cold. I knew there were very few people behind me, though, so I kept moving because I didn’t want them to catch me. For whatever reason, my ego had hooked itself on the idea that as long as I wasn’t the last to finish, this would be a victory (completing ignoring the fact that simply being there, taking on this really tough course and finishing in whatever place, would be a victory). Head down, one foot in front of the other. It felt like a marathon death march.

I came out of the woods from one trail, saw the lodge where the finish line was, and was then directed to go back into the woods to finish off the race. I knew I had about 1.5 miles left to go, so I gamely struck back out. That section? That climb was the work of the devil. There was a part where stone stairs had been helpfully placed, but for a short person like me, they were quite the challenge. I started wondering whether I was going to need some technical climbing gear to finish this race out (okay, so perhaps I exaggerate, but this might have been one of my whining incidents). There was a guy taking race pictures on the trail — he told me that once I got to the top of the stairs, it was mostly downhill from there. I latched onto that thought as if my life depended on it.

This was a “holy crap I can’t breathe, might as well take a picture” rest stop.

The stairs almost killed me, or at least killed my desire to live, but I finally reached the top. I came out of the trail onto a limestone clearing and I saw 3 other trails and nothing to tell me which one I was supposed to take. As a racer, it’s always my job to know the course, but I’ve never had to worry about this and so I didn’t on this day, either. But there I stood — one path curled back around kind of the way I came, which seemed like a reasonable path to take. One path went further uphill and away, and I decided that even if that WAS the race course, I wasn’t doing it. The third trail was off ahead of me and seemed to head further out. Remember, I had just come from the lodge where the finish line was — that was behind me — and I knew I didn’t have much more than a mile to go.

I made a guess and started to head down the other trail that curled back towards the lodge, figuring that even if it wasn’t right, I wouldn’t screw myself up too much. I didn’t go down too far — probably about an eighth of a mile — and then as I kept going down, I was less able to keep my bearings and decided to double back and just take the trail that I knew would take me back to the lodge even though it wasn’t the course. At this point, I was too cold and tired to mess around with getting myself lost or further away from where I was supposed to be.

I popped out of that trail back into the limestone clearing and two safety-orange vested people were coming from the stone stairs trail — they were the race sweepers — the people responsible for following the last runner. They directed me to the correct trail (not the uphill one, luckily, but the one that seemed to go away from where I wanted to be) and forward I went. They were really nice and encouraging, but all I wanted to do was put distance in between myself and them. Even though I know better than to feel this way, I was embarrassed to be that last runner.

I was headed downhill, so all was good. Even exhausted, I could run downhill. Of course, it wasn’t all like that. I would run, then have to walk when the trail turned slightly uphill. I hung my head, trying not to let it all get to me, feeling myself start to fall apart.

This was about the time that I started not liking this race anymore, but damn those views were still outstanding.

I saw a guy ahead of me and I made him my target. I could beat him. He was being tentative on the downhills, so I became as reckless as he was careful, gained on him, passed him and tried to put distance between us. With a quarter mile or so to go, we hit the flat before the finish line. No longer going downhill and having run out of gas about 2 miles back, he probably had the same idea I did about not being last, picked up his pace, passed me and I had absolutely no answer.

Finally, I came around the corner with the finish line in sight. There were very few people around, but my friends where there whooping it up and cheering for me — I absolutely loved seeing them there. It’s such a balm to the soul to know that there are people who support me, encourage me and know that even though I might be slow, I’m always out there doing the best I can.

Wait – did I take a wrong turn and end up at the beach??

And despite that, the shame monster in my head was unrelenting. I crossed the finish line, tears in my eyes, and could only think about how badly I felt because they were there freezing waiting for me to come in. My lizard brain told me in no uncertain terms that this isn’t something I should have been doing, that I should be in better shape, that I should be faster, that I didn’t deserve the love that these friends were so freely giving me.

All that is absolutely wrong, of course. I know this. Here’s how wrong this is — if I came in with exactly the same finish time, but there were people behind me still, I would have been elated with my performance! I knew going in that the course was really challenging, and I set a goal for myself … and I beat that pace goal by 1:50m/m. What’s not to be proud of about that? And frankly, being the last to cross the finish line only means that I started AND finished this bitch of a race. Just like everyone else. In fact, I did more since I did some ad hoc sightseeing in the middle of the race when I didn’t know where I was going.

It took me a bit to collect myself and calm myself down. It didn’t help that I was absolutely chilled to the bone and probably didn’t eat or hydrate enough while I was out there. As we drove to lunch, I told those voices to take a hike (see – still had a sense of humor about it!) and leave me alone. They may have ruined my race finish for me, but I certainly wasn’t going to let them ruin the rest of my day — not when I had such awesome friends to spend time with.

The lesson out of all of this? No matter how much progress I think I’m making in terms of being okay with no longer being speedy or in shape, I’m still not all the way there with accepting myself. This is tough work! But I’ll continue working away at it. I’ll continue being peer pressured into races that I think are absolute craziness. And I won’t have it any other way.

The reason I keep doing all this crazy stuff.

 

 

 

 

It gets dark just after 4pm now. By the time I’ve eaten dinner and done a little of this and that around the house, I feel like it’s bedtime. I look at the clock — it’s 5:30pm. During any other season of the year, I’d be beside myself, giddy with the idea of found time (like waking up in the middle of the night and realizing that you still have, like, 6 hours before your alarm goes off), but now I grudgingly admit to myself that it’s too early — even for me — to actually crawl between the sheets.

I’m one of the lucky ones; because I start work at 6am (that’s not actually the lucky part), I’m done and clocking out of the office while it’s still light (that’s the lucky part), even in the midst of the darkest time of the year. Most people don’t see daylight except through their office windows or at lunchtime forays back out into the world. My work days almost always start in the dark (there is about a precious month in the middle of summer where the sun is almost up while I’m commuting in) and end in the light so it always feels like a normal work day, no matter the time of year, if that makes sense.

But now it feels like it’s time to go into hibernation mode. The thing foremost on my mind once I get home from work? Dinner and bed. Of course, I (almost) never do that — even as someone with a ridiculously early bedtime, 5:30pm is still, you know, late afternoon. At best, early evening. I push myself to work out, even though it’s a little disconcerting to go into the basement while it’s light and come up the stairs to a pitch-black house. I try not to turn on the TV just to have some light and noise filtering through the house (I tend to lose this battle more often than not). It’s not like I don’t have things to keep myself busy — there are always books that I’m excited to read and writing that I want to do — but all of those things pale in comparison to the thought of snuggling into bed.

It’s not like I don’t have this same amount of time during the summer, but it’s somehow different. I’m not going to head out for a walk before bed. I’m not going to sit out on my patio, reading a book, enjoying a beverage. I’m less likely to want to make mid-week plans with friends, feeling like even before the evening has begun, it’s past my bedtime.

Instead my instinct is to hunker down with blankets and the dog, passing time until it’s okay to head to bed.

I don’t think I’m alone in this (right?).

So, instead, I try and use my bear-like attitude to my advantage.

I use the time to turn inward and start preparing myself for the rush of the holidays and then both the starkness and sense of renewal that comes with January and February. I start to dream about possibilities, awakening myself to potential much like I look forward to the coming of warmer weather. In the midst of this dark, there’s a rebirth happening beneath the surface. I begin writing out plans to give me purpose during those first few months of the year when there might not otherwise be a lot of look forward to.

I often wonder if those people who live in perpetually sunny and warm places go through the same thing? Over the years, I’ve found that my life moves in the same rhythm as the seasons, slowing down once the winter snow and cold arrives and then gearing back up when the warm weather graces us again. Not a complete hibernation, but a time to regroup, relax, regenerate. Ideas have time to be noodled around, percolating on the back burners of my mind while going about my regular business. There’s still forward progress, but it’s with an ease and unhurried nature that will disappear once the birds start singing again.

I’m sure I’ll be one of those whiny people complaining about the snow and cold soon enough, but right now I’m taking the time to appreciate the slow down that comes with this time of year (well, at least once the holidays are over with). Less daylight, more sleep, time for new ideas and fresh insights.