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.

 

 

So, yesterday I did my third trail race of 2016.

The first was in February — it was a muddy, very long slog that was one of those awful/awesome experiences. I finished, but it took every last bit of willpower to keep going at times. Once it was done, though, it was all awesome and very little of the awful. Kind of like I hear childbirth is.

Then, last week I did a trail race out at Palos Forest Preserve, on trails on which I usually bike rather than run on. The fall colors were out in full force — like a technicolor movie after watching only black and white. I spent a lot of the race wanting to just stop and take it all in, but running there with my friend Mary just felt right. Felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right at that particular moment.

And then yesterday I did another trail race, a whim of a last-minute decision, and enjoyed another beautiful trail out at New Salem. I ran by myself this time, and though I started out taking it easy, it wasn’t long before I found myself welcoming back those old competitive juices and while I’m still not speedy, I worked as hard as I could to do as well as I could. I felt a glimmer of that feeling that I always chased while running — this weird, elusive, empowering, I-can-do-anything attitude.

In my training, I haven’t really gotten to the point where running feels good. It’s always something to get through more than something I enjoy. And now I’m wondering: maybe I’m just doing my training in the wrong place. I spend my time on asphalt trails or sidewalks through subdivisions or on a treadmill — little to get excited about. It’s convenient, for sure, but not inspiring.

I can still close my eyes and picture the hilltop during the Palos run where the trees were blazing yellow, the ground was a carpet of yellow leaves; it felt like an otherworld. The overwhelming feeling is one of peace and oneness, where appreciating both the awesome beauty of the place and my body’s ability to run comes easy.

And you know what? That “otherworld” is a short 35 minute drive from my house. Seems to me that I should spend a little more time rustling through the leaves (and then slogging through the snow) and enjoying the nature that’s not far from my front door.

It’s funny how just taking an activity and moving it to a different environment can make a world of difference. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to move west, move to the mountains, and while that’s not in my near-term future, I needed these runs to remind me that I’ve got some pretty cool places right here in Illinois. Maybe it’s not Utah or Colorado, but it’s more than enough for now. I mean, just look at it – you can’t tell me it isn’t beautiful.

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My own special perk — an advanced copy that I got to read and highlight and tag before everyone else.

Jonathan Fields, author of The Good Life Project and the podcaster responsible for hundreds of interviews with fascinating and inspiring people, ends every podcast with this question for his guest: “so, what does it mean to you to live a good life?”

The answers are as varied as his guests, but with one underlying commonality: there’s this urgent but impassioned attitude that living life to its fullest potential might be one of the most important things that we, as humans, do. This necessarily takes different forms for different people, but finding those things that spark and light you up are the difference between merely being and truly living.

And to address this desire to live the best life possible, Fields wrote a book chock full of lessons and ideas to inspire. A little about the book:

How to Live a Good Life is a practical and provocative modern-day manual for a life well-lived. Drawn from the intersection of science, spirituality, and Jonathan Fields’ years-long quest to learn at the feet of world-renowned masters from nearly every tradition, this book offers a simple, yet stunningly powerful tool for life, the “Good Life Buckets.”

It then walks you through 30-days of fun, yet powerful mini-challenges, designed to rekindle deep, loving, and compassionate relationships; cultivate vitality, radiance, and graceful ease; and leave you feeling lit up by the way you contribute to the world. No need for blind faith or surrender of intelligence; everything you’ll discover is immediately actionable and subject to validation through your own experience.

How to Live a Good Life is not just a book to be read; it’s a path to possibility, to be walked, then lived.

I became a student of Fields awhile ago, taking in his podcasts in big gulps and still wanted more. When he announced his book, I knew I wanted to be along for the ride — I opted to become a Good Life Ambassador and spread the Good Life love. One of the perks? I have a case of 10 books that I want to give away (admit it, I just became your favorite person, didn’t I?).

So, how would you like to spend the next few months hanging out with me and other like-minded folks, exploring the book, becoming each other’s accountability partners and amping up your life while you’re at it? I want to start an action-oriented book club where we read the book together, covering the challenges and discussing them in a private Facebook group. Once past the initial few chapters that explain Fields’ Good Life Buckets theory, each challenge is only a few pages of reading and then some amount of doing — sometimes requiring a few minutes, sometimes more, but always worth the time spent.

I’ve got that case of books to give away and will be happy to send one out to the first 10 people who say that they’re interested — the only thing I ask is in return that you commit to being an involved member of our group while we work our way through the 30 days of challenges.

Of course, anyone who’d like to be involved is more than welcome — the more the merrier! So, go ahead and share this post, invite your friends and the first 10 get the book for free! What more could you ask for? A free book AND a group of awesome people to talk about it with. Life doesn’t really get better than that, does it?

I plan on starting this the first full week in December and hitting maybe 2-3 challenges a week, giving everyone plenty of time. Of course, nothing is set in stone and we have all the flexibility in the world to change things up to make it work better for everyone. If you’re interested, comment either here or on the Facebook post and I’ll get in touch with you to get an address to send the book to.

If you’re looking for more information before you commit…

Here’s a link to the first chapter of the book — you can read it without even having to provide an email. Go to the website, scroll down a bit and then just click the button and it’ll appear on your screen.

Here’s one of my favorite episodes of his Good Life podcast, with guest Elizabeth Gilbert.

And here are some of Jonathan Field’s essays to enjoy, if you’re still, for some weird reason, not convinced that this book club will be the most awesome thing you’ll ever join.

brene-quoteIf you spend any amount of time around these parts, you know that Brene Brown is one of my personal heroes. She was my gateway drug into the world of whole-hearted living and made me realize how much of my life can be influenced simply by how I treat myself.

One of the concepts that she often preaches about is the idea of “the story we tell ourselves” — it’s the story that our mind makes up to explain outside circumstances and situations, and these stories may or may not reflect reality. One of the examples that she uses is when a work colleague seems to be short with me, maybe the story that I automatically believe is that I did something wrong and so he blew me off or that he thinks I’m a jerk because I disagreed with his idea. I then go to his desk and say, “This is the story I’m telling myself … ” and explain what I’m thinking, and he replies, “Oh no, I had just gotten a phone call from my wife that distracted me” and all of a sudden, my story falls apart. My story may have explained what happened, but failed to actually sync up with the rest of the world.

These stories, they happen automatically. They’re just our way of making sense of the world around us, but honestly, we aren’t always very good at making them real. And believing these stories can really become an obstacle to doing something you want to do or moving forward in a different way. Because, see, we don’t just have stories to explain the behavior of other people, we also make up stories to explain why we act the way we do.

So, like I mentioned last week, I hurt my back last Friday — badly enough that I was pretty well relegated to sitting around for the rest of that weekend and very slowly working my way back this week. And it’s been difficult, because I had made such a good start on my rest-of-the-year goals and I was motivated to keep pressing on and then, in the span of one deadlift, I went from totally pumped to feeling like a deflated balloon. A deflated balloon that whimpered every time it had to get up after sitting down.

See, the story I tell myself is this: whenever things are going well, something will always happen that will keep me from moving forward and reaching my goals. Whatever this “something” is, it will derail me, I’ll lose ground and lose track of what was so important to me just a moment ago. That “something” will stop me from doing what I need to do and I won’t see any other way around it. I’ll be a failure. I’ll quit. I’ll lose all progress previously made and be back at square one where, at some point in the far future, I’ll have to start over yet again, after whining and complaining and generally bemoaning how unlucky I am.

This is an easy story for me to believe; it’s not like it hasn’t already happened many times. And I always start again, feeling like THIS is the time that everything will go smoothly. Of course, that’s just another story I’m telling myself. Do you know anyone who has completely smooth sailing on any sort of project or goal? Yea. Me either.

I need to change my story.

My new story is one of fake it ’til you make it. My new story is that I’m a person who perseveres in the face of challenges. That I don’t give up. My new story is that I might have to tack this way and that against the wind, but it’s always with the goal in sight. My new story is that even if I have to just tread water, not making progress, I’m at least holding my ground. My story is that even though the journey might not be smooth, I understand that this journey is important and just staying with it and not abandoning is a win.

Adopting my new story won’t necessarily be easy, but my new story tells me that I’ll be able to do it (how’s that for a little circular logic?). The goals that I had set out — move every day, eat mindfully, strength train — will have another overriding goal: don’t quit. Do the minimum, acknowledge and forgive any missteps, just don’t give up. Do what I can with what I have. I don’t have to be perfect — hell, if perfection were the only thing allowed, I would have been out a long time ago — I just have to keep trying.

So far I’ve managed to do my minimum — walking a mile — every day. It’s a sixteen day streak and I’ve got two months more to go to hit my goal. Just a mile a day might not seem like much, but that’s what I’m talking about — it keeps me feeling like I’m on-task and doing something even when most everything else is out of my reach at the moment.

Changing our story is something anyone can do. What stories do you tell yourself that limit you? What do you think about yourself that’s “just the way I am” rather than looking at it with a little curiosity and wondering, “how could I change that story?” There’s a lot of power in recognizing our stories, and also recognizing that we are the creators of these stories; being the author means being able to go back in and edit the heck out of them, rewrite the ending or even re-jigger the whole damn thing.

 

On and off. Black and white. Ying and yang.

Success and shadow.

What?

It was something I hadn’t considered — that every success has its shadowy side, the underbelly that you don’t always talk about. We all know that success takes hard work and commitment, but that’s usually where the story ends, right? But every success contains sacrifice in some other area and there’s always a push and pull that forces us to choose between what we want, what we have and what we could be.

This concept didn’t just appear, wholly formed, in my brain; I read an excellent essay by James Clear who used Picasso as his main example, and then said the following:

Do you want the shadow that comes with the success? Do you want the baggage that comes with the bounty? What kind of pain are you willing to bear in the name of achieving what you want to achieve? Answering this question honestly often leads to more insight about what you really care about than thinking of your dreams and aspirations.

It is easy to want financial independence or the approval of your boss or to look good in front of the mirror. Everybody wants those things. But do you want the shadow side that goes with it? Do you want to spend two extra hours at work each day rather than with your kids? Do you want to put your career ahead of your marriage? Do you want to wake up early and go to the gym when you feel like sleeping in? Different people have different answers and you’ll have to decide what is best for you, but pretending that the shadow isn’t there is not a good strategy.

It’s all a matter of choices. Sometimes it’s a relatively easy decision (at least in theory, if not in execution), like, “Can I give up 1.5 hours of TV a day to work out and take care of my body?” But other times, doing one thing can negatively impact something else you care about: “Can I give up 1.5 hours of time I could be spending writing to instead be lifting weights or running?” Sometimes the choice involves a little heartbreak.

It’s life’s biggest joke — so many things to want to do and never enough time to do them all in. Instead you have to prioritize and decide what’s really the most important. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a life where you can simultaneously juggle two or three important endeavors, but even still, life will never gift unlimited amounts of time and energy to anyone. It will always come down to figuring out what you can accomplish in your allotted time.success

And so this is what I’ve been thinking about this week: I have my goals that I set out for myself — are they really my top priority? Is getting physically fit and strong the thing that deserves my undivided attention ahead of all other goals? And more importantly, am I prepared to accept the pain that this involves, including taking time away from writing, not eating whatever I want (in quantities that I might want) and doing battle with the habits that cause me to want to snack incessantly?

Right now, my answer isn’t too difficult — my “yes” comes knowing that being single with no kids allows me more time and energy than the average person. And more importantly, being fit will allow me to fully enjoy the activities I really care about — hiking, exploring, photography, going on adventures. My sacrifices and pain are mostly caught up in the challenge of changing my habits and beliefs, which are comfortable, ingrained and not going anywhere unless I force them out.

In the end, I think that recognizing and accepting the sacrifices you need to make to reach your goals is just as, if not more, important than deciding what kind of success you want to achieve. Because if you can’t deal with the shadow side of success, you’ll never end up succeeding anyway.

On a vaguely related tangent: week one of my new plan is complete and so far, so good. Well, kind of. I checked all the boxes (moved at least a mile every day, strength trained 3 times, really focused on mindful eating), but on Friday I jacked up my back doing deadlifts. It’s not of the “lay on the floor and don’t move” variety, but careful and cautious movement is in order. I can still walk slowly — and so I have been — but nothing too much more for the time being. Any strength training is on hold for at least a week, but I’m hoping to ease back into cardio that actually causes me to sweat (which, I’ll have you know, is an incredibly low bar) in a day or so.

To sum it up, I was doing great — I got out on my tri bike, had a kick ass run on the treadmill, and then my back decided to put the brakes on the entire enterprise. Needless to say, I’m pretty pissed off at my back right now (the expletives that erupted from me the moment I knew I had done it, well … they would make me ineligible for a PG-13 rating). But, I need to look at this as an opportunity and certainly not an excuse to throw everything away. A twitchy back won’t keep me from my mindful eating habits. It also won’t keep me from my mile a day (though it’s really slow at the moment). Success is never easy. Here’s my first real obstacle. Let’s see how I handle it.

 

I’ve been home from Utah for over a week now, I’ve posted my vacation porn, emptied out the suitcase (though, admittedly haven’t quite put everything away yet) and spent a week slipping back into my normal routine. Or, at least, attempting to get back at it, though (again, admittedly) I haven’t been entirely successful.

The Utah trip was fantastic — one of the best vacations I’ve had in awhile. Beautiful country shared with a group of awesome people — it doesn’t really get much better than that — but the vacation hangover was in proportion to the absolute fabulousness of the trip. We got home Friday night, and that weekend was such a letdown — real life thrown back in my face. Nothing exceptional occurred, but doing laundry, grocery shopping, food prepping for the work week ahead — it sucked all the good feelings from the vacation right out of me.

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Storm moving in over the mountains at sunset

But seeing as how the escape of retirement is still just a little outside my reach, I need a plan to combat these post-vacation blues. Something to focus on, some way to get from here to the end of the year, intact and forward-looking. Which is how my self-designated, but awkwardly-named weekend of Creating Goals For The Rest Of The Year came into fruition. Because I’m desperate for something to take my mind off of the fact that I’m not longer in gorgeous southern Utah, enjoying nature, friendship and life.

One of the big takeaways from the trip was utterly unsurprising to me: I desperately want and need to be in better shape. Now, before you get any ideas, the only one commenting or caring about my slowness while hiking was me. Ever been in one of those situations where your brain keeps telling you that you’re over-talking and not letting something go and to just SHUT UP and then stares in horror as your mouth just keeps running on and on about the topic? It was sort of like that. I logically knew that no one cared, that everyone understood that I was doing my best, but my own shame and anger at myself for it kept me apologizing. It was as if I needed to (continually) let everyone know that I knew I was out of shape, lest someone think I was oblivious to my obvious weakness. Weird, convoluted, and patently unnecessary, I know. Welcome to my how my mind works.

Coming home from the trip reignited my vast desire to do more hiking, see more places, take more pictures. Traveling and seeing nature up close is where I find my peace, my wholeness. It also reminded me that while I can do these things right now, in my current state of fitness, those activities are far more enjoyable when I’m not spending most of my time wondering whether or not my heart is going to cede from the Laura Nation due to a massive overwork situation.

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Desert flowers

By the end of the vacation week, I could feel my body starting to acclimate to the tough hiking. My heart was still pounding, but it got easier to regulate, easier to find my pace, my happy place. And looking back, I know that if I can just keep doing more of the same, it’ll keep getting easier. Of course, “more of the same” is quite the challenge here in flatland Illinois. Illinois might have its own sort of beauty, but the West is where my soul is called to and out that way, highway overpasses are just overpasses, rather than “mountains” as we could call them here in the Chicago area.

All this to say, I’m in this odd place where I have nothing specific to work on, but feel like I need some goals to keep me moving. So, here’s my working list of things geared towards moving me closer to my fitness goals. I’ll commit to these until the beginning of 2017, when I’ll review what I’ve achieved and decide on my direction for the new year.

  • From today through December 31st, I will be active every day. My minimum will be one intentional mile a day, walking or running or any other self-propelled way. Walking around the office doesn’t count and even a mile of walking between the couch and the refrigerator won’t check the box. Weight training, biking, stair climbing, hiking — these all give me a gold star for the day. Starting today, that’s 78 days of activity, and I’m already good for today. 1 down, 77 to go.
  • I ran a mile this weekend — my baseline for my fitness. Surprisingly, I actually ran the entire thing, which I didn’t think I had in me, figuring that I’d have to stop and walk at some point. I didn’t. Go, me! This will be my main way of measuring my progress.
  • No calorie counting, no eliminating foods, no diets. Instead I’m going to really work on mindfulness about hunger and satiety. I’ve talked about this before, I’ve done this before — it’s hard and I find it easy to ignore when I’m anxious or depressed — but I’ll restart again because I (still) firmly believe that only by developing this skill will I be able to create a healthy relationship with food. Eat when hungry, stop when full, whether it’s vegetables and chicken or pizza and ice cream. Remembering that hunger is not an emergency will also be key.
  • I need to restart weight training. Can I be honest here? I’m not a fan. It’s boring and hard and I don’t really enjoy it. And because I’m adult who’s definitely not being paid to weight train, I try to use the argument that I shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything I don’t like to do (well, anything that’s optional… unfortunately, things like showing up at work and paying the mortgage aren’t currently optional…). But I know better — good health, especially now that I’m getting up there in years, can be exponentially aided with weight training. It’s such a healthy thing for a body to do. If only science would somehow prove me wrong… but until it does, weight training, here I come. I’ll restart my Stronglifts 5×5 program (again).

Pretty straightforward, right? Not only that, but quantifiable (which is yuuuuuge for a numbers-gal like myself) and pretty black and white (I either do it or I don’t). And the extra bit of motivation resulting from the vacation? I want to be able to keep up with my friends. They do cool things, cool things that I want to do to without me feeling the need to apologize for myself. I know that this isn’t the best reason for doing something, but I’m only being honest here. I have amazingly cool friends, they do amazingly cool things and I want to be amazingly cool while doing amazingly cool things, too, all while not feeling like I’m going to die in the process.

So, it’s again with the starting again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Fall down 7 times, get up 8. Success and satisfaction do not come from taking an arrow-straight path and rather rely on resilience and the ability to pick up where I left off. Each time I start again, I go into it with lessons having been learned and progress made. Sometime it feels like square one, but it never truly is.

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