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

Success and shadow.


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.


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.


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.


So, my brief flirtation with Utah and Zion National Park in February has blossomed into a full blown love affair. After almost a week of hiking and exploring, I’m just about ready to up and move to Southern Utah without even a glance backward.

We stayed at a Subway sandwich shop — well, the apartments above the Subway — and our location couldn’t have been more perfect. Not only were we less than 5 minute walk to the park entrance, but we could navigate back home simply by sniffing the air and moving towards the smell of bread and cookies baking. Pretty awesome, eh?

But instead of me just yapping at you, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

(sorry about the formatting, HTML and WordPress weren’t cooperating with me today and I ran out of patience)

Watchman Trail

This was a great introduction to Zion — a moderate hike that didn’t kill me with elevation gains but still provided some awesome views of the park and the valley below.


Tired? Have a seat.


Virgin River with some fall foliage


I think the guy looks like he’s having fun


Not a bad view, eh?

Emerald Pools

Even though the pictures don’t look like it, a lot of this hike felt like a half dozen tour buses had just released tourists into the wild.


A view of the valley


Lower Emerald Pool


Middle Emerald Pool


Heads we go left, tails we go right…

The Narrows

One of the most unique hikes I’ve ever done, this took place in the Virgin River, headed upstream — the “bottoms-up” hike of the Narrows. We were outfitted with neoprene socks, river shoes and walking sticks and waded our way up the river.


As you can see, some spots were fairly deep


The current could get quite strong


Wall Street, where the canyon was only 25-30 feet wide


Sun just starting to peek into the canyon

Hidden Canyon/Observation Point

Hidden Canyon was probably my favorite part of Zion (once you hiked up the switchbacks to get there). We ran into our first bit of exposed trails and then ended up in the canyon where we climbed and scrambled our way over rocks. So much fun! After that, the trudge up to Observation Point. Essentially, an unrelenting 2100 feet uphill. I came close to quitting this hike — it was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done — but the effort and sweat and swearing were all well worth it in the end (isn’t that the way things always go?).


The mouth of Hidden Canyon


Not as bad as it looks, honest!


A hint at the scrambling we did


Weirdly, the hike to Observation Point included what felt like beach.


See? Worth it. That’s Angel’s Landing there, looking rather small.


Totally worth the pain


On the way back down











Bryce Canyon

A day trip from Zion, we were told that we shouldn’t miss it. I’d say those opinions were correct — totally different than Zion and still gorgeous in its own way. Zion is mountains while Bryce is kind of a mini Grand Canyon, so completely different terrain. Had a great day hiking the Navajo Trail and the Peekaboo trail.


Hoodoos galore! View from the rim.


Hoodoos and spires


Windows in the canyon walls


Natural doorways in the stone


Angel’s Landing

The one hike that I had my eye on since this trip was booked. I had hiked up to Scout’s Landing in February and was too tired and out of sorts to do anything more than look at the climb up to Angel’s Landing. This time, I was ready to go for it. Whether the Observation Point set a new standard for toughs hikes or if I was simply in better shape, the ascent this time went much faster than last. We got up to Scout’s Landing, met up with the rest of the group and went to take on Angel’s Landing. I won’t bury the lead — I did not make it to the top. There were so many people going up and down, using the same path and chain, and it got to be a little much for me. After a short bit, I reversed course and headed back down. I’m not done with Angel’s Landing, though — I’ll be back to try again.


View from the valley floor


I loved all the flowers!


View from Scout’s Landing


The first part of the climb up to Scout’s Landing

As anyone who knows me, I’m not a big believer in neatness. This whole Marie Kondo fad of only keeping stuff that you’re in love with? I read the book, but couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to undertake that huge of a task when a little bit of mess just makes life more comfortable, in my humble opinion.

I have no idea how I turned out this way; I come from a family of neatniks. My sister used to yell at me because I’d leave water spots on the bathroom faucet — “It takes TWO SECONDS to wipe it off! Why can’t you just do that ?!?” — and my Mom spent a lot of time disappointedly shaking her head at me as I left a trail of stuff in my wake. I’d like to say I had more important things on my mind, but I think I was (am) just lazy. It’s easier to leave stuff out — I might need it again soon! — than put it away.

These days I’ve been spending a lot of time getting my desk and writing area put together exactly the way I want it. I wanted a space that was welcoming and inspiring and efficient and productive, all in one. I bought a few monitors, wrangled all the different cables, got everything set up. The last piece of the puzzle was a desk lamp — and finally found the perfect light. The space is complete. Serene and peaceful, I sit down and almost audibly sigh with contentment.

img_20160924_091034If you zoom in on the picture, everything’s in its place. It’s not sterile, but it’s not really messy.

Then you zoom out and look at the space surrounding the desk and it looks like a bomb went off. Empty boxes, cables everywhere, papers and extra equipment scattered with no thought.


And you know what? That works for me. It’s like I don’t even see it (which confounds the rest of my family). “img_20160924_113722How can you sit at the desk and not notice the rest of the mess?” Frankly, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s my superpower? Maybe there’s some sort of force field that’s coming into play? I know that when I walk up the stairs and the room comes into view, I have a passing thought about needing to clean everything up, but it’s like I don’t even mean it. Like, my brain is paying lip service to a voice in my head that I know I’m not really listening to.

In all this, I realized that even though most people would consider me messy, I do spend time and energy nurturing and organizing the spaces where I truly live: my desk space, my computers (mostly making sure my data is organized and backed up), even my workout room. I work daily on keeping my headspace nurtured and organized, funny as that sounds. And the rest? Details that barely make it into my consciousness.

The take away from all this? Understand where you sacred spaces are located. Maybe, like me, your desk is the most important place. Perhaps it’s your entire house. Whatever your sacred space is, keep it warm, inviting and absolutely peaceful. And then let go of the guilt of trying to make the rest fit to what you think social norms require. A little mess isn’t going to hurt anyone.


The other day I went for a run.

Well, a run(ish), as I like to call it.

I worked hard to push through 3 miles of intervals — 2 minutes of running alternated with a minute of walking. I decided on 3 minute intervals because I knew I could run for 2 minutes at a time and — perhaps more importantly — my math skills can handle adding by 3’s without too much effort, seeing as how most of the cells in my body were concentrating on keeping me upright and moving forward.

Well, forward(ish).

I finished up, sweaty and depleted, and my trusty Garmin buzzed at me one more time than it usually would. I looked down to investigate and it was congratulating me on a PR: “YOU RAN YOUR FASTEST MILE YET!!!” it proclaimed in all caps. Now, I’ve only had the Garmin since Labor Day (what can I say, I’m incapable of resisting a good REI holiday sale), so this isn’t tracking over a long period of time, but I do believe that I puffed my chest out just a touch when I read that.

[Side note: I find it hilarious and ironic that my nephew, who I paced through his first 5k’s a few years ago, can now do two miles in thimg_20160916_194222e time it takes me to do one … he’s awesome … and doesn’t let me forget it… teenagers…]

So, my run(ish) and moving forward(ish) were enough to make a difference. Perhaps there might be a lot of power in the “ish”?

Starting back up with all this stuff, I qualify the things I do because I want people to know that I understand that I’m a long way from not only where I was but where I want to be. I’m not running, I “kind of ” run. I’m not training, I’m “doing a little something”. I side-eye running, feeling like I’m almost doing it, but not quite. Not doing it the right way, maybe that’s what I think. And from there was born the “run(ish)”.

But the ish seems like it might be enough, at least for now. It’s like finding this weird middle ground where I don’t have to feel the (self-imposed) pressure of “real” running, but I’m still out there doing it in a way that pushes me to progress on my own terms.

Perhaps I’ll just keep on ish-ing and see what happens. So far, my Garmin seems to be pretty happy with the ISH.


The older I get, the more I find that the list of things that I couldn’t care less about grows faster than I can keep track of it:

1. How I look when I’m working out. Yes, I’m sweaty. Okay, yes, I’m literally dripping all over the place and there isn’t a dry spot on me. I used to worry about what people would think, now I worry only about how I’m going to keep the sweat from blinding me and turning me into a 46-year old crybaby because “waaaaa, my eyes burn…”.

2. Whether or not I’m wearing makeup when I go out. I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, but back in the day I wouldn’t leave the house without a little something on. And then, I had Lasik corrective surgery. For a few weeks I wasn’t allowed to wear eye makeup. And afterwards, I found that my eyes were ridiculously sensitive to putting on makeup. It was an easy slide from doing a little bit to doing nothing, aided by getting up so damn early for work that a few more minutes in bed were more important to me than how I looked.

3. Okay, okay, I suppose I could probably just throw “how I look, in general” out there. While I try to look presentable most of the time, I’ve found that a trip to the store or dropping off the dog at doggie day care don’t require anything more than an old pair of shorts and a baggy t-shirt.

4. How often I go to bed before most 7th graders are in bed. Dammit, I’m proud of the fact that during the week I’m headed to bed by around 8:15 with the sole intention of snoring (metaphorically, people, I don’t actually snore) by 8:45pm, 9pm by the latest. I love sleep. Deeply. Truly. Unequivocally. Make fun of me all you want, but as long as I’m getting my 8 hours of sleep a night, it won’t bother me one bit (and if I’m not? you might want to watch it with the teasing…).

5. What kind of car I drive. Well, that’s not entirely true — I’m intensely in love with my Mazda3 — but what I mean is that while the little expensive luxury sports cars always turn my head, I’ve never gotten too close to purchasing one. I don’t need the status and if anyone thinks better or worse of me simply because of my favored form of transportation, well, they probably aren’t my friend anyway. Or they can buy me the sporty expensive luxury car to shut me up on the subject.

6. I’ve got questionable taste in music. Just to set the record straight, I can appreciate good music, but prefer to listen to what I call popcorn music: music that’s light and fluffy, doesn’t have much weight to it and is straightforward and easy to understand. Yes, I like country and pop music. Sue me. I’m sure I’m not far off from listening to whatever will be the “adult lite contemporary” music that kids make fun of adults for listening to. We can’t all be hip.

7. I like, no, love Pop-Tarts. I know that they are nothing but a vehicle for sugar and empty calories, but unless I’m going out for breakfast, they are my favorite breakfast food. And lunch food. And dinner in a pinch. Good cold or heated up, versatile enough to be packed along on a trip, quick energy wrapped in silver cellophane – there isn’t much that beats them. So, go ahead and eat your organic homemade greek yogurt with fresh berries that you helped to grow by chanting Buddhist sayings at them, I’ll be happy with my highly-processed sugar, thank you very much.

8. My house is a far cry from something you’d see in a magazine. And when I say “far cry” what I really mean is that my house exists in a completely separate universe from those magazines, with asteroids and aliens waiting to shoot you up if you dare to breech the gap between them. I like to call my house “comfortable” (my family probably has other words they would use). It’s a little messy, the curtains were leftover from a senior citizen-age couple who probably put them up 20 years ago and the furniture doesn’t really match, but I can assure you that the non-matching furniture is bury-yourself-in-it comfortable. And I’ve got no problem if you decide to put your feet on the coffee table (even with your shoes on!). Also, I won’t follow you around the house with a coaster to put underneath your drink. You’re welcome. Oh, and if you complain about the dog hair? You’re be kicked off the couch before the dog is.

9. I don’t like coffee. I know I should, but I don’t. I’ve tried to like it, really tried, but the habit didn’t stick for more than a year. Anyway, my version of coffee was a very sugary, vaguely mocha-flavored drink. Frankly, I’ll take my sugar in the form of a Pop-Tart. #sorrynotsorry

10. What people think of me. Okay, so this one is maybe 50% true and 50% wishful thinking, but I’m working on it. I like to tell myself that my ability to go out looking like a schlub without make-up isn’t just borne out of just laziness and convenience, but rather as part of my work of not worrying about what others’ opinions of me might be. Makes sense, right? I’ve got a tight circle of important people who I will always listen to, but outside of that, teaching myself to not concern myself with things I cannot control (which certainly includes what other people think about me) is a healthy habit that I’m continually working on.

It’s funny how age has the ability to make a person immune to some of the daily bullshit that crosses our paths regularly. What are some of the things that you find yourself letting go of?

I didn’t intend to take a little summer hiatus, but I guess that’s what happened, regardless of intentions. If I’m being truthful, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be here, but rather my words failed me. I sat down, waggled my fingers in an authorly manner to warm them up, hovered over the keyboard and … nothing.

I had no words.

(don’t look so shocked)

And, I’m still kind of muddling around here — writing about not being able to write — but I’m determined to make another start.

So, what’s been wrong?

This summer has been a little like an incubator for my brain and I’ve been noodling around thoughts and plans of the future. Things as close as the Utah trip that’s coming up in less than a month (yay! ack!) and as far out as doing a through-hike of the Colorado Trail once I retire — not to mention all the fun adventures in between the two. And as I start thinking about these trips that stoke my passion, I can’t help but think about the practical stuff, too (it’s how I’m built (thanks Mom and Dad)).

On that practical note, I’ll say that very few of the items on my list involve sitting in front of a computer (except for writing, of course — don’t worry, I’m not leaving y’all) and instead involve gallivanting of one sort or another, mostly in the mountains. Which means this girl has to get in shape (because in case you didn’t know, gallivanting is a high-cardio activity, when done right)!

And here’s where my frustration level starts to betray me: for the past few months, I’ve been busting my butt to work out regularly. Am I training as much as I did when I was heavy into triathlons and running? No, but frankly, I couldn’t do that right now even if I wanted to (you might not believe it, but I’m not the spring chicken I used to be). But I am doing something most every day — strength training three times a week, stairs twice a week, other cardio the other days. Since May when I started tracking, there have only been 13 days when I haven’t done something active.

I’ve even brought calorie counting back into the mix, understanding that weight isn’t lost by exercise alone. And you know what? Even MyFitnessPal high-fives my consistent calorie deficit and remarks about how much weight I should be losing based on my numbers. MyFitnessPal is encouraging like that.

Does this have any impact when I step on the scale or pull out the tape measure? Nope. I have been gaining and losing the same damn 3 pounds for almost a year now. And just so you know it isn’t all about the number on the scale, I’m also not losing inches, nor do my workouts seem to be getting noticeably easier.

The voice in my brain tells me: “you’re too old, you can’t lose weight anymore, much less get in shape.” Or sometimes it’s, “you’re not trying hard enough” or “you can’t even do this right”. Those voices? They’re kind of mean and pissy and I usually know that they are less than honest, but there are days when it’s tough not to listen. I’m looking for something to blame and those voices have ready answers, whether or not those answers are truths.

I just want a reason why I can’t seem to make this work. Something rational so that I can grab it with both hands, study it and fix it. Because this situation? I just don’t get it. I’m doing the work and getting no results. My toddler brain is screaming, “NOT FAIR!!!!” and the rest of me is starting to feel like it really is just me not doing it right.

And maybe this is why I’ve been so mute this summer: I haven’t wanted to talk about this (who wants to hear someone complain about being fat?). The problem is that it’s kind of taken over most of my brain space, looking at all sorts of number (miles, calories, grams of protein and carbs and fat, pounds, inches) and tweaking everything tweakable in an attempt to make some progress. And what exactly has this brought me? A nice heaping portion of shame because I seem unable to get this done.

See, for about 9 months, I tried-not-tried to lose weight. I was mindful of my eating habits, I tried to get out walking most days and felt like I was doing at least okay. And there was a comfort in the not-really-trying because then there was no failure. And because my weight remained absolutely stable for those 9 months, I figured I needed just a touch more mindfulness to start seeing real results.

So, about 3 months ago, with the Utah hiking trip on the horizon, I decided to actively try to lose weight — going into this trip, I knew I was the weak link, so to speak — the one in the group that would hold up the rest of the stellar athletes that I was going with (not that they would ever say or think anything like this — I understand this is all me just overthinking the situation) — and I wanted to mitigate that as much as possible. I knew that my trying-not-trying method was close, but not quite enough, so I’d just buckle down, work my butt off and calorie count and that would be the answer. Hard work and nutrition tracking had never failed me.

Except this time.

Here I am in much the same situation as I was 3 months ago. And the voices — the shame — how can I claim to want to do audacious stuff like through-hike the Colorado Trail when I can’t make it up a flight of stairs without my heart racing? Putting my heart into trying to get in shape and lose weight and failing to do so gave those inner voices the material they needed to rip me apart and bring on the shame monsters.

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Brene Brown, says this about shame:

“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives:  secrecy, silence and judgment.”

So, I’m hoping to thrust all of shame monsters into the withering light of day so they can die a horrible death.

And I’ll be happy to see them die, despite being the peace-loving person I am.

I’m here. I’m working hard. I make small changes here and there, hoping to spark progress. I’m working mentally as hard as I am physically, doing what I can to banish the shame and own my story. I’m doing everything within my power to get in shape without succumbing to quick weight loss schemes that will do nothing but cause me to gain the weight back at a later date. I want sustainable weight loss because I want this to be the last time I have to go through this. I want — no, I NEED — a lifetime of health and fitness. And I’m not yet done trying.

20130324-sss-brene-brown-quotes-14-600x411Without having to carry the shame around, I’m hoping to be kinder to myself. I know that I’m not lying when I say I’m doing my best, and my best is all I have to offer. I can try different methods, sort through some other ideas, but without shame, I can look at them all with curiosity, as experiments that either work or don’t, without any judgment. And I’ll do well to remind myself of what my mantra used to be at the tail-end of tough races, when all I wanted to do was slow down because pushing forward was painful:  “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Same applies here — life isn’t easy and sometimes it takes awhile to make sense of it and move towards what you want. Persistence, an openness towards failure and my best effort is what I’ll put out there — and that will be enough.

2016-07-02 10.10.01

New stairs on the left, old stairs on the right. 168 vs. 125 stairs, but somehow the old stairs still seem more difficult.

As I attempt to literally work my ass off at the Swallow Cliff stairs, the scene is always ripe with juicy conversations to overhear and interesting things to see. Note that anything in quotes is verbatim according to my memory (which, to be honest, might be slightly suspect) and everything might be taken out of context, especially if it increases the humor quotient.

Here’s a sampling:

“Oh, that was her friend with her in that Facebook picture? I thought it was her daughter and figured that maybe she had decided to start being a good Mom. I guess not.”

I spent three flights of stairs hustling to keep up with a pair of women who were talking about one of the women’s relationships — turns out she was having an affair with a married man. Her kids did not approve, but she thought they were old enough and out of the house enough that their opinion didn’t count. She raved about how thoughtful he was, always texting and calling and making sure that she was doing okay, but was unhappy that they didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. Turns out that this man’s wife? Yea, she has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. The woman having an affair assured her friend, “I don’t expect him to leave her, of course. In fact, I think it makes him more attractive knowing how he takes care of her even though he’s in love with me. I know – I’m like a saint, aren’t I?” Whaaaaa…..?

On an average day, I’ll hear at least 4 different languages. Six, if you count Teenage-Girl-Speak and Mansplainin’ as languages.

“She drinks for attention because she’s weak, and he sleeps with her because he’s a dirty, dirty bastard.”

During the last few flights of my workout, I was very slowly going by a woman who was taking a quick rest break. She was muttering to herself, “Why do I do this to myself?” I answered her in a gasp, “I ask myself the same damn thing every time up these stairs…” Shared misery, it’s what we do.

“Rock your choo-choo, rock your choo-choo, rock your choo-choo….” said the woman who was singing along to something obviously transportation-related on her headphones.

As I walked on the hiking path, attempting to get my legs back under me after a tough stair workout, I listened to two birds call and answer each other; I felt like I was eavesdropping on their conversation just as much as anyone else’s that day.

Two well-muscled dudes having a heart-to-heart: “I’ve tried being the Bro Dude, doing my own thing and letting her do hers. I’ve been Romantic Dude, with flowers and everything. I’ve been Thoughtful Dude and Rude Dude. I’ve even been Cuddle After Sex Dude and she still can’t figure out whether she wants to stay or go. Dude, I don’t know what dude to be to please this chick.”

A woman wearing a weight vest boasted to her friend, “This was just getting way too easy so I had to go out and buy a weight vest so it would be worth doing.” Lady, I’ve got my own weight vest, made entirely of cookies, pizza and ice cream. Beat that.

My favorite, the one that made my day: a group of women in a circle at the bottom of the stairs, already done with their workouts. “How many did you do, Sharon?” “10!” <high-fives and whoops> “I did 8!” “I got 10!” “7 for me!” <more high-fives and celebrating> “I did my best ever – I did 5! I’m so happy! And TIRED!!” “You go, girl!” “That’s awesome!!” <high-fives all around>

Pretty cool, eh?

I see her in the girl that effortlessly breezes past me on the bike path as I painfully slog through my training run. She’s in the pictures on my wall. She’s in the stashed tubs of running clothes that are too small to be even close to respectable, much less comfortable. She’s the ghost of Laura past. The ghost whose last act was to race a marathon exactly as she wanted and then fall of the face of the planet, never to be seen again.

We all have these ghosts hanging around, often haunting us long after we’re done with them. I think about the person I used to be — 5, 10, 25 years ago — and even though I can see the evolution from then until now, it’s clear that there existed aspects of myself that are long gone. And like anything else, some I breathe a huge sigh of relief to be rid of and others I’d welcome back with a warm hug and a cold beer.


The morning of the 2011 Chicago Marathon, ready to rock ‘n’ roll. This girl is gone (though the accomplishment lives on).

But of all my past selves, I think an inordinate amount about my fairly recent, formerly in-shape, runner/triathlete self. Just below the surface, my brain berates me for letting her “get away”, for allowing myself to become so out of shape. Thing is, that girl — that marathon running, triathlon racing girl — she’s not me anymore. And it’s not that I let her get away, it’s that I made a series of decisions to change my life and marathon running and triathlons weren’t part of the new picture. I was using training to avoid facing other problems; in the end, that strategy wasn’t doing me any good.

Spending energy trying to get her back is moving in the wrong direction. I’ve talked about this before; it seems to be a challenge that I recognize but haven’t yet conquered. It’s getting easier, but there’s still this whiny toddler in me stomping her feet and just wanting to go back to how it used it be.

Some of the difficulty while forging this new identity is that it closely resembles what I used to be — no matter what changes life brings, being active is a part of it. And therein lies the problem:

I go to Swallow Cliff to do stairs and I’m reminded that this wouldn’t have been so hard just 4 years ago.

I get emails about fun half marathons and remind myself that I can’t just sign up because I can no longer roll out of bed and run 13 miles like I used to.

I’m in my basement doing strength training and look at the wall where I have my lift PR’s listed with weights that are ridiculously beyond what I could do right now.

It’s something that I constantly fight against — the almost compulsive need to compare Laura Now against Laura Then.

Life keeps circling around, bringing us back to the same sorts of things, over and over again. Rooted in the fact that we all have certain in-the-bone desires and joys, we are always moving both towards and away from something familiar. But, that something is not the same familiar thing. No, it’s kinda sorta like the old thing, but not quite the old thing. Every life has recurring themes, though I would argue they are variations on the theme rather than simply recurring themes. And it’s up to us to notice these themes, make sure they bring us joy and figure out how to change them to fit our current selves.

For me, I keep coming back to the theme that being active is not just important, but part of what makes me who I am. But that activity? That part, I think, needs to change. Take softball, for example — not only my first love, it was something I was good at and played at every single opportunity. There was a time when I was playing adult recreation league games almost 5 days a week and wanted nothing different. But then, it started getting more difficult … injuries cropped up, recovery time after games stretched longer than 24 hours and an early work schedule made late games untenable. I scaled down to two days a week, then one and then finally gave it up.

It was a rather bittersweet decision, but I knew I needed to move onward. Soon after, mountain biking entered my life. See — kinda sorta the same … rough and tumble activity that makes my heart sing. Same, but different. Familiar, but new.

In this vein, I’ve been thinking about what my new thing might be. I’ve been saying for a long while that I want to run again, that I miss being a runner. And yes, that’s true, but I’m starting to come to the conclusion that running might be me moving backwards rather than forwards.

I loved the feeling I would get while running — the working hard and sweating and moving — but I think I loved even more the fact that it was so damn quantifiable. Ask anyone — my competitiveness is legendary. The ability to track times and pace and rack up personal bests was like crack to me. Being able to get on a racecourse and measure myself not only against past times but against all the other people out there? It was a high like being the best kind of drunk, you know, where you really are funnier than you would be sober and aren’t yet falling down, spilling your drink or convinced that your karaoke singing is good enough for you to Make It Big.

And right now there isn’t much that I do that falls into the same sort of category. Yes, I continue to challenge myself with my workouts, always striving to achieve more than I did before, but that isn’t quite the same.

I know that I miss that. And I think that I need to figure out some way to incorporate that into this new identity, but I don’t think running is it. I love the racing venues and the community of people, but it’s been frustrating to be so slow and whenever I try to ramp up my training, I injure myself. This body doesn’t appreciate me lugging around 40 extra pounds while trying to run, apparently.

Right now I’ll be happy with pushing myself up the stairs at Swallow Cliff — more and faster, please — but I’m keeping an eye out for something else to compete in. I don’t know what it is right now, but I’m looking for it and letting the universe know that it can send something my way anytime it would like.




Lawdy, folks. Where does the time go? It’s like the world has spun off its axis: both the Sox and the Cubs are atop their respective divisions. What’s next? Actual Spring weather in May (i.e. perhaps a temperature warmer than 40 degrees and cooler than 85)? Belle ceding control of the house back to me? Me posting something on my blog? I’m tellin’ ya, anything seems possible.

So, climbing this monster is on my agenda:

Angels Landing

The hike to the top of Angel’s Landing. Yes, it’s just as scary as you think it is.

If you remember, in February on my way to Vegas for a family reunion I took a very short side trip to Zion National Park and absolutely fell in love (because while Vegas is awesome, just look at this scenery … beats watching drunk people any day). And I declared my love with a non-negotiable edict:  I’ll be back.

(just like Arnold Schwartzenegger but without the accent)

And I wasn’t lying — I have officially planned my Fall trip back to the park. And it turns out that I’m not the only one who is completely entranced with this idea, so I’ve got a posse coming along with (because a climb with near-death experiences is always more fun with friends!). With that comes another non-negotiable edict: get into good enough hiking shape that my heart doesn’t burst out from my chest while attempting any of these climbs. Because that would be messy. And I’m guessing my posse wouldn’t be too keen to clean up after me.

A plan is needed. While there are expressway overpasses that can be “climbed”, the one place in the Chicago area that might be able to help me out is Swallow Cliff, home of what used to be legendary toboggan runs. While the tobogganing was closed in 2004, the stairs up to the top of the run remain and have been a favorite of gluttons for punishment for years. There are 125 stairs to the top (supposedly it’s about 100ft of “elevation gain”), which sounds much easier than I find it to be. Of course, the folks who are bounding up the stairs two at a time might disagree, but I find it a literal breath-taking challenge.

Here’s what I’m subjecting myself to, at least twice a week:

swallow cliffs

Swallow Cliffs stairs. My biggest fear is tripping on the way down and taking out a dozen people with me. While that YouTube video would definitely go viral, I’m not looking for that kind of fame.

Not quite as terrifying as Angel’s Landing, but let me tell you, by about the 5th round of these, standing at the bottom and looking up elicits almost the same reaction. I know that this will eventually get easier (it HAS to get easier at some point…), but right now I trudge upwards, trying to keep my heart rate at a non-heart attack level. I’m attacking it with a plan — I time the workout and once the workout is about 10% faster than it started out being, I add two more flights of stairs. I’m finding that taking the “how many flights to do” decision out of my hands and putting it into an algorithm gets better results. I mean, who can argue with math, right?

I’m still at the beginning stages of this; I recently graduated to 10 flights of stairs, but other factors conspire against me as well. The seemingly light-switch speed change from late winter to summer has suddenly reminded me how much hot and humid can really suck the life right out of you. Still – I’m there getting it done. No promises on what Utah weather will be like, so no sense being a wuss about it now. Character building, right?

Here’s my entire plan for being able to conquer Angel’s Landing in October:  doing stairs at least twice a week, shooting for three times a week, and upping the number of flights as prescribed (also, sandbagging to avoid upping the number of flights is explicitly not allowed… baaaaad Laura…). Progressing through the 5×5 Stronglifts lifting program, hitting that Mon/Wed/Fri to build some muscle and make me stronger. And trying to get out for a long hike at least once a month.

All I can ask of myself is to do the work. I can’t control results, but I certainly can control what I put into it. Some might say, no pain no gain. I’d rather think of it as sweating now for more fun later on, like saving for retirement except shorter term and more scenic. All I know is that I haven’t been this excited about a trip in a long time; between the park and my awesome posse, it’ll be a blast as long as keep my heart inside my chest.