Good way to start the year, calendar. I think I shall keep you around for another 364 days or so.

Most years, I pop out of bed on the first of the year, excited for a clean slate, already writing this blog post in my head. I’m all about the New Year’s Resolutions — always have been — but this year, even though I had ginned up a rough draft, I couldn’t muster up any excitement about them. I’m not entirely sure what I was waiting for, but something inside was resisting. Something inside me knew, I think, that I hadn’t yet figured out the direction I needed to head this year, despite the resolutions already listed in that rough draft.

But with a recent shake-up in my life, I think I’ve finally understood where I’ve needed to go. In my first draft, I had a few quantifiable, trackable resolutions that I had listed out. Normal stuff. At the end I tacked on, almost as an afterthought, a few “be a better person” kind of things. As I sit here typing now, I realize that the first time around I had misplaced the emphasis on what I most need for 2018. Data is good, but heart is better (you heard it here first).

And so without further ado, my second draft of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions:

Be Kind. The cliche that you never know what someone is going through is a cliche for a reason. Remember that a small, easy-to-do kindness can have a dramatic impact on another person. Really – you never know how much we affect those around us. The 4 seconds I take to give someone a compliment could make the difference in their entire day. You just never know.

Be Generous. Spend my time with the people I love and who want to spend their time with me. Understand that no one is perfect and freely give away goodwill towards all. Donate money and time and effort to those who need it; and remember that no act is selfless because when I make other people feel good, that feeling comes back to me.

Do Not Judge. Oh, this is the tough one. Just because I might think I know what’s best or what’s right for someone else, I certainly do not know. Instead, listen with an open heart. Focus on them, not on what I would do in their position. Be supportive. Offer opinions only when asked. Just because “I would NEVAH do THAT!”  doesn’t mean that it can’t be right for someone else. And who the hell am I to know, anyway?

Live Authentically. Be myself at all times. Set boundaries and don’t allow other people to push me into doing things that I wouldn’t otherwise do. Be vulnerable with those people around me who deserve to see that side of me. Remain open to new friends and new ideas and new ways of doing things. Nothing changes if nothing changes, ya know?

Chase Adventures. This might not feel like it’s in the same vein as the others, but for me, it’s the culmination of all of the above. It’s my way of being kind and generous with myself (which is as important as projecting those values outward) and not judging myself for not doing what others think I ought to do. And this is definitely me living authentically — my soul comes alive in nature. And so, I will chase mountains and elevation and lakes and rivers. I’ll explore new places and old places alike. I’ll learn about myself as I take on challenges to push through my comfort zone, whether it’s by backpacking or hiking alone or simply choosing a trail that goes up and will be physically difficult. Time is short and life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it to, so we need to control what we can and not wait around. Go out and do all the stuff. See all the things. Experience every adventure that’s out there, before it’s too late.

Those are my big five resolutions. I have no way to track or log data points in a spreadsheet (WHICH JUST ABOUT KILLS ME) but if I can remember these over the course of 12 months and put them into practice, not only will I be a better person, but the world around me will be better because of it.


And yes, I do have a few “regular” resolutions:

Half marathon training. My Triumphant Return To Running will be at the end of April in Louisville at the Derby Half Marathon. I’m signed up, the hotel room is reserved and the training program has been printed out (well, not really, but I do have the PDF saved). Official training starts at the beginning of February and I’m totally stoked for this adventure.

More meditation. I’ve got a 250+ day streak of meditation and now I want to increase the time of my sessions. And take it more seriously. Like, I probably shouldn’t do it as a way to fall asleep at night and miss half of the session because I’m already snoring. I’ve seen the fruits of this practice in my daily life — my ability to be mindful, present and accept that which I cannot change has increased many-fold — and can only imagine how many more rewards I would reap if I fully committed to it.

Photo a day. I’m doing the Capture Your 365 photo challenge (follow me @lauraCY365 on Instagram), which is a photo prompt every day. Part of it is to get me in the habit of looking for photos to take, part of it is to start developing my eye. I find that when I’m actively thinking about or looking for a photo to fulfill a prompt that I’m more mindful and observant of the world around me. And being more present is something I strive towards. And I’ll also have pretty pictures. Win-win.

And that’s what’s up for 2018 for me. It’s going to be a good year, I can already tell.

WHOOSH! Another year passed. It’s certainly not a myth that the years seem to go by faster and faster as we age. I keep wondering if time is moving faster? Or if I’m slowing down so much that time is passing me by? Yup, come here for the Big Questions.

Every year I choose a word or phrase that embodies what I’m trying to work toward and 2017 was the year of Challenge Everything. I started out the year doing just that — challenging my preconceived notions about what I was capable of and specifically pushing myself out of my comfort zone (where I’ve got a blanket fort built and hot cocoa with mini marshmallows on the stove). And after all that, I feel like I ended the year with a different word entirely:  acceptance.

Now, I don’t mean “acceptance” as in accepting the status quo in a fatalistic, poor-me sort of way. That would get old pretty quickly. But rather, it’s an understanding that there are many things beyond my control and to constantly fight against them is wasted effort. Importantly, I don’t view acceptance as a way to excuse inaction; no, it’s a way to focus my efforts on areas where I can truly affect change. I might not be able to control my weight, but I can control what I eat and how much I work out. I can’t control my moods, but I can be mindful of my thoughts and understand that thoughts are fleeting and what matters is my reaction to them. Acceptance is being at peace with everything outside my sphere of control. And I have to admit: it’s an absolutely freeing way to live.

Thinking about the year, I realize that while I had some really big things happened, most weren’t on my original list of resolutions. Some grew out of them, others hit with serendipity playing a major role. Regardless, my top three Best Things for 2017:

  1. Starting a daily meditation practice. This came out of my monthly Challenge Everything effort, and it kind of stuck. It came around at just the right time — I had read the book 10% Happier (by Dan Harris) and started listening to the podcast of the same name, which, more than anything, proved to me that anyone could meditate. I’m anything but perfect. In fact, I’m so far from perfect at it that it initially kept me from meditating consistently because I felt like I couldn’t possibly be getting anything good out of it. Most times when I sit, I can’t barely stay still, much less make my mind behave. But that’s the beauty of it: no matter how many times your mind wanders, you just bring it back to the breath or the intention. There’s no failure, just a recognition and a course correction. No guilt, no bad feelings, no recriminations. The practice of it is what counts. It’s made me more mindful, better able to breathe and relax in stressful situations and heightened my awareness that I don’t need to react to every thought the moment I have it.
  2. Inviting myself along to the Steelhead Half Ironman that my friends did in August. I needed a break from every day life and they were headed to Michigan to race and there was room in the house for me, so I tagged along. It was there, among all these athletes and the fantastic race venue, that I rediscovered my desire to run again. Like, really run again. For a hot moment I thought I might want to do triathlons again, but then I took another look at Lake Michigan, laughed and put that thought out of my head. But the running — that part stayed. I will likely never be the runner I was 7 years ago, but I can build a new Runner Laura. I got home from that weekend and started training — not just going for walks, but going for walks interspersed with runs. And then runs interspersed with walking. And I’m getting closer to what I would call “real” running — by which I simply mean running that leaves me feeling better when I’m done rather than wrecked. Running that provides stress relief and is something to look forward to rather than something to dread.
  3. Very impulsively deciding, a week before the event, to attend the Women’s Summit in AZ. I was online stalking my very best friend Elizabeth Gilbert on her website, learned she was going to be at the Summit, and pulled the trigger without anything more than simply checking my work schedule to make sure I could take the days off. And I’m so glad I went! First, there were the speakers — an incredible array of voices that made me think and consider viewpoints other than my own. I heard messages about being resilient yet flexible; taking the time for self-care; how to be an effective ally; the skill required to say “no”; the utter importance of setting boundaries and sticking with them. Second, the experience opened me up to the idea that I could enjoy attending a conference like this by myself — and that I would have no trouble making friends and finding people to connect with. Mind. Blown. As an introvert, I never thought I’d be comfortable sitting down at a table with people I didn’t know and not only making conversation, but initiating conversations. It was truly enlightening and it’s allowed me to explore new adventures that I might not have otherwise considered.

Now, that’s all the good stuff, but a year wouldn’t be complete without actually going down the list of resolutions from the beginning of the year and seeing what happened, right? So without further ado, my 2017 Resolutions and how they ended up:

Join a running group  I kind of did this. In a half-assed sort of way. I went (a few times). I met people (some of them, at least). I made a commitment (which I then sort of broke). But I’ll say this — they are a friendly group and I’ll join them again at some point. I’m working my way towards getting back to all running and for very ego-driven reasons, I want to wait until then to fully commit. So, I feel like I accomplished what I needed to in 2017 — I found a group that I’m comfortable with that I will definitely start running with, once I’m actually running.

Take some classes at the local community college  I signed up for a yoga class and only went 3 times. And didn’t sign up for anything else. Mostly a fail on this one.

Complete my 2017 Challenge Everything challenge  This one kind of derailed around mid-year-ish. I didn’t do everything I was supposed to do. But, a lot of good did come of it: I now have a daily meditation practice. I move my body at least a mile on most days. I might not eat vegetables as much as I ought, but I’m at least very aware that I’m not eating enough vegetables. Since I make the rules, I’m going to call this mostly a win.

Spend less money  I wasn’t supposed to spend money unless it was from my PayPal account (meaning, I sold something since only eBay earnings go there) or from my Amazon Prime rewards. This stuck for quite awhile, actually, but didn’t make it for the whole year. But, on the other hand, my spending was down almost 20% this year. All good, right?

Travel somewhere new to hike  A trip to Sedona fit the bill, which was somewhere I had been before but not for 20 years. I also spent some time exploring Brown County on foot, which I hadn’t done before (it’s always been a mountain biking destination). And there was a short hike in Purgatory Chasm near my sister’s new digs in the Boston area. Traveling was hampered this year by a week-long bout of the flu that sucked up 5 vacation days, which are already hard to come by.

Online book club  Why are online groups so hard to keep active? Yea, this was a fail.

Keep active  I was shooting for an 80% adherence rate to moving my body at least a mile every day and managed to hit 82% even with ending the year with a 2.5 week bout of headaches that kept me sidelined. I started running again. I found myself really enjoying getting outside, sometimes even despite bad weather. Movement makes me feel good. Definitely a win for 2017.

Complete the Storycourse fiction writing class  I just really don’t like writing fiction. The closest I get is fabricating the truth a little bit. This didn’t get done. And I’m not sorry, either. So there.

On the whole, not entirely successful, but many positives grew out of these initial ideas, so I’ll call it an overall win. My game, my rules, remember?

And with that, the book on 2017 is closed. It’s not only fun to look back, but also pretty enlightening; this serves as a set of guideposts for moving forward. Because that’s the direction where all the good stuff is happening.

Thanks, 2017. You taught me a lot. You were a good year.

When you’re done here, go read this blog post by James Clear.

It’s Wednesday. According to my pal Hal (you know — Hal Higdon, creator of famous half marathon running plans), it’s either a cross-training day or I should be running 2 miles.

Instead, I’m on the couch, watching the country implode on the nightly news. I’ve just finished eating dinner and I settle in, content to to do nothing.

This isn’t my finest moment.

Back in the middle of August, I invited myself along on a trip to St. Joseph, Michigan with some friends, promising to be their sherpa for their Half Ironman race. It was the first time in awhile that I had been immersed in the hubbub of the race site — dudes and chicks in all shapes and sizes picking up their race packets, bike eye candy resting up against fences while waiting to be checked into the transition area, nervous athletes eyeing the big waves of Lake Michigan before getting in for a practice swim. It was the day before the race, but the excitement was palpable.

The next day — race day — would be gorgeous and inspiring and weirdly emotional for me. Triathlons are well in my past — it’s been at least 7 years since I’ve done even a sprint-distance triathlon — but seeing the heart and grit of those out on the course, well, it brought back memories. Good memories, for the most part (I will choose not to think of my first triathlon almost-drowning experience).

And you know what I realized? I missed it. I missed the camaraderie. I missed the competition. I missed toeing the line and seeing what I had to give.

Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to come to my senses. After all, there’s a reason I gave up triathlons (see:  first triathlon almost-drowning experience).

Then I realized that what I really missed was racing. Not triathlons. But training and getting faster and working hard. And then seeing it all pay off on race day.

You know where this is going, don’t you? It was time for my periodic return to running — a folly that I seem to take up, like clockwork, every Fall. Some people go back to school in August, I decide that I’m going to start running again.

This time I took it a little more seriously, though. I decided that I wanted to run half marathons again — my absolutely favorite race distance — and that I needed to follow a plan. I dusted off my old Hal half marathon plans and started plotting. I knew i needed to take it slowly because this old, overweight body doesn’t take too kindly to me pushing it too hard and so opted to repeat the beginning weeks of the plan until I felt comfortable with the distances and weekly mileage. I took rest days seriously. I cross-trained and did what I was supposed to.

And it was all really good.

I started getting a little bit faster. The walking parts of my runs shortened and the running parts lengthened. I even lost a little weight by listening to my body and not eating if I wasn’t hungry (I know! Seems like a revelation, doesn’t it?).

My long run stretched to 6 miles, my weekday runs to 4 miles. I joined Strava (because that’s where the cool kids hang out). I studied my Garmin data like it held the winning lottery numbers. I even started finding trails that had actual (small but still there) hills to run on the weekends. I felt like a runner again, albeit slower and less impressive than I had been in my previous life.

This lasted a good seven or eight weeks. A solid two months of training.

My downfall was unrelated to running, specifically. In parallel with my half marathon training, I had a streak of walking/running at least a mile a day for over 100 days. 100 days!! Yes, some days it truly was only a mile (though – an intentional mile, not just walking about the office), but a lot of days it was more than that. Even when I started half marathon training, on my off days I’d walk my mile to keep the streak going.

And then I was sick for 2 days. I literally couldn’t move, I felt so bad. I missed a day, then two. My streak was broken. My heart might have been broken, too, but that seems a little dramatic so I’ll deny it if anyone accuses me of it.

Weirdly, that streak — that consistency — seemingly bled through to my running. The mindset was infectious, apparently. Once the streak was over at 105 days, I haven’t been able to revive it. From there it seemed easy to start making excuses for runs, too — my knee was hurting, my Achilles issue flared up. You get the picture.

Which brings me back to my current situation. Butt on couch. TV on. Computer on my lap. And a million excuses for my missed run today. Or, at least, one or two really good-sounding ones.

I think I know what needs to happen.

It’s as easy as a physics problem: an object in motion tends to remain in motion.

So, tomorrow — Day 1. I have a run on the schedule. At the very worst? I’ll walk a mile. Always something.

Because I’ve got to get this object in motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So — Day One. Wonderland, here I come.

Why wouldn’t you want to hike this?

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

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

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

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

I wish I had more time to fight my fears.

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s how it works —

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stick a fork in me. I was done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you define “success”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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