Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Empire State of Mind

I'm running the New York Marathon in four days. Even typing that statement is a little terrifying. A few years ago I opined that I'm a total taper hypochondriac. I thought this year would be different because I haven't trained that well. I was wrong. This week, in the final week before the New York City Marathon on Sunday, I've told my husband my back is killing me no fewer than 1,000 times.  My foot is inexplicably hurting. My old friend the IT band has decided to show up. What I can't decide is whether these are actual ailments or if they're in my head. I suspect the latter.

Running a marathon is a strange thing. It's a huge physical and mental commitment, and it causes me to be introspective in this final week. I am not sure I'm ready, but I've felt that way for every marathon I've run. I feel excited/nervous/anxious/restless/inspired/grateful. This entanglement of emotions is heady on its own, but it feels outright overwhelming combined with my emotions of the last month.  

Of all the races I've run and all of the cities in which I've laced up my running shoes and hit the road, I'm the most excited for this one. New York is America's flagship city. It exemplifies everything I love about great places again and again throughout the city. I can't wait to explore the city for three days before running through all five boroughs. The New York Marathon may not be my prettiest or fastest race, but I'm using this opportunity to remind myself why I love running. I will look around and take in the sights and the crowd. I will thank volunteers. I will be grateful every minute that I am able to run 26.2 miles, even those minutes between miles 22 and 26 where I may also be wanting to question why on earth I'm doing this. 

I'm so excited to have a weekend away with my husband and two of our closest friends. It's one of those once in a lifetime events that may be hard to really process as it's happening, but I'm going to try to live in the moment this weekend.   Four years ago when I started writing this blog running the New York Marathon was a pipe dream.  Tomorrow we fly to New York to make this dream a reality.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Beauty in Grief

As I look back at my last few blog posts, they're pretty f&*cking depressing. It's understandable given all that's been happening in my life, but it makes me realize that I haven't be honest with myself about the gratitude this anguish creates. That sounds like a weird sentence; stick with me.

I don't think any of us are as grateful as we should be. We get frustrated by the small things in life (things like being on hold with my son's pediatrician every time for 15+ minutes) instead of maintaining perspective. It's easy to get impatient with my giant dog for nearly stepping on the baby instead of being grateful that he loves my son so much. It's easy to let the death of my father define my life in a negative way instead of it resulting in an inventory of the myriad blessings my father gave me for which I am thankful.

When someone close to you dies it is a rare opportunity to appreciate how good and thoughtful people really are. My dad's funeral was in my hometown (Hundred, West Virginia), about an hour from where my parents have lived the last decade. I saw friends I haven't seen in twenty years. I saw family I haven't seen in years. I spent time with my favorite teachers. My high school FFA advisor described me as a "powerhouse" to my husband. I will never let my husband forget it. My incredible best friend flew in from Austin, TX to be there for me, and I'm reminded again how lucky I am to have her.  The time of abject grief was also weirdly wonderful. So many people love my dad. So many people love his wife and the children he and my mom so lovingly and painstakingly raised. My being called a powerhouse (best compliment ever!) is a testament to the hard work of my parents. I got to spend a lot of quality time with my mom, my siblings, their spouses and my niece and nephew. Knowing that Dad would've loved us all being together made my broken heart happy.

Ironic how the worst days can still be the most beautiful.
The love/prayers/well wishes from so many people were overwhelming. As we walked around the funeral home looking at the flowers, I marveled at the number of our Michigan friends and colleagues who navigated the complicated process of ordering flowers in tiny Hundred, WV to let us know they were thinking of us. I received a huge stack of cards from the most unexpected senders. My husband's office left us a beautiful mum on our front porch with a note welcoming us home. My first day back at work earlier this week resulted in huge, genuine hugs from my awesome colleagues. I'm so grateful that my husband and I both work in such supportive environments where we never have to worry about being with family instead of in the office when it matters most. 

Hanging out with my siblings and remembering our super active dad.
I've found peace in running. I've discovered a new appreciation for this hobby. I appreciate the time to clear my head and the simple fact that I'm physically able to run. This context is motivational.  

In a time of grief I've discovered there is also grace. In a time of sadness there is also joy. My dad has been gone for two weeks, and I'm still remarkably sad. I don't know when/if that sadness goes away. But I'm also grateful for the love I've felt these last few weeks. I'm happy for the extra time I got with my dad before his surgery. I'm thankful for my mother's strength and stoicism during this time. Life is beautiful. Even death, in a completely screwed up way, is beautiful.

A few years ago a friend got me a little box I keep on a shelf in my bathroom. It has a quote from Robert Brault on it: "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."  I have a really healthy perspective right now that is helping me focus on priorities and what's really important in life. I am concentrating every day on those little things and on gratitude. Thank you, Dad, for this focus. I know you enjoyed those every day little things. As usual I'm following your lead. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Running Through the Tears

Life is a strange and fragile thing. One moment we're living our normal, chaotic lives, and the next moment everything is different. I've experienced it with my own health to some extent, but it's easier when it's you. I don't worry about myself; I just focus on getting better. When someone you love is sick, it's a different animal. A few weeks ago my dad passed away pretty suddenly, and the normal chaos of life ground to a halt. It was replaced by a sadness and subsequently a numbness that I can't describe. I felt, and to a large degree still feel nearly two weeks later, disconnected from life and myself.

One of my fav pictures of me with my dad after the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2013

A few years ago I wrote a blog about how grateful I am for my dad and what a hard worker he is. I've never known someone more invincible than my dad. It's hard to believe he's gone. As a matter of fact a part of me still doesn't believe it. I watched him leave us; I saw him at the funeral home. Yet there's a part of my mind that doesn't believe it; can't believe it. I'm worried about my mom and how this loss affects her. My mind is filled with so much turmoil that it's hard to process it all.

In the midst of this unfamiliar disarray there is one thing that feels familiar: running. When everything feels different, the rhythm of my body running shocks me back to normal. My dad was a really active person most of his life, and it was a struggle for him the last few years to slow down. I'm just like him - we don't know how to slow down. You would think this is a lesson for me to slow down and take it easier, but I'm not wired that way. Even though he wasn't a runner, it's a place where I feel connected to him. 

In Grand Rapids at the Ford Presidential Museum in 2012
The day after my dad died I hit the Deckers Creek and Mon River Trails in Morgantown. I ran the fastest four miles I've ever run. I felt the cool, humid air burning my lungs and my legs screaming, but I didn't slow down. My dad wasn't able to run on Thursday, October 8. On Friday, October 9 he paced me through that really hard run. On Saturday, October 10 he joined me for 13 miles. Last week he led me through several short training runs. When I'm running the chaos in my head is still just for those miles, and I can feel my dad there. 

My first run with Dad

I generally handle stress well, but sometimes in extreme situations it can throw me into a Crohn's flare. Luckily (sarcasm intended) that's happening now. I've spent the last three days not feeling my best, but I think about what my dad went through and push through it. I think about all of the times I called home and asked Dad how he was feeling. His answer was always, "Oh I'm fine Sissy. You're the one who's sick. How are you?" He always put me (and his entire family) before himself. That irrepressible strength is part of what I'll miss. It's not that common these days. 

In less than two weeks I'm running the New York City Marathon. My longest training run is 15 miles.  I have no business running a marathon. I know, however, that I can take it nice and easy through 26.2. I also know that I'm going to be brutally sore the next day, but the human body is resilient. It's almost as resilient as the human spirit. It's going to be an emotional race for me. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.  Life without you is inconceivable, Dad. I will spend the rest of my life emulating the virtues you personified: strength, hard work, laughter and love. Oh and the most fun one: political incorrectness. I hate that you're gone, but I will enjoy our quiet runs together. I'm looking forward to your help in pushing through 26.2 in twelve days. 

Dad with my son in late September.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Take It In But Don't Look Down

Yesterday the song "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons popped onto my playlist, and the first line got stuck in my head: "If you love somebody better tell them while they're here 'cause they just might run away with you." I love that song, and the lyric felt pretty poignant as I think of the craziness of the last few weeks.

My parents aren't in perfect health, but I've always sort of considered them invincible. Well not really, but the idea of something happening to them isn't something I entertain. Worry is a useless emotion, so I try not to indulge it. My dad's surgery a few weeks ago and subsequent hospital stay has made me face the brutal reality of his mortality, and I can't say I'm amused. Despite my best effort, worry has weaseled its way into my psyche, and I don't appreciate it.

On the positive side as I've spent the better part of two weeks commuting between Michigan and West Virginia I've gotten to spend some real quality time with my parents and siblings that I wouldn't have otherwise had. It's been a blessing in disguise. In the middle of the awful there are moments of hysterical laughter. When I'm talking to my mom and starting to break down and my sister says to her husband (who is on the phone), "I've gotta go. We're getting ready to cry." It's highs and lows and that somewhat stable place in between, but it all serves to remind me of how fragile everything can be.

During my first week in West Virginia I logged some really solid miles on the Deckers Creek and Mon River Trails. Last week I ran a sluggish but solid 14-miler. It's been nearly a week, and I haven't run since. I haven't had the time or honestly the energy. Last week I got up at 3:30 am at drive to Pittsburgh for an early flight. By the time I arrived back in Lansing things had taken a turn, and my husband, son and I drove back to Pittsburgh that night. Last weekend I woke up every morning feeling hungover. It would've been more fun if it was from alcohol; instead it was from stress. I felt headachey, dehydrated and tired. Now, toward the middle of the week, I feel my stress hangover starting to subside only to know it'll kick back in again when we head south again later this week.

This stress is temporary. I have made peace with the fact that running 26.2 miles in New York will not be my best effort because I am not willing to fit it in right now (and be a mom and wife and do my job and be there for my family). It's too much, and if something suffers it's got to be running. It's also my stress reliever which makes that a challenge, but it turns out I'm human. Who knew?

In the three and a half weeks leading up to the New York Marathon I'll be logging as many miles as I can, but mostly I'll be cutting myself some slack. Life is short. I'm thinking of that a lot right now and remembering to take a minute. The things I think matter so much don't necessarily. I love running, but if I run my next marathon in five hours or four hours...who cares? I'm not an elite runner; time doesn't make or break me. I'm taking life's challenges one day at a time. Nope not moment at a time. Someone said to me yesterday that the weird thing about a life crisis is that every other "problem" becomes so inconsequential in comparison. It's true. It gives you perspective you wouldn't otherwise have. If you need me I'll be focusing on keeping this zen perspective past the writing of this blog. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Final Countdown

One month from today I'm running the New York City Marathon. I am not ready. At all. As a matter of fact I couldn't be much less ready, yet I'm quite unconcerned. Life has been crazy the last few months (and even more so the last few weeks), and fitting in a long run has been very challenging. I firmly believe that one can fit in anything if they make it a priority, but if I'm being honest long runs are not my top priority right now. I am reticent to take time I should be spending with my son to spend 3-4 hours running. It's one thing to do a 30 minute workout; it's another thing to spend half the day running. My schedule has been crazy, and I've been gone more than I'd like. It seems entirely too self-indulgent to also be away for long training runs.

Then there's the matter of my parents the last few weeks. They both had medical procedures last week, and my husband, the baby and I went home to help them for the better part of a week. Then my dad ended up having to have triple bypass two days ago, so I flew back to WV (sans the hubs and baby) to be there with my parents and siblings. It's been a long, exhausting few days. Dad is stable and we've got a long recovery ahead. Honestly running is pretty far down the list of most important things for me right now.

This morning I did manage to plod through 14 very sluggish miles on the Deckers Creek and Mon River trails in the pouring rain. I intended to run 16 miles, but as I got into the run I began to feel guilty for running instead of heading to the hospital to see Dad. I cut it short a few miles to get to the hospital (without a shower - a delight) for the first visiting hours of the day. 

I'd say running is about 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical. The actual running is the easy part; it's getting your head in the place where you actually make yourself run and enjoy it that's the real challenge. My body is in good shape, and I've been running well (particularly since my iron infusions). My mental state is another thing altogether, and I can't wrap my mind around long runs. 

I have a confession to make: I've never run more than 18 miles while training for a marathon. Most training plans have you running at least 20-22, and I've never gone that far before the race. My marathon times are nothing to write home about, but I've finished two of them (and would've finished a third if it hadn't been canceled for the heat). I have no doubts about my ability to finish New York, and at this point that is my goal. I originally had time goals in my head, but I'm letting them go. New York will be about enjoying one of the most amazing cities in the world before, during and after my run. 

As I've gotten faster in general (this year I've again broken my 5k and half marathon PRs), I enjoy races less. I find myself worrying about my time more than enjoying the experience. I will enjoy New York. It will likely be slow, and it won't be pretty, but I'm going to enjoy it and finish. Those are my goals. 

After New York I will put marathons on the shelf indefinitely (possibly forever...but I know myself too well to entirely close the door). I just don't enjoy marathons. Next year I'm going to dig into the 5k, a goal I set this year and haven't been able to focus on. I'm going to run half marathons. Maybe I'll do another triathlon. Maybe I'll take some fun classes at the YMCA. Maybe there will be weeks where I'll barely work out, and that will be okay. If nothing else these last few weeks have shown me that life is short. Running should be fun, and if it's not, then it's not worth it.

I'm looking forward to a slow, leisurely marathon in New York. I'm looking forward to a weekend alone with my husband, great food, walking everywhere, and just soaking up those moments. T-minus 30 days until I run New York, and it may not be pretty. But it is going to be momentous.