Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Love Letter to My Nieces, Ages 2 Through 6

To my darling nieces,

You in your barely lived lives have taught me so many lessons about how to live mine. Here are the ways you have inspired me:

You enjoy simple pleasures, like jumping crumbled waves in five inches of water, holding me next to you so I'll do the same. Over and over and over again.

You love life vigorously, and you don't want to miss a moment of it. This love causes a fear of missing out, or FOMO, and it keeps you up at night. Literally. 

You seek individuality. Like wearing different shoes on each foot, or outfits you created because you love the separate pieces, even though they don't match by any stretch of the imagination, and despite my best urging toward a nice-looking alternative. 

You want to be active for no other reason than to enjoy the physicality of movement. Sometimes, in fact, you can't sit still. Can't do it. 

You know what you want in life and you're not afraid to go after it. Even when it's a toy that isn't yours but you want to make it yours. Especially when that happens. 

You're fearless. You see an older child do a backflip off the edge of a pool, and you immediately attempt to mimic the act. To the utter horror and breathlessness of your onlooking aunt. 

You tell the truth (mostly). You say things like, "Your belly-button looks weird," or "Yes, I hit my sister."

You're unafraid of consequences. So much so that you avoid my countdown warning, leaving me in the lurch after I've given you till the count of five, including the half-numbers. 

You have unending curiosity. It really doesn't end. Just when I think I've satisfied your original question, and the nine that followed, your mind has found a new subject to interrogate. 

You dance as if no one is watching. But someone is always watching. You make sure of that.  

I can't wait to see what more you can teach me about life.

All the love in my heart,
Tita/Aunt Lee

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Let the Training Begin ... Please. Please Let It Begin.

Just in time for the start of the summer Olympics, for added motivation, I've laid out my marathon training for the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in November. And having just come home from a few days of fun family vacation at New Smyrna Beach, during which I managed to run once, I'm feeling the need more than ever to get back into a routine. I've been working out most days, but with no real plan or goals. That's been sort of fun, I guess, but it's also left me feeling anxiousthat I'll have a hard time adapting back into a routine, that I've lost the drive to train hard, or that I simply care less about training. And if that latter scenario is true, what is there instead? I'm getting ahead of myself, but those are the fears. 

My training plan is adapted from The Complete Book of Running for Women, by Claire Kowalczic, published in 1999. This was my running bible when I first began distance running, about eight years ago now. I find its essential information, especially addressing the unique concerns of female runners, no less relevant today. While trends in training rise and fall throughout the years (particularly in footwear—minimalism, maximalism; and nutrition—to carb or not to carb, etc.), I believe the basic tenets of successful race training, especially for non-elite runners, have remained largely unchanged (and regarding those extreme trends, the debates always seem to land on "scientific findings" that balance is best; go figure). And so I go back to this book whenever it's time to lay out a plan. 

While I'm signed up for a full marathon, and a full marathon I hope to run, my foot will be tested by the higher mileage as I get deeper into training, and I may discover that it's not handing the longer distances so well, and I may need to drop my registration down to the half-marathon option. That's an option available to me, and I'll be okay if it comes to that. But for now, I don't want to back down just yet. So I've set up a plan with just four running days per week and cross-training in between. This isn't unrealistic, but many marathon plans call for five to six running days. And in fact this plan above did, but I took one day out and replaced it with cross-training. People have certainly trained on less; although, I can't speak to their race-day success or their training's relevance to my own needs and desires for a successful race. 

So as I sit here in my cozy seat at my favorite coffee shop, watching the rain out the window and subsequently looking at the extended forecast showing days of nonstop rain in the already stifling Florida summer, I'm trying to psyche myself into the start of a disciplined training regime. Let's do this.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Working on Leisure

It's been an awfully long time since I posted. Truthfully I don't have a clear vision for this blog going forward. What began mostly as a public training log, a means for sharing my love for running with others, for connecting with those I don't see in my day-to-day life, has become a thing of dread. Not because I don't love running, don't still train, don't still want to connect; rather, the thought of writing as an obligation had become the turnoff. 

I've recently cleansed myself of all "outside" obligations--freelance editing projects, unsatisfying school work--things I no longer feel are necessary or fulfilling for me. One motivating factor behind this cleanse was to make room for things I do enjoy, do find gratifying. But I wasn't sure what those things would be. I've spent most of my adult life working full time, plus always something on the side. School, extra work, sometimes both. I haven't quite known how to let go; hyper-productivity has felt like part of my identity. If I'm not filing my time with goal-driven activities, what do I do? What do other people do? How do I embrace leisure time?

In case I've fooled anyone into thinking I don't rest, let me clarify. I spent hours upon hours of consuming content (mostly TV shows, sometimes podcasts and music) each week. This is how I "relax." I tune the world out. But it's the space between productivity and mind numbing that I'm seeking to enter, to breathe comfortably in. This slower-paced, quieter space that scares me. A space where I have to hear the thoughts in my mind and be at peace with them. Magically. After a virtual lifetime of trying to push thoughts out, bury them, cover them up with work and obligations.  

Just over a month ago, I ended my last freelance project, and I felt free. For a moment. That feeling was fleeting, as all beautiful and happy things are. Too soon the panic of "what's next?" set in. Even though I was still technically enrolled in a master's program (still am, in fact), I had taken the summer off to "consider my options." In my mind, though, I was done with school. It wasn't the fulfilling thing I was looking for. So I decided to sign up for adult beginner piano lessons, in a small group setting. I'd wanted to know how to play the piano for as long I could remember, but the learning had always gotten in the way of my knowing. I never felt I had the time, money, means to pursue it. Now, at the age of 35, I'm realizing the learning part is hard, and I'm wishing I'd somehow just found those means to do it earlier in life, when it might have been easier. And while it's a gratifying pursuit, it's a slow one. I want to already be able to hear a song on [music-playing app] and be able to translate it through my fingers and onto the keyboard. But I'm not there yet--unless "Mary Had a Little Lamb" happens to comes across one of my Pandora stations (I can play that shit like a pro). 

So just when I felt I was sliding into this new leisure space, though uncomfortably and still with structure and goals (old habits), I was presented with a new and, at the time, exciting opportunity. Through a new work contact, I was invited to apply to an executive MBA program at a great university that happened to not be in or near where I live. But the full-time, 21-month program only required in-person attendance once per month, so it seemed doable to me. Never mind the fact that I'd never before considered an MBA for myself, or that I had no idea how I'd use the degree, or that I'd all but quit the master's program I was enrolled in and that was applicable to my field so I could clear my plate of obligations; this was an OPPORTUNITY. How could I pass it up? Tuition would be fully paid. I would meet new people, visit a new town, learn new skills. So much newness was to be gained. By the very act of doing the degree, meaning would descend upon my life. Sure, I would be busier than I'd ever been and would have to work harder than I'd ever worked before, but I was doubting my new and barely executed philosophy that opening up space for leisure would make me happier. Who has patience for that? And what if nothing good came of it?

I was 90 percent ready to jump on this opportunity, even though I hadn't done the apply-and-get-accepted part, I hadn't discussed any of it with my boss--who would have to approve my leave one Friday per month, and the assistantship details that would allow for my tuition payment hadn't actually been approved (which, by the way, would require more work on top of full-time classes and my full-time job). My decision would have to wait. I had a vacation to attend with family I hadn't seen in many years. 

For four days, I stayed in a house on the beach with my sister's family and her in-laws--people I'd come to love over the decade and a half they'd been in my life, as well as hers. I thought about the leisure I was able to partake in, quiet moments alone by the pool or on the beach, less quiet but certainly no less rewarding time with five beautiful young children full of zest for life and simple love for the family that surrounded them. I thought about how I had the space, mentally, to appreciate this time. I wasn't overburdened with obligations that would nag at me the second I returned home. I didn't have to bring work with me. I had the freedom to enjoy this break. And I needed it.  So what would happen to life if I decided to take on the MBA program? Would I just have to wait 21 months before I could unwind like this again? It seemed that my decision came down to (1) knowing my current needs and (2) honoring those needs. At this particular stage in my life, was it more important for me to have new experiences and gain new skills that could eventually lead to something good for my future, or was it more important for me to keep the space I'd created for myself and intentionally try not to fill it with obligations, to allow leisure to be a regular part of my life? It had to really think about the things that had made me happy, and even unhappy, in recent years, and use those things as a gauge for moving forward. 

I returned to work with a heavy mind. I had a regular meeting to talk with my boss, and I was curious to know his thoughts about my potentially taking on a full-time MBA. But before I could bring it up, he wanted to know my thoughts on something else. A coworker I'd worked relatively close with had left, and we were trying to figure out how the responsibilities of that position would be covered, in the short term until we could find a replacement, and perhaps also in the long term. He asked how I felt about taking on a specific project, part of which would involve traveling to conferences. We talked it through a bit, and I felt excited to have the new opportunity. And perhaps this new endeavor would help cure my restlessness. So by the time we got to talking about my thing, I pretty much knew where I stood. But my boss--who has always supported my continued education--seemed to think I'd be taking on too much. My decision was made.

In the few weeks that have passed since declining the MBA opportunity, I've become increasingly busy at work and have had opportunities to help take care of my nieces. These are the things that make me happy lately, aside from running and swimming and generally being active. I'm finally at a place where I enjoy my work and find meaning in it, and I can't think of anything more important than helping to raise my nieces; I feel incredibly lucky to be in a place--physically and mentally--to do it. As far as the space that exists between all of those activities, I'm keeping it open. I don't have a plan for it, and maybe that's the point. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Back On My Feet, Out of My Seat

Something had to give. Last year I worked hard to establish a full workout schedule sans running, so incorporating running back in inevitably meant I'd have to adjust for a new schedule. And now that I'm able to run three days a week (yay!), I've had to decide what to let go of. I wanted to remain a versatile athlete—and a strong, healthy one. So I knew I needed to keep strength training in, which left me essentially choosing between swimming and biking. And that's not really a hard choice for me; swimming had become a new love over the course of my foot injury, and biking, well, let's just say I never became chummy with that sport. Plus, I committed to a challenge to swim 111 miles over the course of a year, and I still need to swim at least twice a week to meet that goal.

I don't imagine I'll abandon the bike altogether, but I won't try to work it into my weekly training. Maybe that will actually help; maybe trying to force it has made me resent it. Time will tell.

As for running, I'm not quite ready to start training for any races; my pace is still relatively slow, and I don't mind keeping it that way while I acclimate back into regular running. I still need to keep up with my at-home physical therapy to stay pain-free while running. I'm not as diligent about it, but I do what feels manageable and still therapeutic.

For so long I lamented the fact that I couldn't run, and it doesn't take much effort now to be mindful of how fortunate I am just to be able to do it again. But every now and then I catch myself in a challenging moment—I'm lacking motivation to start, my body feels sluggish, I'm hot and uncomfortable—and try to think, I'm lucky to feel this struggle; if this is my struggle, I'm doing great.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Exploration of Definitions: Words, Conditions, and Me

Last weekend I wrote about the ambivalence I'd been feeling about not competing in endurance sports. In a Facebook comment to my post, a friend posed the following question:
do you always /have/ to be going forward in everything, all the time? Can you find a way to be comfortable with staying where you are? I think this is emotional work, btw, not physical work. I was just struck, in reading this, by your observation that you can't enjoy something if you're not pushing yourself. But maybe all of this with your foot and knee is your body trying to teach you to be present and be okay with being you just as you are.
I thought about my response and battled with it for a long time. A week, in fact. I decided to further explore my reasons in a follow-up post—this one.

First, I didn't realize my post had come across as negative; my thinking was, ambivalence by definition is neutral, right? So then I needed to look up the word. According to Merriam-Webster, ambivalence is "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action." Therefore (in my mind), the feelings of attraction and repulsion canceled each other out, creating a tepid, or lukewarm, feeling about a thing. But perhaps my tone was closer to repulsion than neutrality than I'd realized; specifically, I used the words "struggled," "lacking passion," "it's hard," "I feel so reluctant," "it's difficult," "less satisfied," the non-running sports "don't grip me," "not sure they ever will." That's a lot of negative-nancy talk.

But beyond that realization, my instinct was to say, why shouldn't I want push myself, always and forever and constantly, in every single thing I do? Okay, I can see the harm in that mentality a little bit now. But the idea of complacence—another word I needed to look up to make sure I understood its connotation—was just so off-putting. In my mind, the word was akin to giving up. But Merriam-Webster tells me otherwise; complacence is "calm or secure satisfaction with oneself or one's lot." Perhaps it is my lens that has been negative, tainting my view of not only myself but my actions. But there's still an aspect of this definition that bothers me: it's the implication that I should accept my "lot." And that's what I was unwilling to do during my foot injury. And ultimately, I'm glad I didn't give up. If I had, I might not have pursued my last treatment option, which ended up being the winning one.

Which brings me to another reason that it's difficult to not push myself in my activities: if I know I can do better, I will always want to. It's the perfectionist in me, that dangerous part of myself that doesn't quite know when to stop and appreciate my abilities, and instead focuses only on how I could do better. I've struggled with having a perfectionistic personality for as long as I can remember. I don't mean that I'm simply finicky about the way things are in my environment or that I have high standards for myself; these things are true, but my particular battle with perfectionism goes further. There are socially oriented, self-oriented, and other-oriented types of perfectionism, clinically speaking. I fall mostly within the socially oriented type, with some elements of self-oriented perfectionism. But one distinguishing feature of socially oriented perfectionism is the feeling that, "the better I do, the better I am expected to do." This perspective doesn't quite allow for a resting place, a space for reflection and appreciation.

But as I said, I'm aware of this part of my personality and, as a grown-up, have had to find ways to cope with it. So I know I'm not off the hook simply because perfectionism affects me in significant ways. Ultimately, my friend was spot-on that the work necessary to be comfortable where I am is emotional, and not physical, work. And I don't think her intention was to say that I should stop trying, even if that was my initial interpretation of her comment. I think there is a way to both appreciate my "lot," so to speak, without feeling as though I'm giving up on myself. I can try to respect the mere challenge of completing daily workouts, even if they don't exist within a competitive context. And then, when I'm ready (and my body is), I can push for more. At least, I think that is what she meant. And I'm grateful to her for making me think deeper and differently about my situation.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Ambivalent Nature of Noncompetition

I think I know why I've struggled to fully latch on to swimming and cycling. Part of it is just starting out new. But I can't really play the newbie card anymore, particularly with swimming. What I'm missing, I think, is the thrill of competition (except for the occasional instances when, unbeknownst to the swimmer in the lane next to me, I engage in a full-out race with him or her to the wall and back). With running, the sport became more exciting to me when I started entering distance races. I began where most everyone does—with a 5k—but then decided that wasn't enough, so I trained for a 15k and soon thereafter a half marathon, etc. Those events propelled my love for running forward. I was never racing for prestige or placement but rather to challenge myself; to push myself further than I knew I ever would if I—me, myself—had been the only motivating source. I needed the accountability and structure that came with race training.

And now, without the race factor, I find I'm lacking passion. This isn't to say that (1) there aren't swimming and cycling races or (2) swimming and cycling races would make me love those sports more; it's just a theory. And while swim/bike races exist, they come mostly in the form of triathlons, which require the one component I can't currently do with full effort—run. Although I finally got past my foot injury (hallelujah!), I'm now working to sort out some new knee pain.

Further, it's hard to continue to have motivation when I don't have an ultimate goal. With running, I was almost always registered in a race I needed to train for; that's one reason I loved long-distance races: they require perpetual training. But left to my own devices with swimming and cycling, I tend to do the same things over and over again. The same distances each week, same effort. How do I get out of my slump? Does it matter whether I do? To answer these questions, I guess I need to define my goals, which I haven't really done, except to harbor a notion in the back of my mind of getting faster and going farther, performing better overall. Yet I feel so reluctant to do that. But there's another reason it's difficult.

Aside from having no ultimate goal to work toward, I also have nobody to measure against. And to clarify, competing with other runners—at least overtly—was not part of my running M.O. But having a general knowledge of where I placed among other female runners in my age group, particularly in my community, helped me want to be better, place higher. Of course, beating myself was always the ultimate aim. But in order for the data to be measurable, they needed to be official, at least in my mind, which meant racing.

A part of me just keeps thinking I'll wait out my current and persistent impediments to running races. But the longer I wait, the less I'm competing over time, the more complacent I'm becoming, and the less satisfied I ultimately am with my performance in these other sports. I won't let them go; they still sustain me while I'm limited with running and satisfy a need for endurance training, and I often get absorbed in the beauty of the sports—particularly swimming, but they don't grip me and possess me in the fulfilling way running did. I'm not sure they ever will.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong: My Eventual Return to Running

Last April, after achieving a PR at the Iron Girl Half Marathon in Clearwater, I suffered foot pain that, little did I know at the time, would keep me sidelined from running for 10 months. Today, I can finally say that the foot pain is gone. Through working with a chiropractor, Dr. Travis Mohr, on releasing the tight muscles in and around my foot that were gripping and pulling on the metatarsal heads in the ball of my foot, I was finally able to get relief from a condition I feared would plague me for the rest of my life, keeping me from ever running again. My journey to this freedom from foot pain was filled with frustration, fear, and constant disappointment. Here's what I learned throughout the process:

  1. Rest and immobilization are not always the answer. At least not longterm. In seeking medical care for my foot, I consulted with and received some form of treatment from a podiatrist, a sports therapist, three orthopedists, and three chiropractors (eighth time is a charm?). The majority of these very knowledgable and well-reputed practitioners wanted to treat me with orthotics and other stabilizing devices. One even had me wear a fracture boot for two months, based on an inconclusive MRI. While I understand the abundance of caution that was exercised by these practitioners, it seemed they were all, except the last one, guessing at what was wrong and essentially putting a bandaid on the problem, hoping it would just heal with time. It turns out, though, that time and rest, with no physical treatment, only made things worse for my condition. After serving my time in the boot, my foot hurt in new ways because of the adverse effects of prolonged use the boot on a non-fractured foot. Further, my foot and ankle grew weaker, and I developed hip and back pain from the lopsidedness caused by wearing a boot on one foot. (This is not to say boots are not helpful, or even necessary, with fractures, breaks, and post-surgical recoveries.)
  2. Anti-inflammatories should not be a solution. As a recommended course of treatment from three of the doctors, I was prescribed high amounts of anti-inflammatory drugs, including Naproxen and Prednisone. Further, I received two separate cortisone shots in my foot. None of these ultimately helped, and I experienced very unpleasant side effects from the drugs (upset stomach, mood swings, insomnia). Further, I instinctively felt that these courses of treatment were not addressing the core cause of my pain, which was yet to truly be determined. I'm not one of those people who just doesn't believe in anti-inflammatories--ibuprofen is my good friend; but I do not believe in their longterm use for treating an injury when the root problem is not being treated.
  3. Doctors don't know everything. This should go without saying, but I was a person who tended to put all of my trust in a a doctor, believing that because they said something was true, or at least very likely, it must be. But I've learned that doctors have a lot of requirements to fulfill that can sometimes get in the way of optimal patient care. They have quotas to meet, electronic records to fill in, pharmaceutical companies vying for their attention, and various other demands on their time. Sometimes I felt the brunt of these demands more than other times. Private versus group practice also made a difference in my experiences (but not always). What I found to be most irritating, though, is that there was no real consensus among the many doctors I saw as to what was wrong with my foot, and subsequently none as to how it should be treated. How, in this day, with all of our diagnostic technologies and decades of research-informed practice, can there not be better collective understanding of a running-induced injury to a body part that literally has little depth (though is quite intricate)? I remain baffled by this question.
  4. All "Dem Bones" really are connected. And so are their associated muscles, tendons, connective tissues, etc. What I eventually learned from Dr. Travis is that my ball-of-foot pain was caused by muscle tension (seems so simple, right?). To treat me, he used a method trademarked as the Graston Technique (more generically called soft-tissue instrument-assisted mobilization). When I went in for my appointments, first twice a week and eventually just once a week, he used a Graston tool on the bottom of my foot, essentially scraping it back and forth across the arch area, loosening the soft tissue there. At first, I could hardly breathe, and I wanted to scream. It hurt like hell. The sensation was intense. He also placed kinesio tape from my calf to my heel. And as for my part, I was assigned regiment of calf stretching and trigger-point release on the bottom of my foot, via a golf ball, for a total of 40 minutes a day. Together we were able to reverse the course of my condition after about six weeks (compare that to the 10 months I spent not running; if only I'd known sooner). 
  5. I survived, despite myself. I whined a lot last year, especially after trying new things got old. But I was also forced to challenge myself athletically and psychologically (the latter I didn't need). And even if I wasn't actively recognizing the progress I was making in new areas because I was so focused on not being able to run, I made the progress nonetheless. That can never be taken away from me, despite my sometimes defeatist attitude. And my friends and family, bless you all, held onto hope that things would turn around for me. In fact, when I thought I never wanted to see another doctor again and pretty much resolved to live with my condition, my friend Lyle told me about Dr. Travis, and also told me I needed to have more faith. It took me a couple months to even schedule an appointment, as I'd felt so low and skeptical. But I'm so glad I did eventually see him. I can't help but think, what if I hadn't had that connection? Or, alternatively, what if I'd known about it sooner? It's scary that chance has played such a significant role in my journey. And this is just my foot, and it's just about running. I can only imagine what others go through, with more serious medical conditions, who never find the help they need. Why is does there seem to be such disconnection in our health system? Why aren't more people on the same page, sharing the same knowledge about effective, patient-centered practices? Isn't that what doctoring is all about? I'm afraid that, for many practitioners, it has come to be something different.

Since I first started feeling some improvement from my chiropractic treatments, I started running, a little bit at a time. First two miles, then three. I'm up to five now, but I've experienced some knee pain lately that has set me back a bit. I guess my body is telling me to slow down; don't rush the progress. So I'm working to find the source of the pain this time so I can treat it. A lot of things have become tight and rusty after 10 months out of the game. IT bands, calves, quads, hamstrings--they're all yelling at me for attention. So I'm stretching, rolling, rubbing, trying to get back into running shape. Here's to a year of more doing, less whining.