Sliding Down the Banister of Life: Lessons from Shamrock Shuffle 2018

Today was the the most arduous race of my life thus far but the most fun.

Because of friends I’ve made in my run club in the past year. I asked to get a ride with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know and she was excited to include me with her gang. We met at 6 a.m. at a local park and ride area and were together until circa 2:30 p.m., if I’m calculating right. I was one of six she happily transported in “Black Beauty,” her SUV.

And I learned that I have more — genuine– friends in this group than I realized. As I shared anxiety about being too slow to qualify for a “finisher’s medal” and having the course shut down before I crossed the line, two people in the club took that to heart. They both offered support and to help me in different ways.,one even offering to give me his medal if I didn’t make it in time. I appreciated the offers but declined, wanting to make it without any help. I took a chance.

And I still did it on my own. I was very slow. I had major shin splints after the first two miles, out of an 8k (4.97 miles) race. Why? Because I hadn’t run over a 5k since late October, at the 2017 Hot Chocolate Run 15k. I had managed to run once each month from November to March, due to the exceptional chill this winter. Honestly, I did a LOT of walking today.

I’ve also avoided running because I can be a perfectionist. If it wasn’t at least a 5k, why bother? If I knew I would be slow, better to wait until I had more energy. Until the weather was better. But several warmer days passed, and I didn’t run. I didn’t want to deal with those awkward miles, the transition.

“Junk miles,” you might call them. Thing is, you can’t avoid them.

Junk miles happen in every aspect of our lives. Those days you just don’t WANNA but have to anyway. That’s the whole concept of “adulting”– soldiering on. If you wait for ideal conditions, you’ll never finish anything important.

I almost didn’t even register for this race. I knew I hadn’t trained and that my time would be terrible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole race, like I did last year. I wanted to preserve that glory. Last year, I CRUSHED my goal, ran the entire way, and didn’t even need a bathroom break the whole five miles. I had a runner’s high so invincible that I legit FORGOT about work the next morning until a co-worker texted me to check in.

But I’ll admit it, I wanted the swag for 2018. A black racing t-shirt, the medal. Even the socks, though I could tell they were kind of cheap. More than those, I wanted to come back and spend time with friends from the two running clubs I joined last year. I loved that they all gather at Palmer House before the race. I had so much fun hanging out after the race, too.

And those running friends were encouraging me all the way. Even though I felt like I didn’t really “belong” since some of them are elite runners who race every weekend, regularly place and medal, and have run Boston multiple times. But they all told me to just go for it, that they hoped to see me there.

So today, I’m proud of myself. I did this knowing full that it would be arduous. That it would be cold and windy. It was harder than I anticipated.

But when I crossed that finish line and was given my medal, I really felt I’d earned it. I heard them call my name out and smiled like a fool! And then I claimed my stuff from gear check and met up with them at Miller’s Pub.

When I walked in, they all cheered! And it was genuine.

I realized how hard I’ve been on myself. None of my running friends are judging my time or ability. They like seeing me at races, they’re happy for every little bit of progress I make, even if it’s quite humble.

When I got home today, I took a long hot bath. After I publish this, I’m going to sleep. And then back to the grind at work tomorrow!

But I cried a few tears at home today, overwhelmed by it all.

I may be inconsistent and awkward as a runner, but I’m still in it.

And the weather was BRUTAL today! A cruel chill that felt much lower than the 35 degrees I saw displayed on the route. At least we had some sunlight. I had on two pairs of running tights, two pair of gloves, a base layer, the race t, AND a windbreaker coat for running. My Shamrock Shuffle 2017 hat, plus a warm scarf bundled around my neck and mouth. I was dressed warm and it worked!

And the best example of how wonderful today turned out is a moment I had with my friend at Palmer House, where everyone congregated before the race. We were in different waves and corrals, but we all met up and got ready together. It was exciting to be part of a tradition in such a classy place, no less.

Last year, she and I played on the stairs, taking silly pictures. She was sliding down the banister and I took a picture. I think that’s how we met! And I suggested over a chat recently that this year we should try to re-create that moment this year. Last time I hadn’t been brave enough to try taking the same picture. The brass banister was taller than my hip and I just couldn’t let go and slide. But today, I did it! Just like this race, it was a bit awkward getting up there at first. But I maneuvered on and stop caring how I looked or if I would fall off. I raised my arms and went to the top and slid down that banister! My mouth was wide open in a laugh and I went for it. I have great pictures, too!

I LET GO. For that moment, and of my expectations for today.

One race and one awkward moment at a time, I’m becoming more confident.

I’m having more fun. And I’m surrounded my some amazing friends, too.

 

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Sharing My Short Story: A Reader’s Reaction

Tonight I read aloud a short story I wrote some years ago. It was two pages.

I loved watching the face of my audience: so intent. Afterward, she asked if she could read it over herself. There were several points she wanted to talk about– things that jumped out at her as symbolic of me. Connections she made about my personality that were illustrated in my characters. Questions she wanted to ask.

I was happy to indulge her, to be interviewed.

Watching someone else hold my work in their hands and study it was amazing.

Suddenly my short story felt elevated to literature.

I stopped writing creatively years ago. I barely blog these days. I didn’t consider myself intelligent, creative or brave enough. I also didn’t want to take on the vulnerability of being published, analyzed.

I had other reasons as well. The last time I wrote something creative and personal, in a “free” writing work shop, it was stolen and published without my permission. The betrayal caused me to shut down and stop writing.

But this experience made me feel validated. More confident. Safe.

This reader found my story inspiring. She was impressed with my creativity.

It made me feel smart, important. Powerful.

I want to share that story with others. Maybe even try and publish it.

And maybe let my pen run free once again.

Adventures in Bacon: Joan of Arc Style

This morning I got up early and made myself a hearty breakfast.

Well, for me anyway: three scrambled eggs and three slices of bacon.

It was my first time cooking bacon on a stove in probably over a decade. I usually microwave that job and it’s perfect!

But today I added a new element: I used a griddle I’d gotten. The flat, square kind with a handle ideal for pancakes. Since I hate even an ounce of fat, I fried it BLACK!

As in barely retained any properties of bacon– that black. Beyond charred!

But also, it’s bacon. I love it so much I can’t waste it. So I ate it anyway.

At least the eggs were perfect; fluffy. A little bit of sea salt, ground pepper, basil and shredded mozz cheese. I sprinkled a little cinnamon but only on the top. Next time, I’ll try it in the mix and see if I can actually still taste it.

I posted on facebook and asked for some tips to not ruin my next bacon effort!

My friends did not disappoint.

I got a suggestion to bake in the oven.

One friend said my burnt bacon was just perfect as is, she would love it!

Yet another friend called my efforts “Joan of Arc Style” and had me cackling. A little bit of blasphemy made my end product hilarious and not just humiliating. She wasn’t wrong! My poor bacon: martyred in the name of kitchen exploration.

She then followed up with an offer to try a friend’s advice, cook it herself, and report back soon with the results of her own efforts.

So for my friends who are still prone to culinary catastrophes, relax.

It’s still funny. Exploit your failures for levity.

Most amazing? It took less than 15 minutes! Maybe even 13?

I need to do this on a workday for myself. Just in the microwave first.

My First 15k: Calm and Capable

Two weeks ago now, I smashed my first 15k AKA 9.3 miles!

October 29, I completed my first true distance race past a 10k in Chicago– The Hot Chocolate Run. And God bless my Dad, he went to support me. At 4:45 we drove up together. And I learned so much about myself that made me feel confident. I even got myself and my Dad signed up for updates on my progress en route: me on facebook and him via text messages.

Prior, I didn’t have anxiety about the race. I knew I could cover the distance because my last training run was 8.33 miles– with the last four in driving cold rain and headwinds.

But I did have anxiety about other aspects: finding parking for the expo: at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k last April I went to three flippin’ spaces before I found a spot. I worried about the parking garage I chose for the race, and then helping my 75-year-old father find the finish line and meeting up with him afterwards. What if I picked the wrong garage and it was full? What if we were late finding the start? What if one our phones died and I couldn’t find him afterward?

This was my first Chicago race where I wouldn’t be riding with a friend who knew where to park, who I could just follow to the start line. My Dad drove, but I made all the decisions. Instead of using SpotHero, which has proved unreliable, I chose one of the five garages suggested on the race website. I used the discount they offered instead. And everything worked out. I even used gear check, something I used to be too anxious to do.

I had a blast at the expo the day before, and things were easy from the beginning. I even found my car after without a problem! I stayed from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. because why not? I had no other plans, nothing else pressing to do. I tried on shoes, got fitted for a bra (none of which I bought)– sampled different flavors of nunn. Ambled around and passed by most of what I saw. Tried a rolling stick on my calves and feet. Tried on my racing shirt to make sure it fit. And I bought a few things I needed– including The Tube, a soft belt with three pouches, two zippered, that you can wear on your hips on race day. It’s snug and secure and actually comfortable.

I also bought my first medal rack. There were several for sale in different colors: silver, black, hot pink. I ended up going with a black one that says,

“Courage to start
Strength to endure
Resolve to finish.”

It has 10 hooks on it, and I got a hot pink magnet to go with it that says 15k.

I’m excited to put it up in my apartment! I have enough medals now.

On the way out, I stopped at a table and made myself a race poster. Why not? I was going to ask my Dad to hold it, but figured it best to keep it simple and left it at home. But he did hold it up for a picture for me after.

The race was amazing. So many people were complaining about the cold, but I was fine. I didn’t need a gaitor. I finally know how to adapt my clothes to races: in layers. I had on a t-shirt, the racing half-zip, and a waterproof thin jacket over it, plus gloves. I had on two pairs of tights and wool socks. My New Balances.

I also ran the full 9.3 miles WITHOUT music or my running app, since my battery was depleted so fast before the race even started. I had no idea bout my pace, and lost the 14:00 minute pacer around the 5 mile mark. I started out with a nun’s veil as a costume, but ditched it after mile four: it was too heavy and hot. And I ain’t no nun anyway!

At the 8th mile I called my Dad to alert him to watch for me.

And as I crossed that finish line, I didn’t cry like I had expected. I wasn’t even emotional. Instead, I was just very calm. Happy with myself. Even without my pacer, I still hit my goal of staying under 14:00 minutes per mile! My final time was 2:08:39 seconds at a 13:49 pace!

I had stayed moving for an entire 9.3 miles! It brought me back to the Cinco de Miler in 2016, my first five mile race, where I had to walk the last three miles and had terrible knee pain. I almost quit three times.

Now I can cover 9.3 miles moving continuously, NO PAIN!

And my Dad was right where I asked him to be: on the left. And truthfully, I didn’t need him to hold up a sign or even to yell my name as I crossed the finish line. Just seeing him there, my reliable wonderful father, was enough. Strong and silent. Then he took pictures of me through the fence, and we met up and he gave me a hug. I got someone to take a picture of us.

All the race photos were wonderful as well.

The way we took care of each other at this race was very special. Before the race started, he wouldn’t leave me until I got to my assigned corral. He was still concerned about me. At the gear check, I led him by the hand because there were so many people and it was dark pre-dawn, I didn’t want to lose him. Afterward we went to gear check and picked up my stuff, then to redeem my hot chocolate bowl! We shared my chocolate snacks and then went to breakfast after.

Just spending so much time with him was wonderful. Normally I can only see him at my parents’ house, or if he comes over to fix something or we go to dinner or a movie. He’s a man of routine! But being with with him in the big city, I felt so grateful and safe, too. I worry about him getting older, but he got around just fine to the finish line without my help.

Although now I walk faster than him, which makes me a bit sad. I used to always have to walk so fast to keep up with him as a little girl. I’d hold his thumb in my fist, his hands are so big. I slowed down and we walked together. He did this for me because he knew it was important, and that’s what I’d asked for as my 37th birthday present, that he come to one of my races.

And he picked the most important one.

I did one more race the following week: The Carrera de los Muertos in Pilsen. But it was rained out due to thunder, lightening, and some flooding on the course. We were still given our medals. It was actually November 4, the morning of my 37th birthday. But I had so much fun just dressing up, driving with my friend Heather, and taking pictures that it didn’t even matter. I met up with Diana, a friend from my run club, plus another girl I’d met in line for packet pick-up. The day was amazing!

Now my next goals will be a 10 mile and a half-marathon. I know I can do it. At work the next day a co-worker was impressed that I was walking without a limp. He said when he did the same race and distance last year, he had been in pain!

It seems my body is slowly acclimating to running and I recover quickly.

But I’m taking a little break from racing. Not because of winter. But because races are expensive and I was very social in September and October. I really got into Halloween. I want to save some money and catch up on some other things, too. I’ve been so focused on running the past few months and over the summer that I’ve fallen behind in some other areas. Plus, I need to recharge a bit.

I also have had a small cold for the past two weeks. Still a bit sniffly. Want to get that gone before I start running in the cold and risk another one.

There’s a race in December I may do, but no Turkey Trots yet this year.

I’m feeling amazing. It’s like a a new relationship where you feel secure in the connection and can take a little space knowing it won’t compromise what you share together already.

Run Like a Child: A Training Epiphany

I changed my mind tonight about running at the gym. I used to think it was a cop-out to run on a track or in the gym. I like trails, twists, hills, variety.

But I saw a video today in a running support group I belong to on Facebook that inspired me:

This man lines up on the sidewalks of NYC behind a blue chalk starting line to see if passers by will engage him in a spontaneous race. They do, and he clearly holds himself back so they can win. Then they all receive medals at the end. They were all so ecstatic!! I liked that it was diverse: children to older adults who maybe were athletes once. There was a whole line for the challenge!

But my favorite was watching the children. They were squirming to start, and several races were with multiple children and then groups of teens as well. It was pure PLAY for them!! They ran as FAST as their bodies were able, arms pumping hard, bolting ahead of the dude instigating this video. They ran with ragged breath and a giant smile on their faces.

And I was so happy!! I realized that they were teaching me something. I NEED to run like that. I need to remember that running is STILL PLAY– that it’s fun.

So tonight I switched up my run. It’s now dark earlier. Instead of running outside, I went to my health club and ran the track. I set a time instead of distance and told myself I would run as hard as I could for that amount of time.

And I LOVED IT! I was breathing hard, sweating. Because the track was smooth I didn’t have to worry about tripping on anything in my path. It’s on a carpet. I never run like that because I’m always in my head. What’s my pace? How far have I got left? Do I like the song playing?

I realized this a great way to do speed work and interval training.

Tonight I realized that running indoors at a health club isn’t weak at all. In fact, it’s inspiring. It was packed! Seeing so many others working out gave *me ideas on workouts I could try myself, especially on the machines I am clueless about using.

I resolve to do this type of speed training once a week– without worrying about maintaining a pace. I can run safely in a well-lit, smooth area without tripping. And seeing others pass me up also motivated me to keep it moving when I got tired.

I’m learning to design my training the way I like it.

I’m proud of me.

And hopefully I’ll learn eventually to run like I’m playing Red Rover, straining to break through the chain of my friends joined hands.

One Tough Pumpkin: Race Bling!

You know you’re a runner when you’ll do a race alone.

Originally I planned to run The Great Pumpkin Run 5k in Oswego with a friend, but she had to back out. We’re still cool. Then I realized that this race looked like too much fun to pass up! It was at Keller’s Farm Stand– how fun is that?! It also included a black half-zip hoodie- black with an orange jack-o-lantern face. I LOVED IT!

So today I hoisted a pumpkin and went for it. There was a “Tough Pumpkin,” option– completing the challenge entitled you to a second medal. Paying a small fee allowed you to select a pumpkin from two large pins, weigh it, and carry it during the race. I saw it in the promo pictures and it looked really fun! Plus, you get COLD apple cider at the finish line.

I loathe everything pumpkin spice, but I’m a sucker for apple cider!

So yesterday at packet pick-up I tried out a few pumpkins and walked with them a short distance. I guessed one would be six pounds, and the scale confirmed it. Perfectly round with a long stem to carry it with, I felt ambitious! Two other people selected theirs first: both wanted the smallest one possible. Even the man!

The weight range was 2 to 10 pounds. So I was satisfied to be in the middle. I wanted to EARN that race bling. So I made some rules for myself:

1. Keep it on my shoulder or above my waist at all times.

2. Only hold it with one arm. Switch off when necessary.

The parking situation was crazy! A much bigger race than I estimated. But I got to the start line 5 minutes early, and it was exciting!

There were a lot of people in matching team costumes– one was for a birthday. I felt a little jealous at first, I always do. It’s awesome to do races with friends, but the races I want to do don’t usually line up with what’s on the circuit for my running club, or they may conflict with my friend’s schedules. So the majority I run solo.

But running alone also makes me feel that much more like a serious runner.

I also told myself I wouldn’t wear any headphones this time.

So I started with my left arm, and held that pumpkin high on my shoulder.

And ran– sloooowly. And yeah, also walked.

But it was so beautiful!! We started weaving through an orchard, it looked like. Going between the rows as marked by signs and the occasional volunteer. I almost signed up to volunteer, but was glad I didn’t. They had to wear orange long-sleeved shirts and looked miserable! All their sleeves hiked up to the elbow.

Last night it had been a HOT September day, and I anticipated it would be again today. Checking the weather online confirmed it.

Usually I wear the race shirt provided. This marks the first time I went and bought something specifically for a race!! Last night I went shopping and chose a black tank top with a white skull on it in a lacy design. Sexy and feminine! And my black Nike shorts, which are pretty high. But hey, I wanted to be comfortable in the heat.

And I was. So many people wore the race-included hoodies. I’ve been that person: I usually do. You want to be festive and especially when the swag is comfortable and cute. But sometimes it’s just not compatible with the weather! I’ve had plenty races where I was sweltering or shivering, due to wrong assumptions about the weather and layering.

This time I got it right. Just those little details make me feel like a veteran.

There appeared to be a young couple in front of me: both wearing orange and blacks striped knee socks, black shorts, orange t-shirts, and backward baseball caps. They didn’t hold hands, so I wasn’t sure if maybe they were just friends or even siblings. The male’s hat cracked me up. It was black and white and declared, simple: “Titties.”

That gave me a good snicker.

The course progressed from a dirt trail, to gravel. At the halfway mark, water!

I stopped and asked someone to take a picture of me against a golden field. Not sure what it was: soybeans? Definitely not wheat or corn. They were short shrubs.

I was so happy.

Then at the 2 mile mark, we headed on for the final stretch! A few volunteers pointed us toward the finish line.

One of them was remarked to me: “You got the big pumpkin!”

Hell yeah, I did. It was almost the size of my head, looking at pictures.

Another runner exclaimed, “SHADE!!” The shadows indeed gave us a break.

My only beef with this race is that I never saw a photographer. I was really looking forward to race pictures! Good thing I stopped and took some of my own.

I finished strong!

Received my finisher’s medal, then the second– The TOUGH PUMPKIN!! Posed at the finish line with my pumpkin and my bling. Enjoyed every sip of that COLD cider.

Getting my photo the finish line was such a reward. There were so many times I wanted to just drag my pumpkin or ditch my pumpkin all together. Put I persevered. I got a great arm work-out! They’re not as weak as I thought.

This was honestly one of my slowest races: but I exceeded my own expectations!

I noticed that most people didn’t have pumpkins.

The ones I noticed on the course mostly had chosen ones small enough to still run with without hindering their normal arm swing. I saw one woman carrying hers with both hands. Most people let their arms dangle with it.

I even saw two women with backpacks toting something large: the cheaters! Maybe they had a 10-pounder in there but in my eyes, that’s the easy way out.

I carried my damn pumpkin the whole time, mostly on my shoulder, and I’m proud.

Then Tammie called and we met up. Her car was parked close and she offered to let me put my pumpkin in there so I didn’t have to carry it anymore. I accepted! Then we walked around the farm: the petting zoo, the hay “maze” inside for kids. My feet were too tired for a whole corn maze! We sat in this giant pumpkin carriage type thing and took a picture. She had some stuff to do first that morning, but we had arranged last night to meet up and hang out post-race today.

And I tried something: I did a pull-up gripping the arch to enter it. Wow! I REALLY felt that in my core– no wonder you see all the ripped people doing pull-ups in their work-outs. That feeling made me want to actually work out, in addition to running. Goals!

It was great to have a few hours to just hang out with Tammie. She’s been a friend and a mentor to me since high school. We caught up about our lives and we’re both doing great. Happy. We took selfies and leisurely strolled around.

Thursday night we’re going to see a band she told me about years ago– Here Come the Mummies! She plaid a few songs for me in her car as she drove me to mine.

I’m stoked for FALL RACES! This is just the first.

When Running is Your Coping Skill

A conversation with my Dad this weekend zapped me out of a no-running funk.

I told him I was volunteering for a second race. They were three days apart.

Dad: “Have you run this week?
Amee: “No.”
Dad: Pause. “Are you still running?”
Amee: “Yeah.”
Dad: “Better stop procrastinating. Gotta do what you gotta do.”

I had to laugh. Months ago he was asking me why I was running so much! It had been 14 days since my last run. A week ago, I had a major panic attack at 3 a.m. I’m back on track now, thanks to being pro-active and reaching out to people as well as using different coping skills.

But I notice that lately if I’m in a bad mood or struggling to accept something, my friends and family ask about my running:

“Would a run help?”
“Have you run today?”

It’s sweet and reassuring. It means they’re paying attention.

It’s an alert that maybe running is more important to me than I even noticed.

And I’m starting to get it. If you lace up and go consistently, especially when you don’t want to– running becomes a vital aspect of your routine. It’s another source of stability in your life; something you do regardless of your moods or even if you feel a little ill.

Dory told us, “Just keep swimming.”

I want to be like her. In my case however, the mantra is “Just keep running.”

I’m so hard on myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other runners.

And when I volunteered at these races, my running friends were thankful for my support on the course. But they also made a point to ask why I wasn’t running it.

“You gotta get back to running!” one person told me.
“It’s great to have you out there cheering,” said another, “but you need to get out there kicking some ass.”

That made me laugh. Me, kicking ass at a circa 14 minute a mile pace? But I realized, that’s just my own insecurity.

I’m racing on a regular basis. In the pictures, I’m clearly working hard. I’ve got a good stride, I’m IN IT. I LOOK like a runner.

Even if I don’t always feel like one.

Tonight I was well-rested and got a lot done at work! I came home excited to run. I broke it in half: I ran to and from someplace I was going. It wasn’t quite 3 miles– 2.92 when I added up both distances.

But I already feel more sane. And going home was easier, I was faster.

I’ve got a 5k this weekend, and there are several races from September to November I’m planning. GAME ON, I’m ready!!