Winter Blues and Running Motivation

A good thing about today is that I have a meal in my crockpot bubbling away, and it will be ready when I get home from laundry/gym/library/errands and before I go off to my Thursday run. I haven’t made Butternut Squash Risotto before (another recipe from THIS BOOK that saved my life last winter) but the sage and cumin spice-combo smells delicious.

A bad thing about today is that it’s still November, and winter isn’t going away for MONTHS!

My Seasonal Depression is mild and manageable without medication, which makes me hella lucky! But as the days get colder I still notice myself feeling down more often than usual, and feeling more tired, even though over the summer I was doing more things with more intensity and with…not less fatigue but different, more positive fatigue. I have a pretty full schedule of life-giving events that I never miss, and sometimes over these last few weeks I find myself not wanting to go…even though I KNOW I’ll feel better when I get there. So I go, and I do.

Some of this is to say November hasn’t been a big writing month, even though in my post just two weeks ago I told you about my big November writing goals. I stand by my decision not to do Na-No this year because there just isn’t a new book in me right now, but without that bar graph and relentlessly increasing word count the writing has not been happening. It’s been a little more about survival—making it to the runs and social events, making a plan for tracking my expenses and making a budget, trying to feed myself more healthily and inexpensively. This doesn’t sound like that many things, but sometimes that’s just where you’re at, you know? I work early mornings at a coffee shop, and I LOVE the morning shift because I get out so early in the day—but if you’re not careful about getting enough sleep, a workweek can feel like a bit of a deathmarch, something to get through until that next day you can sleep in. During the summer on Wednesdays, the first day of my weekend, I just slept for hours and then woke up and ran for hours. And I actually miss that long run training schedule, because you feel just a little less pathetic about the week’s worth of dishes piling up in your sink when you ran twenty miles that day.

Running! The ebb and flow of fitness is a weird thing. I started being intentional about running and fitness just about two years ago, which is a very short time in the scheme of things, and I’ve had the luxury of getting fitter and faster for the majority of that time. I did my second marathon this September (2018) and got a Personal Record by 45 minutes. Going into that race I was the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my life. This was just a little over a month ago, and I’ve continued running and lifting things, so most of that strength hasn’t gone too far away. My miles dropped off when I stopped doing race-specific long runs, however, and now I’m trying to get them back up and build a stronger base for the winter. It’s demoralizing to feel exhausted after a 20-mile week when just two months ago you crushed a 47-mile week for your highest-mileage week ever. But you can’t always be at your best/most/fastest/highest/farthest ever, though I do think I have an awful lot of personal bests still to come. You have to keep yourself going by trusting the process over the long haul, and trusting that you’ll get there for your next big thing (I’m leveling up for my next race, if all goes well: a 50-kilometer trail race in the spring). And looking at the little things helps too. Last night was the coldest night for running so far this year, and for 3.3 miles I averaged 8:55 minutes per mile. This isn’t fast by a lot of people’s standards, but I remember a similar cold night in November or December of 2016, back at the beginning of this journey, when I ran my absolute hardest for a similar distance. I remember huffing and puffing on my way back to the bar, really putting my heart into it and running until it hurt—and I averaged 10:30 minute miles. And I was proud! And I should have been! But it’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and good to remember the huge difference between now and then, especially when I feel like I haven’t been working as hard as I could been have over the last month. There’s a lot more months ahead, and lot more hard work to go!

And a lot more cold weather before spring. Brr.

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Blogging. What a Trip.

At post-run drinks the other day, a friend mentioned updating his blog. Then we had a talk about writing our books, about how hard it is to nail the ending, and about how, much, goddamn, TIME you put into something like a novel with no guarantee of that time paying off for you in any tangible way, no guarantee that that book will ever reach an audience other than yourself.

Okay, now I’m depressed about writing again.

But blogging as a topic of conversation in a run space, the runniest of my run spaces, got me a little inspired and thinking that maybe, with a little tending, this blog could be more than a relic of a less active time in my life.

I feel like blogging has an uneasy space in today’s options for communication and self-promotion. If I am looking for attention, for example, I will make a facebook post. This will get me immediate feedback in the form of comments and likes, and will be seen by more people than blog content that requires time to click through to a different website and read a whole post. The immediate feedback feels nice. What a thing to want, though. Feedback. Attention. “Attention-seeker” is a very negative thing to call someone, and if anyone is being bratty, or acting up, or behaving in a way that is over-the-top and destructive to those around them, they are commonly dismissed with the phrase, “Oh, they’re just looking for attention.” So even on Facebook I feel a lot of pressure not to post too much, or too loudly. It can be hard to tell where the line is between sharing and bragging. I often feel annoyed by the relentless positivity of posts that are meant to inspire, often by public figures who have turned their online presence into a brand. I try not to trust this annoyance because perhaps I am cynical or jealous—but I also try to hit a more subdued note, and to not post about accomplishments more than once or twice a week. And yet… I spike my hair up and dye it Rock’n Roll Red (words from the Manic Panic bottle, not mine). I want to be seen.

So blog posts don’t get seen in the instant way a Facebook post would. What’s the point of a blog, then? Is it a diary? My actual diary, for which I use the more sophisticated term journal, is for writing in when I’m mad about boys. I have a series of physical notebooks on predominantly this topic going back to the year 2000. A blog makes a crappy diary because I’m not exactly going to blog publicly about every detail of my life. Sometimes I wish I could—I sure have some witty things to say about it—but I place too much value on my own privacy and the privacy of others to ever use a blog post the way I use my journal.

Maybe a blog is just to have a consistent online presence in a world where things like that matter, or could matter depending on what decisions you make and paths you take. A blog is a place on the internet to hang your hat, ready to mobilize on that future date when you sell your novel or launch your public career as a motivational speaker (Ha!). Or, smaller scale, maybe it’s just to practice saying a few things. To practice writing them down, and to try growing less afraid to share the parts of yourself that are shareable, just in case your sharing might give a moment of pleasure or connection to someone else. Maybe?

This isn’t a big “The Blog is Back” announcement. The future is uncertain and priorities are constantly shifting. But I wanted a to write a post and then I kept wanting to write it, to the point that I’ve actually drafted this on a public library computer while waiting for my replacement laptop charger to arrive in the mail. So maybe I’ll keep wanting to write blog posts. I’m guessing I’ll want to write posts about running, which is why I’ve redesigned the website to feature running in the tagline and header (photo credit Craig Dilger—you can’t see it in the mobile version but yes the tiny runner on the breakwall is me). This might be a temporary redesign—maybe I’ll write another blog post soon about how all my tech is breaking down and it’s making digital art difficult. Maybe not. The future is uncertain. This is a blog post. The end.

Life and Running

National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow and I promised myself that, somehow, by the end of the day, I would post something on this blog. Maybe not the perfect thing—I’m about to write 50,000 very imperfect words in thirty days, so getting used to doing things imperfectly is a good idea—but SOMEthing. An update. Seeing as my last post was in March 2016.

The longer I go without an update the harder it is to do one. So many things have happened. The website needs a redesign. So many things have changed. But November starts tomorrow, and I’m going to begin the exact same challenge I’ve completed every November since 2013, so that’s something. The older I get, the more stock I put in having things that I do. Not things that I want to do, or hope to do, or plan to do. Things that I actually, consistently, do, even when it isn’t easy to do them.

The biggest thing I’ve done this past year is running. I’m close to a full year of at least one run a week (and usually five or more). I’ve been a casual runner for years, I’ve posted about running here before, but this is the first time I’ve stuck with it for more than a few

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My 2016-2017 run calendar (days I ran are in pink).

weeks, or more than a season. My story is that winter last year was rough. Rough for the nation, yes, but I had some personal frustrations hitting at around the same time. I was angry and confused and embarrassed and sad, and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started running. Even though it was cold and dark and being outside was the worst thing ever. Running was just suddenly all I wanted to be doing, so I kept doing it. I also started showing up, obsessively, to the Thursday and Saturday hashes (a hash is an adventure run with beer). We started a new practice run on Mondays. I think we ran through nearly every single blizzard last winter. And here’s where I get a little sappy, but I am so grateful for this rotating crew of beautiful souls that I get to spend the majority of my free time with. Maybe it’s not so exceptional, maybe people are amazing the world over, but I can’t help but feel that my friends are something extra shiny. I’m always looking around me, just, so delighted that we’re all here, we’re running through streets at night, we’re following trail through a foot of snow, we’re singing under bridges, we’re wearing silly costumes, we’re getting lost in the woods—and so many other things. Y’all are constantly warming my heart.

In the spring I signed up for a 10k (Beach to Beacon, Aug. 5th), which kickstarted my more serious running. At the time, running six miles seemed like an awful lot. At the same time I also started hanging with a super cool and supportive group of more runny runners, people that run VERY FAR distances and have multiple marathons under their belts. Turns out that sort of thing rubs off on you. Before I even ran the 10k (my first race ever!) I had signed up for my first marathon (MDI Marathon, Oct. 15th).

You know that cliché (I think there’s a meme) about single people in their 20s and 30s watching enviously as their friends get engaged, get married, buy houses, have kids, etc? My recommendation to anyone who feels that they haven’t had a Life Event in awhile is to run a marathon. I’m very willing to believe that my friends and family are particularly incredible, but all the support and congratulations I’ve received have made me feel like a goddamn rockstar. Have I mentioned yet that y’all are the absolute best and I love you very much?

In lieu of any sort of race details, since most people reading this will have already heard all about it, here is a visual representation of the difference between the first half of the marathon (mile 7 I think) and the second half:

So I started out last year with exactly one winter running outfit that wasn’t even real run clothes. Now I have an Entire Drawer stuffed full of run clothes and spandex. I used to run so sporadically that I wore a single pair of run shoes from the summer of 2012 to March of this year, 2017, when they were literally falling to pieces on trail and had holes in the soles. Now, I’ve already run over 400 miles in the shoes I purchased mid-July. Oh, and I also do a pretty intense circuit training class twice a week (minus the three weeks resting for and then recovering from the marathon). When I started the class back in July I could barely bench press the 45 lb bar even once, and now I can usually do it for the full minute. Maybe soon I’ll add weights! Mostly my goal here is the pretty shallow one of turning fat into muscle and looking like as much of a badass as my genetics will allow (#buffquest!!!), but I’m also doing it for that teenage girl who was completely humiliated in high school gym class when they counted how many chin-ups/pull-ups you could do, in front of all the athletic popular kids, and she couldn’t even hang from the bar for a full second. Ever since then I’ve had a life goal of doing a pull-up—just one—and this is the first time in my life I’m actually consistently working in the right direction to make that happen.

To wrap up: I feel like I’ve changed a lot and come a long way. I’m going into November physically stronger than I’ve ever been, twenty lbs lighter, and with a higher confidence in my own abilities to stay a course and to do the things that I set out to do. There are still things in my life I am not proud of, there are things I am working on, and there’s an awful lot I’m still searching for. So, as always, an awful lot of journey still to do. For the next step, I’m gonna write 50,000 words in November, and I’m gonna keep running.

My Running Revolution

I started running again last week, and it’s changing my life.

The other day, my dear friend and email correspondent Constable Maelstrom and I discussed the concept of agency. How it’s easy to let things happen to you in life, and it’s easy to just float along and assume you can’t really control the stuff that makes you feel good, or the stuff that makes you feel bad. Well, as Constable Maelstrom said, to hell with that. When I went for a run last tuesday, I took agency in my life and my health. I said, to hell with not feeling good, and to hell with worrying about things I can’t control. What I can do, right now, today, is go running. I can do this good thing and choose to feel incredible, rather than letting the days pass me by.

Did I mention it was raining last Tuesday, when I took that first run of the year? I’m a warm weather person, and while I know that running is something I enjoy and something that enriches and improves my life, I have always allowed my running routine to be controlled by the weather. Tuesday was pretty daring for me, going running in the rain and the barely forty degrees. I went again Wednesday, when it was 37˚ and sunny. Lower than my ideal temperature, but I bundled up and did okay. Then, on Thursday and Friday, a cold wind blew. “It’s winter again,” I moaned. So much for my healthy routine! But it was sunny again on Saturday, so I did the thing and jogged around the block. On Sunday, it was cold. I sang in church, I joined my parents and their church group for corned beef and cabbage (and roasted carrots and Irish soda bread), I wrote most of a blog post, and we all finished Argo (which we’d started the night before. Good movie). At the end of the day, I felt kind of antsy and desperate. At dusk, and in just under 20˚ Fahrenheit, I went for a run.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was huge. Prior to this week, I’ve never gone running in temperatures under 40˚, and under 50˚ only on very rare occasions. On Sunday, I took agency away from the outdoor thermometer. I stood up and said, I’m the one who gets to control whether or not I run on any given day. Me. I get to choose.

Since then, it’s been awesome. On Tuesday, I ran in a snowstorm. On Wednesday, I ran through the post-snowstorm slush. Yesterday, even though I’d given myself permission to take the day off, I ran because I ate deep-fried seafood for lunch (so yummy) and I needed to do something healthy to counteract the sugar-sauce and the grease. I’ve been for eight runs in the past ten days, and I feel incredible. I have so much more energy for every aspect of my life. My tummy is shrinking at an alarming rate (anyone else excited for bikini season this year?), and I’ve had the courage to take agency in other things, like correspondence, creative work, and employment. Good things just keep happening. We had a great set at the pub last friday in which I barely messed up my harp solo at all, and then we left early to jam with old and new friends until midnight. I’m making exciting new friends, and I’m having exciting new conversations with some of the old and dear ones. I even found a job to apply for (read my last post on Writing with a Day Job!), and it’s valuable work for which I feel well-qualified. I can’t tell you how excited I am about everything—and I think it’s all happening because of the running, and because of my choice to feel great.

All good blog posts need a visual, so here is a photograph of me.

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It was taken in Thailand, looking across the river into Laos. Here’s what the photo doesn’t tell you:

On the day this was taken, I’d had a terrible morning. Imagine being stuck on a bus for two hours with the radio set on the sappiest, most saccharine english-language love songs you can imagine—within a month from the worst break up of your life. Plus, my legs were absolutely covered with bites from monster mosquitoes that itched with a persistance American mosquito bites can only dream of. It was was also getting to that point in the three-week trip where we’d had so many new and incredible experiences, almost more than I could take, with relatively little time to recharge. It’s also possible that I was hungover. We finally piled out of the bus into at least ninety-degree weather onto a rocky plateau, the sun a hard orb above, and went for a hike just below the cliffs where we could look across the river and see some cave paintings. I was cranky, antsy, upset, and full of that bad sort of energy that boils around inside and makes your skin crawl. Even though it was the sort of weather where you’d sweat your brains out just standing still, I needed to run. When we hit the the part of the trail that headed back over land to the bus, I cajoled one of the guys on the trip to join me in a run. And then, I ran my heart out. I sweated and huffed and barely kept up, but I set my feet against the hard rock and pounded forward into the blazing sun and the still air and ran out all my anger and frustration and heartache. This picture was taken that afternoon, and you have no idea how much sweat had drenched and dried into my clothing and hair, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of me from the whole trip.