Races No. 23 and 24

Just when I think I’m done running half marathons, I convince myself to run “just one more.” When I learned that the Haunted Half Marathon in Jonesborough, Tennessee, had a black cat as part of its logo and medal, I knew I needed to run it. Lesli and I rode together to the oldest (and most haunted) town in Tennessee to enjoy a perfect autumn weekend right before Halloween.

Jonesborough is the *perfect* little town to visit in autumn. We were there on October 25 and 26.

The start of the race wasn’t until 9:30 a.m., which is the latest I’ve ever started a race. (Normally these things start at 7 or 8 in the morning.) I was plenty ready to get going (and finish) well before it was time to line up.

The race was incredibly difficult, and not just because I wasn’t as well-trained as usual. The Haunted Half was advertised as having a route with “rolling hills,” but I assure you there was nothing rolling about them. There were REGULAR HILLS, not cutesy little rolling hills. Everyone in my pace group complained about the hills because we were all caught off guard and gasping for breath.

I finished with my second slowest time ever, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t in shape or because I didn’t feel like running. I couldn’t run those monsters. It would’ve killed my knees.

It’s all about the medal though. All I have to do is finish.

I was pretty sore afterward and wondered, per usual, if my racing days were over. Naturally, I signed up for another race that week.

On Saturday, I ran the Secret City Half Marathon for the second time. I still wasn’t impressed with the route (not much to look at) or the bathrooms (there were too few of them), but it was a local race that I could drive to, run, and drive home afterward.

Actually, either my MapMyRun app is way off, or the race directors miscalculated. I ran more than 13.1 miles on Saturday morning!

At any rate, it’s about the medals. Cheers to No. 24!

Now that I’m at 24, it seems silly to not run a 25th. Right?

Medal No. 22

I signed up for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon in the Smokies back in the summer, not yet knowing that I would be running a half marathon in England in October. I’d already met my personal goal of running 20 races by the time I turned 40, so now it is just a matter of running races to run them and bring home another medal.

However, by mid-week, I was seriously considering not showing up on account of the dismal weather forecast.

Those temperatures, when combined with 100 percent chance of rain, felt like a big NO in my book. I don’t run in extreme weather conditions, namely the middle of summer when the heat and humidity make East Tennessee feel like an oven. (I go to the gym and do yoga in the summer.) 

By Saturday morning, I was still leaning towards no. The forecast never improved or even shifted. I polled friends on Instagram and the majority said HECK NO, don’t run. 

The yellow bracket represents the time during which I’d be running. The race started at 7:30 a.m.

A small few, maybe six or seven, said DO IT.  A few messaged me and reminded me that I’d probably regret it if I didn’t at least try. I wasn’t aiming for a perfect time anyway. I surrendered the fantasy of PRs – personal records – a long time ago. My only goal now is to finish in one piece, and I honestly believe this basic rule to listen to my body has kept me injury-free for the last decade. 

I wasn’t alone in the indecision or concern. The race’s Facebook page was busy with discussion about travel worries and racers deciding it was too risky to cross mountains and plateaus to get to Sevierville. A few petitioned the race organizers to reschedule, but if you have any experience with the racing community, you’d know that wasn’t going to happen.

In the end, I went for it. I drove to Sevierville Saturday night and slept at my parents’ house, who’d only moved to the area last week. (Their house is 11 miles from the start line.) When I left for the race at 6:15 a.m., the weather was exactly as predicted – 35 degrees and raining. I upped my positive-self-talk game: “Only two hours of running and then you can take a hot shower. No big deal.”

Attendance was noticeably down from the last time I ran the Santa Hustle two years ago, and it was a bare-bones set-up. No local cheerleading teams or bands, no extra volunteers in cheerful holiday garb to make the event festive. People huddled around outdoor space heaters or stayed indoors. When the race started (late) at 7:35 a.m., people were ready to get the dang thing over with.

The first four miles was uneventful weather-wise. The steady rain had lessened to a light mist, and, once warmed up, the temperature felt nice.

Around mile five, the sleet arrived and hung around for the next three or four miles, properly soaking my legs and feet. I took two missteps and landed directly in puddles.

At mile nine, the sleet morphed into fat, puffy snowflakes, which pelted me in the face for a steady 45 minutes. 

By mile 12, I was over it. Done. Soaked to the bone and freezing. By the time I could see the finish line, I could also see – do my eyes deceive me? – my parents parked on the roadside. I waved to them, and they waved back, and then I noticed my mother was recording the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Woman running her direction. (The white Columbia jacket I bought for our U.K. trip was PERFECT for a long-distance run in wet weather!)

Despite the weather, the Santa Hustle 2018 was still not my worst race experience. The Oklahoma City Half in 2009 still reigns as the absolute worst. My time was a few minutes slower than normal, but I’m still within range of the last ten half marathons I’ve run. 

More than anything, I’m glad I did something hard when I was really tempted not to. 

The UK Trip: Days 1 and 2

I’ve already confessed to the number of photos I took throughout our 12-day trip. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, but whew – I’m overwhelmed. On top of my regular tasks and assignments, I will attempt to edit a chunk each day and post them within a reasonable time. (This goes against the temptation to pull an all-nighter and get them edited in one fell swoop.) 

Day 1, October 5/6: Chuck and I flew out of our hometown, a decision that warranted a little more money but paid off when we realized that, upon landing, we’d be home in 15 minutes. Well worth it! The connecting flight between here and Heathrow was Atlanta, and since Corey happened to be flying home from a business trip at the same time we were dropping in, we met near our gate for a quick goodbye dinner.

The flight was uneventful, minus the fact that I slept exactly zero minutes. Already a fitful sleeper, the Valium I took only helped me not freak out during take-off, flying over the ocean, and landing. I might have dozed here and there, but I didn’t sleep. Chuck didn’t do much better, so we knew a nap was going to be necessary once we got to the hotel. We landed just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, so we grabbed our luggage and headed to the rental car park.

‘Cause yeah – we rented a car!

I’m here to tell you that Chuck had no problem driving on the opposite side of the car or on the opposite side of the road. Only two or three times throughout the whole trip did we have to re-circle a roundabout because we missed our exit. (“Look, kids! Parliament!”) We guessed on the road signs and used the GPS to get us where we needed to be. We drove everywhere except to London since the train was more efficient.

Our first three nights were spent in Kingston-Upon-Thames, a market town about 12 miles west of London, home to Hampton Court, plenty of shopping, and where I ran my 21st race. Before checking into our hotel, we went to packet pickup so I could get my bib and chip. The last thing I wanted was to get lost and miss out. My body can handle only so much anxiety at once.

I didn’t know you could live on a riverboat on the Thames, but alas, you can.

After our nap, we explored Kingston and grabbed a meal at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a UK chain, then perused a five-story shopping mall to stretch our legs. However, since I was going to run a half marathon the next morning, we grabbed a dessert to go and went back to the hotel to rest.

Day 2, October 7: I woke up the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary refreshed and ready to run. This is not normal for me, as I have consistently slept poorly the night before a race for more than a decade. Not sleeping on the plane combined with not sleeping the night before our trip meant I slept like a baby exactly when I needed to. 

Also, the weather was perfect, a detail I did not anticipate for a half marathon in England.

And then I saw a Packers fan across the square. Her name is Elle and she’s been a fan of American football for ten years. I was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to meet her and she was sweet to take a photo with an American stranger. 

I wasn’t worried about my running time because I knew I’d stop to take photos of Hampton Court, a favorite of Henry VIII’s. I was so pleased to see it was along the route.

Medal No. 21:

There was no rest for the weary because we had plans to tackle London on our anniversary. I showered and ate breakfast as quickly as I could, then we caught the train to Waterloo. 

Dobby was also going to Waterloo.

The primary thing I learned while in London is that I am indeed a country mouse. Much of London reminded me of New York City, a city I enjoy visiting but would never want to call home. Neither my brain nor my body is built for that level of chaos or that number of warm bodies. 

That being said, we enjoyed everything London had to offer in the single day we visited. The Tower was a must-see, but the rest I was happy to tour on foot as a passerby.

One interesting thing we learned was that the Beefeaters, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower, live on site. The Tower is its own little community where the Yeomen Warders and their families live and work. 

I was particularly interested to view this site, a marker for the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn (among others). Her remains are buried inside the church on site (Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, or “Peter in Chains”).

We passed on waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels because, from the looks of it, we could’ve stood in line for several hours. Neither of us wanted to waste that kind of time. (Not to mention that I’d just run a half marathon, so standing in line sounded like Torture in the Tower to me.)

So, off we went to explore more of London.

I love me some flower boxes.

We walked by Westminster Abbey, where both Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip and William and Kate were married, plus where dozens of royals are buried. 

I couldn’t get enough of the flower boxes. Give me all the flower boxes. 

Jennie’s kid, Winston: 

Lunch was at a gloriously packed pub with football (soccer) on every screen. Fish and chips with cider became a favorite meal.

We walked by Buckingham Palace, but the Queen wasn’t home. Presumably, she was prepping for her granddaughter Eugenie’s wedding, which was later in the week. 

We took a series of selfies at the palace and Chuck decided to make a crown of fingers for himself. He was being a good sport with all of my monarchy obsessions. God bless him and his good spirits! 

A walk past the National Gallery provided us a quick view of street art we knew our little vexillologist would love. Indeed, Jackson enjoyed this photo of every national flag in chalk. 

George was there, too.

The sun was setting soon and we had plans to watch the Packers-Lions game at the Hippodrome Casino, an NFL ticket hub for Americans and fans of American football. It isn’t the most romantic way to spend an anniversary, but we make our own rules. 

The game did not end the way we wanted it to, but there, in London, on a dream trip together, it really didn’t matter. We grabbed the train back to Kingston and collapsed into bed. October 8 would have plenty of adventure on its own.

Up next: Hever Castle

Medal No. 20

Eleven years ago I entertained a personal physical challenge: could I run 13.1 miles? 

For some, that was a reasonable, attainable goal. For me, I wasn’t so sure. Never had I been an athlete. I grew up an overweight child and topped the scales at nearly 240 pounds by 14 years old.

Academic? Yes. Athletic? Not even a little.

By the time I graduated high school I’d dropped the weight but in the most unhealthy way. Though I eventually came to enjoy exercise, I also used it to punish myself. It was a cycle of nonsense that lasted throughout my college years.

After getting married and becoming a mother, I watched my body change slowly and caught a glimpse of the unhealthy girl I used to be. Even though I exercised moderately and ate reasonably, I knew I was a hop, skip, and a jump to a size and shape I didn’t want to be.

Then I saw one of my best friends train for and run a half marathon. Astounded and impressed, I wondered – could I do that? Could I run that far? 

As it turns out, I could. I ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in 2007 and was hooked immediately. Bawling at the finish line with a prize in hand that I earned through physical activity, I was ALL IN.  I ran another half in Louisville that year, followed by Chattanooga’s Scenic City Half in 2008. Encouraged and steadfast, I went back to Nashville that April for the Country Music Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I turned 30 that year and moved to Texas, and though I was tempted to let running wane on account of high elevation, dry air, and the craziest wind I’d ever experienced, I didn’t quit. I ran Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Dallas. I flew to Chicago and ran there too. 

Back to Tennessee we moved and I kept running. Knoxville, Atlanta, and Oak Ridge. Murfreesboro, Townsend, and Sevierville. At some point I decided I wanted 20 medals by the time I turned 40, and since I hate running in the blazing, suffocating heat of summer, I knew I needed to figure it out no later than May 2018.

Maryville, Farragut, and the Chickamauga Battlefield.

I remember when my sister and brother-in-law ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon years ago. They said the whole weekend was worthwhile, not just the race, and when I polled other runners online, the Flying Pig was mentioned again. A quick search revealed that 2018 would be the 20th anniversary of the race. 

Well, what do you know about that? Twenty is a good number, but I still needed Medal No. 19 if my goal to was make the Flying Pig my 20th. Off I went to Charleston, West Virginia.

In between 19 and 20, we lost Bill. I considered that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I shouldn’t go. The business of death in the aftermath can be lengthy, as many of us know. I questioned my priorities.

But then, getting out of town for a night offered a nice distraction. Plans had been made and I had trained. Logistically, it was doable. Cincinnati wasn’t necessarily close, but it wasn’t far either. We could zip in and out. Couldn’t we?

Yes.

The city overflowed, but that’s to be expected when a race draws 43,000+ runners on the same weekend as a Cincinnati Reds home game. Restaurants were packed, so we opted for quick meals and played pool back at the hotel. (Correction: the boys played pool while I stirred. My pre-race brain is singularly focused.)

Mercifully, I slept well and arrived at the start line with time to spare. Unlike the “no frills” races I’ve grown to love, the Flying Pig is ALL FRILLS. The energy in the air was palpable from start to finish. As always, the corrals were filled with people of all ages and abilities, people half my size and twice my size, serious runners and just-for-fun runners. If you think you can’t run a half marathon, then you haven’t seen a half marathon. These events are for everyone.

Miles one through three were a blur because I was too excited to think about it. I saw my family on the sidelines between miles four and five, so that carried me through mile six.

Then came the hills. VERY TALL STEEP KILLER HILLS. I had to walk a little, but that was fine because I ended up taking a photograph of the view from atop Mount Adams, an elevated suburb of Cincinnati. (See the bridge? The start line was well past it.)

What goes up must come down, so miles nine through twelve were pure delight. I made up for the walking and scurried back down to the city with no time to waste.

A few hundred feet from the finish line I saw my family again and started crying. I honest-to-goodness ugly cried.

Then I received my 20th medal and cried some more.

My official time was 2:21, which is typical for me. Not fast, not slow. Just right there in the middle. I stopped caring about my time ten races ago, so when I saw a shirt at the expo that said World’s Okayist Runner, I thought it was perfectly suited for me. I am totally the World’s Okayist Runner.

Of course, I don’t think I’ll stop at 20 medals. I’m eyeballing two more races this year because I have no reason not to run them. If they bring me this much joy, why not? Maybe I’ll run another 20 by the time I’m 50, or maybe I’ll stop counting races and make goals for other things.

Like headstands.

Medal No. 19

Are you ready for the longest race report ever?

There are a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t have run this half marathon. Yes, I was trained for it, or at least as trained as I get these days. The entry fee was low, it was a “flat and fast” course, and, with it being in Charleston, West Virginia, I could stay with Mamaw and visit my Aunt Gloria. Those were the things that convinced me to run it in the first place.

But things started to fall apart, as they sometimes do, and I considered not going just days before I was supposed to leave.

First, Chuck’s work week got extended, which meant he wouldn’t be home. No problem, I thought. I can take the boys with me! They need to visit their great-Mamaw anyway!

But then Salem got sick again – another block – and this time, the medicinal intervention wasn’t working. It all started late in the evening on Good Friday. We were waiting for family to arrive from Disney and I noticed Salem was crouching in odd places around the house. He grimaced, wouldn’t settle, and when I touched his belly, it was hard as a rock. I knew.

Off to the emergency vet we went at midnight, where he was catheterized to relieve the pressure off his bladder. By 6:30 a.m. I was paying the bill and transferring him to our regular vet, who spent the next two days treating him. By Monday, it wasn’t working. Pulling the catheter only made him block again, so a decision had to be made: Let him go or take him to the emergency vet in Knoxville for reconstructive surgery.

I wasn’t ready to let him go.

By Wednesday he was home with newly reconstructed urinary tract, stitches, and an Elizabethan collar (i.e., the Cone of Shame). I was to leave in two days for my race, but seeing as how he was heavily medicated and still wandering like a zombie, how could I leave?

More important than my cat’s health is my father-in-law’s health, and he is not well. Needless to say, there is a lot going on here. 

As I toyed with the decision to stay or go I got wind that my Aunt Gloria had fallen in the night and fractured her pelvis in three places. She was in a rehab center, so the pull to go to Charleston was now not just the race but also visiting her. I was torn.

Enter stage left: The BFF. Corey texted that she was ready and willing to come up Thursday night from Atlanta and stay through the weekend so I could run the race and visit my aunt in the hospital.

For real? She would keep the boys? Take care of Salem? Spend the last few days of Alex’s spring break in Tennessee?

Immediately I thought no way. That’s too much! It’s too much help. It’s silly! I could stay home. I should stay home. I’ll just stay home.

But no, she meant it, as best friends often do, so I accepted. She and Alex showed up late Thursday night, and after taking the boys to visit their Papaw, who’d been released from the hospital into hospice care, I packed my car and set off for a brief 24-hour stay in Charleston. I visited Aunt Gloria as soon as I arrived and stayed up for a short while talking with Mamaw. The race didn’t started until 8 a.m., but I’d missed the cut-off time for packet pick-up, so I needed to get to the University of Charleston no later than 7 a.m. to get my bib.

Naturally, since the lead-up to the race had already been tumultuous, I started to feel poorly as I went to bed Friday night. My stomach was wrecked, and I felt weak. What in the world was this cosmic punishment? I couldn’t settle in, couldn’t get comfortable. It felt like a million needles were penetrating my abdomen.

I barely slept. When I wasn’t writhing in bed I was on the floor of my Mamaw’s guest room holding yoga poses to ease the pain. When the alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., I’d dozed for few hours but didn’t sleep a wink.

This isn’t unusual, by the way. I rarely sleep well the night before a race, and it’s been this way for a decade, so nothing has improved in that area. I’m too nervous about potentially sleeping through my alarm, being late, and not being allowed to run. Personally, I think the pre-race anxiety helps me.

But feeling ill? That never helps. SOMEHOW, mercifully, despite the pain I suffered all night and the threat of snow that had me anxious, the race went well. I finished in my standard time frame, usually falling somewhere between 2:15 and 2:25. (The official time was 2:21.) Also, the pain in my abdomen subsided, which was curious considering how bad it was throughout the night. It did snow, but only a little, and the freezing temperatures were tolerable and kept me from overheating. (Give me a cold run over a hot run any day!)

West Virginia’s State Capitol with snow-capped trees behind it:

The University of Charleston is situated directly across from the capitol building on the other side of the Kanawha River, which made for a beautiful run. I’m sure the event organizers would’ve appreciated warmer weather.

Corey sent me photos from home, a sweet reassurance that all was well.

Salem made himself comfortable, per usual. This was Corey’s view Friday evening:

After a long, steaming hot shower, I had a quick bite of lunch with Mamaw and packed my things to go. My original plan was to stay much longer, but the original plan was long gone. I got on the road and headed home.

This should be the end of the story, but that’s hardly the case. My father in law continues to decline, and Salem is still wearing his Elizabethan Collar because his stitches haven’t been removed. I went to the doctor on Monday to see what in the world is going on with my insides, and Corey went home only to have her own family emergency unfold. Her wife, Gwen, fractured her tibial plateau – the very important load-bearing top of her tibia – at a training exercise for work, and now she’s facing multiple surgeries and months of recovery. It is a huge blow, particularly since Gwen, a police officer and exercise fiend, is not well-suited to a life of low-to-no mobility. 🙁

Yet, we all press on because that’s life. Lord willing, which I’ve learned to say more frequently now, I’ll run my 20th race in May. Should things fall apart again, maybe I won’t. Who knows?

Medal No. 18 and it’s finally fall in Tennessee

I ran a beautiful, dry half marathon Saturday afternoon and earned my 18th medal. My time was totally average, and my (new) phone survived because it did not rain.

Each year the Chickamauga Battlefield race medal represents an infantry from a different state, and I’m loving that this year the chosen state was Wisconsin.

The course was comfortable and well-paced. The uphills were slight and balanced by sloping downhills. The 360-degree views were a bonus.

You can’t tell from the photo above, which was taken with my phone, but the fall foliage finally showed up in the southeast. TOOK LONG ENOUGH. All of October went by and nothing happened. It was too warm, it was too dry.

But then November arrived and BOOM.

And then, Grandma showed up! I love surprise visits.

Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

Medal No. 16

For the first time in my long-distance running experience, I thought the race would be cancelled. The weather forecast ranged from a 70-90 percent chance of thunderstorms every hour for ten hours straight. There was no way around it. The race would go on rain or shine, but thunder and lightning would close it down. By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I was certain that I’d show up to the start line already drenched, maybe get a chance to start the race, only to have us pulled off the course for safety.

When I woke at 6:30, the sky was light gray, evidence that the storm hadn’t arrived yet. If it could only hold off a few hours, I thought. I readied myself and drove to the event with a few sprinkles on the windshield. Just hold off, I continued to pray. Just wait.

We started promptly at 7:30 a.m. The air was so damp that the humidity had to be 100 percent, but with the temperature at only 70 degrees, it wasn’t bothersome. As each mile passed, I counted the mileage that remained and felt grateful that the storms hadn’t arrived.

By mile six, a light drizzle began. No problem, I thought. I’m almost half way done. By mile eight, the drizzle turned into a gentle rain. Still, no thunder, no lightning. At mile ten, the rain got and stayed heavier, but with only three miles to go, I didn’t care. I was going to finish no matter what.

There were steep hills and a steady rain, and I’d only accomplished ONE long run (10 miles) while training, but I crossed the finish line in 2:22, in keeping with my usual pace (give or take). Once again, muscle memory and mental strength endured.

I spent the rest of Sunday in bed watching Masterpiece Theater episodes (Victoria) that had collected on my DVR. Occasionally, as I enjoyed pizza and homemade cookies, I’d glance over at my medal collection and feel grateful that I started running ten years ago. I am not stick-thin, and depending on the day, one might be surprised that I’m a runner at all. But I don’t run for anyone else. I run for me, for those medals, to combat the dysmorphia and to clear my head and to bring balance to my life.

Since summer in the South is unbearable, I’ll stick to the treadmill and lifting at the gym during the hottest months. Now I’m on the lookout for a couple of fall and winter races so I can keep adding to the collection. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day. 

Signs of Life Day Three

When I was 15 years old, I was easily 70 lbs. heavier than I am right now. I was unhealthy and insecure, but when I started Rollerblading on the weekends in an attempt to lose weight (hey, it was the 1990s!), I never thought it would lead to a lifetime of enjoying exercise.

Fast forward TWO DECADES and I’m still at it. Though my Rollerblades have long since been retired and replaced with running shoes, a gym membership, and a yoga mat, I still enjoy the mental and physical release exercise gives me. It is for my brain first and my body second.

It’s a curious thing, then, to still struggle with body image, self-esteem, and all that emotional garbage I’ve been carrying around for most of my life. It makes no sense whatsoever, but that is the nature of the beast. It is my lot. But I continue to exercise – and continue to love it – because this is the one body I have. There’s no swapping it out for another.

So today, after my workout was complete, I did the thing that I never do: I snapped a photo of myself at the gym. I felt silly doing it, but in that moment I wanted evidence that I am alive and healthy and able to do many things. 

One day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Medal No. 15 from The Santa Hustle

December has been a good month for our family. It started with the most amazing experience ever at Lambeau Field, then Jeremy killed his first deer – a five-point buck. Then yesterday, I ran my 15th race.

First of all, I scarcely trained. I do not recommend not training for a race and today I have the sore knees to affirm it. I have a strong base of running four or five miles a few times a week, but in the last couple of months, I only did two long runs (if you count eight miles as a long run). We were busy, plus East Tennessee was covered in smoke from all the November wildfires. Race training was an afterthought.

And yet, I knew I could run it. Muscle memory is a real thing.

An hour before crossing the start line, it was 26 degrees. I seriously considered wearing the complimentary Santa beard to keep my face warm. I didn’t wear it, but I considered it.

santa-beard

The course was mostly flat, save a few long and steady hills. Lots of runners dressed up in holiday costumes, like snowmen, reindeer, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. I stayed with my usual attire because, like a baseball player, I’m superstitious about changing it up.

I crossed the finish line in my usual time, grabbed a couple of bananas, and went to the car to go home. I remember when race weekends used to be full events with hotels and big dinners the night before. But now it’s old hat. I’ve done it 15 times, and while getting that medal is still a huge emotional and physical reward, the race experience has lessened from a group event to a singular one. I go, I run, I leave. And as long as my body allows it, I’ll keep doing it.

santa-hustle-medal-no-15

I spent yesterday laying in bed reading, watching football, and icing my knees. Guess who joined me?

post-race-snuggle-buddy

Favorite Thing: Yoga with Adriene

My relationship with Yoga is long and sordid. We’ve been on-again, off-again for years. I’ve tried to make it work. I’ve put in extra effort, and I’ve half-assed it. I dabble, then I quit. Yoga and I are just so complicated, so combative. Yoga’s all, “Come on, try me again,” and I’m all, “No. You suck.”

And then I found Adriene.

Yoga with Adriene

Some random day during a random week in 2015, a Yoga with Adriene video popped up in my YouTube feed. She looked warm and friendly, like we could chat in the grocery line and realize we were meant to be friends. I clicked on the video. Her voice was sobering. I watched a few poses, then I tried them.

It’s fair to say that Yoga and I are working steadily on our relationship again. For the first time, I have hope.

Unlike my small collection of yoga DVDs, Adriene takes it down a notch. Not the intensity or creativity of her workouts, but rather the fancy-pants language of the yoga practice. Yes, she occasionally throws Sanskrit here and there, but she talks us through each step. She explains what each body part is supposed to be doing, how it’s supposed to feel, and modifies the poses for those who are less or more experienced. She doesn’t assume you know everything, and yet, even if you do know everything, you don’t feel like you’re in a beginner’s class.

Adriene is just so… easy. Mind you, yoga is NOT easy. It is not just a bunch of stretching. It is a string of positions that pulls your muscles to full tension and opens up joints to their capacity. Not all yoga instructors are easy to follow or even easy to watch, but following Adriene’s instructions are so calming and encouraging. She is constantly praising us, telling us how great we’re doing. For me, that’s huge.

It would be easier to stop trying yoga and stick to running and lifting at the gym, but the practice is always worth it in the end. My joints feel looser, more flexible. My posture gets a little straighter and my core gets a little tighter. It’s the sort of strength training you cannot achieve with weights. I push myself a little harder each time, and sure enough, it pays off afterward.

Adriene in namaste

If you’ve tried and failed at a regular relationship with Yoga, consider Adriene. Here’s three things I love:

  1. Her YouTube channel makes it easy peasy. All you need is WiFi and some floor space. No gym membership, no equipment needed. I don’t even have a yoga mat. (However, I do encourage you to wear tight-fitting clothes – tank tops and leggings or something similar. Loose clothing and yoga are not companions.)
  2. Her video variety is wide. Beginners to experts, 20 minutes to an hour, yoga for weight loss, yoga for relaxation, yoga for certain times of the month, etc. If you can’t find a video to suit your needs, you’re too needy.
  3. Adriene provides exactly what you need, nothing more, nothing less. In the beginning I used to skip the warm up/cool down breathing, but then I realized I was short-changing myself. The prep work really is necessary for an effective workout, and the cool down is a peaceful way to wind down. Unlike my yoga DVDs and other online yogis I’ve tried, the warm up/cool down time isn’t lengthy. It’s just enough to get you started and get you finished.

Medal No. 14

I ran in the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon yesterday morning as part of a relay team, which is the first time I’ve ever run a race with partners. Usually running is my singular thing – no teamwork required, just me from start to finish. However, a few months ago I started asking my running friends if they’d be interested in running on a relay team. I had no idea what the logistics would be, but as long as a I got a medal, I figured it was worth it.

It was, by the way. It was totally worth it. Even though Chuck and Tracy’s husband had to taxi us to relay points, even though I had to run with my cell phone (which I never do) to stay in communication with my team, and even though I fretted over innumerable possibilities that would ensure relay failure, it was all worth it. In the end, it was just fine.

There we are crossing the finish line two by two – Tracy and me in front, Lesli and Hayley behind.

Approaching the finishline

The finish line is in Neyland Stadium, which is my favorite feature about this race. (I earned Medal No. 10 in this race four years ago.) The announcer calls out your name as you cross over and your finish moment is displayed on the Jumbotron. (Thanks for snapping the photo, babe.)

On the jumbotron

Our overall time was 5:09:30, which is a bit faster than when I ran a full marathon in 2008. The legs distances varied – 6.3, 6.5, 7.5 (my leg), and 5.9. Regardless of who ran which distance, we all got to cross the finish line together and enjoy the euphoria of getting medals placed around our necks. There is nothing like it.

Group photo in Neyland

Will I run another relay? Perhaps. I would run another relay with these ladies, for sure. If anything, I’m on the right track towards getting Medal No. 15.

Today is not that day

A couple of firsts

The past two weekends served as firsts for Jeremy. Instead of trick-or-treating (which was a first in itself), he went on his first official deer hunt. He and Chuck have been planning this season for months. Though they didn’t come home with meat for the freezer, they had a ball together and look forward to giving it another solid try in a couple of weeks.

Jeremy's first hunt

Yesterday Jeremy joined me on a 5K, something he’s been asking to do for a while. He ran hard much of the time, only stopping to walk on a few steep hills. We took Major along since the race was pet friendly, and though I wasn’t sure how this whole event would go, but I couldn’t have planned it any better. Major got a ton of attention from the crowd and pulled me down the road like a sled dog. The three of us crossed the finish line together.

Jeremy's first fivek

Me and Jeremy at his first 5k

Now he’s asking to do an 8K. Like mother, like son!

Also, Jeremy wrapped another soccer season this weekend and Jackson had evaluations for Upward Basketball. One sport for one kid at a time.

Though the weather has been drizzly and cold, the rain held off for the Tennessee-South Carolina game on Saturday, for which Jackson and I had tickets. It was stressful and emotional and we both had panic attacks in the third and fourth quarters, but the Vols pulled out a win so we drove home happy.

Me and Jackson at the UT SC game

We have been entirely too busy lately, and even though many of our plans and obligations have been worthwhile, it will do us well to take a step back for November and December. If we don’t slow down, it will be 2016 in no time.

Medal No. 13

First of all, I’ve added a new page to this site dedicated to running – the races I’ve run in the past, why I started running in the first place, what it means to me to cross a finish line… If you’re interested, check it out.


I’m shocked to report that my 13th race went smoothly. More than smoothly. It was fantastic. The forecast for thunderstorms never came to fruition, the rolling hills of the course were scarcely hills at all, and my lack of training was trumped by muscle memory. I finished at 2:15, my third best time ever.

Medal No. 13

The medal is gorgeous and the biggest in size so far. Organized by Vacation Races, the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon is one of eight races that happen alongside our National Parks, so as you can imagine, the views are amazing. The GSM Half was described in Runner’s World as “tranquil,” a term I found laughable because when is running 13 miles tranquil?

Sure enough, they were right – at least partly. The first nine miles were completely tranquil as we ran along the banks of the Little River. The earliest fall leaves fell gently overhead. The cool weather kissed my skin. I kinda didn’t notice how my knees ached. It wasn’t until we turned onto a four-lane highway (or rather, the pathway next to it) that I remembered, “Oh yeah. This is a road race. My knees ache. Are we only on mile 10?”

The race was well organized and seemingly well attended. The swag was worth the money because whoever is in charge of their illustrations rocked it. My favorite is this poster – all the racers names make out the shape of the park.

Race map with names

My name

Now I’m hungry for medal no. 14, so if y’all have any suggestions to grab another medal this calendar year with little to no travel, let me know.

Throwback to when I trained for races

I’m running a half marathon on Saturday and this is pretty much the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a race. The summer was blazing hot and humid, so I hardly ran, and when I did start running outside, life got busy. School started, obligations got heavy, and the last two weekends went in a way no one expected.

So I have 13 miles to run and I’ve not run more than 8 or 9 in the last month. Some might say it’s no big deal and I’ll do fine, and that may be true, but if you’ve ever run a race before then you know the challenge is mostly in the mind. My body may have the muscle memory, but my brain is saying, “You’ve eaten too many cupcakes.”

This Throwback Thursday is my own kick in the pants. I can totally do this. I may not have the most stellar time and I might have to do more walk/run intervals than I’d normally prefer, but I can do this.

Right? Three cheers for Lucky No. 13.

medals 2007-2009medals 2009-2014

In order: Country Music Half Marathon (2007), Louisville Half (2007), Scenic City Half (2008), Country Music Marathon (2008), Oklahoma City Memorial Half (2009), New Mexico Half (2009), Chicago Half (2009), Rock ‘n Roll Half in Dallas (2010), Knoxville Half (2012), Georgia Half (2012), Secret City Half (2013), and The Middle Half (2014). 

TBT: The first race

Running The Middle Half with Lesli was special, not only because it was held in the city where we met, but also because I credit her with getting me into running races. She ran her first half marathon in 2006 and I was so inspired by it that I wanted to do the same thing.

She joined me for my first (her second) and together we ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville on April 28, 2007. Had Lesli not tested her own will to run 13.1 miles, I’m not sure I would have.

Gotta love the picture quality from an old Samsung flip phone:

First half marathon

Medal No. 12 and Race Report

The odds were not in my favor. I’d not trained as well as I should have and whatever is spawning in East Tennessee right now invaded my sinuses with a massive army. The pressure in my ears is unreal. Chuck’s work travel schedule interrupted my travel plans to Middle Tennessee and that meant childcare had to be rearranged. And then there was tons upon tons of rain.

After sorting out a list of details and we were finally the road to Murfreesboro, Lesli and I encountered a large dog in the road who wasn’t fazed by interstate traffic. Even though I swerved to miss him and all the traffic swerved to miss me, I wondered if the Universe was trying to tell us something. The forecast for race day was wet with the potential for thunder and lightning. They won’t cancel the race for rain, but they would for storms. How annoying would that be after all we’d already endured!

We made it in time to pick up our bibs and enjoy dinner with friends. Take that, Universe!

With Lesli after packet pick up

Continue reading “Medal No. 12 and Race Report”

Time to Train

It’s hard to believe I went a full year without running a race. Even though I participated in an 8K in 2013, I did not earn a medal, and I’ve been grappling with that frustration for months.

This is my medal collection to date: One full marathon and ten half marathons.

Medal Collection

I love this display dearly. Chuck commissioned an artist to create the background and then pulled together a shadow box with hooks to display the medals.  It hangs on the wall in our bedroom, right next to the treadmill. I see it every morning when I wake up and every evening before I fall asleep. But what I see is not necessarily what you see.

You see 11 medals.

I see an empty spot.

Empty spot

It’s a smug little spot too, jabbing me every chance it gets, taunting and teasing and telling me I’m lazy.

Well, forget you, Empty Spot! I’ve signed up for a race. So THERE.

That means I’m carving out time to run longer distances and sticking to a schedule to help get me back to 13 miles. It’s not that I stopped running in 2013, but I probably haven’t run more than six miles since November 2012.

Guess who is really excited about training? As soon as I lace up my shoes, he’s at my feet wagging his entire body.

Running shoes

Major wants to run

Let me translate this precious face for you: I see your shoes. I LOVE those shoes. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh. TAKE ME TOO. Oh please, oh please, oh please. Can I go? Just say it. Just say that one word. PLEASE MAY I GO? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. JUST SAY THAT WORD.

Major pre-run

To which I reply, “Do you wanna go?”

Then he wiggles and barks and tries to contain himself while I hook him to the leash. We run and we both love it and he gets all the attention because he’s beautiful.

Finally, there’s the aftermath, when he melts into the floor and sleeps for three hours. ♥

Major post-run

Squirrel!

I’m happy to report that Major is getting better and better at walking on a leash. In fact, I love taking on short-distance runs. He’s done so well with –

SQUIRREL!

– walking on his Gentle Leader that it’s been a pleasure to take him to the park. The only thing –

SQUIRREL!

– that we’re still working on is keeping his attention focused –

SQUIRREL!

– on the walk. Being a coonhound with a proficient nose, you can imagine how –

SQUIRREL!

– distracted he can get. Still, taking him for short runs allows us both get out some energy and enjoy the nice weather.

(Click here for the SQUIRREL! reference.)

Major runs Major's Gentle Leader

On improving my flexibility

There is a double meaning in that headline, so hang on tight.

I’m in the middle of a running sabbatical brought on by shin splints. I’ve never had shin splints before so I was hesitant to label my lower leg pain as such. But after consulting my chiropractor about it (and making sure nothing was fractured), she confirmed that it was likely that I had shin splints and said I needed to stop running for at least two weeks, maybe four. My spirit was crushed because I’ve never not run for more than a week in the last seven years. This is what I do. Whether it’s a quick two miles or a lengthy 10-miler, I run every week. To NOT run is not only hard on my body but it’s increasingly hard on my brain. Regular runners will know what I mean.

While still evaluating me, which included stretching my legs all over the room to capacity, my chiropractor mentioned, “You’re really inflexible. Your hamstrings are pretty bad.”

I defended my hamstrings by telling her they’ve always been that way and I personally think they were made too short. I’m ten feet tall, after all. My hamstrings are doing their best. She dismissed my excuses and said I needed to spend this running sabbatical stretching and doing yoga, because, “You need to be more flexible.”

Now let’s switch gears.

When I started my Lenten journey last week, I made a promise to God and myself that I would keep an open mind. Whatever He was going to teach me, I was going to roll with it. I wouldn’t dismiss anything off the bat, nor would I just accept something because. To do this, I’ve given myself a few parameters, the first being that I will only read books that are thought-provoking, a little controversial, or uncomfortable. Nothing warm and fuzzy, because I’ve had a lot of warm and fuzzy and those lessons were not long-lasting.

I’m currently reading Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps. Wouldn’t you know there was all this stuff about flexibility.

The difficulty with the Christian religion is that our institution is centered on the person of Jesus, and Jesus consistently undermined the natural inertia of institutions. He was the embodiment of pure, unbridled creative force.

Creativity is often disruptive. It has little interest in preservation; it is about making new things and making things new. Creation by nature is always expanding, growing, and unfolding. Jesus upends, revives, and restores the malleability of our rigid religions.

I lived in California for a few years. I learned that the best way to prevent an earthquake from destroying a building is to construct the building so that it can sway and swoon, bend and wobble. Make a foundation of the building less rigid and it will ride the earthquake rather than try to resist it. The building is designed to go with the flow.

The same is true of our religion – what doesn’t bend may break. This simple lesson in physics applies to even our souls. The ability to bend and flex matters. We might say blessed are the flexible for they won’t get bend out of shape.

(page 38, emphasis mine)

Well, hello God. Here you are stretching my mind just like we agreed. Like my hamstrings, the religious section of my brain has spent years in limited flexibility, and like my  hamstrings, I’m going to give it a little more attention.

Instead of Dublin

I’ve been perusing half marathon lists for the last week trying to pin down a race. After seven years of running, I’ve learned that it’s essential to have some sort of goal to run towards (literally) if I have any intention of ever running farther than three miles. I’m leaning towards something in Kentucky or Ohio, but I’m totally daydreaming about the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Series in Europe. Edinburgh, Madrid, Oslo, Nice.  It’s private torture just to look at the websites.

But on the off chance Chuck was interested in charging up a credit card so I could run a race in Europe, I threw it out there.

“Hey, I could run a half marathon in Dublin in August!” I said. It was a shot in the dark from a thousand yards away but I put as much enthusiasm into it as I could.

“Oh yeah?” he replied. There was a pause, then, “How about I put on the Travel Channel and pour myself a Guinness while you run on the treadmill?”

Point taken.

So yeah, I’m looking at Kentucky or Ohio. Any suggestions? I’m open to the Carolinas too.

If you’re thinking of running, DO IT. It’s quality time spent with you.

Eventually