Lifting the Veil

“The hardest story to write is always the one you struggle to tell the most.”

This is what I typed a few minutes ago. Then, I look at the sentence and laughed. Well, duhI thought to myself, That’s pretty obvious.

What meant to say was:

The hardest story to tell is the one you need to write the most.

or maybe

The story you need to tell the most is the one you struggle to write.

That’s the place that I have been in. I know there’s a story I need to tell, but I haven’t been able to share real words about it yet. Because I haven’t really felt like myself for about two or three weeks now.

It’s a little terrifying, to be honest. When I’m trapped in an anxious state like this, it’s as though there’s a veil behind my eyes that separates me from the rest of the world. It’s not active, necessarily– it’s not as though I can’t do my job or generally act like myself. It’s more subtle than that. I remember conversations after they happen, but feel as though I’m watching them in the third person instead of having lived them. My students notice when I misspell easy words (“fued,” “Aril”), or switch them around completely when I speak. I write sentences like the above, which are a bit nonsensical.

This has happened before, of course. I’ve been dealing with anxiety since my childhood and all of these things point to an incoming panic attack. The difference now, though, is that my life is actually, truly happy and stable. There is no big “thing”– relationship worry, job concern, etc.– that will trigger an attack. In the past, there has always been something that my anxiety could latch on to– whether or not I admitted it– that could set me off and, at the very least, allow me to have the attack, get the anxiety brewing inside of me out, and help me move forward.

It’s the most hilarious problem to have, in some ways. Now that I can’t default my normal ways of “bursting the bubble,” I have no choice but to face it. I try and breathe through it. I try drinking or not drinking. I went to yoga twice this week and am working out daily. I am attempting everything I can to be “okay.”

I will think I’m fine, but then something will happen that reminds me that, actually, my body isn’t yet mine. One Saturday, after a wonderful writing workshop, I was standing in the middle of Foodland when the world around me went fuzzy and I suddenly felt like I could no longer stand. The rest of the day was hours spent of trying to work through nausea, lightheadedness, and worry. I didn’t run the half-marathon I’ve done annually for the first time in 4 years, unsure if my body would be able to. This feeling lasted for days, and each morning I’d wake up hoping this would be the day my anxiety lifted away, and at some point, my chest would begin to bubble, my heart race and my throat close, as it hit me that I am still separated somehow from my reality.

Yet, somehow, having anxiety is not the end of the world. Unlike the past, I’m still able to function well, laugh and love and be loved, despite the looming veil of clouds on the horizon. With the exception of that one weekend, I am able to have this anxiety and still feel, well, happy.

Which is a weird reality to sit in. For so long, my anxiety was the monster I ran from, the black smoke that swallowed me whole when it came, leaving me gasping and weeping on the floor. Now, I am in a place where I can still live a generally happy life, if only behind the veil a little.

And it does eventually lift.

Michael and I were preparing for our Friday morning workout when, out of nowhere, my body broke into a sweat and began shaking uncontrollably. I sat on the ottoman by the door, back flat against the wall, trying to breathe, as Michael got ready in the other room, not knowing I was fighting through a storm.

“What’s wrong baby?” He asked, as soon as he saw my face. I shook my head and said I just needed a minute. He came over, stood in front of me, and rubbed my back for a moment. “We don’t have to go,” he said quietly.

“No! No. I want to go. I can go. I can… I just…”

“Just breathe.” He responded immediately. “Just breathe. It’s okay.”

And just like that, the wave broke. I leaned my forehead against his chest and my hand on his back, as if to steady myself against the storm. I started to sob, crying into his shirt as everything inside me whirled about. He stood there, ever my rock, as the storm raged through me.

Then, things settled. I took a long, shaking breath. The clouds began to dissipate.

And there I was. Somehow, slowly, feeling the light of myself shine through again.

Michael asked me later why I hadn’t told him I was feeling so disconnected. “There wasn’t anything anyone could do,” I shrugged. “So it made sense to say to just wait for it to go away.”

“But I could’ve known,” he pushed me. “That way I could understand better.”

For the first time, I realized that panic is not always the monster I have to battle or run from. Panic can just be the sometimes-storm-cloud in my forecast, and I don’t have to wait for it to pass alone anymore. 

It is not perfect (as the sentences at the top of this post show). I was still tired much of yesterday and today. I am still catching myself a bit out of it, but finding a quick shake of the head brings me home. While I am still recovering from this cycle of anxiety, I at least feel like the veil is lifting and I’m seeing the world as myself again. Yesterday morning, I stood under the shower, feeling the water hit my scalp as I dug grains of sand out of my hair from the day before. I inhaled deeply and rejoiced that, in the solitude of my simple, little shower, I was able to finally be my full self.

I smiled then, relieved to realize that these little moments– while lacking in drama or intrigue– are the things making up the happy life I have wanted for a long, long time.

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Maybe One Day

I never know when the urge will overtake me.

Something will happen– I’ll see a name pop up on social media, get a notification from an old email– and then I’m down the rabbit hole. I’ll sign into old accounts and start uncovering a past that I forget I didn’t want to remember to begin with.

It’s innocuous at first. Old job applications and embarrassing emails to former bosses when I was in college. A few exchanges between friends. The memories are often funny and ridiculous. It is fun to be transported back.

Then, I see a name. The Big One. The one that rips me to shreds when I do not expect it, and terrifying memories pop and crackle behind my eyelids like flashes from gunfire. It hits me right in the chest and, for a moment, I cannot breathe.

I do not want to waste time nor anger on him. I just want to grieve and move on.

This day, though, and not for the first time, I begin typing the name into Facebook and search engines.

What happened to him? Where did he end up? Why am I looking? Maybe if I can put him into some kind of current context, I can staunch the flood of memories that runs through my veins.  I find very little– a few research papers he published, a mention of him in a club– and one picture that I dare not open, because the face in the thumbnail is enough to make my stomach drop.

I close my eyes. Close the windows, I beg myself. You don’t need to do this anymore.

I can’t tell you why I do this, but I wish I knew how to stop. As much as I will myself to forget, I know a part of me will always bear the mark; a burning red thread woven down my spine, through my belly, will always live there. No amount of time will ever make it go away. It will wear down, slowly, until it is barely visible, but what happened will always be stitched in.

And yet, even if I were to unstitch myself, there would be a permanent hole where the thread– wound of the sights, smells, and images I’d rather forget– once was. I’m not sure which is better.

It’s surprising and not that, even with my skilled internet sleuthing, I cannot find him. It’s strange in this day and age for anyone to be unfindable on the internet, yet he was a self-described “misanthrope” (I had forgotten that until I saw it in one of our final email exchanges) who mocked social media, even a decade ago when it was still new and exciting.

I, on the other hand, am very findable on social media. A quick search of my name will usually land here, or to some other profile with pictures and life updates. It’s a part of the job, in some ways, and I honestly really enjoy connecting people with online. That’s what I tell myself, at least.

But there are times, like now, when I am clinging to the sides of a dark well that echoes his name at the bottom, that wonders if he ever remember me the way I do him. Does the image of my face, my smile, my eyes welling with tears, sneak up on him the way his does to me? Does he round a corner and hear my voice whisper, “Boo!” into his ear, a spectrum calling him down a dark well of a different kind?

He never acknowledged anything after. Once, in the months after, I would get angry and bold and send a text message saying, simply, “I hate you.” It was the only time I had allowed myself to be openly bitter. I still have his number burned into my brain, even now,  but he was an adult (hadn’t he also been an adult when it happened?) and never responded.

So, now the thread hangs there, and I wonder if the other half is wound into him. Does he feel it sometimes? When he does, does he search for me as I have? Does he gingerly, slowly, type my name into a search bar– each clack of the keys asking, “Are you sure?”– and see my smiling face– now molded and thinned out over the past twelve years– on his screen?

As much as I hate to admit it– I hope that he does. He slipped silently out of my life, but I will not afford him that luxury. I will not go voiceless. If he remembers me and looks for me, my face is there, my smile ringing like a bell that will not be silenced.

Maybe one day I will find out something about him but, for now, all I am left with is his  name. I search, let myself whisper it quietly, and close my eyes. The thread starts to burn. My eyes start to sting and I feel my chest twinge. I let myself cry, try and heave it out of me. Instead, my breath is bitter and hot in my throat, his name fouling me from the inside out.

I force my hand to my chest, rub my heart, and try and drown out the bitter, festering taste of his memory. I remember my mother’s hand rubbing my back wordlessly as I cried. I feel a friend’s hand squeezing mine. I picture the man I love and the men I loved before and after it happened. I inventory every kiss I had or body I touched, special in that I had choice, in that I willed them into existence. I think of all these things and, slowly, the memory burning inside me slowly cools down.

Maybe one day I will be able to remember without needing to look, or notice the thread slipping through me, shrug, and move on.

Maybe, one day, I will no longer see the name and feel my body burst to shrapnel. I will breathe deeply, easily, and let it go.

Maybe, one day, I will be able to say his name without my breath turning bitter, but instead taste communion wine, stinging, but softened with forgiveness and redemption and mellowed as it brewed in my heart.

Maybe, one day, I will simply move on.

Maybe.

HURT: Pacing the 2018 HURT 100

It is 3 A.M., and despite how strong and capable he his, I am a little worried about the man in front of me. He is still smiling, yes, and takes a gulp of Pepsi as he sits and looks around. Then, he meets my eyes and the smile fades.

“This,” he says, “is really hard. This is crazy. I want to be done with this already. I want to be done.”

It’s an understandable desire, since Tim, the man in front of me, has currently run 67 miles. It makes sense that he is ready for this to be over. The problem is, though, that he still has another 33 miles to go before this race is over. He has more than 12-hours of running left, so while he has already done amazing work, he is far from the end.

Still, in his own form of resurrection, Tim gets up and, with the help of his pacer Justin, starts to shuffle off to complete his fourth loop of the race. I am grateful that, after the earlier moment of vulnerability, Tim has gotten up with a smile as he said, “See you soon!”

I’m grateful, because I know that I won’t just see him soon, but I’ll be meeting him in five hours to run the last twenty miles of this race with him. He’s got the hardest job– making it to the end. I’ve taken on the task of doing everything I can to help him get there, and I can already tell it’s going to be quite an adventure.


Tim Griffiths of Three Forks, MT, has been nothing but positive the entire time we’ve known each other, which is about two weeks come race day. He already has a few hundred-milers under his belt, and has an optimistic and realistic mindset about doing what he can and simply focusing on trying to finish. He’d done it before, and he was hopeful he could do it again.

This isn’t just any race, though. Tim is taking on the HURT100, one of the most technically difficult trail races out there. It’s five loops on O‘ahu’s wet, muddy. root-strewn trails, making not only physically hard, but mentally challenging as well. The documentary Rooted captures it really well: it’s a crazy, amazing adventure that tests so many things about an athlete’s capacity and capability to commit to the joy and pain of distance running.

Still, it sounds crazy when you first consider it.

I mean, who would run 100 miles? That sort of distance is ridiculous– a laughable fool’s errand at best, but an overwhelming and dangerous prospect in the eyes of some. A marathon is already a crazy distance. Who would do that nearly four times over?

I can’t claim to, completely, understand why someone would run 100 miles– because I still haven’t done it (yet?). I do, however, stand in awe of the people who do it. This year, after continuing my own running journey, I decided to get a little closer to the action by volunteering and then, at the last minute, offering to pace Tim. 

I had learned a few weekend before, though, that this was no normal twenty-mile run. Trail running and road running are more like cousins than siblings. I have cousins, for example, that are six-foot tall basketball players. We share a few similar features, and there’s a lot of love between us, but there are some ways in which we are very different.

Running the HURT100, as I was taught by some awesome folks who joined me on my practice loop, is much less about pace than road running. The course is so technical, there are a whole lot of sections that are much more like scaling a mountain– including climbing over roots and rock faces– than actually running a race. At the end, also, it’s much less about an actual time and more about staying in a good mindset, healthy (lots of racers end up twisting their ankles and having to drop) and moving forward. 

So, my job when I meet Tim later that morning, was to help ensure he stayed in good spirits, kept eating and drinking as much as he could, and getting him whatever he needed.

I see Tim again at about 9AM the next morning. He is two hours behind his initial plan, with the fourth lap taking its difficult mental toll. Lots of runners, I both learned in the documentary and Tim told me later, struggle with that fourth loop– it’s well out of sight from the end, takes place in complete darkness, and begins reaching the point when runner’s are no longer simply tired, but sleepy as well.

So, when Tim comes in a little late, his wife and I are a little nervous, but not overly worried that he’s off schedule. His initial plan was ambitious, and we’ve heard he’s still in good spirits. He also still has more than 9 hours to complete the final loop of the race, and as long as he’s able to keep close to his current pace, he should have more than enough time.

When Tim finally runs in to the aid station, the sound of cowbells that congratulate all runners fills the air. He is followed by Justin, head-banded and tutu’d, as they come in. Tim, ever the optimist, waves at me and gives us a big smile. “You’re here!” he exclaims. “You ready?!”

“Hell yeah!” I respond. We know it’s time.

But first, there’s some wounds to tend to. Tim’s crew– lovingly made up of his wife, two kids, mother and step-father– start prepping him for this final lap. Shoes are removed, to discover massive blisters on his feet that need to be lanced and drained for him to go forward. This is as painful as it sounds, and Tim scrunches his face as he drinks Pepsi, coffee, and eats as many peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips (refueling his protein, carbs, and sodium are key at this point) as he can.

He sits dazed for a moment as his crew prepares his body, while he prepares his mind for what’s to come. Then he looks up at me. “You ready for this?” he asks, with a wry smile on his face. “We gotta go. We gotta get moving.”

I nod, putting up a fist for him to bump. “Alright,” I respond, “then let’s do this thing.”

He nods, smiles at his family, and we head off. The sound of his crew’s cheers and cowbells follows us, and we try as hard as we can to suck up its energy as get ready for this final, arduous loop ahead of us.


You have to keep him talking, I think to myself as we climb up the hill.

This is what Tim’s family and pacers have told me as I prepped to help Tim out. He needed to get his mind out of what some runners would call “the dark place.” It was something I knew all too well (heck, I had it yesterday at mile 6)– the mental state you go into when you’re tired or it just feels hard, and the idea of doing this for another minute seems unbearable. Part of my job was to help Tim focus on anything other than how crazy this journey was, and help him find the energy to finish this race strong.

And here’s where my nerves kicked in– I’m not used to talking while I run. This is why I run solo. Running is, so often, where I finally find quiet, that the prospect of having to talk with him is a little daunting.

But, as this site has likely shown, I do love a good story, and I love to hear the stories of other folks. So, without thinking, I start asking Tim every question I can think of. How has the race been so far? How are you feeling? Are you excited to say good-bye to these places? 

Tim starts answering, a smile on his, face slowly growing, as he realizes that this, finally is his final loop. “This is crazy!” he hoots. “I have never seen anything like this! How is this a race?!”  He starts to laugh. “I can’t wait to be be done with this.” 

“I know,” I start to laugh along with him. “So let’s get this done!” 

He nods, puts his head down, and starts to get us to work. 

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The rest of the race passes in a blur of steps– all kinds of steps. Trot-to-jog-almost-running steps. Slow, slogging, hands-on-thighs steps up hills. Careful, climbing over roots-and-rocks steps. The mental aspect of continuously moving the body for hours on end, unable to rest because we have to be constantly vigilant to ensure we don’t get lost or fall, is exhausting.

Still, it is also incredibly joyful– in the fullest sense of the word– to watch Tim work towards this amazing achievement. He breathes deeply through his nose, working his way up the nastier slopes, staying positive as he tells me about how much he loves his wife and kids, how he started bow hunting, what his life in Montana is like.

And through it all, we keep moving. DCIM105GOPRO

Eventually, through Tim’s hard work and the grace of God, we make it to the final aid station– Jack-Ass Ginger, on the Nuuanu Pali trail– meaning we only have 8.5 miles to go till the end. About a mile from the aid station, I had asked Tim what he needed– Pepsi, coffee, food. I had fallen at this point, and so my hands are covered in mud.

As soon as we get up there, I start asking his crew and all the nearby volunteers for what he needs. As I do this, though, other folks immediately take over so I can take care of myself. Someone, without my asking, grabs my hands and starts wiping the mud off them. Rebecca, another awesome teacher and runner who is volunteering, hands Tim and I smoothie after smoothie to fuel us to the end. Someone slips a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth. Everything around us is full of so much love and support. It’s a little overwhelming.

But there’s no time to be overwhelmed. We have to get moving.

Tim is feeling jovial for these final few miles. After a three mile climb, the last five miles is almost completely downhill. The climb is incredibly hard, but knowing that the end is near keeps Tim feeling excited.

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Then, though, we get to the final four miles, and Tim is pushing, but I can tell it’s getting hard. He’s feeling it, now, saying that as much as he is determined to get to this finish line– and he is damn determined– he is starting to feel it. While he is still positive, and greeting every one who we meet on the trial and who roots us on, he occasionally intersperses it with moments where he admits that he is in pain. He is cheered on by folks as we pass, and so he is able to keep smiling.

 

Still, we keep moving.

Finally, we get to the last few miles, and Tim is a little in his head. We’re both working to get him out. “Tim, we have to do this. You can do this.”

“I know,” he replies. “Almost there. Get out of your head,” he tells himself, “We’re almost there.”

“You’re bigger than the pain, Tim. You can do this.”

“No weakness,” he says back, “We have to keep moving. I didn’t get this far to stop.”

Finally, we get him to the last half-mile. I let him know that we’re so close.

He stops and looks back at me. “Still a half mile?” He looks at me confusedly. “That can’t be. I thought it was right there. I can’t go anymore.”

“Yes you can, Tim,” I immediately respond. “You didn’t come 99.5 miles to stop now. Keep moving.”

He nods, and moves from a slow jog to a faster one.

“There we go,” I encourage him. “We’re doing this.”

He starts moving even faster, until the moment he has been waiting for comes. We round a corner, and there are Tim’s family– particularly his children– cheering him on and ready to run the last few feet with him.

 

And with that, after 34 hours and 37 minutes, Tim has finished. We’ve come back to the end.

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Words can’t begin to describe how powerful it was to watch this incredible journey. We never truly know the capability of our own spirits until we meet that moment.

Watching Tim get there, I realized that even though I so often think of running as “my” time, it is so much bigger than that. Running is where we come we come back to our most human, the purest versions of ourselves, without all the things we try to put between us as others.

On the surface, Tim and I may have little in common. In the end, though, he let me join in on his incredible journey. And I could not be more grateful or inspired.

Dreaming Big Again: Honolulu Marathon 2018

I took a bit of a hiatus from race reports at the end of 2017. I got so caught up in working out and fitness that, in truth, in probably got a little unhealthy. By the time I finished those marathons, I had a crazy amount of work and I was just trying to get my life back together. By the time I had a moment to breathe, I was so removed from the races that it felt difficult to write at all.

So, an update. Last December, I ran two marathons within six days of each other, at 3:54 and, wonderfully, 3:49:30 for a small PR. The Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon is a tiny race that’s net downhill, and I felt blessed I could PR 6 days after a warm Honolulu race.

Now, so I don’t repeat the mistakes I made, let’s talk about 2018.


Intro

I came into this race with a lot of cautious optimism. I’d had a good few weeks of training, and was feeling really strong as a runner.

This year, I opted to not run the Hawai‘i Bird Marathon. It was a tough choice, and I had been planning on running it all the way up until this past November. Then, I got invited to an awesome weekend in Sonoma, CA, that felt sort of once-in-a-lifetime. It was a tough choice, but in the end I think it was the right one. One of my goals for 2018 was to stop doing things out of obligation, so when the time came, I decided to do what made me happy instead of just what I had “agreed” to do.

In the end, though, I made the right choice. It meant that I was able to really focus on this race as a benchmark for how my training was going so far. That also meant a new race strategy. I’ve always been an very conservative runner. It’s a mixture of things– fear of bonking or hitting the wall, residual fear from my injury a few years back, and my general worry-wart attitude always mean I tend to pull back so I don’t die before the finish line.

This year, however, I decided to be more strategic about my racing and go out faster then I had in a while. My eventual goal pace for Revel Kūlia is under an 8-minute-mile (which seems absurd to me right now), but I’ve been able to steadily hold ~8:30 in my distance training runs. I decided to go out trying to hold that 8:30 pace for the entire race, just to see what would happen.

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Sleep, Now.

I once had someone jokingly ask if I was a vampire.

“How many hours of sleep do you normally get a night?” The question comes from everywhere– doctors, coworkers, my parents. “Eight” is always the preferred response, most people respond that they six to seven, with a sad sigh and a wave of the hand, a universal symbol that says, It’s not enough, but it is what it is.

I, however, was always proud to respond, “Oh, four or five. Six if I’m lucky, but I’ve never slept more than eight unless I was sick.” I would smile, proud that my body seemed to need less rest than other’s, and nonchalantly shrug when people seemed surprise. Maybe my internal processor was just churning too fast to rest much; maybe I just recovered quickly. Mostly, I just enjoyed the small sense of self-importance.

Cut to the last month, where it feels like I’ve been doing nothing but sleeping as many hours as I can. I nap often– wrapped in a blanket on my couch, after working for an hour on a weekend morning, curled onto the tiny bench in my classroom between classes. If I can find a spare ten minutes, I’ll turn into myself, let my eyes go soft, and shut down.

I’ve been trying to understand what’s been happening to my body, since I’ve always struggled to sleep, including a two-month bout of insomnia a year ago that knocked the life out of me in a powerful way.

Since overcoming that insomnia, I had still never become much of a deep sleeper. I’d get my six hours, normally waking up midway through, to the dismay of my partner. Recently, though, my body has been in a perpetual state of sloth, as though I am trying to recover from some kind of illness.

Maybe I am. Over the past four months, I have reverted to many of the same, problematic behaviors I had a year ago. I move so fast I forget to breathe. When I finally am forced to sit still– on a long flight, for example– the air whooshing into my chest hits me like a bucket of ice has been emptied over me. Without warning, events that I had moved through as quickly as I could wash over me, and I am left sitting stunned as I review the tape of my life over the past days or weeks. Was that really me? I ask myself. Did that really happen?

Of course, it’s not as dramatic as all that. I’m known to need a little storm to settle me down sometimes. There aren’t any huge problems in my life, and generally, the process of settling into my seat and reviewing my life has been overwhelmingly positive.

I suppose, if anything, my descent into a week of rest has allowed me to enter into the dream world of my subconscious that I had left untended for too long. Sandra Cisneros, when asked about writing when she presented at my school, said that we need to take solitude to sleep, dream, and look into our own imaginations to be able to write.

So, this is just a reminder to breathe, to rest, perchance to dream. As I prepare to board another long flight home, I am immensely grateful for the week to be surrounded by so much love and care, and look inward. It was, then and now, the time to sleep. Tomorrow is coming too quickly, and I need to get ready.

 

Like Water

There is something about the shock of cold that is powerful as a writer.

I know that’s a funny thing to say, as I live in Hawai‘i, of all places, but any time I get to go somewhere cold (oddly, this time, Houston for NCTE), I’m reminded about what a powerful sensation the cold is.

The cold makes me turn inward. It focuses me. It forces me to eschew the outside world (which, for me, is often distractingly beautiful), and instead turns me back to what’s it inside.

And that’s powerful, because as teachers, we’re so quick to nourish everyone else’s voice. Rarely do we make the time and allow ourselves to grow our own voices. We’re so focused on what everyone else wants or needs, we forget that our students look to us as models, which means modeling the practice of prioritizing time to nourish, to self-care, and to read, write, and grow as people.

So, as I ran down some cold, dark trails one morning in Houston, I thought. I asked myself: What are the stories that are sitting in my heart that I have been too busy to share?


A few weeks ago, I went home, looked at my running shoes, and started to sob.

I don’t know what came over me, but I was just so sad. I was devastated. It felt like I was watching the slow death of a part of myself. The sight of my abandoned running shoes lying against the door frame hit me– in the past, my shoes had symbolized struggle, discipline, pain, joy. They were literally covered in my blood, sweat, and tears. So, to see them laid against the door frame, a reminder of what I wanted but felt was unattainable, was so cheesy, yet such a powerful symbol of the place I was in. I felt a pang of longing and sadness swell inside me that was so big it felt the only way I could get it out was to let it seep out of my eyes and wring it out of my throat.

I flopped onto my couch in a heap and began to cry. My throat grew hoarse as I let my mouth hang open, sadness ringing out of it like the mourning church bells at a funeral. I held myself, quite literally, on my couch, and let myself steep in what I was feeling.

A few minutes later, I was able to catch my breath. I inhaled, and felt the cool stream of air flowing into me slowly bring me back to a calmer place.

And then, 40 minutes later, I went out and ran 6 miles much faster than I had in a while.

Sadness is a funny and powerful emotion, and one that we run away from far too often. We associate sadness with tragedy. We do everything we can to stifle or erase or “get over” it as quickly as we can.

The thing is, sadness actually forces us to take time to check in with ourselves. Like a cold or an ache, it’s way for our bodies to let us know that something is off or in transition, and we need to check into that part of ourselves and try and understand that some part of ourselves is in flux.

I look back on that day and ask myself what I needed to heal, what needed to change. As I remember, I realize how quickly I had let the world around me pull me away from tending and cultivating the world growing in my heart. 

It’s certainly not an unusual phenomena for me, particularly at this time of year. The beginning of the school year always tends to be crazy, and when you combine that with my first year being a full-time cross country assistant coach and the handful of part-time jobs I have, it was so crazy that I barely had time to breathe. I didn’t write– for the first time in nearly a decade, I haven’t written a post about my birthday and what I want this year of my life to be. When we get so pulled away from ourselves that we forget to nourish our internal growth, the lack of light and care makes it a lot harder to feel like we’re on solid, fruitful ground.

It’s hard, though, because in some ways I feel like I’m doing some of my strongest work as a teacher this year. I’ve incorporated student feedback and finally have a manageable plan for reading and writing this year. My kids are having some really meaningful conversations, and I’m feeling like I have a better handle on my work coaching first-year teachers too.

So part of me doesn’t want to step away– my mind keeps telling me I have to work, work, work to keep up this quality of work.

If running has taught me anything, though, it’s that physical and mental recovery is the only way you perform at your best. Physically, recovery days allow our muscles to rebuild– the sinews and fibers in our legs heal and grow stronger after we break them down with a work out. Mentally, taking time to recover and turn inward allows us to actually reflect on what’s happened and learn from it to move forward. Grasping at the the straws of individual moments and seconds-to-breathe is hardly a way to hold on and create meaningful change in our work.

My sadness wasn’t a problem, really, it was the rainstorm reminding me that I needed to return back to myself. It was the beating of the rain reminding me I had to listen to my internal workings before everything crumbled.

I am, now, so grateful for the sadness I was feeling. I am doing my best not to run away from it, and instead listening to it as helps me return to myself. Like water, it flowed through not to destroy, but to purify– and to bring back to light the parts of me that had gone dark.

Gratitude, Grace, Joy

You’ve gotta be kidding me, I thought as I looked at my phone.

It’s a few weeks later, and I am on a cold, Houston street after finishing a 16-mile run. I was eager to look at my pacing, and opened my running app to look at my stats. That’s when I saw it: I had run 48 miles that week.

Running big mileage is a staple of any good distance training program. It helps build up stamina and muscle. It lets your legs to build the foundation, slowly, for the endurance it will need on race day. Your hamstrings and quads stretch and mold under the consistent beating of the pavement. Your calves firm up. It’s physical and important.

Still, I had never hit mileage this big before. In fact, the closest I came was 7 years ago, when I hit 45 miles in a week. I tweeted, cavalier, that in two weeks I was going to hit a 50-mile week.

Then, the accident happened.

I was hit by a car 7 years ago while running, and I didn’t know if I would run distance ever again. Certainly, a 50 mile week was out of the question. I eventually crawled my way out of my injury, and would occasionally, wistfully think about hitting 50 miles again, but between everything in my life, it seemed unlikely.

The last few weeks, though, I had certainly ramped up my training. After my little cry-fest, I signed up for a Revel race on Big Island and decided to try and hit a lofty, crazy speed goal. I invested a little money in a coaching program, and something about having a defined set of workouts clicked. I’ve run faster than I have in years, my mileage is up, and I’m feeling a lot better than I did before.

Still, I’ve been busy. Last week was 8th grade camp and this week I’ve been at NCTE, and so trying to meet my weekly training goals has been tough.

Yet, by some fluke, I had made it to 48 miles without realizing it.

So, as I looked at my phone, something sparked in me, excited and eager. You can finally do it, it said. You can finally have a 50-mile week. 

I showered, had lunch with a friend, and then returned to my room. I was tired, but I knew that if I wanted to hit my goal before sundown, I needed to get moving. I put on a new set of running clothes, ached as I reached down to slip on my soaking, wet running shoes, and hit the road.

It was a slow, thoughtful 2.1 miles. I thought about the accident, the races since, and the things I loved about running. I also thought back to the girl who had cried as she wrote a few weeks ago, and wondered why I was so sad when that happened. What was I mourning?

Then, I realized it: running used to be easyNot physically, but mentally. I didn’t care about pacing, all I wanted to do was beat a rhythm on the pavement as I moved through Hawai‘i.

I had lost that. In all the change my body had gone through in the past few years– different sports, becoming a coach, teaching yoga– I had lost the mindset of being a distance runner. I realized I had not used mantras to focus myself in years. I had stopped warming up and stretching. And, frankly, I just wasn’t doing it as often as I used to.

Now, though, I was running more than ever, but it wasn’t easy. Increasing my speed and mileage has taken work. I don’t get to just zone out the entire time like I used to. I spend a lot of time actively thinking about my form, cadence, and pacing. It’s a balancing act, each piece moving and spinning in its own way so that the machine of my body can propel itself properly.

See, over the past few years, I honestly hadn’t put in the work. I ran, sure, but I also did a bunch of other things and hoped that my years of experience and general fitness level would mean that I would be able to finish a race well. It had worked, but only a little. While being fit and cross-training are useful, there is no substitute for lacing up your shoes, pounding the pavement, and just putting in the miles. It is often not glamorous, but it adds up.

Teaching, in many ways, is similar. We can have all the rockstar moments we want, or I can get accolades for a thing I write or something I say or share. And that’s great, but none of that is a substitute for the day-to-day relationship work that my kids and I do together each day. Not every day is a fancy, amazing lesson, but the moments we laugh about a journal topic together are just as important to laying the foundation for a great classroom.

I hit 1.75, and started to push my pace. Now’s the time, I thought. My cadence sped up, the rhythm of my legs churning faster and faster, my heart starting to beat a little harder in my chest. You have to push now. It’s time. I returned to my mantra: I am strong, I have energy, I feel good, I can do this. With each phrase, my pace quickened.

And just like that, my watch beeped, and I had done it. Without fanfare, as the leftover drizzle from the tail-end of a storm sprinkled my skin, I hit a 50-mile week.

There were no fireworks. I took a screenshot and smiled. There was no fanfare. No, it wasn’t easy. It was hard and sometimes grueling work. It pushed me.

Yet, for all that work, there was something about knowing that I was setting up something much greater than each individual step I was taking. There was something more important than “easy” or “fun” at the end of the week.

There was gratitude. There was grace that the work will keep moving us forward, even when we doubt its potential. There was joy– not just temporal happiness– but joythat my body was capable of laying the foundation for something bigger than I had planned.

Then, I went inside to stretch. It was time to get to work.