I Am Not Okay; I Will Be Okay – An Admission

I have been sitting with some stories on my heart for the past few months, but I haven’t known how to share them with you.

I guess to start off, I have to make a confession: I’m not doing so great. I’m okay. Some days, I’m not okay. Many days, I am. I’ve been pretty emotionally overwhelmed for the past few months. Like, the -water-is-exactly-at-my-head kinda overwhelmed. I’m not pulled under the tide yet, but the current is strong.

And that’s a terrifying thing to write, if I’m honest. Much of my work is predicated on the idea that I’ve got it together– or at least that I can present that face well-enough, especially online where much of my work is done. I’m still not sure how this will turn out, but admitting this here is something I’ve wavered on a lot.

Still, I was reminded by the lesson I learned from Luis Alfaro: we can either run from the things that hurt us, or we can name and eventually own them instead.

So, let me tell you a few stories. Mostly about my anxiety.


K is the only reason I was able to write this.

K is a 14-year-old freshman in my English class. Sweet kid– hyper, athletic, hilarious, exuberant– and a great kid. He’s been dealing with ADHD since I had him as a 7th grader, and has been pretty good about managing it and being upfront with it (it helps that he has an awesome family supporting).

So, this year, I asked all my 9th graders to tell me a story about them. It was pretty broad, but K shuffled over to my desk in his Longs-Jesus-Slippers all the kids are wearing at my school.

“So, uh, Ms. Torres?” He starts out shyly.

“Yes, sir. What can I help you with?”

“Um, I want…can I talk to you about my paper? I want to write, um…” He looks back at his classmates, back at me, “I want to write about, like, um, seeing my ADHD not like, always a bad thing.”

I was silent for a moment. Here was this teenage boy in all his embarassed-awkward-teenage-boyness, opening up about his own stuff. I was also a little surprised. I’m all for framing things positively, but normally we don’t associate ADHD with anything positive, just an obstacle to get around.

“Okay,” I nodded, “That sounds great. What’s the story?”

He smiled.


K’s words stick with me as I drive up the Pali to my first day teaching Sunday yoga for Crossfit. I’m nervous and excited to take over the class from an excellent teacher who I consider a mentor.

Then, my car feels funny. Bump. Bump. Bumpbumpbumpbump. 

Then comes the smoke.

Fortunately, I’m able to pull to the side of the road. I hop out of my car and see my front tire. Completely shredded, flaps of rubber jagged and hanging off like they had a play-date with some very aggressive cats. I sigh, thank God it wasn’t worse, then turn to get the spare in the trunk. That’s when I see THE SECOND FLAT TIRE.

I sigh, again, and feel my heart race. I’m baffled. What will I do? The logistics of letting the studio know what happened, getting the tow truck, explaining what’s happening to my parents, figuring out where to get the weird tires that no one EVER has on island and I have to wait three weeks for Costco to have shipped and how am I ever going to manage that when I only get one tow with my insurance so I’d have to pay for the others out of pocket and I won’t have a car for weeks and seriously what the fuck now am I going to do?

The tow truck guy shows up, a late-forties local with a bit of a beer belly. I ask if he can do patches, and he gruffly replies, “Nah, sis. That ain’t my job.”

I nod and understand, still no idea what I’m going to do. He begins to set up my car on the dolly. Midway through, he stops and walks over to me. “So, where am I taking you?”

I look at him. My eyes burn. “I…uh…” I feel my heart rate rising. I feel my ears start to ring. “Um…” My head gets flooded with a million thoughts at once and my lungs can’t hold onto air for very long. “I have… no idea.” I admit. It becomes harder to breathe.

He’s on the precipice of perturbed, but something stops him and he looks at me. I don’t know what he sees– late-twenties, brown, bougie, yoga girl freaking out in front of him?– but somehow it brings him to some place of compassion.

“Okay,” he says. “You don’t know where you’re gonna get tires?”

Heart rate rises. Throat chokes.

“That’s okay,” he says, “have a seat in my office.” He leads me to the bed of his truck and we lean against it. He cautiously places a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Just catch your breath. I’m here. We’ll figure it out. I think I gotta guy anyway.”

Heart rate drops. Lungs open a little. Eyes sting with tears.

“Thank you,” I mutter back, humbled by this in-the-moment grace sent to me in the middle of my morning.


I don’t know how I end up at the foot of the bed, but I do.

It’s a week or so before, and something has awakened me. I have no idea what– but it’s all-consuming. I can’t breathe, and it feels like there’s this weird fog between my brain and my eyes. Like I’m seeing the world, but not really processing it. It’s dark, though, because it’s two in the morning, so it doesn’t matter. But I’m distinctly aware I’m operating on two different levels.

One level is telling me to calm down. To get back to bed. To settle down and get it together.

The other, though, is the one wrapped around my head like a filmy gauze coloring everything I can see. I can’t do this, the voice whispers at me again and again. I  can’t do this. I feel my ears start ringing. I have no idea what the “it” is. No, no, I can’t do this.

I move to the floor sit with my back to the bed, a steadying presence. I desperately want to deflect my emotional blast from my partner with the mattress. I cover my ears, put my head between my knees, and try to breathe.

But the voice gets louder, so loud that I even bring voice to it, “I can’t do this.”

I start to cry, hard now. Sob, really– nose running, mouth open, tears and snot and saliva spilling onto the floor. I’m drowning in myself, and I don’t know how to pull myself up.

At some point (honestly, I have no idea how long), I feel the bed stir. No no no no,  I try to muffle myself with my hand, but the ringing in my ears is loud again and I cover my head.

“Baby?” I hear Chase say, looking for me in his half-sleep. I say nothing. I cover my ears tighter. I hear him ask something, but I can’t hear or see him through the fog of my own panic and just tremble on the floor.

He doesn’t fly down, trying to shake me out of myself. He doesn’t freak out and ask why I always have so many feelings.

He slowly climbs to the end of the bed where I’m sitting. He leans over and gently kisses the top of my head, a silent call for me to come home now.

I take a breath.

He tucks his chin into the crook of my neck, nuzzling my hair, saying nothing. He just breathes next to me.

I pause and take another big, shuddering, breath.

“There you go,” he whispers, and I can hear him smiling.

He sits there with me, quietly, for however long it takes. He does not drag me, kicking and screaming. He merely shines the light into my own darkness and stays beside me while I find a way to return to myself.


I don’t know if I will ever see Panic as more than the monster that sits on my shoulder.

I’ll give it this, though. While I have been intensely overwhelmed, these past few months, I have also been placed in the way of grace more times than I can count.

I have tried to handle it alone. I have failed spectacularly sometimes. Yet in the moments where I have been most broken, most vulnerable and so sure in the overwhelming knowledge that I was alone, I have been met time and time again with an equally overwhelming amount of kindness. These moments have not been happy, but they have been full of joy and, yes, an astounding amount of grace that I don’t know I deserve.

So, as scary as it is right now, I can admit that I am not okay.

Still, I am filled with the small, glowing voice that reminds me that, somehow, I will be okay.

And, for now, I think that can be enough.

The Story Doesn’t End: What I Will Tell My Future Daughter About Love

 

Sometimes, I write letters, especially when I am struggling to find my own voice.


Little one,

I don’t know if you and I will ever meet. The universe spins and throttles about on so many different axes that to be certain of anything seems like a fool’s errand.

And yet.

You come from a heart-on-the-sleeve stock, my dear (at least on your mother’s side). Everything can be so exciting– if you want it to be. The graze of a hand, catching someone’s eye, your first kiss– all of it can bubble so effusively in that spot right beneath your lungs. You’ll feel like you’re filling with air and everything will feel tense and your skin will feel like it doesn’t quite fit you because you’re all wiggly with joy and apprehension and excitement about the course your life might take. All of this can be spurred with a small gesture if you want.

I hope you let yourself have that kind of joy if you want it.

We live in such a cynical, difficult world sometimes. We’re taught to “play it cool” or not give too much. The world might tell you that sharing your joy is a surefire way to give up your power at the table, so best leave it at the door.

And to those people, my love, I sort of want to say, “fuck that shit,” (pardon my cursing, of course).

The thing is, there are people in the world who see their love as the weight on a far-swinging pendulum.

You can hold that weight in your hands, let it sit there heavy and cool and close to your chest. When you feel it start to pull towards someone else, throw your balance into your toes so you’re less steady than before, you can react defensively. You can hold it tighter to your chest, squeeze yourself a little harder, assure yourself that the weight and power and shine of your love is still yours and yours alone.

On the other end of that pendulum is a throw-yourself-at-it-drop-everything kind of love. It’s devoting the entirety of your strength and balance to someone else, praying they send it back to you with the same force and devotion. You’re left tottering on your toes, waiting for the other person’s counterforce to steady you. As you swing the weight back and forth, you hope you don’t knock down too many bodies along the way– especially your own.

Sure, either of these is an option, I think.

But there is a magic in the middle ground, if you can find it. You don’t have to see love as this sacred, weighted object that you can only wield with strength and centrifugal force. You don’t have to see it as a shining thing that you lob at someone when you’re ready.

Instead, I want you to see love as a story.

By now, you probably know your mother lives for the story. Love is no different. Your story began far before you took breath in the world, as did mine. It began with me, your grandparents, and back and back and back. When you were ready, you picked up the pen and began writing your own lines. Your hand was unsteady at first, but as time went on, you started becoming more confident in your grip. You caught the mistakes you were making. You wrote adventures and difficult silences and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.

Love is letting someone share the pen and write with you. It’s giving up the agency of sole authorship and letting them wrap their arms around you and hold the pen too. Hips against yours, arm slung around your waist, you will let them nuzzle their chin the crook of your neck. They will kiss your ear and gently place their hand on top of yours and write that part of the story with you.

It will make the story richer. Little star doodles will find their way into the margins, and the story will become so much funnier and sweeter. You will laugh and cry and fight as you figure out the next chapters. You will both make mistakes. You will have big cross-outs and messy, ugly ink blotches that no amount of white-out can fix. Love will never be the neatest pages in your story. It will look like chaos if you want. It will be big and bold and ridiculous.

And it will be absolutely beautiful.

Still, just because someone makes an appearance in your story doesn’t mean they stay. At some point, you may realize it just doesn’t fit. Or they got tired of writing with you. Or they want another partner or you want another partner or the million other reasons love can change and need to be let go.

It will hurt. A lot. Your back will suddenly feel naked against the air without the other person. You hand will feel unsteady again after letting someone write with you. The pages will feel cold and blank. You will feel like you can’t write anymore.

Here’s the thing, though: You still have the pen. The story isn’t over just because someone stopped writing with you. You will still be able to keep writing. The magic of the story is that someone you love can rip out your heart, make you cry and ache, and you will still be able to get up in the morning and keep writing. Your story cannot be ended by anyone but you. 

I don’t know a lot about love right now, if I’m honest. I know I have a lot to learn. But the  lesson I want to give you is this: don’t stop writing. Don’t be scared to share your story. It will be tempting to set down the pen. The first time your heart is broken, you will want to hold it tight to your chest like that pendulum for fear of ever sharing again.

Relax your body. Breathe. Let the grief and the fear flow through you, and then let it go. When you look back later, you will love those pages you wrote when you were in love. You will have a fond, small ache for the people who wrote with you, even if you know they weren’t the right co-author. The pages you shared enriched your story, added color and nuance.

Forgive yourself for the scratches and the inkblots and the “mistakes.” They were just part of your process. They were the lessons that taught you that no matter how empty it feels now, tomorrow will still come and tomorrow will feel better.

And when you’re ready, love, look up from the paper. See people again. Look at the world around you and then write some more.

When someone comes along who makes you feel like you’re filling with air and your skin doesn’t quite fit you, smile. Hold out your hand and ask them if they want to sit with you for a second. You have a story you want to share with them.

With love,

me.

 

Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk: On Running for Office

My family has been having a quiet love affair with politics since I was a kid.

Growing up, the only shows I remember watching as a family were Hardball with Chris MatthewsThe West Wing, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are the descendants of veterans and my parents were both politically active in their youth.

For a while, I thought it would be my older brother who would carry on that torch. After graduating from Stanford, he’s his way to eventually become the legislative director for Sabring Cervantes, a state assemblywoman from Riverside, CA. Paco was the one running campaigns, who could potentially run for office some day. I was too afraid of confrontation, too emotional, and frankly a little frightened of the responsibility.

With all the current political climate, however, both Chase and I have talked about the need to get involved and be active. The current world is scary and upsetting sometimes.

There’s a passage (John 5:8), where Jesus tells a crippled man that, to be healed, he need only to “pick up his mat and walk.” I think of this often, when I want to get out of a spiral of self-pity and get moving towards action and change.

I am finally at a place in my life where I feel supported enough and strong enough to throw my hat in the ring. And, after years of telling kids that our job was to be civically engaged– now was the time to put my money where my mouth was.

So, when some folks at LEE reached out to me about running, I thought: if not now, when? 

I have no idea what comes next. Right now, I’ve just been so grateful for the support of my family and loved ones. Plus, Chase sings Hamilton lyrics at me all the time now, which is also my favorite.

I know, it’s a neighborhood board seat, not the White House. BUT, I think that Margaret Mead had it right when she talked about the power of a small group of committed citizens.

As far as what I believe? Well, that a whole long list. Here are some quick thoughts on what I’d like to help handle at the neighborhood:

  •  Keeping Mānoa as a place that provides an excellent education and public resources to our residents– including increased attendance and awareness of resources available.
  • Supporting small, local businesses that make the University and Puck’s Alley areas as vibrant places, both accessible for younger residents as well as family-friendly and safe.
  • Finding compassionate and effective ways to help handle our homeless situation, as well as ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents. 
  • Dealing with the traffic problem. Seriously. Particularly in the morning. There are FOUR K-12 schools located in the area (ULS, Sacred Hearts, Punahou, and Voyager), not to mention the University itself. As an educator at one of those schools, I know how stressful it is to try and get kids to school in the morning (and how many come in late with their tardy slips marked “traffic”). We must find innovative and effective ways to attempt to manage traffic control.
  •  Partnering more with the University. Having a public University in the area can be a huge benefit for students and families. Resources and opportunities available there provide a huge privilege many do not have. We must find ways to partner with the University as residents to use their resources to support the community, and hopefully support them as well.
  • Finally, and most importantly, be accessible, intrigued, and determined to listen and be responsive to the concerns of my neighbors.

I am excited to see what happens and eager to jump in with both feet. Like I said, I’m mostly excited to hear from others.  So:

giphy

And Where Are You Now?

Well, 2017, we’re certainly in the full swing if you, aren’t we?

It’s been more than a month since I’ve written. That’s the longest hiatus I’ve gone on since I started this thing a few years ago.

Recently, someone (hi, Jenae!) asked me what my writing goals were when I began this blog. Honestly– I didn’t have any. The only thing I wanted to do was have a space to write and to try and get myself to write at least once a week. As someone who had been blogging off-and-on for years, I honestly just wanted to document what happened in my life as a way to look back.

Eventually, this site has become so many things. It’s been a place to share my educational practice, my critical analyses of the world, and even to heal. It’s been where I’ve expressed joy and sorrow. It led me to new writing and job opportunities.

I’ve written nearly weekly for a few years until the most recent election. For the past few months I have felt, honestly, just quiet. I haven’t wanted to write anyway. I’ve been living either in the real world or in my head, and I just want to keep my head above water at this point.

In that spirit (and in the spirit of writing in general), here’s some stuff going on in my life, just to, ya know, document:

  • I finally started Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. And I love it. A lot. Like going a few times a week and I finally bought my own Gi a lot.
  • I haven’t been running as much. The longest run I’ve done since January has been a five-miler. I’ve been doing a lot of Crossfit, Yoga, and BJJ. I’m, oddly, smaller than I’ve been in months. I think I’m just burnt out on running.
  • Speaking of  Yoga, I have started teaching Yoga at The Mango Tree Fitness Center twice a week, which has been awesome and life-changing. I also help teach at Crossfit Kaneohe, which is the melding of two loves.
  • Speaking of teaching, I am still teaching the babies and hope to be doing that for a bit longer at least.
  • I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I want with my life. It is very tiring. I’m tired all the time.

 

Anyway. That’s life right now. Hopefully I’ll have something better for the world soon.

What I Will Teach On Inauguration Day (and Every Day After)

Originally in EdWeek


For some, the morning will seem like any other.
They will bounce and bound to school,
filled with childlike ignorance at what the
grown ups are doing thousands of miles away.

They, of whooping joys and laughter that dances,
even though they are frightened,
even when they are confused,
even when they are filled with righteous indignation,
that, someday, things will be okay.
They, in their childhood, still possess
the magic of hope.

And this is where I will begin.

I will teach them to bound and bounce
unapologetically in a world that wants to
tie them to chairs. In a world that seeks to confine
them to the white-black of dotted answers, I will show
them how to set down the paper, and step—no, leap—
back to see shades of grey.

I will teach them to measure their value in
joy, in passion, in the white-hot eureka of discovery.
When they are given the zero-sum answer, I will
remind them they have the power to say, “No.”
I will show them they can, they must, demand
their worth not be ignored.

When their strengths go unnoticed because
they are showing them to a world that has never
sought to understand them, I will teach them not
to see the pointing fingers as spotlights of shame
but as beacons of innovation.

When what they bring to the table is stamped “unacceptable,”
I will tell them to use the red ink to write
their immeasurable selves into doctrine and declaration,
into manifesto, into the scripture of their sacred minds.

I will show them megaphones and tell them their voices
were not made to be silenced, but savored as the
saviors of the next generation.

When the homelands of their forefathers are named
with spit and distaste on the tongue,
I will remind them that they are
born from people who looked at the stars
and saw uncharted pathways, who took
earth and made their own manna, who
learned to read currents and ride sunsets.

In the end, the only thing I will give them
is a mirror. When they stare at me, wide-eyed
in wonder, in terror, in fear, in joy—when they
ask me what the answer is or how to fix
the problems. I will simply hold up the
mirror and tell them the power to rise up
is already inside. It is in their whooping
joy and laughter that dances. It is in their
bounding and bouncing and in the magic,
unbridled and burning in them, called hope.

The Year I Burned It All Down: 2016 In Review

I had plans for this post, I did. I have been slowly crafting it in my head. It was going to be about goals, about big things, about my body and trying to do new things. I knew I was late with a New Year’s Wrap-Up/Resolution post (which I normally love doing: see 2015), and I felt like I had to bring in something good to make up for that.

See, I had set out a semi-private goal for myself in mid-October. After hitting my PR of 280 for a deadlift, I wanted to hit 300 lbs by the end of the year. It would be a few weeks after the Honolulu marathon, and I’d have some time to get back to lifting before making my attempt. I thought that’s what I’d end up writing about.

Yesterday morning, I went for it. A little delayed, sure– I’d jumped back into CrossFit with a vengeance at my fave non-CFO box, CrossFit Kona while I was home for the holidays. This resulted in lots of gains, but also a back pull in the middle of the week. Then, a friend of ours has been helping my boyfriend and I try some new gymnastics stuff, so I wanted to let my core rest before lifting something heavy.

Monday morning, on a whim, I decided to go for my attempt. Was I tired and still monumentally hungover from celebrating 2017? Yes, yes I was. Did I eat before like a smart person? Nope.

But I went for it. I had my whole plan set out. I got up to 235lbs easy. I tacked on 20 more, rested for a moment, then pulled.

I swear, I see a strained muscle before I fully feel it. Suddenly, I see white for a second, then I feel the electricity shoot through my body. It burst right along my lower back, down my right hip and quad. I immediately dropped the weight and sat back, my entire lower body screaming.

And just like that, I knew I was done for the day. I was tempted to try and rest and go again, but I knew that would only make it worse. So, despite my romantic notions about how I was going to start 2017, I slowly started to put my weights back and knew I’d have to give it a go another day.


And, somewhere in there, is the allegory. Or, at least, the metaphor.

Let me explain: I’ve been struggling with what to say about this year because I feel like I’ve grieved it and rebuilt it multiple times already. I did it in March, in May, in August. As a writer, Lord knows I love romantic notions. I have been working towards them since childhood; I have been trying to write the narrative of my life from the beginning.

Then, something happened. I looked at the story I had been writing, this epic ship I had been building to sail off into the sunset. I had put blood, sweat, and tears into it. I had babied it from the beginning.

And then I looked at the life I had built and I burned it all down. 

Let’s be honest, that’s what I did. I did some pretty crazy shit this year, which included the systematic destruction of a life and routine I had been planning for years. I set it aflame and walked away. And I don’t regret any of it. Not for a moment.

The thing is, the whole, clichéd, rebuilding-from-ashes theme is probably a cliché because we all have to go through it sometimes. We can move down the path of our lives and try and course correct along the way, but sometimes it takes a complete destruction to actually forge something much stronger.

I know– you’ve read that somewhere before. I have too, and to be fair, I believed it (hell, it’s kind of what I did when I moved to Hawai‘i).

Here’s the thing I realized this year, though: the process of rebuilding isn’t always romantic. It won’t always fit your timeline. It won’t always happen with fanfare and confetti. Sometimes it’s the quiet acknowledgment that you have to set down your barbell and try again another day.

There’s something strangely beautiful about that, though. What would it mean if I stopped assuming that success was this shiny, noisy thing and accepted the joy already in my life? What would it look like to stop seeing success as some, forever-moving finish line and see the moments of hard work, of coming back to the mat, of thankless and private hours of sweat and tears– what if that was success instead?


 

With that, here are 5 things I’m happy about, despite the burning-it-all-down:

  1. I diversified my writing to include things about running and religion. I still love writing about education and race, though!
  2. I kept running (and got my first first-place!), started CrossFit, started Muay Thai, and started teaching Yoga again (and scored my first consistent gig!)
  3. I was in three back-to-back shows.
  4. I like to think I got offline more, got outside, and spent more time with the people I love face-to-face.
  5. I wrote. A lot. Never as much as I want to– but I put more words to paper this year than I have in a long time.

And, of course, some things for 2017:

  1. Keep writing. Stop procrastinating on the writing I have.
  2. Turn-Off Autopilot. (more on what that means here)
  3. Get a strict pull-up and start Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu.
  4. Rest/Active Recovery 2 days a week. Working out multiple times a day 6 days a week is not a thing I should keep doing.
  5. Get rid of all the clutter/books I don’t read/clothes I don’t wear. Adulting. Let’s do this.

 

Alright, 2017. Let’s do this.

 

This Is What You’ve Worked For: Honolulu Marathon 2016

It has been, in truth, far too long since I last wrote. 

I have a whole list of posts on the docket– things I have started writing, things that explain my absence, things that have been on my mind.

I hope to get to them, I do. For now, here are a few thoughts on this year’s Honolulu Marathon.



Pre-Race Thoughts

The Honolulu Marathon always feels like a homecoming of sorts.

This is my third year running the marathon, and since most of my races involve a plane ride to new and sometimes different climes (last year’s CIM was a brisk 39 degrees for much of the race! Quite different from Honolulu’s consistent 70-85 degree weather), it’s nice to have a course that I’ve trained on all year and a race that I can run from my apartment as my warm-up.

This year, I admittedly felt a strange bit of pressure about the race. After 6 years of marathon racing, I’m pretty quiet about my races now. I might share a post or two the day before a race, but I’ll generally keep runs to myself, lest I set myself up for epic failure.

That wasn’t so much an option this year. After sharing my running journey with KITV, plenty of folks knew I was running. I’m not fancy or anything, and I made it a point to say that I didn’t have a time goal this year, but I wanted to have a good showing at the very least.

I’ve been running pretty consistently at a 8:15-9:00 pace this year, and I secretly had hopes of hitting another sub-4 time at Honolulu (my previous being CIM last year). I had come so close at the Kauai marathon, and Honolulu’s course is far less hilly. Still, I didn’t want to throw my hat into a ring I hadn’t trained for, so with the exception of my boyfriend Chase, I kept those hopes to myself.

I had a hard time fitting in my twenty-miler over the weekend. Cheesy, but I rarely get to sleep in with my guy since we both work early morning jobs, so my willingness to, say, wake up at 4:45 AM to run twenty miles when I could just snuggle with him, has waned. So, I did another mid-week long run, fitting in my twenty-miler after work on a Tuesday, 10 days before the race.

I felt good going into the race, but I’m always one for cautious optimism, so I got my bib and just hoped for the best.

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The photographer made me giggle hard. It worked.


Race Report

Admittedly, I haven’t had a race go this smoothly mentally in quite a while. After a nice two-mile warm up from my apartment to the course, I shook out my pre-race jitters and felt ready to go.

The highlight of my morning was having one of my former students find me before the race! She was running her first marathon on her own, so we talked story before the race started. That was exactly the kind of mental boost I needed pre-race: a reminder of the excitement and joy encapsulated in this sport, and the kids who help me feel this way off the course.

Some Key Takeaways From This Year’s Race

  • The Honolulu Marathon is just a really fun race. You see families running together, folks who have flown in in ridiculous outfits, locals just going out there to try something new. It really felt like there were more spectators on the course this year, and Honolulu does an excellent job of having great volunteers the entire way. For me, this is incredibly helpful as a runner. It makes a race fun and spirited, which helps me keep a positive mindset throughout the race. The Honolulu
  • I wish Honolulu had pace corrals and that folks self-monitored where they start. It’s probably my only small issue with the race. I always have to fight through folks who are walking and taking photos in the first few miles. Don’t get me wrong– if that’s why you race, that’s great! But please, don’t start towards the front of the pack! Move towards the back/sides so those folks who are trying to make good time have a clear path.
  • Still, the course is gorgeous and well-managed. Really, I don’t know if Honolulu gets credit for being such a well-timed and mapped race. Not too hilly, great weather (Hawai‘i is always unpredictable, but December is probably the best bet), fuel and medical stations well-manned and consistent throughout. I always feel like I’m in good hands with this race.
  •  This is me being an old race curmudgeon at this point, but knowing the really course pays off. For me, this being a hometown race really gave me an advantage as far as mentally preparing for what was to come. It was also a reminder that I have to study the course before I race! I used to be all fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, but I’m seeing now how useful it is to know what’s to come. Study!
  •  Train and plan for the toughest circumstances as far as fuel and hydration go. I had 5 or 6 friends talk about hitting the wall this year, and some folks blame watery Gatorade and humid temperatures. I was fortunate to miss this, and I think it’s for three reasons:
    •  I pretty much always train and plan for the apocalypse for Hawai‘i races– I don’t train with water or fuel so that on race day I run better than I train.
    •  The day of the race I follow a tip from my old SRLA race director: drink water and electrolytes at every aid station until at least the halfway point. This allows me to get ahead of any cramping issues before they happen. At the half point, I start assessing at every aid station what I think I need.
    • I’m very careful about eating and drinking in the week before the race. I start upping my water and sodium levels early on. The night before the race, I chugged some of boyfriend’s leftover Pho broth after my customary vermicelli bowl (thanks PHO’hana!), and I think the extra salt came in handy!
  • Racing without music is still the best option when I can. It sounds impossible to so many runners, and definitely was (and at times still is– I used it at Kauai when I struggled mentally) to me when I started, but I really think being super mindful as I ran helped me avoid cramping too.

I kept a solid 8:30-9:00 pace throughout. I was clocking right around 8:45 for the first 6 miles and decided if I could stay in that area throughout the race, I’d finish feeling good. Admittedly, the course generally flew by. My mental game felt strong, I smiled looking for folks I knew on the course, and just enjoyed the race. I was able to wave to and talk to some friends who were spectating, and see a few friends as I came back around from the halfway point. That’s the kind of stuff that makes racing really fun.

I finished at 3:53, 19th in my category, just shy of my PR and an 11-minute course PR! I think I could’ve hit a new PR, but since it wasn’t my plan, I didn’t push some of those early miles outside my general comfort zone. Plus, Honolulu is a hillier and much warmer course than CIM. So, I’m happy I finished with a smile on my face instead.

At the end, some former students were handing out medals. They clapped when they saw me. Needless to say, I lost it.

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Thanks Honolulu Marathon for the great photo!!


Reflections

At the end of the day, a marathon isn’t just a race, it’s the culmination of the months, weeks, hours of training you’ve put in to get to this point. Every mile you’ve run is a step toward the eventual finish line of the marathon.

For me, this third Honolulu marathon truly felt like a reward for all the hours of training. Every step of that race was built on other training runs I had put into that course. Every mile that I felt good at was a reminder: this is what you’ve built your body to do. This is what you’ve worked forEnjoy it.

As much as I’ve been trying new sports, I think one of the reasons I come back to distance running isn’t just about the space I make for myself or the meditative calm I find, but it’s also because there a few sports that so completely test whether you’ve trained and prepped for this moment. Running for that long is incredibly humbling. There is very little room for plain luck in a marathon. You need to put the hours in to be successful. No matter how gifted you are as a runner to begin with, trying to take down 26.2 is a test even when you do put in the work, much less without.

Is that, at times, difficult? Of course. But it also makes crossing that finish line only that much sweeter. screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-8-44-37-pm

The Prayer – Conversations While Running Twenty Miles

One of my favorite assignments that my mentor teacher, Bill, gives his seniors is to write about a piece of music and weave it into a story or memory. Here’s a little reflection on prayer, running, and trying to hold onto faith.


Casting Crowns – Just Be Held

Hold it all together / Everybody needs you strong / But life hits you out of nowhere/ And barely leaves you holding on.

I was so prepared to write about this run. When I went out a week ago, I was already crafting titles in my  head. “The Gauntlet,” I’d thought at first because I was so sure it was my last pre-marathon test.  I did it out of the blue– went to bed on a Monday thinking, “Screw it, I’m gonna run tomorrow.”

So, when I went out that Tuesday afternoon, I was ready. I sprinted off-campus as soon as my students left the classroom, knowing I had 3+ hours of work ahead of me. I had my earbuds in, some good music, and I was ready to zone out.

But that didn’t happen. 

And when you’re tired of fighting/ Chained by your control/ There’s freedom in surrender/ Lay it down and let it go.

As my feet began to hit the pavement, my mind immediately starts racing.

I have about a million things running through my head at the moment, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been in a mood lately. Between the election, feeling burnt out about my work, facing a never-ending pile of student loans, and general uncertainty about my future, being an adult has been a bit tumultuous lately. Like I’ve said, I’m very happy, but I’ve perhaps been repressing some stuff with my usual strategy:

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Ok, I kid. The world is clearly not on fire, but I don’t think I’ve been honest with myself about how I’m doing.

The thing about running for 3-4 hours is that it doesn’t leave you with a lot of space to hide. You end up spending so much time with yourself, that you have no choice to but explore all the nooks and crannies of your psyche that you’ve been casually ignoring until now.

After a few minutes of trying to focus on the music, I gave up the ruse. I turned my music off, tucked them away, and decided it was time to let it go and finally start facing my self.

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away….

For those first few miles, I flew. I was so preoccupied with myself that I was pounding the pavement with questions. ‘But what about…?’ ‘Or what if…?’ ‘How will I…?’ They’re the kinds of questions that don’t have any real answers– they burn in the belly, churning and steaming inside precisely because they are unanswerable and out of your control.

And that’s terrifying. It’s infuriating. In a world that is so desperate to ensure that I am well-planned– for my students, for my finances, for my career, for my love life, for my retirement– being unable to answer, ‘So, what’s next?’ makes my stomach hurt.

I know, I should be finding some kind of joy in it. I’m 29, have a good job and a nice boyfriend and live in Hawai‘i. The rest of my life will be plans and bills, why rush that? Why am I sitting here wallowing in a little puddle of misery and anxiety?

Still, the questions beat through my blood stream and I methodically place one foot in front of the other.

…You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.

It’s not until I reach the top of Diamond Head that it hits me.

“What are you holding on to all this for?”

I scrunch up my face. I haven’t been to mass in a few weeks, with no one to blame but myself. I tell myself I will find space in my life to pray on my own, and I try, but I know that I haven’t been putting the work into my faith as much as I wish I were.

So, I shrug. It’s not God, it’s me. I’ve been busy and stressed. I know that going to church will likely make me feel better, but I just haven’t been able to and I don’t really feel like the lecture. So, I shrug.

“All I’m asking if why you’re holding onto all this. You know you don’t have to.”

I raise my eyebrows. I had expected the quiet, loving lecture. The reminder to take care of myself, the call that asks me to put the work into myself the way I know I need to, the way that I deserve to. I had expected the mirror to be held up and show me all the ways I can do the work that I know makes me happy.

Instead, God smiles slightly, mostly with the eyes. “You seem pretty tired. Why don’t you let me hold onto all this stuff for a while?”

Before I know it, I’ve hit the five-mile mark, much faster than I had planned. I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I round the corner.

Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place/ I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.

I would be lying to you if I said the the run was perfect, or that at the end of it I had some beatific smile that meant that everything had blissfully fallen into place. The thing is my faith, my relationship with God is far from a perfect story. I prayed and debated and was frustrated the entire twenty miles. I was, and am, admittedly, still preoccupied with questions I know I cannot always answer.

Still, I am learning that the mistake is not in asking questions; there is no problem being frustrated or upset. The problem is when we believe the lie that we are abandoned through any of that.

If your eyes are on the storm/ You’ll wonder if I love you still/ But if your eyes are on the cross/ You’ll know I always have and I always will.

Concerns about our own abandonment and unworthiness, fears that haunt many of us in our darkest nights, are not only a lie but  one that uses its power to further isolate us from the truth: God never abandons. We are never abandoned. That love, at its most unconditional, exists with complete purity. It is in every moment we breathe and every time we experience love. I once had a priest remind us that the Savior who chose to be with us even after we beat Him, spat on Him, and ultimately murdered Him isn’t likely to be sent away by our questions and doubts.

So, let’s be honest again: it is not simply my own life questions I’ve been grappling with, but my own faith as well. Not of His existence– my certainty of that has stayed true for the past few years in a way that is, honestly, really satisfying– but at His general plan for the world. “Um, hello?!” I called out, wildly waving my hands, “What’s going on here? Why am I feeling like this? What do I do next? Where do I go?!”

And not a tear is wasted/ In time, you’ll understand/ I’m painting beauty with the ashes/ Your life is in My hands.

And as I’ve sat with a knot in my throat and a pit in my stomach, moments of grace and signs of my blessed existence have been waiting there the entire time I’ve battled the darkness. Long, unexpected conversations; people reaching out, just because; important lessons clicking in the most unexpected of places; and the constant care of my loved ones.

All of these moments have reminded me that I do not need to carry the weight of my own heart alone. We are surrounded by God’s love, manifested in those who are willing to love and hold us when we do not know if we can keep going.

When we are so sure our legs will not carry us up the mountain, we are reminded of the moments others have been there to help us move forward. These moments have been there, like buoys as I try and keep my head above water. Even when I am not listening, these little bits of joy whisper, ‘Remember, above all, you are loved.’

So, when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world is not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.