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.

Hello.

I want to tell you a story, but I don’t know how to start.

This has been the general place in my life for the past six months or so. I want to write– heck, I need to write for myself, really– but I haven’t been able to sit down and sit with myself.

Honestly, I feel like I haven’t been able to truly do that in months. I got close in Montana, where I sat quietly in a house and on trails and tried to come home to myself a little. I got part of the way there, I think, but the world moves so quickly and I had set so much of a goal of writing ~my next big thing~ (which I did and didn’t, at the same time), that I didn’t really just get to sit and breathe.

And it’s hard, because it feels so overwhelming at a certain point. How could I possibly catch up on the life that has happened in the past six months? The past year? There are so many things that happened– two marathons, a trip to Europe, starting my 7th year as a teacher– there’s no way. It feels so massive it doesn’t seem worth it to start.

Then, I had the privilege of being called mentioned as of Tom Rademacher‘s favorite teacher-storytellers. It was a huge honor, but also a big call out: hey, if you want to be a storyteller and a writer, you actually have to, ya know, tell stories and write

So, I’m going to try and step away from the laundry list of “things I should have written about.” I’m not going to worry about how to start. I just want to tell you some stories.


This is not a triumphant story.

Yesterday, I quit a running work out.

After running twenty-two miles on Friday morning, I had decided to take a brief break from running. In truth, I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now. In an effort to try and get faster or push myself to do more miles, I got in my head about running. My paces were too slow. My mileage wasn’t enough. I had to do more. Slowly, running became a chore that brought me anxiety. The thought of getting out there, just to deal with the terrible heat and running so slow and not enjoying myself, there was just a pit in my stomach.

That’s a difficult thing to admit. I’m writing while my kids watch a movie right now, and as I wrote that my eyes welled up without my expecting it. I used to love this sport, to the point where other people said my talking about it encouraged them to run. I’m so sad. I’m sad that I feel like I’ve lost running. I’m sad that this thing that used to bring me so much freedom and joy now just fills me with frustration. I miss the part of myself that found joy in running. I miss the sense of limitlessness that running used to bring me.

So, yesterday I tried to take a break. I did an Aaptiv strength work out, then decided to try a 38 minute speed work out on the track.

Now, I could list all the reasons this workout went wrong. It was too hot. I had just done a 35 minute leg work out. The boys PE class was also there, and while I love my kids, they make it difficult to zone out and do my run without feeling weird and self-conscious. The music in the workout was not my favorite.

But, as I did a final half-assed sprint down a 100m straight away, it hit me what the main problem was: I hate this. I was hot, sweat beads slipping into my eyes. My chest and stomach were burning (probably from eating a big lunch less than an hour before). My legs ached. I do not want to do this right now.

And just like that, I stopped. I looked at the sky around me, a beautiful bright blue with a smattering of clouds dropping the tuahine rain that makes Mānoa such a special place. It was so lovely out. Why wasn’t I able to enjoy that?

I didn’t have a clear answer, but I knew that until I did, I needed to take a step back and figure out what was going on. I slowly sauntered off the track, the rain feeling less like a gentle touch and more like prickly reminders of what I was leaving behind, unable to enjoy as I once did, and walked to the showers.

I am working hard not to beat myself up too much this week. I am trying to remember that, as down as I was, I still ran (a very slow) 21.6 mile run before going to work on a Friday morning. Somewhere in there is a runner that can key into the part that just loves running and let’s miles fly by.

So, I am trying to take a break and invest in myself. I bought a new running watch. I invested in a coaching plan. I’m trying to worry less about my times at Honolulu and Bird Marathon and focus on a marathon in March. I’m hoping to change things up to try and rediscover joy.

This is not a triumphant story.

At least, not yet.

Under the Big Sky

I think I am happiest when I am loping through the mountains of the American West.

This is the thought that pops into my brain as I bound down Entertainment Trail in Helena, Montana.

After a month in Europe [I’ve been terrible at updating my blog. Life update: My boyfriend finished his dissertation! I finished the school year! Then we lived in a camper van in Europe for a month! Then I came to Helena to write while he surfs! Then we go to the PNW and then home to Hawaii!], I have made my way back to Helena, Montana, and got myself to the nearest trailhead as soon as possible.

As I bound and push my way up Mt. Ascension, I finally come to a stretch of beautiful, single track trail around the mountain and through a meadow. It’s here that this thought pops into my head.

I leave the meadow, and go through a few minutes of forest before turning a corner and stumbling onto a beautiful field of wildflowers.

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It stops me in my tracks. I take a breath, and in awe at how truly beautiful it all is, and how blessed I am to be in this space.


When describing my summer plans to people, one of the first questions I inevitably got was, “Why Helena?” I admit, in a whirlwind of Europe, Colorado, and the Pacific North West, Montana is not normally perceived as “exciting” as the other places on my itinerary.

And, in some ways, that’s fair. Helena still has a small-town feel (Population: 31,179). It has an ice cream shop, a few coffee shops, and some local boutiques. It does have some excellent breweries and a wine bar, and it’s also a place where the drivers are so polite to pedestrians that it can sometimes cause a traffic jam. I wouldn’t describe it as a “party” city.

Which, to be fair, isn’t what I wanted. So, after falling in love with this place last year, Helena popped into my mind when I first realized I had the time to give to it. Still, I wasn’t sure how it would be to come back. I didn’t know if the small-town feel would make me as happy as it did last year.

Then, on my first morning, I ran these mountains, and my heart has been floating there ever since.

On my second morning, I ran a different set of trails. The trails here aren’t overcrowded (like they are at home), but you’ll pass by a handful of folks out there– which is nice since there is quite a bit of wildlife in Montana. People are generally very friendly when they’re hiking and this time proved no exception.

I was running around Mt. Helena when I stumbled on an older woman and her three adorable (and very big) dogs. As soon as they saw me, they immediately began bounding over to me, which stopped me dead in my tracks. I love dogs, but I also know they can have different reactions to a new human than you plan.

“Don’t worry,” the woman called as she ran over. “They’re friendly! They just love to be pet.”

I started scratching their heads and ears and laughed, “Don’t we all?!”

She took a second, then laughed– a sparkling sound that made her throw her head back a little. Then, she reached over and patted my shoulder. I love touch, but I rarely receive it from strangers (something I often consider a blessing). I was gross and sweaty from running. I had only been back in Helena for 36 hours.

Still, this woman, who did not know me, took the time to laugh, show me some love, and wish me a safe run. The familiarity of the gesture, the willingness treat me as a friend even in my very not-cute state, is something that stayed with me the rest of the day.

And it was another reminder of why I love this place.

I wrote, last year, that I was admittedly very nervous coming here as a woman of color. Both times I have arrived at Helena Regional Airport, I’m the only person of color there.

I also shared that I had found nothing but kindness and warmth once I was here. That remains true (and I’m seeing more diversity!). I still get some looks, but I am still consistently shown a sense of friendliness that, honestly, I have rarely found anywhere else.

And that has been very, very relieving. My newsfeed is pretty consistently filled with videos and stories of people from oppressed groups having their humanity stripped in public, or being attacked and assaulted outright. It is easy to feel on edge and have very valid concerns about one’s safety just existing in public spaces.

Still, it is nice to know that there are still parts of our country where people are just treated as… people. While I’m sure Helena is not perfect, there is still an overall culture of care that flows through its streets and in its citizens. It is an important reminder that, in a world that consistently feels more hostile, there are places where people coexist with care for the humanity of those around them.

Why is that? Where does that come from?

I was pondering that as I walked home the other day. The streets are tree-lined and quiet– just a few folks walking their dogs or in their gardens once the heat had finally settled down. I passed a woman on her porch, who greeted me, then looked over my shoulder.

I turned and was treated to another beautiful Montana sunset. Gold and orange streaks filled the sky, while the clouds were painted brilliant shades red and purple, adorning the sun as it went behind Mt. Helena.

I once had a professor who noted that “the way you treat land reflects how you treat  people.” There is something about people who grow up or spend time in nature that embodies this truth. Within them is a willingness to connect with things around them and a deeper understanding of their place in a larger world. It comes from knowing the people around you are tied to the same earth that you are and, just by existing there and holding that land in reverence, you create kinship. It goes deeper than culture– it goes to the very place of you that connects with time and physical space itself.  Perhaps the kindness and warmth I have found in Helena comes, in part, from that place.

The woman and I took a moment together to watch the sunset. We did not know each other, yet under Big Sky, we were both children from the same creator, in awe of the beautiful place we were in.

Running Towards Hope

A confession: I’ve been hurting the past few days.

Nothing crazy, but I’ve been waking up feeling particularly tight and painful. I couldn’t figure out why: did I have rhabdo (I clearly didn’t.)? Did I need to break in my shoes more? Had I pulled something? Of course, at a certain point, it hit me that three months of three-a-days with very sporadic rest wasn’t a particularly healthy strategy and that the amount of strain I had put on my own muscles was likely just catching up with me.

So, after a painful 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I took the day off yesterday, since I knew that I had to go out and do my twenty-miler sometime this weekend. I rolled out last night, went to bed early, and prayed that this morning I’d magically feel better when my feet hit the road.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. At least, not at first. I woke up feeling fine and, despite gusting winds and periodic storms, the cool weather boded well for me. This was a good day to go out and do the damn thing.

I was bummed to discover, though, that after a few miles I was still tight. My shins were screaming and my hips ached. What is going ON?! I mentally wondered to myself. I kept having to stop every half mile to try and stretch out to make the pain go away. I kept trying to breathe into my muscles, but I was really struggling to make this run work.

Then, right around mile 3, my arm grazed a pole in just the wrong place, tearing a huge hole in the sleeve of my favorite shirt. I groaned and stopped. “BRUH!” I yelled at the sky, at God, the way only a young, Catholic, CrossFit asshole can. What’s the deal? I asked. Do you want me to stop and turn around? What do you WANT from me?

I stopped, stretched, and breathed for a second.

I heaved a heavy sigh, and the questions came back to me: Are you present? Are you here? Are you listening?

And thing is, I knew the answer: No. I was caught up in my head, stewing in anger over some things happening in my life that had nothing to do with the run and, frankly, were out of my control. I had been holding all the anger and sadness in my body for days now, and was parsing through it during those first few miles.

I shook my head, frustrated that all this negativity was still affecting me. I shook out my body again, and continued to parse through my thoughts. After a few minutes, I came back to two questions for myself:

  1. As frustrated as I am, can I let it go? Could I accept that even if something is unfair, it may also be what’s right? Am I able to say a silent prayer of gratitude for the surfeit of love and light in my life and walk away?
  2. Even when we are working through anger, can I still act with kindness and love? Can I center on that and find forgiveness? Am I able to stand up for myself and name my hurt while still ultimately knowing that, in the end, compassion is the place I am moving towards?

As I looked at these questions, I knew what my answer had to be. Even if I didn’t feel like living up to them, I knew that the only way I could stay true to myself was to recenter myself with these questions as the compass. I knew that, if I could say yes to these things, I would be okay, and able to come back to the place of unfettered love and joy that makes me who I am.

So, I prayed for strength and grace, and began to run towards forgiveness. It wasn’t easy– forgiveness encompasses all the sadness and frustration of grieving.

As I ran, though, I thought about the rainbow I had seen that morning. In Christianity, the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise to His people after the great storm. It reminds us that, even when the rain comes for forty days, we ultimately believe that the universe will bend towards justice and good. It’s a reminder that, in the end, things will be better.

I kept running. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is an act of hope. It’s moving with the belief that hurt has occurred, but does not need to be dwelled in. It’s understanding that the only way to move past pain is with love. It’s knowing that we can move past pain in the first place.

With each step, God asked if I trusted that things would be okay. With each step, I affirmed that the answer was yes. Each step was a silent prayer of gratitude and hope, a testament to my faith that things would get better.

As I ran, my body loosened up. My hips settled a little more. I breathed a little more deeply. I knew that, even if this wasn’t going to be easy, I was going to get through it. I was going to be okay.


So, what’s next?

Well, I have two marathons within six days of each other, because that’s what I like to do. I’ll be running the Honolulu Marathon and then, later that week, run the inaugural Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon. Since the latter is an all-downhill course (I know), I’ll be taking Honolulu nice and slow to see what I can do later that week.

Of course, I haven’t been training for any of this. I’ve been running, sure, but until today my longest distance has been 10 miles. Today was hard and painful (running into the wind for those last 6 miles didn’t help). So, honestly, if I can finish both of them with a smile on my face, I will be amazed and happy.

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So, This Is Love

It doesn’t hit me until I am doing laundry.

My body is already bone tired— there’s a weird pain in my hips every time I turn and I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently strained my rotator cuff, since every time I have to pick up anything there’s a weird pinching in my back. My shoulders sag; even my ear is sore from hitting the mat. I’m tired.

Then, I realize that my laundry doesn’t fit in the machine. I’m going to have to do at least two loads since I just remembered that there’s another pile in my gym bag I forgot to grab. I sigh, since it’s all going to have to be washed on hot and extra long because… frankly… it stinks. It’s covered in sweat and salt and spit and no dinky, express wash is going to be able to handle this.

I rub my eyes, split the load, and get ready for a long night of laundry.

When did this happen? I ask myself. Have I also had this much stuff to wash?

I realize that, no, it hasn’t always been like this. It’s because I’m switching identities multiple times a day now. I jump from middle-school English teacher to runner to CrossFit athlete to jiu-jitsu practitioner in a single twelve-hour period. Each requires its own costume, its own gear, and each has me use and abuse a new article of clothing. That increases the hours I spend doing laundry each week and since I’m out late doing all these things, it makes for a very, very long day.

So, this is love.

It hits me when I was hunched over the washer, stretching my hamstrings as the machine begins to whir. If love is the measure of our devotion and investment in something, the way we attempt to name the amount of time and affection we give, then I have been having an intense love affair for the past few months.

Love is multiple loads of laundry every week so that you have what you need. Love is line-drying jiu-jitsu gi and getting your own CrossFit equipment. It’s separating out piles of running clothes and looking for matching socks at 10 PM because you have to be up at 4:30 AM to run if you’re going to be able to get to everything else that day. It’s having to pack and unpack your car in multiple trips because between all the clothes and all the gear for these twelve-hour-days there’s no way you can carry it all at once.  It is, at the end of that day, running to your classroom and grading twenty essays in your jiu-jitsu gi because it’s easier to go straight to back to school then it is to go home. It’s sore shoulders and aching calves and groaning as you try and roll out all these muscles, knowing that the next morning you’re going to get up and do it again.

Because that’s what it takes. Or, more importantly, that’s what I want— it’s not about medals or accolades. I’m not a competitive CrossFit athlete or jiu-jitsu practitioner; I don’t win marathons. I simply love doing these things, even when they hurt. Even when I have a bad run or my lifts suck or I lose every sparring session, I am in a deep and intense love affair with my body. That love makes me move from workout to workout, knowing that the sacrifice and commitment now will mean something much greater in the long run.

After years of trying to understand love– of my family, my friends, my students, a man– I’m finally understanding what loving myself means. It’s the time and devotion and affection for the physical space I inhabit each and every single day. It’s investing in myself and that space to do things I never thought were possible.

“Joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms tells us. It’s not just a reminder to know that a new day always dawns, but a spiritual exercise in hope and persistence. Love is the mental wherewithal to persevere when things are bad because I believe that they will eventually be better. It’s knowing that, on the days when my body may not perform the way I wanted, the joy is in the practice itself and not the outcome. It’s believing that every failed lift or tired run is a step towards eventual triumph.

So, yes. It’s long hours and lots of laundry and an aching body. Yet, I know that at the end of that day when I finally make it back to my apartment, I will sigh happily with relief. Everything hurts except my heart. My heart is always bursting with a love for myself that completely new and thoroughly joyful.


 

Note: So, during aforementioned marathon grading session, I took a break to run to BJJ so I didn’t burn out. I definitely forgot a change of clothes and had to run back to my classroom in my gi to finish grading. The ridiculousness of it struck me, and I wanted to capture the moment. Thanks to Calamic Photography for the photo edits. 

The Home I Built Myself

Let’s be real: I’ve been all over the place these past few months.

Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings by agreeing. I know.

I’ve been living this crazy-12-hour-day life where I go from teaching to coaching to CrossFit to Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve rarely found time to be by myself, much less write (hence the quiet on this blog). I’m working too many jobs. I won’t even begin to tell you about the emotional turmoil I’ve put myself in recently (I am fine. I’m just going to have a lot of fun stories one day).

So, I’m sitting here on my couch, trying to write, and I look down at my sore body.

Honestly, I am covered in bruises right now.

I have one on my bicep from jiu-jitsu; my thighs are perpetually purple from working on cleans and snatches at CrossFit. I have some weird internal bruising on my knees from the 12-miler I did yesterday. I am sore everywhere.

And, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve been this happy in a really long time.

Let me explain: I’m not saying people should hurt themselves for the sake of self-discovery. What I’ve said above is true, but I’m not some crazy masochist beating myself into the ground. I’m recovering, taking supplements, icing when I need to, and taking days off when my body tells me it’s necessary.

That’s what ended up happening Sunday morning.

I went out for what I wanted to be a nice, mellow long run. I just got an Apple Watch a few weeks ago, which has finally allowed me to start tracking my runs again. Perfect timing, since the Honolulu/Hawai‘i Conservation back-to-back marathon extravaganza I have planned is just about six weeks away. I figured I’d do some easy double digits and get back in time to go to mass then play disc golf with some friends.

My body, though, had other ideas.

I went out Sunday morning, new compression socks on and everything, and my body completely fell apart. My calves started aching and seizing within the first half-mile. My shins were splinting (correct? do I care?). My hips were sore.

Admittedly, I had a little bit of a freakout moment. Oh my God, I worried to myself, am I losing it? Am I no longer a runner? I’ve been pretty lax in my running once Cross Country ended. Yes, I’ve likely been running more, but I don’t know that I break into anything but a casual jog while doing so. Instead, I’ve been focusing my efforts on other sports. Had I gone too far?

I tried to breathe through the pain but ultimately decided to stop and avoid injury. I reminded myself that while I hadn’t run the previous day, I had done some intense BJJ and gone to a two-hour intensive Yoga class. I decided to listen to my body, walk home, and try again the next day.

So, at 4:30AM on Monday morning, I went out for my first twelve-miler in months.

And it was lovely.

No, it wasn’t as fast as I was running last year (I was booking it at a steady sub-8:30 pace in Nov 2016. Recently, I’m right around 8:45. This particular run was a slow build to 9:19). And, yes, it was much harder to run without music than it was in the past. My running had certainly changed.

The thing was had changed too.

My feet pounded the pavement down Date street toward Diamond Head, and I felt my hips sink down towards the ground just like old times. I began thinking through just how crazy these past few months had been. I had torn down an entire section of my world, and the skyline of my life had a hole in it.

Years ago, the hole would’ve terrified me. The negative space in the busy outlook of my life would’ve made me feel incomplete and I would’ve hastily built the first structure that stuck to fill in the gap.

I turned the corner to go up Diamond Head’s long incline, ducked my head, and leaned into the hill. Half-way up, I turned and, through a hole in the trees, saw the stars and a beautiful nearly-full moon over the ocean.

I stopped.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. I smiled wide and realized that sometimes when your life cracks, it lets moonlight in and you see a whole new part of the night sky you had been missing before.

I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the abundance of beautiful things in my life right now: meaningful work, an amazing family (blood and chosen), passions that pushed me to feel strong and empowered. I thanked God for the run and the night sky and the moment I was given to appreciate it all.

And then I turned and began to creep my way over Diamond Head and down long Kahala streets. It was dark and empty– only a handful of us crazies were up running or biking this early. Instead, there was nothing but the road, the rhythm of my feet, and the run.

And it hit me, then, that running helped me build my first home: the body I lived in each day.

Ultimately running is nothing but me, my body, and the road. As I work through miles, I find a comfort in the very existence of my own being, as bruised and broken and slow as it is. This home, this body is so far from perfect, yet so perfect in its present state because it is really, truly mine now.

See, the thing is this is the first time in a very long time I am doing things solely for my own joy. I am running because I love it. I’m doing CrossFit because want to. I worked to continue my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training because I knew it was where I wanted to be. I’ve spent years building my world around other people– which I think can be healthy– but now, at 30, I’ve taken the reigns and am doing the things I want to do solely because I want to do them.

And that’s really exciting.

And I would have never gotten here without the chaos my life had survived.

We never know the outcomes of the decisions we make, but I still believe that ultimately they lead us where we need to be. We often can’t control aspects of our lives, but we can choose to be bitter or we can choose to move through it with grace and find joy.

Later the next morning, my students sang Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” with a verse I hadn’t heard before. It included the line:

And even though it all went wrong/I stand before the Lord of Song/with nothing in my heart but Hallelujah.

So, as the run allowed me to process these past few months, it also gave me the opportunity to see joy and grace in this home I had built. Everything else around it had crumbled. My body was bruised and hurting.

Yet, I stood at the top of Diamond Head on the way home, just as the first rays of sunlight peaked over the horizon, and smiled. I chose to find the Hallelujah of my aching body as it ran the road to redemption all the way home.

The Stories I Weave Myself

I am sitting in a small dorm room at Carroll College. The window overlooking downtown Helena and the Helena Mountains is to my right, and the sun has just broken out of a thunderstorm to break into a beautiful sunset at 9:20PM.

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Earlier, when I was supposed to be writing this piece (though I confess, I had no idea what I was going to write about), I was sitting with my feet up on the windowsill as a lightning storm passed through. Thunder boomed, lightning shot across the sky, and the rain streaked down all the way to the range– long fingers of cloud-wisps reaching from the horizon towards the trees. I sat in the room, alone, listening to Jazz music, just… watching.

I am in Helena, Montana, for a seminar on nature and education. It seems fitting to try and paint the picture of my setting for this story.

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I had an interesting realization earlier this week. While I’ll be studying with a cohort of 16 people, I don’t know anyone on this trip. I don’t know anyone in Montana. I got on the plane out here knowing that, frankly, I was going to be alone. No one to meet up with or reach out to, no one sitting on the plane next to me holding my hand and planning adventures. I was on my own.

As much as I am an introvert and love my alone time, I realized that I actually am very rarely alone. I’ll go through brief afternoons and evenings, but I haven’t really been on my own since I moved to Hawai’i five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve found people– friends and family– to call mine. If I’m really honest, I’m a serial monogamist who hasn’t been single in quite a while either. I function best, I think, when partnered.

Or, I assume. Of course, I am still (very happily) partnered, but there was no feasible way to get my guy out here to join me on this journey. So, for the next three weeks, I’m flying solo, and it’s completely new to me.

And, as much as I should have been excited, I’ve actually been terrified. What if I lost all my luggage on the trip? What if being apart like this destroys my relationship? What if someone I love dies while I’m gone and I wasn’t there? What if I hate everyone? What if everyone hates me?

These questions don’t just stay simple, easy-to-answer dilemmas in my head. Unless stopped, they will often weave their way into full-blown, worst-case-scenario stories. I will very vividly visualize the horrors each one would rain upon me. A pit forms in my stomach. I can’t stop seeing the worst.

As much as I love stories, as much as I’ve been focusing my life on storytelling, I see now that sometimes my own stories hold me hostage.

I used to see Panic as the monster who would come and get me. That’s an apt metaphor much of the time, and sometimes my panic attacks will come out of nowhere, with no decipherable trigger. The problem with that image, though, is that it means I have no agency with my anxiety. Sometimes I don’t– sometimes it just hits me like a ton of bricks, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’m beginning to see the ways I have, perhaps, let anxiety come to run parts of my life. I have become so accustomed to weaving tales that, sometimes, I’ll follow the yarn of a question all the way around and around until I weave myself into a web of despair, unable to claw my way out.

I am trying to get better at pulling myself out of the web. Instead of wriggling around, further entangling myself, I am trying to stop, breathe, and re-evaluate the situation. Often, though, I have someone who can help me start finding my way out.

Now, though, I am sitting in a dorm room thousands of miles away from the people who love me, with no one but the mountains and trails to help me find my way out.

So, at first, I was terrified by this.

But this morning, I woke up after very little sleep (Helena is currently in an unseasonable heat wave and our dorm room unexpectedly lost air conditioning, so little rest was had). I was tired and moody. I missed my partner. I missed air conditioning.

Then, I decided there was no one to cry to about it (literally, as I was the first person in the seminar to arrive), so I better just go out and do something else. I hiked up the 1906 trail to the summit of Mt. Helena. I saw nature like I never had before– endless sky and mountains covered in more evergreens than I could ever imagine. I was welcomed and helped by friendly strangers and their dogs. I ran down trails that looked like the ones I have dreamed of.

Then, I bought myself some chocolate milk, did some work, and watched the rain fall outside while listening to some Jazz music.

I’m currently going through a bit of a mind-shift, I think. As I’ve been asking myself what I really want, it also means coming to terms with the things I actually need– not just of other people, though, but of myself. What do I need to do to bring happiness into my life? How can I stop letting anxiety write the story that I should be writing myself?

I look out at the sunset, breathe, and remember the joy I felt this morning running along a lonely trail. Surrounded by trees, I felt so blessed just to exist, on my own, in such a beautiful space. It was a complete 360 from the despair I felt this morning. It was seeing that with each footfall I took, on my own, I was slowly stepping out of the web and back into myself.

And that’s where it begins, I think. As much as I love and need the support of people in my life to help me manage my anxiety, I need to be the one to break out of the narrative and back to the blessed reality that I am loved, supported, and incredibly blessed. People can tell me that as I further entangle myself in darkness, but ultimately I have to be the one to believe it. I have to be the one to set it down in ink on my heart so I don’t lose sight of it.

No one can write my story but me.

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