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.

Run Your Race: Reflections After the Kaua‘i Marathon

I don’t usually write race reports, but I’m giving this a shot! It’s also included with a reflective post, so it’s less streamlined, meaty, and free-form than what I might normally post. Just to keep it clear:
Intro
Reflections
Stats and Race Report


An Intro

I landed on Kaua‘i expecting the worst.

Obviously, the island is gorgeous. It was muggy, but jumping into the car with my parents was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. If I had shown up just to spend a weekend with them, it would have been a sense of peace, of coming home.

But there was this race to run. A marathon with a reputation: picturesque and full of aloha, but with heat and elevation that would demand your respect and push you to your limit.

So, I showed up with one goal: finish. Just get the darn race done. I was already nursing an aching left hamstring and twitchy knee. I had failed to get in a twenty-miler. This wasn’t a body built to win. I was here to enjoy the view and say I did it. If I survived, it’d be a miracle.

I’m happy to report that I survived and, surprisingly, did much better than I thought. By far the best part was having my parents at the end.


Reflection

I had a lot to think about this race. With school getting into swing, working on a number of projects, starting up The Intersection, and navigating some other life-work-things, there’s a lot of… stuff.

The Kaua‘i Marathon came at just the right time for it. Interestingly, I ran this race with almost no music playing. The only time my headphones bumped was mile 24 to 25 (a beast of a hill at the end). Besides that, I was in my own head, figuring things out and coaching myself through a very difficult race.

I usually use mantras when I run. During my first marathon, I ended up with a pacer who coached us all to chant, “I am strong, I have energy, I can do this.” I also used one from a friend, “smart, strong, focused,” to stay on track.

This marathon, I had three that have stuck with me and become part of a larger reflection I had after the run.

  • The first was “run your race.” I used this a lot at the beginning, and I’ve said it and heard it said to student runners. It’s a good reminder not to compare what you’re doing to the runner next to you, especially in an endurance race. When we see people passing us or surging, it’s natural to want to try and catch up. Sometimes, we have to fight that urge.
  • The next was a recitation of The Paradoxical Commandments, and whatever variation my run-addled brain came up with. When my adrenaline gets surging, it’s easy for me to create a competitive, even nasty internal monologue to push myself forward. I didn’t do that this race. While reflecting on some personal events in my life recently, the phrase “love them anyway” kept popping into my head.
  • Finally, for some reason, each time I went up a hill I kept repeating, “It might get some, but it won’t get me” (“It,” I’m assuming here, is the hill. Or the desire to walk up the hill? I really can’t remember.).

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about: If we know who we are and trust in our abilities, there’s no reason to seek approval or validation from anyone else on the course who hasn’t earned that privilege. I wrote about this recently, but I’m beginning to trust myself a little more and have a better sense of what it means to follow my own instinct and integrity.

The Kaua‘i Marathon put these ideas into physical practice: I had to settle in and run my race. It would have been easy to give in to the desire to be angry or frustrated while in pain during the race– lots of people do. By refusing to give in, I  stayed true to myself and was able to stay positive throughout the race. I ran nearly all of it with a smile on my face (something spectators lovingly noticed, which pushed me to keep doing it!). That’s the kind of person I want to be and be remembered as.

When we choose to put ourselves out there online (or in any space), there’s a natural tendency to seek validation or acceptance. Many of us share our voices because we hope someone else as felt what we have, or appreciates what we have to say. When that doesn’t happen, it can be very tempting to beat ourselves up or change who we are (or the persona we put out there) in order to be easily categorized and, therefore, appreciated.

At the end of the day, though, the best we can do in any situation is seek joy and truth in being wholly and completely ourselves. As silly, angry, bubbly or blunt as that may be, as unlikeable as those people sometimes are, at a certain point all we can do is run our races, love and move past those who don’t like it, and try not to get pulled away from our own course. 


Stats and Race Report

Warning: This is long and was mostly a nice exercise for me to reflect on the technical aspects of running this race.

So! I finished:

  • 29th overall (out of 255)
  • 9th female overall (out of 20)
  • 2nd in my division (F25-29, out of 11)

Honestly, Kaua‘i was one of the toughest marathons I’ve ever faced. I really had no idea how difficult it would be until I was in the middle of it, fighting through.

My parents and I got to the race at 4:45 AM, a little over an hour ahead. Like I’ve mentioned, having them there was a huge upside to this race, and they walked with me to the start line as I tried to get calm. I was worried I had entered this race day all wrong: my body still hurt, I had eaten late last night and was worried my stomach would be tricky, and I didn’t know if I had properly trained for this.

Still, the darn thing had to get done. I crammed a quarter bagel with PB into my mouth, tried to use the restroom, and said good-bye to my parents.

The race started beautifully, with an ‘oli celebrating and thanking the island for hosting us. I was struck by how marvelously small (and well-run!) the marathon is. With only about 1,500 participants for the half and full race (and only 300 for the full marathon!), the setting was far more intimate and grassroots– and completely unlike the mayhem and glitter of the LA marathon.

We were sent off, and the first few miles were spent just trying to get into my body. My left hamstring began feeling tweaky immediately, but I did my best to breathe through it and not let it rattle me. The sun came up around mile three, and the only thing I kept noticing was how beautiful and green the scenery was.

At mile five, we entered the tunnel of trees. I had driven this part with my parents and remembered my dad’s wise word to “mind the potholes!” A few folks didn’t and tripped. There really aren’t words for how lush, spiritual, and breathtaking running quietly through these trees was. The only thing I noticed was the breath of my competitors, the sounds of beating feet, and the wind in the leaves.

Around this point, though, is when I noticed people beginning to drop. Surprisingly early, even for half-marathoners, but I have no doubt the heat played a role in that. This was my initial reminder to breath and run my race. The first six miles were all a gradual incline, which had seemed terrifying. They actually weren’t that bad. I like hills, and the slow climb up let me find a rhythm to move forward

The race then leads through a net-downhill. First, through some gorgeous farm land, then through a residential neighborhood where locals very sweetly cheered us on and clapped for us. I really started to find my groove here. I was smiling, thanking volunteers each time I grabbed water and was surprised that I hadn’t felt compelled to listen to music yet.

Around mile 8, I also popped my first Gu. I know, about 40 min late. I normally train without water or fuel in case I need to run during a zombie apocalypse or actually forget gels. This also helps make sure that my races are always better than my practice runs (I’m not recommending that to anyone, though. You should always stay properly fed and hydrated).

Mile 11 is where the course splits between the half-marathon and the full marathon. I joked with the volunteer and asked if I could change my mind. He laughed and said to stick to my race.

I understand why I needed the reminder. As soon as you make the right turn and decide to run the full marathon, the course slaps you in the face with a brutal half mile climb that was best run as a “slog.” It’s empty, and so there’s no one else on the course but you, the other runners, and everyone’s collective pain. This is where, mentally, mantras became huge.

After a half mile to recharge with a flat and an aid station, the course beats you up again with another hill! It was mentally so hard to push past this point, but I kept deciding that I would not get bogged down by the hills (though I did walk a few times). I eat hills for breakfast, I thought as I padded up. This is where I started passing some folks.

At the half-marathon mark, we enter a gorgeous, cool flat. A timer marked us on the course, and after yelling out my half time (2:01), one of the race directors shouted, “You’re thirteenth female overall!”

I was taken aback. I had never been anywhere near top ten in the overall female division of any race. “Seriously?!” I called back.

“Yes!” he laughed, “so keep moving!”

I thanked him and kept pushing forward. I felt positive and wanted to stay with that feeling and not get caught up in competing.

At mile 14, we hit another admittedly beautiful hill, and the woman in front of me was in sight. I was determined not to surge. She was walking, so I decided to just keep my pace and see what happened. I was able to catch up, and she congratulated me as I did, saying, “you’re running strong. Great work.”

I was so thankful for her kindness in that moment. I returned the sentiment and kept moving.

I don’t remember much about miles 15 through 18, except that it was hilly, brutal, and beautiful. That, and the spectators and volunteers truly make this course fantastic. They played music, had signs, clapped for us, set up how made aid stations, music, and were so full of generosity and love. One aid station played “Eye of the Tiger” as they strummed air guitars and took my photo.

Another interesting note: because the race is so sparse (300 total participants!), there were long stretches where I was running alone or was the only person at an aid station. This made it feel awesome and personal though occasionally made me worried I had gone off course!

After reaching the top of Kalaheo, I was able to catch my breath a bit and start back down hill. The course meets back up with itself here, and I began to run into folks at the fifteen-mile mark of their race. Many congratulated us as we ran by and encouraged us to keep it up, or told me to keep smiling. I did the same and was reminded how strong and open the running community can be.

At mile twenty-one, I went past the half-marathon timers. They took my time again, and told me I was now eleventh overall female. I was thrilled but knew I needed to not let my excitement force me to burn out in the last five miles.

Another big hill followed, and another racer and I exchanged encouragement as I pushed past him. Hills really are where I come into my own as a runner, and I’m glad I trained on them so much these past few months.

I don’t remember much until mile 24 when the last big hill happened. This is one of the first years I really studied the course and its elevation, so I knew this was the final hill. The tenth place woman was in sight, and as we came into the aid station at the top of the hill, I gulped down water and knew I had to get moving if I wanted to at least keep my place. With the last two miles ahead, I decided now was the time to let myself get a little competitive.

We coasted down towards the finish line, and I eventually caught up with the woman ahead of me. She congratulated me, but I told her we still had a few miles to go. She pulled ahead, and I knew her pace was just fast enough to edge me out. I decided I was okay with that. As we hit mile 26, people cheered us on and I yelled for both her and I to finish strong.

The end in sight, I began to try and kick as much as my body would let me. I had spent everything on this course, though, and it was only seeing my mom and dad frantically waving at the end that brought me speeding in with a smile on my face.

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After, I looked up and saw that I had come in at 4:07. Only 3 minutes over my PR! I was ecstatic, and really believe that keeping a positive outlook got me there.

Overall, this race went well. No stomach issues, fueled consistently every 4-5 miles, stayed hydrated and cool, and followed my normal strategy of a conservative first half and a faster second. This time, the training paid off.


*phew* Okay, that was longer, but way more fun than I thought it would be to write. I may need to try and do this again.