Gone Quiet

But yeah… running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with.

But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it. Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget you’re moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up : “You have to be in tune with your body, and know when you can push it and when to back off,” Ann would explain.

You have to listen closely to the sound of your own breathing; be aware of how much sweat is beading on your back; make sure to treat yourself to cool water and a salty snack and ask yourself, honestly and often, exactly how you feel. What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body? Sensual counted as romantic, right?    –McDougall, Christopher, Born to Run.

Lately, I have been running silently.

I fully blame this quote. Before, music was an escape. Now, I push through and try and find the sweet, subtle place where my body finds peace, grace, the quiet calm at the center.

I never really thought I’d ever be able to run silently. Like most, running was an escape, and music only aided in that. I’d jam to songs that I would eventually come to know as well as the pattern of my footsteps. I would look forward to the stop lights that forced me to wait and eventually have a little solo-sidewalk-dance party. Running without headphones felt more like torture then the dance party music made it.

This past year, however, I’ve been running more and more for the love of it. Once I stopped timing myself last year, re-centered myself around my running goals, and became stronger for it, I also rediscovered how much I actually liked running. For so long, it had been a way to lose weight, then a way to bond with kids.

Now, though, after trying lots of other types of exercise, I’ve come to realize that I just love the act of it– the rhythmic, soothing, visceral connection. Running is so unique because it requires almost nothing: just the road and your own will. There’s no bike to set up and little gear to put on. It’s just the consistent conversation between the yammering of your brain, the thump of your heart, the swirl of your breath and aligning it all with the patter of your footfall.

Once I found that, I actually stopped wanting to use music. I would pause it while I followed my breath, or zoned out and worked on a problem while I ran. I realized that music was actually separating me from the run, and I didn’t like it.

So, now I guess I’ve gone quiet for a bit. I don’t plan on giving up sidewalk dance parties anytime soon, but I’m certainly loving this reconnection with my body.

Comments and Kindness: Loving My Body (And Yours)

The problem with social media (that I knowingly accept) is that sometimes opinions from people you’d normally ignore get thrust right into your face.

the struggle was real.

the struggle was real.

So, I was looking at the photo (right) that my boyfriend posted of me last night. After some joking, wespontaneously splurged on a giant, ridiculous sundae to share while out to dinner (surprisingly well priced!) between the two of us. Obviously, we didn’t finish it, but it was pretty darn good and a rare indulgence that made us laugh. We looked at the series of the two photos next two each other and laughed even harder.

The next  morning, there was a comment that the sundae was loaded with “unwanted calories,” (my reaction) and that I should “try a kale salad instead” to feel better.


Now, sure. Eating healthy is really important, and I don’t dispute the claim– eating healthy really will make you feel better over time. I eat pretty healthy. I love kale, I drink green smoothies (my 9th graders often comment on my “salad drink”), and if you know me at all you probably know that I like working out a lot.

Still, something about the message really annoyed me. While there’s always room for improvement, I think I’m in pretty good shape. Also, what’s wrong with indulging sometimes? Nearly any dietician or nutritionist will tell you that the occasional indulgence is part of a balanced life. While it’s important to be healthy, life is short, so I firmly believe that we should enjoy it. Sometimes that means going nuts on a giant sundae on a random Wednesday.

Why did this bother me so much? I don’t know this person. Their opinion doesn’t matter to me. I have every rational reason to ignore it.

Then, it hit me: despite all my reasoning, the comment still made me feel bad about myself. I felt guilty for eating the sundae. I took a little longer in the mirror this morning and asking if I looked okay. Like a lot of runners and (unfortunately) women, I can be a little neurotic about my weight and body. This post only made me think about that more. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten the sundae. Maybe I should’ve said no.

And some of that is on me. Guilt is a choice we make. Disliking yourself is a choice. I know I can (and hopefully will) brush off these comments. I was mad at myself for not living up to my own standards of loving your body and, frankly, brushing off the negativity.

This is where I think empathy is such an essential thing– both for me towards this commenter and for whoever makes the comment. I don’t doubt they had decent intentions in saying this. Or maybe they don’t think it’s a big deal. So I want to let it go.

It points out something that I think we struggle with in the fitness community though. There’s a trainer I love at my gym  who prefaces much of his advice (when asked) with this (paraphrased): I don’t know everything and you can do whatever you want. When you get to be good at something, you want to start sharing that with other people. You get excited and hyped and when you see something that you feel you know about, you want to share that knowledge. I get it, and sometimes do it too. But unless I were someone’s specific doctor, nutritionist, coach, or they asked for advice, telling someone how to live should probably stay off-limits. We don’t know what that other person is dealing with, how much progress they’ve made so far, previous medical history or frankly what they need. I can give my best guess on, let’s say, running advice based on years of anecdotal evidence, but fitness and how to “be fit” is a relative benchmark and  topic that is still hotly debated, even amongst people who ARE experts.

Finally, it reminded me that we should be thoughtful about the things we say to other people, and it’s even harder to do online. It’s easy to quickly and breezily type and post a comment and not think how it will affect the other person– we don’t see their face or their immediate reaction to it. Even with good intentions, it’s hard to read what a person will be willing or is able to hear if you’re not in front of them. So, even if you meant it to be helpful, you may end up doing more harm than good.

So, all I will do is smile, and not beat myself too much about the sundae I had or the way I feel after. I spend much of my life thinking about calories, fitness, running, and body fat percentage, and appreciate the break to just enjoy an indulgent thing with someone I love. Instead, I’ll just focus on how much the evening made me laugh, and how blessed I am to have so much love in the world.

The Run: Stopping Time and Finding Joy Again

I don’t know if I can do this.

Maybe it’s not a good day for me to go out, I think to myself. My left leg hurts. I’m hormonal and tired and getting back into the swing of things after the first week back to teaching has been hard. Yeah, maybe today is just a rest day, I think as my left quad throbs. 

I cross the street under the hot Honolulu sun. It’s January, but one of the benefits of living in Hawai‘i is usually that our weather is good enough that it’s always alright to run. Now, though, the heat in the late afternoon sun feels overwhelming. 

I come to a stop a few yards after the corner, and rub my hands over my face. I turn back to the hill up to my apartment. I look back forward towards my route, up a different hill. This is one of the many small decisions I’ll make today, but for some reason my will to move my feet has been weighing heavier on my mind recently.

A little over two years ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to run again. After admitting to myself I was in pain for quite some time after getting hit with a car by running the year before, I finally saw a doctor who confirmed my worst and obvious fear: I am not invincible.


Tree Pose. PC: Stephen May

My doctor reminded me of something I should have realized but didn’t want to admit: sometimes when you deal with something a little physically traumatic like, say, getting hit by 3,500 pounds of steel, it will take some time to heal.

I was sad, and bummed, and upset. I didn’t know if I would ever run the same way again– my doctor said I would likely not. So, I did what a lot of folks would do: I picked myself up and adapted. I let myself fall in love again, this time with yoga, and ended up becoming teacher certified.

Still, some part of me knew that I could try everything in the world, but it wouldn’t change the fact that I love running. After some careful weaning, and a lot of cross-training, I started to try and run again. I finally got myself back into the right pair of shoes (Lady Issacs from my faves at Newton Running), and slowly– so slowly– I started to get back into running. I jumped into my first half marathon in May of 2013, more than a year after taking a break from Marathon running.

Now, that’s a lovely story, but it admittedly glosses over some tough bits. It glosses over the nights of painful foam rolling, crying on the floor of my apartment wondering if I’d ever run the same. It glosses over the weeks of stressing out before races, worrying if I’d feel great like I used to, or fall apart before reaching the finish line.

What I also fail to mention is that it’s not like I returned to running as fast as I used to be. In fact, my pace for even a casual run dropped by about 2 minutes. I hadn’t run miles that slowly in years, and when I would hear my watch beep and look at the time, I often felt disappointed. My run was that slow? I would think, aghast. The elation I had felt at even completing a mile would almost immediately be replaced with a ticker of negative thinking in my head. If you’re going to run that slowly, why get out of bed at all?

I hate that voice. I have done everything to fight that voice for other runners, especially new runners who reach out to me. I have often written and commented to others that any run is a good run, that any pace, is good. Any time you are strong enough to lace up your shoes, you should be proud.

So why couldn’t I show that love to myself? Why was it the moment my own running wasn’t up to some invisible bar I had created that I felt like giving up?

A pair of guys, seemingly University boys, saunter by me, taking up the entire sidewalk between the two of them– a pet peeve of mine. They are chatting, and I can’t hear them over my music and internal monologue about running, but I see one of them turn back and eye me up and down. While I have no idea what he is thinking– does he think I’m cute? Or gross? Or merely making sure I’m not going to steal his money?– I project the judgement I am putting on myself onto them. Unfair? Yes, I know, but I need the motivation, and I decide what they don’t know can’t hurt them.

Just another block, I tell myself. Just one more block up the hill to smoke them, and then I’ll stop. I swear I will.

It is April of 2013. During a particularly bad run, I am thinking about Batman. The new guy I have just started seeing loves Batman, and so we recently rewatched the movie Batman Begins. 

My left hip begins to throb, and I know I need to stop and stretch, but this just makes me really mad. How can I stop now? I’m just going to have to slow down. Maybe I should just stop altogether. Maybe I’m not going to run right ever again. I stop to stretch out my hip, grumbling at everything happening to me.

When I am at my lowest, a strange thing happens: Michael Caine’s voice pops into my head. I know, it’s not exactly the Angel Gabriel speaking to Mary, but I suddenly hear the oft-quoted Alfred line:

Why do we fall…? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

So… why was I running? Because I was being forced to by someone else? Was it going to hurt anyone but myself if I didn’t meet my old pace?

No. I ran because my heart demanded it. I ran because it gave me freedom. I ran because the mere action of moving quickly on foot brought me joy, no matter how fast I did it. I was running because pounding my feet into the pavement was the only way to hammer myself back together. I was running to pick myself back up.

If that was why I was running, then, any run was still a good run. It didn’t matter how fast I did it. It didn’t matter if it was perfect. What mattered was that I learned from it. What mattered was that I learned to pick myself back up.

I stretched my hip out and looked at my watch. It was slowly ticking seconds, each one telling me I was slower and slower, each one adding to the negative voice in my head trying to tell me I wasn’t worthy of the road.

So, I asked myself: Why am I running?

Runners–maybe athletes in general, but definitely runners– live by the watch. We agonize over split times, we think about how many seconds shaving off a pound of weight will achieve. We will scale back or up on the speed with which we are trying to fly, based on the time that a calculation has told us we should run by.

I don’t think that’s bad. I have done this to PR, this is often what motivated me to become better or beat goals, and usually exceed them more than I thought possible. In 2010, I trained for my 2nd marathon with the goal of breaking five hours. I trained hard, using that as my measuring stick. I ended up coming in at 4:25.

After that run in April of 2013 though, I did something a little bit radical: I shut off the watch. I decided I was no longer going to time myself to the second when I ran. Yes, I would still occasionally check my time and pace when I logged workouts. I would still do my best to pace myself when I ran.

I would also love myself enough to let go of something that does not serve or better me. During that time in my running career, all focusing on my time did was make me feel like a failure.

Failure, often, is a choice we make to look at ourselves and hold it up to some invisible measuring stick that often only we created to begin with. I didn’t want to approach running from this competitive aspect anymore, at least right then. I wanted to approach all my runs with a sense of joy and, ultimately, love. Love and compassion aren’t about the measuring stick– including towards ourselves. From one of the best TedxTalks from Father Greg Boyle:

You don’t hold the bar up and ask anyone to measure up; you just show up and you hold the mirror up and you tell people the truth. You say: you are exactly what God had in mind when he made you.

So, I chose to stop seeing myself as a failure. Instead, I decided I was worthy, no matter how fast I ran. I decided any run I do was exactly what I need, and all God is ever asking of me.

This method has generally served me well. I try my best to hold myself to the principle of ahimsa, which is generally described as “kindness towards others and yourself.” Before a run, I check in with my body. Before, if I didn’t want to run or I didn’t feel like running, I wouldn’t. I would do yoga. Or punch a bag really hard. Or dance.

Running for joy instead of time has eventually lead me to be a much strong runner mentally and physically than I was before my accident. Now, each run has a general sense of purpose, and it’s made running much less likely to feel like a chore and more like a reward. This means that I can normally approach race day with a sound mind to do better than I ever dreamed. While we can’t see the path we didn’t have (for me: what if I hadn’t been hit by that car?), I do know that I never thought I’d get as close to a sub-4 marathon as I did last month.

Now, though, that I am so close to new goals, it leaves me asking: is this enough? Does it still serve me to run without routine, only by feeling, and without some sort of internal drive? While it has made me a stronger runner, I‘d be lying if I said that I left each race (or even each run) feeling like I left it all on the course. I have been so focused on injury-prevention and just being happy to finish with a smile on my face that now I can’t help but wonder if I’m really pushing myself as hard as I could.

Yes, listening to your body is good, but at what point do you need the drive to push out of your comfort zone, maybe sink into the pain a little bit, and push yourself to do something you didn’t think you could? At what point do you let yourself fall and break again so that you can pick yourself back up and be even stronger?

I crest the hill and decide to go a few more blocks, then a few more. By the time I get to the edge of the beach, the throb in my leg has quieted down. After years of running, I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still often am: I am surprised that my body can heal like this, that I can push past initial pain and find flight in myself again, find joy in the beating of my shoes and quiet the doubt in my own mind. 

I know I should probably turn around and let myself rest. Something in me says that I should be careful, I should stop if it doesn’t feel good.

But, right now, it does feel good. Knowing I can push past the pain feels good, and finding the high after overcoming this small wall feels great.

I smile, cross the street, and head towards the beach. Just a little bit more, I decide.

Running On and On

Oh hello world.

I haven’t written in a bit, and now here I am changing things up.

I spend quite a bit of time writing about race and education. I usually labor over those pieces: I don’t start writing unless I have a few hours (and a drink) set aside to write. I have to have a very specific reason to be writing. I have to know almost exactly where I’m going. Since I do write a bit about race, I make it a point to be very thoughtful about what I write. I stew in questions and angles to make sure I’ve considered everything I need to.

I like that about myself. I think it’s helped me produce some pieces I’m very proud of. Some pieces that I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of good readership in my bubble. The issue is that I rarely write for pleasure anymore. I rarely write for the sake of just getting things down, flexing the writing muscles, and just documenting this crazy little life I’m living.

So I’ve decided to try something out. I’m setting aside every Monday evening (the night I normally try and set aside for myself) to just write. Document something. Maybe about running– I’m trying to sub-4 a marathon in 2015– or about teaching.

So here I am. 27, running on and on. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.