Sunday, March 29, 2009

You Had Me at "5:15"

After a few more weeks of pure baby devotion, I slowly went back to running. Once I could rest, I saw that I wasn't completely starting over. My legs felt sore, but my lungs hung in pretty well.

I sputtered along as Emily's half-hearted, second-rate running partner though our schedules were different now. Emily needed to run in the afternoon, the worst time of day for a baby. I couldn't keep up while pushing the baby jogger, and I refused to dump a cranky infant on my husband the minute he walked through the door. Emily was my friend and it hurt to see the close of our era. We met to run here and there, but in the end, I casually drifted away.

For awhile I didn't do much but gawk at my baby. I couldn't be with him enough. I had no idea he would take over my heart, no my very being, with such ferocity. If I planned to do anything for myself it would not be at his expense. I hated to give up running, but in comparison, I really didn't care.

Was there someone else as devoted to her babies as I was? Someone willing to run at odd times on low-energy, maybe even wearing mashed bananas on her shorts? To stick with it, I needed a different breed of woman. Someone whose legs only took her as far as two tiny arms could reach.

I needed another Running Mama.

I mentioned my hope to a few friends at church, and through a friend of a friend, I met my running soul-mate. When I found her, heaven itself burst into song and unfurled the rainbow of joy over my snot-crusted shoulders. Her name was Jerri, disciplined runner and mother of two.

I said "Can you be up by 6:00?"

She said "How about 5:15?"

I said, "I will cancel last minute if my baby is sick."

She said, "Me too. Times two."

I said, "Do you run fast?"

She said, "Let's just stay together."

Cue tears of jubilation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh Baby

Obviously, there's the birth, which is no spa pedicure. Toby's was light years easier than his brothers would be two years later. I was induced in the morning and he arrived at 2:05 under the covering of the single greatest breakthrough in modern medicine: a la epidurale.

Emily was greasing up the wheel bearings on the baby jogger a few days before my six week Dr. visit. Her optimism was flattering. I don't know how she saw any hope at all, since I had been through six weeks of extreme sleep deprivation, raging mastitis, and accidental undernourishment (who had time to eat?). Miraculously, my Dr. sent me home with a clean bill of health, which seemed a little sadistic since I looked like a corpse compared to my former self. But apparently, actually being alive is not a prerequisite for caring for your newborn, or in Emily's case, resuming an exercise regimen.

First hurdle: the baby jogger. When I put Toby's eight-pound self in the seat, the shoulder harness hit him in the forehead. Uggh, maybe in a few months... I left him with Greg knowing this completely unnecessary stint away from home would cost my husband his Shalom for the next thirty minutes.

When Emily and I set out, my sports bra felt like a vice holding two leaky water balloons (which was reeeeeally ooky). "You can make it a mile," said Satan, skipping off unencumbered. It was really hard. Really, really hard. I panted and wheezed and took it one mailbox at a time. It didn't seem fair that I was starting over. I ran a half marathon the month before I got pregnant and now I was back at the beginning again.

I did make it a mile, but it was different. It took more out of me than my nursing and overtired self had to give. Something had changed in me -- something deeper than my lack of fitness. At home, I stood over my baby boy, swaddled and beautiful in his Moses basket.

He would come first.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Running Mama-To-Be

Emily would not go down without a fight. She was intensely devoted to my pregnancy fitness. It was my first baby and my head floated in a cloudy plain somewhere between neurotic jubilation and maternal fantasy (when I wasn't dry-heaving on the front lawn). Emily however, was googling specialty workout ideas and buying prenatal Yoga tapes on E-bay. If I had put in half the effort Emily did, my baby might have popped out ready for the White Rock.

I liked the idea of shattering the plump, lumbering stereotype of pregnancy in lieu of svelte athleticism, but I didn't have it in me. Running was so hard now, with the extra weight and nausea, and I sort of wanted to enjoy the break. Every day Emily would come over to yank me off the couch, and every day I would half-heartedly succumb.

In November she finally gave up. She bought a bright red jogging stroller for my baby shower and presented it with obvious hope. I still love that girl.

Christmas passed quickly for everyone but me. The hands of the clock seemed locked in place, though I watched them with fierce devotion. I read What to Expect, The Girlfriend's Guide, and Pregnancy Week-By-Week until they were floppy and redundant. I surfed BabyCenter message boards and envied the women posting newborn pictures and typing out lengthy birth stories with obscene attention to detail.

The slowest increment of time known to humanity is the final week of pregnancy. While you are living it, tortoises seem to undergo a full life cycle. It is tortuously boring, turning you into a bloated whiner, compulsively devoted to your own well-being.

And then one day it's over. Just like that.

Well, sort of...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How I Got Fast(er)

I didn't run by myself for long before word got out that I was "on the market." Runners are notoriously savage at capturing one another for training partnerships. I didn't know Emily at all before she cornered my husband at church and claimed me. Greg warned that she might be a touch faster. I figured it couldn't be that bad since she was only five-two. Right? Crickets.

Emily rationalized our partnership as mutually beneficial. She was fast, but couldn't run far. I was slow, but used to long distances. It was running stasis, equal and opposite parts balancing each other into harmony. Lovely.

The harmony sounded like a wheezing, barfing, housecat being drug behind a cheetah. Emily was so darned competitive. No matter how fast I ran, her pace was two notches faster. I think If I ran at the speed of light, Emily would have projected herself into the future and beat me anyway.

I finally gave up trying to stay with her and kept a couple steps back. As long as I wasn't beside her, she would sink into a non-puke-inducing pace. Believe it or not, Emily and I became quite the pair. For almost two years we wore out running shoes on our Texas country roads. We entered dozens of road races together (and the Hotter n' Hell Hundred cycling ride!) and in the end, we both met our original goals. Still when I think of Emily, my mind fills with sunshine and the smell of hay blowing across the hills.

There was only one thing compelling enough to quench our running bliss. It was an evening mid-May when I saw it, plain as day, and marvelled at the powerful emotions it stirred in my heart.

Through the tiny window on a little white stick were two pink lines.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

While I'm In Between

It was iliotibial band syndrome. Just an overuse injury caused by a tight, irritated muscle on the outside of my thigh. (I, along with half of all runners, am an expert on this injury so feel free to e-mail questions about it!**) The only cure was complete cessation of all running.

Running is spiritual. It is the shadow of my relationship with God, a physical symbol for an invisible inner life. Through it I learned to be strong, to be humble, to persevere. Now it was time to surrender.

So, for three months I didn’t so much as jog across the parking lot.

Winter passed slowly. Things began to change. Greg and I moved into a new house in the country. I secured a teaching job at a school close by for the following year. I started a small group for teenage girls in our upstairs room.

One morning I looked out the window at the fresh blue skies of Spring. I grabbed my running shoes from the dark corner of my closet and started again. This time, it was no girl, pouting and selfish who flew across the countryside under the warm sun.

It was a woman.

*“While I’m In Between” taken from Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman by Britney Spears.

**Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): The IT band connects the iliac (hip) to the tibia (at the knee). A healthy IT band can move back and forth across the femoral epicondyle with each step, pain free. When the band is overused, it tightens, becomes inflamed, and causes a painful burning on the outside of the knee or down the outside of the thigh.

If you think you have an IT band injury, stop running immediately and focus on getting it loose again. Special stretches
here can show you how to properly care for the injury and prevent it from happening in the future. Also, a foam roller is miraculous for IT bands.

If you live in the metroplex,
GO HERE for an evaluation and adjustment. This guy has saved the running careers of half our church.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

And that was good.

It was a slow death. I decided to train for a marathon. A group from church was doing the Houston HP, and it seemed like the perfect diversion from my sulking self-absorption. I paid the entry fee and immediately increased my mileage.

Four and six miles morphed into eight, ten, and fifteen miles. Sometimes my runs were so long it felt like the seasons changed from the beginning to the end. I trudged forward like a soldier because it wasn’t just about running, but creating my place in our new life. It gave me value, friends, an identity.

I completed a twenty-miler, our longest pre-race distance, two weeks before that chilly afternoon in January. I stopped by my trail after work for a quick eight. The temp dropped during the day, and all I had with me was shorts. I thought about skipping to bundle up with a latte, but it mattered too much to me. I changed clothes and set out. My legs never got warm. When I finished, they were red and splotchy, tight, and a searing pain shot down my right thigh.

Everything rational told me to rest, but I didn’t. The next Saturday I was back on the trail with a group from church, limp-running to keep up. A dull burn in my leg heated into a raging fire until I couldn’t force another step. I sat down on my butt in the middle of the path and cried.

All the training. All the time. All the plans.

But no marathon.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Long and Lonely Road

We moved in June. Sold the cute house. Quit the jobs. Said goodbye to Melissa. Left my family and friends.

And off we went to the little town in Texas where Greg would be youth pastor of Toby's two-year-old church. A church that formerly held services in a bar.

When I crossed the threshold of our new rent house I was greeted by two dead roaches and a fog of must. We knew we were supposed to be here. We knew. But suddenly, I was scared of what we were doing. I had no friends. I had no job. I had no place that was mine to make home. I didn't want to be sad, but I couldn't stop it. I cried and I cried and I cried.

For two months.

At the end of summer, a school across the metroplex hired me to teach PE. A commute that took two minutes in Oklahoma now took forty-five. I thought about how to survive it, and my answer came in the form of a trail halfway between work and home. It was a two-mile loop that surrounded a health club frequented by many members of our church. Greg and I joined and I became the world's most grateful runner.

Every day after work I stopped at my trail and ran as many loops as light allowed. I was ashamed of how difficult our new life was for me. I thought about everything. My old friends, my family, my cute house in Edmond, now home for someone else. I thought about our life here, how hard people were on a new youth pastor, and how lonely I was.

As I ran, the green summer turned into frigid fall and everything around my trail died.

Including me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Melissa Could Run Reeeeeally Far

Melissa taught at the same elementary school I did. It only took a week's worth of gossip in the teacher's lounge for our coworkers organize a running partnership for the two of us. I was the youngest person on staff, newly married, and almost as qualified to teach as the custodian. She was the mother of three boys, stellar at her job, and beloved by all. She needed someone to keep her company on runs when her husband was on fireman duty.

She informed me that their usual distance was ten miles, but she was willing to cut it in half if I wanted. I said, "Thank you," though I should have said "please bring a defibrillator and oxygen tank in your fanny pack because I am grossly overstating my actual abilities to impress and befriend you." We made plans and I was a little nervous.

Mellisa preferred running at dawn over dusk. I drug myself out of bed and we set out on the dark, quiet streets of Edmond. The first day I really thought I might die. I don't know how I even made it since I still hadn't actually run three miles before without a walking break let alone five. I knew I could not blow the chance to be her friend. Though I was a much slower running partner than her husband, she never complained. We talked about work, and marriage, and her kids. We talked and talked and one day I came home from our run and I didn't feel like puking.

Some friends of Greg's in Texas invited us out for the weekend. Greg was going to play golf and I decided to run my very first 10K at the Ft. Worth Cowtown. A group from a small country church was running their first marathon the same day. One of them was Toby Slough, the church's pastor. Since Toby was a good friend of Greg's we stayed to cheer him across the finish line.

Maybe it was prophetic, maybe it was just a pointed coincidence to look back on later when times got lonely. We watched the men as they came to the end, hurting, leaning on each other, and crying tears of joy. I was inspired, not only to keep running, but to find that same kind of belonging. Only God knew that within months our lives would change and we would be among them, following Toby down a different kind of road, a longer, harder, more beautiful road than I had ever run before.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"I'm Right Behind You..."

The only thing worse than the first few weeks of running is starting with a friend who is a “natural.” My friend was Courtney and to this day I am still bitter.

While I drug myself through the neighborhood in shame, Courtney opted to train on the treadmill. She was with me at the first 5k, but at that time neither of us really knew split from fartlek, so I wasn’t aware she had stinking lungs like Lance Armstrong.

At our second race, I expected to steamroll passed her because the treadmill is a lousy substitute for pavement. I thought. About two seconds after the gun fired she was gone. I didn’t see her again until the finish line whence she was sucking on an orange slice and cheering for me. Evil freak of nature…

Over the course of months I worked very hard to catch her. I tried everything to make me better. It didn’t. Instead, I learned two valuable running lessons.

The first was not comparing. Nothing killed my drive more than feeling like I would never catch Courtney. It wasn’t fair. I worked just as hard. No harder. How long could she blaze past me? Finally, one day I got my answer. It was “forever.” The truth is that some people really are born to run. Sometimes to be happy yourself, you have to just let them go.

The second lesson was time. I was nearing college graduation and there wasn’t much of it left after classes, homework, and my job. Before, I sort of thought a person could toss in a few miles here and there and still get better. After months of this, I wondered what would happen if I formally regimented myself to the cause. I tried all methods: training journals, new workout gear, music, lake runs. Ugghhh. Something was still missing. Something more compelling than my own strong will.

It wasn’t until after collecting my diploma and landing a teaching job nearby that I got my first running windfall. She was cute, quiet, and disciplined.

And she changed my life.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Running Isn't Hard. STARTING Running Is Hard.

I wasn’t going to show up for my second 5k without a bit more practice. I set out for a jog feeling very fit and healthy because choosing to run already set me in a higher existential sphere. I imagined how I must look to people driving by, wishing they were a svelte athlete in training like me.

It was precisely .5 miles around my block according to my odometer. I figured I would circle three or four times. All I needed was will power, yeah? Set my mind to it! I waved to the old man across the street and kicked up my heels.

I passed only two mailboxes when suddenly the only sound in the whole neighborhood was my abnormally loud breathing. I tried to control it by puffing out my cheeks with each exhale, but it only made my brain feel hot and whooshy like every blood cell in there was trying to escape. In fact, my whole body pounded like it might explode. This doesn’t seem right, I thought because I had seen tons of people run and not once did any of them spontaneously combust.

As I rounded the first corner, I stopped to walk which really hurt my pride and snuffed my enthusiasm for the whole idea. It took the entire half block before I could inhale without sounding like an asthmatic Darth Vader.

I jogged again before I passed the old man across the street. I wanted him to think I ran the whole way, because I am that shallow. I ended up going four times around in the same pattern. Run my street, walk to the opposite street. I hope he was impressed.

When I finally found myself back in my own driveway I was completely spent. No one told me running felt like strapping your lungs in a vice and dragging eight bowling balls behind you. How did people do this? And why????

Later, after a shower and a sandwich I noticed something. I felt sore and tired, but also… great. It was like happy-relaxed-exerted-great.

Maybe I could try again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Before There Was Moo

I signed up for my first 5k because I wanted Kim Zmeskal's autograph. (It was the Edmond Classic-- do they still have that one?) I walked most of the course, and afterward I felt like someone shoved six Valium down my throat before dropping an anvil on my chest. I hadn't really trained because I didn't want to be an actual runner. I knew from high school track that running took a gene I didn't get.

Strangely, I fell in love with the whole race atmosphere. Races are easy to love. There are fresh, sporty people, free bagels, and this happy energy you can't explain. I signed up for another one right away.

ONE YEAR LATER I finally ran an entire 5k without walking. ONE YEAR. That has to be the slowest any runner has ever progressed. There are not any books on How To Run Your First 5k Within 12 Months, but why are we in such a hurry? If I were to write a running book I would call it How To Love Running and it would be a slow-paced, sweet book about relationships, silence, and God.

The next few posts are dedicated to my friends, who at various stages, are beginning their running journeys. But it is also for anyone who struggles. Running, just like life, is about doing what you think you can't. Maybe it will inspire you to run, but I hope it inspires you to persevere.

Jamie, Jen, Jessica, Michele, Tara, and of course, my Jerri. This is our story.

Monday, March 2, 2009


For all of you who prefer the "Running" to the "Mama"...

Saturday was the Cowtown Marathon, Ft. Worth's biggest running event each year. My running partner, Jerri, and I planned to run the half. Despite the ugly t-shirt with a huge flaming bull, the race is supremo. It is big enough to offer awesome perks (hand sanitizer at the Port-O-Pottys!), but small enough to cross the starting line before you need Geritol.

Jerri and I are race experts. We leave home with the EXACT amount of time needed to stop at Starbucks (Grande Mocha Latte TO GO!), park in a parking garage, pee, and check in our bag of junk for after the race. This has to be timed perfectly or you end up freezing your tushy off waiting for the gun, or worse yet, weaving through baby strollers to find your pace group.

The only snafu turned out to be our salvation. A big clog of runners was trying to work their way behind the starting line. Guards had gated off the area on both sides so you had to walk around to find your pace group. The crowd was so agitated that a merciful officer snuck a little opening in the partition to let a bunch of us through. GLORY!!!!!!

I have NEVER started at the very front of a race, but Saturday, we had no choice. There was no time to find our marker. We scooted over to the side and tried to look fast next to the line of very tall Kenyans.

We felt awful during the race. Everyone was passing us. The wind was blowing 20-30 miles an hour so it was impossible to feel comfortable. I was really grouchy because I realllllly wanted to break two hours this year and the Cowtown is already too hilly for a PR even on a windless day.

We barely even talked. We put our heads down and trucked along, stopping only briefly for a cup of Powerade now and then. And...

Just as I wanted to stop and crawl the rest of the way, we caught sight of the finish line. The clock read 1:58:47. Ya'll I looked at Jerri with pure adrenaline in my eyes and we SPRINTED the last tenth of a mile. There was no way we could be that close without closing the deal.

Final time: 1:59:43. Boooyah!!!!!!!!!!