Last night, I got tangled up in my old blog, The Spinster Chronicles, and happened to find many more insightful blurbs from posts about past workouts and races. Reading back through some of these posts reminds me again of how far I’ve come, and has solidified my commitment to keep a record of my thoughts as I move through this world—both on and off the race course. The single woman who religiously posted on that blog from 2007-2010 couldn’t have imagined what the married woman in 2012 would be up to. Starting a blog for yourself to document your growth in this sport is one of the best things you can do as an athlete and a person. It’s a great way to begin developing mental skills and cultivate a lifetime of mojo. Below are a few excerpts from favorite posts of the past…
Jan 5, 2009
From the Post: No Pain No Gain
For the first time since moving in August, I’ve started running from my new apartment on the east side of Syracuse, NY. I live on a steep incline and relish the fact that every run starts with a five minute trudge uphill (and since it’s winter right now, it’s also accompanied by a bitter lung-freezing chill). I like this sensation the same way I imagine Rocky Balboa loving that first punch to his face. Over the crest of that hill are many more miles that will be so deeply satisfying, I’m willing to withstand some frosty lungs and screaming quads to get to them. No pain, no gain.
So far in the new year I’ve run three times, for an hour each time. The pace has been slow, but those familiar soul-searching strides cause the adrenaline to flow through me as if it broke a levee somewhere deep inside and I’m suddenly free from all stress, anxiety and apprehension. Training makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.
Jeans fit better. My thoughts have rhythm. Lip gloss accents a more authentic smile. My ability to “go with the flow” comes back to me like a long lost friend who can pick up the conversation with me no matter how long the hiatus between us has been.
Sometimes, when I haven’t been working out for a long stretch of time, I find myself fixated on material things. I want more stuff. I see a nice car and wonder why I can’t have the same thing? I notice a woman’s jewelry and develop a craving for diamond studs. I go through all the ways life isn’t fair, and especially how it hasn’t been fair to me. I self-loathe. Any notes of jealousy or angst that I attempt to bury beneath my “Mary Sunshine” demeanor immediately surface like a U-Boat coming up on the attack.
But training changes all of that. As my body gets back into shape, I melt into a state of self-actualization that no material thing could ever recreate for me. I slip into a pair of sleek and defined hamstrings the way Sarah Jessica Parker slips into the latest piece of haute couture. Diamond studs? Like I care. A sculpted set of deltoids is a far better accessory.
January 30, 2009
From the Post: The Bell Lap
Passion, applied to anything, will make it stronger.
One of the things Pre (Steve Prefontaine) was best known for was his aggressive front-running style. It isn’t usually advised to take the lead in a pack of runners, since doing so drains the leader while enabling the rest of the pack to draft behind. Pre’s philosophy on running was to get the race to a place where only pure heart and soul mattered. It didn’t matter to him who was bigger or smaller, stronger or lighter, or who knew how to put together a better race. He didn’t care about the logistics of the race – he cared about the desire. There are many quotes from Pre on what drives him, but the one below is one of my favorites because I think it perfectly sums up the idea that applying passion to something gives it that “X” factor. There’s an intangible quality to things that truly have a force in the world – something about them that can’t be grasped, recreated, or extracted for safekeeping. You can be aware of it, but you’ll struggle to define it because it can’t be captured – only experienced.
I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it. – Steve Prefontaine.
You may read this and wonder what you could have in common with an iconic runner from the 1970s. Steve Prefontaine’s story isn’t just about a gifted athlete whose life was cut short. It’s the story of a man who played with the cards he was dealt to the best of his ability and along the way, showed the world a thing or two about passion, guts and perseverance. His spirit was what we should all hope to possess inside: the will to push harder, the desire to dig deeper, the courage to change something as we know it. They celebrated this spirit during Pre’s bell lap (the last lap of a distance race on a track, signaled by the ringing of a bell as the lead runner rounds the track for the last time). In his funeral service, a hearse carrying his body took that final spin around the track, as a clock counted down the minutes he had hoped to run the mile in later in his career.
What will people celebrate when it’s your bell lap?
May 12, 2009
From the Post: A Tribute to the Last 40,000 Miles
My relationship with the Junka (my used car Jetta) wasn’t all bad, we did have many good times together. I’ve traveled to almost every triathlon I’ve ever competed in and every race I’ve ever run in that car. She’s kept my hands steady many a time as I nervously drove to each event, visualizing how it would go over and over again, anxious to know if I would be able to do as well as I’d hoped. And she was there to congratulate me with a soft seat after I crossed the finish lines, practically saying “I told you so” when I’d hang an age-group award medal from the rear-view mirror. She’s waited patiently in parking lots as I called everyone I knew to tell them how it went, while my sweat-soaked racing garments soiled her fabrics in the hot summer heat.
The Junka has taken quite a bit of abuse over the years. She’s suffered through hot coffee spills on her center console as I jerked the car to work in a hurried frenzy, and spilled barbecue sauce from late-night stops to Burger King when I needed a little snack after happy hours. She’s a potpourri of stray blonde hairs, old winter road salt, and caked off mud from running shoes that are tossed into the car without care. I seldom vacuum her or wash her out because the time and effort seemed stupid to spend on an “old car.” Though I did have her detailed once a couple of years ago when I realized that there was barbecue sauce in more places than I could reach with a toothbrush.
July 14, 2009
From the Post: The Elephant in the Room, in the Running Shoes
The other night I was at the gym waiting with a group of people outside of the spinning room to teach a class. A couple of us were talking about a 15K race that happened over the weekend, comparing notes on the course and how we did. A guy overheard our conversation and decided to join in, since he too was a runner. He glanced at me in my spinning outfit – a black tank and shorts that did nothing to conceal my collection of tan lines (more like faded sunburn lines), and chuckled as he proclaimed, “Well obviously you’ve been outside training, you have the lines to prove it!” I smiled, about to politely excuse myself from the conversation to prepare for class, when he began to say something else.
“You know, it’s nice to see a runner like you that isn’t all long and lean. You always see those tall thin runners and then there’s you.”
From the look on his face I could tell that he meant this to be complimentary, and it was in its own way, but his horribly dysfunctional delivery resulted in some degree of “offended” on my part.
“Yes…I’m certainly no gazelle gliding miles upon miles over the land with ease.” I replied. As I heard myself saying this, I simultaneously recalled all of the times that my father has said that I’m “scrappy” in reference to the fact that I am 5’3” and 138 pounds of muscle. I may not be svelte, but I don’t show up to races to look pretty. I show up to kick some ass. Now I was feeling like I wanted to kick this guy’s ass. He would get his when class began.
I didn’t think the conversation could get much worse, but it did.
“So you’re married?” The guy asked. “No, no…not me,” I said.
“Really? I could have sworn that you were,” he looked off in the distance, squinting his eyes while trying to concentrate on how he knew this.
I thought that maybe he was confused because I was engaged before and he may not have heard through the grapevine that the wedding was called off. Even though the class I was teaching that night was not my own, the gym is a small place where news travels fast and this had happened more than a year ago.
“Well, I was engaged but we called the wedding off.” I told him. He looked at me, still confused that his intel was wrong.“Wow, well I just assumed that you were married and had children,” he replied.
I paused on that statement, unsure what he meant by it. Just a few weeks ago I had been carded at a convenience store while purchasing a case of Corona. When I showed the woman my ID, she gasped in shock to learn that I was 30. Her and her son could have sworn I was just 19 and I was asked to show alternate forms of ID to prove them wrong. Now I was standing in front of a guy that must have assumed that I was “at that age” that I should be married with children, despite the fact that all of my fingers were bare and nothing about me says “maternal.”
“No, no children here. I’m only 30!” I said this as if everyone knows that 30 is still young and there was plenty of time to have children if that’s what I wanted one day, but I forgot that I was in upstate New York where it seems that many women want to be done having children by 30.
I could see from the man’s face that my response was confusing him, which made sense since he mentioned he had two teen-aged daughters and I would guess that he himself was in his early 40s. By my calculations, he probably started making a family in his early 20s. In my early 20s I was living in Manhattan and unknowingly dating an attractive Irish lad from the IRA. Ah, the good days.
Deciding to add an element of humor to our dialogue, which was clearly becoming awkward, I offered my sentiments on myself as a mom.
“I think I’m much too selfish to have children right now. I have a lot of things I want to do before I have to devote my time to raising kids.” I laughed as I said this, batting my hand lightly on his shoulder as I tried to lighten the mood.
“Yes, well, it’s good that you have things you like, you know…” He trailed off with his words, but his facial expression and tone said the rest. This guy seemed to be speaking with me as if I were some candidate for the Make a Wish Foundation, and soon my opportunity to be a mom would wither up and die with my 30-year-old ovaries – but no matter, even if I could never be a mom, I would have plenty of time to do crossword puzzles and shoe shop.
“I’ll be an aunt soon,” I said.
I have no idea why I said that, but I think that some part of me felt like I had to prove to this guy that I was cognizant of the circle of life – that I was human and capable of showing some enthusiasm for babies and birth despite the fact that I was not yet experiencing these things with my own body.
One of the things I like to do to remind myself that I still have time to be a mom is read US Weekly and learn about the celebrities that are pregnant. They always put the person’s age in parenthesis after their name and lately that age has been well over 30 – moms that are 35, or even 38! The shame.
On that note, we started to walk into the spinning room and I went to set up my bike and prep the music for class. The conversation left me feeling confused and angry. How did any of that even come up? It was like a “your life sucks” bomb was being dropped on me from out of nowhere. What’s worse is that I had arrived to the gym feeling really great. I got home from work and was able to start laundry, vacuum, dust, take the garbage out, and figure out what I’d make for dinner later on all within an hour. Who was this guy to come in and dilute my “multi-tasking” high?
Fueled by irritation, I punished the class with challenging cadences and frequent increases in resistance, favoring a drill sergeant interpretation of each track over my usual motivational tone. My legs were sore from the race I completed the day before, but I needed to work hard as my soul was sore from yet another conversation about my shortcomings as a 30-year-old woman. The self-pity was short-lived because the exercise high always trumps all and by the end of the workout I was relaxed and feeling very good. The lactic acid from Sunday’s 15K left my legs and I was easily hammering through each song on my workout mix. Everyone was energized and responding well to my coaching, and the guy that was talking to me in the hallway was barely reaching pace in the last 20 minutes of the workout. Ha.
“I’ll show you long and lean,” I thought to myself as sweat coursed over my brow, through my eyes, around my nose and over my lips like white-water rapids.
We hit the last song for cool down and proceeded to the floor for stretching. By then, I had totally separated myself from the earlier conversation in the hallway. As class came to an end, I thanked everyone for coming and started to pack up my things to leave. My mood skyrocketed when I remembered that I’d completed all of my chores before getting to the gym so all that was required of me when I got home was the consumption of a cold glass of wine and hitting “play” on my DVR to watch “So You Think You Can Dance.”
In my peripheral vision I saw the man come toward me. Sigh.
He wrapped his towel around his neck and stood over me as I jammed my water bottle into my gym bag.
“I was thinking…I hope I didn’t offend you before when we were talking, I didn’t mean to say that you were overweight or anything…” he seemed genuinely concerned. “Obviously you are in great shape and I didn’t mean for it to sound like you should be skinny to be a good runner.”
I knew his intention was never to offend, and he didn’t realize that my issues with the conversation had more to do with his reactions to my being single and childless at 30, than with my ability to run while carrying a few extra pounds. So I gave him the reaction he needed to feel better about it all.
“Are you kidding me? Don’t worry about a thing – I was flattered by what you said!” I plastered the most gracious smile on my face that you’ve ever seen. It was as if someone had just mistaken me for a movie star (albeit a sweaty one).
“Really, it was such a nice thing to hear! Who wants to be long and lean?” I continued on for full effect, shrugging my shoulders at the very idea of having zero body fat to worry about.
While there was a part of me that was slightly taken aback by the notion that I am somehow not a real runner because I am not tall and skinny, that was never the part of the conversation that pushed my buttons. What really got to me was the idea that I’m somehow not a real woman without a husband and a baby and that this guy didn’t even realize that his comments conveyed that loud and clear. It’s like the elephant in the room, in the sneakers. I’m this obviously present woman living my life the way I want to. I’m not committed to a marriage; I’m not responsible for children. I’m not what you’d expect a marathon-running, Ironman-finishing woman to look like, but I’m not what you’d expect in many areas. And why should I be?
December 29, 2009
From the Post: Old Resolutions for the New Year
Over the years running and writing have started to become intertwined like a pair of best friends that are never apart. A steady pace over twenty miles of running would seamlessly flow into a steady stream of consciousness on paper, or vice versa. My mind seems to be connected to my feet and when one starts to go into gear, so does the other.
This became very apparent to me when I became a fitness instructor four years ago. I was a regular cardio junkie at the gym, taking step aerobics and weight-lifting classes, and doing spin classes to cross-train on days when I wasn’t running. The spinning instructor suggested I get certified in a new type of cycling fitness class called Group RIDE that Gold’s Gym was going to offer. I passed my certification test and started teaching my own class two times a week.
Becoming a fitness instructor has allowed me to wear almost every hat I’ve ever tried on (or pretended to try on). The 11-year-old girl who used to wear her swimming suit over tights and jump around the bedroom to “Like a Prayer” with a sweatband on beamed with pride as I took my place in front of the class for the first time. The up-and-coming track star that was buried beneath the softball-team-reject jumps with joy now that I can wear a microphone and share what I’ve learned about discipline and perseverance with the masses. And the writer in me glows with enthusiasm now that I’m a Contributing Columnist with the local paper offering weekly tips and advice in my very own column about triathlon training.
We dream about being many things when we are young. Armed with toys and imaginations and all the time in the world, we’re free to see a future that can’t hold us back. As we get older, the realities of life set in. Budgets, rules, limits. Self-esteem, insomnia, peer pressure. We learn the art of “the excuse,” and rationalizing why things must be the way they are. We forget that somewhere deep down, there was a dream. A seed that lies within the soul waiting to find light…waiting for us to till the land and tell the dream it’s okay to come out.