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Look out! Obvious running metaphor ahead! With lizards!

12 Jun

On January 1, I started running again. Not because I recovered from an injury that previously kept me from the road. Not solely because I wanted to get in better shape (even though I did). No, to get my shoes back on the pavement, I had to sign up to run a 10K in front of 40,000+ people.

Back in the fall, my sister-in-law proposed that we run the famous Monument Avenue 10K together in Richmond, VA (her current and my former home). I ran this same race two years ago (my first-ever 10K). And like every race before that (which, let’s face it, was one 5K), as soon as the race was over, I stopped running. Because I kind of hate it. But I love to have run. And while the moments of pain and wanting to stop are more frequent, I love those moments in the middle when it’s just you and your thoughts and your body just follows along. That feeling of being alive inspires me,  and inspiration in my day-to-day routine was easily obscured.

Since my year career-wise has been a challenge, I decided this kind of tangible goal was just what I needed to focus on (instead of the confusing mess that is my future in teaching).

Beginnings can be deceivingly easy

Once the calendar hit 2012, I vowed to run.

Day one, I ran two miles. The last .05 might have been less confident than the first 1.5, but overall I was shocked at how simple it had been to run two miles out of the gate. My running legs were back.

Two days later, two more miles! The next day? Three miles! I bought new shoes in between miles 2 and 3, so clearly nothing could stop me now.

And then attempts at 3+ miles began.

Then I took at least a week off from running.

When I started again, I climbed toward four miles at the pace of an inchworm going up a Royal Palm. I had two strong runs at 3.6 miles, and then I started to regress and want to stop nearly the entire run, every time I ran.

Mile 4, where you at?

Motivation: Who?

Inner voice: You’re not a runner. Told you so!

The middle’s the thing

When you hate running, you have to trick your mind into liking it. When your mind is willing, your body will follow. The problem is your mind is a stubborn, selfish creature bent on sabotage. The advantage of running over other mental challenges is that the goal is tangible; the distance is defined. So if you want to run, you will finish. Or better put: If you want to finish, you will run.

During the desperate moments of a run when I beg myself to let me stop, I look to the local lizards for inspiration. They dart in and out of the hedge onto the sidewalk during my runs. They want more than anything to stay under that hedge, where they’re hidden from view and feel safe from human feet. But being cold-blooded, they have to get into the sun to survive. So anywhere you walk in South Florida, you will see nervous lizards whipping around your feet, just praying for it to be over soon.

Tiny lizards you nearly smash with your sneakers.

Big fat lizards with curly tails that look like miniature alligators.

Green lizards.

Brown lizards.

All of them nervous.

All of them in a hurry.

But they never stop moving because their survival depends on it. The shade is less intimidating, but the sun keeps them alive.

It’s how you handle the middle, the transition, that defines you. It’s whether you hate it and give up or hate it and keep going because you want to finish that shows your perseverance. The pay-off doesn’t come until the end of the race.

Don’t listen to the real runners who tell you how AMAZING running feels. It only feels that way at the end; they’ve been running so long they’ve memorized the exhilaration of the end–they crave it even when they aren’t running, which is what gets them back out there at ungodly hours of the morning. They sometimes forget how painstaking each mile, even each half a mile can feel when you’re sweating it out on the pavement.

The finish line is the starting line to the next race

Some runs each moment feels like misery: how will you finish? How will you run for another 30 seconds? Some runs it feels too easy, almost like you’re cheating. You don’t feel any serious urge to stop. If those happened all the time, I’d become a real runner. Unfortunately I tend to get stuck in this vicious cycle:

Step one: Train for race. Inspiration/misery ensues.

Step two: Run race. Meet goals. Triumph!

Step three: Never run again.

Until this year when I continued running for weeks AFTER the race. I thought to myself, maybe I could become a real runner? Maybe this will be my new cardio.

Then May in Florida hit and the humidity began to cloud my judgment. Slowly but surely I reverted to step three above. To be a serious runner in Florida, you have to learn to run in the heat. Specifically full sun. Yes, you can run in the evening after the sun starts to go down, but then you’re fresh meat for mosquitoes: layers of deet required. The other option? Running at 4:30 am, which my triathlon/marathon-running friend does regularly. My body rejects this plan.

While I learn most from the process, I need the finish line to motivate me. I am never motivated to start by a process.  I can only reflect on how the process helped me after I finish. In fact, thinking too much about the process overwhelms me and stops me from starting things that ultimately I am capable of doing. This is why running is the perfect goal for me when I feel stuck or lost: the goal is clear. You’re either running or you’re walking: some black and white in a gray world.

Instead of beating myself up over not running because it got too hot, I realized I just needed to sign up for another race. If I knew I was running another race, I’d be out there running, heat or not. Or maybe I’d be up at 4:30 am, who knows? Probably not, but  I’m working on my optimism.  Know thyself, right? I need a goal, a deadline that means something, or else I’ll find a way out of it.

I once had a goal of running a second 10k. Here I am actually smiling before the finish line of that goal:

It’s time for a new race.

Grateful for the swale

6 May

My destination on Monday, May 1, was a doctor’s office in an anonymous looking medical park. This was another step in a process my husband and I recently began in order to discover why we haven’t yet conceived a child. And it’s not for lack of trying.

At first I felt paralyzed by our situation. It became yet another thing in my life that felt in a holding pattern: my career, my home, and now my future family. My reaction to this put some strain on the one thing I never questioned: my marriage. I couldn’t stay at peace with so much uncertainty swirling around me and this caused my husband duress as he started to feel partly responsible. He did move us down here to live with alligators and twice the mosquitoes (and of course termites.) And the bees are mean here. MEAN I TELL YOU!

But I don’t blame him. I blame my personality (ESFP: Extravert Sensing Feeling Perception.) My people are optimists who “live in possibilities,” and too many negative ones do not rest easy in our minds. We are also driven to “meld ideas into a structured format,” which explains my need to write (and let’s face it, teach.) This post is an attempt to attack what I’m bad at (sitting with negative possibilities) with what I’m good at (writing the ideas into words.) If you don’t remember your Myers-Briggs results, find them out again. It helped me understand why I’m reacting so poorly to obstacles this year, when normally my optimism is steadfast.

A swale of a tale

Last weekend, outside my window pounded the third day of rain in SoFlo. Not spring showers, but the kind of unrelenting downpour that reeks of hurricane season. The humidity hung in the air like a ghost as I moved through each day. As I drove down any highway, I was surrounded by low-lying areas swollen with water, holding in buckets of moisture until the soil is ready to receive them. Long after the rain ceases to free-fall, these temporary ponds now havens for water fowl morph back into mere dips in the ground. The water absorbs back into the earth without a trace. The sunshine the state is named for reclaims its place in the sky, and the landscape pumps enough vitamin E into our veins that we forget all about the foreboding, yet inviting nature of those low-lying areas called swales.

It was Monday, day three of rain, as I drove down the highway obsessed with this idea of swales. They flanked every road I drove down, and they started to feel familiar. Ever since I learned this term, I’ve been fixated on it. Swales hold the water in for days as the soil absorbs it gradually. This makes our groundwater healthier, even though in the meantime it’s a mess to be out in the world.

Nature dumps inches of precipitation onto the earth and the soil says “not yet.” Hold onto that for a while. I’m not ready.

It’s only after the downpour that you notice the saturated swales that fade into the background when empty and dry. But they’re always there, waiting for the right moment. We’re just not paying attention.

“Stay off the Swales”

Monday was my third  appointment with my doctor, and every step of the process so far had made me feel better; action defeats uncertainty every time. This time was different, though. Something happened in the exam room I didn’t see coming. After being asked to disrobe from the waist down, the nurse left me to drape myself in a “sheet.” And naturally, as soon as I sat down on the crinkly paper-covered exam bench, my “sheet” ripped in the back. In its defense, it was made of paper, and modesty isn’t really something I needed for what was about to happen.

I was here for a transvaginal ultrasound. And this wasn’t my first time, either. Over my right shoulder, I could see the implement to be used during the exam: it resembled a giant dildo, or “wand” tipped with lube (or “gel” as they call it). I promised myself not to joke about this with the doctor because it would shake her professional nature. But it was so hard. SO HARD! And there I did it without even trying. While I’m in the mindset of a 13-year-old boy, I would like to add that if I were legally forced to have this procedure, I do not think I would enjoy it as much.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, I started to get impatient and realized I need to pee again. They insist that you empty your bladder before the wand action, so I started to plot how I could quickly dip in and out of the restroom before they came back in. Before she left, the nurse had asked if it was okay for my doctor’s male intern to join us, and of course I said yes, I mean, the more the merrier at a vagina party, right? But this meant more anxiety over being caught getting off the table with the ripped paper sheet as they walked into the exam room. Minutes of indecision went by before I finally jumped down and backed into the bathroom just in case. The upside was that I got a new sheet. Which promptly ripped upon sitting down again.

The wait was now approaching 25-30 minutes, and that’s when I really started focusing on the thing I was avoiding. The blank sonogram screen screaming from my peripheral vision. That same screen that I’d seen on TV shows and movies filled with a potato-looking blob and a discernible heartbeat.  The exact screen that becomes everyone’s profile picture on Facebook as soon as they get past 12 weeks. This was the first time I’d seen a blank screen. And it had my name right at the top. My actual name typed in like a permanent record.

I could feel the power of this screen, the draw of this bad omen, and I vowed not to stare at it for too long because it started to haunt me. It punctured a part of me I didn’t realize was there. It was the swale filling up with water after three days of rain: I didn’t notice it until it rained enough to be right there at the surface.

There is a sign in our neighborhood that says “Stay off the Swales.” This very sign prompted me to research what exactly constituted a swale: was it the low-lying area filled with water, or the low-lying area itself? It’s the latter. The swale holds the water in one place to prevent the whole area from flooding. These areas of over-saturation are necessary to protect our safety. The problem is our culture says to avoid them, so we pretend they aren’t there. We put on faces of strength and dildo jokes, but in certain moments the swale gets over-saturated and we have to get wet. It’s there to protect us. Allowing myself to feel the pain of that blank sonogram will keep me healthy and focused on the path ahead, whatever lies in front of us.

It seemed like a such a cliche: a 35-year-old woman who can’t get pregnant and is upset about it. The truth is even if my family is just my husband and me for the rest of our lives, I would be happy. We have a great life together, and no news I can get during this process is going to shake that. I’m not sure I would have been able to say that until I fully felt the weight of not being able to have a child on that rainy first Monday of May.

So, I’m grateful for this swale and the clarity it gave me. I just hope I’ll be able to recognize the next one before it becomes a flippin’ lake.

The Austrian Penpal

17 Sep

Last week I returned to Richmond, VA for a few days to do a final cleaning of my house and to reclaim my car (which I spent all of Monday driving 14 hours in from VA to SoFlo: a drive that is about 300 miles too long).

The weather in Virginia was 70’s-blue-skied happiness. The entire drive once I got deep into the Carolinas: sunshine for miles (and miles and miles and miles). Even the Sunshine State lived up to its name.

Then Tuesday happened. I woke up to the reality of tropical climate during hurricane season. Meet our parking canal:

No, that’s not my car, but a brave soul in an SUV trying to drive through a river. I gasped as I watched this from my balcony. Then promptly snapped a photo.

Here’s my parked car as another nearly hits it trying to navigate the canal:

Our friendly Haitian waste management professional told us one of the ground level apartments in another building had water filling half their apartment. Thank you, second floor!

And that concludes today’s weather segue. And now  I give you the first half of 9/9/10: a day so overstuffed that it needs two posts. I tried it with one post, but even my attention span couldn’t keep up.

Mission: Drive to DC to meet childhood Austrian penpal Sabine for the first time EVER. (Condensed backstory: we wrote back and forth starting in the fourth grade until college, then lost touch. 15 years later she found me on Facebook. A year and some months later she conveniently went on a two week vacation in the US which included a stop in our nation’s capital that overlapped with my return-to-VA-to-clean-my-house mission.)

The Complications: Apparently my Verizon Wireless plan doesn’t allow me to make international calls, but it can receive them from Austrian cell phones. So, super convenient. This thwarted our plan to meet at Potomac Mills just hours after I landed at the Richmond airport, as I missed her first call. Several attempts to call, text, Skype her later, I learned I didn’t have enough Skype credit for transatlantic chat. An awkward conversation with the State Plaza Hotel desk clerk led me to realize I didn’t know Sabine’s husband’s first name (under which the reservation was listed). Bless the kindness of this man, though, he read every German-sounding name on the guest register.

You know when you feel like a stranger is going to do anything to help you? Well, I stopped just shy of giving a “this is one of the moments in the movie when…” speech ala Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the nurse in Magnolia. Luckily, Sabine called again just in time.

Plan B: Have breakfast at Sabine’s hotel Thursday morning before she and her husband begin the drive up to New York and eventually Canada to round out their North American journey.

The Strategy: Leave soul-crushingly early. Washington, DC, according to Forbes Magazine, has the worst traffic in the US. Atlanta comes in second, as its sprawl can’t quite compete with that of Spin City. After consulting with my friend Alex, a home-grown resident of Northern Virginia, I opted to drive to the Franconia Metro station and take the train into the city.

After waking from my friend Carrie’s house at 5:00 am, I was on the road by  5:20 after a gas and coffee stop.

Sidenote: the coffee at 7-11 is now bad again.

I met my share of brake lights on the road, but I arrived in Springfield pretty close to when I expected, though a few minutes behind.  I parked right next to the entrance, thinking this would make it easy to find my car upon returning later that afternoon. Stay tuned for how that went in my next post. The time of metro ride + walk to hotel  was unknown to me and I did not want to have another international missed connection, so I switched into hurry mode. I locked the car door, walked briskly behind the crowd headed for the platform, and dashed inside the station. Within two minutes I’d purchased my fare card and was seated on the departing blue line train. Just as I heard the I’m pretending like I’m covering a sports game announcer note that the next stop was VAAAAN DOOOOORN Street, I realized I didn’t look to see the numbered section of my parked car. This is back when I thought parking near the entrance would save me.

Austria meets America: Sabine and her husband greeted me warmly in the lobby of their hotel. It had been a while since I’d been to Europe, so I found myself caught in the cross hairs of one-kiss-or-two confusion, but they were very gracious. Sabine’s English is quite good which combined nicely with my non-existent German. Danke!

As we sat down for breakfast, Sabine presented me with the first letter I ever wrote to her: it was fashioned on orange construction paper, laden with photos and accented with stickers. I took pictures of the letter, Sabine’s husband took shots of the two of us posing with the letter, and tragically I cannot post them due to a memory card formatting error. [Insert apology to my friend Carrie, whose camera I borrowed to document this encounter after leaving mine in Florida. Her photos were also victims of my HP inexperience. You should probably not let me borrow your camera unless it’s a Canon.]

Sabine and I started writing to each other as children; she lived in the magical land of the Alps. You might be thinking of this:

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

The hills are alive! But only in America. While many of us associate Austria with amusing children donning clothes made out of curtains singing to escape the Nazis, Sabine never even heard of the musical until college. I love perspective.

Trying to present my life in small town Virginia as interesting proved difficult when I was 8 years old. It took me months to write back after that first letter; I waited until after a trip to Disney World and a big snow gave me something photo worthy. I felt like the snow might help connect us. Wasn’t I cute with that? Strangely, it ended up being my “insignificant” small town that reconnected us 25 years later.

During the 2008 election, Sabine was watching the news in Austria and there was a story on my town saying how Obama probably wouldn’t do well in the area because it was so conservative. (FYI, my county went 68% for McCain). She saw this story and the day following the election she searched and found me in the social networking universe. Almost two years later we met in person for the first time. Sabine said to me at breakfast how big the world seemed when we were kids and how small it has gotten as adults.

I used to resist this change–I preferred hiding inside my private thoughts, my private world. It’s easier, safer, to live inside yourself, but you miss connecting with others, and in the end helping them by sharing your experiences. So something that could’ve been a school project that ended in college, has now turned into what I hope will be lifelong communication. Sabine’s a journalist for a newspaper with the highest circulation in Austria and she brought me Mozart chocolates!

Hopefully when Sabine returns from her vacation she will email her pictures of our meeting and I can post them, because the letter/collage/bad art project is something to behold.

Since I don’t have pictures of my penpal reunion, here are some more of Ramona. Her blog is still inactive:

“I’ve got your wedding present right here!”

Stay tuned for Part II of 9/9/10 with hot topics such as a parking garage and Ikea. Just try and stay away.