Given all the world, words, and time my greatest desire is to go back and forth and down paths sideways reconciling metaphors with people and stones. If there are, as William Carlos Williams writes, No ideas but in things, I want to counter that existential dictate that there is no-thing without ideas.
I tend to operate, maybe like most, that idea is genesis.
But that isn't the whole story, is it?
So where do ideas come from?
How does this whole art thing happen?
It has to be a coming together of things, of ideas, of images. . . but the formation of "it" seems outside my control. And, the expression of it?
I am, after all, a student versed in the ways of Jungian archetypes, Bahktin's dialogic, passionate about comparative mythology and schooled-- to no-end-- on Hemingway's iceberg theory and the tenet that less?
Is always more.
So, you know.
How the hell am I to create anything under all this pressure?
But. These ideas? These things? They keeping coming.
I do nothing. Because, simply? I just don't have the time. Lately though, these things have hounded me.
The things will not leave me be. (If I were Dr. Seuss I would have a Seussian image to go with it. )
These things, they appear in my brain. I see them. Plainly.
See what? An idea, a thing, an image. I am not really sure what to call "it". Sometimes "it" happens from a phrase overheard and my brain instantly translates words into a picture. Most times though I don't know where "it" came from or even, what "it" means or how to interpret "it" or --most importantly-- why I am seeing "it".
But I need to figure it out. I am the child of a scientist father (Physicist by design, Engineer by profession) and an Artist mother: there must not only be a problem of the universe to solve but there must also be a way to express it, creatively. I have to think this is why I am good at Algebra but never really liked it; driven instead to the pretty picture side of things.
Of course, where I fail is in the making of the pretty pictures.
But maybe, I have thought, I could write them . . .
So for me this "it" is the genesis of lighting. This is lighting that strikes up, rising from dirt; not lightening from ion-laden cumulous clouds that travels a predictable downward path. Most times I just watch in awe as the bolt disappears into the looming dark clouds that the wind carries away, leaving me to contemplate charred earth.
Some images though, they are like the rhetoric before speech and they have teeth. They nibble at me, biting once then consuming me whole. In those instances I always think this must be the same feeling early humans felt the first time they discovered fire. And I worry. I worry I will spend centuries trying to figure out how to keep the fire going, trying to recreate that initial spark or worse, I will have to dig for fire. Push past the roots, the artifacts, the pigmented pottery shards, and dig, really dig deep through the history of fossilized sediment to the crust of the earth and steal the fire.
Who do I think I am?
I am the clay figure.
Same as you; blowing pigment over my hand onto a French cave wall.
Dreaming a dream; a series of images that tell the tale of a collective story.
Icebergs in the Caribbean.
It floated across my brain on a dreary Tuesday in traffic. I said the phrase as I saw the picture. I googled the phrase, trapped on Johnson Ferry between the river and Roswell Road. While I waited my turn to cross the road at the light, I learned that icebergs are formed during a process called calving; a phenomenon that happens under stress, pressure or forces from waves or tides.
Icebergs are beautiful and dangerous.
Scars on the ocean floor show that thousands and thousands of years ago icebergs from the Hudson River might have drifted as far south as Bermuda. Humans were busy back then. They were hunting, gathering, finding fire, figuring out how to plant food and they were putting images on cave walls, crafting clay figures and sharpening tools.
And I wonder, when their eyes-- just off the coast of Bermuda in the Caribbean Sea--saw icebergs float past; Did they feel inspiration? Feel a lighting shock of wonder, or feel hope at the shimmering mirage and form a thought that maybe, this was out of the ordinary? Did they think this floating ice island was extraordinary?
Days later, I recall my dream from a few months earlier:
I am in a dense tropical forest high atop a cliff. The trees are blocking my view of the cerulean sea that swirls below the forest and there are pointy rocks on the cliffs shouldering the sky all the way to the water. I need a clear view of the lagoon below. I want to leap. But all the trees are blocking my view. Through the trees though I can see distant cliffs with a sprawling scrub that will provide a clear view to assess the lagoon below. But the path to that perfect view is long, uncertain. I really want to jump from the cliff nearby. It is more convenient but it is also so much riskier.
I stand in the forest amongst low-lying ferns and fronds and thick trunks of palm trees contemplating my choices and suddenly, a bus barrels past. It clear-cuts a path through the forest to the sea. It dives over the cliff, crashing and disappearing into the turquoise rocked-rimmed water below. Pieces of bus and bone are scattered. The heavy metal sinks. Smoke rises, silently. Water moves outward in circles.
I know instantly this is a tragedy. It tears my heart. I am just a witness. I know people have died but I also know this is an opportunity. The path to the sea is clear. I can see the rocks I should avoid and I know the exact spot from where I should jump. But I linger on the cliff. Held there by doubt and fear.
My alarm pulls me out of the dream and I have to leave me on the edge of the cliff.
And ever since, I have been trying to find my way back into the dream and change it to where I leap from cliff:
Arching high, diving straight down my ribs scrape rocks upon impact.
A flesh wound I ignore.
I go long. My body buoyantly rolls over waves. My hands scull the water. My fast feet a rudder.
I swim, determined, into the deep blue of the sea.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
As an homage to my illness I created that Soup image this morning. I am not a good sick person.
Laying around? Not doing stuff?
Gives me anxiety.
Even though I feel terrible I am not sick enough to just lay here and sleep or read or watch movies. I need to feel productive. Even if it is production of useless things. I need to do. Always. I've already made homemade mac-n-cheese for dinner, fielded work calls, answered emails, showered, did some laundry, made beds, and put on clean pj's . . .
This not the first time and certain to not be the last. Respiratory infections seem to be my lot.
How I got here is not a terrifically interesting story. Not even slightly heroic. Though, if I am being honest, hubris might have played a part in all this. Ah, the Greeks, now they knew how to write tragedies. Alas though, I am more Laurence Sterne, a modern Tristram Shandy and of course, running is my hobby horse. . .
However, if you happen care or want to know how I got pneumonia, I will tell you the story. But also, feel free to skim this part. Skip it even.
This is, after all, a digressive tale within a digressive tale. A serpent eating its tail. It will come full circle.
The Month of Cough: January 2015, a Pneumonic Evolution:It is Ryan's fault. He gave me the cold. A tiny, brief cold that devolved into a sinus infection and bronchitis in early January. Treated with a Z pack, Mucinex, Flonase and my Albuterol inhaler. And rest. Way too much rest.
Rest means no running, swimming, or biking. I did none of that fun stuff for 9 long days. (Possibly my family, friends and coworkers with direct contact with me suffered more from that rest period than I did.) Definitely dire straits and uncharted territory for an athlete (that's moi!) who hasn't gone more than 5 days without some form of exercise since the birth of her first child 14 years ago.
Completely rested, anxious and almost healthy (still snotty and coughing) I chose to run the marathon I had spent the previous months training for. Months where I gave up stuff; sacrificing for my sport. I could NOT not toe the line. I was playing the optimist. Hoping for the best. Staying the course.
Unfortunately the marathon did not go so well. I turned out a 3:49 on a course I had previously run 3:28 on and was definitely in shape to better that. But as I came to learn, no matter your fitness, training, experience, perfect weather, etc. --26.2 miles run breathing through a straw is not ideal.
Breathing through a straw? Yeah, that's what bronchitis and asthma and sinus infections feel like. So not impossible to run if you are fairly fit but not really ideal. Based on personal experience if you want to try it for yourself, my advice is that you should be realistic in your performance expectations. Let me be the first to tell you that no amount of optimism is going to change the reality of spastic bronchial passages. Try as you might, you cannot wish it away with good feelings and positive thoughts.
Two days after the marathon debacle the fallout was a big bad asthma flare up created from a combination of cold weather, exertion and lingering bronchitis and sinus infection. I was prescribed a course of Prednisone (if there ever is a devil of drug this is it), Advair, Albuterol and Flonase. It took 5 days and FINALLY my cough and snot had gone away.
So I did what any healthy runner would do after having spent an entire week NOT running. I went for a run. And then the next day another run and more miles and so on and so on until I had ran for 10 days straight and 75 miles. Really, this was nothing unusual training wise for me and it was glorious to be back.
Tuesday night, the 10th day back to glorious running I ran a little 6ish mile run and came home coughing. I coughed all night and took some Benadryl and used my Advair inhaler and I figured I would be good to go for my 2 hour run after work Wednesday afternoon.
Only Wednesday morning I woke up and I had a yucky productive cough and my back and chest hurt. I could feel my lungs. I could feel the congestion on my right side under my collar bone and behind my right breast. Still, I thought, it will get better as the day goes on as I wondered, where the hell did this crap come from?
And as the day went on, I went to work, did work stuff and had internal negotiations: I will just run for an hour after work. I will not do that 5k this weekend. Instead, just a longish run, slow.
I mentioned to a fellow coworker that my back was really sore. "Must have been the push ups I did the other day," I told him. Though push ups don't usually make me sore. I've been doing regular pushups for years now (fighting the lunch-lady arms one push-up at a time.)
His comment was "push-ups don't make your back sore. They make your chest sore. You're sick again."
"I am not!" I told him and I argued with him between coughs that push-ups could make your back sore.
He said, "Only if you are doing them wrong."
I confirmed that I do not put my knees on the floor when I do push-ups and challenged him to a push-up off the next time I wore pants to work. Stupid skirt.
As the day went on I felt worse and my back started to really hurt and my cough got worse and I argued with my coworkers that I was not sick again. However, while out on an errand, I called my doctor and requested an appointment and possibly a chest x-ray. I've had pleurisy before and pneumonia and it was all starting to feel kind of familiar. Though, I really did not feel that bad. Mostly I wanted to avoid another course of steroids and was looking for confirmation that I had pulled a muscle or slept funny.
I left work at 3 pm and by 4:15 pm I had been examined, had a chest x-ray and declared pneumonic. After a brief argument with my doctor on the course of treatment, he agreed to forego the Levaquin for Doxycycline if I agreed to come back in 48 hours for a recheck. And, of course, stick to my arsenal of inhaled steroids too. Done. Of course, we didn't shake it on it, me being a germy sick person and all.
So over being sick.
I didn't ask about when I could run. I have learned when you ask that question in the throes of serious respiratory infections doctors get kind of annoyed.
While waiting for my prescription yesterday I Facebooked a status update "Freaking Pneumonia."
An hour later my mom called.
"Are you in the hospital!" she asked.
"No," I said. "I am at home."
"Pneumonia is serious," she said and requested all the boring details. I repeated the sad tale of pneumonic Nat and told her how I had been running and was fine just the other day. I admitted though that I struggled to keep up with Pookie (little sister) when we ran 8 miles on Sunday. But I had run 17 miles the day before and felt great so that was probably why. I also admitted that I had been feeling a little tired and puny the past few days but had chalked it up to stress and insomnia. I am stressed. And sometimes I don't sleep. Those things sometimes are reasons why you might not feel awesome. Why you might feel a little puny. But those are not reasons to not run.
She asked me what it felt like. Pneumonia.
It hurts, my back is sore and it hurts when I breathe. My lungs feel like they have a weight, they are heavy. I have chills and sometimes sweats and I feel tired. Dizzy at points. Winded. Light headed when I stand up too fast. I cough gross stuff up. It gives me a headache.
"No, I don't have fever. Then I really would feel bad. But I almost never have fever. Seems like I only have fever with the flu."
"Hmm," she said, "I've never experienced that. I've never had pneumonia. I've had bronchitis."
And then I explained the differences and how this is different than I how felt earlier this month when I had bronchitis and then the asthma.
Then she went into the lecture about I had better not run. "People die of pneumonia. Promise me you won't run."
"I can't run," I told her. "My lungs hurt and I get tired just walking across the room. I wasn't like this yesterday. Yesterday I ran a 6 and half miles in 51 minutes. Today I can barely walk up stairs without feeling exhausted. Trust me. I am not running."
"Can I bring you anything? Chicken noodle soup?"
Hmmm, I thought, yummy. Homemade chicken noodle soup? I haven't had that in forever. While she lectured me on not running and the danger of what would happen if I did, I thought about homemade chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese with pickles and a coke. I wondered what other homemade stews or sauces she might have tucked away in her freezer that she could bring me. She is always making food and freezing it for later. . . Vegetable soup. Lasagna. Beef Stew. Spaghetti Sauce. Poblano Chicken Enchiladas. . .
"No, I am fine." I told her. "I was planning to go to work but my manager told me to stay home so I will be home but I don't need anything."
"Okay, "she said. "Well just let me know if you need me to bring you over a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle. I have some in my pantry."
Sunday, January 25, 2015
“The body is the instrument of our hold on the world.”
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
The above quotes are throw backs to the feminist studies classes I took in my undergrad years. (Sigh, electives . . .) I haven't really thought much about that in the last 20 odd years but lately, I've begun to wonder: Perhaps there has been a shift in the beauty ideal?
I am not talking about a 180. Just a shift. A slight move to the right. The right being the direction towards a beauty ideal that doesn't oppress but empowers women. Empowers women to not think in terms of beauty as an aesthetic but as tool in which they may sculpt whatever hold they want on the world.
My awareness of this subtle shift started last year with a pair of hot pink tie-dyed knee-high socks my husband bought Carmella for Christmas. He asked my opinion and I thought they were adorable and would look great on my daughter when she played lacrosse. She would standout on the field wearing funky pink knee-high socks. They were sporty and girly. But most importantly, in these socks, I thought, I will easily be able to pick her out from the other girls: from all the other maroon and gold kits and blondish brown long pony tails. Usually, once I figure out which one she is, she has scored and is back on the sidelines and I missed the whole thing.
But Carmella, 13 at the time, didn't like the socks. At all.
No way, she said, those will make my legs look skinny.
She said skinny like it was gross.
Skinny legs? A bad thing?
I'd never heard of such a thing.
She said that she liked the socks that hit at the calf.
"They make my legs look bigger, more muscular," she explained.
This was a surprise for me (and I noted that I should avoid socks that hit at the calf. Of course, I already knew this. . . )
But seriously, muscular is what teenage girls want to look like now? When did this happen?
This is a far cry from the waif ingénue and supermodel I grew up thinking was the ideal. I don't know when this shift happened. 17 years ago I started running to lose weight. I wanted to be thin for my wedding. I didn't really care about being fit. I wanted to be skinny. I wanted boney shoulders, string bean arms, a hollowed out collar bone, a thigh gap and pointy hips. I wanted everything Naomi Wolf said in the Beauty Myth was keeping me from being truly liberated. However, being colossally ungifted at deprivation, waifdom wasn't going to happen through dieting for me. Energy, though, I had that in spades. So exercise, I decided, was going to be my ticket to thinness. And running became the means of how I was going to get there since it was all that I could afford.
Originally, I had hopes that I would end up looking like a Victoria Secret model from all my running but all that happened is that I got my same body, a little smaller, but with more muscles. And the more I ran the more muscular (and hungrier) I became. Boney hips, fragile arms and willowy frame remained unattainable. After awhile I gave up on the skinny and decided I would just try to be the best runner I could be and not worry about the other stuff. Partly this was because I so freaking hungry from all the damn running. But also, because by then, I was married and a mother of two. I didn't have the time to worry about being skinny. I was an adult and I had priorities: I had to make sure I kept the children alive and figure out how to find time to get my run in. Actually, this is where I still am today.
Certainly, my pond is small. Maybe other teenage girls do still struggle with that skinny ideal. I only know what I hear and see with my daughter and her friends. I've never once heard them complain about their weight or mention what size they wear or watch what they eat. Because dear lord, these girls eat--which they need to. They are still growing and burn some serious calories on the field. Their conversations revolve around who is strong, who is fast and who has good stick skills. They admire girls who are stronger, faster, better. They talk strategy on how they will get that way. They don't look at fashion magazines or talk about diets.
Kate Parker, an acquaintance who I met through blogging and triathlon/running is an amazing photographer whose photo campaign of Strong is the New Pretty matches what I see with my daughter and her friends. (Of course, if you click on that Huffington Post link it is a little confusing since a number of the other articles show sexy women skimpily dressed. Boobs are still winning when it comes to marketing. I don't think this is going to change. )
Interesting to me is that I personally did nothing to intentionally propagate anything other than the female skinny status quo. Certainly, a number of my more socially and body image aware mommy friends worried about the skinny quo. They banned their daughters playing with Barbie or Barbie's slutty knockoff the big eyed Bratz dolls. They worried about the dolls perpetuating unrealistic body images to their daughters. I didn't worry about that or actually, I just didn't think a doll had that much power. Once, when Carmella was 5, in the throws of all that is princess and Barbie, I said, Honey eat your vegetables. Don't you want to grow up to be pretty like Barbie or Cinderella? And Carmella said, "Can't I just grow up to look like you? I don't want to be a doll."
So yes, I bought Carmella all of those dolls. Any doll. She wanted to play with dolls. So I bought her dolls to play with. And though I am not a regular subscriber, I read and will still read Cosmo, Glamour and Vogue-- magazines preserving the antiquated beauty ideals of women. (What can I say? A girl needs a little low-brow guilty pleasure sometimes.) I read these in front of my daughter, who as of this writing has yet to show any interest in them. In addition to that feminist faux pas, I am further guilty of dressing to the beauty myth--short skirts, high heels, mini dresses, tight jeans. And more than likely, more than just a little inappropriately at times for a woman my age, never mind a mommy. In fact, it was only recently that I was shopping with Carmella for bikinis and I was trying on some of the same swim suits she was trying on and I realized that maybe these suits are meant for teenage girls. And then it occurred to me that maybe it is time to find somewhere else to shop. . . My point to all this is that I have been a terrible role model for my daughter in the sense that I have bought into the marketing and what (apparently) society wants us to believe makes a beautiful woman. I have been perpetuating the "beauty myth"!
But somehow despite all my missteps and stumbles away from feminism, I have a daughter who sees past it and wants to be strong? Wants to be fit? I can't help but think it is the running. If you know me, running trumps pretty much everything for me. Sometimes, yes, even good sense. . .
Its funny though because my competitive nature is a trait that I am embarrassed about. It is an ugly part of me but it is what motivates my running vigilance. Without it I probably would have quit long ago and given over to all that is diet and deprivation. Though it has never been outright said to me-- I have figured out that most people (especially other women) find competitiveness a very unattractive trait in a female. The message is that wanting to win is fine but you should not be vocal about it or in any way ever be overt about it. I find myself apologizing and toning it down. Which might surprise those that know me that I say I tone it down. If you only knew. If you only knew. . .
*Sidebar Disclaimer: This is not to say I actually ever win but I always want to and I am disappointed when I do not.
So there it is, the irony. It is ironic that the very unfeminine and distasteful trait of competitiveness is the fuel in the engine that drives the car of discipline on this undulating road to physical strength. And that physical strength is what my daughter and other girls are finding is the pretty.
Please let that stay. Please let beauty be a muscle. Not a boney hip or a thigh gap but a defined quad casting a shadow over a knee and double heart-shaped calf. A carved out lat, not a boney spine.
But I am sure this will all change. Men are hardwired to a like a certain physique. Curves matter to them. And at some point most women start to care about that. I'm not a scientist but I think biology is hard to deny. But what I like right now is that the way my daughter thinks about her body is in terms of what she can do with it. What she can do with her body is what drives her body image--not how her body looks to other people.
And isn't that how it should be for everyone--men and women? Girls and boys?
So maybe there is shift in the feminine beauty ideal --at least for the female. Time will tell.
The reality is though, no matter how much you diet, slather fountain of youth elixirs, inject face-freezing toxins or pay to surgically have your body sculpted in the round of youth, the beauty of youth will fade. But consider this: The beauty of a strong, fit body is that it is a body that endures. It is a body that allows you to experience all that life has to offer. That's beautiful.
Maybe it will always be true that pretty is as pretty does. ... But what if, what if what pretty does is flex her muscles?
So to everyone--girls, boys, women and men, I say this:
Go ugly to be beautiful.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Summer, it makes me forget how running fixes everything. The heavy air, a wet blanket wrapped around my head, the lead in my legs and the insufferable sun-- all weighing me down; sucking the joy out of my routes like a drought does water out of a reservoir.
But then here, a few days before the Autumnal equinox, I feel the air break. Suddenly, I am lighter. Unburdened, I can almost taste fall--dry leaves, brisk air, and wind. Unexpectedly, like a summer storm, it embraces me--the magic run; the endorphin fix I've been waiting for.
For sure, it is a temporary band aid for this forever healing wound. Only to be ripped off each day from the stress and the toil of the work day. It is a bandage that I willing reapply at the end of the day-- and sometimes in the morning too. A prophy-lactic acid fix.
It is the best part of the day.
After that double book-ended crawl on Johnson's Ferry, peeling off my work clothes and replacing my heels with light weight trainers I bolt out the door the same way I use to when I was 9: just off the school bus and running down the road to meet my friends and roam the neighborhood.
Now, I chase the sun. Catching the last bit of daylight before all the colors turn to dark and stars and glowy moon. The temperature and the humidity drop and I feel like finally, I can breathe. So I drop the pace and go for breathless, rushing home to my family, a better person.
9 miles. It fixed the day.
And I just wanted to say that I am still here.
Putting one foot in front of the other with relentless, forward motion.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
A little girl picked it up and put it in her pocket . . .
After the dreary rain of Saturday, Sunday morning came bright and clear. My bedroom window framed a glorious spring day: blossomed pear and cherry trees with their fluffy blooms pinned against a cerulean sky, brilliant green lawns, and daffodils. My lord, they are all the sudden everywhere, they are the flower equivalent of Canadian geese.
Ignoring my hangover, I pulled on a skirt, a tank and tied my hair back in braid. Optimistically without a hat and only my sunglasses, I bolted out the door ready to embrace the beautiful morning.
The scene belied me. I was instantly chilled, and on the almost last day of March I wondered where was the lamb as I dearly regretted my lack of clothing. I pushed on accepting temporary discomfort; assuming I would warm up as I pressed my body relentlessly into the wind.
In the sun, with the wind at my back, I did feel comfortable but an easy turn of the road and the wind would again roar at my face and my arms were numbed, my body stung from the bitter chill. I tried to find enjoyment but five miles in the negotiations began. After a few not so quick turns on the track I headed home and cut the course short from 12 miles to 9 miles .
I took my less traveled route home.
And, in this instance, it made all the difference of my mood.
So funny how the tiniest of things can turn you.
How, novel . . .
A quick scan told me this was some sort of love letter. The mention of Mr. Morrison's class and how boring it was, also told me it was not written to me but to a differently Natalie. Who knew there were others? Apparently younger and in high school too. Huh.
I folded it carefully and tucked it in my pocket. I was so excited. I couldn't wait to get home to read it. Even though I knew it wasn't meant for me, a letter-- a note! --is so antiquated in today's world of email and texting. And well,frankly, it took me back. I can't remember the last time someone wrote me a letter, a love letter none the less.
Again, I know this was not for me but I have, in the past, received such a letter. In fact, somewhere, I still have them. Unlike this Natalie, I kept my letters and did not toss them to the Juniper bushes! (To be precise they are piled with other various papers and photographs in a steam trunk my sister painted in my garage.)
With the letter burning against my thigh, I found new energy and raced home, eager to read it and share it will my brood. I bounded into my house. My house, with 2 10 year old boys--Beau and his buddy Boo, and Ryan lounging about. Carmella was out; I would tell her about it later.
A letter! I exclaimed. I found a letter on my run!
I pulled it out of my pocket and showed them.
And it says my name!
Unimpressed. They did not so much care even a tiny bit, but I read it to them anyway.
Oh, it is so typical!
She is not so into him any more.
There is an age that boys stop writing letters to girls.
And I know that in this letter--what is happening-- is why boys stop writing letters to girls.
And I know, he is correct: she really is not into him anymore.
Honestly? She's been done for awhile.
She just doesn't know how to tell him. Or rather, is too chicken to tell him.
Girls. They are all about feelings when it is their own. But someone else's?
It is a bit evil.
Ah, but boys?
Not so quick to pity.
Boys will pay the girls back in their 20's.
Tit for tat.
A tisket for a tasket.
I want to erase it for him because I can imagine this boy who penned this note-- not as a boyfriend as I once might have-- but now, as my son; heartbroken, writing a note to a girl he loves.
Funny how being a parent can shroud you with empathy you might never have had.
Time. It changes your perspective. Shifting like the wind on running route.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
For Steph and nods to Robert Frost, of course.
Stopping by the Track on a Snowy Morning
Whose track is this I think I know.
They are home, asleep in beds though;
They will not see me stopping here
To run the track in starlit snow.
I must seem strange to have no fear
Here alone, without sun’s bright seer.
‘Round the turf without end, I break
Sweat this coldest dawn of the year.
Breathless I go, ignoring ache,
Counting each lap; there is no mistake.
The only sound, my feet’s quick sweep
Over rubber and wafting flake.
The track is dark and the pace steep,
But I have intervals to reap,
And miles to run while they sleep,
And miles to run while they sleep.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
--No growth without assistance. No action without reaction. No desire without restraint. Now give yourself up and find yourself again.
Li Mu Bai, Crashing Tiger Hidden Dragon
--The wonderful thing about tiggers is tiggers are wonderful things! Their tops are made out of rubber. Their bottoms are made out of springs. They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!
Oh but the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one!
-Tigger, Winnie the Pooh
A few Sundays ago I ran the 2012 Atlanta Marathon. It was my 18th marathon and I crossed another Georgia marathon off my quest to run all the marathons in Georgia. I have actually run the Atlanta Marathon twice before--as my first and as my 7th-- but the Atlanta Track Club two years ago moved the date of the race from Thanksgiving and completely changed the course. So in my mind it was a new marathon with an old name which meant I had to run it.
Originally, before I damaged the nerve in my foot and back when I was in what I viewed, "the shape of my life," I had ideals on nabbing a money spot for this race. I never had ideals on setting a personal best in Atlanta since it is touted as one of the hilliest road marathons on the East Coast. However, this race pays out 8 spots in the Open division and 3 deep in the Master's division for both men and women equally. Even better, and finally a real life instance where with age comes privilege, there is "double dipping" for the "mature" runners: meaning you can take a top 8 payout as well as the Master's payout. In stalking last year's results a top 3 female masters spot was well within my capabilities. But then, if you've been keeping up, I dropped my foot and I didn't even know if I would ever be able to run a marathon again-- or run at all for that matter.
My training though, as it happened, wasn't all that bad. I've definitely had worse and given that my anterior tiblias was completely paralyzed for the entire month of June it was way better than I had expected. Once enough nerve function came back I was able to ramp up my miles fairly quickly to be back to the mileage I had been logging in May. By the end of August I was logging 70+ miles a week. Which, honestly, is probably where I would have been even if I hadn't had to sit out of running all of June. I peaked at 81 in mid September and managed to get in 5 runs over 21 miles in the 2 and half months prior to race day. My last long run was 25.75 miles, 3 weeks out from race day. The problem, at least from my perspective, was that all my miles were slow, some even what I would call slog. I couldn't tell you the single average pace of any run. I knew, without a doubt that I could complete the distance but I just didn't feel like I was as sharply trained as I had been last year at this same time. I felt like I was the same pencil but with a rounded, dull tip. Not to mention, I still have some goofy nerve sensations in my right ankle and foot from the damage.
To further complicate matters it turned out that I had not one but two interviews with two different companies scheduled for Monday. As in the day after the race. One was scheduled in the morning and the other, a second interview with a company I was extremely interested in working for, was scheduled for in the afternoon.So understandably, the marathon fell low on my priority list. I knew I could still run it, based on that I had done training runs of a close length and managed fine but I didn't want to risk a leave it all on the course type of effort and go for broken. Maybe there are some people who can bring their A game two days in a row but I was not willing to gamble that I might be one of them. However, I figured I could bring my B+ game Sunday and still pull an A+ effort on Monday.
So what does one do to squelch their competitive side and make a race a non race and just a fun run?
They wear a costume!
The marathon was, after all, three days before Halloween. It seemed the obvious thing to do. In fact, so obvious I assumed that the majority of the racers would also be in costume too.
And, I really couldn't have been more wrong about that.
Volunteers in costume?
Not that I saw.
Good thing that I neither embarrass easily or care that people laugh at me. Though in Sunday's case, I chose to think they were laughing with me. I don't think I have ever smiled the entire 26.2 miles of any of the marathons I have done. I was seriously giggling running to the finish line.
The weather was perfect race morning --50's, little drizzly at points. Ryan, still a bit with a fun over from his evening out with the super friends Batgirl and Aquaman (aka Wes and Pookie), kindly drove me to Atlantic Station where the start was and dropped me off.
While walking to the start he kept commenting that I was the only one in a costume. I had told him, when he had questioned me on the amount of time I was putting into making my costume earlier in the week, that there would be lots of other runners in costumes. I had explained, there would probably be more runners in costume than not. So he was pretty quick to point out, many times, that there was not anyone else in costume but me.
Yes, I know my costume doesn't look like much but I spent a lot of time sewing tiger patches on that shirt and making my tail and tiger mittens and tiger head wear. After all that time I spent putting into making my costume there was no way I wasn't going to wear it and I wasn't going to regret wearing it either for that matter.
Staying at Pookie and Wes's house--who live in town-- made getting to the start easy and seamless. Parking was plentiful and Ryan walked me up right up to the start. I was in corral A, which it felt like everyone else was too. It was packed! I squeezed my way in and lined up near a guy holding a 3:40 pacer sign. I asked a guy standing next to me with a 3:40 pace group sign on what that pace was. "8:24" he said. Hmm, I thought, that sounds doable. He asked me if that was my goal. I told him no, I had no goal other than to have fun. I had even left my watch at home.
No one commented on my costume. Maybe they couldn't tell it was a costume. But I didn't feel silly or ridiculous. I just felt like me. Which right, is a bit silly and ridiculous.
No one commented on my costume. Maybe they couldn't tell it was a costume. But I didn't feel silly or ridiculous. I just felt like me. Which right, is a bit silly and ridiculous.
Okay, so I really tried to pay attention to how this one started and I am pretty sure it was just "Runner's take your mark, Go!" No gun, cannon or horn. And we were off. I pretended to hit my watch that I wasn't wearing since that was what everyone else did when they crossed the start line.
It was still a week until we would "fall back" into Daylight's saving time. So with a 7 am start we were running through the city in darkness for almost an hour.
I love that!
I love that!
There were clocks on the course. So I noted that my first mile came in at 8:2x. I felt comfy and easy so I felt like this was a good pace. I had heard that this course was tougher than the old Atlanta course and the Publix course in the spring so I was fine with whatever. I had told my sister, Wes and Ryan that I would probably be in the 3:35-3:45 range. And if nothing else I didn't want to have to run longer than 4 hours so I was going to do my best to pace evenly and comfortably. I had marked the course map for them with potential times so when they sobered up enough to go for their ride they could find me easily.
Sometime in the first few miles I would see a guy up ahead of me that looked way too fit to be running in the 3:40 group. I don't mean this as an insult to any 3:40 runner but I just happened to notice that this particular guy had muscles on muscles. There was also something vaguely familiar about him but I didn't know what. It didn't matter because he pulled on ahead and somewhere before the 3rd mile I found an open porto potty. I guess maybe I was too over hydrated.
I passed the 3 mile clock in around 25 minutes. I'm not sure what that pace is but I had gotten behind the 3:40 group. But having relieved my bladder I felt instantly lighter and faster and quickly caught back up to them and passed them easily and effortlessly.
Somewhere in mile 5 we run up past the Capital building. This use to be the middle of mile 25 (or 12 for the half) of the old Thanksgiving course. I always hated that hill. But at mile 5ish it was nothing! Then we turned and rolled down hill towards the Ted, running under the Olympic rings and past the old finish line area of the old course. I saw a clock, which I assumed was the 6 mile and it was around 48 or 49 minutes. I asked a runner near me if we were on 3:30 pace and he said, no just over. I was pretty happy about that. I figured if I could maintain that I would finish in around 3:35, at the faster end of my goal. I knew I would be out of the money spot but I also figured word had probably gotten out and all the fast girls had showed up anyway and it would be a faster field than the previous year.
Shortly after that I saw up ahead a runner in a bright yellow shirt that I was almost certain was my friend Anthony who always see at the Georgia marathons. I started dropping the pace a little to try and catch up to him. I was happy to find my effort was well worth the while because it was him! The next few miles flew by as I caught up with all that was going on with Anthony.
Around mile 8 or 9 I met this guy at an aid station (Same guy I had spotted early in the race and thought that dude looks too fast to be running with us pokey puppies!):
For those non runner readers that is Dean Karnazes. He graciously posed for a picture with me at the finish at the Volkswagon tent. Actually he graciously posed for pictures with lots of people so I wasn't really all that special--but I was the only one in a costume! Anyway, Anthony and I ran about a mile or so with Dean and chatted with him about running stuff and his concern that the New York marathon would be canceled the following weekend. And as most people know, it was. After a bit he dropped Anthony and I and pulled ahead and I didn't see him until after I finished.
Around mile 11 Anthony decided to pull back and dial the pace down. We said our well wishes to each other and I pushed on ahead. I had thought I had crossed the half mat in 1:45xx but according the results it was 1:44:55. I must have sped up a lot after the 6 mile point. Didn't ever feel like it though. I never realized I had been on or even under the 3:30 pace. I was just having fun and avoiding the hurt locker.
I would occasionally walk through an aid station and at times-- on the absolutely relentless hills-- thought I might walk but inevitably I would have the thought of a walk break and there would be a group of spectators who would see me and start screaming "Go Tiger Girl!" or "Tigger is Great!" So I would feel too guilty to take a walk break after all the special attention. Which, by the way, was awesome. I might have to wear a costume for every race I do. I can't say if this was just my particular costume or running a marathon in any costume will illicit such response but it was hilarious to see people--not even out to spectate the race but walking their dog or driving to the coffee shop--watch the expressions on their face change from bland normalcy to first a mix of shock or confusion and then break into a smile and start to laugh and cheer. Making people laugh and smile for 26 miles is awesome!
Shortly after I passed through Virginia Highlands, mile 14 or 15 I saw my friend Shannon out for a ride. She kindly took a few pictures of me running over the next few miles.
I almost had a low moment when we ran down into the park. Only because in the Georgia marathon I always have a valley of darkness moment running through the park. And also, I swear the park sits at the bottom of a hole. It is downhill in and then always an awful uphill climb out. But the tour of the park ended up being so fun because of all the spectators and cheering and shout outs.
Around mile 17-18 Ryan, my sister, Shannon and Wes caught up to me. I had to laugh because their original plan had been to all wear their costumes for their hangover bike ride but only Ryan was wearing his! He wasn't too bothered about being the only one in costume either.
Pookie kept saying that I "was ahead" of my prediction but I was certain that I was not and told her that was on 3:35 pace! She told me that they had been "chasing me for miles" and that it was a good thing I wore a costume because people remembered me. Pookie would ask "Excuse me but did you see a woman in tiger costume go by?" And the response was, "you just missed her by 2 minutes!"
Wes pulled up along side me while I swear I am running up the longest hill ever and tells me that Phil is beating me and wants to know how can I let this happen? He seems really disappointed and I wonder if there had been wagers placed.
Wes and Pookie had made much of a (non existent) competition between me and Phil--who I have only met a few times. When I was shopping at Hobby Lobby the week prior for my costume fabric Pookie had told me about Phil's training. His plan was to run as little as possible prior to the race so he wouldn't injure himself training. While Phil is obviously a top athlete, an amazing cyclist and definitely has youth on his side, the less is more ethic has never really proven a good training strategy for a marathon. I told her, in jest, that my goal would be to beat Phil since I had no other goal. But then Wes told me Phil's plan was to run 3:20 and he had some of his team pacing him. So my plan to "beat Phil" was no longer in effect since I had no designs on 3:20 or even 3:30 for that matter.
Nevertheless Wes rode up ahead and then returned a few minutes later. Phil is about 1-2 minutes ahead of you, he reports. Phil said this is the furthest he has ever ran in his life. I can't believe he is beating you, Wes says while I struggle up the infinity hill.
We still have 8 miles left, I tell him. Anything can happen and we aren't even to the hard part yet.
After a bit they pedal on and I am alone again. I am still having a blast and feel really good. Yes, my legs are tired but for being 19 miles in I know I am doing just fine and can certainly hang in there for another hour.
My only real trouble was the excessively cambered Atlanta streets. They are domed. So not only is the Atlanta course hilly as hell, it is on heaped up in the middle cambered and potholed roads. It is a little awful. I couldn't find a comfortable spot to run on and it put lot of stress on my good ankle. I decided middle of the road was my best bet even if it put me right next to unforgiving Atlanta traffic. At least in my tiger costume I was hard to miss.
Around this time a woman runs up beside me. This is first woman I've seen that wasn't a relay runner all day. She grunts something at me as she comes along side me. I don't hear her clearly but think she called me a bitch. I say, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you? She says again, this course is a BITCH! I laugh. Oh yeah that. She pulls ahead and I wonder if I should try to keep up with her. I decide against it since that would mean possibly calf cramps and a hurt locker experience that I was definitely trying to avoid. But yeah, right she was, the course was an absolute bitch. But you know, like a lot of bitches, a really pretty one. I have to say of all the marathon courses I've run in Atlanta this new course is by far the toughest but it also offers the best views and highlights of the city. You start in Atlantic Station, run out south through downtown to the stadium and then snakes you through all the cute old neighborhoods, all the way out almost to Buckhead and then wind back to Atlantic Station through midtown. No hill was left un-run. Of this I can assure you.
Around mile 20 I see a guy on a bike pulling a kid in a trailer. I realize it is Wes's friend Jon. We say hello and chat for a minute and then he tells me Phil is right up ahead of me. Again with the Phil competition. And sure enough, I see him with a group of runners around him. After another minute I am right up next to them and pass them shortly after. I wish Phil the best and advise him, "the faster you run, the sooner you are done!"
At mile 24 I am running up (of course it is up) the Peachtree Road race's famed "Heart Attack Hill" and I see my friend Jason and we swap high 5's. I tell him this course is kicking my ass! Heart attack hill isn't ever so awful for me, you have to run up in the old Atlanta marathon at mile 20, but I start to worry that I am going to have to run up the one that comes after you cross over 85 and takes you back up into midtown. I start to think about my walking strategy but the next thing I know the course hangs a right and we run DOWN a hill. I have never been on this road, still have no idea what that area was that we ran through those final miles because they all blurred by.
One minute I am running up some awful short hill thinking my hamstring is contemplating a cramp and the next I can hear the roar of the finish line and see the mile 26 sign. Wow! And I feel good! I can't believe it is almost over.
I run the last .2 fast, with a huge smile and with out stretched airplane arms around the fenced in corners and nail a round off over the finish line. Ta da!!
I spot the clock and see 3:32! What a pleasant surprise. I was really expecting 3:35xx.
What a fun, bouncy, pouncy, happy and self restrained race I had!
And they gave me a pint glass!
According to the unofficial results my time was 3:32:22 and, get this, I am listed as 8th female (4th place master's). I still have to wait until they finalize the results but if the current posted results end up being correct, I still made it to a money spot ($150.00) after all!
What a bonus that would be to an already spectacular race day!
Celebratory beers, burgers and Falcon football after the race:
My mantra of the last year or so has been to give 100% of what I have every time I toe the line. But I fully admit not giving a 100% to the Atlanta marathon. I was saving a bit of myself, banking on that a little self restraint would pay off in other more important areas. I had a great race and definitely one of the funnest times I've ever had a marathon. As an athlete though, it is hard to not say if only I had done this or that and my result would have been superior. But the race result was not my current focus so I can't allow myself to speculate a such. As it turned out, I had the exact race I planned and to ask for any more would be greedy. More importantly, I had 2 great interviews the Monday after the race. The second of which, while driving home from the interview, I got a call from my recruiter that they wanted to hire me! So I am happy to report that I am now fully employed and have joined the ranks of the darkthirty runner.