“The thing that has given me the most relief and freedom in my adult years has been, finally, once and for all giving up on the idea that I might secretly be, or will one day become, a princess. Accepting that you’re just some perfectly ordinary woman who is going to have to crack on, work hard and be polite in order to get anything done is–once you’ve gotten over the crippling disappointment of your thundering ordinariness–incredibly liberating.”
–Caitlan Moran, How to Be a Woman
Last July, as I was turning thirty, I began this blog, a self improvement chronicle inspired by the book Julie and Julia and a marathon of The Biggest Loser during which I ate an entire tin of cookies. It was amusing, for the first few months, to try and fulfill the massive list of goals I had set for myself, while also maintaining a full time job and occasionally doing the dishes.
The goals were:
1. Start an online craft business.
2. Get thin (specifically, best shape of my life).
3. Read a lot of books.
3. Become a famous writer (specifically, write and submit one short story a month).
As the months wore on I realized that I would never start my own craft business because a) crafting takes too much time and patience b) I can barely do my own taxes let alone conquer the math involved in running a business c) I want running a small business to work like it does in the movies and on TV where everything is easy and fabulous and you can close up shop any time you want to go on adventures. Which is a childish fantasy. Just like “being a teacher is great because you have summers off!”
The thing is, running a business is not only a risky venture but also grueling hard work. Just opening the book Starting an Etsy Business for Dummies was enough to give me a panic attack. And after making three handbags, all of which I gave away to friends and family, I felt disheartened by the fact that sewing at home was nothing like sewing on Project Runway. Furthermore, my endeavors were far more likely to end in a rented booth next to an unwashed hippy at a craft fair rather than a runway show in New York with Tim Gunn holding my hand and saying “fabulous!”
So, the big crafty went out the window.
The blog then became mostly about my weight. I celebrated when I lost weight and cried about it when I didn’t. I ran and ran and ran and wrote about how far I ran and how I’d like to run further. I used MyFitnessPal to obsessively log everything I ate, before I ate it, a process my husband began to refer to as “pre-eating.”
I lost weight and got in pretty good shape but, really, my eating habits were verging on disorder. Food was all I could think about as I got within fifteen pounds of my goal weight. I was working out six days a week and I was hungry ALL THE TIME. I ate like a monk until I couldn’t stand it anymore and then I would cram a dozen cookies in my mouth all at once.
At ten pounds left to go my body stopped shedding weight completely and I began to really look at the shape my figure had taken. Over nine months I had lost weight in all the worst spots: my breasts and butt had shrunk, my top ribs and shoulders appeared bony, my already thin wrists looked skeletal, my hips jutted out but there was still uneven fat above and below them. And where I had wanted to loose weight all the fat had hung on: the thighs, the muffin top, the love handles, the arm flab.
I realized that, at 155 lbs, I looked more like some Picasso rendition of a woman naked, with all the proportions off, rather than the real beautiful curvy woman that I had appeared to be five pounds heavier. My bones were simply made to hold 160 lbs of woman in a size ten dress and no less than that. I am not a Kate Moss and I never will be. I am a Beyonce, a Rihanna, a J-Lo, a Queen Latifa (except astoundingly white). And I’m okay with that. So in March I stopped counting calories and just tried to eat normal, healthy food. Amazingly, my body has stuck around 160 lbs, exactly where it looks best, because it probably knows better than my brain anyways.
Furthermore, while I’ve pounded the pavement until my body has morphed into something close to athletic, I don’t run much faster than I did a year ago, and I still have to do girl push ups. So, just like I will never be a supermodel, I will never be a professional athlete, or even show up in top finishing times in a local race. And that’s okay.
My whole life I’ve really hated doing things when I can’t be the best at them, or when I’m afraid of looking foolish, so I’ve just passed on those things. Which is, of course, twice as foolish as not doing them. Forcing myself to take on difficult athletic endeavors over the past year has taught me that I can have fun while not being the best and even while looking foolish. As this picture of me covered in mud will attest:
I mean, look at that smile on my mud caked face. I was scared to death the night before, scared of falling off the obstacle course and breaking my neck, scared of jumping into a mud pit and getting dirty, scared of having a bad finishing time. In the end, though, none of that mattered. All the adrenaline shot through my body and I was off climbing those obstacles like some demented sun burnt monkey, with all the other monkeys around me having fun, and everything was okay, amazing even. So amazing, in fact, that the next day I wished that I could get up and do it again, even though I was sore as hell.
Because, in the end, that’s really what exercising is all about, releasing that inner animal, the primal creature you were meant to be. The mud covered, sun burnt monkey that stood upright, and then went somewhere to order an overpriced coffee and finally write that novel.
Which brings me to my last two goals of the year: To read and to write. A lot. Around nine months I realized that I wasn’t doing enough reading or writing because I was spending all my time entering my calories, exercising, and writing this blog. So I stopped everything but the exercise, which I cannot live without, and started to read and write in earnest.
I found, no matter how hard I worked, that submitting a well written short story a month is impossible. Perhaps some people can crank out finished product like that but I simply cannot. After listening to interview after interview and reading the advice of a hundred accomplished writers I learned that writing a good novel takes massive amounts of time and writing a good short story sometimes fills an even larger space. Karen Russel, in an NPR interview, said that she spent so much time editing each short story she writes that one might think she was working on a cure for cancer.
And that’s really how it is. Good writing takes time, lots of time, and not just time spent writing, but reading as well. Since I stopped writing this blog in February I’ve read 19 books and written over ninety pages of a short story turned novel. Best of all, I’ve finally learned to love it, to have the confidence that writing is the thing I’m good at, and a writer the thing I was born to be, because I love the written word so much that sometimes it hurts.
While I thought, in the beginning, that writing a blog would help me to better myself, it didn’t, not really. What it did help me to do was to sort out all the mess. To stop thinking I needed to be “perfect” before I could be happy. Because, as I read the back blogs, I realized that my trying to be perfect, and writing about it all the time, was really annoying. All the “oh I can’t believe I ate all those cookies” was stupid. And as I read all the other self-improvement blogs out there the message hit me even harder. No one cares how many push ups you did today, how many calories you ate, or how fast you can run, except for you. No one cares if you are perfect. Even if you are Katy Perry all anyone really wants to hear about are your mistakes.
Because, when you are perfect, you are no longer any fun.
That’s not to say that we should all be unhealthy and immoral wrecks of life. But we should go outside and run just to experience the feeling of running and not to run faster. We should eat fruit to enjoy it and not because we have to. And we should do whatever it is we love and are good at. There are a lot of things I can’t be, because I’m just not wired to it, and I never will be, and that’s okay. I can still enjoy being a mediocre seamstress and runner. I can still look good in a size ten–if I can find one before all the other average women snatch them up.
Most of all, I don’t have to be conventional to be successful in life. I don’t have to live in plan B mode, staying safe, and operating with an emphasis on the back up plan. I can come in last in every race, love food a little too much, and not get a desk job. I can call myself a writer even when people roll their eyes while kindly asking “what sort of thing do you write” while they are really thinking “you’re not a writer because I’ve never heard of you, silly girl.”
No, you’ve never heard of me, because I’m just some ordinary, hard working woman, who likes to run in the woods with my dog, and eat, and read, and make up stories. And so long as I can except that I can be fun and have fun instead of being some perfect miserable bore who goes to bed hungry every night and never, ever, calls themselves an artist.
So, it’s goodbye, blog world. I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again any time soon now that the year is up and the race is run. You haven’t really changed me, you just caused me to look at myself and realize I am not a blogger, a seamstress, an athlete, a small business owner, or a model. I am just a writer with a sweet tooth who finds happiness and confidence somewhere alone in the woods with my dog rather than in a single digit size, a fat corporate paycheck, or the approval of others.
I’ve been on this self-improvement journey for eight months now.
In the first four months twenty pounds melted from my frame like butter. My exercise routine was solid. I was up almost every morning writing my little heart out. I read book after book.
When the leaves began to change in October my mood changed to match the season. I injured my ankle and my own leaves turned from orange to brown. One story after another was rejected by publishers and my brown leaves began to float off of the tree. I was left a barren trunk. All my motivation went dormant.
Then came the great binge of 2012. First the Halloween Candy Countdown. Then the Thanksgiving Soy-sage Massacre. And finally the great Christmas Cookie Crisis.
I participated in NaNoWriMo but couldn’t keep up with the word count and once the whole affair was over I went into a writing freeze. I kept up the exercise but was inconsistent. I gained and lost and gained and lost the weight. Brief bursts of energy and resolve helped me to remain around 155 pounds despite myself.
In the Thanksgiving 5k I managed to improve my time from the year before but I did not reach my true goal time. The 12k Lakeside Trail Race was a veritable disaster.
At the end of January my scale broke and that was a good enough reason to delay my January progress report. It is February 26th and I am still sans scale. Regardless, I am confident that I didn’t lose any weight in January.
Since the 12k my ankle has refused to heal. An occasional nagging pain now lives there.
After coming in third to last at that 12k I evaluated my training and did some research and set out a new plan. I was going to be faster and more agile. I was going to learn how to prevent all those stomach problems. The new routine was golden. I was on my way to being super human. I was pumped.
That plan should have started with at least a week off of high impact exercise so that my ankle could heal. I should have gone right out and bought an ankle brace. But instead I just cut a mile or two off of my long run and considered that rest. I gave myself a running and a writing quota to follow.
I suppose my winter transgressions had made me feel guilty. I wanted to hit the ground running in the New Year. Literally.
My enthusiasm ironically led to my next downfall.
In January I experienced a steady physical and mental decline. I was obsessed with quotas and I wasn’t meeting them and that was making me bananas. I couldn’t keep up with the words or the miles.
I realize now that quotas are not good for me. They break me down. All I can think about is how many miles I have to run and how many words I have to write. But really, if it takes me an hour to write one really good sentence that’s better than a thousand empty words and an hour of productive exercise is better than eight miles of painful running with bad form.
A wise man once told me words are not like miles. Another wise man once said that it’s not the miles that count but the time you spend on the trails. Then there’s that old saying quality over quantity.
I heard a recent interview on NPR with the writer George Saunders where he claimed to have taken twelve years to write a twenty-four page long story. Saunders believes that writing is “95 percent intuitive, seat-of-the-pants, at-the-moment decisions that you can’t even explain” and this belief has gotten him a MacArthur Genius grant and has finally gained him fame with a short story collection, Tenth of December, at number one on the bestseller lists after years and years of writing. Saunders does not strike me as a man who has quotas. He strikes me as a man who spends time at his craft and looks for the creativity to come.
So in February I am learning to reevaluate the qualitative vs. the quantitative. I know that the quality of food is more important than the calories. And I’m learning that writing and running are no different.
Over the winter I fell into the pit with the Balrog as Gandalf the Grey did. Down, down, down I fell, struggling with my own personal Balrog (my Balrog looks less fiery and more like a cookie).
Down there in that subterranean lake I died and was reborn as Liza the White. Down below Moria I learned something about myself.
I will set no more quotas. Instead I will make sure to take the time, six days a week, to write and exercise. And for one day of that week I will take the time to relax.
And, of course I got that ankle brace. It’s a Futuro Sport. The word “sport” meaning, in this context, guaranteed to smell horrible in two workouts or less.
While I’ve made little forward progress outwardly in the last four months I’ve learned a lot about myself. And, really, that’s a major part of the self improvement journey. Everyone does things differently and part of improving yourself is finding the best path leading to improvement.
Reading a lot helps too.
Race Report: Lakeside Trail Race
The beginning sounds like a hundred GPS watches starting simultaneously: BEEP boop beep boop beeeep. 127 bodies build forward momentum on 254 feet shod in road shoes, trail shoes, minimalist flats, vibram five fingers, or cheap fashion sneakers. Some runners carry water or wear packs filled with bladders of liquid or don utility belts holding vials of different colored sports drinks and various flavors of gel. The runners are tall, short, slim, fat, young, old, male, and female. Some wear expensive technical gear while others are dressed in old t-shirts and gym shorts.
Here on the trail the clothes and the bodies that wear them don’t make the runner. Gender and fashion and muscle tone don’t necessarily reveal who has the fastest legs. Only time and miles will tell that story. Grit and grace and pace are all that matter for the next 8 miles.
In the beginning our herd loops around the parking lot past cars plastered with 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and then file into the narrow tree-lined path that leads us all into the woods. I’m running at my max trying to keep up with the middle of the pack. My ego demands that I keep up. My ego is a dumbass.
We cross a bridge at the start of the trail and I stick to the left. An hour before we trekked this way to check out the path and I know the bridge is a slippery devil covered in leaves and mud and yesterday’s rain. On that first trek I slipped and barely kept my balance by leaning into my thighs. The muscles that saved me then hurt now and remind me to hug the railing as the group crosses. At the end of the bridge two young women slip and slide into each other.
My legs keep me mid-pack for almost half a mile but the whole time runners are passing me one by one.
“On your left!”
Down the hill.
Up the hill.
“On your right!”
Over roots and roots and roots.
By the time the single track becomes a double track and the trees give way to a scrub-lined field I’m running alone. After maybe a quarter of a mile I’m back on a single track in the forest climbing a steep set of stone steps (the smallest and slickest steps you’ve ever seen). As I carefully ascend the steps a man at the top takes my picture.
“Anyone behind you?” he asks.
“Um, I don’t know, I don’t think so,” I reply. It takes a moment for the reality of my statement to sink in. I shake my head. The photographer maybe feels bad for asking the question so he says, “hey, if I were running I’d be last too.” His words rankle more than they heal.
The trail goes up and up and up. A large bearded man with a walking stick stands next to a shaggy dog near the top of the next hill. He smiles at me.
“I’m the turtle,” I say trying to laugh off my last-ness. He returns with a smile.
“You know what they say about those hares,” he says.
Heartened by his words I resolve to increase my effort. So far the trail had been tougher than I imagined but I’d trained and trained and trained. I had more in me. I had to have more.
But all my increased effort got me was nausea and cramps. Cramps all over. And I couldn’t stop tripping on the damn roots that reached out from the ground. I just couldn’t lift my feat up high enough. I started to get angry. I started talking to myself. It wouldn’t be polite to repeat the things I said.
Mostly I was angry at my stomach. I was ready to rally but gastrointestinal upset was holding me back. At my last race nausea had almost taken me down. I blamed a fiber filled breakfast back in November but today I only had a banana in my stomach. I wondered if dehydration was to blame but I was sipping water every ten minutes. Maybe it was nerves. Ugh, but what could I do about that?
I heard someone approaching behind me and my heart lifted.
“Hey, are you doing alright?” he said.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I tried to smile.
“Okay, just making sure. I’m the sweeper.”
The sweeper? I noticed he didn’t have a number. He was just here to make sure no one was flat out on the trail. My heart sank. I was last, dead last, and he was just the trash man.
“Well, I guess I’m last, eh?” I said with a forced smile.
“Oh, no, there are a few folks behind you. So, can I pass?”
“Really? Great!” I said a little too enthusiastically.
Pushing my stomach to the back of my mind I picked up the pace. Some paramedics on mountain bikes passed.
“Doing alright?” one said.
“Great!” I huffed.
At about mile three a runner approached from the opposite direction. The race was an out and back and he must have been heading back. I moved off the trail to let him pass. He moved by silently.
Then there was another runner and another followed by a group all talking like they were on a Sunday afternoon stroll. Several of the group addressed me.
“Keep it up!”
I nodded and thanked them each in turn and moved off the trail. When the last of the group passed I started up again but I took a misstep in the leaves beside the trail and felt that familiar white pain as I lost my footing and rolled my tricky ankle. I held in the shout that rumbled in my lungs embarrassed I’d alert the friendly group. I didn’t want to be the victim, the weakling—I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.
I kept moving, now at a walk, cursing like a sailor.
“Go Liza. Do it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” I said, maybe a little too loudly. I looked around to make sure no one had heard me talking to myself. Thankfully, I was alone again.
I ran and walked and ran and walked and bitched and ran and walked. More and more people passed me heading back and I watched time slip away as stepped off the trail over and over again. I heard more encouragement from every runner.
“Keep it up!”
But by this time I just wanted to tell them to shove it.
A familiar face passed me going back and tried for a high five. It was my stepfather, Larry. I was so grumpy that all I could manage was:
“I rolled my stupid ankle.”
Finally, I made it to the aid station at the halfway point. The aid station consisted of a little folding table and three workers. Two of them weren’t even old enough to drive.
“Gel! Electrolytes! Tea! Water!” one of the little boys shouted.
“Um, I don’t know. What?” I was starting to feel sort of delirious and was confused by the shouting.
“Gel! Electrolytes! Tea! Water!” he shouted again. I shook my head. The adult worker asked how I was feeling.
“I don’t know, I’m cramping, I rolled my ankle, I don’t know.” I leaned over to take off my shoe and knock out a stone that I had just noticed rolling around in there. When had that gotten in there? My fingers were so swollen that I fumbled with the laces.
“You’re dehydrated,” the man said, “here have a gel,” he handed me two small packets, “and the other one is an anti-inflammatory.”
I downed the anti-inflammatory gel and vowed never to take one again after the taste hit my tongue. It was like chewing on a minty aspirin that had been rolled in dirt. Then I went for the electrolyte gel. At that moment I was glad to be a compulsive package reader. They had given me apple-cinnamon. The last thing I needed was a swollen throat.
“Sorry, can I have a different one? I’m allergic to cinnamon.”
One of the kids gasped.
“Oh, no!” he said, “we haven’t been asking people if they are allergic to anything!”
“I’ve never heard of anyone allergic to cinnamon,” the adult said shushing the kid and handing me a raspberry flavored gel.
I grunted in reply, downed some water, and ran off with the gel in hand. A ways down the trail I ripped the gel open and squirted it into my mouth. Gross. The sweet gooeyness hauled back all those feelings of nausea. Memories of advice from some book or another came back to me: never eat something new during a race.
Why did I go against the advice of experts? Because some guy at the aid station handed me something. And why did I blow my stamina trying to keep up with the pack in the first miles of the race? Because of my ego told me to. Now I was flat out exhausted and feeling like I was going to puke.
And I was still being passed from behind. There were two races happening here. I was an eight miler and those passing me now must have been twelve milers. My feet began to lead me to the edge of the trail and soon I was running and walking and running and walking in the leaves on the side of the trail instead of on the trail itself.
Finally, I came upon the racers the sweeper had told me about almost an hour ago. The only people who kept me from being last. They were two sixty-something women, power-hiking up the trail together toward the aid station I had left ten minutes before, their faces red from the exertion. I gave them a smile and a wave and one of them half-grinned back. They probably didn’t know I was the last person in front of them and that I felt an odd kinship with them. Maybe they even felt the same irritation toward me that I had felt towards everyone I had been forced to step aside for. Forced by my own lack of fitness, my clumsiness, and my mistakes.
Truly, I was alone in this race. Not last but so far from the middle and even farther from front of the pack. Now I was feeling bitter, reliving old gym class memories, and wanting to sit my sorry ass down on the trail and cry.
There was a lake on my left that I hadn’t noticed on the way up the trail. A speedboat zoomed past and the smell of its exhaust floated towards me while the water it had pushed aside formed peaks of foam echoing towards the shore. I heard the lapping of the water and someone calling out:
“On your left!”
I was on the verge of an out of body experience.
Then I was back at the slick stone steps and painfully aware of what would happen if I fell down them. Stumble-crack-splat! I saw it all in my head. I picked my way down carefully with a woman behind me also practicing caution.
At the bottom of the stairs I almost ran the wrong way and the woman corrected me. Then she trotted off and I stopped to look at my hands, now so swollen that my wedding ring cut into the flesh of my finger. Something wasn’t right.
I rolled my ankle for the second time around mile seven. My reaction was not really one of surprise but rather one of dull acceptance. Rolling ankles was apparently my area of expertise. Moments later I saw Larry coming back down the trail. He must have finished and been sent back to find me. He was the St. Bernard sans the barrel of brandy.
He gave me words of encouragement and we ran and walked and ran and walked. We passed the bike paramedics who had been waiting for us.
“She okay?” one asked.
“It’s just a flesh wound!” I said in my best interpretation of Monty Python’s Black Knight. Indeed I felt like the Black Knight now. No arms no legs and still shouting “I’m invincible! The Black Knights always triumph!” I blame the endorphins.
Near the finish Larry slowed to let me finish alone and I tried my best to run it out. Here you can see him walking off the right side of the picture while I cross the finish line.
The nausea didn’t leave me for hours after the race and no matter how much water I drank I couldn’t pee. I was definitely dehydrated. I was eventually revived by a large salty bowl of udon soup and a huge bottle of lemonade. Another lesson learned. I should have downed twice the water before the race. I probably could have eaten more salt the day before as well.
I had trouble getting to sleep that night even though I was exhausted. The race was replaying over and over again in my head. It had taken me twenty minutes longer to finish than I had expected. I counted the reasons one by one until I finally fell asleep.
At 3 AM I awoke with a start. My entire left arm was completely immobile. Maybe it was a dream? No. I picked my left arm up with my right and found it closer to rubber than flesh. I rubbed and rubbed my skin until I could move my muscles again. My exhaustion had caused me to fall so dead asleep on my side that I had crushed my arm. Okay, another lesson learned: it is best to sleep on your back after a race.
For weeks after the race I felt like a failure. Every time people asked me how the race went I tried to be positive but inside I was steaming. There were thoughts of quitting running forever, thoughts of quitting writing too, thoughts of quitting everything. I was dipping my foot into depression and pulling it back out again and then dipping it in and out and in and out.
Then one afternoon I was listening to a running podcast and all the anxiety cleared. On that particular episode an elite runner was recounting her last DNF and how she got through the failure. This was a woman who had corporate sponsorship, who had qualified for the Olympics, and who during one race just had a bad day and had to quit. But she was ready for her next race and her next challenge. The failure had just been a learning experience.
That moment I realized that grasping onto a quitter mentality was a load of foolishness. My loss was simply a learning experience. It was my first time trail racing, my first eight-mile race, and only my third race as an adult. I had no way of knowing how much experience the people racing with me had. Judging myself against 127 strangers was ridiculous. Judging myself for failing was even more ridiculous. What I should have judged myself for was thinking, for even a moment, that I might put away my running shoes forever.
Since history will repeat itself unless we learn from it, here in black and white are the things I learned from my first trail race:
1. Drink lots of water the day of the race and eat salty foods the day before.
2. Don’t eat anything during a race you haven’t eaten before.
3. Don’t let your ego determine your pace. Instead decide a starting pace ahead of time and stick to it.
4. Trails aren’t flat like roads. Wrap any weak joints.
5. Other runners are unknown variables. Don’t judge yourself in relation to them.
6. Sleep on your back after the race because you will sleep hard.
7. Don’t let mistakes take you down. Learn from them.
8. Don’t stop believing (thousands of Journey fans can’t be wrong).
This is the story of your red right ankle
And how it came to meet your leg
And how the muscle bone and sinews tangled
And how the skin was softly shed
And how it whispered,
“Oh, adhere to me for we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb”
This is the story of your red right ankle
(The Decemberists. “Red Right Ankle.” Her Majesty. Kill Rock Stars, 2003. CD.)
The morning of December 11th I wrote down on the white board at home where I would be going:
Big Square Loop
I packed up some analgesics along with my bottle of water, a tin of almonds, and a towel. The painkillers were a last minute thought and not something I normally carried with me but today I was going to be out in the “wilderness.” Until this particular Tuesday my runs had been almost exclusively on the road with only the occasional jaunt in the very familiar woods very near to civilization. Today was my first blind adventure into unknown and possibly dangerous territory. My fingers searched for the photocopied trail map in my jacket pocket for the fifth time before starting up the car and heading out.
When I pulled into the trailhead parking lot a surge of nerves crawled up my neck. There was only one other car, occupied by two teenagers who were shamelessly slobbering all over each other. It was supposed to be more crowded than this. Solo gave a sigh as if to say “silly woman, get out of the car.”
The puppy’s joyful leap into the grass allayed my fears for a moment. Another car approached burdened with a full bike rack. Okay, nothing to be afraid of, yes, bikers, that’s good. I sucked up my nerves and started off down the trail with map in hand.
Soon I was zipping up my jacket against the cold wind.
We ran for about half an hour in complete solitude along a smooth, red, narrow wooded path. Solo’s ears were turned inside out from the force of his forward momentum, the pink skin and hollows stood out, a stark contrast against his thick black fur.
The bikers never zoomed past as expected but we occasionally encountered flights of finches or fleet footed squirrels.
The map showed a right turn in the trail directly after a small stream. We crossed what looked like a stream, or maybe it was a drainpipe, but there was no place to turn. Almost a mile later I was sure that I had misread the map, or that the map was wrong. Then we crossed another stream and reached a divergent path. I convinced myself that the first stream didn’t count and took a right at the new path. There was a picnic table chained to a tree at the start of the new path. I set down my water bottle for a moment on the table and adjusted my laces before moving on. Someone had carved a heart into the picnic table and decorated it with two sets of initials.
After maybe half a mile the new path opened up into a wide rocky road that hugged a mountain on the left and dropped off sharply into a tree filled canyon on the right. I peaked over the edge of the canyon and imagined dog and girl falling to their doom in the woods below. I decided that it would be best to stick close to the mountain.
The path trudged up and up for what seemed like an eternity. I huffed and puffed, alternating between running and power hiking, not enjoying myself one bit.
At the apex of the hill I was greeted by a wide blue cloudless sky cut jagged on the bottom by the outline of a slate gray mountain dotted with evergreens. The view gave me breath.
I started back down the hill ramping up my legs to fly freely. I looked at my watch and noticed that I had hit an eight-minute pace—the fastest this former fat girl has ever run. Solo looked back at me with his tongue lolling merrily from his mouth. The landscape flew by in a blur and I was smiling at my speed, at my bravery, at my strength.
I was looking everywhere but at my feet.
I was startled by the shout that echoed through the canyon. The white pain in my right ankle made me realize that the shout had been my own. I had done it again, come down hard on the same ankle I twisted on my porch back in October, probably stepping on some rock in the road this time and still not being entirely steady….
Solo pulled eagerly at the leash and the ankle screamed.
“Heel,” I shouted, and the canyon, mountains, and sky sent my voice back at me. Solo became still and cocked his head in confusion.
“Stop being a sissy,” I mumbled to myself, “just rotate the ankle. Can you move it around? Good. Can you feel your toes? Awesome. See, everything is fine you big baby. Now loosen the laces a bit and move on.”
The way back to the car was entirely down hill—fun to run down but not so fun to limp down, and not fun at all when being drug down by an energetic dog beast. The run I had planned was a double loop of the trail and we were only on loop one.
Eventually the dog’s pulling became beyond irritating. Since the path had been deserted I saw no harm in unleashing the hound. He leaped directly into a patch of nearby roughage.
Seconds later the long expected bikers finally showed up. Solo’s doggy brain went haywire and he emerged from the bushes to charge the first bike. The biker screamed to a halt and I limped forward to apologize. His friends rolled around the corner followed by a large shaggy dog. The dog gave Solo a good sniff and Solo rolled over submissively. The bikers laughed off Solo’s rude approach.
“Sorry,” I said, “I guess he was intrigued by the bike.”
“Well, maybe you should get him one,” the first biker replied with a wink and the caravan took off up the hill. Solo followed, ignoring my protests. The first biker stopped again and I limped up the hill to re-leash the wayward hound.
Back at the car I took a long drink of water mixed with a bit of self loathing. When water was offered to Solo he sighed and wagged his tail.
Something in his doggie face made me realize that I couldn’t let this happen. My October twisted ankle took me down like it was the block that held the Jenga tower together. I wimped out, felt sorry for myself, and used my swollen joint as an excuse to cope with food and alcohol, etc, etc. I squared my jaw and resolved it wasn’t going to happen this time. No, no, no.
I got out of the car and Solo followed.
Walking briskly down the trail every twinge of my ankle told me that I was stupid but I kept going anyways denying my stupidity and calling bravery instead, or survival, or toughness. At the stream crossing I became unsteady and accidentally dunked my foot in the icy water. My foot began to numb from the cold and wet which helped me forget my ankle. Soon the cold penetrated my entire body and the sweat on my head turned to ice water.
I tried to run a bit to warm up but I was too unsteady. My pace was slowing and slowing and slowing. The steep up-hill second mile took almost twenty-five minutes.
By the time we started downhill again I had become extraordinarily fatigued. I knew the last half-mile was flat and I kept focusing on that while warily picking my way through the rocks, searching and searching for the one that had attacked me earlier—the jerk that did this to me. Was it over there that it happened? No, I think it was here. They all looked alike and I couldn’t be sure.
The final flat stretch cut through tall trees that tunneled the frigid wind and shot it straight through the fabric of my cheap Target technical jacket. In the parking lot we encountered a pack of dogs, all unleashed, leading the way for two ladies with short haircuts. The women were dressed for ninety-degree weather. One of them eyeballed me with a mixture of concern and maybe disgust? I must have looked horrible.
At the car I put my foot up on the drivers seat to unlace my shoe. A whiff of poop caused me to wrinkle my nose. There was brown on my shoe…and on my seat. I made a note to bring paper towels and hand sanitizer next time. I downed some painkillers and drove home with bare freezing feet and stinking of poop.
C is for Cookie
I coped with the injury pretty well the first few days by forcing myself to do light stretching in the mornings. But the gentle exercise didn’t give me the rush I craved. I needed to run to stave off stress and avoid resorting to overindulgence. But the ankle was extra swollen and tight.
Four days from Christmas I gave in and ate a handful of cookies in the break room at work, some Oreo knock offs a customer had bought us at the dollar store, and immediately became nauseous.
At home I decided that the solution was to make cookies (since I was going to eat them anyways) because they would be “better for me” than store bought. Ha. I went for the most comforting Christmas cookies I could think of—the kind my mother made when I was a child, all slathered in butter icing. I made a batch and ate a ton of dough and frosting and all the cookies that fell apart.
I called it Cookie Casualty Unit.
The rest of the cookies went to work and were promptly devoured. When every crumb was gone I felt sad. It wasn’t even Christmas yet. I had to have some on Christmas! So I made more.
By Christmas day I had cranked out ten dozen cookies. At least one dozen went into my mouth.
Looking at them now still makes my mouth water.
December weight gain:
3 pounds (whoops!)
Despite my injury I ran a total of 41.22 miles last month, according to my Garmin.
The time spent making the cookies did cut into my reading and writing time, however.
4,974 words. Nothing finished. Nothing submitted.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Naked in Death by JD Robb (ugh, not proud)
Next Up: Lakeside Trail Race Report
The race I had been training for, my first trail race, but not my last. No matter how badly it went. Coming up next time.
Exactly one month ago mommyverbs nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award.
My first thought was “oh! I got an award!” and then “but what does it mean?” and then “I should google it or something so I don’t look out of touch” and finally “but first I’ll make cookies. Mmmm cookies.”
So then I forgot until…erm…yesterday.
Apparently this award is kind of like a really nice chain letter that helps us discover each others’ blogs. First, I must thank mommyverbs for her nomination.
Now I’m supposed to tell you seven things you don’t know about me.
1. I get annoyed when people say “literally” but I often say it myself because I’m “literally” a hypocrite.
2. I don’t have cable. A lot of people don’t have cable because they “hate” TV. I don’t have cable because I love TV. Particularly bad TV. When I had cable I would be mesmerized for hours watching What Not to Wear and Project Runway and Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss and Most Extreme Elimination Challenge….And just when I thought it was safe another marathon of Nanny 911 and oh! Sister Wives is on!
3. 9 out of 10 times I get dressed I coordinate my underwear so that it matches my outfit. I don’t really do this on purpose and usually only notice it afterwards.
4. When I’m really tired I tend to forget to take my socks of before showering.
5. Some people have a phone that reminds them of things they have to do or they write down errands on a slip of paper. I prefer to write my to do list on my wrist in pen. It’s pretty much the only way I won’t forget to do a thing.
6. I think it’s hilarious when children act like adults. Particularly when they use formal or advanced vocabulary.
7. I once (or several times) ate an entire pizza.
And now for something completely different.
Fifteen fellow bloggers who I think are pretty awesome too.
I now nominate thee for the One Lovely Blog Award:
1. learnnutritionwithme for her always informative nutrition articles.
2. the living notebook for his insightfullness.
3. clotildajamcracker for being a funny—.
4. FLASHLIGHT CITY BULBS for his poetry.
5. Leanne Cole Photography for the eye candy.
6. Word Blurb for her genre expertise.
7. Nhan-Fiction for the inspiration.
8. iGameMom for loving video games as much as I do.
9. Make Something Mondays! for her love of craftiness.
10. L-Jay Health for being a veggie-saur whole food loving athlete.
11. Break Room Stories because I’ve been there.
12. cancerkillingrecipe for being the first ever person (not related to me) to comment on my blog.
13. The Whole Geek for thinking one of my articles was so good that he re-blogged it.
14. carcabone because she makes me giggle.
15. Real Horror Fiction because she’s a wunderkind.
3 lbs. That brings my current weight to 157 lbs. I’m now only 12 lbs from my goal weight.
Well, I should say book not books and I should say reread and not read. It’s been a busy month.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Total Pages read=341
NaNoWrimo final word count=12,750
“Fitness Experts” often refer to the last fifteen pounds a person has left to loose as Vanity Pounds. These last lbs represent the final stretch towards bodily perfection and are exceedingly hard to banish from the body.
At the beginning of November, weighing in at 160 lbs, fifteen pounds away from my goal weight, I was just within normal BMI range and perfectly healthy. In October I didn’t lose an ounce as I struggled with a twisted ankle and Halloween candy.
At the beginning of November I rallied in preparation for my Thanksgiving day 5k. With that goal in mind I felt a renewed sense of willpower and started off strong. I was running regularly, staying under my calorie goal (most days), and avoiding alcohol as I had planned (which didn’t help me a whit since I don’t drink very often anyways). But the pounds just wouldn’t drop. I had plateaued, my body perfectly happy at 160 lbs. It was extraordinarily frustrating.
“But what if there’s a famine?” my body said “or what if you get pregnant?” it continued “and you keep running and running what if you have to run even further?”
I told it to shut up but it wouldn’t listen because it’s a stubborn b****.
“I do not plan on getting pregnant,” I said, “the grocery store is less than a mile away and I promise you it’s fully stocked,” I continued, “and I’m going to have to run further but I assure you my primary reason for doing so is to be able to eat more food.”
My corpus just wouldn’t listen.
So I did the only thing I know how to do when I’m befuddled–research (the nerd’s answer to everything). The term Vanity Pounds came up over and over again and the number one answer for ridding oneself of these troublesome pounds (if your diet is under control): adding variety to the exercise routine.
Since overdoing it in August I’d been avoiding cross training like the plague hoping I could get all my exercise in by running running running. My plan worked fine in September but through October and most of November the repetition began to take its toll on my weight loss numbers.
As Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I was running but my fitness plan in general was rather nebulous. Basically, my routine was short run, short run, short run, long run, yoga. Other days I walked. I had no concrete plan in place to push or challenge myself except to run longer each long run (which I wasn’t really doing either). I always meant to run speed intervals but I didn’t. I meant to do tempo runs but I didn’t.
I knew I had to change things but couldn’t find the motivation to do so while also managing the stress of working in retail during the holiday season and taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo.
When the day of the Thanksgiving 5k came I felt marginally ready to beat last year’s time. I had run at least two practice 5ks where I successfully managed a faster time than my 2011 Greensboro Gobbler time of 43:32. The morning of the race I was all nerves and made several mistakes I should have known not to make.
1. I ate a different breakfast than usual (too high in fiber).
2. I overdressed because I felt cold when I woke up and then I couldn’t shed my jacket during the run because the slim sleeves got caught on my enormous GPS watch.
3. I tried to start off strong instead of gradually warming up like I’d do any other day (herd mentality).
4. If I saw someone who I thought I should run faster than I tried to outrun them (vanity).
The first two miles I managed to keep this up and then I hit the one hill on the course. It was a sunny boulevard which meant trouble. I got hotter and hotter as I tried to speed up the hill in my too many layers with my fiber filled stomach. First I felt like I was going to pass out and then I felt like I was going to vomit. I had to slow down and walk for a moment. At the top of the hill an ambulance crept by to examine the runners. One of the crew eyeballed me like he knew that I was losing it. I turned the run back on to show him I wasn’t a wimp and flew down the hill.
The final plateau before the finish line was the worst. Most people like flat land but I’m so used to hills and valleys from my practice runs that I tend to struggle on the flats. I was losing stamina and heart. Finally I crossed the finish line at 39:27 around 4 minutes faster than last year. Okay, so it was an improvement but not improvement enough to satisfy my ego (and still as slow as drying paint).
I was exhausted the rest of the day from the effort. Then my stepfather planted the idea of doing an 8 mile trail run in January. My mind raced like a greyhound chasing a rabbit. Another chance to improve! I know, this running addiction is insufferable isn’t it? After the idea percolated I came to the conclusion that I had to do some real training for this tough race. The next day I set a new plan into motion. I started an exercise log and set out a weekly routine written in stone–no excuses.
Tuesday: Long Run (10% increase each week)
Thursday: Cross Train
Friday: Short Run (Tempo)
Saturday: Cross Train
Sunday: Short Run (Speed)
The prescription here is variety and balance. The last week of November I stuck to it like scripture and voila! three pounds slipped off my body like hot butter. And then I noticed these strange hard lumps in my butt cheeks. Oh, wait, those are muscles. That’s the first time my Gluteus Maximus has been able to come up for air through all the fat of my badonkadonk.
The WriMo Problem
During all the PT and holiday retail craziness I was trying to write a novel. Reading other bloggers posts on the subject I’ve realized that I was not the only one struggling (and then there were those whose word counts were high and they still had time to write thousand word posts all about it–phooey on their relentless productivity). I don’t entirely understand why November is the chosen month for this activity. Anyone who is in school or works in retail or has big familial holiday obligations would struggle trying to write 50,000 words in November (unless they are a robot–some of you must be robots).
The 50,000 word mountain would be hard enough to climb any other month but why November right before the end of term and at the holiday shopping peak? Why not January when we are feeling all resolution-y or July when schools out?
So there’s my first excuse for not reaching the goal.
My second excuse?
I have the attention span of a squirrel. I simply cannot make myself concentrate on writing for more than an hour (okay, so that’s a squirrel with a high attention span). In that time span at the height of my wordiness I seemed to be able to crank out about 1,000 hand written words. I had to use a notebook since my computer access was not consistent and I didn’t want lack of access as an excuse to not write (since I had plenty of other excuses). Maybe I could have typed more words in an hour, I don’t know.
My third excuse.
I’ve compared writing to physical exercise before and I will again. I feel like I haven’t been consistent with my writing for, well, my entire life. I haven’t really had a plan. Every month since I’ve started this blog I seem to make a little forward progress and writing seems a little bit easier. A few months ago I don’t think that I’d have been able to sit for an hour and write–it would have been too frustrating. And I’m sure that I’ve never written 12,750 words in one month.
For some people, perhaps, writing comes easier. Just like some people can go out and run a 10 minute mile without much effort right out of the box. Maybe it’s genetics, I don’t know.
In my case every journey starts at the very bottom of a hill. I have to spend day after day slogging upwards through self doubt and laziness constantly reminding myself that getting to the top of the hill is well worth it because then I get the rush of running down again.
So next year I’ll try to climb that 50,000 word hill again and maybe I’ll make it to the top. I can practice climbing it throughout the year and keep recording my daily word count along with my exercise. Every month I’ll work towards reaching a higher word count. Treat the thing just like running. A ten percent increase each week. Logging logging logging hill after hill after hill.
I need these hills to improve. I think we all do.
Besides, without hills we’d only have plateaus and plateaus are boring stubborn b******.
I used to be one of those people who would “only run if someone was chasing me.” Then one day a few years ago I had the urge to go for a run. It was a rainy day and by the time I returned I was soaked and strangely invigorated. That was that. I was addicted. But I didn’t really have a goal. I just ran casually to burn calories and feel good.
When I was young I used to occasionally participate (begrudgingly) in races with my father. They were usually short Christmas or Thanksgiving runs. Last November I signed up for a Thanksgiving 5k, willingly, for the first time. It had probably twenty years since I raced (okay, I walked) with my father. I didn’t really train or try to push myself. I just went and did the deed. I was ashamed, nay, annoyed, when I finished with an abysmal time. I was running something like 15 minute miles. I could have walked faster.
That race was one (of many) impetuses to get in better shape. I wanted something to train for in the future so sometime after that run, and shortly before I started this blog, I signed up for the Warrior Dash 5k in July 2013. That race was the original inspiration for this blog, hence the name theyearofthewarrior. But as time moved along I realized I needed more races to keep me moving along. I sort of floundered around for a while and put it off and then I read a book gifted to me by my stepfather called Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. I had formed a small obsession with ultra running after reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. But McDougall looked at the sport from a soft angle. He was more of a fan and reporter. Reading Jurek’s book, which looked at the sport through the eyes of one of its top elite runners, took my small obsession with ultra running and made it a large one. Once I finished the book I needed a race to run and I needed it sooner rather than later.
So I signed up for a race this Thanksgiving. There were other races before November but they were all filled up, scheduled on days I had to work, or grossly expensive. The Asheville Turkey Trot was the only race that seemed to have just the right timing and cost. Of course there was the added bonus of trying to beat last year’s time. To psych myself up I started listening to running podcasts (UltraRunnerPodcast.com and Marathon Training Academy are favorites) and reading more running books. With all that motivation in my head I got so psyched up that I signed up for a half marathon next September. And now I’m obsessing over doing a full marathon after that. And maybe, one day, an ultra if the legs hold up.
The best thing about finding running has been the motivation it provides. I have trouble eating better and pushing myself to exercise harder just for my own good. However, if I tell myself I’m doing it to have a better PR or to run further for my next race my brain jumps right on board. And every step I take towards being a better runner boosts my confidence in every other area of my life.
I’ve tried other ways to motivate myself to exercise and to get away from workout videos. I’ve thought about boxing or martial arts or team sports. These activities could be great motivators for some people (my husband for one loves team sports) but I could never really get started with any of these things, no matter how hard I try, because they just don’t gel with me. I don’t want to pay membership fees or go to practices or have team spirit. Honestly, I’m a cranky introvert that prefers to be alone most of the time and do things on my own schedule–especially when I’m exercising. A perfect candidate for long distance running.
So what’s my point here? Well, mainly to provide myself and maybe you, dear reader, with some motivation. My Thanksgiving race is only a few days away and I’m hoping for a new PR. I think I may very well have one. My practice runs have been significantly faster than last years race with an average of 13 minutes a mile rather than 15. Still slow but better than last year. I should be assured that I will beat last year’s time on Thursday but I’m still afraid I might bonk. So much of running, though, centers around one’s mental state. So I must tell myself that I won’t bonk. It’s only three miles. I do it all the time.
I’ve had to do the same thing with writing. It’s all psych psych psych. Really, psyching yourself up is everything. It sounds like some cheesy motivational BS but it’s true. Confidence is always more important than talent. No matter how good you may potentially be at something if you don’t have the confidence or inclination to do it you’re nothing.
If you are struggling to find motivation, like I once was, don’t look for it in the latest fad exercise or diet or writing book or whatever. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. Look for your motivation to be better within yourself. I know, you’re groaning right now, but it’s so true. Try and try until you find the things you really love, not the thing you think you should love (this can be tricky), and then tell yourself that you will be the best you can be. Then just do it. In the last five months I’ve found that exercise is the best starting point to building the confidence I need for every day life. Maybe it will work for you too. It’s really a simple thing and easy for anyone to do. Don’t want to be a distance runner then try team sports, don’t like running or can’t run due to physical limitations then try yoga. Anything where you can improve yourself physically will boost confidence which will transfer to every other aspect of your life.
NaNoWriMo day 12:
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
On day 4 I just started writing. I sat and thought about nothing until I thought about something and then I took out my pen and started to scribble. The words that came happened to be a little strange and a little juvenile but I ran with it. The going has been a slow and some of the writing a little ridiculous (I must not edit…I must not edit…). I don’t do outlines, I never have, so I have no idea what is going to happen. Every day I surprise myself. It’s kind of groovy.
Working in a used bookstore I constantly find the little things that people leave in books: money, bookmarks, four leaf clovers, photographs….Sometimes the things I find are funny, sometimes they’re gross, or weird, or sad. And sometimes they are inspiring. Today a coworker handed me a picture from a book he thought I would like. When I saw the howling dog in the photo it felt like a sign. The book I’m writing just happens to be about dogs. Because it’s so odd for people to take pictures of their dogs. Right? Anyways, it seems very appropriate to use a found object as the cover photo for my book since the story I’m writing is about lost things and, incidentally, is also called Lost.