Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Perfect Day

On my mind these last few weeks: E.O. Wilson and Social Conquest of Earth (see this month's article in The Atlantic , Sebastian Junger's War and our current human predicament. When I'm feeling down, I sometimes think we should look to animals to remind ourselves about the simplicity of things and the importance of living in the moment. Animals' needs are so basic, their actions so geared towards their immediate instinctual desires, that when those are fulfilled, they are contented. Indeed, what was so striking about Junger's book is that soldiers who had experienced combat found it extremely difficult to live a civilian life again because at war, every action is significant. Moreover, every action is significant not just personally, but towards the group. The possibility that someone's loose bootlace could affect everyone in the platoon, because if one person slowed the others down everyone could die, is not how most people live. The mundane in combat still requires constant vigilance, whereas the civilian prosaic is often so thoughtless.

This resonates with me--not because I wish to experience the intensity of combat that makes soldiers feel "alive", but because the thoughtlessness--indeed the selfishness-- of so many people around me makes me sad.

The best part of my last couple days--weeks really--have been my early morning runs. Now that sunrise isn't until after 7:30 a.m., all my runs start in the dark. Monday morning I saw two horned owls along 27th Street, out in the hinterlands of Cedar Falls. It was awesome to watch them swoop gracefully and hoot eerily in the morning mist. I took them as omens for a good day. On Tuesday's 6.5 mile run, I didn't see any neat wildlife, but for the first time in a month, I felt relaxed and mentally prepared--I was able to run in the moment rather than worry about my body or what lay ahead.

It's been very difficult for me lately to focus on the moment, to live in gratitude for the simplest thing. I've been distracted and depressed by the big picture--the constant degradation of our environment (eg: The Keystone Pipeline), the plight of the 99% (of which I count myself), the gridlock in Congress, money woes Europe, and the ignorance of Americans that if not glorified, is not helped by U.S. media. Junger notes that combat soldiers don't think about the big picture. Our pets don't either. And the best part about a great run is what I can only assume is a similar feeling--the love of the moment. The glory of fresh air in your lungs, the wind in your face, the misty light of dawn, the muted colors of fields put to rest for winter.

As humans, we have self-consciousness, and so can appreciate these moments. We also want to hold onto them, despite their necessary transience. We write poems, blogs, memoirs, take pictures, play music. A friend of mine photographs pets and local scenery (see Studio HDR). The photo above is his. Interestingly, they are photographs with vivid colors and contrasts, the kind of images we see when our senses are at the height of awareness; crisper than reality can be. Memories are powerful--and while humans have words, visuals, and sounds to heighten our awareness and appreciation of life, alone, words, images, and sounds--no matter how profound-- provide just a shade of the original moment. It may not fit perfectly here, but I've wanted to share Jon Katz's retelling of a soldier's gift to his dying dog. It is a gift of moments, of simple things that make A Perfect Day. The idea is one that I think is powerful not just for our animal friends, but all our loved ones, and even for each of us, as needed. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that it was a veteran of the Iraq war who initiated this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Twin Cities Marathon--3rd and 30

My Awesome Parents--who ran TC 30 years ago
As I write this, I am stiff, sore, and it's difficult for me to take deep breaths because every muscle feels contracted. But I am happy. I am very glad not to have any more marathons for 2011 and I foresee no more long runs for the year either. I am sore and happy because today I ran the 30th Twin Cities Marathon--my 3rd Twin Cities--just two months after the San Francisco Marathon. I ran for Bolder Options, and easily reached my goal of $1000, raising $1,300 for the organization that matches athletes with at-risk youth. And I ran a PR--3:49:34 officially--a good four minutes off my earlier PR (2010 TC).

Throughout the two months between San Francisco and Twin Cities, I was anxious about my body's recovery and my ability to hang together for another 26.2. What I now think is that a marathon 2-4 months before another 26.2 race--provided one recovers and listens to her body in between-- will help one run that second 26.2 really well. My brother PR'd at San Francisco, and he had run the LA Marathon a short four months earlier.

The race today felt great! I attribute my success to multiple factors, some in my control, others not at all. The weather was good--sunny and 53 degrees at the start, 68 degrees at the finish. Without consciously planning to do so, I had topped off my glycogen stores this week by scarfing cookies leftover in the office from an art opening. I beat myself up about it during those three days of weakness, but now I'm glad I listened to my cravings (which also included waffles, beer, and tortilla chips) rather than my brain! (see "Fill 'er up" in this month's Runner's World). I also ran a confidence-boosting tune-up track workout on Wednesday. I was ready to be disappointed and experience heavy legs, but it went really well, and left me feeling loose physically and emotionally more optimistic (I love sharing the track in the pre-dawn glow with ROTC recruits in fatigues! Try it sometime). That same day, I had scheduled a massage, just to get any last-minute tension out of my legs that the workout might have exacerbated. I did some pilates, and yesterday, I stretched a lot, but the only activity my legs got was a long morning walk. As important as all these physical factors was the emotional support from my family and friends who knew I was running again, and who cheered me on and supported the cause. My husband and my parents especially deserve their own finishers' medals for the many hours and care they have shown throughout!

The race went by really fast. I started slow and even, at 9 minute miles for the first three miles. As I warmed up and felt good, I picked it up a little, especially at mile 5. Looking at my results, it appears I ran the second 10K faster than the first 10K. Overall, my pacing was really even. I hardly thought at all during the race. I was pleasantly distracted by people cheering (including Doug M., Nicole M., Anne S., Jessie T., Charlie L., Meredith S., and my parents), and only put in my music at mile 10.

Mile 7 at the Rose Garden. Clearly in The Zone.

The race was all about little goals and little encouragements. The only thoughts that I remember crossing my mind were similar to: "wow, already mile 5! Eat gu at 6! Will I have enough gu? Parents at 7! Where are the bananas? Already at 10! Gu at 12--I'll get more at 17. Already at the half, and a good pace! I feel good, excellent. This is a good song for this part of the course. Already at 15! I can give my shirt to my parents at 17. Almost 22! Only 4 more. This is a great race if these two miles are the toughest. Only 2 more miles to finish, it's down hill--time to kick it in."

Ditching my shirt at Mile 17

My thought at mile 25, just as I was about crest Summit and see the State Capitol and the finish, was that I couldn't cry, not now. I became very emotional and had to tell myself to hold it in. In 2008, I had also been emotional then. But that was because I had been in so much pain, and was so disappointed in myself. Today, I was choking it back because I was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. I felt so not alone. So many people--my parents, my husband, my brothers, and my friends; a community that includes high school teammates, college teammates, Mississippi River Road Runners, and all the people who have supported me in voice and deed and told me they care--were with me there at 25, in my mind and heart.

Crankin' to the finish. Had to use those arms.

You all rock. Thank you!

Old fashioned glazed donuts rock too.