Philosophy of Running

Words of Wisdom From the Waterfront Trail

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty slick at fixing issues with my contacts while running over the years. But, just as this presumptive thought was crossing my brain, I started having a helluva time with it. I stabbed my eye – imagine that- trying to relieve the burning and stinging without success. Just the one eye. Righty and I were doing just fine, but this left one, this left one had to go.

I finally rubbed it so much it tore, and I lost the damn thing somewhere on the trail trying to assess the damage. While this is by no means my first encounter with a variety of outdoor running hazards, this was the first ever time I’ve been reduced to monocular vision.

Blind to a point that my eyes are pretty much ornamental, I figured tossing the other one to even out would not end especially well for me, or the integrity of my skeleton.

I had my cell phone with me but didn’t consider this an option, because in my head at the time that was defeat, and I can be stubborn like that. Instead, I finished the last few miles periodically squinting, closing the left eye, or just looking real hard out the good one when my eyelids got tired. A little worse for the wear of vertigo, and headachy from the off-kilter sensation of it all, I arrived back home with very tired eyes and, of course, a profound new sympathy for pirates.

This was the first time I half-saw this graffiti.

graffiti on a run, "the truth is inside you"

I’ve run past it frequently since, in a less squinty condition, and it never fails to make me think about what prompted someone to leave this message.

Besides the annoying truth that I would have to finish my run half blind, it reminded me that most of the time I spend running is time spent trying to hear my own voice.

Maybe the truth is that this is time well spent. Maybe its some cosmic, coincidental confirmation that listening is always worth it. So I keep showing up to listen- sometimes I even like what I hear.

Going off to put my ear, and my feet, to the ground.

Bonus points if you can tell me where this graffiti is…. 🙂

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This Gentle Thievery

I ran this morning thinking of her.

How I inherited her hands straight down to the knobby knuckles and veiny fingers that swing into view as I set off through the streets.

It kills me sometimes, how people die.

-Markus Zusak; The Book Thief 

In my head I know she had been a fiery force of strong Wagner woman, but in my heart she is always tenderness. I hear her voice in mine sometimes, and every time I do, I wish I could always sound like her. So that every word I spoke could be a channel, deep and steady, to hold all that tenderness. So much of it, she couldn’t ever use it all in one lifetime, so now it’s seeping out of me in the cracks she left behind. slowly. lovely. like the easy ripples in a spring swollen river.

Like the way I talk with her whenever I eat Kraft swiss cheese slices.  Always from the plastic wrapper, standing in front of the open fridge -the way she and I had always done.

It was her birthday a few days ago, September 1st. And like the heaviness of autumn, it always seems to sneak up on me, the way her death did too.  She went away on September 9th.

These September runs of mine are all for her. For these hands I have that aren’t mine. And these stolen syllables, left to speak her tender truth.

She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.

-again, -Markus Zusak; The Book Thief 

But she did.

Confessions of a Compulsive Consumer

I pull –hard- on the leash of life.  More and more, the thing that drives me crazy about my dog, I do on a daily basis, and to the people closest to me.  I might even be the human equivalent of that obnoxious dog its owners eventually give up and just stop taking on walks altogether. It’s an uncomfortable thing to recognize, and yet I still feel, mostly, unrepentant about it.  I shouldn’t- If I had my way, I’d pull so hard I’d exhaust myself to injury, break the leash, and myself, and be left alone in the cold.

Still, sitting still has never sat well with me, this should be obvious to me since running is the thing that relaxes me.  But the appetite for everything, its crippling me, slowly.  Collapsing infrastructures that hold me in tact and bankrupting the caches of calm I’ve saved up for when I catch up with all these things I’m chasing.

What’s next? -Consume everything, fast, move on.

Find out. Look, see, do. Push forward, usually, running-sprinting- always to the next thing. and the thing after that.

Eyes fixed on the horizon-forever-on a leash that never slackens enough to take a real, deep breath or reckon myself to the resentment about the leash itself.

The last week’s photo challenge was “Curves.” I couldn’t stop thinking of the way the road bends just so- seductive and simple into the next stretch of road.  It’s as addictive to me as the thing that waits around it.

What if I could learn to love the curve? Crave it and nothing more?

 

photo (1)

Because in a split second – its gone.

– Ayrton Senna

Folk Music & Other Things I Used to Avoid

I have a tear trigger- its clean, simple, and mercilessly instantaneous. It’s John Denver’s version of “Leaving, On a Jet Plane.” Normally an easy enough song to avoid, it just happens to be in my iTunes library -masochist that I am.

I can only imagine what passers-by might have thought of me – running down the road, tears streaming down my face despite my best efforts to keep the waterworks in check. As soon as I hear the first 5 words,

All my bags are packed…

I choke out a sob and skip feverishly to the next song, but- and I can’t tell you why- I skip back to it. This is the risk you take with musically assisted runs- you sometimes end up in a head space you hadn’t planned on. Anywhere nearly.

A beautiful spring day, birds singing, sun streaming through the trees, maybe that’s what made it so despicably poignant –me bawling my eyes out all over it.

Every listen I’m brought back- in miserable clarity- to the first time I heard it. My overactive amygdala reminds me that as a very young child, near hysterics, I begged my Dad to turn it off, it hurt so bad to hear it. It was on a mix tape my parents were fond of playing, and I trained myself to anticipate its arrival so I could fast forward through it every time.

It’s probably been 20 years since I can first remember this song and the effect it has on me, and on this run, it smacked me in the gut that I’ve been running away, from a song, for almost 2 decades.

It also happened to be my birthday- so maybe I thought it was finally time to stop running away from our friend John. Somewhere in the sorrow that overwhelms me as soon as I hear the first few notes, it’s comforting to know that I still can’t not cry hearing it.

The hurt is good, and deep. Cathartic and sharply physical, it resonates in unreasonable cadence with my footfalls on the trail–It knows– I don’t stop at one listen– I can’t. I go from avoiding this song like the plague to looping it through my head for almost a half hour, all in the space of one run.

Disastrously dehydrated, hyperventilating, and such a snotty, teary mess I can hardly keep running- I finally have to turn everything off and call this run at 3 miles. It’s not the run I’ve planned- confronting my separation anxiety and mortality to the soundtrack of my parent’s hippy days, on my birthday- but maybe it was good for me in a whole different kind of way.

Listen at your own risk:

What’s your trigger song? Is it on your running mix?

The Wonder in the Wait

Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.

-Haruki Murakami
This week, I am waiting for my words . They are not ready yet.
Apologies.
In the mean time, enjoy this:

running lord of the rings

So much truth, Gollum. Or should I say Smeagol?

Baby Blog’s First Birthday

Just about this time last year, something magical happened. On December 6th, 2011 I took a lunchtime jog through a local waterfront park, like many other days during many other lunches.

But the trail had something else in store that day besides sweat and scenery, and it became one of my most memorable runs.  I returned and scribbled down some ideas into my notebook, which went through the tumbler of my thoughts, and  later turned into my vertrail running mile post 1y first blog post

I recall the very spot and process my thoughts went through, forming the idea of it, and topics for the first few posts.  Things that likely wouldn’t have crossed my mind had I not gone running that day.  I think of that, often, when it just seems too dark outside, or too rainy.  What will my brain miss out on if I don’t get my feet out there?

The past year has brought many more ideas, connections, and generally fun things as a result.  I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with other passionate runners, and hopefully introduced the idea of just how cool it is too others.  I’ve given myself an incredibly fun excuse to do two of my favorite things- run and write.

Being a terminally shy individual and a perpetual perfectionist, it required, and still does,  a lot of me being outside my comfort zone to write this blog.  It seemed, in the same breath, the most natural and the most terrifying thing I could do. Running outside my comfort zone pushed me to finish a marathon, which I will always recount as one of the greatest experiences of my life, so I decided  writing outside my comfort zone would bring a similar reward.

I was right.

I want to share a very heartfelt note of gratitude to you for reading.  Whether you’ve been with me from the beginning, or if you’re just now reading, please realize how awesome and important it is for me, that you’ve taken even a few minutes to stop by. It truly means the world, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

I promise to keep writing, as consistently as I can and to find more cool, interesting and thought-provoking things to bring to the table.  SPOILER ALERT: Stay tuned for guest posts from the golden retriever (In my head this is a great/hilarious idea- we’ll see how it plays out).

Reflecting on this year of running and writing, I’d  like to solicit any feedback you might have. If you can , humor me and take a second to  let me know what you think: How am I doing? Boring? Bland? Any running (or non-running) related topics you’re pretty sure I should cover? Leave them in the comments and with your help I can hopefully make this more helpful 🙂

Thank you, thank you for making this very happy first blogiversary possible.

Happy running!

Gratefully,

Mary

Eclipsed Embarrassment

A pure pupil of pale blue light illuminates late winter evening and filters down to the sidewalk where my feet are faltering.  Wreathed in a halo of sterling white, a perfect circle hangs in the sky around it, flawless and un-blinking.

I feel especially, uncomfortably, vulnerable out here in this crystalline, moonlit night.  The cover of darkness is betrayed by the brilliant blue-gray glow.  Almost  as if this lunar phenomenon is a shimmering celestial lens, keeping watch.

Nothing is un-seen this night, even my breath.

My passage here is not as neglected as I want.  Strange it may seem I suppose, but I run, often, to disappear.  To dissolve into the tapestry of things and pass unnoticed as my mind practices letting go.  Just another piece in the puzzle, blending in allows, even for a moment, some anonymity from the occupations of my thoughts.  I may be someone embattled by heartbreak, or someone so grateful for  the embarrassment of riches, the multitude of gifts, I have I can barely stand it,  I may be someone ferociously angry at the world, or I may be a person inexplicably content and driven,  but by the great leveling of the blending in with things, I am none of them.  Or perhaps just only the good, the best pieces of those someones.  In the blink of one great heavenly eye, I’m at once a stereotype and a fingerprint.

I’m just out here running. Running under the moonlight. Running while my breath leaves little icy clouds behind me in the air, pockets of my progress through these chilly streets.  Running to find the someone I hope to be.

Extra Cool Coincidence: There is  a lunar eclipse tonight so go run in it! You can also watch the webcast here, or read more about this year’s penumbral lunar eclipse.

Fringing

running in the mountainsWe are the murky ones.
We are the storm fronts, the border lines, the mountain tops.
The beaches, the banks, the boundaries.
The doorways, and the hesitant dawns.

We are runners.  We run to feel the fringe, to face it down and run up against it with every breath.

We run for the margins, where the understood dissolves in the delicious unfamiliar and we forge ahead into frontiers of fraying ends.  Out there amongst the intersections and extremities, we have come alive cozying up to wild uncertainty.  Fired by the foreign, we flourish amid airports and peaks, train stations and shores, harboring a knee jerk fondness for the true abandon of transition.

We run for the obscure, purposed towards the subtleties of a million little endings and beginnings.  We run for the in-between spaces, out there at the breaking apart of things -the ones we think we know, and the vulnerability of the things beyond.  We run to embrace the temporal transition, from the burgeoning daylight, to the first falling leaves.

We run to be in transit.  To forget where we’re going in the miracle of the momentum.  To make peace without knowing the way and to allow those visceral moments of uncharted chaos to transform us in their own turning.

We run for the beautiful crazy beyond that lives right inside each of us.

A phantom, fleeting fever, we run not to feel the thrill of the finish line, but to feast on the fervor of the untraveled edges.  We are runners, deep down, not for the miles or the medals, but for the fortune of the fringe.

Follow the Flow

I guess I needn’t have worried about not wanting to run again after a marathon.  Or even that I would love it any less.

Stretching after running my first marathon

The flow is still there, the abiding desire to fall out the front door sans cell phone, sure-footed, immersed in purpose and freedom.  The familiar, faithful flow.

I’m making my way through Susan Cain’s masterful work, Quiet, and it sparked me how this concept is scientifically recognized, and actually termed exactly this: Flow.

It’s surreal to have my instinct about this validated.  It makes sense.  A state where we’re so immersed in what we’re doing that the real world becomes secondary.  All things are equalized in this great distancing that happens when you tap into the flow. It resonated- I understand, in what feels like a primeval way, exactly what she discusses.  Introvert, extrovert, ambivert, doesn’t matter- flow levels the playing field and channels through us immeasurable energy and focus. I got shivers straight down my spine.

You know that feeling when you come across something that captures, flawlessly, an experience you’ve had? It could be a photo, a line in a book, a stroll down a street, but it is somehow a snapshot of somewhere you’ve been before.  Maybe you’re there now. Maybe you want desperately to get back there.

Finishing a big race doesn’t come without its own set of crises.  What to do with my time now? What am I working toward next?  Just like that, its feeling a bit lost, I’m adrift again.  Maybe the drift isn’t so bad.  Maybe the drift is its own sort of flow. Maybe its just that simple.  Following that feeling of being totally part of something, completely immersed in whatever it is that draws your unquenchable energy and sense of deep-seated calm, all at the same time.  Follow it to where it tingles, to where it ignites hidden stores of energy, of excitement, and then keep going.

Marathon Post Mortem

I once read a quote, maybe you’ve seen it, about how life is short, and running makes it seem longer.

You might think a marathon would feel like an eternity (at my agonizingly slow pace especially). Brace yourselves, but I’m not kidding when I say it was over too quickly (if you can call 5 hrs and 10 minutes “quickly”).  It’s hard to describe the sensation of having done it, and it’s not often I find myself lost for ways to explain things. (I’ll do my best and start at the beginning)

Running My First Marathon:

Nerves reached an all time high as the day before the race rolled around.  Without being able to take refuge in a run to quell my bouncy knees, I settled in to the prospect of hitting the long, unbroken stretch of highway towards my hometown Friday afternoon. With good weather and anxious spirits, we passed the time mulling over how the next morning would go, what I’d need to eat in the next several hours (and what options were readily adjacent to the interstate ), and remembering, in a panic, the crucial race-day items left behind.  A steak sandwich in the Tri-Cities passed for dinner, and a pit stop for a tick collar  and various sundries meant we’d be able to relax once we arrived.  In theory at least.  In short order, my OCD alter-ego arrived on the scene, and I’d laid out everything I’d need to prep for the next morning:

  • running pants: check
  • running jacket: check
  • sports bra: check
  • running shirt: check
  • toe socks: check
  • blister tape: check
  • sunblock: check
  • body glide: check
  • headband: check

I moved on to setting out supplies to take with me:

  • race number
  • iPod
  • running shoes
  • 2 packs of Sharkies sport chews (crucial)
  • 4 packs of Sport Beans
  • 2 emergency packs of goo
  • water belt
  • sport fuel powder
  • water bottle
  • extra body glide
  • 2 bananas
  • Advil
  • squishy flip-flops (also crucial; I like the Teva ones)

Once I was satisfied I had everything I’d need, it was time to start winding down for an early to bed evening. Under the covers by 10:15ish, I tried to feel sleepy reading the latest issue of National Geographic. With a 4:15 AM alarm to look forward to, I thumbed through pages restlessly.  While I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I do distinctly remember being awake before my alarm went off the next morning.  An unexpectedly calm awakening in the still-quiet house, barely visible in pre-dawn grey, I got up to push the button on the coffee and  made my oatmeal on tiptoe. With eating and caffeinating out of the way I’d be free to, somewhat leisurely, gear up and stretch a bit before  heading to the 7am start line.

The evenness of the calm I had woken to was fully dispelled by the time we reached the parking lot.  Race volunteers directed traffic, runners warmed up along crowded sidewalks, and the floodgates of adrenaline opened. After the requisite wait in line for the port-o-lets, the count down to start had already begun.  I filled my pockets with Sharkies and Sport Beans, and was off, plugging headphones in as I hurried to the pack of runners gathered behind the timing mat. Cheers erupted as the gun report echoed across the street and feet surged across the line. The enchantment of race-day energy permeated the pack of us: we were off! The first steps in a marathon had been logged.

With sun still low on the horizon, Selkirks misty in the distance, and the dewy, hallmark aromas of morning, the promise of nice weather was easy to anticipate. Mile 3 settled us into our route along the river, and gradually, as paces shook out and rhythms took hold, I found myself mostly alone on the Centennial Trail, near what I hoped was close to the middle of the pack. Knowing there would be water and aid stations every two miles didn’t do much, initially, to persuade me that I wouldn’t somehow get lost (an inexplicable phobia I harbored going into the race…what if I took a wrong turn out here alone in the middle-of-nowhere North Idaho? I’ve seen that movie, and it doesn’t end well for me!)

I slowed down to water at the second aid station, feeling the welcome rush of limbs awakening and lungs ecstatic with crisp mountain air.  I met some friends along the way, close to me in age and pace, we back-and-forthed for a while, until bathroom breaks and aid stations landed me once again, alone on the trail.  In the quiet out there, the river white capping peacefully and the metronomic patter of my soles were the only sounds.  I made a promise to myself to ration my use of iPod.  I didn’t need it yet, but didn’t doubt I would in later miles.

Around mile 9 or 10 I watched an eagle snatch its breakfast from the river, right in front of me.  I congratulated myself on an excellent choice in courses, and, reminded of food, snacked down a few more Sharkies.   Footstep by methodical footstep, the miles ticked past, blurring into each other, I fully lost count.  Coming around a bend closer into town, I was elated to see friendly faces (and one furry one) who had come to cheer me on, it was only then I realized the end was achievable.  I had already managed to make it to mile 20.  My sister was among the support crew, “you’re not even sweating! push it!” With only 6.2 miles left, I thought, this was advice I could take.  My approach had been to maintain a good pace, but to keep something in the tank as much as I could, not knowing how much the course would punish out of me.

The Wall 

Having been content to ride it easy, meditate on the landscape, zone out, knowing the finish was almost in sight changed things.  It was time to remember this was a race. I felt good.  My feet felt decent, my legs were fatigued, sure, but warmed up and ready, my lungs were poised to punch it,  and punch it I did.  My competitive side peaked with a strange conundrum: I wanted to speed up, but I didn’t want it to be over, I was having fun, there was something big happening.  The competitive side won, and I stepped on the gas. With a somewhat self-satisfied grin, I roadkilled runners who had smoked me early on. (tortoise > hare, bitches!) All the time still wary of the wall.  I thought I should have hit it already.  I volunteered at the Portland Marathon and saw runners at this very point in the race, witnessed, and unconsciously memorized, the look of sheer, blood-crusted defeat in their eyes at this obstacle. It was coming for me, even as I pushed up a hill around mile 22, I knew it.  It had to.  My only hope was making it to the finish line before it could get to me.  Mile 23 came and went and as I entered 24, I knew my blistered toes were taking a brutal beating.  Through stinging, burning, blistering, I wasn’t done, my toes screamed for me to stop, but I was so close.

Things got a little blurry from that point.  Hearing after that my support crew had shown up again, somewhere before the finish, I wasn’t convinced, I don’t remember it.  The final test was entering Riverfront Park. Less than a mile to the finish,  and whether because my body knew I was close, or because I just couldn’t hack it one more step, I had to walk.  Instantly, the surge of pain to my toes became agonizing.  Caked in salty white sweat and starting to chafe, I felt done.  I wanted so badly to be. It was, without doubt, the longest, most arduous 3/4 of a mile I’ve ever run.

My amazing sister jogged across a grassy knoll in her Chacos, cheering me on, jogging beside me.  I was so close.  More friendly faces appeared along the race route, and I was so grateful to see them. I ran on what seemed like shards of glass until the finish line appeared. It was still over too quickly.  The buzzer beeped loudly as I, bedraggled in total exhaustion, crossed the mat.  My feet stalled out, I heard my name over the load speaker. Someone put a hulking medal around my neck.  Just like that, it was all over.  Five hours of running had passed and I’d hardly noticed until the last 45 minutes.  A little bit like life, eh?

Here’s what I learned: It’s the journey.  You hear this all the time, at least I seem to, and so maybe it gets diluted. Don’t let it. It’s the crazy, amazing ride. And it will be over before you know it. Where did it all go? You’ll wonder.  Let it go to 26 mile runs (that yes, somehow, make it seem longer, sometimes), to loving like crazy because you can, to cartwheeling, to writing things down, to telling people how much they mean the ever-loving world to you, to seeing new things, and seeing old things from new perspectives, to smiling, to midnight sandcastle building beach trips, to listening hard to what people say, and as much to what they don’t, and to spring skiing when you should be at work, to acknowledging the moments, big and small, happy and sad. It’s the ride, friends.  And thank you all, for making mine so incredibly awesome so far.

The Aftermath

(If you are still reading, I should give you a medal.  I guess since it was a marathon, here’s my proportionally mammoth post 🙂 )

There are a few things I know will never feel as good as they did that day.  Taking off my shoes, for a start.  Putting my mangled up feet in the cool grass.  Sitting down. Drinking Alaskan Amber.

With the initial damage assessment done on my feet, and the determination made that I could make it to the beer garden, I still needed a minute.  I leaned against a table and just let my feet rest in the grass a moment after the horror of peeling off my socks had passed. Slipping gingerly into my flip-flops, I realized I was absolutely famished.  Sitting in the cool grass, stretching in the shade of a tree with my beer, life was surreal, blurry, blissful.  I finished.

Before I knew it, I was in a long-anticipated shower and realized  instantly why I shouldn’t have been looking forward to it.  Everything that had hurt, mildly, was exacerbated by the hot water which I had hoped would feel so relaxing.  I ended up with a pretty fierce set of cuts and scrapes from bands and chaffing (street cred, right?)  I carry them proudly, if painfully.  At the end, feeling so ecstatic to have achieved it, I relinquished my eyes to well-earned nap punctuated by dreams of running, and maybe, one day, another marathon. It felt good.  It still feels good, even in the wobble of my knees and the weariness in my legs.

It was worth every step.