running

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Running down the busy street, its a bustling Friday afternoon that doggy and I have set out into.  The hum of traffic is muffled by my earbuds, our cadence cools down, and we are both glad to be out of the house despite the quickly gathering dark.

Closing on the intersection, it’s as if the world cracks on its axis by the sound that shatters out from a car nearby.  In that instant, everything is on its side. Was that a gunshot? My chest so tight I can barely manage breath, I vaguely register that the lower portion of my legs are burning and doggy is loosing his highest-register yowl.  Shaking at the end of his leash it’s not a bark, just a stifled, heart-breaking whimper. My feet have stopped moving, slowly figuring out there’ve been no bullets, but probably a blown tire.

I reach down to comfort and inspect Bo, now understanding that my burning shins are the result of projectile road debris from the tire explosion. I spot the car, struggling to move down the road.  As more of my brain pieces this together, I’m immediately terrified for my dog, who is eye-level where my legs are scratched and bleeding. Still in total disbelief that a tire blowing can produce this level of heart-stopping noise, let alone send gravel straight into my skin, I watch the car lurch through the intersection, rubber flap-flap-flapping in tow.

Headlights streak past, bursts of light to brush off the gravel and dirt by. There’s a persistent wondering over what in the holy hell has just happened, standing blankly on the sidewalk, and feeling rather shell shocked over a strangely eventful split second.  Thankfully, Bo seems unharmed, but I can tell the skittishness will linger as he groans and leans into my legs, rubbing his head against my thigh over and over.  Me too, buddy. Me too. 

I pet him and pet him, shushing sounds wheezing out of my mouth. It’s Okay. It’s Okay.  

It is. In this brief moment we are reminded, unapologetically, of the important things, and though shaken we are, in fact, okay.

Sometimes you don’t get the run you planned on, you get the run you need.

It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

– JRR Tolkien

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Always Wait, or Exhale. Maybe Both.

Just try not to wax nostalgic this time of year, I’ve already given up.  Holidays are everywhere, and perhaps I should be occupied with gifts and tinsel and all.  And I am, partly.  But I’m also always aware that this time of year marks another anniversary of returning from one of the great adventures in my life: an ill-conceived, if well-intentioned, jaunt to life in Lima, Peru.

Many very long stories short, I accompanied a friend on quest for aboriginal healing and transformation of partial parapledgia through traditional medicine.  Yes, it was a gamble, and yes it only partly worked, if we’re measuring physical results.  True to form, and because I’ve never been one to not write things down, I recorded a good chunk of our journey here, if you’re feeling like a glutton for prosaic punishment.

So what does all this have to do with Christmas?  I think its not uncommon for us to take stock sometimes, reflect over the past years of our lives and those of our loved ones. And so, as I’m taking stock, thinking back, to the sticky way the air felt on my morning runs through Miraflores many years ago now, I am grateful.  And damn if that doesn’t feel more like the holidays than anything I’ve yet come across.  Being grateful for the folks who made our trip possible, the ones who wrote us letters of encouragement, the ones we met along the way, the ones who were on the other end of frenzied phone calls and Skype sessions, the ones who took pity on us, and the ones who saved us.

We were fortunate enough to come by a trustworthy cabbie early on in our time there, which now in the scheme of things doesn’t begin to cover what Diego was for us.  So much more than a reliable means of conveyance through a strange and sometimes scary city, he taught us about Lima, Spanish, patience, gratitude, the value of mirth in the face of trial, and -very important- how to actually get and retain a cab in the city.  “Siempre, espirar.” He would tell me, so that I would be able to tell other cabbies not to drive off without one of us, or the wheelchair (as happened on more than one occasion).

In my head at the time, I translated it to “Always wait,” meaning always tell the driver to wait until you’re ready.  It stuck, cemented to the folds of my cerebellum somehow, “Siempre, espirar.” I come to understand now, although my Spanish was, and remains, barely conversational, it can also mean, “always exhale.” Maybe I misheard him, a lot was lost in translation.  Good advice I think, either way.

More than waiting, more than resonant lessons in exhaling and letting go, maybe most of all, Diego taught me about faith.  Fe. I can still hear him say it. Not a kind of faith attributable to one particular deity or other per se (though there was no shortage of that, Lima being Lima and all), but faith in the deep-down decency of other folks, and faith in our abilities to do things, and believe in things, we’re not really sure we can.  And if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Now, here to say Happy Holidays from me is a shot from a run:

run happy

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…. 🙂

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?

Unexpected Consequences

This is embarrassing for me to admit, but there are two holes in the drywall in the bathroom. What does this have to do with running? Laughably enough, they too are scars from my first marathon, and it went down a little like this:

Post marathon, I fell asleep on the couch  having chugged a scary amount of liquids to replenish. I expected extreme fatigue and dehydration, yes.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: not being able to stand up off the john. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience,  I made it about halfway up before my legs simply stopped.  Refusing to support my weight, even a little, they buckled beneath me. Bastards. As my brain started to connect the dots that a crash was imminent, it sent my arms out to the nearest supports. As it turns out, the toilet paper holder isn’t quite enough to support my weight. (weird, right?) The small bar gave way as I pulled the entire device, molly bolts and all, out of the wall and landed with a resounding and unceremonious “thunk” on the toilet.

A First Marathon’s Lingering Side Effects

sequoia sempervirens

Cultivating gratitude.

I sat there for a few minutes, still piecing together what had happened, staring at the toilet paper holder in my hands, and wondering how I would make it out of the loo. Giving the second attempt more forethought, I leveraged the doorknob instead, and sort of shuffled my way off the throne and into a semi-upright position. Sheepishly holding the toilet paper holder, I straggled out into the living room to uproarious laughter from various family members  who had, very quickly, put two and two together.

My good-natured Dad later patched up the holes and remounted the holder, but you can still see, without too much effort, exactly where the original one lived.  Every time I think of that day, the extreme fatigue and the joyous satisfaction of marathon tested legs comes back to me, and its hard to deny the gratitude that comes with it. I lived through it and learned every bit of what a first marathon had to teach me.

Thanks to this, and other marathon side effects, I’m continually reminded of whatever it is that drives us to burn through the pain, the drudgery, the discomfort.  Sometimes nasty tendons will decide it’s not going to happen for me, other times the cold December air burns a frosty path straight down to my stomach and I’m positive I want to quit, but there is no escaping all the little reminders of everything the marathon has given me.

That keeps me going, and I run with exceptional thankfulness this time of year for that, and so much more.

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

On Beavers and Momentary Blindness

Daylight savings and the slow descent into darkness have meant that once again its headlamp season for many of us outdoor runners.  While my forehead and eyes are busy adjusting, I’m forcing more optimism about this season of rainy, darkish runs.  Yes there are unpleasant topples thanks to sheer slicks of leaves and just a hint of un-coordination.  There are mental hurdles and the temptations of cushy couches, but taken all together, this season I’m trying my hardest to embrace the dark.  Its harder.  Maybe the hard is what makes it good.  After the fair weather runners have dashed into warm, dry gyms, the sidewalks are roomier, and the runs are shared with only a few fellow drowned rats who, oddly enough, seem to have indomitably broad grins.  This is not a coincidence, I don’t think.

About 10 minutes from home, it starts to rain.  Like a challenge from the skies, I’m compelled to try to beat the droplets back to the warmth of home. I’ve been thankful for an uncharacteristically dry run this evening, and the only thing between me and that goal is a bit of pavement.  I’m almost ready to click off the headlamp, but there is one more dark patch between us and the front porch.   Soon enough my thoughts are distracted and before I know it, with horse-to-the-stables pace on, we’re rounding on the driveway.

Bodhi is pulling hard on the leash as we approach the front yard.  He makes a move toward the lawn and I’m jerked off course,  the pool of foggy light landing squarely on the blinking eyes of a beaver.  An actual, live, beaver.  Holding a stick (as they are wont to do, I understand) in the grass of our front yard.  Here’s something I don’t see everyday.

Bodhi stops dead in his tracks as he gets a good look, the leash taught between us and his ears alert, nose working overtime.  He fights me on the leash as I realize, slowly, what I’m looking at enough to be pretty impressed (THERE’S a BEAVER in the yard! CAPS LOCK! CAPS LOCK ALL OVER! It’s a caps lock occasion if ever there was one, at least in my head).  Bodhi does not growl, but puffs up and sidles closer to the grass.  I’m not sure what his plan is, since I’ve seen him bolt, tail between legs, at the mere sound of a car door. I have also witnessed him pull a live mole out of the ground and rocket it skyward with a flick of his head (albeit also with a startled yelp.)

I’m dumbfounded at this beaver, just sitting here in our yard, and seeming very comfortable with us coming up on him and his dinner in the dark.  I scoot past and coax the dog inside, while the beaver makes some slow movements toward the hedge. As I pull the door behind us, I’m pondering beaver land speed and the possible outcomes of what would surely be an embarrassing scuffle for Bodhi if I let him out potty, as is our post-run routine.   Hoping  my sweet dog can hold it just a little but longer, I’m convinced the beaver is an auspicious omen.  The rain is not all bad, he reminds me.  With it come so many good things, slips and scrapes and some clammy skin too perhaps, but in the end the reward is there, and even just a bit more gratifying.  Blinding rain, beaver or not,  most runs end with a satisfaction and clarity I’m hard-pressed to find elsewhere, and for all the harder it gets in the winter months, the reward is just as good.

Run on, friends! You never know what is waiting for us out there.

 

**Please note: No moles (or beavers) were harmed in the making of this blog post.