So I finished up that 12 week training program at Fleet Feet in Huntersville – it was awesome, excellent, and most helpful. I really enjoyed the structure of it, and the knowledge that there were people expecting me to show up was a real motivator (although I do have to cop to at least two days of failure to appear due to various health related ailments).
Last night was our last run together before our Saturday “goal race.” My goal race is the CPCC Skyline Run, which is just a 5k, but it goes for scholarships, so I love doing that one just for the support of students alone, but it’s also a really fun race to do. I plan to wear my tutu again.
So as we lined up for our last set of drills together, I thought back to my first day doing those damnable drills, and how I just knew I had gotten myself into something heavier than I could manage. The drills were easy now – or at least they weren’t the workout that they were when I began, and I felt so proud of myself for being able to stick with something to the end. I not only stuck with it until the end, but I stuck with it until I saw an improvement.
I got so much out of this experience, I really do want to sign up for another one – however, the conversation surrounding the next program made it sound pretty horrible: all speed drills at the track, in the summer. Yeah, gonna have to think long and hard about that one. But I really did enjoy doing the drills we did, and I would love to get faster.
The first time I gave more than a passing thought to what was actually behind the plastic wrap and on the Styrofoam trays in the meat section of the grocery store, I was a thirty-something mother, recently returned to college to complete my bachelor’s degree. I had lucked out and gotten into a history class with the best professor I had ever encountered, and his classes consisted of him strolling in, jotting some notes on the board, and then talking off the cuff (it seemed to me) for 50 minutes while I struggled to write down every word that fell from his lips. Dr. Hunt was brilliant.
During one of these encounters, he used a video clip in class (and this was in the days before YouTube, before the advent, really, of the internet as a far-reaching influence) and as he popped the VHS cassette into the VCR, I continued my frantic scribbling.
I stopped, though, when I realized what was taking place on the screen – it was a video about chickens, and the only thing I remember about it was the conveyor belt they were on, the little chicks, and the fact that part of their beaks were being snipped off for “safety” reasons. I thought to myself that they would likely be much safer if they were outside, doing whatever chickens did, rather than being transported via conveyor belt to whatever unpleasant experience awaited them. I was horrified to further learn that the male chicks were killed, since they could never lay eggs or produce anything.
This clip had a profound effect on me, and so began my journey into attempting to eat in a way that was in step with what I felt was right. I had never thought about food or eating in moral terms, other than the typical, “I shouldn’t eat this because it will make me fat.” That’s a considerably different moral stance from “I shouldn’t eat this because it used to have a face.”
My kids refused to follow me down the path of the meat-free existence I was trying to forge for myself and my family; I think it had more to do with fear of tofu than anything else. I was not a courageous cook, and so I bought a lot of Boca burgers and beans. I slipped TVP into the chili I made and didn’t tell the kids – I still occasionally gloat about that to this day. A vegetarian meal without complaining from the kids: a win for me, and blessed, blessed silence with freedom from having to justify my choices for just one meal.
Once the kids were moved out, I attempted to return to a vegetarian lifestyle a few times, ultimately with poor results. Much of my lifestyle was unhealthy, and the decisions I was making regularly in other areas of my life could not be offset just by eating a few salads.
A slow approach seems to be what worked for me, in that I began probably 6 years ago to move towards a more Paleo approach to eating. I managed to taper off the really unhealthy foods, and junk food of the non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian sort began making fewer appearances in my daily life. I watched a few more movies relating to healthy eating, and bought the diet book written by the fireman – Engine 2 – and watched his film as well. My husband and I ate a largely vegetarian/vegan diet, but I still was not losing the weight I wanted, nor was I feeling as healthy as I thought I “should” because of my virtuous eating.
Around this time I also attempted to create smoothies for myself and my family, with one memorable attempt being at the beach during a vacation, when I failed most epically to create something even close to palatable. My mother’s pained expression upon trying a bit of my concoction haunts me to this day.
I went from Paleo, to vegetarian, and then discovered a nearly fully meat based diet, which was low carb and introduced the concept of ketosis to me – those of you who lived through the Atkins craze(s) know how seductive the thinking can be. Ultimately, the keto diet I followed allowed me to finally break free from my attachment to white flour and sugar. I still found myself binging on doughnuts, cake, and cookies during particularly stressful times in my life, but I was largely ok.
Until I wasn’t.
One day, after listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, an endurance athlete who advocates for and follows a plant-based lifestyle, I suggested a meat-free day to my husband. He was enthusiastic, and so we ate a largely plant based diet that day. The next day, when we got up and discussed breakfast, we decided to do it again. Then again. I’m not sure when that was, to be honest, so I can’t say “I went to a plant-based diet on X date,” because it was so…well, understated.
And it felt really natural, and positive, and most importantly, like how I was supposed to be living. I have become much more courageous when it comes to food and cooking now (I know how to make kale chips!) although I still regularly encounter things in the beautiful produce sections of the grocery store that I simply cannot fathom how one would use in a recipe.
Now I feel much more balanced – the food choices I make to fuel my body are in step with the morals I have for the rest of my life, and I am rejoicing my return to all things green.
Green is everywhere in my world now, and I love it. My life during my years in Texas (those long and frustrating meat-filled years) was brown, drab, hot, and awful. In contrast, my life now is vibrant, green, and feels right. There is no conflict in what I think is the right way to consume and the choices I make in the kitchen.
I can see my smoothie as more than just a pumped up milkshake: it’s fuel for me, and it bears no resemblance to the smoothies I made years ago. It’s green, for one thing, and it’s actually healthy, rather than just masquerading as healthy. I feel closer to the world around me, as I run on the trails near my house with Straxi – the plants growing around the path might represent food, but the animals I encounter most definitely do not. I am brave enough to put kale AND jalopenos in my smoothie at breakfast, and I love it.
So the past few days have sort of been a blur of…well, rain and video games. The combination of the release of the newest DLC for Fallout 4 with some pretty steady rain has led me to grow roots and get stuck in the sofa with a controller in my hand. I haven’t run with Straxi in days, but that will change soon, hopefully today, honestly, because I have it in my head that we are going to go exploring here, and the rain has held us off from that for quite long enough, thank you.
I had forgotten the trails on campus – or at least I had figured they had fallen victim to the constant and ongoing construction that seems to plague all of NC, even tiny Davidson. When I was a kid (and by “kid” I mean teenager – maybe 14 or so – certainly no older, because by 15 I was out of the house, smoking, and living a decidedly not-healthy lifestyle), I ran semi-regularly, and I biked as well. I remember this time as being predominantly exploration – basically what I do in video games, but in real life. I would jump on my bike, or put on my shoes (we didn’t have running shoes back then, per se, we were limited to tying rocks to our feet with canvas rope, yes, I’m that old). I think I mostly explored the campus and the town because I was bored? Because I didn’t want to be at home? Because I didn’t want to do homework? Not sure. But I went out and explored not from any desire to be “fit” or to improve my 5k splits or anything crazy like that. I did it just because. This seems like the best reason to do that sort of thing, honestly. I just felt like it.
Occasionally, I took Trixie with me – my first canine running companion, albeit with only three legs, and much shorter than Straxi, but not often. When I went out in the early morning to run, I would let her run with me without a leash, which I thought was awesome, but now it’s impossible. Straxi would be jam in no time flat, and back then, there was literally one traffic light in town and really no need for that, to be honest.
But the trails were something I thought I had discovered, and I felt like they were mine. I stumbled upon them one day out running (which in retrospect is surprising, because that would have been a long distance for me to run, but I guess I really did run a lot, now that I really think on it). I wasn’t running with Trixie, or riding my bike, or listening to music (this was pre-Walkman days, remember). Davidson College had some huge fields on the outskirts of campus, and I wound up there one afternoon. I didn’t plan my runs – I just went. If I saw something interesting at the next turn, I would go that way. If I saw something scary at the next turn, I went the opposite way. Basically, I just sort of wandered. To a certain extent, I still do that. I have a general idea where I want to go when I head out, and I know what’s a good route to hit if I have Straxi with me or not – I want her to enjoy running with me, and I want us both to be safe, and so our main road is one we want to stay off of. The drivers in this town are downright dangerous and our road has begun to be noisier than I-77, not to mention busier and faster, too.
But none of this was an issue when I ran as a kid. I just ran to run, and to see. I was so incredibly lucky to grow up here, and be able to return to here, and see so much of this town utterly unchanged (and, like the danger of the streets, unfortunately some of it really HAS changed, and drastically, for the worse).
I stumbled onto the trails late one afternoon when I was exploring the big fields behind the college. Maybe I meant to run laps around the fields, or maybe I just meant to run through them, but either way, I remember seeing a path – unmarked – leading into the woods. And yes, they legit were woods at that point, not just a little bit of trees or a bit of park. Of course, I could not leave this unexplored. Just like with my gaming habits, I want to see what’s over that next ridge in the game, or in this case, off the edge of the field.
So into the woods I went. I had no idea where I was. I had no cell phone or GPS (these were the dark days before science, and we all still thought the world was flat, since we couldn’t post photos to Facebook of what we were doing at that exact moment and hope for comments and approval from friends…we lived in scary times, indeed). I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit nervous at times during the run – when I say I didn’t know where I was, I mean I truly had moments when all I could do was trust in the trail, knowing that eventually it would end up SOMEWHERE, and I could navigate from that. The somewhere it wound up was a very old, very run down, very wooded cemetery (I later was told that this was a cemetery only for people of color, and I don’t know if this is true, but it certainly would make sense, in that it was small and off the beaten path. Can’t have the help going to their eternal rest with the gentry, after all).
I came out of the woods into this extremely peaceful, beautiful, serene area, and was simultaneously creeped out and intrigued. A cemetery not attached to a church? This was unusual to me – all cemeteries were behind/beside/around churches, in my experience (granted, at that point, what experience I had had was oh, so incredibly limited), so I had to wonder where the church was, what had happened to it, why was this burial area so hidden away?
I understand the politics (or at least, I’m trying to) surrounding the racially based treatment that went on and continues to go on in the South, even as I continue to be surprised at how normal it was to me to grow up next to a cemetery that boasted CSA dead, as I attended a church with a massive monument to the Confederate soldiers and army. I do manage to maintain a fog of “that’s just how things are” that allows me to avoid some of the ugliness of life, honestly, and I know what a huge, enormous, offensive amount of privilege that is. Sometimes I feel like I should be swanning about with a parasol, bathing my skin in buttermilk and eating massive amounts of ham and biscuits before I go to any sort of social gathering so as to be able to avoid gobbling like a hog in front of the gentlemenfolk.
I don’t know if I spent a whole lot more time on the trails surrounding the college after I discovered them – I know that I returned to them a few times, at least, but I also know that my time for unfocused, unintentional discovery was running out at that point (I didn’t know it then – see above paragraph re swanning about). I hope that this summer break allows me the time and freedom to be creative without boundaries, and to take pictures, and write, and stumble across areas I had forgotten or never appreciated in the past.
This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.
Well, if this isn’t right on for me, I don’t know what is. A little backstory here…
So I have no classes to teach over the summer – none. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Not by my choice, really, but just the way things worked out with my schools (my father, the alarmist, rang up my sister saying that the family had to be prepared to help me out since I had “lost my job.” Yeah, Dad, that’s not EXACTLY how adjuncting works, but that’s apparently how overreacting works, so it’s all good).
The up side to this is that we are ok financially for me to take off the summer. I have a list of things I want to do over the summer, largest of them being to write. I have a story I need to tell, and it’s one that’s mine to tell, and no one else’s, and it’s important to me that I tell it, and I own it (I came to understand this after reading this amazing memoir: Straight Pepper Diet, which I heard about on the Rich Roll podcast). But it’s hard work, writing about something painful, and that made you cry when it was going on, but it’s also good work. My arms and legs and back are sore from the work I did in the yard yesterday (work I did to avoid the work sitting in this damn chair, apparently), so it’s obvious that ALL work makes us hurt, but some types of pain are actually positive – they remind us that we are changing, growing, and effecting our world in some way. I made a mark on my yard, which is good and I can feel it in my body.
So I have this whooooooole long summer (that I realize, no, is not really that long, in the grand scheme of things, but on this side of things, it feels pretty long, especially when I think NO MORE PAYCHECKS), and the main, biggest things I want to do this summer are (1) train for the 10k in September (longest run I have done is a 5k) and (2) write/work on my story. So those are my two goals, and while I haven’t been out of school long (a week maybe?) I have noticed a tendency to do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to avoid doing the two things I ostensibly WANT to do most of all, since I made them the point of the summer. Here are the things I did yesterday to avoid writing:
Organize my music on my phone
Organize two cabinets in my kitchen
Play my video game
Take Straxi out
Mow the back yard
Weed the garden
Apparently the way to start writing is to do every possible chore in the world, twice. After you finish, THEN you can sit in front of the computer screen and put bit-pencil to byte-paper. I understand now why good writers have gone to such extremes to ensure that they have uninterrupted time in which to write: we are really, really good at not writing, and we sure don’t need help from anybody else (I’m looking at you, Straxi) to distract us from our intended daily page count.
I’m thinking that this blog will be a great way for me to limber up before I start off on my “real” writing, because when I actually did write day before yesterday, I found that as I was finishing up, I was really starting to find my cadence.
So far what I’ve written on My Story is really pretty horrible, but it could just be that the material I am working with is really hard for me to work through. I think it’s important for me to do it, though, because it’s MINE, and I want to own it and understand it, inside and out, and also because I don’t want to forget it. It was horrible, but it’s MY horrible, and actually, not all of it was horrible.
So I hope to use this blog as an opportunity to stretch, sort of, before I start training on my story. After, when I have said my piece for the day, I will move to training my body and working on that 10k race. I can use it as a treat, sort of, for me and for Straxi.
“So I started running when I was young.” How silly does that sound as an opening? Of course I started running when I was young. We all did. Running didn’t become a joy again for me for a long time, though, as it was when I was young. With youth, running was thoughtless, weightless, effortless. Even painless.
As a (light) child, running was just a way to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. As a typical (white/privileged) preteen girl, I went from running-for-efficiency to running-as-identity…and that identity was “horse.” After a (blessedly short and fairly unserious) time period of horse imitation and emulation (begun by a classmate, I must state in my own defense), I came to see running as a sport and as more than a means to an end.
My father was a runner, and as the constant “must do whatever it takes to gain approval” kid, I embraced running as a sport, too. I accompanied Dad on his runs, frequently on my bicycle, as he ran a lot farther and faster than I could manage at that point, and we went up and down the new greenways sprouting up around our home.
I stayed up all night (or at least very late into the night, that is) reading James Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running wondering even then as I started how in the world someone could write a whole book about running. Wasn’t it simple? Put one foot in front of the other, quickly, and pretty much figure it out as you go. The book was apparently pretty gripping, because I was engrossed from the start.
I remember being encouraged by my father to run, and to stretch, and even when I went out for an early morning, pre-dawn run, he met me after my return to ask, “how was it?” My shoes were the same brand as his, and my entries into races (nearly always in the “fun run” category, rather than the longer 5k or 10k as my dad did) were the ones he entered. Treadmills weren’t on my radar at the time, although they surely existed then.
I daydreamed about running – on long car trips, I would look out the window and imagine myself running through the woods alongside the car, and now when I sit on the front porch, or browse Pinterest, or Runnit, or any of the other running blogs I love, I still daydream, and see myself running.
So my beginning as a runner was pretty tame, pretty normal, pretty much boring and standard. How did I return to running, now that I’m nearly retirement age?