A tale of life as a runner.

Building a house in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador meant something entirely different to me because I am a runner and running at altitude is really hard. And when we spent a full hour diving head first onto a mat during Kung Fu to practice our offensive roll, everyone woke up the next day sore all over; except me and my sore-all-over were in the middle of marathon training.

The year I fell out of bed and broke my little toe put me in a different sort of awkward when it happened just days before the Marine Corp Marathon, and a few years later when I helped establish a health clinic in the Rift Valley of Kenya, it was precisely because I am a runner that I was afforded the opportunity to run with a Kenyan elite runner on the same roads where the world’s best runners train.

Running with an elite runner in Kenya, the view from our home in Cuenca Ecuador, and that’s me sporting a finisher’s medal from the Marine Corp Marathon. . . and a broken toe.

This year marks my 10th year of competitive running, and looking back on these ten years I can see the tremendous impact running has had on my life. Standing at the starting line of a race takes courage, no matter the distance. Finishing a race builds confidence, and that confidence gives you the courage to do other things outside your comfort zone – to live life fully, to take risks. Cases in point. . .

I took up Kung Fu six years ago to build a stronger core for racing, and in the process realized I really like Kung Fu and Tai Chi. The following summer I took up cycling to build stronger legs for running. I was so nervous about riding a bike in these mountains that my husband went with me the first time to show me I could do this. Cycling definitely helps my running, but it wouldn’t matter. I love cycling.

A few years later, I realized there were classes at our local community college that taught hiking, paddling, and climbing. It scared me to death, but I enrolled myself in school. I was 54 years old, and discovered I loved hiking, paddling, and climbing. All of these helped my running that year, but more importantly running had made me fit enough to survive school.

Before the summer break our instructor wrote the fall classes on a white board at the back of the classroom – a sort of advertisement for attending one more semester of school. In a moment of unwarranted confidence, I blurted out right there that I would take the Swift Water Rescue class. I was a nervous wreck every day I went to that class, and came home more energized (and exhausted) than ever before.

Our instructors were clear that it was only after we had learned to save ourselves that we could be in a position to save someone else – a lesson I remembered every day of class, and every day since. I don’t know that Swift Water Rescue helped my running, but I discovered I really enjoy search and rescue, and that class changed my life.

In a consultation with my instructor at the beginning of summer break, we discussed what I wanted to be when I grow up – a conversation we didn’t even pretend wasn’t ill-timed on my behalf. He suggested I take the upcoming EMT class, and in another unwarranted moment of confidence-laden naivety, I signed up. That class gave way to a trip to Africa, and I realized I love working with children and medicine.

It has been three years since I became certified as an EMT. I have not saved one soul, never administered CPR, and when the doctor suggested I could take out my husband’s stitches from surgery last year, I nearly panicked. Being an EMT has not helped my running, but it has made me a better person. It has given me confidence that I can do things I never dreamed.

Running has definitely changed my life more so than any other sport I’ve taken up. But the most rewarding part of running really was when I started this blog so I could write about life as a runner.

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True to my corporate upbringing, the first thing I did after establishing this blog was to give it a name, a defining tag line, and a mission statement: to encourage others to pursue their passion, whatever that may be.

It is said that passion is a state in which the soul is in some sense rendered passive; thus the name passion, and while passion may cause havoc in the soul, the absence of this emotion has been found equally damaging.

Steve Jobs (2011):   We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

I was in class last week to begin my re-certification as an EMT when one of my instructors described his work week. He is a substitute grammar school teacher (because that’s what his degree is in), an EMT instructor, a climbing instructor at the community college I attended, a Paramedic at the local rescue squad, and he’s learning to be a fire fighter. His goal, he explained, is to have a different job every day of the week that he loves doing.

Life is so much more exciting when you discover those things you love to do, and then go do them. Yes, I think passion is a wonderful thing.

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you. – Oprah Winfrey

It was just a cabin.

January 2016: we bought a little cabin in the mountains to escape summer’s heat.

If home remodeling projects could be called children, our second project of this past year definitely fits the mold of the middle child – plain, drab, neglected.

February 2016: furnishings were gathered.

Taking pictures helped us remember what we had bought (and which store we had left it in!).

March 2016 – construction wraps up.

A new roof, new windows, remodeled floor plan, insulation, and running water.

Move-in day was on the last day of March. . .

April 2016: spring had sprung.

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May 2016: lazy, happy days.

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Dudley and Mr. Boggs

June 2016: back on the market.

How could we leave these beautiful mountains at the end of the summer? Instead, we hatched a plan to sell both homes (the cabin and our home in Greensboro, N.C.), and move back to the mountains permanently. Our trusted agent’s photographer captured our renovation efforts on camera.

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July, August, September, October 2016: showing, after showing. . . after showing.

A showing request comes in – at all times of the day or night. Spiff things up, sweep the porch, check for cob webs, dust the furniture, put away the dog bowls, hide the dirty laundry, turn on all the lights, drive the dogs away in the Jeep. . . wait, wait, wait (sometimes an hour, sometimes 10 minutes). Two days, or two hours later: repeat.

January 2017: SOLD!

This little cabin proved to be a determined little house. It was brave, willing to think outside the box and open to compromise. It may have felt neglected for a long time, but when the time came for it to shine, it embraced the opportunity. A classic middle child indeed.

 

Calling All Angels

It’s been 47 days, 20 hours and 6 seconds, give or take. I had prepared for nearly a year for that moment, and still found myself ill-prepared. That ‘moment’ was when Dakota, my beloved dog, went to heaven. And I’ve learned the only thing worse than coping with her loss is writing about it.

We’ve lost dogs before, each one very different. When our first dog became unexpectedly sick and was gone within a couple of weeks, it tore us apart.

Then there was Durango. We called him our flower child because he loved eating flowers. But after his twelve year old titanium hips wore out, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t let him suffer one more minute. I packed a bag of his favorite flowers, and after he ate that whole bag of flowers he went to sleep. It hurt, but we knew he was at peace.

On the other end of the spectrum, Damen was the only other small dog we’ve had. When his little body wore out, our vet had given us a moment to be alone with him when he started screaming at the top of his lungs. She rushed back in to console us saying that although rare, some dogs can’t handle that feeling of being relaxed. It was downright horrific for us to leave him on that note, but that was classic Damen.

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Dakota, 2011

Dakota was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in December 2015 after developing a chronic cough. The vet prescribed miracle drugs, and her cough disappeared within a few days. But then she lost her appetite. I spent hours sitting on the floor with a spoon feeding her until we realized mornings were the worst, and she would eventually eat on her own later in the day.

Within a few weeks the fluid build-up became overwhelming, so we took turns carrying her outside halfway through the night. We’ve seen every rainy, snowy, star-filled, full/crescent/half moon night of the past year, and I treasure every minute of those sleepy-eyed nights holding her tight.

Research shows that dogs survive an average of 10 months after this diagnosis. She came within days of lasting a full year.

I wanted desperately for her to live in our new home, to have memories with her here. Halfway through the renovation I brought her to the house worried the renovation would outlast her.

She found the room where we had stored our furniture and clothes and ran back down the hall to find me. She was so excited as if to say, “Look! I found our things!” I begged her to hang on until we could live here together.

When that day finally arrived, I begged her to make it until Christmas. She always watched intently while I decorated the Christmas tree, and then she’d crawl underneath as if I had decorated the tree just for her. She watched me decorate the tree the day after Thanksgiving, and then she crawled up underneath and took a nap.

My husband had said, it’s just like you to set goals for her. She crossed the finish line though, and I couldn’t ask her to go one step further. She had given me everything, and it was my turn to give back to her.

I think the relationship we have with our pets are as different as the relationships we have with people. Each of our dogs have had different personalities – some reserved and quiet, others boisterous and outgoing. Naturally we respond differently to each one. It stands to reason then that their deaths will also affect us differently.

The sudden illness or accident seems more devastating than the quiet passing. But sometimes a pet has worked their way into the very fabric of our soul, and it’s impossible to describe the void their passing creates.

We found Dakota 12 years ago sitting quietly in a kennel at an animal shelter in Chicago. She was quiet, but not timid. A paper atop her kennel included a Polish name I couldn’t pronounce. It said she was two years old with no behavioral problems. I couldn’t imagine what events had left her in this place, and I knew I couldn’t live another day without her.

One day last summer I had made a quick trip without her when my husband called to say she wasn’t doing well at all. I prayed that all the angels would come down from heaven to escort her home – even though I sincerely hoped it would take them awhile to clear their calendars.

I have struggled with allowing myself to grieve. I kept saying, “She was just a dog.” But she wasn’t just a dog – she was my companion and friend.

Joe Yonan, Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post, wrote about the death of his dog in 2012. He said, “It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack.” I understood completely.

There are few things in my life that can’t be compared to training for a marathon, and this has been no different. It takes time to work up to the point that you can run for hours on end. Some days it hurts more than others, and those long runs can be very lonely. It’s only little by little that you get stronger until eventually the memory of those first few painful weeks fade with time.

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Bentley

Through an unlikely set of events, we discovered another little soul had been brought into this world a few weeks before Cody left, and he has just joined our family.

When Dakota was first diagnosed, I told my husband I didn’t ever want to love a dog that much again – it hurts too much. But it’s not true.

It’s one of the best treasures of life to love that much.

 

Ditch the Waistband

I’m always asking myself, what have I learned? Good experiences. Bad experiences. Why training has gone great, bad or indifferent. The marathon that flopped, or a personal best finish. Any effort worth improving is an effort worth evaluating.

In an ideal world I’d have compiled all these lessons learned, written a book, and I’d be filthy rich. The problem is that nothing stays the same. Last year’s effort is slightly different from this year – in large part because I’ve gotten a year older. Being successful this year almost always requires a different approach from last year. Maybe you could say that sucks, but it does keep life interesting.

This story began two years ago when my husband had just retired. He enthusiastically took over the cooking, we went out for lunch every day (because that’s what he had done for upteen dozen years before retirement), and slowly but surely I gained weight.

All things being unequal, as previously stated, ‘age’ ensures the battle is all new. Whatever worked before is now rendered useless.

I was running on average 60 miles/week when I first noticed the weight gain (amazingly). Then during last season’s training, I ran up the mountain several times a week – essentially a 12 week weight-lifting program that made my calves, thighs and bum more muscular, and larger than ever before. My pants no longer fit. Meanwhile, my husband continued to cook, we ate out. . . it was the perfect storm.

Panic ensued. I changed my wardrobe. Abandoned anything in my closet with a waistband, blamed it on my age, my thyroid, my training. I cut back, as I have every other time I’ve gained a little weight. It didn’t help. My husband told me I had never looked better. My parents and my sister said I looked healthier. I tried to adapt. Finally, I went into full crisis mode.

The first thing folks usually say when I complain about gaining weight is, “Seriously? You’re worried about weight?” It’s an unfair response. On a percentage basis, I’ve added roughly 15% to my body mass. It doesn’t matter what size a person starts at, it affects you in so many ways.

My husband clapped his hands one morning and said, “We have to figure out whether it’s physiological, emotional, or self-control.” He downloaded the ‘Lose It’ app during coffee, and made an appointment with my doctor.

We started out by entering a typical day’s known calories: a cappuccino, granola and yogurt for breakfast, an afternoon snack, wine with dinner. These things seemed non-negotiable (for now). Everything else was at risk. The daily budget was set at 1349 calories.

Friday afternoon I stepped onto the scale at the doctor’s office. It registered 125 pounds. I was devastated.

My doctor asked me a series of questions – after the nurse had asked even more. Do you wear your seat belt? Exercise every day? Have you felt stressed in the past few weeks? (Yes!) Finally, he pushed his chair back, threw his hands up in the air and said the same thing he had said to me two years ago, “I don’t know what to say to you. You have no issues.”

I asked if he had any concerns about my weight gain? This forced him to look back in the files. I visited him in 2012 at 109 pounds, and again in 2015 at 118. He very carefully suggested women are somewhat healthier if they carry a little more weight as they age. I laughed and told him my mother told me the same thing.

In September 2013 I wrote a post about the Body Mass Index (BMI), had deemed it useless, and vowed to never reference it again (What does BMI have to do with running anyway?) I had spent 12 weeks monitoring my weight (and BMI) to determine the ideal weight that would produce the fastest race times. At the end of the 12 weeks, I asked myself what I had learned and wrote my conclusions to this blog:

1. in sports, as in life, there is a point of diminishing return – you can be too thin,

2. it is much more valuable to gain muscle mass than to lose random pounds,

3. better to maintain a weight that is comfortable – everyone is unique and charts are only references, not identities or labels.

During the years that my weight was the lowest, I lived alone 4-5 days a week – meaning I cooked for myself, which was slight at best. With all this time to myself, it wasn’t unusual for me to run, cycle, and work in the yard all in one day. Going back to school meant that I added hiking, swimming, rowing, and climbing to my marathon training schedule. It was a schedule I enjoyed, but a schedule I no longer wanted to maintain when my husband retired. Looking back, it should have been no surprise that I might gain weight.

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My current position on the SBMI chart.

A Smart BMI Calculator has been developed specific to men, women, children, juveniles and seniors (it was created just six months after my original post on the subject). This calculator has helped me determine that 114 lbs is probably my ideal weight, although my current weight is also well within the low health risk zone. (See the SBMI calculator here.)

Reaching my target weight may be harder this year than in previous years, but the lesson learned closely aligns with the conclusion I reached over 3 years ago.

We might be ideal just the way we are.

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The 125 pound version of me. January 2017
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One of many ‘ditch the waistband’ outfits.

 

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A much thinner me. October 2014

After two days of tracking calories, I declared Friday would be my official ‘cheat day,’ but I had also moved my long run to Friday to beat the snow storm and ended the first three days 745 calories under budget. Every day is a challenge, but I’m a lucky girl indeed to have my husband’s love and support.

Through My Windowpane

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It was the windows of this home that first stole my heart – casement style with a crank handle that go beyond stylish; they’re downright romantic.

Maybe it stands to reason then that the first ‘decorated’ space in this home would be one of these lovely windows. While unpacked boxes were everywhere, and we could barely move around the misplaced furniture, I found a pair of drapes and immediately installed them in the keeping room. It did not escape my notice that there were no kitchen cabinets, stove, kitchen sink, or master shower at the time, but we had one beautiful window – then another, and another, and another. . .

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The leopard print drapes with black velvet hems were the first to go up.

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The tie backs combine stripped goose feather fringe and bobbles covered in alcantara suede by Spina Design, London UK
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The kitchen before my husband found muntins in an upstairs storage room.

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Those muntins transformed the sliding doors into a big picture window.

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The living room still in progress.
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Okay, I know these drapes are a departure from the home’s predominant color scheme. I still love them. Sometimes you just have to make things work (wink wink).

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RUN through the Holidays!

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There’s nothing like sore abs from yesterday’s sit-ups to make you think twice about apple pie and ice cream. I like to think of sore muscles as progress, but progress is usually hard to come by during the holidays. It’s not like our bodies lie down in a motionless revolt. No, it’s the mind that betrays us.

If you’ve planned your schedule to allow for a 2-week Rest&Recovery session through the holidays, you may be the smartest runner of the year. My only scheduled rest break was immediately following the last marathon, which has already come and gone. That leaves at least some of us figuring out how to shop, entertain, and enjoy the holidays without losing one ounce of fitness.

Lots of folks write about exercising through the Season – intending to keep us motivated to hang in there with our tough training regimen. And if you’re halfway through a marathon training schedule, you probably have no choice but to keep at it.

If your racing schedule is similar to mine, however, you find yourself with holiday-related training options.

Our family makes yearly rotations through parents, grandparents, and in-laws so that some years we have the holidays – and our training schedule – all to ourselves. These quiet, mellow holidays are not the problem. It’s when the dance card fills up that things go a little haywire.

Here’s a few practical thoughts for coping that have worked for me over the years:

1. Job Share: when the house is full of guests, my husband and I take turns working out. While he mingles with company, I exercise and vice versa. Somehow it lessens the guilt of leaving your guests for a workout when your partner is there in your absence.

2. Keep it Simple: at the risk of repeating myself too often. . . one stressor at a time. If you’re going 90-to-nothing, pillar to post every day, keep holiday workouts easy. It’s the best injury prevention and the only way to avoid a Crash&Burn.

3. Cut back: even though I’m following a 6 day/week running schedule at the moment, last season’s 4 day/week training proved there’s no set rule, and lots of runners train just 3 days each week. It’s best not to miss more than 2 consecutive days, but if you drop back from your usual schedule to just 3 days of running through the holidays, you won’t lose fitness.

If you have the energy, ratchet up the intensity to offset the reduced mileage, or if you have the time, increase distance for those 3 days to maintain the same weekly mileage.

If a serious cut-back is required, remember that a brisk 10-minute walk three times through the day can reduce blood pressure, and burn calories. It always feels better than you expect to walk around the neighborhood after dinner with the family.

4. Let it go. Sometimes the only thing to do is hang up the running shoes until after the holidays. Somehow we always survive.

I would make the suggestion to also forego dessert, but my husband would say I have surely lost my mind. Happy Holidays.

 

 

image courtesy picphotos.net

The Universal Promise of the Home Contractor: Mañana

There’s a good bit of evidence, aside from my own experience, that suggests home contractors fit nicely into distinct categories. These categories are given affectionate labels: The Dog and Pick-Up Truck, Salt of the Earth, the Professional, the Enterprise.

While one wonderful soul prefers to work alone, others build large companies. Some work six days, and six nights every week; others have employees that keep the work going while they enjoy flex time and vacations.


Dog and Pick-Up Truck:  has a heart as big as the outdoors and likes working alone, easy to get to know, probably has a pick-up truck or van with a dog. Takes great pride in their work.

Salt of the Earth: also has a big heart; just not quite as big as all outdoors. They like having employees because they do not want to work alone, and because they like taking vacations.

The Professional: also has a big heart; they just keep it under cover.

The Enterprise:  with 100+ employees, the life span of the Enterprise owner may be shorter than any of the other contractors. . . due to enormous stress.


Different situations call for different contractors. The bigger the job, the more I lean toward the Professional. The pressure of regular county inspections seems to keep them on their toes, and juggling more than one job at a time can keep the schedule moving. The best Professionals also seem to attract the best ‘trade’ labor – those folks that are impossible to hire on your own.

Our last Professional employed just two people: a very talented carpenter, and what she called “the clean-up guy” – the one that really kept things running smooth. He made endless trips to the hardware store, finished odd jobs around the house, and cleaned up after the trade. But it was the trade that cycled in and out of our house on a regular and, maybe more importantly, a predictable schedule. Our Professional ran a tight ship.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those contractors who follow a well-known, and highly frustrating schedule. . .

ma·ña·na /mənˈyänə/ adverb 1. in the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination): Powered by Oxford Dictionaries

With all the best intentions, things happen. Days are missed, hours cut short, schedules fall behind. They play the catch-up game, make excuses, blame it on something, or somebody. They say they’ll show up tomorrow (mañana). They don’t show up. I quietly put them on notice.

They say they feel your pain. They don’t. They go home and use their own bathroom. We have buckets of muddy water sitting in ours, the shower’s a piece of rubble. That’s precisely when they ask for another draw ($$$).

One of our Dog and Pick-Up Truck contractors has been in our house for seven weeks. The first electrician hasn’t been here in six. We hired another one. He was delightful and finished everything, save for one light. The first electrician wrote me this week asking to come back to finish the job. He’ll be here mañana.

To date, we have used one Professional, one Enterprise – who subcontracted to a Dog and Pick-Up Truck, one Salt of the Earth, four Dog and Pick-Up Trucks. . . and we’re not done. It’s fitting that we’ve labeled this our ‘forever’ home because it will take forever to finish it. Mañana!

Merry Christmas from our (unfinished) house to yours.

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(Image courtesy countryclipart.com)

Reference: Four Types of Contractors