A return to promise

I ran this morning on a route I did on a daily basis in my teens.  Out my parent’s front door, down the gravel driveway and out to County Road 155 North.  Snow was still on the ground in patches, the roads wet and clear.  I took my gloves off at about a mile and carried them. Fog hung over the low lying areas and mixed with my smoke-like exhalations. A lone “honker” made his presence known as he swooped low into a field that bordered a small pond, water finally visible around the edges. The open ditch ran with snowmelt, and hundreds of bright green shoots were just showing themselves. Road lily, cornflower and daisies will be peppered in this same spot in a couple of months. As I neared the turn around point, horses were being led out of a large barn that was once a sweet corn operation and site of my very first paying job (besides babysitting). As the girl closed the gate to the corral the thoroughbred sensed Spring and jumped straight up, deer-like, several times, before he broke into a trot and then a gallop to catch up to his corral mates. I understood that joy it must be feeling, from seeing grass after not,  for what must seem like eons this year. They rolled in the mud and pawed at the earth.  I almost miss that feeling of “getting through” a winter, to experience the freedom of getting out, breathing hard, and running outside.  I don’t live here anymore. And I doubt I will ever move back, but I am sure glad that I tasted that sweet promise of spring this morning. It had the same flavor it did over 40 years ago.

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Bravery

I hear that word quite a bit during the short time I am on-line, getting lost in links that take me to articles and blogs about training, running, cycling, swimming and other types of fitness.  The buzz word seems to be “BRAVE”-that if you sign up for (pick one)  a 1.) 5k 2.) 10k 3.) half mary 4.)marathon you are brave for doing so. That’s just for signing up. Then when you run the damn thing, usually with minimal training, and then blog about how life-changing and difficult it was, you are quite possibly the most awesome person in the universe.  Triple your braveness for a sprint triathlon and double it tenfold for a 70.3 or full Ironman.

Huh?

Then I must be one of the bravest old ladies out there in the world. But I know for a fact that I am not.

Bravery is signing up for military service and going where “they” send you to defend our country.

Bravery is adopting a special needs kiddo who you know will have difficulties and challenges his/her whole life.

Bravery is walking away from an abusive marriage/relationship, and supporting oneself and kid(s) and never asking for a dime from anyone.

Bravery comes from being thrown into situations where you believe you have no control and then dealing with that situation.  It never comes from things self-imposed. And big changes will never come from those situations that you alone choose for yourself.

You can’t GO and BE brave. You can’t plan for it. Bravery comes after.

My Legacy?

How do you want to be remembered by those you love and who have loved you?  How do you want to be remembered by those you have touched over the years?  What is it you want your obituary to state or your friends and family to say about you at your memorial service (if you  choose to have one)?

There is one thing that I don’t want mentioned, written or engraved anywhere.  That I was an “athlete”, or a “runner” or an (god help us) IRONMAN.  That I “left that legacy” to my survivors means….what? “Nothing” you say? Absolutely right!

So why do I hear again and again (usually reading FB statements or comments on someone’s BLAHg about their latest “accomplishment” with a 5k, 10k, half-mary, marathon, or (god help us) IRONMAN, that they are building a “legacy” for their children.  What?  Please someone tell me what that means!

I have competed in and completed many events- from 10ks or ultras, from sprints to Ironman. Is that what my family loves me for?  Hardly. Is that what my co-workers appreciate me for? Most if many have no idea about my “life outside of work”.  My co-workers want me to be a team player, be succinct in the directions I give them, knowing that I will rise to any occasion and jump in with both feet when a challenge occurs (which is daily in my line of teaching special needs kiddos). My family simply wants me to BE THERE. They could care less about my swimming, cycling, running and other sports that I am interested in. Has an active lifestyle “rubbed off” on those around me?  Somewhat. Being a good role model helps.  But I never pushed it on anyone. I backed way off after entering a 5k with my daughter 20 years ago when after running a mile she stopped and in tears proclaimed that she “hated running”. That’s the last time I did anything like that. She found her own passions physically and spiritually. And guess what, she runs occasionally.

The ex-husband that switched from being active with me early on in our relationship, back to his “real” self of being a smoker, carouser, couch-potato. Well, note the EX….can’t live with someone like that. He was who he was and lied to me too many times.

If you DO have a headstone…do you real want the M-DOT on it after you are gone?  I bet some will, would, or have….

What will your OBIT say?  Ponder that.

Do you? Would you?

Being a woman who began running and triathlon a LONG time ago (1971 and 1982 respectively), the “talking about” ones accomplishments on social media is interesting to me.  When I started running, I just did. I didn’t talk about it. There were no means to write about it, tweet about it, FB about it and post “selfies” and finish photos.  Hell, up until the mid 80s there WERE NO SUCH THING as finish photos!  Running as a conversational topic was almost taboo, as few women, at least in my small midwestern town, were. I felt too “different”.  It was something guys did, right?  I was almost embarrassed to admit my love for it, and then quickly came to the realization at a young age that I didn’t have to explain it. Especially to those who didn’t run. Why bother?

I rode my bike to school and work and took the teasing- “Why do you wear those shorts?” “Isn’t your car working?” “Isn’t that helmet hot?”  I even ran to and from work a few times, keeping extra clothing in my classroom to change into, along with deodorant and a towel so I could at least wipe off under my armpits before teaching all day.

I took flack for being at conventions on weekends and choosing to swim in the hotel pool during lunch break (really, you SAT all morning in meetings, and you are going to SIT during lunch and then AGAIN for 3 hours after lunch?  No thanks!)  I came back to my meetings with wet hair, but awake and refreshed.

I was stared at while pushing a contraption made from PVC pipe, three tricycle wheels and an old car seat, while I ran over to the mall, walked the mall halls and then ran back home with my daughter and some new material to sew clothes for her.

I was yelled at by guys in triathlons and marathons (“damn women anyway”) as I passed them or stayed with them in races (this is true!) in the 80s.  Are there guys “out there” still like this? Probably, but hopefully they are fewer and far between.

I still don’t feel the need to share everything about my training and racing. I am competing in my 122nd tri tomorrow.  It’s gonna be tough as I have trained minimally because of a heavy work schedule. But I get to swim in a cold lake and am looking forward to that. I will probably put  a couple of photos on FB but that will be about it.  I won’t write a race report. There would be nothing to say really.  After all it’s “just” a swim, a bike and a run. Something I have done every day for the past 40+ years. I love training. I love racing. I love writing about my experiences. But I also know where I stand in the scheme of things.  I am NOT awesome because I compete in triathlons.  It does NOT make me a better spouse, mom, co-worker, friend.  I am NOT fast for my age group. I will probably never qualify for Kona unless I really retire and invest a lot of time and $ into getting there, and choosing my races very carefully.  Is it that important?  It’s always at the back of my mind, but really I can train for and “do” an Ironman distance any day I want.  I would just have to plan it and choose my day and course.  I used to ride 120 miles with a good friend “just because”. We were the only ones who knew about it and never told anyone else. Why would we?  I am thinking about doing an IM by myself without fanfare. Without buildup. Without a coach. Without a play by play of my training and of course there will be no race report.  Only I would know.  Would you? Or do you need that audience?

The Run

Have you ever watched kids RUN out of the classroom when they get a break from having to sit still? Have you just ever watched them chase each other, going every which way, for the pure JOY of it? Their mechanics are flawless, they don’t know that it’s 100 degrees in the shade, and you have to remind them to get a drink at the fountain. They will just RUN. Because they can. Because they need to. Because most people need to. But don’t.

I was one of those kids. I raced on the playground-anyone and no one. My teachers said I would be a better student if I “just slowed down”, but I could not. I begged to run ahead if we hiked. I asked to walk (run) down to the creek after dinner a half mile from the house so that I could catch crawdads. I cried when it was time to come home from trudging up steep hills where we tobogganed.  I ran alongside the high school neighbor boys,as they sprinted back and forth on the front green lawns,  being discussed by the grown ups, and being so aware of that at age 9 I announced  that I too would run track when I got to high school. My dad put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “No, sorry, girls don’t run track”. At least not in my small midwest town. Bet me.

It began for me, 43 years ago on a cinder track during a chilly,wet spring in the midwest. Just me and a few of my gal friends from high school. Just us and the boys track team. Us in gray sweats and white Keds with an announcement that we “wanted to work out with the guys” as there was no girl’s track team. I think our goal was four times around.  Big workout, hmm? It was enough to give me shin-splints and have to walk up the stairs backwards at school the next day.  But I kept running.

I ran for at least five years until I  thought I was “good enough” to race a 10k. I entered an “all women” race in 1977 and ended up in the top 100 under 45 min. And I loved every minute of it. I brought my 10k time down to 41:00 which is really not fast in the scheme of women’s running, but I am more of an endurance “can go all day” kind of person, so that became my focus.  I tackled my first marathon in 1978  (sub 4:00), and completed a dozen marathons in the next 4-5 years that took their toll on my knees, so I started lifting weights and riding my bike. From here I did a few ultras, ran a Grand Canyon double (12:32), Pikes peak marathon (6:06) and some local mountain races where I placed first woman in quite a few and held some records for a few years. It was a small contention of runners, so no one knew about it then nor knows about it know, unless you are reading this…and it really doesn’t matter.
I never felt the need to tell anyone about it, write about it, become a “coach” to anyone except my elementary school kids, direct a race for our school district and run for my health and fitness and stress release.

I still run. It’s much slower now. I can “crank out” a ten min. mile pace for a 5k but it’s work. It’s a way for me to wake up, gather my thoughts, come up with ideas for “my” kids at school, and to give me energy for the day. It also keeps my weight at a constant (I don’t have a scale but when I am asked to weigh myself, I weigh the same I did in high school). I don’t follow diets, but eat to re-fuel and build muscle and keep my from getting those ugly germies that preschoolers carry around with them. It’s  as natural to me as brushing my teeth, which is why I will probably only write one post about running. I mean, what can you say about it really?

It’s fun. It clears my head. It’s “me” time. It keeps me younger than my 61 years. It’s not pretty usually, or glamourous.  It doesn’t give me “aha” moments or help me solve my or the world’s problems. I don’t need running partners. I don’t need an audience. I don’t need daily mantras or sayings or motivational quotes to get me out the door at 4:30 a.m. so that I can enjoy billions of stars, an owl hoot,  a coyote’s song,  the musky smell of javelina or the pungent creosote bush after a rain. Those are reasons enough alone, don’t you think? For me, yes.

Run. on.

Sixty-1

So tell me. What is this supposed to look like?  Well I think it’s different than how I remember my grandmother at 61. She wore support hose, those black heeled tie shoes, a dress that went down to her shins and she was “comfy”- meaning she had no muscle tone, large breasts and a substantial belly. All to lean into and cuddle and be hugged by.

She also died approximately 50 years ago from breast cancer. No hospice. No chemo. No round-the-clock nurse care. My mother did it all.

We also didn’t get to say goodbye.  You just did things differently back in the early 60s.

Now I am in my 60s. Hard to believe as I don’t feel “old” most days. I live in a retirement community where people walk, run, ride, golf, lift, hike. We don’t think of ourselves as “old”. But we are. Our days are numbered. We have less left than we have already lived. And that’s a hard fact to wrap my head around at times. There is so much more that I want to accomplish. I haven’t see Fiji yet. I haven’t swum the Roughwater two miler in Honolulu. I have yet to cruise Alaska with my husband and jump in and swim around the yacht. (Yes they do this.) I need to see the Grand Canyon from the bottom again and climb out. I need to climb so many more peaks- Mt. Humphrey’s in Flagstaff to be specific. There are triathlons in states and cities I haven’t been able to get to. I am not a grandmother yet, but hope to be someday. My daughter is planning her life and getting a career going first.  Good girl. But I am ready whenever she is to be called “grandma”.

And I won’t mind it one little bit.

Time.  Just. Stop. Now. (For awhile please.) Thanks.

Happy almost 61 to me.  I am far from done.

THE BIKE

No it’s not another IRONMAN race recap of the bike portion of a race. I mean, how can you really want to read about someone’s 112 miles of being on a bike? Let’s see…the course was a.) hilly b.)flat and fast c.)some of the worst roads I have ever laid a tire on.

I felt a.) awesome until mile 88, b.)I peed on the bike for the first time c.) I PR’d the course that I have never ridden on.

Excuse my snarkiness. But really it’s just about riding a bike and having fun. Right? Or maybe not. From some of the posts I read (and I don’t read a lot of blogs anymore as I don’t have the time, nor do they interest me as I have been riding bikes (not casually) for many years, but some people complain about how sore they are, how they hate hills and how damn HARD cycling is. I wonder then why exactly are you choosing this sport?  I love it. My bikes have taken me places that I could have driven to, but why? It’s so much better on a bike. I commuted to work and then to graduate classes after work for years in my lycra in the 80s. Went to work and then got in a 20 miler after work just because. We are surrounded my mountains. Would I rather ride up than drive. Hell yes. Would I still commute the 26 miles one way on my bike if it was safe (and a little shorter). Yup. But it’s not, so I don’t.

My first bike was pink. It was put together from parts of other bikes my parents retrieved from the local dump. I am sure before it was painted pink it was three or four colors. I loved that bike and rode the mile or so to and from school, to my friends’ houses on the weekends, over to the pool in the summer and just up and down the street because I could.

I saved my babysitting money later on for a “real” bike. A baby blue Murray three speed. I took that bike all over the countryside with a good friend of mine as we took photos with our ARGUS SLR cameras for photography class in high school. I would ride Route 43 into the next town (7 miles) to visit my boyfriend who worked at his uncle’s gas station. And then I would ride home. No helmet. No lights. My mom said “be careful”. (WHAT WAS she thinking???)

I was hooked at 16 and continued to commute into town to attend college. I remember riding in the snow to get to a 7:15 class one morning only to find out that the class was cancelled because of the weather. I found it incredulous that others couldn’t get to class when I had ridden there on a bike.

Long story short- road biking led to longer and longer rides and  I would ride 100+ miles on the weekends just “because”. I wasn’t training for anything in particular. I just loved (love) to ride. I still do. I bought a mountain bike at age 50 and actually prefer running into rocks and cacti over dodging cars anymore. It’s a different mindset, but I still love to “hammer” on my aerobars in a triathlon.  Riding a bike doesn’t make me special, and I hope to never be called “inspirational” because I am doing something that really doesn’t mean anything, except what it means to me. And  to me it means fun, fitness and freedom. Which I guess is a lot.

Ride on.

Saguaro

Or “sahuaro”…I have seen it spelled both ways, but the pronunciation is the same, so what’s in a spelling? Right?

There is an “old guy” outside of my bedroom window. According to the neighbors who have lived here many years before me (us), this cactus has been home to many birds. Mary, our neighbor, once chased a snake from the area as he was trying to climb the cactus in order to get to the bird’s eggs. She hit it with a rake, so the story goes.

This cactus has also been hit by lightning-hence the “funny” flat top it sports. But he has recovered and has grown new arms. We have been blessed with a hearty monsoon season this year, so Mr. Saguaro is currently “fat and happy”.  He has scars and pits and missing parts. But I imagine him happy.

I think of him growing here, small and hidden, enveloped by the nursing plants that surrounded him when he was just a seedling. They do that, these hearty, strong plants that can grow up to 40 feet and weigh a ton. They start small and helpless, but are protected by mesquite, creosote, palo verde and other plants. They eventually push them out of the way so that they can grow tall, reach the sun, stretch their arms (or sometimes just stay one upward-rising spear), until they surpass the parent plant.

I get to see my daughter in two weeks. I turn 61 in about three weeks. I have been both the saguaro and the mesquite tree. She is now the tall, strong spear that I have protected for many years.  She is reaching for the sun. She will grasp it and hold it to her heart.DSCN5439

The Swim

No it’s not a race re-cap. I hate race re-caps. They all sound the same…they might as well have the same sentences with a drop-down menu – “The swim was…. (pick one)  EASY, Choppy, Sucky, I DNFed”.

I cannot recall truly my first time in a pool or lake, but I know my parents made sure I was comfortable in water. There are family photos. Me in the row-boat at two or three with a life-vest on, fishing with my dad. Me at Lake Erie with my cousins playing in the warm, shallow waves and going out FAR from my worrying mom on my dad’s shoulders to a sand-bar to where I was able to stand up and the water barely coming up to my knees.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small community with a pool that was open from Memorial day to Labor Day. Six days a week you could find me there with my friends, sisters and my dad, who worked for extra money as an assistant manager. He trained the high school lifeguards (I started noticing how cute they were in 4th grade!), and I helped him vacuum, skim out the bugs and plop in the chorine tablets after hours. Lunch was maybe a peanut butter sandwich my mom had packed and as much penny candy from the concession stand as 25 cents could buy (actually 25 pieces of candy!) Sunday evenings we would have a late dinner, wait until dark and swim naked.  It was the most wonderful of times.

As I became older, and we moved from that little community, dad participated in a fitness program at the local University. He swam laps at lunch and ran before or after work. Sometimes I got to go with him to swim. These were pre-goggle days. The lunch-time lap swimmers logged in their mileage and I practiced holding my breath from one end of the pool to the other.

Out neighbors to the back of us had an in-ground pool that us kids were allowed to use if we helped keep it clean (their kids were grown and gone). These were the days before automated vacuums-and I painstakingly would move the giant pole across the floor of the pool, sucking up all the yuck and then cleaning the filter afterwards. It was hard work for a ten, eleven year old, but my reward was great. I got to swim! Sometimes I was over there for hours-many times by myself, my mom checking on me from her kitchen window on the hill as she did dishes, cooked, or worked in her garden in the back yard. My challenge for myself was to see how many times I could go from one end of the pool to the other, underwater, holding my breath. For some reason the number ten comes to mind. It wasn’t a big pool, but I remember feeling accomplished at my “feat”.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike once you learn, and I guess it’s the same for swimming. I was never on a team. My high school built one a few years after I graduated. I wish I could have been a “SeaRider”, but maybe I wouldn’t enjoy swimming as much as I do now, had I been coached when  younger. My stroked is laughable by those who “know” swimming and have been coached the proper way to navigate through water from a young age. I don’t care. I have tried to change it, but I am unable to. What I do know is that I am comfortable in water. Any kind of water. Lakes. Oceans. Rivers. Rapids kinda scare me and I don’t like being upside-down in a kayak while moving through cold water with rocks on the bottom. Wasn’t my sport. I respect water. It’s powerful. I love watching proficient swimmers MOVE water. It’s poetry. I don’t call myself a “swimmer”, but I like doing it. I sometimes win medals and trophies in open water swim competitions. It’s a great group of people and it’s fun.

I swam this morning. It woke me up and helped me start my day.  Keep swimming.