Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ten Kilometers

When I completed my first 5K, I didn't really feel as accomplished as I was hoping. I'd been working for it for ages. I went from running two minutes at a time to a fairly regular running regimen where if I ran anything less than a mile, I felt like I had failed that day. I reached the elusive 3.1 miles one day while out for a run in my park, and when I was done, I felt a twinge of triumph and then... not much. The equivalent of an emotional shrug. My first "official" 5K in a race setting happened a month or two later; I was anxious about it because I'd never run a 5K On Command before. Whenever I had done it, it just came about as a result of variables that all aligned that day. But I did it, and I crossed the finish line with what is still to this day my fastest 5K time. I was relieved, but not terribly celebratory. I chalked it up to my perfectionist nature; I had done it, good for me, whatever.

The most excited I got - the closest to any sort of "runner's high" - was on the Very Rare occasion that I went past 3.1 miles. When I ran for almost an hour. When I ran for four miles. It was then that I started to entertain the outlandish notion that maybe I could run five miles... and that maybe someday I'd try a 10K. But it sounded just as crazy as suggesting I would run a marathon. Who was I kidding? I was slow, chubby, and in terrible shape. It was amazing enough that I could run a 5K.

I had signed up for Nicole's From 0 to 13.1 course very early on in the year. I had no desire or intention to train for or run a half marathon; but I wanted to be better. I wanted to improve what I was doing, and maybe aim for that 10K. But spring was a bit crazy this year, and I fell off the running bandwagon before the snow had even melted. I ended up coaching two softball teams this year, which basically ensured that I was an exhausted mess for most of the early summer months. If I was super dedicated, I could have probably found time, but there were days when it was all I could do to keep my head above water. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed it, and I knew going into it that it would be a very time-consuming endeavor. But man. Quite so. And running just wasn't that high on the priority list.

But when The Oatmeal announced his Beat the Blerch 10K/Half Marathon/Marathon, I let the same spontaneity that pushed me into BiSC push me into signing up for this one. I mean, how could I not? I'd been reading the Oatmeal for years. The Internet + running! Nevermind that I hadn't been training. There was plenty of time, it wasn't until September! Nevermind that it was in Seattle. I knew people in Seattle. I could hang out with some of my Internet friends! And then go run an Internet-based race! It was insanity! And I was totally in. For the 10K, obviously.

For those of you who are still like "Blerch? What?" - the concept of this race was based on this comic about "The Blerch" - a mythical blob of fat with wings that encouraged you to do anything but what's good for you. I am the queen of blerchly excuses, frankly. I'm tired, it's too late, I have other stuff to do, I'm tired...



Blerchandise.

He also just put out a book about running that includes this particular comic, entitled The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, should you be interested.

I clearly wasn't the only one who was eager to participate in this event. I set an appointment on my calendar and hovered around my computer waiting for the exact moment registration opened. The site kept crashing; within a half hour, it was sold out. I was bummed, but I tried to console myself with the money I would be saving and the fact that I really hadn't been training anyway. But when they opened a waitlist, I pounced on it like a rabid hyena. I didn't think twice when they opened a second day of races, I signed up and decided to sort out the logistics later.

In the intervening months, the impending 10K weighed on the back of my subconscious. Because I am a complicated being who frequently likes to self-sabotage, I did not go out of my way to increase my training. In hindsight, I have no idea why. I went out and ran, and did intervals up to six miles, but I didn't push myself.

And then it was upon me.

The weekend itself was pretty amazing - and will get its own post, if I can get my act together - and I continue to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest. But this post isn't about that, or the awesome people I hung out with.

spoiler alert: these guys

Other than this slight digression to which I will shamelessly post this photo where I got to meet The Oatmeal himself.

 cue awkward fangirl moment

It's about beating my own Blerches, and conquering this race that I wasn't ready for.

shown: an actual Blerch

The race conditions couldn't have been better suited to my liking than if I was Mother Nature herself. The morning was cloudy and cool which is my perfect, ideal running weather. The route quickly went from paved roads to gravel trails, which was something I wasn't used to, but I adjusted. The park was gorgeous. The trail was gorgeous. I was in a very zen state of mind throughout almost the entire thing.

hey, look! official race photos!
I'm such a slow runner that I look like I'm walking in most of them, but whatever.

I started off like I always do, but something magical happened around Mile 3. (Perhaps it was the cake at the aid station.) During miles 3 and 4, I felt so good that I decided I was going to run the whole thing, even if I had to drag myself across the finish line.

I didn't come all that way to not give it absolutely everything I had. 

And aside from the pit stop/photo ops at the aid station, I did. I ran the whole thing. All 6.2 miles.

When I crossed that finish line, I felt damn near euphoric. Better than I had after any 5K. The elusive runner's high, perhaps. But it was that moment - and for several random moments in the days afterward - that I felt almost invincible. I had done this thing, this crazy thing that I never thought I'd ever be able to do. What else could I do? What couldn't I do?

Even now, two weeks later, my heart kind of wants to explode with happy. I've been an overachiever my entire life, but I have never felt so inspired by anything I have done until now. Because nothing I have accomplished up to this point has ever felt as impossible as this thing did. It felt impossible all the way up until the point where I was doing it. And then suddenly it wasn't, and now I can't help but wonder what other impossible things I can do. (*cough* write that novel *cough*)


see that? that's the finish line back there.

From a non-sentimental standpoint, my finish time wasn't stellar by any means, but I continued to meet my perpetual race goal of Not Last. I finished 622/972 overall, 425/676 out of all the ladies, and 112/163 in the Female 20-29 age group. This was, notably, the last race of my 20s. From now on, I'll be in a new age bracket. Eek!

I was a little confused at first as to why my finish time didn't match the official chip time, but then it occurred to me that my watch auto-paused itself when I stopped to take photos with Sasquatch & the Blerches at the aid station (because this is obviously a thing that I would do). The difference was about a minute and I'm not terribly worried about it. Mostly because (a) I didn't have a set time that I was racing against and my goal was simply to finish, time be damned... and (b) this picture was awesome. The second Blerch snuck up behind me and I didn't even know he was there until I looked at this picture after the race.

Blerchy perfection. 

And now I kind of want to do it again.  I want to recapture that feeling that I had during Mile 3, when the rest of the world outside of the path had quieted down and it was just me and my feet and this building sense of hey, I can do this. Hey, I am doing this.

That's a pretty incredible feeling. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Slow Fade

I've never been one for quitting things abruptly.

Perhaps it's simply an aversion to change. Perhaps it's a fear of disappointing someone. Perhaps it's some weird form of denial. Whatever the reason, I always peel the band-aid off slowly, instead of ripping the sucker off in one swift movement. Activities, relationships, jobs... there is no quick end. When I left my retail job at Target to start my first official grown-up job, I didn't turn in my two weeks notice and skip away. I continued to work part-time for another month or two until the 7-day workweek got to be too unmanageable. I'm still technically a member of my tae kwon do club; I haven't been to a class in probably a year. And so on.

There was a dating article I read years and years ago, curating the most common breakup methods. The Slow Fade is where one party stops responding to calls or messages gradually until they've disappeared altogether. There is no formal pronouncement of disinterest; it is simply sneaking away until there is nothing left but the only conclusion to be drawn.

I feel it happening with this blog. The posts are less and less frequent. I've all but forgotten about it some days. Other days, I am completely overwhelmed with all the words I haven't been saying and I can't find the right starting point and then I don't even try. What was supposed to be an outlet for the thoughts in my head or a chronicle of my life has become a nagging letdown and a wasteland of empty pixels.

There are many who say that blogging is dead... and perhaps they're right. The golden era of personal blogging does seem to have come to a close; all of us who sought refuge in the arms of our digitally-connected tribe are coming of age - of a new age, of an age where real life has taken a bigger role than it used to. We are turning thirty, we are getting married, we are settling down and finding new adventures. Writing for strangers on the Internet seems like less of a priority.

It would be liberating to stop, just as it would be liberating to set fire to all of my social media accounts. This blog would be a likely candidate for the first thing to go; I hardly use it much, as evidenced by the ever-smaller numbers showing up in the archive to the right. But I don't want to. I don't want to pack it up and file it away. Perhaps it has served its purpose; perhaps its time is over. I no longer care about pageviews or popularity, of financial success or e-fame. A degree of anonymity is probably better anyway; I don't have the patience to handle the complete degradation that comes from the pond scum of the Internet.

So what do I do now? I'm not sure I want to be done here, but I'm not sure there's any point left if there is no one still reading. I don't think it's necessarily vanity, wanting people to read your words. The whole point of starting in the first place was to reach out and find someone with whom your words resonate. It's about connection. Is there anyone left to connect with? I don't know. Is there any point left? I also don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

This blog will remain on life support. I will stop by from time to time, perhaps I'll even make regular visits again. Eventually, though, the weeds will grow and it will fall into disrepair like a creepy old house that used to be beautiful. There used to be life there, you could sense it. But nothing anymore. But old houses are full of stories, just like this blog was meant to be. So I guess I'll try to breathe new life into it by telling stories here now and again. The old stories will still remain. Because that is how it is supposed to be.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thirty Eve

So. Here we are. I turn 30 tomorrow.

My twenties are coming to a close. They were a tumultuous decade. I found myself, I lost myself, and I found myself again. I took some chances, I played it safe. I started establishing a life for myself and I put down some roots. I finished school. I've traveled around the country. I've made amazing friendships and I've had old friendships fade away. I've learned a lot about myself. I learned that I still have a lot to learn about myself. I've fought inner demons that have threatened to pull me under, and I've had moments when I felt that the universe was perfectly aligned. I've been up and I've been down and I've been everywhere in between.

I've had waves of Deep Feelings about this new milestone. Thirty always seemed like such a daunting age; when you're young, thirty is old. Along the way, though, you realize it isn't, but it's hard to shake that old perception.

I know it's really not a big deal. It's just another year. Most everyone I know who has crossed over to the next decade proclaim it to be far superior to one's twenties, by a long shot. I've actually enjoyed how, over the last year or two, I've started to care less and less about What Other People Think and to embrace doing my own thing and enjoying the things I enjoy, and picking and choosing a little more carefully what things are worth getting worked up about. I'm a little more likely to stand up for myself than I used to be, even though I still avoid conflict and/or confrontation like the plage. (What? I like things to be chill. I don't feel that that's a major character flaw. WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?)

Seeing bits online about Today's Youth(tm) I also feel much more zen and wise and perhaps even enlightened. Not all of them - but the stereotypical millennial/post-millennial (what are we calling them nowadays?) that are at the age where they think they know everything and that the world owes them everything. I have officially crossed that generational gap and have a hard time fathoming how they come to think the things they think sometimes. I would not rewind to that age for all the money in the world.

On the other hand, it's still this fairly significant mile marker, and it feels like a trigger for an avalanche of existential self-examination, weighing myself up against all the things I "should have" or had hoped to accomplish by now. I mean, for the most part, I'm pretty satisfied with how my life is going. A lot of days, though, I still feel like I'm in the same place, living the same lifestyle, as I did immediately post-college graduation. I don't feel like a fully-functioning responsible adult at all. (Maybe most people don't. I don't know.) I think my apartment is the most tangible example of this. It's small and therefore cluttered and it looks like a college student lives there. Is that the worst thing in the world? Probably not. But it's frustrating all the same. I'm always behind on the dishes or the laundry, but at least my bills are covered and both my cat and I seem to be alive and well. I could go back and forth all day but I won't.

When it comes down to it, tomorrow is just another day. I'll have to check a different box on various forms, but otherwise, not much is going to change. I'm still me.

I visited my 30 Before 30 blog earlier tonight. I've got about six things left unfinished. Some of them were logistically difficult to obtain; some of them, I just gave up on. Interestingly - and this is perhaps a testament to some level of impending maturity - I don't particularly feel bothered that I failed to achieve completion. The interesting thing about lists like that, is that your mind can change so many times over the course of the project. I've revised the list a few times, and I came up with several things later that I didn't even bother to add. You can't contain life to a list of bullet points. It will change in awesome, unexpected ways. And things that used to seem novel or important can fade away sometimes. All in all – I’m glad I made that list. It gave me things to strive for, and it made me think of some things to do outside of my normal comfort zone. And it was awesome. So for those of you working on your own lists: good luck, have fun, and don’t worry if you don’t cross everything off. The whole point is the journey.

And right now? I'm content with where my journey has taken me and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. Cheers, mates.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#neverforget

You know how I commemorated 9/11? I got up. I went to work. I chatted with my coworkers. I went to the diamonds and had softball practice with my team. You know why? Because the terrorists didn't win. That's why. It was the most beautifully average day and that is the ultimate middle finger to them. As the saying goes, the best revenge is living well. I think that applies here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

here we go again...

Apparently saying "I'll help with fall ball" leads to being given a team to coach, so if anyone needs me over the next couple months, you'll have to get in touch with my invisible personal assistant to be penciled in. On the one hand, I'm excited to head back out to the fields... on the other, I was hoping to take a step back and "help" rather than "be in charge" but hey, duty calls. *straps on cape*

Hopefully this goes better than the last time I tried to coach a fall team, wherein I was essentially thrown to the wolves and verbally bullied by a bunch of 9 & 10 year olds and was miserable every minute I was there but didn't/couldn't quit because ~*integrity*~. At least I was able to recruit a couple assistants for this go-round. And a handful of the girls are returning from my summer team. It should be fun. Busy, but fun. The schedule should at least be fairly predictable though - practice 2x a week (or 3x if we really need it) and games on Saturdays. No driving all over central Iowa. No managing the league and worrying about scheduling/rescheduling. All I have to do this time is show up and coach. So that will be nice.

I'm a little worried though, in that this league is supposed to be a step up, competitiveness-wise, from the league I coach in the summer... not as intense as the travel/tournament team, but moreso than what I usually do. Therefore, I feel a bit underqualified, especially since I talked up fall ball to my summer girls to have them take their game to the next level, and... oops, they're stuck with me again. I'm not sure how to turn the dial up after so many years on the lower setting. Fake it 'til you make it, I guess. But seriously. WHO DECIDED THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?? This was why I didn't want to be in charge. So I could sit back and learn from someone else who knew what they were doing better. Argh. Although I suppose they wouldn't have handed me a team if they thought I was going to completely bork it up, even if they were/are desperate for coaches... right? Right.

This has turned into the worst pep talk of all time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"But Doctor... I AM Pagliacci."

Like most people (from what I can tell), finding out about the death of Robin Williams was incredibly jarring. My entire newsfeed was full of people who were stunned, shocked, sad. I don't want to say that some deaths are more significant than others… but some are, perhaps, more significantly felt. Death happens every day – nobody lives forever, we all know that. Celebrity death seems to be different, and it's interesting to observe the reaction that follows, because it’s shocking that someone we collectively "knew" is gone. We felt like we knew them, even if we only knew their work. Usually it’s a quick memorial tweet, or a "did you hear?" and a few moments of reflection, before moving on with our lives. But when it's such a larger-than-life cultural icon, someone who defined a genre for multiple generations… it was a hard-hitting punch to the gut.

This was different. This was heavier. The world felt heavier. I have not seen so many people so impacted by a single loss in quite some time. It's a hallmark to what a profound role Robin Williams had in each of our lives; few of us knew him personally, but he inspired us, he entertained us, he made us laugh. He paved the way for other comedians, other actors, other talents. The man was a true genius, on so many levels.

I mentioned this on facebook yesterday when sharing this link (Patton Oswalt had made the reference on Twitter), but here's the full context. It's from Watchmen, but when you apply it here, it's unfortunately ironic and very haunting:
Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says ‘But Doctor... I AM Pagliacci.’"

I think the fact that it was an apparent suicide makes it even more heartbreaking. Depression is an ugly creature. It's one of the few diseases that we tend to dismiss or blame the person suffering for (can you imagine telling someone with cancer or diabetes to "just snap out of it" or that "it's all in their head"? I think not.) This is unhelpful, and this is why people hide it, stuff it away, until its often too late. Depression is a harsh reality for me. Nowadays, it doesn't come around as often as it used to, but when it does hit, it hits hard. There's really not much to do other than hang on for dear life until the light breaks through again. My heart hurts for Robin Williams, not simply because he was famous or talented, but because he wasn't able to find his way out of the darkness. He broke under the weight of living, when it became too much to bear.

It seems like we only talk about depression and mental health after a news-making tragedy. So, okay. Let's talk about it. Let's have a productive discussion on a widespread level. Let's try to understand it. Let's reach out to people that are suffering prevent things like this from happening. Even though it seems like this big intangible thing, it's not. People you know, perhaps people you are sitting in a room with right now, are suffering from this, most likely in silence. It affects more people than you can possibly imagine. What can we do? I don't know. But acknowledging it for what it is and working to erase the stigma so people aren't afraid to reach out for help... that seems like a good start.

Hugs to all of you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

More Than Just a Game

I have just completed my ninth season of softball coaching. I started in college, responding to a call for volunteers to help with a local youth softball program, because I was homesick for the sport. Nine summers, eleven teams, and over a hundred kids later, I am on the board of directors for the organization and in charge of organizing the entirety of the recreational league program. I can't imagine not having it in my life, even during the busy stretch where I'm not sure I'll make it through and I get cranky and think, maybe this should be my last season. Because every time I think that, a different voice in my head responds, But it won't be.

It is something that I feel I will never be able to properly put into words. I've rambled on about little bits of the day to day before; I've written a few "big" pieces on the matter (like this one). But the magnitude of it all escapes me; why I do what I do is easy enough to articulate, but what it means... to me, for me, for the girls I coach... that's something else. Most days it's pretty easy; I take it at face-value. I help them learn to be better softball players, better teammates, and, with any luck, better people. Other days, the lens zooms out and I get a glimpse of a bigger picture and it's huge. It doesn't feel like much, but it goes beyond the simple act of throwing or hitting or catching a ball. There's so much of life intertwined with it. So much more teaching involved than I'm even aware of. And it almost knocks the wind out of me when I think about it too much. The things I say, the things I do - none of it is a throwaway word or action; like a parent, they are watching what I do. I could be affecting them, for better, for worse.

This particular bout of introspection was triggered by an article I happened to click on last night in my facebook news feed. It was nothing new or revelationary; hell, I'm not even sure that I haven't read this exact piece before. But it echoed something that I have been very mindful of, especially this season, for whatever reason. I have made a very concentrated effort to avoid discussing weight or body issues around my girls. It's something I have to watch myself on even more closely than swearing or making snide comments about, say, the other coaches when they are being rude. I can check my language; it's easy to avoid the 4-letter words. It's easy to stop myself from being snarky - sportsmanship, sportsmanship, sportsmanship... It's something I try to drill into their heads, and I may be a lot of things, but I try my damndest not to be a hypocrite.

It's really, really hard to bite back the self-deprecating comments. It's hard to hide my body image issues. It's hard to not make remarks about how sometimes I have to size up on my shirts or how they're all in much better shape than I am. If something like that does slip out, I'm quick to blame it on age. Never on size. I don't want them to even think about this or that body type being good or bad; I have some girls that are still shaped like toothpicks; I have others that are starting to fill out. I don't want them to play the comparison game. I don't want them to internalize that message - not from me. I may not be happy with myself, but I don't want them to know that.

Because if I can act like my size, my body, is no big deal... maybe they'll internalize that instead of the other messages they get. If I'm happy with myself, then hopefully they will sort of subconsciously learn to be happy with themselves, too. I'll lead by example that way, even if I have to fake it every step.

When I picked up the coaching mantle those many years ago, I didn't even think about it in terms of being a role model. I just wanted to get back to the game, and to "pay it forward" in a way. But I'm in kind of a unique position where I stand now. Most of the other coaches in this league are parents; I am the "other." There is less of a guard that is up, and that can go both ways. They may be more relaxed, but they are also more sponge-like. I am younger than their parents (though that won't always be the case - eventually, as I age and they don't, I will be the Matthew McConaughey of youth softball, except not creepy - eventually, I will be old enough that they could be my very own daughters) so perhaps that makes me more relatable. I know when I was young, I always looked up to the older girls and young women who I deemed as cool or impressive. And I want to be someone they can trust; someone they can confide in, if they need to. A fill-in big sister or a young, hip "aunt" even.

As the article states (and countless others, and all of our own personal experiences), girls will mold their body image off of what they observe, what is demonstrated to them - intentionally or not. They will absorb that feedback from their peers, sure - but they will also pick up more than you can imagine from the adult females in their life, especially those they trust.

And the ages I coach - those are the worst, for this. I coached two teams this summer - one full of 5th/6th graders and the other full of 7th/8th graders. The age ranged from 10 all the way through 14. I remember those years. Those years were awful. I wouldn't relive them if you paid me. And while they're starting to come into their own, starting to form the core of who they are going to be... there are people like me that they are looking to. And I know better, I know better than to entertain any sort of negativity around them. It was something I decided long ago without ever making a declaration to myself: do whatever you can to avoid damaging their sense of self. Don't buy into the body image game. It's too late for me, but not for them.

It's stuff like this that makes me stop and realize that, yeah, I'm coaching softball, but I'm not really JUST coaching softball.

And it just kind of sunk in what a hugely terrifying responsibility that is.

So. There's that. I don't have kids and I might not ever have kids, but I'm definitely shouldering my duty as part of the "auntie brigade" - I can still hopefully provide some useful guidance for the girls that are going to have to walk down the same road I did.

It's scary, and at the same time, I'm ready and willing to step up. If I can save anyone, just one, from falling into the trap of bad thoughts and self-loathing, then that, to me, is something worthwhile.