Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What is a yoga girl and who is she challenging?

I've been inspired by the many ways (I see) to take on this challenge and, as I begin, I wonder who YG is actually challenging?  The mindful Jen [reflective and self aware and ready to explore] or the crazed Jen [the one screaming, "Are you EFFING KIDDING ME with this challenge - WE DO NOT HAVE A SINGLE SECOND TO WASTE ON THIS]?  Only time and this blog entry will tell.  And so we begin on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

DAY 1 - YOGA EVERY DAMN DAY: This morning, right before my 6:30 hot yoga class, I realized I've neglected my dog's nails.  This may not sound like a big deal but it is to me and his extra long dewclaws.   The entire walk to class, I was berating myself for being so neglectful, wondering when my Vet was open today, debating whether I would even get an appointment because of the holiday weekend and muttering "stupid" over and over again like Rain Man minus the twitch.  To me, it was a sign that I wasn't focused on the right things and hence the ball-dropping-disaster.  Then there was yoga.  And in that hot space, there was freedom from my perceived failings as a parent.  In that freedom, there was openness and acceptance.  And with that acceptance, I became the woman that got shit done again. And in this way, I will make an effort to practice mindfulness every day.  I will not become frantic.  I will not lose my cool.  I will return to my breath during a crisis, during a class, on a run or in the middle of a crowd.  I will practice this yoga every damn day.  And I will get a vet appointment on a holiday weekend.

DAY 2 - MEDITATE: My mind only gets quiet after about 10 miles of a long run and so it's pretty clear, to me at least, that I'm not one of those sit in a quiet room with a candle lit types.  I can't imagine chanting or clearing my mind on command.  What I am is unapologetically fast paced.  But, today I had "meditate" on my mind when I started my long run and when I came off the trail and down a hill into miles 11-15, I decided to push it into whatever meditative state I had in me.  Apparently, for this runner, space and clarity with a layer of self-awareness comes readily when she's running 7:30/miles.  It was like I blacked out at mile 11 and woke back up at mile 15, refreshed and smiling, with absolutely no agenda on my radar.  The world and the trail, with all of the other runners, riders, walkers and puppies, faded to black and it was just me and my breath.  And so, mediation station was achieved in such a fantastic way today that I'm still smiling about it.

DAY 3 - RISE & SHINE!:  I'm always up and attacking the day at 5AM.  Today, a Saturday, was no different in that regard.  The time and scene was the same:  Me, coffee in hand, walking a very sniffy and inquisitive Charlie around the neighborhood before I ran off to practice.  The attitude was what needed adjusting.  Usually, I'm multitasking by 5:20AM - loading/unloading the dishwasher, responding to work emails that came in after I'd gone to sleep, responding to questions from parents about time/location/distance of the upcoming practice, eating breakfast, making coffee, feeding Charlie and then ushering him out the door, blackberry in hand, distracted.  But not today.  This time, my phone stayed in my pocket and I focused on the way my coffee woke me up, the fact that it was a clear night sky above me and a chilly fall breeze filling me up, watching Charlie investigate the same leaf for 30 seconds without nudging him along, feeling my body slowly wake up and loosen up from yesterday's running and yoga, and I took the time to realize my gratitude for the day and for being healthy enough to enjoy it.  I unplugged and woke up slowly today and it made all the difference.

DAY 4  - RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS:  It is the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend.  I am awake at 6AM, slightly hungover and trying to fly out the door by 8AM to get on with a much needed weekend away at my parents' place in the "country" (read: not the hot, gross, dirty city of late August).  I am making coffee, feeding Charlie, walking Charlie, folding laundry, packing, emptying the fridge of anything food-related and otherwise preparing my house for an invasion of my husband's delco fantasy football league; I am wrapping up extra CSA veggies to take to my mom and, just as I'm falling out of the house and frantically packing my car, I run smack into the adorable imp of woman that is the mother of my brand new neighbor.  And before I know what's happening, I'm being summoned, over the pile of trash the pretty imp moved from her daughter's stoop to mine, to meet the new couple I now share a brick wall with.  And there she is: the new neighbor even more frantic and stressed than I am, being drug to the same stoop by the same imp, through even more trash to meet me.  And so, I took a deep breath, and was the calm one.  I smiled my most welcoming smile, made small talk, wished a ton of luck and good weather, reminded them this is supposed to be fun, and walked safely back to the comfort of my own house to resume my own whirlwind.  Sometimes the kindness we find is so common it's often overlooked.  This reminder meant that I put community above self for 5 minutes; something I intend to do over and over again from here on out.

DAY 5 - GET RID OF A BAD HABIT: (Happy to say I'm 8 days into this one.) Binging.  My relationship with food is far from unique.  In fact, I'd bet it's far more common than even I can really imagine.  But no one really talks about it.  It's like the ghost in the pantry (or the refrigerator) that you look in the eye and whisper "shhhh" to in the darkness.  So here it is:  my broken silence, my admission, my recognition and my daily reminder.  Whether it's after drinking a bottle of champagne with friends or under the guise of "carbing up for a long run," coming home and quietly eating half a bag of chips, pretzels, cheese, grapes, 30 Hershey's kisses, bread and ice cream before dinner isn't healthy.  So there it is.  It's something I've been capable of my entire life; something that has been managed well for all of those years; and, just recently, something that I'm so willing to control and own that I'm not afraid to talk about it anymore.  I'm taking it out of the shadows and putting it under the florescents.  Perhaps, the secrecy was more of the bad habit.

DAY 6 - START A NEW ROUTINE:  I have consistently set an alarm every day for years.  This weekend, I stopped.  On Saturday and Sunday, over the long weekend, I let my body naturally wake up.  And it was glorious.  I feel completely recharged and a bit free.  So, no more alarms on Sundays.  Watch out world, I'm sleeping in!

DAY 7 - THANK YOU: When I first wake up, I always thank the universe for something.  Today it was the steady thump of Charlie's tail hitting my left leg when he heard the alarm.  He wakes up every single day with such joy in his heart and ready to share it with me.  A few minutes of face licking later, and we are both ready to greet the day.

DAY 8 - MANIFESTING DREAMS:  Saving Money or, to put it another way, not wasting money on stupid things like a midday Pellegrino, an unreasonable 2nd illy (oh so expensive yet delicious) coffee of the morning, Birchbox (loved it since May 2011 but...enough is enough), Taxis home from work (very slippery, lazy slope here), and random trips to Banana Republic to kill time before appointments to name a few.  There are obvious things I can cut out immediately (Pellegrino, Coffee, clothes, taxis etc.) but there are other things or actions that are available to me that could actually generate some cash that I have yet to take advantage of: (1) holding a yard sale (Scheduled for October!), (2) collect and keep track of loose change (I've been historically horrible at holding on to this and not just throwing it in a drawer - no more!), and (3) Consignment shops (hello, I've got handbags, shoes, belts and dresses galore that may actually pull in some cash!).  With this, I'm going to change the way I look at money, even the $2.25 for a large illy, and work toward conservation.  #boom

DAY 9 - TRUE FORGIVENESS: Today started with the very fresh memory of a number on the scale yesterday morning that I didn't love.  16 miles in 2:22, 2 walks with Charlie, food shopping, cooking for 4 hours, cleaning, walking to pick up bibs for a 10K in the Italian Market, cooking for 4 more hours, decorating for a post-race brunch the following day, and an hour of yoga later, I decided to embrace my strength and my endurance and forgive myself for equating beauty and my own worth with a number on the scale.  And so, there was pizza for dinner and an exhausted runner content to fall asleep after a hard fought, beautiful day in her own skin.

DAY 10 - GET CREATIVE: I put on a small show today: brunch for 20 immediately following a 10K.  I got to shower in the 20 minutes I had to myself before the first guests arrived and all of the food was hot - I call this a double win.  I poured the creativity into food and logistics today.  Everything was ready ahead of time, waiting safely in the fridge to be popped into a hot.  Banana Bread and Apple Muffins were on the table with the fruit salad, mimosas were flowing, beer chilling, and the main courses heating up along side the bacon.  Out came the hot stuff, the bacon and the deviled eggs with an heirloom tomato salad - as if all on cue without me having to think twice about it.  If ever there was a time to say this, it's now: BOOM.

DAY 11 - RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS:  Sometimes things don't work out the way you want them to.  Even kindness can backfire.  Today, a little baking and a surprise landed me with hurt feelings.  But, rather than the easy (passive aggressive) road, I chose to smile, nod and wave off (literally) the negativity that radiated through me from a few simple words.  I chose, instead, to double down on the kindness factor, forgive and move on.  This last random act of kindness was for me, then, in the letting go and in the realization that I only control my actions.  How others choose to react is on them.  Today, I chose kindness - twice - and am happier for it.

DAY 12 - GET SHIT DONE: Of all of the Mondays in all of the world, this task on this Monday was an uphill battle.  I didn't sleep last night.  I set my house alarm off this morning.  The alarm company called me copping an attitude at 5:21AM.  The police came.  And, still, I recovered with a 10 Mile run, straightening my hair (#morningwin) a trip to the doctor in preparation for a vacation that may include a bit (or a lot) of motion sickness, laying the groundwork for a community yard sale in 30 days, oh yea - work and meetings, and lunch with a bff before she heads off to Spain for what feels like forever.  All before I go home and make flatbread. From. Scratch.  Even without sleep, I will get shit done by digging deep and running hard.  #IAMARUNNER #WATCHTHEFOUT

DAY 13 - BE FEARLESS:  My biggest problem?  I say "yes" to everyone and everything that I can possibly fit into my Franklin Covey Day/Week/Month/Life planner.  And, not surprisingly, I am left exhausted, stressed and over-stimulated by the end of almost every weekend...and, if I'm being totally honest, sometimes altogether weepy at the thought of starting yet another work week on zero rest.  So, today I said NO.  And, again, if I'm being 100% truthful, I was 50/50 right up until the moment I said it.  But when I did, the world did not implode and I felt liberated.  So I kept saying it (at least 3x today) to commitments for tonight, this Sunday and into October.  No, it's too late.  No, I'm going to stay in and read a bit.  No, I've got a 20 mile run that morning.  NO. NO. NO.  And here I am: living to tell about it.

DAY 14 - CLEAN OUT!:  This is my specialty. And because my inboxes, office, cabinets and 50% of my closets are clutter free and beautiful, the focus is once again on my magical community-wide yard (and bake) sale planned for October 12th!  This weekend I'm spending some real QT with my basement and the other 50% of my closets...dusting, organizing, categorizing and pricing everything that has not been used, shared, or worn in the last 12 months.   I feel like a kid on Christmas.  #Isaidit.

DAY 15 - SWEAT:  I started this day thinking I would write about the hot yoga class I took at 6:30AM and sweating out the wine I had the night before.  But the day went where it was always going to go and I find myself writing about the hardest 2 miles I've run in the recent past.  It was 88 and humid on September 11th.  The sun was not hiding and at mile 1.25 I was certain of only the facts that (1) I'm old and (2) advil was not even pretending to address my cramps.  If not for an 8th grader running next to me, I would have stopped, panted and probably cried all the way home and into the shower.  And so I find myself grateful for that last sweat of the day and for the littlest push from the littlest runner that got me through it.  Because that is where you become great - in the pain and in the sweat.

DAY 16 - THE ALTER:  My alter is not tangible.  It is not a place or a posture.  Rather, it is the last two miles; the last 17 minutes; the last deep breaths; and the last push of any run.  Today it was miles 16 and 17.  Although the weather let up from yesterday, my body hasn't.  I was ravaged by cramps, dehydration, fatigue and ridiculous heart burn from miles 3-15.95 today.  And then, like magic, mile 16 ticked itself off and there I was:  back in the silence and the clouds, the hyper focus of meditation, the pace, the wind, the movement, and the stride.  I cease to exist and am but motion.  Here at my alter; the rest fades. 

DAY 17 - I LOVE YOU:  I'm not sure if I was more open to it today or if I had this part of the challenge on my mind but today was so full I hardly know where to start.  Love was staggering out of bed this morning after 4.5 hours of sleep to run to pick up members of my team for a half marathon on the other side of the city from my bed.  Love was hugging my best girlfriend with words escaping her when she is too overwhelmed to not cry before this early morning run.  Love was in every one of the hundred plus high fives we got today from all of the other kids and adults wearing the neon blue Students Run Philly Style badge of honor.  Love was eating bananas and rolling around in the wet grass of the Azalea Garden after the race.  Love was hugging me and saying "I love you" when she got out of my car after the race.  Love was a surprise visit from Charlie's best friend (dog walker) and witnessing first hand how much my pup adores this big hulking giant of a man.  Love was listening to the rain and not napping while emailing with my soul mate while she's away on a Wisconsin adventure of her own.  And, most of all, love was a random text from my sister reminding me that I am where I am meant to be and that's just perfect.  So, in the words of whatever song plays throughout Love Actually, " is all around us."

DAY 18 - MOTHER NATURE:  It was 54 degrees outside when I woke up.  The blue Students Run Philly Style Marathon Finisher hoodie came out of the hope chest and Charlie and I were on our way out the door for our first walk of (what truly felt like) the Fall.  It was 90 minutes of chilly hands wrapped around hot coffee, deep breaths in, a frolicking puppy by my side, and no where to be but right there in the grass dumping red and yellow leaves on a white dog's head.  The way he rolled around under the clear blue sky made me stop everything and just enjoy the moment as he saw it:  "Oh mommy, isn't this so awesome - we're both just here."

DAY 19 - RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS:  For myself.   PJs by 4PM.  Heating pad on my extremely messed up neck. The Book Thief.  And, a little quiet with Charlie.

DAY 20 - SOMETHING NEW: I had an entire hour free, randomly, in the middle of the afternoon today.  Almost more important than the way I spent it (on the stoop reading The Book Thief with Charlie on my lap) is the ways I did not spend it: working, cleaning, returning emails or texts, preparing a meal, pacing, folding laundry, returning calls, checking my work voicemail, mapping out the rest of the kids' marathon training, planning my next dinner party, fretting in general, or worrying that I should be do something better, differently or more.  It was an incredibly simple hour.

DAY 21 - SELF LOVE: I was hurting on my run today.  Cold sweats from too much coffee at mile 2, heartburn at miles 4-8, utter shame at how bad I felt at mile 9 and so it went.  But, after the 10 miles was over, I took a moment to remember that a mile is a mile - no matter the speed.  I moved my body for 10 miles today and that is something I couldn't even dream of doing 5 years ago.  I'm stronger than I think I am on my darkest days and more resilient than I've yet to fully understand.  I am more than a moment of sadness.  I am undefeated.  I am.

Twenty one days later, on September 17, 2014, after another round of "back to school" refreshing has taken place, I'm happier and more whole for having done this challenge.  Crazed Jen met Mindful Jen halfway, it appears.  I was forced to think outside of the black and white, the 4 lines that create our boxes, the left and the right, the North and the South, and I saw some things.  Parts of me need opening.  And some others need explaining.  And that's OK.  What did I pull from the last three weeks?  Imperfection.  I yanked the ugliness out, looked at it and decided that the only thing making it ugly was a slant placed on it by the greater "they".  Happiness is choosing you over them.  So, I thank this yoga girl.  And I'm choosing me.  


Monday, August 25, 2014

Throwing kindness around like confetti?

I've carried a planner around with me since law school.  It is a bit of Franklin Covey's finest fake black leather, peeling and cracked like parchment flakes, and full of the oddly necessary bits of my life: the first day of my last period; a daily account of my water intake; the last time my furry kid was at the groomer; the weekly training schedule; reminders to pay my student loans; stickies with ridiculous, un-remember-able passwords; my bone marrow donor credentials; new health insurance cards, unopened and in triplicate; September wedding invitations; Polaroids of suspect moles taken by my oncologist to review with my dermatologist; a Washington Humane Society Paw Print Sticker ("I'm a lifesaver"); my best friend's icing recipe - laminated; a proposed brunch menu for 30; business cards; a menu of dinners for the week; my Rothman Institute doctor's cell phone number; my Students Run Philly Style training schedule; and, among the calendars with various birthdays and color coded social engagements, somewhere in the very back, is a section with six months worth of notes for unwritten blog posts about ghosts of races and runs past.

This post is that list, as it appears in the back of the planner that is my equivalent of George Costanza's wallet, out loud, all caught up, chronologically balanced and ready to move forward.  Specifically, what follows is a compilation of my handwritten notes, just as they appear to me now, on paradoxically small paper for what they contain, lined and accented with the abstract art of the Franklin Covey HPOV-Classic model, and completely out of the box:

True Grit:  Running on the treadmill at 5:30AM, still dark out, watching my reflection in the blackness of the windows and seeing a guy, post-shoulder surgery, behind me doing squats and working out with his arm in a sling. (2/3)

Keep me in Your Heart for a While - Warren Zevon (3/2014)

A love letter to running: and in the end, there is power in the Yes.

Love Half Marathon (3/30):  In the rain with soaked volunteers and spectators and overcome with gratitude for the support and anonymous love not just at the finish line - but even in the darkest, wettest, puddle-filled places on the course.

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."  Hebrews 12:1

Garden Spot Village Marathon: 3rd F 30-34.  "Never again" coursing through my veins until I saw Ben waiting for me at mile 26, ready to run me in, and I let him.

Missing the 25k trail run I signed up for on a whim because of the flu and how that screwed with my mind every hour of every day that I was sitting on the couch in my dirty sweatpants with my gross hair watching reruns of the Real Housewives of Melbourne.

7.28.14 - things I've recently discovered:  (1) Seltzer in scrambled eggs; (2) coconut water; and (3) Argon Oil.

And, for the love of running (and Warren Zevon),
"Shadows are fallin' and I'm runnin' out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The "Blue" Season in Two Sentences.

The Blue Season 2014: 50 Practices, 3 races, 1 team pasta party, a prom, some yearbook signing and 23 reminders that life is not a race to a finish line.  Rather, we are what we give to others.  We are the moments we share and the little pieces of ourselves that we give away. This season quite literally took my breath away with hugs and a sense of belonging that my amazing friend Jess worked years and years to create.  This is the Blue Season through my very grateful heart. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014: In a plank position counting to 30 seconds, looking around our first team circle of the new season and seeing a dozen new faces together with many more familiar ones, I am completely blown away by how lucky Rachel and I are to be here in this moment.  And then, after practice, Lydia asks me to run another half mile with her because she's concerned about her distance that day and I'm even more grateful for Students Run and its presence in my life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014: I was so angry about work today that I was actually worried about being around children or anyone for that matter but two quick hugs from returning runners returned me to a better place and made me so grateful!  And it wasn't even that cold today!

Thursday, February 27, 2014: Today's workout (a partnered .75 loop x 2) made me think that maybe (just maybe) Rachel and I are starting to figure this leader/practice thing out.  There were consistent high-fives, no runners left alone, a lot of motivation and every kid sitting on the steps waiting for the last to arrive; we were so very proud of them!

Saturday, March 1, 2014:  The kickoff event in 3 words: cold, quiet & cold. But, despite all of that...I was so grateful for the strong presence from Team Meredith, running a mile with Mrs. Tilli AND all of the hugs from our kids.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014: We had to cancel practice today due to snow/ice on the ground and a 3PM temperature of 21 degrees!  Today I vowed to remind the kids (and myself) of this long, cold winter at our hottest practices in August!  #globalwarminglives

Thursday, March 6, 2014: After our first timed mile of the season, I'm completely blown away by the improvement from last season to this season.  Kids that were beginning last season at 9:00 and 10:00 minute miles started this season at 7:00's and 8:00's!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014:  "Oh hello, Spring and 65 degrees, where have you been and how long are you staying?" was running through my head during our 2 mile run today!  Afterward, comforting a student about knee pain and, well, something bigger, and watching a good, hard cry pass through her, I realized all over again that this isn't about running at all.

Thursday, March 13, 2014: Cancelled despite the protestation of a lot of the kids: 27 degrees at 3PM plus a windchill.  This Winter has gone above and beyond - bring on 80 degrees and sunny!

Saturday, March 15, 2014:  We opened our first Saturday practice at Lloyd hall with mild temps, high fives, a little drizzle, and three miles on the Loop.  We ended this practice with stretches, hugs and a lot of smiles!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014: A warmer (almost) Spring day with Mrs. Tilli back in our circle and all of the kids excited for a new route greeted us this afternoon!  I remain ever grateful for these reminders that there is more to life than billing clients and court appearances!

Thursday, March 20, 2014:  A sinus infection sidelined me today and has me hydrating my butt off to get back out there on Saturday!  Mrs. Tilli came to practice today and, honestly, like the amazing friend and mom she is, saves the day again!

Saturday, March 22, 2014: Our first bridge run of the season with all leaders on board!  The kids were brave and mastered the incline so well I think we'll do the entire bridge soon!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014: Rachel and I are both fighting through colds, kids, pets, work, families and deadlines today.  Thank god for these kids and those 2.5 miles of peace.

Thursday, March 27, 2014:  Today proves that kids will do anything for cupcakes! They will hold a plank for over five minutes (Jess); they will bang out 30+ push-ups in 60 seconds (Evan); they will hold a wall squat for over 3 minutes (Emily); they will play red light/green light no matter their grade; they will do lunges for the length of a basketball court; and they will heartily team up and relay race against each other until their legs can't move!

Friday, March 28, 2014:  By far one of the most amazing experiences I've had as a leader was getting the invite to watch her get ready for the prom.  I felt like part of the family!

Saturday, March 29, 2014: Five miles in the rain on the Loop was met with a very huddled and happy team eating breakfast together post-run in the little cafe that I still can't remember the name of.  Sometimes the best times with this team are those that are unplanned and wet!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014:  Three miles with tired kids adjusting to warmer weather and sunshine on their runs...after running out of Court in the middle of a trial just to get there on time.  So worth it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014:  A timed 1.5 mile run and relays afterward - thank god I remembered to get the cookies!  What's a relay without a prize?

Saturday, April 5, 2014:  Running laps around the School District Building this morning with other teams and supported by parents and teachers made me feel like a part of something bigger - an even greater community than just Students Run.  I really hope the kids understand that just by showing up today we got school funding back on the radar of those directing what the news is and what it's not.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014: Seriously hoping that a few bad attitudes at practice didn't ruin it for the kids that are really trying! As always, I find myself grateful for those kids that show up, try hard, smile often and lead by example.

Thursday, April 10, 2014:  Nothing will ever compare to the look on a kid's face when she exceeds even her own expectations.  Rachel and I were over the moon to watch Lauren tough out her run today and absolutely dominate 3 miles; gone is the nervous kid and in her place is a ruddy, strong runner.

Saturday, April 12, 2014:  Today our team had it's first race!  At 8AM they set out to enjoy the Generation Run 5k at the same time I took a deep breath, thought of their faces and hit the road running at the Garden Spot Village Marathon!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014:  Practice cancelled due to a typhoon.  Stupid April Showers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014:  This was our first weekday bridge run and it was scheduled AT THE REQUEST of our kids!  The best part of the entire week, by far, was the looks on the faces of those kids as they came down from the bridge after crushing it!

Saturday, April 19, 2014:  The confidence continues:  kids in every grade, every shape and every level of athletic ability set out with all of our leaders on deck for our first Loop run of the season (for time) to qualify for the Broad Street Run.  The weather and the attitudes were awesome with smiles and sun shining the entire time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014:  Practice cancelled (again) due to rain.  Really missing the stretching and conversations today.

Thursday, April 24, 2014:  We are back at it with a few bad attitudes after a hard day at school.  Two miles felt long overdue and somehow a perfect twenty minute distraction.

Saturday, April 26, 2014: BSR Qualifier Round Two: I started two of our kids early today at 7AM and got them qualified just in time to catch up to another group of kids on their final loop and well on their way [2 x 5th to Race to Broad to Christian to School] to qualifying themselves for Broad Street!  At the end of a 12 mile day for the leaders, there were the expected cheers mixed with a few very disappointed faces and some tears at our Cups-n-Chairs team breakfast; but all in all, it was a unifying and confidence building 3 hours.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014:  Off...rain.  Stupid, stupid April.

Thursday, May 1, 2014: We said, "one mile shakeout run" to them at practice today while they were stretching and the reaction was such that you would have thought we bought each one of them a puppy!  I'm loving their collective hype at the lead-up to the Broad Street Run.

Saturday, May 3, 2014:  Another team pasta party was well attended by parents and kids and WAY too much food!  After all of the bibs, shirts, packets, and shoes had been given out, the individual goals read aloud, advice from the older kids espoused, and rounds of hugs shared, it was time to say goodbye and head out with the BSR finish line in our sights!

Sunday, May 4, 2014:  BROAD STREET RUN #5:  If this race taught me anything it's definitely that this will never, ever get old.  "This" being standing with 25 other members of Team Meredith jumping around to "Feet, don't fail me now....feet don't fail me now!" gearing up with each other for each other - as a team.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014:  Two miles and our first John's Water Ice of the season to celebrate a successful Broad Street Run and the first 70 degree day of the Spring.  The icing on this cake: the students turned away from their phones and back into little kids when they got their ice cream/water ice!

Thursday, May 8, 2014:  Three miles without a single complaint!  Some kids did the course backwards and loved it so Rachel and I are going to consider that as an option in the future.

Saturday, May 10, 2014:  I had to miss this practice but ended up seeing a few kids on their way to the school while I was out with Charlie.  I can't even begin to put into words what this team has done for my sense of well-being and commitment within my own community; I truly loved yelling at them to get their butts to practice!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014:  This was our first very hot/humid day and, consequently, a pretty rough run for our kids.  But, the best thing about it was that they came through it and did not let the challenge of it defeat them; I don't know if I had that quality in me as a 7th grader but I see it every day in these kids.

Thursday, May 15, 2014:  I'm sick as a dog but delighted by the kids' reaction to Rachel putting them through drills instead of a run.  They love being tortured as much as she loves torturing them and, honestly, watching the girls compete for 3+ minute planks and 8+ minute wall sits is beyond inspiring!

Saturday, May 17, 2014: Still sick and so sad I'm missing our kids compete at the Philadelphia Bar Run!  Thank god Rhea was able to ride the bus with them on the way over and Jess never ceases to amaze me with the way she operates on zero sleep - always showing up for this team (absolute chills about it)!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014:  No practice today because school is closed for Election Day.

Thursday, May 22, 2014: Mrs. Tilli is at practice today and the kids are going nuts about it!  And...because we were both tired, we ended up doing our "End of the Blue Season Timed Mile" which resulted in the most amazing feeling a leader with this organization could have: complete awe at how hard the kids worked and how far they came when we reviewed the results and found entire minutes (1.5, 3, and in one case 4 minutes) coming off of the times from the first week of practice!

Saturday, May 24, 2014: No practice today for Memorial Day Weekend!  Too bad, it's a beautiful day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014:  Mrs. Tilli is definitely the "good cop" on this team.  But she's also the smart cop - way too hot to do 3 miles today so we knocked it back to 2 miles and did them as out and backs to Locust so the kids could see each other and high five - bonus!

Thursday, May 29, 2014:  No practice today in honor of the 8th Grade Class Trip! But, I ran over to the "We Run Philly Schools, not Corbett and the SRC" protest and ran a few laps around the School District Building to support all of my teacher friends and our kids!

Saturday, May 31, 2014:  I hope I never know a time when Lloyd Hall on a Saturday morning feels like anything but a family reunion complete with hugs from other coaches, parents wishing happy runs for their kids, happy babies in strollers, running dogs and a lot of easy moments.  Today, on a personal level, was a struggle through 5 miles on the heals of a long run yesterday and an amazing, albeit impromptu, team breakfast on the patio by the cafe that I will forever think of as "home base."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014: No practice - rain, again!

Thursday, June 5, 2014: I'm running in Hilton Head, SC today and thinking of what I'm missing back at Meredith...and then a few texts come in from kids asking (1) for rides to the Students Run roller skating party; (2) what time the party started; (3) whether they needed to bring money to the party; and, my favorite, (4) what to wear to the party.  With that, I'm still feeling like part of the bigger, badder running team that is MEREDITH.

Saturday, June 7, 2014: Saturday practices have been suspended until July 12th and, as I sit here lamenting that decision and missing the kids, this text: "Hey Jen!  Is there practice today - what should I run?" from my fave marathoner.  And just like that, my face lit up and my shoes went on to run with her even though we were hundreds of miles apart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014: Stuck in Charlotte and missing practice.  However, I loved yelling at the kids that cut practice today as I got out of the taxi.  #neighborhoodlove

Thursday June, 12, 2014: Rachel truly nailed practice today (and helped us avoid getting soaked) with a ridiculous crossfit workout followed by some good old fashioned dodge ball in the gym; all of this made me come to terms with the fact that while I may be a decent athlete, I am no match for the epic skills of 7th grade boys when it comes to dodge ball.  And I owe one special member of my team a cupcake...for knocking Rachel out of the game! #teamweloveicing

Saturday, June 14, 2014: Ran 15 alone today...and counting down the days until Saturday mornings are once again filled with warm-ups, laughing at Jess and running with our team.  Also, reflecting on all of the coaches that wrote in my 8th grade yearbook and how those words lead me through the harder, uncertain times that followed and hoping that, as I sign this round of 8th grade yearbooks, I am as thoughtful and relatable as my coaches were.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014: The LAST practice of the Blue Season: .5 Miles and water ice! And just like that the rising 8th graders are already taking charge of this team - time truly flies!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 9:30AM:  Meredith Elementary's 8th Grade Graduation.  As this season was a gift, so too was my seat in this super hot auditorium on a random Wednesday in June.  Like most of my more significant memories from middle school, this graduation involved an unlit auditorium with fans whirling, a slide show of baby pictures juxtaposed with recent pictures of the grads all set to 10,000 Maniacs' "These are the Days," and a tangible line that the 8th graders were all about to cross with courage, effort and respect.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Run on the Crunchy Stuff!

Dear Winter of 2014, 

My joints hurt; my lower back is sore; I had to use the heating pad on my neck last night; my ankles are clicking again; I'm covered in odd little bruises and scrapes from my knees down; my lips are raw; my shoulder blades are on fire; and I've never been more sure of myself or my body.

To say you have been brutal is obvious and does you a disservice.  To say you have made training for a Spring Marathon excruciating is equally as offensive.  But to say, just between us runners and the toughest of the seasons, that there is a hidden pleasure in the safe and successful completion of a 15 miler on the ice with inches of fresh snow falling and every muscle tense with the potential of a fall, is to share a secret few people will understand. 

It is because of you, Winter, that I've been called everything from "crazy" to "excessive" with my personal favorite, "stupid," lodged firmly in between.  Yes, I've left  the house wearing 3 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of pants with approximately 3-5 shirts, a face mask and 2 pairs of gloves on.  Yes, I've run in a whiteout.  Yes, I've run down long stretches of Kelly Drive where the ice turned out the lights for a while.  Yes, I've run scared of the wind chill, wondering whether my eye lashes would freeze, thinking of smaller, safer loops and imagining the worst possible scenarios miles from my finish line.  But, still I went out.  I owned my fear and used it to propel myself through some of the toughest runs I've encountered in my last 4 years of training.  Through that and those storms full of knee-high snow, slippery and uneven ice, frozen branches and rivers, and resolute darkness, I discovered that while I most certainly am not "stupid," I am pretty damn tough. 

So, I want to thank you, once and for all, for pushing me in a sport I thought I owned and grew complacent in, for pushing me to overcome fears I didn't realize I had, and for pushing me to become a better, more grateful competitor.  Because of you, I know no limits and no fear of the unknown in my training.  Because of you, and the, at times, faith-zapping temperatures, I could only embrace the warmth of the idea that not everyone can run and so every run becomes a blessing. 

And so, I am forever grateful for every frigid mile and the revelation that if you run on the crunchy-looking ice, traction abounds and muscles can relax for a few seconds. 

Thank you again for the crunchy stuff, JC

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Feel the Love 5K 2014: For the Love of Polly

What is it about both faith and fear that is such a great propeller of people?  The Feel the Love 5K put on by the Brynmawr Running Co. is the race I think about all year - with faith and fear - until my feet hit the starting line.

If I'm doing intervals, I'm thinking about how sick I feel after pushing it hard for 3.1 miles and tell myself to suck it up for just a few more seconds of any given stretch of speed work.  If I'm hurting at the end of a marathon, I'm questioning whether I'll be able to kick it into high gear as I near the finish line.  If I'm out on a super hot August morning and struggling, I remember how cold this particular race is and return to the grateful garden of humidity, summer and sweat.  For one reason or another, this race sticks with me and grounds me during the toughest workouts.

I admit that this race intimidates me.  I'll say it: A snappy and impossibly fast 3.1 Winter miles is a complete mind f*** for a distance runner.  The temperatures over the years have included, single digits, snow and fierce wind.  There are icy corners, lanes, people flying around in personal competitions for PRs, long, hard strides and footfalls that are rapid enough to steal your breath... and serious runners.  These are the kind of runners you hope to count yourself among but never actually do - out loud.  Rather, you let them silently count you among their ranks.

Rolling up to this race, the first thing you notice is that everyone is at fighting weight.  At 5'9 and 130 lbs, I do not stand out.  Rather, I mix right into the crowd of ultra thin, tall and gangly people covered in thin layers of legitimate vintage running clothes.  The organizers run out of Women's XS and S T-Shirts.  100 of us can fit into 12 by 12 tent easily.  This is the no frills, just run this bitch of a race crowd. We are tiny, cold, huddled and waiting to crush a coarse.  Jaws set, eyes focused and hearts pounding.  We stand and watch our breath hit the air.

What I love about this race is exactly the thing I dread about it for 12 months out of the year:  there are no first timers.  No one standing at that start line is wondering if they will finish.  This is a Race with people that are not there for the fun of it.  And sometimes, I think, you need that.  Runners need to check themselves and see if they still have it.  There is only so long we can convince ourselves that getting older has not effected our joints or our stride. There comes a time when we need to see the work payoff and make a note somewhere in some brightly colored running journal of the PR we sought and obtained on a freezing day in February against a lot of tough contenders.

This year:

I was the 22nd female to cross the finish line out of 158;
I was the 6th female, 30-39, to cross the finish line out of 53 in my division;
I came in with 21:47 and took 23 seconds off of my previous, nearly year old, 5k PR; and
I ran two loops looking for the other bright pink shirt matching mine and reading "For the Love of Polly"worn by the woman that has propelled me back into believing in myself as an athlete.

This means something to me above and beyond the validation of a PR.  It reaffirms that I'm still a contender; that my training, even though I've backed away from straight forward running 6 days a week, is working well; that my plan is solid; that my nutrition and fueling is spot on; that, 4 years into this wild ride, I'm starting to figure it all out.

Lessons Learned in a Women's Locker Room

I was never one for gyms, classes, gyms, weight lifting, gyms, treadmills, gyms, stationary bikes and stair masters, and, well, gyms.  And then, on October 5, 2010, a doctor told me I had a stress fracture.  There would be no running; there would be no walking; there would be crutches if the pain got too bad; and then "maybe you could swim" came out of his mouth just to round out the horror of the overall message.  When I replied, "I'd rather die," he suggested joining a gym. 

That was about three years and four months ago.  Today, I'm a different woman and a different kind of athlete because of the time I've taken away from running, because of what I've learned at the gym about strength training and tenacity, and because of what I've learned from other women in the locker room. 

These are those lessons:
  1. Everyone, even the most put together, beautiful, intelligent woman, has her own demons and sometimes crying happens just as loud, angry phone calls happen and throwing an empty water bottle across the room happens - you don't always have to show a perfect, pretty face; instead be true; be honest - it's way more endearing;
  2. Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss in your gym locker if only for those two days per year that you're heading straight to the Dentist after your workout and before work - your dental hygienist will thank you;
  3. Dry shampoo can change your hair and your entire morning - own some;
  4. Everyone forgets things at 5:00AM.  I've seen everything from bras to tampons change hands in those wee hours; it will happen to you - lend freely and be lent to; 
  5. If you're on your phone, people will roll their eyes at you and otherwise try to intimidate you into ending the conversation - let them and hang up;
  6. In a pinch, grab a hanger from the gym's coat closet and steam almost any fabric in the sauna while you shower - max is around 3-5 minutes;
  7. Repeat a name when it is given to you over and over in your head and, if possible, associate it with something distinguishable about the person because, after 3+ years of seeing someone naked almost every day as you discuss her children and your job, it becomes awkward to ask it - trust me;
  8. As in life, there will be varying degrees of self confidence expressed in levels of nudity:  own yours and don't get overwhelmed by others';
  9. Bandaids, bandaids, bandaids!  Invariably, we cut ourselves shaving - don't be the bleeder running around looking for tissues or toilet paper;
  10. This may offend conservationists BUT, if you're an early bird at the gym like me and it's approximately 11 degrees outside - that first shower of the day is going to be cold!  Realize this and work a warm-up of your chosen shower into your routine.  For instance, I'm a hop off the treadmill, grab a towel, pop on the shower and stretch in the rising steam sort of girl; and
  11. Laugh when you hear something funny. Because you will.  And if you stand there stoically pretending you hear nothing or see nothing, women will start to treat you like you're nothing.  So join in.  Be part of the community and have a good belly laugh about another girl's horrible first date!
Understanding that we're faced with situations, almost daily, that we are uncomfortable with is an incredibly humbling thing.  Using that nervous energy and making a concerted effort to participate in the lives of others, even if they are strangers, and actively learning about ourselves in so doing, is probably the reason we're all here.  From the locker room to the office and out on the running trails, personal connections, ever so slight that they may seem, tone down the anonymity of a city and empty us of our insecurities.  So on I will go, stepping outside of my comfort zone and into the great wide open, with clear eyes and a full heart (can't lose!).  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Snowflake Prediction Run: No watches, no worries!

I am in charge of how I feel 
and today I am choosing happiness.

Today I stepped off the pavement and back onto Forbidden Drive for 5 snowy miles on my old time trails.   The last time I covered this particular section was in late October during a marathon qualifier with Students Run.  That last run was heavy on the burden side of "must qualify these kids for that marathon" and light on the magic.  In contrast, today was a prediction run where watches were not permitted and I got to run short and hard without the pressure of pacing.  

There were about 70 of us, gathered in our brightest Winter gear and shining against the snow, ready to run and raise money for Team in Training.   We shook out the jitters, bounced off the chill and huddled together, a skinny pile of athletes fighting the fight of a lifetime against the big C.  

After looking at my left wrist for the 30th time in 5 minutes, my mind finally caught on that there would be no quick runner-math or need to amp it up or slow it down.  My job was just to run straight, take in the snow and the trail, wonder why the river wasn't frozen, marvel at the kids climbing in the woods, fantasize about hot chocolate and coffee, and just be there.  There was blissfully no pressure.  The absence of intervals or tempo; the complete void of race pace and despair; the way runners chatted and smiled back at each other.  All of that was evidence of people at their best:  filled with wonder and touched by peace.  

It was the uncaged and remarkable run I needed to launch back into marathon training with a more grounded heart.  The miles flew and my feet fell without hesitation over the ice.  I was not afraid of rolling that left ankle but I was keenly aware that an injury was always a possibility.  And in those thoughts, I found my gratitude for the very idea of a run without time and for every powerful stride that took me to the finish line at almost exactly the time I'd predicted.