On NYE 2011, I began making a List of 100 Things to Do in 2012. It took months to create, and by the end of the year I probably only finished about 65% of the items, but it changed my life in unexpected ways (as things that change your life tend to do). Every year since, I've created a new list, and though I never complete all the items, the process of creating it forces me to articulate goals, values, or random whimsies that are in me but might otherwise go unnoticed.
I'm finishing 2016 with the sniffles. Between shots of DayQuil I have mostly been sleeping, but this evening I managed to pull out my List of 100 Things to Do in 2016 and type it up to review. Oh, front garden (#79), you've been sorely neglected this year. Running (#90), you did fall by the wayside, didn't you? I promise I'll devote attention to you both in 2017.
Meanwhile, I spent a lot of beautiful time with Darby and the girls and with many beloved friends; I saw family in NC and traveled to OR; reinvigorated my political activism and stepped up my commitment to social justice; finished my MFA in Creative Writing and began teaching; came back to teaching yoga on a regular schedule and developed a retreat with my favorite person on the planet; published my last two issues of Lunch Ticket and hopefully created something special behind the scenes; went to woodsy and watery places like Big Sur (#39), Pismo, Big Bear, the pool for lessons in swimming (#89), and the spa for a lesson in being still (#62); wrote a lot; submitted my work more than ever; got published some and received some much-appreciated honors; perhaps most importantly, I managed, as much as I possibly could but with plenty of room for improvement, to be kind, loving, generous, fair (#98), and to do more dishes (#67). I suspect those will be on my lists forever.
It was a lopsided year, tipped in favor of academia, literary pursuits, and political activism, and away from pie and music. I try to remind myself that living a balanced life doesn't mean I can't go out on a limb. One of the upsides of November's Great American Tragedy was that I remembered how important community is. Since then, I've been crawling back to friends and to gathering with activists and artists of all kinds in meaningful ways. Though I would have preferred to learn it in a different way, I'm glad I got that lesson before the year ran out.
Today's been a sleepfest, so new years schnew years. But last night Darby and I met with a few dear friends for our 3rd annual end-of-year intention ritual (#58) and sent wishes up to the sky (well, ceiling) to mark the end of another year cycle.
A year is a long time. Not long enough to see everyone I wanted, to do everything I wanted. Long enough, though, to tuck in some surprises. Still, sometimes I think I wouldn't mind a tesseract to skip over the next four. Luckily time doesn't give us the option of skipping, just the option of how we want to spend it. So, 2016, thank you for your gifts, for your lessons. I'm sending particular love to all who are grieving. That's the harshest gift of time.
2017, you look a little daunting from here, but tonight I'm turning over a new page to number down, and so onwards. Love and light to all, and happy new year.
We have a funny/aggravating situation at my house that should be filed under "tiny problems", but that is a problem nonetheless. Our side of the street is all single-family homes, but diagonally across is an apartment building with an unusual tenant theme: all tenants must own pets. Most, of course, have dogs, though I know of a few cat- and bird-only tenants there. The building doesn't have a lawn, so multiple times every day we see the dog-tenants out walking their dogs. It's a parade of all shapes and sizes, and we sit at our dining room table watching them go by through the front window. Irish wolfhounds. Pugs. Labs - golden, black. A beautiful St. Bernard that I want to hug every time. There's also a dog we call "the rat dog" who lives in the house on the north-side of our property and rarely has an owner accompanying his walks.
Our lawn is the first accessible one the dog walkers encounter upon leaving their building. They make a beeline from their front door to our yard, let their dogs do their business, continue on. Most owners carry bags. Some do not. The rat dog, lacking opposable thumbs, an owner, and kind neighborly manners, does not even try. On the occasion that he is accompanied by our neighbor, she too doesn't try.
Our lawn is a minefield. You never know where an unsavory sample has been deposited. We have tried different tactics over the years in an attempt to convey the message to our neighbors that we do not appreciate stepping in their unpleasant surprises. We've moved deposits from our lawn to the sidewalk, written messages in sidewalk chalk, offered bags to walkers, complained to everyone. Still, walking across our lawn (or simply getting out of a car) has been a gamble.
This weekend we embarked on a new level of Operation Save-The-Yard. We could put in a fence, but we're plant-lovers, so we dug up a foot-and-a-half strip of lawn along the sidewalk and a bit up the sides as well, added paver bricks, planted a succulent garden and a few lavender plants, and fenced it all with a flimsy little roll-out fence that we'll probably take down when the plants grow taller. We still have the side between our house and the rat-dog's to border in lantana hedges, but meanwhile it's fenced off as well.
All yesterday we watched from the dining room as canine by canine walked past our yard with nary a glance. One lady remarked, "Where will our dogs go to the bathroom if they can't get to your yard?" Hmmmm, we replied, as if we'd never considered the inconvenience to the dog walkers. It was two days of good work in between rain (and hail!) showers. We're proud of our work, so pleased with the way it looks, and so far, no rat dog to be seen.
Poor south-side neighbors, though. Now theirs is the first available lawn...
I haven't mentioned the List in some time not because I abandoned it, but because the List shifted my focus away from itself and onto the new paths it has forged in my life. I am now standing on one of those new paths at the far edge of 2013, marking the last days of my second List year.
The first List of 100 Things began on my yoga mat, on December 31, 2011. It was inspired by a friend's own list (you can read about it here), and although I had no premeditated plan to embark on my own, there I was at 8 p.m. in the front row of a packed New Years Eve intentional yoga class, thinking about the upcoming 2012 and some things I hoped to do. Though it took me several months to come up with all 100, that night was the beginning.
The List of 100 Things To Do in 2012
So, how did that first year feel? A little practical. Those socks I'd meant to darn? Done. Ditto old clothes donated. Ditto the back-up hard drive.
But more than practical, the List was magical. Even now, at the end of my second List year, I am still in awe of how my life has changed. The List opened up inner desires of how I wanted to live. It encouraged me to break beyond patterns I had fallen into, let go of final outcome, push past anxiety that was holding me from taking the first steps in things I had been secretly yearning to do. The short story I had been wanting to revise for six years? The List got me to dig it out, and sit down and write. The List got me to run longer, further. And running and writing became intertwined, as every morning I worked on the short story, and every afternoon I reviewed the story in my mind as I ran. I got stronger in body and spirit, and the inner chatter about all the ways I don't measure up to media's perfection finally quieted.
The List of Things To Do in 2013 is three typed pages long. Just like last year, the writing of it was several months of fits and starts, paperclips keeping track of my sloppy almost-cursive hand over the pages of my journal, items scribbled out in black and blue ink as the pages of the moleskin were spent and that volume finally tucked with the others in my closet. As most of my journaling tends to be, the list got unruly. Sometime in the late spring I typed it up neatly, numbered each item with little square boxes for checkmarks, and folded the three printed pages into the back pocket of my current moleskin. I didn't look at it much recently, caught up as I have been with school and other things, but the year is ending, and so is the list.
In the end, my work with running in 2012 led me to 2013's running Door to the Shore and M2B running goals. My work on the story led me take a few online classes at UCLA and then to apply to (and get accepted) (and begin) the MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch. I have become a runner. I have become a writer. I have become a swimmer. And most importantly, I found my way to a place where I can work steadily towards goals while enjoying the process along the way. The List has been teaching me how to step up and do my part, and when my part is done, how to surrender the result to the universe.
This week I tallied up the items that I have completed on my List of 2013. A few days ago it was 59, with a probable final tally of 61, exactly what last year's final list tally was (59 by the end of the year, but 61 in the end). Yesterday Darby and I took the girls ice skating , so now I'm up to 60.
#83 Do a winter sport of any kind
So here it is. THE LIST OF 100 THINGS TO DO IN 2013.
Perhaps next year's should say "Practice math skills". As it turns out, I've already done 63 this year. And still with four days left of the year...
Six months in, it is mid-July.
Six months to go, and I am already defeated.
Scroll back to 2008. Yearning for personal transformation and a healthier body, I embarked on a 40-day yoga challenge. I had been practicing yoga on and off for years, mostly at gyms and to DVDs in my living room, but I felt the need to change my practice, to find teachers, and to find myself. I was a little lost.
I hunted around on google for a yoga studio either near my house or my office. I was still fairly new to Los Angeles and didn't know anyone who practiced yoga, so it was just up to me and google to find a good place. I didn't know anything about style or teachers in the area. My requirements were location, class time, and price.
I found a sweet little independent studio called Rising Lotus Yoga in Sherman Oaks, and they had classes I could take right after work on my way home. Best of all, they had a "new student special" (still do) that allowed me to take unlimited classes for two weeks and not a lot of money. Since I didn't know if I would like it, that seemed perfect.
Once I had my studio, I settled in for 40 days and 40 nights. Well, 40 days. It was a number of change. It was a number of spiritual awakening. It was a number of transformation. It was the number for Noah, Moses, and Jesus. I figured if it worked for them, it could work for me. I also decided to take one day off a week. On the 7th day I rested.
I should state here that I am not particularly religious. I was raised steeped in an area of Judaism that my brother calls Conservadox. Technically it was Conservative, but on the very conservative side. Things have lightened up in my family since then, but by that time that happened I had pretty much left the religion entirely (except for Passover Seders with friends and Hanukkah candles with the kids). However, this yoga challenge was a body/mind/spirit thing. I needed it on more levels than I consciously knew.
Forty days. Rest on every seventh.
Every day I laid out my mat in the back of the Rising Lotus studio room. I sweated through the poses. I felt like a fool in my shorts and tank tops. I wasn't toned like the others. I didn't know what I was doing. My mind chatter was loud. Who am I? Why did I think I could do this? This is too hard. And then, towards the end of class the teacher would instruct us to lay down on our backs, arms at our sides, palms face up. Close your eyes. Release management of your breath. Release management of your thoughts.
After class, every single time, I floated out of the studio, peaceful, calm, beautiful, happy. I couldn't wait till the next day when I would lay out my mat again.
When the forty days ended, I continued. Six days a week. On the seventh day I rested. Each rest day I yearned to be back on my mat. And then on the day I came back, the mind chatter would start again. And then I would float home and return to the studio the next day.
This is what I was thinking when I decided to Run Everyday For A Month. I wanted to see what would happen. How I would change. How I would deal with the mind chatter. How my body would adjust to the daily demands.
Also, I wanted to prepare my body for #82 Hanson Marathon Training Method in which you train your body not to run 26 miles, but to run the last 16 miles of a marathon on tired legs. I enjoyed running my first full marathon in May so much that I have been looking forward to doing another - but this time with better training.
But I am already defeated.
I attempted my 30 days of running. I got to Day 8, when a difficult truth arose: Stop. I had been ignoring the pain in my ankle/foot, trying to "run through it", trying to discern if it was a real injury or just a mental block with physical manifestations. On Day 9 I realized it was a real injury that needs real time to heal.
Like many people, I find rejection and failure challenging to manage. The most difficult failure of all, though, is when I set my own personal goals and cannot meet them. I have doubts about my athletic prowess, and want to push myself past those doubts. I love disciplined practice -- I am a musician, a yogi, a writer, and now a runner. I love the meditation and focus that comes when I immerse myself in these activities. I find peace and self-worth in them. I love the challenge, and the accomplishment. Having to let go of my goal, give up, is one of the hardest things of all to do.
I suppose this is one of the lessons of The List. I can't do everything. Or, I can't do everything this year. Last year I had the same defeat. There were things I couldn't do last year. The item that was the hardest of all to let go was #100 Run From Our House To The Beach.
So perhaps this is where the silver lining comes in. I wasn't able to do #100 in 2012,but I did do it on April 27 this year. Perhaps because it took more time, more healing, more training, it was even more significant. There are other things, too, that I didn't get to last year that I have been able to do this year. Like #54 Take a Pottery Class. That one became this year's #45 Take a Pottery Class with Em, which we did on March 23.
So, letting go. Another lesson of the list. It feels like a bitter one right now, but perhaps it will be even sweeter later on?
We shall see.
On April 27, 2013, after running three half-marathon races in six months and countless training runs, before my first full marathon, I ran the run of my heart. The one that had been in my mind's eye for almost a year. The one that I had been working for.
From my front door to the Pacific Ocean.
I called it "The Door To The Shore". My sweetheart was endlessly supportive of my vision. It seemed impossible when I first thought of it. Even though at that point the most I had ever run was eight miles (once), I didn't care how long of a run it was, I just wanted to get to the ocean. As it turns out, the route was 18 miles. I ran it solo in three hours. My friend Susan caught some photos of me along the way, and then my sweetheart caught some more. When I got to the pier, I ran the last bit with my boyfriend and his youngest daughter. Together we ran straight down the pier, their flipflops falling off as my running shoes padded along the weathered boardwalk. We ran down the steps (stairs!! after18 miles!!), and onto the hot sand. At the edge of the water were smiling friends holding out their hands to take my fuel belt and shoes as I ran right in, laughing with immense, authentic childlike joy.
There's a mountain range between the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles proper, and Angelenos always ask my route. It was:
My front door > through NoHo to Universal City > Cahuenga > over the pass into Hollywood > past the Grauman Chinese Theater > Sunset Blvd > Doheny > Carmelita > Santa Monica Blvd > a little zigzag > Idaho > Colorado > right onto the Santa Monica Pier > past Bubba Gump's > down the steps > into the water
On my secret list, a list I have never written down but is a sort of personal blogging Code of Honor, is the rule "never make excuses". So therefore, never mind the gap in posts and let us just continue where we left off, shall we?
A few months ago, a friend texted my sweetheart to say that he was overseeing an estate sale for a woman who had decided that she was done with Southern Cali and was headed to upstate New York with all her horses, material goods, and life. Having grown up in the northeast, I can understand the draw to upstate NY. In many places and at many times, it is picture-postcard beautiful. There's a built-in roughness, too, to that region, one that forces you to dress appropriately regardless of fashion, chop wood out of necessity, worry about your tires from November to May, grow anxious about the coming winter in September and October, and rejoice in deep-seated celebration at March's first sight of crocuses and daffodils. There is nothing happier than true springtime when you have suffered through a long winter. After the last April surprise snows have melted and the rain in May has moved on, June is glorious, glorious, glorious. Of course, then comes September's gorgeous autumn amid growing anxiety about the coming winter.
Although I've never lived in upstate New York, I know these feelings well. Massachusetts is upstate New York's next door neighbor, and I spent more than ten years trading cups of sugar and nor'easters with The Empire State.
I have wondered, since moving to the endless sunshine of SoCal, if the bitter northeast winters are not worth it. After all, here we never have deep lows that come from dark, cold months, but that means we are never sent soaring into the giddiness of Spring Fever. Here in Los Angeles we have the steady state of "pretty happy" most of the time. Even keel. Steady Freddy. I love SoCal, and it's a relief to wake up in February to blue skies rather than darkness, but now in my sixth year here, I appreciate more than ever that amazing je-ne-sais-quoi that occurs with the fierce arc of a swinging seasonal pendulum.
Well, in any case, this woman was leaving, and her estate sale was over. She'd sold all she could, and the next day she was heading eastbound. Our friend texted my sweetheart to invite us over and take what we wanted of whatever was left. I found the book of haikus in her boxes of tossed books, and I also stumbled upon a book called The Happiness Project.
Months and months have passed since that estate sale. The Happiness Project took a while to rise to the top of the pile of reading I always have on my nightstand, wedged between the nightstand and the wall, and squeezed into the living room bookcase. Between it and me was Grammar Lessons (highly recommend!), Tenth of December (ditto!), another reading of Wild (this time for a writing class, with an eye to craft and construction), tons of classmates essays (for said class, and the one prior), and issues of The Sun and Poets and Writers . There is so much to read in this lifetime and I'm trying to get it all in.
This week I finally cracked open The Happiness Project and am finding over and over that it reminds me of this List. The author, Gretchen Rubin, started a blog when she began her project, which reminded me of this blog that I created about halfway through my first year's List. Gretchen committed to posting regularly about her project. The best bloggers do - and by regularly, I mean at least once a week, but better every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or something like that. Reading of her commitment to her blog and her follow through, I thought, I am a blogging failure. I am not cut out for blogging. Or maybe I rebelliously thought, I am too busy to get boxed in to another regularly scheduled thing. I have a ton of discipline for running, yoga practice, and writing in general, but regular blog posting has thus far escaped me.
Never make excuses.
Okay, I won't. However, I will say this: The List of 100 Things has profoundly affected my life, and I think the reason I don't write about it more often is because it's not always clear to me how it is affecting me, I just know that it is. I do the things on my List and take it all in on a semi-subconscious level. From the beginning I'd been aware on some level of the profundity that would come along with working through the List. I knew that I would change, grow, and in fact I started the List because I wanted to transform in some way. But, also, I embarked on The List in 2012 just to get stuff done. Get stuff done in my own little private life, change quietly, without a blog, alone.
There's a story my mom told me about when I was a little girl.
As the story goes, I was still a baby in a crib, and learning to stand. Like most babies, I would pull myself up by the sides of the crib and rejoice in my accomplishment. But, as my mother has told me, I practiced only in private. My parents watched me through the crack in the door as I pulled myself up, stand, maybe dance a little, my fat little legs celebrating their new-found strength. And then, as soon as I was aware of my audience, I sat down. I wouldn't perform my new trick for anyone until I was solid in my new skill.
I haven't changed much in this regard. Perhaps it is my introverted nature. Perhaps I just like to stay focused without the distraction of others, with full concentration on the task at hand, without worrying about an audience. At some point I realized that nature was limiting. There is no way to take, for instance, yoga classes and not have any one see you. Or swim lessons. Or long distance running. And without readers, there is no way to really become a better writer. Although I have set aside this nature so that I can learn and grow, in many ways I still prefer to master new tricks in my own private room.
And sometimes, as in my excavation of how The List is effecting my life, perhaps I would just prefer to take the easy road. Not even write about it at all.
But The Happiness Project reminded me this week that this blog's purpose is partly for processing. A platform to write about the affect of the List. A place to write through the questions, perhaps, as Rilke says, write my way to some answers.
Unlike The Happiness Project, I didn't start out with categories in mind. Gretchen Rubin started her project from the jumping off point of categories. She examined aspects of her life, and filled her year-long project with exercises that would, in theory, increase her personal happiness. In my List writing, I just allowed my pen to write. Much later, as I worked through it, I realized there were general categories that items generally fell into: Self-care. Learning/growth. Family. Challenging Fun. Laid-back Fun. Adventure. Things like that.
I can't give a book review at this time since I'm only about halfway through, but this book/project does ring a familiar tone to The List. I didn't begin this List project with an eye to increasing my own happiness, but I did begin it with an eye to growing more into myself and the life that I want to live.
Which, I suppose, is a happy life.
When I wrote #57, I had no idea what it could possibly be. But, they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. They also say something about lemons and lemonade. I say, when running gives you injuries, take to the pool.
Now, swimming is seriously out of my comfort zone. There are so many aspects of swimming that concern me: first, there's the breathing issue.
Many, many years ago (we're talking 7th grade) I had a summer of asthma attacks. They started with an upper respiratory infection of some sort that I got at summer camp and were exacerbated by some environmental allergen (tree pollen?) in the upstate New York and Quebec Provence air that summer. The deep coughing fits that marred the end of my summer camp stay were followed by intensely frightening asthma wheezing attacks during my family's Canadian vacation. I still remember the panic of gasping for air, trying to take it in and my lungs just not responding to my desperate need. And then, just as quickly as the whole asthma trouble began, it left. By the next summer I was fine.
Except when I went swimming.
For years I retained no trace of asthma except when I over-exerted myself in the water. I took to floating, to sunbathing, to bobbing up and down, but I would not swim. If I ever felt out of breath in the water, panic set in. So I kept myself calm. For twenty-five years.
Which leads to the second swimming concern: swimming.
Since I have made concerted efforts through the years to stay calm, to not swim, to not over-exert myself in water, I cannot swim. I mean, I don't drown, but I just don't swim. Technically, I know *how*. After all, from the time I was itty bitty until 7th grade, I had camp swim lessons. But for the past twenty-five years I have. not. swum. I just don't do it.
And of course the third swimming concern: bathing suit.
Since I don't swim, I don't have a swim suit. Oh, sure, I have a few of what might be listed in catalogs as "bathing suits" but these two-piece things are not actually meant for moving. They are meant to even out a tan, to stay respectable in a hotel hot tub, and take the kids to the beach. In my pre-kid life, back when I was a freedom loving hippie living at a dance and music retreat on the south shore of Massachusetts, I didn't care about suits at all. Back then the only thing I and the rest of the crew brought into the water was a beer, or a trombone, or flowers for our hair.
But injury calls for courage. Conquering of fears. Dipping feet in the water.
Los Angeles Valley College, as it turns out, is only a few miles from my house and my office. There are open lap hours conveniently set up in the evening, just when I leave work, and also on the weekends. And it's cheap! $45 for a 10-use pass during open lap hours. One day I decided to don my sports bra and bikini bottoms and splash in.
Goggles, as it turns out, are recommended.
Swimming, my friends, is not easy. Each time I got to the end of the lane (25 meters), I had to rest and catch my breath. I had to work hard to keep my eyes clear (didn't yet have goggles) and get from one end to the other. Each time I did, it took a full 5 minutes to breath easy again. And then I'd head back.
Now I have goggles, though still no official suit. My hair is dry from the chlorine. I need that most fashionable of hats, a swim cap. But, this past Sunday I enrolled in swim lessons. I've gone to the pool three times this week and already feel myself getting stronger. I still have to stop every 25 meters, sometimes sooner, but it's more because now I am focusing intensely on form.
It's a relief to walk away after an hour of exertion and not feel pain in my foot. It's also a relief to have an exercise to replace running and spin for a while. Moving my body has become an essential need for my personal happiness. It feels good to confront this long standing fear of water - I can feel it melting away. I'm actually looking forward to going to the pool. Yesterday it was the highlight of my day. Each stroke takes enormous concentration, but I am also trying to bask in the eerie silence as my head ducks below the surface between each breath.
And there is the beauty. I wasn't expecting it. In the evening, the golden setting sun illuminates the pool and the other swimmers in a magical way, water spraying into the air with each kick, the flags above the lanes swaying softly in the air. I might be falling a little bit in love.
THE INNER VOICE
At the risk of alienating all two people in this blog's readership (I'm optimistic that perhaps there is one person out there other than my boyfriend who is interested in reading this, but if in fact that is not the case, I am not too proud to count myself as one of my readers), today's post is about The Marathon.
Okay, okay, I know the joke:
Q. : How do you know if someone is running a marathon?
A. : They'll tell you.
There's a part of me that doesn't want to talk about it. That's the shy part of me, the one that is sure you've heard it all before, that in fact you have run a thousand marathons back-to-back and at twice my speed, that my mountain of an accomplishment is a molehill in the grand scheme of things. That's the same part of me that also doesn't want to come across as too self-involved (yes, I am aware that I have three blogs and am at work on a memoir, but still...).
But then I'm reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Your playing small does not serve the world. Man, doesn't that just hit you in the gut? Time to toot the horn then, so to speak, right?
This quote reminds me of a core feeling I've had since I was a little girl. It doesn't matter that I am not a religious person, I have long felt a distinction between the sacred and the profane. To me, there is a type of blasphemy that has nothing to do with taking deities' names in vain or saying bad words. It has to do with not celebrating this finite time we have. It has to do with wasting this precious gift of life.
These 70-, 80-, or 90- years we get will run out one day. Already they may be half gone or more, and what have I got to show for it? That question inspires me more than anything else to rise to challenge, to reach past my personal comfort zone to find the edges of my potential. It reminds me to appreciate people, nature, and moments. It's a brand of spirituality not tied to infinity, omnipresence, and endlessness, but rather to imperfection, brevity, loss. I know that sounds like a downer, but it's not to me. If I will never be perfect, I am more willing to try, stumble, get up, and enjoy the process as I try harder again. If life is brief, I will embrace it with all that I have, to love it so hard that at the end I know I lived every drop I was given. If I will one day lose everything that I have and cherish, I want to appreciate it to the upmost now, the easy and the hard, the happy and the sad, and I want to shower the people I love with love, show them the way that I feel (thank you, JT).
Besides, over the shy voice there's a slightly louder voice in my head that says, "Even so, given all the other things we each hope to achieve in our lifetimes, a marathon is not nothing. This is something."
And there is a beating heart and a joyful place in me that joins the chorus with that slightly louder voice, singing, "YES. You ran a full marathon on Sunday, and it was amazing, and this is Very Meaningful to you, and so you should write about it because, perhaps, even though you have been talking about it for days now, the two people in your readership will still want to know. Will want to remember this. And in any case, if you want to write it, you must."
And so, here it is:
I ran a full marathon on Sunday.
It was my first, and this is the story of my experience.
First, one thing you should know is that for the past month I have been concerned about what I call "The Knee Issue". The pain began during the 18-mile Door to the Shore run on April 27 (which I have been remiss in recounting for my two-person-readership, perhaps because we were both there), and since then has hurt in every run over five miles. In my attempt at healing The Knee Issue, in the four weeks between D2S and M2B, this was my training:
week 1: Two 5-milers, one 2.5-miler. Spin classes and yoga.
week 2: A 16-mile run/walk. Spin and yoga. Two shorter runs.
week 3: An 8-mile run. An easy Sunday afternoon bike ride with my man. Two spins, and yoga.
week 4: The Marathon.
Translation: I ain't been running much, duckie. In fact, my miles this month only come up to around 75, about 25 fewer than last month, and that's with the 26.2 from the marathon.
The week before the race, I didn't run at all. I iced my knee, I took Advil, I popped vitamins, I foam rolled, I did yoga, I walked, I went to spin, I ate, I hydrated. But I did not run. Not even a step.
One more thing: I didn't follow any particular training schedule. In fact, I only signed up for this marathon four weeks ago, just after I completed the Door the the Shore run. Once I did those 18 miles relatively injury-free (besides The Knee Issue, which I hoped would resolve quickly), I realized I was ready to try for 26.2. I looked around, found the sold-out Mountains 2 Beach race, thought it looked nice, and found someone who was happy to sell me her registration.
DAY BEFORE THE RACE
On Saturday the kidlets and my man offered to go hang with a friend so I could nap. Finding myself suddenly in a quiet house all to myself, instead of napping I made a peach pie, kale chips, chocolate and coconut-dipped bananas, and popsicles, and rehearsed for an upcoming gig.
I promised myself that at least I would get to bed early. I laid out my race clothes, packed my bag, got directions, futzed around on Facebook, freaked out, calmed down, and then finally laid down at 10. This is how I spent the next hours:
10:15 pm: "I love you, sweet man."
10:30 pm: wrestled with my pillow
10:45 pm: flipped over
11:00 pm: listened to the mockingbird
11:15 pm: used the bathroom
11:30 pm: got some water
11:45 pm: "breathe, breathe, breathe"
Midnight: "one, two, three, four, five, six..."
1:00 am: checked the clock
1:30 am: checked the clock
2:00 am: the alarm went off
Translation: No sleep.
I poured myself a mug of coffee, dressed, kissed my man good-bye (he couldn't sleep either), and then at 2:20 am headed out the door. In the dark driveway of my house is where I met Strange Man #1.
Okay, scroll back for a moment. There are a ton of compelling reasons to carpool, right? I think we can all agree on that. For me the tops were:
1) Middle-of-the-night road trips are better with company
2) After the race someone else could drive back and I could rest my little legs
3) Gas $
The race was located about 90 minutes north. I didn't want to go alone. In lieu of that, I opted to meet up with two men I'd never before met in the middle of a dark, deserted, desolate Los Angeles night. Given the two choices, wouldn't you?
Rono (Strange Man #1) and I met Strange Man #2 (Ijaz) at the empty Pierce College Metro parking lot at 3 am.
As it turned out, neither of them are psycho killers.
In fact, even better, Rono and Ijaz were a hoot. They were the perfect companions for a short road trip up to Ojai - good natured, upbeat, chilled out. I drove and chatted with Ijaz while Rono dozed in the back seat. We hit no traffic (of course - it was 3am) and got to the finish line area by around 4am. We found parking, I ate a quick breakfast of rice krispies and soy milk, Ijaz took some photos, and then we found green vinyl bench seats in the school bus shuttles and headed for the start line.
It was dark and chilly, around 52 degrees, when we arrived at the waiting area near the start line at the top of the point-to-point course. The almost-full moon was brilliant and high in the sky. Down below it, in the parking lot, we made small talk. Laughter, last minute bananas, gear check, and port-o-potties. Then 2500 runners headed to the start.
There were three corrals which were to be staggered through the start with two minutes between each. My memory is a little dim on how we were broken up, but I think it was "Under 3:30", "Between 3:30 and 4:30", and "Over 4:30". Ijaz took the first or second corral - he was anticipating a sub-4 race. Rono and I settled into the last corral. I knew I wouldn't be the last person through the finish line, but even if I subscribed to magical thinking, I knew it would take me at least 4:30 to run the course. There were some Boston Marathon race shirts scattered about (mostly in the faster corrals) and a jolly couple next to me taking funny-faced photos of themselves.
There was a calmness all around that felt lovely, much different from the three half-marathons that I've run in Los Angeles. The air in Ojai was crisp, the sky was lightening over the mountains and fields, and it was quiet. There were no bands playing, no energy-pumping DJ, no frilly costumes, no first-timer chaos. It was peaceful and beautiful, and when our corral began to run, it was just a quiet pitter patter of feet on the asphalt like a gentle rain.
I was not nervous, I was not concerned, I was not thinking about the finish line or time. I was smiling. I said good morning to the sleepy-eyed coffee drinkers standing in their driveways to wave us on. I felt immensely grateful to be moving my body in such a beautiful location on such a peaceful morning.
At the Mile 1 marker, a friendly paint-splattered sign in the shape of a surf-board, I thought, "That felt good. I just need to do that 25 more times." And I felt sure that I could.
At the Mile 2 marker I thought, "I still feel good. I can do this 24 more times."
At the Mile 3 marker I thought, "I am starting to feel the effort, but that's fine. It's a beautiful day."
As the sun rose, there was the silhouette of distant mountains beyond the ones that encircled our immediate area. Between us were fields, gilded with the brightening light. Birds sang from branches. Every house had a swing hanging from the front yard trees. There were horses stabled amid golden hay, and two runners slowly caught up to me, talking about the horse trails, and then continued their conversation as they passed me, leaving me with the quiet pitter patter of running feet.
Within the first 8 miles there were two small hills - barely hills compared with the one I usually train on. It felt good to climb a little, and then settle into the net-downhill course.
At Mile 5 or 6, The Knee Issue arose. I was already going slower than my usual 9-minute/mile, but I slowed some more and pulled out two Advil that I'd tucked into my fuel belt the night before. I ate a few Sport Beans and, in a first, took out my iPod. Once, a few weeks ago, I tried listening to music while I ran and found that I preferred the environmental sounds to any songs, but in anticipating The Knee Issue I'd decided to bring my iPod along with some NPR podcasts in the hopes of drawing my focus off of my knee. It worked. I listened to This American Life for about half an hour. When I put it away, my knee felt fine.
At Mile 8 the course veered off the loop that we'd been on, and began following the Ventura River. By then most of the runners in my area had spread out. I could see a few ahead of me, but for the most part we each were running our own race, with our own thoughts. Here the course was on a paved bike path mostly surrounded by trees, with occasional peeks into backyards. I listened to the roosters beyond the trail, rustling of leaves overhead, and bird calls. I had the sense of feeling continually blessed, so appreciative of my body that was capable of carrying me through such a beautiful place.
I didn't realize when the half-marathoners joined us around Mile 14, but saw their Mile 1 marker and laughed out loud, thinking, "wow, that was the longest 1 mile ever...".
Around Mile 15 or 16 I heard music for the first time. The Bangles. A white pickup truck was parked along the parallel road with a couple cheering us on as they blasted "Walk Like An Egyptian". The upbeat song infused me with energy - hard to believe now that I'd been running for so many miles by then - and I danced as I ran past them.
Soon we were running in a more industrial-looking area. There were graffitied concrete structures, and oil pumps closer than I'd ever seen. At this point I was filling my water bottle at every-other station and eating Sport Beans whenever I remembered. I also started texting my boyfriend at every mile marker. 16! 17! 18! His texts back kept me buoyed up in joy.
Mile 19 marked the furthest distance I had ever run. We had descended from the mountains in Ojai and were now in Ventura, approaching the beach. I felt a sob arise in my throat which immediately choked my breathing into shallow asthmatic gulps. I swallowed my sobs with some water and brought my breathing back to normal. Seeing the Mile 19 and 20 markers made me realize, with no question, that I would finish this race. My knee felt fine, and while I was tired, I was passing other runners.
Mile 21 I felt a surge of energy. Perhaps it was the salty air. The scenery at the point was totally changed - we were parallel to the Pacific Ocean, and there were a hundred or more surfers laying belly-down on their boards awaiting a wave. I wondered if I could pick up my pace, and then I did and felt strong and amazing.
At Mile 22 there were two runners ahead of me. The man was energetically leaping over the orange traffic cones that divided the race route from the actual road that we were following. I laughed out loud as he leapt over another. The woman called back to me, "He's not running, he's my support pacer." We all laughed together, and grabbed some pretzels from a woman cheering us on from the sidelines.
Mile 23. This was where it got hard for me. I wouldn't call it "the wall". I've heard runners talk about that, but this was not quite what I imagined it felt like. My knee started really hurting at this point, and I worried that I was doing some real damage. Then I grabbed some of the electrolyte drink from the next station and felt it hit my stomach. I slowed to a crawl and just told myself I could run as slowly as I wanted, but I had to keep running. I looked at my watch. I didn't know how fast I was going, but I figured somewhere around 10 or 12 minutes per mile. I took it in 10 minute chunks, just willing myself to get through the next small increment of time.
I kept texting my boyfriend: 23 24 25. These miles seemed endless, I couldn't even punch in the exclamation point in my texts. The 10 or 12 minute chunks of time crawled by, and my running was more like a shuffle. The scenery was not as pretty, we were in full sun, running along the bike path with other beach-goers. I started to see the finishers, walking by with their medals. They clapped and cheered, and I leaned into their enthusiasm knowing that if they were here, the finish line couldn't be far away.
I don't know when I passed Mile 26. I don't think there was a marker, but there was a woman. Vanessa was my 2-hour pacer for the Hollywood Half Marathon back in April, and as I passed her she cheered me on, "Just another quarter mile! You've got this, girl! You're doing great!"
And then I saw it, the white banner with the bold word FINISH, hanging in the distance. I kept my eye on that sign. I ran, and when I got close to the magnetic strip that clocked our times, I raised my arms in the air once again and sailed through the 26.2 end.
Out of 2500 runners, I was 1089. Four hours, 51 minutes, 38.9 seconds.
Translation: A Mountains 2 Beach marathon finisher. My first full marathon.
On a yoga riff variation, I keep thinking, "the accomplishments in me recognize the accomplishments in you."
Namaste, my friends.
Dreams and desires
The list of a hundred things
Contours of a year
Boss arrival bets
Office listens. She's achieved
4 hour work week.
If I am ever
Untethered from a day job
Wednesdays are beach days.
Estate sale throwaways
A trip through haiku
A box of musty old books
Office wide meeting
Hummus and pita to come
No minds on matter at hand
to some might be considered
a late arrival.
Missed margs on Friday.
Waffles and berry compote,
Trust where the ache leads
For the waffle iron warms
The belly and heart.
Even in the office world
For little poems.
No pun intended, this year has gotten off at a fast pace. It astounds me to realize that I only got back to the day-job office a week ago. It's been such a packed week that it feels like at least a month since Darby, the girls and I went over to a friend's house for a chillaxed New Years Day.
That day everyone piled into the living room and curled up in blankets to watch a movie while I popped popcorn over the stove. I missed the first part of ParaNormanwhile I was in the kitchen, and once I was done it seemed strange to pop in mid-story. In other words, it played out perfectly. Every year since high school I've taken some time on the first of the year to write in my journal. I listened to the laughing in the other room as I brought my own bowl of popcorn (doused with hot sauce) into the quiet dining room. I opened up my new Moleskin journal. Of course I skipped the first 3 pages - I could feel a list coming on.
Without missing a downbeat, by the end of the next day I'd already completed a few of the items. Since last January, running and writing have become major parts of my life. I'm in between writing classes at the moment -- the next one starts on Jan 23 -- and although there are some essays that I want to revise, in the downtime I've been fishing for some... je ne sais quoi. My running schedule also lagged a little during the holidays, and since they both seem to feed into each other, I decided to create a running blog for inspiration, and later, a place to look back and review my progress.
#7 Create Running Blog
The main reason for the blog is that running is complicated. Or, rather, not complicated, but for me it's definitely multi-faceted. It's healed me in some ways, and it's shined a light into some corners of my spirit that I hadn't realized were there. I figured it might be interesting to both track my runs and to have a specified place in which to write about my thoughts on / while running.
So here it is - The Written Run.
(9/27/13 update: I'm integrating all my blogs here on www.ariellesilver.com, so now all TWR posts are tagged here as "The Written Run")