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...
It's been an exhausting week for more than a week. To be sure, I haven't had consecutive nights of full sleep, and I've been a little busier than usual, but my tiredness seems to go beyond those details. This is the kind of exhaustion that wrings a body out.
The past few days have been like this:
Morning: I pack a bag with my running and swimming clothes, and head to work.
Lunchtime: Meetings. I skip the run.
Afternoon: I contemplate, "Shall I go swimming after work as planned?"
Evening: Errands. I skip the swim.
But let me make this clear, it's been more or less my choice to skip the workouts this week. I could have managed to squeeze them in if I really wanted. Generally I'm a gal of adventure, and usually the pool or a run helps me to clear my mind. For vacations, I'm the type who chooses a hike or exploration over a cruise. However this week I find myself fantasizing about a remote island, the sound of the tide, a hammock strung up between two shady palms, and a blissful breeze rocking me to sleep. I want to pass out for days without end.
So, last night I did not go to the pool. Instead I went to the library, got myself a long delayed card, and took out a few books. I laid them on the nightstand on my side of the bed, and then headed to the kitchen to do some chores before I could finally collapse. Usually it's accidental, but last night I fully intended to fall asleep reading.
The truth is, on top of being tired, I was heartachy. On Sunday morning I went to the memorial service for a friend's mother. It was a beautiful, touching service. The stories that my friend and his siblings shared were charming, and although I never met their mother, I understood how extraordinary she was. She was a woman full of appreciation for life and gratitude for the people she was blessed to share her life with. I didn't know her, but I am dear friends with one of her sons, and through the memorial service stories I finally came to understand a little better where my friend learned his own deep gratitude and love for the people in his life. I left the service feeling blessed to have gotten even that little glimpse into his mother's life.
But later that day I drove my sweet man to the airport. He had to be in Texas for a few days to take care of his mother's estate. Dropping him off at the plane just a few hours after the memorial filled me with a sense of loss. It's morbid, but every time my sweet man goes away I feel it is a mini rehearsal for a deeper grief later in life. It was only a few days, but by last night my heart was aching for him.
And I was grumpy. The sink was piled with mixing bowls and cake pans from days of baking. The bed sheets were in the laundry, so I couldn't lay down in comfort until they were done. I had been up since six in the morning, my eyes were glazed with sleepiness. The last things I wanted to do were chores. An inner rebel in me screamed at the very prospect. But even more than not wanting to do them, I wanted my man to return from his trip without piles of undone chores laying around the house.
So, standing over the washing machine, I poured the detergent over the clothes and turned on the water. And I began counting my blessings. The washing machine. The clothes. The water. The water heater.
I started with the solid things before me, and then moved on to appreciation that I was even capable of doing these tasks. Of standing. Of working. Of baking. Of teaching. Grateful for my jobs. For the skills. For the physical ability to do them. For financial security that gave me shelter, food, comfort.
Then I moved on to the things I usually think of first when I count my blessings: my man, his daughters. But more than just gratitude for them in my life, I thought of how grateful I am for their health. For their happinesses. For their security. For their love. For their incredibleness. Appreciation for them even if I never knew they, just because they are magnificent beings.
And then I circled out: to my friends. My immediate and extended family. For all their healths, happinesses, securities, loves.
By the time the chores were done and I crawled into bed on newly laundered sheets, I found that I was grateful even for the very chores, for they had given me the opportunity to rise above my exhaustion and realize how wonderful and blessed my life is.
It's easy to get caught up in things. Last night I remembered that *that* is a good time to think, "I am grateful for...".
Last night my blessings carried me all the way to sleep.
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
As a yoga teacher, in my classes I emphasis the idea of letting go of goals, hoping that my students will always be compassionate towards whatever is going on in their body/mind/spirit on any particular day. In my book there is no "no pain, no gain" mantra. There is compassion, truth, kindness, healing. I tell them pain -- meaning actual pain, not simply the a sensation of discomfort or the discomfort of sensation -- is the body's message that you should move out of the position or situation immediately. I believe compassion is as much a part of the yoga practice as breathing. The discomfort of sensation is often just an indicator of newness - discomfort is where change and growth happen. Sensation reminds us to breathe and soften our resistance. I compare discomfort of sensation to the first day of middle school, or to going through a divorce, or any other of life's calls to evolve, step up, change, accept, breathe.
But I do believe there is a place for ego. There's the mental thing. Years ago, in my own yoga practice, I noticed that I conveniently got "thirsty" just when a pose got hard. I would come out of the pose and drink some water. I was using my thirst as an excuse to bail. In other words, half of the challenge of a physical practice like yoga and running is the mental aspect. If we always stop at the moment just before we reach our edge, where's the growth? Ego is what helps to keep us on the straight and narrow. It is the thing that pushes us past where we've been stopped before. It's the ego that wants to go further, faster, stronger, better. As a runner I feel it all the time. Ego keeps me moving at mile ten when there's still so far to go. Ego gets me across the finish line, with arms in the air, smiling at the photographer.
Well, ego has it's place. Here I am at Truth. Runners World Magazine calls it The 2-Day Rule:
The 2-Day Rule
If something hurts for two straight days while running, take two days off.
Two straight days of pain may signal the beginning of an injury. "Even taking five days of complete rest from running will have little impact on your fitness level," says Troy Smurawa, M.D., team physician for USA Triathlon.
The Exception: If something hurts for two weeks, even if you've taken your rest days, see a doctor.
And, yep, I'm at The Exception as well. Doctor's appointment is scheduled for 9:15 tomorrow morning.
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.
DOOR TO THE SHORE RUN
THE PLAN: <------------------------
9 A.M. - I'll leave our house alone, run over the Cahuenga pass into Hollywood, take a right somewhere like Sunset or Santa Monica Blvd, run for a while, then take a left somewhere, towards the ocean.
NOON - I'll get to the Santa Monica Pier around noon, kiss Darby and Es, and run right into the water on the north side of the pier to cool my legs and celebrate.
1 P.M. - We will head to Cafe Gratitude for lunch.
DOOR TO THE SHORE RUN
THE BACKGROUND: <-------------------
In August of 2006, after driving across the country playing shows with my band for months on end, I stood at the edge of the Pacific for the first time. It was El Matador State Beach in Malibu. The sun had set, the moon had risen. I'd never seen the Pacific Ocean before, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. While my ex-husband (the drummer) and the bass player pulled out their phones to text people back home, I just stood in the moonlight, letting the tide fill my ears, and breathed in the salty air. Touring life was hard for me, but in that moment I felt an overwhelming, complete joy.
That night at El Matador I had no idea that a few months later I would move to L.A., quit touring, eventually divorce from my ex, become a yoga teacher, meet and fall crazy in love with my sweet n' sexy Darby, become a parent to two full-grown kids, and all the other stuff that has come to shape my blessed life.
Sometime around last June I got this nugget of a crazy idea that, despite having only ever run 8 miles max, I would like to run to the ocean. Remember that List of 100 Things to Do? I added "Run to the beach" at #100. Living in the valley it can seem so far away, but I felt a yearning to cover that distance and know that all I needed was the power of my body to get me to the western edge of the country.
Around that same time I met a runner who confidently told me that if I had already run 8 miles, I could surely run a half-marathon. 13.1 miles. It sounded impossible, but I realized that if I trained for the L.A. half-marathon in October 2012, I would be on track to run to the beach by the last week of December. I signed up for the half to keep me honest in my training.
During this time, as I have been racking up miles, I have been working on my writing as well. The two -- running and writing -- have been linked, and I believed that if I could accomplish the impossible (running to the beach from my house) then I could accomplish other impossible things (publishing my writing, writing a book). Impossible is a state of mind. Accomplishing both of these things seemed, well, Impossible.
And strangely, quietly, in the back corner of my mind, possibly Possible.
Running has been my meditation on achieving my hopes, for showing up for myself, for not letting hardship derail my dreams, for getting to the finish line even when the going gets really tough.
Planning to run from my front door to the shore has been a practice for setting my sights on something beyond my current ability. Since leaving the touring life of being a band on the road, I've been timid about looking too far down the road. Running from the Door to the Shore is a sight I set beyond what I could see. It's been a practice of having faith in myself. Committing to an idea. Becoming something new. Tapping into some kind of inner super hero. Trusting that I could grow beyond what I'd ever thought possible.
The half marathon in October went really well, but the following week I developed an over-use injury in my foot that sidelined all my physical activities for a few weeks. The doctor ordered me to stop running, spinning, walking, and practicing yoga completely for two weeks to allow my foot to heal. I was derailed by enthusiasm. This has happened before.
It's pretty impressive (read: dismaying) how quickly the body softens from inactivity. Over November and December, I rested. I went to holiday parties. I baked a million pies. And then, after Thanksgiving, slowly began building up my miles again. On New Years I recommitted. On January 2 I started training again. I struggled to even do an 6 mile run. For all of January I kept going out, but every run I felt heavy and sluggish, as if I hadn't put in all those miles for the first ten months of 2012. I wrote about it on this blog. I kept track of my miles. I wondered if I'd ever again feel that inner superhero I channeled at the October half-marathon.
Finally, by mid-February, I built up to half-marathon distance again. In retrospect, I'm glad I'd signed up for the race, but it was tough. The six weeks of training kicked my butt. The race itself was so hard, I almost felt defeated. I bonked out at around mile 9 and when I saw the 2-hour pacer group fly by me -- they had started the race after me by a few corrals -- I nearly stopped right there. I was disappointed in myself before I even got to the finish line. I wanted to lay down on the side of the road at mile 10, but I had no savior who could come and get me so I kept going. At mile 12 (ish) I saw a friend and her new baby cheering me on from the sideline, and somehow found a last surge of energy. I picked up the pace a little -- at least, it felt like it -- and when I saw the balloons, I sprinted to the finish line, arms up in the air as if I was the first-place winner. Which of course I wasn't. But I'd finished.
The next week I set out to increase my miles again.
At the beginning of April I ran my third half-marathon. By then I had increased to 14.6 miles, so I thought the 13.1 miles would be no-problem. I was wrong. Again, around mile 10 I started to bonk out. This time I had been running with the 2-hour pacer the whole time, and when I slowed at mile 10 and she sailed past, my heart sank. I don't know why I wanted to clock in under 2-hours, but I did. I really did. I begged my feet to move. I said things to myself like, "Keep it up, buttercup!" I bargained with myself. I pleaded. And then I found an extra store of energy at around 12.5 miles. With less than half a mile left, I picked up the pace. Again, when I saw the finish line, I sprinted towards it. I came in .5 seconds under the 2 hour mark.
And then the week after, I ran 15 miles.
Last weekend I did my first17-mile run - my furthest ever.
Which brings me to now. Five days till my beach run. I am ready. My body and mind are trained. Here we go now -- DOOR TO THE SHORE. Saturday 4/27/13.
Another 5.5 miler today. Straight into 15 mph wind for about half. That brings my week's mileage here in Los Angeles to 11 since the Boston Marathon bombing. I just kept my head down and ran, and ran, and ran, trying to figure out what exactly it is I have been looking for as I've been reading essay after essay about the Monday's events.
The only times since Monday that my inner-agitation has ceased has been when I'm out running or at the yoga studio, teaching or practicing. The constant monitoring of media has made me feel like I'm a little boat on a big ocean, tossing around at every weather change. I've been trying to understand how everyone there experienced it -- the runners who finished, the runners who didn't, the spectators waiting for friends and family, the families of the injured and deceased, the experts, the reporters, the runners and writers who weren't there in person but, like so many, were there in spirit.
My sweet n' sexy man reminded me this morning that had I been running that race, he would have been waiting at the finish line for me, just like he does here in California. I shook that thought away. "No, I wouldn't have gotten to the finish line for another 20 minutes or more. It's not just place, but time."
He was right, actually, but I couldn't bear to think it.
The fact is, I would love to run the Boston race one day. I've wanted to since long before I considered myself a runner, long before I even knew it was so many distance-runners' dream race. I've wanted to since 2003 when I ran the last two miles of the Boston Marathon in my biker boots and a cowboy hat, drunk as a skunk on the margaritas I'd been downing with friends since the morning as we waited for my running roommate to pass us on the course.
As I ran today I tried to quiet all the stories. The wind in my face was loud, louder than my thoughts, and I let it fill my ears.
This Saturday, two hours before sunrise, my boyfriend and I will purchase round trip tickets for an early morning train ride to the Hollywood/Highland station three stops away. The first train leaves the North Hollywood station at 4:31 am, and we'll be on it. Despite the weather forecast for Saturday highs around 72, Los Angeles' dry air holds no heat in the dark hours. We will arrive at our destination by 5, shivering against the pre-dawn chill. As usual, I'll have second and third thoughts about what I decided to wear when I was laying out my clothes in the warmth of our house the night before. Is it better to be too-cold early or too-hot later? This is an internal debate I will consider throughout the morning as the sun rises over my 13.1 mile race route.
In the early morning dark, the Hollywood streets will flood with lights. The normally busy intersection will be empty of tourists. In their stead will be the nervous excitement humming with over 7000 runners and their companions. Fifty minutes later, under a lightening sky still thirty minutes from sunrise, a local diva will sing the Star Spangled Banner. My boyfriend and I will kiss goodbye. He will take my jacket and water bottle while snapping a few "before" shots. A fog horn will sound at 6 am for the first corral, and then 3 or 4 minutes later for my assigned corral. As I cross the start line I will think, "Settle in. You'll be running for two hours. Enjoy it."
It's funny to think of settling in to run, but for most of us, a half marathon is not something we can rush through. This will be my third half-marathon in the past six months. Between the races and the training runs, I know that at these distances I've got to maintain a steady, sustainable endurance. The excitement at the start line makes it tempting to race off at top speed when the fog horn sounds. Even without the costume that many will wear for the Hollywood Half, I'll feel like a superhero when the crowd cheers us off, but the excitement tapers a quarter mile down the road and then there's another 12.75 miles to go. As I cross over the start line into the rest of the race I'll forget about the destination - the finish line - in favor of enjoying the slow-motion trip around the city. My only task is to run, and as daunting as the distance is, my body knows how to do it. Run, and stay positive. Until we're back on Hollywood Boulevard and the finish line comes into view, I will settle in to the waking of Tinseltown, the rising sun, and the surround-sound pitter patter of running shoes on the pavement.With the finish line 13.1 miles away, a run this long is not something to wish away. It is something to savor.
UPDATE: I finished the Hollywood Half in 1:59:59.9