In about one month, I'll run my first half-marathon, and I'm definitely feeling that nervous/excited buzz. Before I started training for this event, my longest run was nine miles, so I know the race will be a challenge.
Adding to my nerves is the fact that the course features some tough hills: the race has just under 600 feet of elevation gain**. That's not bad—in fact, it's right around the nation's average for half-marathons. For me, however, it's significant: my usual training runs have only about 100 feet of elevation gain, sometimes less. I don't live in an especially hilly neighborhood, and quite frankly, running uphill is kind of demoralizing and soul-sucking. So my efforts here have been limited.
Last week, after feverishly studying the race elevation chart and feeling mild panic at my lack of preparation, I decided to seek out some bigger hills a short drive away. It was a drizzly, grey morning, and I cued up the new Beauty & the Beast movie soundtrack as I stretched my legs. Sometimes you just need a distraction when you're running, and listening to Ewan McGregor sing "Be Our Guest" never fails to evoke pleasant images of decadent French food and dancing silverware.
I'd mapped out a five-mile course that included rolling hills on relatively quiet roads, with a major climb near the end of the route. My legs burned as I slogged up the first peaks, and I tried to follow the advice I'd read: maintain a consistent effort both up and down each hill, which means slowing the pace during the climb. On each descent, I let gravity take me down. The final hill loomed in the distance, and it looked like a monster, rising up into the fog like something out of a dream. A little alarm bell went off in my brain, and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to reverse course. I was afraid to look all the way to the top; I didn't want to see just how high I'd have to climb.
But in the next second, I noticed something: the closer I got to the hill, the flatter it appeared. Maybe my fears were much greater than the challenge itself. Maybe it was possible to let go of my negative judgments and simply see that hill for what it was: a massive amount of hard work that I could eventually conquer. With each stride, I imagined myself coming down on top of the hill. Dan Stevens' "Evermore" played in the background and I thought of the Beast singing tragically in his castle as I finally reached the top. My legs and lungs were spent, but I cracked a smile.
How often do I let fear dictate my decisions? I've become adept at talking myself out of the things that scare me, challenges that push me beyond where I feel safe and comfortable. I avert my gaze from the big things, because they're not easy or simple and I'd rather not delve into them. The excuses keep rolling: I'm not ready, I'm too tired, and anyway, the floor needs mopping. I'll get to it someday, really I will. I'll write that book proposal, dig into that impossible project or have that tough conversation another day. When it's easier, when I feel stronger.
Training for this race has forced me to admit that regardless of how steep that hill actually is, or how difficult a task appears, the things we fear only grow more intimidating the longer we avoid them. It's instinct to shield our eyes, to focus our gaze away from what scares us. But we may find that once we're fully immersed in the moment, whatever had us tied in knots suddenly seems a lot less scary.
**I had to Google this and learned that elevation gain, or the total sum of climbing throughout a course, can help you get a sense of how hilly a route will be. For example, if a route has one hill that rises 100 feet, and I run up that hill three times, my total elevation gain for the course is 300 feet.
~ ~ ~
On my computer, there's a folder called "In Process Posts." This is where I save blog posts or articles I've written but don't consider ready to publish or submit just yet.
Lately my stack of unfinished posts is growing. For some reason, I've been struggling to take this content to the next level. Coming up with a basic idea and blathering on about it hasn't been a problem. But transforming it into something I can feel proud to share with the world has been a challenge. Maybe the ideas aren't quite crystallized or my writer's voice sounds muddled. Often, there might be glimmers of compelling insight hidden somewhere in a post, but my take on the subject matter just isn't relatable or even interesting.
When this happens, often I stare at my computer screen for a while, my eyes glazing over despite the delicious caffeine I just consumed. This writing is just not good enough, I conclude, and I don't know how to fix it. And I hate the way I feel looking at this jumble of words, this mountain of prose that basically says nothing worthwhile. So off it goes into blog post purgatory, where it may or may not remain for all eternity.
What's the solution when the creative process seems to stall? There is a fascinating interview with artist and illustrator Christoph Niemann, who creates drawings using ordinary objects. He talks about how the process of creating something isn't always linear or pleasant. You need friction, he argues, or what he calls "a moment of discomfort," in order to make your work truly interesting. If you can embrace this sense of uneasiness and uncertainty, you'll find the process much more enjoyable.
I think I've been actively avoiding this moment of discomfort, because, let's face it--it's uncomfortable! When I get to that point where I feel I can't improve my writing anymore, yet I'm still not satisfied with a post, I just shelve it. Out of sight, out of mind. But Niemann would say that's the exact moment in which one should not give up. That uncertain, uncomfortable and often very frustrated feeling means we're actually on the right track.
With this in mind, I'm going to delve back into my unfinished posts folder...
Do you ever feel stalled in your creative process? What do you do to get back on track?
~ ~ ~
It's not spring yet, but we sure had a great preview of it this past week in Wisconsin. Getting outdoors in the fresh air felt amazing, especially since I've decided to train for my first half marathon in May.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about miles and milestones. Completing a half marathon has been a longtime goal of mine, but I never actually committed to the training until now. For the past month, I've been following the Hal Higdon Novice 2 Program, and so far so good. The program involves several short runs and one progressively longer run each week. The only snag thus far has been discovering the joy of chafing. Let's just say I now understand why runners sing the praises of Body Glide.
As I look forward to the milestone of competing in this race, I'm also celebrating another milestone: yesterday marked six years since I said good riddance to most of my colon and underwent surgery to re-route my lousy plumbing.
If you had told me six years ago that someday I'd be running, swimming and training for races again, I'd have laughed in your face. I remember the physical therapists who came to visit me after the surgery. They coaxed me gently through some simple exercises that felt like torture: sitting up in bed and marching my feet up and down. They were so patient and kind, despite the fact that I wasn't the most cheery patient. I felt broken, frail and weak.
But over the next months, as I healed, my despair turned to gratitude. I started to recognize how the surgery had given me my life back, and how much joy there was to be experienced. Yes, things were different, but I wasn't broken, only changed.
To be sure, I don't run as quickly or easily as I used to a decade ago. After two babies and a life-changing surgery, it's as if my body has recalibrated itself. I do struggle to accept this at times. Getting back to the paces I pulled off in my more youthful days seems like a futile dream. Maybe with enough training, it's still possible, but I have a feeling the cost would be steep.
I don't have the answer, but I do know this: The fact that I can sit here, joking about chafing and looking forward to my next run, is a gift.
Whatever race day brings, I won't forget that.
When it comes to Wisconsin winters, any temperature over 40 degrees can almost feel tropical. This weekend, we took advantage of the warm weather and made the drive to Kohler-Andrae State Park. Located in Sheboygan, the park features miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, nature trails, and some really cool dune cordwalks.
The beauty of this park was an unexpected treasure, especially smack dab in the middle of winter. The kids loved running up and down the dune cordwalks, paths that seemed to spiral into the distance with no end. At times, we felt as if we were the only souls in the entire place. Huge chunks of ice were strewn across the beach, settled into the sand like lounging seals. The kids enjoyed climbing and jumping off these "ice rocks," their boots splashing into the tiny rivers of water below.
As the kids hunted for treasures and made stick drawings in the sand, I found myself looking for signs of life along the beach, picking up shells to see if any tiny inhabitants might still be inside. No such luck: any critters had long since moved out, likely relocated to the belly of a hungry seagull or another animal.
Then I happened to see this peculiar-looking little dude lying on his back in the sand. A quick Google search suggested he was a Whirligig beetle, which typically swims on the surface of water. The kids ran over and we debated on whether our little friend wanted to swim or just keep hanging out in the sand. Gingerly, I flipped him over to his stomach, and almost immediately, he began moving in the direction of the water. He had impressive speed and seemed to move instinctively toward his destination.
We watched as his body broke the surface of the waves, his tiny legs propelling him forward with a natural grace. He even flipped to his back and performed a pretty solid elementary backstroke. We walked along the shoreline for a while, following his progress. Eventually, the kids worried that our little friend might be getting tired, so we fished him out and placed him in a shallow pond a few yards from the lake, flanked by a couple of ice chunks. The girls decorated his pond with some moss and a few seashells, so he would feel cozy and at home.
Who knows if this particular stretch of beach really was his home, or if we'd inhibited or aided him on whatever journey he might have been attempting. Maybe we'll see him, or some of his family, again when the real spring arrives.
~ ~ ~
On the radio recently, I heard a social media expert discussing the different platforms people use today. She remarked, “Facebook is really for older people; young people prefer to connect in other ways, such as Twitter.”
I opened my mouth to protest, “But I use Facebook, and I’m not an older person!”
Or am I?
I have to admit that I have plenty of habits that might correlate with a person of a more mature age than, say, a teenager. For example:
But I don't feel old, I think to myself. Surely, age is just a number. Besides, don't store owners have to card you nowadays if you look younger than, say, 65?
I was at a school event recently, and one of my daughter’s classmates greeted me with a polite, “Hello, Mrs. Rich.” For a moment, I was taken aback. Mrs. Rich? Who the heck is that? No matter how the world may see me, in some earnest part of my soul, I really do still feel like a kid, not a mature, responsible grown-up warranting such formal salutations.
In many ways, I'm afraid of saying goodbye to my more youthful, carefree years. Someone once told me, "The best years of your life are between ages 15 and 25," and that saying stuck with me. If I believe this, then looking ahead is a bleak prospect indeed.
But what if it's not true? As 2016 winds down, I'm choosing to challenge the notion that those earlier years of life were a peak, after which everything trends depressingly downhill. Maybe life is a series of peaks, in which moments of excitement and accomplishment are interspersed with more quiet times. So while I can't predict the future, I'm looking forward to what's ahead—grey hairs and all.
~ ~ ~
I'm Gina, mom to two girls, writer, and seasoned coffee drinker.