Pushing Through the Winter Blues.

Remember how I said I decided I’d run a spring AND a fall marathon in 2014? I’m currently training for the Providence Cox Marathon on May 4, 2014.

And see, I’ve never actually trained for a marathon during the winter before. Two years ago I was coming back from injury, and last year I was building my mileage up for a fall marathon.

Consistency wasn’t an issue for me, though – even with snow and cold. In fact, my favorite run last year was the day after a blizzard, when I strapped on Jeff’s yaktrax and went out to play in the snow. I had an 8 mile run that was sheer joy in the snow; I got to stop and talk with people shoveling. It was amazing, and freeing, and relaxing, and meditative.

I loved that run with big fat pink puffy hearts.

I haven’t had a run like that since, though. And this training cycle, my winter blues started two weeks ago, when it was snowing and I had to run a 5 miler, with 2×15 minutes at my goal marathon pace. It was a tough workout, but I nailed it, so I felt pretty good when I got home. Except then I had a 10 mile run that weekend, with 4 miles being at GMP. And this time, I didn’t bring yaktrax, because it was two days after the snowstorm, and OF COURSE they had plowed the roads well enough, right?

Yeah, not so much. That run was 8 miles of snow and slush and the negative temps and wind chill and my marathon pace miles had me actually crying with frustration.

It’s rare that I loathe every minute of a run, but that’s exactly what happened that day.

In hindsight, I should have either run a treadmill, or given myself an out on the pacing – (aka: slowed it down). I did neither, and I paid for it that night – was absolutely knackered for the rest of the day; I basically passed out at 8:30 that night from exhaustion.

Since then, though, every one of my runs has become a huge mental battle for me. It’s like I’ve lost my running mojo. I don’t WANT to go for a run, and when I’m running, I want to quit with EVERY footfall.

I have to use every trick in my toolbox to keep going and get to the next mile.

Last week when I went out for a 4 mile shakeout run, I questioned the whole way. I should just text my coach that I don’t want to do a spring marathon. Why am I doing this? I don’t even LIKE running right now. Why keep pushing? Isn’t one marathon a year good enough? Really, Karen, why the HELL are you trying to do this marathoning thing? It takes away time from everything you need to get done, and you’re overbooked and you keep taking too much on and SOMETHING needs to give. Why not just do a half marathon in the spring instead of all this?

I hate not being able to be in the present on a run.

And I ESPECIALLY hate when my Inner Critic hijacks my runs.

My Inner Critic is right. I would be so easy to say: a spring marathon isn’t for me. I don’t like winter training. I can spend less time running and focus on shorter distance and do that okay. I’m tired and I don’t want to take on too much. I need to simplify my life. It would be easy to decide I’m not going to run a marathon this spring.

But that very decision is why I’m not good at running marathons.

Because the fact is, running a marathon is an exercise in happiness AND pain. It hurts and you ache and you wonder why you’re doing it in the first place. Distance running is about how you get through discomfort to find a place of contentment. Seriously, there are miles where you feel like you’re going to die. And then there are miles where you feel on top of the world.

And I’m not good at pushing through the bad stuff. I get scared, and I panic, and I think, This really hurts and I can’t DO IT.

My Inner Critic takes over and I give up. Like last fall: I didn’t give myself the chance for the marathon to come back to me – I gave up on myself halfway through.

I don’t want to do that again. I want to run the whole thing; I don’t want to stop and walk. I WANT to find the well of strength that helps me keep going when I don’t want to, when it hurts and I’m scared and I don’t shut down and run away from it. I want to accept it, embrace it, and run through it.

Because running marathons is life. So much of life is finding the motivation to keep putting one foot in front of another during the periods where you don’t think you can do it anymore.

So. It’s winter. It’s cold and snowy and I kind of don’t want to keep training.

But I’m going to anyway.

My 2014 Not-Resolutions.

I admit it.

I’m a little… erm, obsessive when it comes to goals and new year resolutions.

For the past few years, I’ve started thinking about my new year resolutions come fall. And when I alight on a goal, I figure, why wait for the new year to start them? Might as well start them now.

It was November 2012 when I put into place my 2013 resolutions: I decided I would run a marathon in fall 2013. I hired my running coach and started tracking my calories to lose the final 10lbs I felt I needed to get to my ideal “racing weight.”

And I did everything I wanted to in 2013. I ran my marathon, ran a total of 1,538 miles for the year (which, by the way, totals more than the prior two years COMBINED), and lost 10 more lbs.

It was a good year, goal-wise.

Except I found myself in the fall pondering my resolutions yet again.

What could I do THIS year which would be better? Lose more weight? Run more marathons? Run those marathons faster? Make more money? Write more? Leave my job and start a new career?

Change, change, CHANGE.

And it got me thinking.

Every fall, I fall off a precipice into an emotional darkness. Part of is is that I live in New England and the fall gets dark and cold and I know winter’s on the way. The change of seasons, I’ve realized, REALLY affects my emotional state. Part of it, too, is that I’ve suffered a lot of loss in October and November. But a lot of it is knowing that another year’s gone by, and wondering really, what do I have to SHOW for my year? What have I actually ACCOMPLISHED?

So my instinct is to make plans for next year, because it’s a new start and clean slate and then maybe NEXT year I can be the person I want to be!

Um, yeah.

Not healthy.

So this year, when I felt that itch to change everything and set my new year resolutions, I decided to end the madness. And thus, 2014 would be the year I set Not-Resolutions.

And I only have two of them.

1. I will not diet this year. I will refrain from weighing myself and panicking when I see the number on the scale, and then obsessively recording my calories. Because I have plans to run two marathons this year, and I know that as I train I will need to listen to my body in order to fuel properly – instead of listening to some website tell me how many calories I can ingest on a daily basis.

And what I hope, as I let go of the fear of the scale creeping up and trusting that my body knows what it needs to fuel, I’ll be able to take baby steps to a place of real acceptance of my body – the body I have now, with the extra skin and padding in my midsection, crisscrossed with stretchmarks from my pregnancy with Owen (6 freaking YEARS AGO. Yeah, those suckers ain’t going away anytime soon. Sigh).  I will accept that I will never have a thigh gap, and that I have to be careful with jeans because they sometimes are too tight in the butt and calves.

My body can do some amazing things, and it’s time I started really listening to it – and trusting that it can do what it’s supposed to do.

Plus, I am training for two freaking marathons. If that doesn’t earn me burgers and beer and ice cream, what DOES? Food is GOOD. It’s tasty. I run enough that I should ENJOY my food.

2. I will say “no” more often. Just before my marathon last year, after a month of working silly hours – WAY more than full time for my part time job – my boss called me and asked if I’d take on another client. I had been looking forward to a couple of weeks of a break, which would have coincided with the marathon timing. Truth be told, I NEEDED the break – I had worked nearly double my regular hours for an entire month.

But in the moment, I found myself agreeing to take it on. Then I waffled. And agreed. Because, you know, I didn’t want to disappoint, or make my boss turn down potential work just because I wanted a break. And when I started working there, I felt resentful and tired and not at all motivated.

It was pretty eye opening to me: how often I agree to do something which might not be the best decision for me, just because I’m afraid to disappoint someone.

Seriously, I am REALLY shitty at saying no. If you ask me for something, and it’s within my power to get it done, I’ll agree to it. Even if I don’t think I can do it, you’re more likely to have me say, I’m not the best at this, so and so is better, but I can TOTALLY take care of this if you need me to.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said, I’m sorry, no, I can’t really take that on right now.

(Even just WRITING that phrase makes me all jittery and nervous and anxious. It’s ridiculous.)

But it’s not healthy for me and my family for me to be overbooked. So I need to learn how to start saying no.

So those are my two Not-Resolutions. Simple.

I mean, I have goals for this year. I want to learn from my dog – learn how to love the snow, take a nap when I feel tired, and meet new people with real enthusiasm. Which, quite honestly, is a post in itself.

I have running goals – two marathons this year, and I’d love it if this is the year I run a Boston Qualifying time in one of those marathons. But I know I’m still relatively inexperienced when it comes to marathoning, and so really this year I want to learn more about running marathons. By running more marathons.  So if I don’t BQ this year? Maybe some other year.

I’d also like to spend more quality time with my family, take more breaks from work this year, get a membership to a local pool this summer so we can spend more time outside.  Our life feels it moves at breakneck pace, and I’d really like to spend more time together – in the moment – than we do now. (Plus it’s winter and I’m cold and I’m dreaming about summer barbecues and swimming pools and sun… ahhhhh.)

But these are more ideas, rather than A List of My Accomplishments in 2014 Which I Will Be Forced to Outdo in 2015.

And I hope that my Not-Resolutions will be where I start to slow down, look around, and live in the here and now.

Thestrals and the Holidays.

I loved the Harry Potter books. I ALWAYS pre-ordered the next in the series, and every year, I’d “prepare” for the next book by re-reading the prior version at the beach down the Cape, where my aunt and uncle, my godparents, used to vacation.

It was one of my favorite traditions.

Books are my escape. When I read a good work of fiction, I’m am never aware of reading the words. I see it happen, in my head. Coming out of a book for me is akin to being woken up from a deep dream; it takes me a lot of time to shake off the experience of the book and come back into my real life.

Getting unbroken time to read, these days, is rare.

So I have such fond memories being on the beach, with the white noise of the waves, the salty tang of the ocean on my tongue, immersed in a whole other world – it was one of my favorite places to be.

And it was where I read in horror as Cedric Diggory died.

And then, a summer later, Harry could suddenly see the creatures that pulled the carriages from the train station to Hogwarts.

Thestrals, Luna Lovegood tells him. He’s not crazy – only people who have seen death can see them.*

* * * * * *

I started my first blog in 2006, and I found a community of women out there who were just like me. Back then it felt like we were all connected; I met some of the people who have become my soul sisters.

And I KNOW things change, but lately I feel like everything you put online has to be perfect; the perfect recipe, the perfect Elf on the Shelf setup, the perfectly staged selfie.**

There’s so many voices out there, so many people showing off how perfect their efforts are… it can be so isolating to be surrounded by Perfect sometimes.

* * * * * *

For a lot of years, I justified not allowing myself to grieve over my cousin’s suicide. Because, I intellectualized, my grief wasn’t as valid as my aunt’s, or my cousins’ – they lost a daughter, a sister. I felt like I didn’t have any right to attach myself to her death because my pain was nowhere CLOSE to theirs.

I played the pain olympics a lot, too, when we were trying to have a baby. At first, I’d say, at least we hadn’t been trying for 2 years – wow, that’s a long time! And then, when we were going on year three, I’d tell myself we had it good because at least I didn’t lose babies. And then, when I lost babies, I told myself that at least we had Owen, because wow, there were so many people who wanted a baby and didn’t get one.

It’s taken me a really long time – a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, and finally a lot of accepting the validity of my emotions – to realize this.

Death and loss comes in all different forms.

Not just losing people to death – like Harry did with Cedric, or my aunt and cousins did with their daughter and sister, or I did with pregnancies.

Loss can be also about the death of your dreams, too. Losing the dream of getting married, or being a mom someday, or having as many children as you dreamed of, or saving the world, or making a difference in someone’s life, or playing basketball for Duke, or being rich and famous… it’s loss, no matter what the dream is.

Loss is loss. Period.

* * * * * *

Christmas is supposed to be the best wonderful time of the year – the songs say so. The pictures on Facebook say so. The stores tell you buying more, more, MORE will make Christmas the best time of the year. I feel like I’m surrounded by all this noise – perfect people doing perfect things and having perfect Christmases.

I should be, too.

And, of course, I AM enjoying my Christmas season. I love writing my cards out, listening to holiday music, relaxing in front of the tree with eggnog, playing Santa, seeing family and friends and spreading the proverbial Christmas cheer. I found the VERY BEST version of a Christmas song (which: I didn’t actually like this song until I listened to these guys do it. Go check it out – seriously amazing. I’ve been listening this on repeat on a daily basis).

But it’s NOT perfect. There’s also loss in there, too. I miss my aunt, and I grieve that it’s been almost 20 years since we lost Amy, and I feel the sting of broken dreams when I hang up three stockings on our bannister, instead of the four we had hoped for.

So for me, what I see on social media perpetuates this idea that maybe I am the only one who feels this way. Because around me so many people are baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, and playing Santa far better than I am. Happy, HAPPY! my Facebook feed screams at me when I log in. HAPPPPPPPYYYYYYYYYY!!! NOW WITH EXTRA SMILEY FACE EMOTICONS!

It’s not until I have conversations with people or read blogs that I hear about the loss, too. The friend who is still mourning the loss of his mother. The friend living childfree who is reminded at Christmas that she wanted a very different experience. The friend with a newborn who is mourning that nursing didn’t go the way she had wanted. The friend dealing with uncertainty of an IVF cycle and whether she’ll make her son a sibling. The friend who struggles every year with buying presents because money is hard to come by. The acquaintance whose 5 year old daughter with cancer doesn’t have much time left with them. The parents who lost their children a year ago to devastating violence at the elementary school. The victims of the Boston marathon bombings, who lost their old way of life and are having to forge a new life for themselves.

It’s not just me.

Loss is everywhere.

And that’s what we need this Christmas – a reminder.

We’re all in this Being Human thing together. What we see on social media is life PR – life the way we WANT it to be. But real life is messy and chaotic and full of complications like loss and grief.

So for those of you who are struggling with this holiday season – for whatever reason – and feel like you’re alone?

You’re not crazy.

I see the thestrals too.

*I never understood this. Didn’t Harry see his mom die in front of him when he was a baby? So why couldn’t he ALWAYS see the thestrals? Probably me taking things too literally – and yes, I’m aware that it is a work of fiction that has to do with wizards and witches, so there IS some relinquishing of reality which must go on. But still.

**My good friend Mel wrote about this too. Worth a read.

More on Balance.

Owen and I took a road trip last week to visit my sister and other assorted friends and family. And, like most things, conversations turned to work and career and balancing all of it, especially as parents of young children. Even my retired aunt and uncle talked about how hard they thought balancing parenting and work is for everyone now (especially with the DC traffic – holy crap I do NOT know how people sit in that traffic day in and day out!).

In the context of these conversations, I found myself talking with everyone about the positives of my working experience. And it struck me one afternoon: I actually kind of LIKE my job.

It’s true: I don’t love being an accountant.

But I do love my current work SITUATION.

Because it’s flexible. I have one client through the rest of the year. Which means I can structure my work weeks the way I want them. I have been working 2 days a week in July, a few hours here and there from home, and therefore haven’t been stuck in the car for three hours a day, 4 days a week.

I am able to take a week off, like last week, at sort of a moment’s notice. Without needing to apply for vacation time.

I love that about my job. I love that I am in charge of when and how the day to day tasks get done.

Of course, there’s times I am needed onsite, and days where I have my work reviewed and come away shaking my head and feeling like a loser and a failure. And the mornings where I have a 9am meeting and therefore HAVE to get on the road at 7:15 at the LATEST because otherwise I’d be too late and miss it.

And then there are the days where the sheer drudgery of doing a job I don’t love makes me loathe to do anything at all. Where I spend the hour and a half drive home cycling through a list of careers and wondering if any of them might actually make me happy.

In 2005, Steve Jobs spoke at a Stanford commencement, and he uttered a quote which I have not been able to let go since I first heard it maybe 5 years ago. This is what he said:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Find something you love to do.

For years now, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about what kind of career might make me happy. If you added up all the time and energy I’ve spent on it, it probably adds up to weeks of my life of thinking about what my ideal career would be.

All that time spent ruminating – and I’m no closer to an answer.

I’m 37 years old and I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

I’ve been trash talking being an accountant now, for, what, 10 years? I don’t love it. I don’t like talking about it with people, because they assume I’m good at math (and trust me, I’m NOT. I rely heavily on my calculator!) and am one of those “finance people” who has no personality or communication skills.

And there is always a part of me, deep inside, that wants to cry to these people who think I’m great at math and don’t have a personality or communication skills: But I love to write! And read! I was an English major and I played the clarinet and I have actually cried from the beauty of a piece of music!

The fact is, I AM an accountant. An accountant who blogs and reads and cries when she hears beautiful music.

I envy the Steve Jobs of the world; the people who knew exactly what they were meant to do and do it every day with passion. One of my best friends in college was like that: she knew from the moment she graduated high school that she was going to be a landscape architect. And damn if she doesn’t own her landscape architect business now. She loves what she does, and I often wish I had a career I could focus on with similar passion.

I don’t. But I don’t HATE my profession, either. In fact, I love it right now: Love it for the flexibility, for the freedom to work as little or as much as I want to. I love that I can work from home without having to explain myself. I love that the quality of my work is what’s judged, not the time I spend in the office. I love that it changes and moves and I have to stay on top of changes and figure stuff out on my own.

I love that I can take a week and do a road trip with my fast-maturing 5 year old in the summer before he starts school. I love that I can take him to dentist appointment and swim lessons and have family dinners ready and be able to run miles without having to worry about fitting it all in. I love that when he’s sick (or I am, since I have strep), I can adjust my schedule and not worry about long term career effects.

And you know. Maybe it’s GOOD that I don’t love my job. Because this way, I can be around for my family and run and cook and travel and do things I enjoy, instead of having a single-minded focus on my career, my passion.

And I’m now starting to wonder if my definition of “doing great work” has been too limited. Maybe doing great work, for me, means making sure that Jeff, Owen, and I have dinner together nearly every night. Maybe it means that I keep myself healthy and fit and mentally clear by running long distances. Maybe it’s about having the space and time to blog regularly, cook healthy meals, raise a happy child and have a happy marriage and life.

Maybe that’s enough, and I can stop wasting my energy on trying to figure out the career which Steve Jobs said I should find.

Why I Deleted All of My Facebook Games.

Without any real planning, today I deleted the Candy Crush app from my Facebook account.

And then Criminal Case.

And then Gardens of Time.

And then Bejeweled Blitz.

And then Words World or whatever the new app I just played this morning for the first time.

Why?

Because I spend too much time on the computer, and on my phone, playing games that are essentially mindless. Which would be fine if I could do it in moderation.

But the problem is that I can’t. It’s SO addicting to match colors and crush candy and find hidden objects on a screen; enough that I need a few minutes here and there when I should be doing other things.

Like playing with my kid.

Or running a load of laundry.

Or taking my dog for a walk.

Or connecting with my husband at the end of a long day.

I’m not against playing games, or gaming, or whatever. And honestly, I loved Candy Crush, I loved that my friends loved Candy Crush, and I loved playing it.

But seriously, it’s gotten bad. I figured out that I could play my 5 lives on the computer, and then play another five lives on my phone. And I’d get so angry at a board where I was stuck that I’d play it as much as possible to get the perfect combination of candies to finally, FINALLY, win the board. And then I’d cruise through another 4 or 5 boards, and then repeat the SAME. DAMN. CYCLE. AGAIN.

(If I’m being honest, the final straw was Level 158, with the stupid multiplying chocolates and the cherry you had to bring to the bottom. It was impossible. Ridiculous and impossible.)

And it struck me, this morning, when I lost my first 5 lives on the computer and then switched over to my phone to play another 5 lives, that went just as quickly as the first 5 lives on Level 158…

… This is completely RIDICULOUS.

I don’t have nearly enough time to read, I keep telling people. Yet somehow I manage to spend minutes of my day playing games.

If I’m going to escape from responsibilities, and disconnect, maybe I should do that with a book, instead.

Or maybe I could take those minutes spent on my phone and play cribbage – which is also low-intellect – with my husband and a glass of wine.

Maybe I should meditate. Or go to bed early. Or take the dog for a walk around the block. Or give someone a call on the phone and catch up.

Maybe it’ll help me, overall, to step away from Facebook and CNN and ESPN and Yahoo and Google. Maybe I’m spending too much time a day on my computer.

Time goes so quickly.

How do I want to spend it?

Illiotibial Band Friction Syndrome.

Met with a physical therapist this morning, who confirmed what Dr. Google told me last week.

Illiotibial band friction syndrome is essentially a tendonitis of the band on the side of your thigh – the tendon that connects your hip to the tibia.  It’s caused by overuse, mostly in runners – so much so that it’s also known as “runner’s knee.”

That’s what I have.

The good news is that mine is relatively mild. I had NO pain last week, and this week the worst of the pain was on Tuesday after my failed run. It’s pretty much faded at this point, too.

So the PT told me that maybe my ITBS was mild enough that I’d have to abstain from running for a couple of weeks, instead of months.

Weeks.

[Bracing self]

Okay,  so I overdid. All I did from May to October was RUN. I didn’t stretch. I didn’t do strength training. I just ran, because it’s what I only had time for.

Well. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

Except that apparently it was sort of like the running equivalent of eating only brownies for a month. And now I’m paying for it.

Irony: I run my first marathon in October, all in the hopes of showing how far I’ve come since LAST November. It’s awesome. And then I get injured.

And now I likely won’t run at all THIS November. You know, when I could actually USE it.

Ha.

The thing is, I HAVE come really a long way from last year. I hit rock bottom in the winter, and have been climbing up out of it since then.

If this happened last May? I’d probably be a neurotic mess. And maybe, okay, yeah, I AM a bit of a neurotic mess right now.

But I haven’t run nearly at all in the past three weeks, and I haven’t killed anyone yet.

That’s pretty good, right?

Anyway. The plan.

I won’t even THINK about running for a couple of weeks. I’m thinking December before I even attempt a run.

In the next two weeks, I’ll do physical therapy twice a week and a daily regimen of heat, stretching, exercise, then ice.

I will also keep doing yoga twice or three times a week, and swim for the other two days.

I have a plan and a treatment schedule. And maybe I’ll only be out for a couple of weeks.

I can handle it.

I think.

Transcendental Tuesday.

This morning’s run was SO MUCH BETTER than Saturday’s, I very nearly cried with relief.

Whatever I did to piss off the running gods, let’s hope I don’t do it again in the next 11 days.

Frick.

11 DAYS.

Eek.

_______________________

So yeah, okay, there MIGHT be a touch of putting-a-little-too-much-pressure-on-myself with this marathon thing

(You know, just a little.)

It’s just so BIG – this idea of running a marathon.

Because 11 years ago I decided that I was going to run the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, AK. I’m not sure what prompted me to decide that was my thing, given that I had never actually run before, but whatever. I was going to do it.

I think I managed 4 miles all at once, on a treadmill, before I succumbed to shin splints from ill-fitting shoes.

And that was the end of that.

What happened, though, was that “Run a Marathon” went onto a List.

In fact, it became the FIRST thing on my “Things I Need To Do Before I Die” list.

A winter of loss and emotional darkness last year made me realize that my time on this earth is actually FINITE.

It scares me a little, this realization. Not only am I not here forever, but in some inexplicable fashion, time has snapped me FORWARD, surging past me. 15 years has passed since I was in college, and it feels like it was only 5 years ago.

So yeah. This marathon is more than just a marathon to me.

It’s a big EFF YOU to Time and Loss and Death.

It’s proving that there are SOME things in this life where it’s still true that if I work hard, I will succeed.

It’s proving to myself.

I am strong.

I am capable.

So yeah, I overreacted and worried a bit too much about a bad run. And maybe my expectations are just a little too high for myself.

So here it is.

My goal for this race is to finish strong.

I don’t care if I walk. I have a time in mind for where I’d LIKE to be at the finish, but if I don’t manage that, I’ll be okay.

Either way? In 11 days, I’ll get to see what I’m made of.