Friday, May 27, 2016

Hitting the Wall

Around mile 20 of a 26.2 mile/42 kilometer, marathon runners frequently "hit the wall." Physiologically it is a glycogen energy crash bringing the muscles to almost non-existent movement. Psychologically it is exhaustingly harrowing, making one question the wisdom of joining the race, as well as one's very sanity. Last week I ran a marathon and hit the wall twice. Running The Great Wall Marathon was one of the most amazing life experiences I have enjoyed while reveling in running. Additionally, it was the most beautiful and brutal thing I have accomplished since childbirth. 

I was seeded in wave 3 of 4 launches. Off the start line I began at a moderate pace, breathing deeply the air and realization that the moment I had trained 6 months for was at last here. This is it I thought, commence this outstanding bucket list item. Pace yourself and take it ALL in. The first 5k was a radical pitch of a corkscrew leading us straight uphill
to The Wall. Having riden up this mini mountain on bus two days prior, I decided to power step this leg for efficiency. The plan worked and I found myself passing runners straining to sprint this formidable series of straight ups. My mind was void of any time goal other than finishing prior to the 8 hour course cut off. The rule of thumb is to add your marathon time plus your 1/2 marathon time to get a ballpark Wall figure. That marathon math for me would work out to be about 6 hours and 30 minutes. Plenty of walk cushion if I needed it. I figured I would save my steady running for the outlying village portion of the race. This would still allow plenty of interaction time with the villagers in the crowds. I was thrilled to make it to the entrance.

The morning had begun so crisp and cool I felt as though I were in God's country of my home state, Michigan. The temps warmed pretty quickly. The next 4 kilometers were a series of wall towers and steps of varying size, degrees and stability. The realization of running on one of the wonders of the world flooded me with emotion and gratitude. Don't cry, no good to dehydrate 8k into this race. I kept a nice steady jog touching the side wall when needed and marveling at the view. Reaching the "goat path" brought a bottleneck and a breather as only one to two runners could descend at a time. The name is apropos as really the terrain is better suited for a mountain goat than a human. This all added to the collective joy and challenge however. At this point the half and full marathon fields were still together. 
Cautiously striding and stepping down this section was a bit harrowing as I could hear the shoes of other runners scraping and slip sliding behind me.  Steady feet, steady feet, please let us not take one another out! A quick dip in the wall brought me again to a gentle jog up another section and tower. Running back to Yin Yang square and through the canopy was a rush. 10k out we were through Huangyaguan Villiage and headed for Duanzhuang Villiage. 15k in found us entering Xiaying Villiage. So many villagers and children came out to cheer us on "Pǎo pǎo," give high fives and ask for autographs.
After the full marathon field parted ways with the half marathon field, a little girl handed me a small bouquet of lavender wildflowers. "Xiè xie," I said smiling. I tucked them in the strap of my water pack and ran on. Dongjiafen, Qingshanling, Chedaoyu villages were next and brought us through small groves of trees and roads parched and dusty, to the 30k mark. I was eager to make it back to the 34k north wall fortress to receive my wrist band indicating I was commencing my second dance with The Wall. Just a 700 meter ascent to traverse the wall west to east now. I was feeling great...until I wasn't. Waves of nausea began to wash over my constitution. I wasn't sure I could keep that half of banana and handful of Brachs jellybeans down. You are FINE! Stop being a wimp, I internally admonished myself. I began to internally monologue much more kindly when I started to encounter lithe fit fellow-runners heaving, slumped, and lying down along the route. It dawned on me this was a maniacal merging of the figurative and literal running "wall." I knew I could not stop. I slowed drastically. My 6:30 shifted to an idea that "under 7 hours would be nice." Fellow field members dropped to the left and right of me and I slogged on one step at a time. I was immensely grateful for a divine breeze that bolstered me. I needed to settle my stomach. About that time a rogue group of tourists came flouncing down towards me, the teen in front holding a bottle of Coca-Cola. If I'd had enough energy I may have followed through with my desperate thought of wrenching the bottle from his hands and drinking the remaining contents. My lack of energy kept my manners in tact, and I soldiered on up the steps. The Australian woman in front of me kept lamenting, "I think I may vomit. If I could just let a burp," over and over like a chanted prayer. She disappeared around a turn and when I finally made the turn there she was with an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola in her hand. There was a hunched elderly lady selling browned bananas and Coke on the side of the path. The words were out before I could think, "Oh, could I please have a drink of your Coke?"
"Oh love," she replied, "let me buy you one!"
"No, no I couldn't possibly drink an entire bottle. My stomach feels like yours and just a sip will do. I won't touch my lips to the bottle..."
"Oh please love! Like I really care. Here! Take a swig!"
She handed me the bottle. I quaffed a bit of that carbonated salvation gifted to me by my Australian Coca-Cola angel. "Bless you!" I gasped. I trudged on and she sat down to drink the rest of her Coke. I began to notice members of the medical team along the remaining parts of the wall. They were massaging out cramped runners' muscles which were refusing to obey the commands of the minds and bodies to which they belonged. The medical team members were assessing whether or not each athlete was fit to continue. My knees were working on a violent coup themselves, which I squelched by step stretching as I plodded up the stairs. At long last I was off the wall and back on the last 5k to Yin Yang Square. One would think it may be a joy to finally meet a downhill portion, but it was quite an additional strain on my disgruntled knees. I alternated running and power walking to cover this last stretch. As I was coming back into the square center many half marathon finishers were there cheering us on to the finish. One gal shouted, "Just around the bend, get your run on to that finish line!" So that I did, with what energy I know not; weary and rejoicing I re-entered the square and crossed the finish line at 6 hours 57 minutes and 33 seconds simultaneously laughing and crying as I received my medal. My posse of people I had met were there waiting.
We rehydrated, we visited the massage tent, we swapped anecdotes from the course, and we cheered on the rest of the runners until the very end. I felt a bit like the flower bouquet my little friend had given me many miles ago.
The race was over. The droves of runners that did not make it to the line in time would now be extracted from the course. I stifled some surges of tears I felt swelling within me for their situation. I boarded the transport, reuniting with my bus buddies to head back to our Beijing hotel. We were joined by a group of Brazilian blokes who made our Beijing Bus the most entertaining time I have ever had (or will ever have) on a bus. 

Now a week later I find myself in post-race doldrums downward spiraling towards post-race depression. It is difficult to describe to my friends and family how life infusing and altering this experience was. I look the same (save the gimp of fatigue legs), but I have been changed. Primarily changed by the other runners I encountered and met throughout my time in China. In trying to pick up my Humpty-Dumpty pieces after coming off the wall, I came across this bit in my reading:
Randy Step of Running Fit advises, "Savor the pain, you deserve it. The couch potato lives in a body numb world not knowing the feeling of being totally awake, alive and aware." 
With new life, I am alive.
I am awake.
am aware.
I am amazed...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mother's Day

Brunch, roses, Hallmark cards, jewelry, all prime Mother's Day presents. My Mother's Day was spent in a way I much prefer; on the road running. Additionally it wasn't on just ANY road. It was along the coastline of DaNang, Vietnam. The forecast was broiling with temps topping out at 42 C or 102 F. Despite being advised to NOT run due to a dog bite the week prior, I ran. I ran with people scribed on my arm with Sharpie and in my heart with memories. Each mile I meditated on and offered gratitude for these people in my life. Mile 1: Tim, my husband, who despite thinking I am mental for continuing to push my body in distance running, shows up every race the epitome of organization and support. The perennial coach, this weekend found him sharing out gear with other athletes, cheers and hydration. Mile 2: Meleyna who every day amazes me at the strong young woman she is constantly becoming. I love this child more than my own breath, and stand in awe as she philosophically approaches life and people. Her humor and care rallies me to believe better for the future. Mile 3: Henry who is tough as nails on the exterior, but always tender with his mom. I love this child with every fiber, and marvel in his pragmatism and candor. His words at the finish line? "Mom I am so proud of you and happy for your finish, but I am so disappointed I have not passed this level of Geometry Dash." Hands on my knees and heaving breath I reassured him, "It's ok son, I didn't give up, and you won't either. You'll conquer it too because that's who we are; we don't give up." He nodded, gave me a knowing smile and helped me limp over to the ice bath.
Mile 4: My Mom and Dad, who despite being coined as "So STRICT" by my friends, pushed me to independence and to look beyond my own perspective and self. Miles 5 to 13.1 were a glorious glom of friends and folks who speak truth to my being.

Mile 5: Chris and Anika with whom I shared a bizarre breakfast moment pre-race. Chris the "C" of our TCK Trifecta team relay and bike leg who is my favorite Monday morning conversational partner. His wife, Anika, who ran the whole Ironman and dedicated her race efforts and garnered donations for Blue Dragon, a Hanoi organization, who rescues children from trafficking to reunite them with their parents. One of my SHE-roes! Mile 6: Ken the "K" in our TCK team and the inciter of this endeavor who braved jellyfish larvae like stinging nettles and the thrashing arms of countless other swimmers to gallantly stride the red carpet and pass our chip in record time. Gail, his wife, who along with inspiring me in the classroom daily also helped us navigate the sea of check in and relentlessly cheered us on throughout the race. 

Mile 7: Captain & Amy my friends who are the good time crew. We frequently quip and complete one another's thoughts with song lyrics or movie quotes. It is probably a good thing we weren't acquainted in our younger years as the synergistic shenanigans may not have ended so well.
Mile 8: Hill & Huber my two distance buddies from the states with whom I have swapped more nutrition, training and stories around the DRE staff room lunch table than I can count. They understand my endless push to pin down times and splits, rejoice in strong runs and commiserate in times the clock gains the upper hand. 
Mile 9 : Jen my dear friend who tracked me around Cincinnati to witness my first full marathon, capturing my feat in a blog post that still brings tears to my eyes when I read it 4 years later.
Mile 10: Charlotte & Annie the two fem phenoms with whom I was blessed to run their first races EVER with back in the old 419. There is nothing like the honor of crossing the line with someone for their first finish. Love these two to pieces.
Mile 11: Amanda & Tara my two supposed "non-running" friends--My college roommate that used to shake her head at me when I went running twice a day and who now has completed her own 1/2 marathon. My other former athlete turned friend who as a young basketball player, would groan at my coach's whistle to the wind-sprint conditioning line, and who now despite battling breathing issues, just nailed her first 1/2 marathon this spring.
Mile 12: Jill my, through better or worse life and road conditions, running partner who had carried me on her arm for the "hurtin' mile" (12) 2 weeks prior while recording a 1/2 marathon PR. My sole sister with whom I have shared more sweat, stories, and miles than anyone else on the planet. 
Mile 13 God-Divine: For any runner of a distance race, this 1.1 mile stretch can almost be hallucinogenic. Two and a half miles prior my wound had split open, the heat index was rising and my mind was waltzing with so many other people without whose influence and interaction I would not be the person or runner I am. Crossing the line of the Detroit International half came back to me as I was frantically doing the mental math of net and race time to figure if I had hit my 2 hour target when one of the people I most adore on the planet, sent me a congratulatory text with my time. I considered all the narratives tied to all the characters running in front of, behind and beside me, and I felt overwhelmed with the fortune I had to be in this race. 
Crossing the line collapsing into tears, I was greeted by a throng of my favorite people. Many of whom, sadly, I will need to bid farewell to after this school year. I find myself writing this raw with emotion. 
"Embracing challenges," the tag line of the race, could very well be the tag line of my life moving overseas. Life is like riding a raging bull or hugging an inner-tube as it bounces over the boat's wake like concrete, or like pushing ones body to run long distance. Like bull riding, tubing, or running, I laugh and smile through the tears.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


So often when I attempt to write it out certain sentiments elude me in the shadows and I cannot tether them with a word or phrase. 

I have discovered a word to which I gravitate it pulls me to the center of where I should be as I am mulling through how to best capture feelings...liquid mercury cohesing and rolling away; perhaps poisonous. Toxic if I hold it too long? There aren't many metaphysical words. Hello querencia, it so nice to meet you. Now perhaps I can finish that started long ago poem...

Friday, November 6, 2015


Disclaimer: the following is not, on any level, for the faint of heart. You have been warned.
This is how it began. A jagged to the bone gash sustained from a faulty coaching platform at a swim arena. I had no sooner sent my last swimmer off, and I attempted to step off the platform when it snapped and the platform that had once held me up, became a metal jaw chomping at my shin. My advancing foot was already on the wet pool deck and this resulted in my slow motion tumble to the ground, my leg akimbo caught in the clench of the metal teeth. My fellow coaches laughed and said they had never witnessed such a slow and graceful fall. Then they saw my shin and the laughter ceased. I assured them I would be fine. I tried to stop the bleeding, but there wasn't a lot in the way of helpful materials or even paper towel in the washroom. Once we were back at school I took the best care of the wound I could. It looked okay. Until it didn't.

Until it looked like something from WebMD. 

My white cells fought valiantly and I pulled out every, "I am not a doctor, but would love to play one on T.V." stop, and by grace it healed at last. Keeping the wound dry and clean in Vietnam was an interesting and difficult exercise.

Today, just over a year later, it is a faded gray fissure and a funny story about an Amazonian American woman and the Vietnamese platform that wasn't built to hold her.

The scar reminds me. It reminds me of a time when I, very new to a place, wanted to support the community however I could. It reminds me that sometimes we engage with the best intentions and still walk away wounded. It reminds me that even when things seem painful and raw, eventually they heal. I need these reminders. 

I see the scar daily. I field inquiries about its origin frequently. I expect this. It is in a prominent place. It makes me wonder about the scars that cannot easily be spotted? If I thought my wound was difficult to heal, it was simple compared to healing these unseen wounds. 

Inherently scars attest to a certain degree of healing. This healing does not necessarily indicate a lack of sensitivity or letting go of the trauma or feelings the initial wound produced. Scars show a good fight was undertaken, but the reminders linger. Here's to healing...

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Place in the Choir

1 Corinthians 12

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." v 4-6

When I was an elementary student many decades ago, Mr. Chapman, my music teacher taught us many a fine tune. One of my favorites we sang was "All God's Creatures Have a Place in the Choir." The chorus was ever so much fun to sing, but what really appealed to my gangly gawky elementary self were the lyrics. That prickly porcupine? Yes, God intended him that way. Every creature had a divinely designated place. Each was meant to be, just the way they were. 

The song evoked a sense of purpose and place within my chest as I sang it. Somewhere between my awkward elementary self belting out that tune in my enthusiastically albeit creaky voice, and here, in middle age, I have lost that assurance. Doubt has crept in like a fog filling once clear places with uncertainty.
Am I supposed to be here? Am I really making an impact? Does my contribution matter? Does my life make a difference?  I think back to one of my favorite movies it's a Wonderful Life in which George Baliey, the main character, gets the "gift" of seeing what the world would be like without him in it after proposing it would, "Be better if I'd have never been born."

After this wish Clarence takes George on an emotionally charged journey through a George-less world. George sees no matter how dire his present circumstances are, a world without him in it is NOT a better outcome. He realizes he is living a "Wonderful Life." Wouldn't it be interesting to glimpse what the world would have been without me in it? I would love to gain that reassurance that the ripples of my life are buoying others positively along. However, this isn't a fictional cinematic feature; I don't have that view into my own story. So what to do when that doubt leeches in zapping the positive vibrancy of life? I find myself in need of frequent reminders as the circumstances of life situations erode away at what I want to believe is true. Remind Me Who I Am. Songs are inspiring, and beyond that action may be the cure for doubt. "Action will remove the doubt that theory cannot solve." Pehyl Hsieh So I act. Like my gawky elementary self I allow my actions to sing, even if they are off-key, and surrender to the assurance that even if I don't FEEL like it I am right where I am supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From Stressed to Steadfast

James 1:2-4 "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Dried leaves, blossoms, and buds blanketed in an opaque linen sachet hardly seems remarkable. Enter a delicate bone China cup filled with one of the most common compounds on the planet at lightly rolling boil. Introduce the demure sachet to the cup's contents and let your senses of sight and smell be awed as the clear water becomes jeweled onyx, amber, topaz or jade and the earthy scent of earl grey, chamomile or matcha rises from the heat energy.
This process is the embodiment of eustress. If the satchel is never submersed in the water brimming with heat energy, the full potential of the contents is never released.

Stress gets an overall bad rap. Psychologists tell us humans require a certain amount of challenge and trial to stretch into our full potential. 
The same is true of the physical body. I recently returned to lifting weights. I carefully temper a balance between eustress (good pushing though a few more reps) and distress (causing injury to my arms or legs). I know if I don't press into some tired effort I will see no change into body or endurance. 

Sometimes the growth is gradual, and sometimes it is rapid like being scathed in a rolling boil. As of late I feel like I have been "in hot water" for a while. So while I am steeping I will hold in mind that it is the only way to become steadfast.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Diamonds (or diamantes) in the Transition

             unsure,     unsettled
     scurrying,     wandering,     racing 
cliff,         f  a  l  l         den,          pride,
      securing,     communing,  roaring
              strong,      protected