musings on running, life, and everything in between

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It’s been a bit, right? There are some things going on in life that are taking a lot of energy out of me. It leaves little room or desire to write about running. Part of this might be combined with the fact that I turned my ankle two weekends ago on the trail.

I was about 4 miles into an 8-11 mile run with some friends at Bull Frog in Palos. Ironically, I had stopped to re-tie a shoe tighter because it felt like it wasn’t support enough. As I got up to start running, I hit a big rock in the path and turned my ankle. I wasn’t in horrible pain, but I felt a momentary flash of panic. Ok, maybe not momentary. Just panic. The worst part was that we were just before the turnaround point. And this is trail. Which means, short of getting back to a road and waiting for someone else to run back and get the car, I’d have to run back. It wasn’t great, but I found I could bear weight on it without screaming in pain. So I ran back 3 miles–Kelly was able to configure a slightly shorter route back. Gorgeous picture of the lake from the BEGINNING of the run. Sigh.

I saw Craig that day and had him work on it. He actually didn’t think it was too bad, and I babied the heck out of it, wrapping it tight and wearing an ankle brace. I think that all helped. I can run on it, but 50k on it is a different thing…The amount of mental self-abuse I’ve been doing is outrageous. I just checked the cutoff time, though, and I’ll have almost 10 hours to finish the 50k. Hopefully I won’t need all that.

It just continues to remind me, on multiple levels, that our weaknesses–physical and otherwise–need constant monitoring and intervention. I had stopped doing my one-legged squats while brushing teeth awhile back, filled with false confidence in my ankles. And this is what happened. It reminds me of the same character defects I have, my willfulness, anger, etc. also need to constantly be worked on as well. They never really go away, just wait for an opportune moment. Seems exhausting thinking about it. But that is how we become stronger.

And one thing I’ve learned over the years is when I get stuck in self-pity, get outside yourself and go do something for someone else. So I did. A slew of my girls were running the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha, including Jenny’s first comeback race after over a year of injury. It didn’t occur to me, until really late in the game, that it would be great to go cheer for them. I found out two other friends–Jen H and Doreen–who also came to Boston were heading up, so I hitched a ride.

Andrea, Emily, Michelle, Jenny, Michelle

I am SO glad I went. The course was windy as HECK. It ran alongside the lakefront, which sounds great, until the wind picks up sand and scours you with it. The temperature was perfect, and it was somewhat cloudy at moments, but the wind was probably upwards of 30mph at times. The course was also really desolate. There were almost no spectators, and even the most “crowded” sections had just over a dozen. And they were QUIET. There was almost no cheering. So this made the 3 of us cheer even louder and act even nuttier. Two women even came up to us after the race to thank us for cheering. It was also weird because there were parts of the course that weren’t really closed off so people were driving ON BOTH SIDES of the road. Someone even pulled a boat down the middle of the course. I think based on the crowd support (or lack thereof) and the weird course stuff, I would not run this marathon. Jenny did say, though, that it was well run and the aid stations were great.

The girls had a really hard time, but the Michelle’s stuck together for most of it. Although Michelle R (left) pulled a Jen and finished about 20 second ahead of Michelle N. Ha.


Despite all these brutal conditions, most of them finished ahead of my Boston time. Sigh. It was awesome, though, to go root for someone and not just be on the receiving end. I swear my “cheering high” carried me all day through rooting for my oldest’s tball game. Haha.

Andrea, Jenny, Emily


Alright, that’s all for now. I’m gearing up for the 50k. It feels really weird because I’ve essentially been in a 6 week taper now. I’ve been actually weightlifting to try and do some less impact stuff that should help me with the hills and such.

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Finding what feeds you or at least doesn’t kill you

I don’t know if other professions talk about their work or communities “feeding them.” Higher ed is definitely a strange place and not typical of many other contexts, so it’s hard to know what is “normal.” Awhile back, I saw a fairly well known scholar-educator post about their job not being one that “fed” them, and they felt like it was suffocating them if anything. The post didn’t say specifically (vaguebooking anyone?) about what they were talking about, but I can think of a million possible examples or scenarios from others’ situations. My response, though, was “huh, that’s a weird thing to expect.” Without getting into the politics of my own specific position or context, I have accepted that my job isn’t going to be what keeps me afloat emotionally. Even as a high school teacher, I snarled at the oft-quoted “teaching is the hardest job you’ll love” or some other derivative dribble. Teaching IS hard, and it IS rewarding, but if you expect that to be your sole sense of purpose and meaning in life, you will burn out faster than a Roman candle. I wish someone had told me that earlier…

I am not saying that you can’t find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in your work. I definitely do. But I also don’t expect my work to be the only place where I get that, or even my main source of those things. And while that may seem obvious to some, it’s taken awhile for me to figure that out. I think one of the reasons I was so miserable in my 20’s was that I couldn’t figure out what I needed emotionally, spiritually, psychically, so I expected work or friendships to be the only place I would find validation. As I’ve gotten older, my priorities and understandings of the world have shifted through marriage, kids, running, adult jobs, etc. And I’ve realized that no one place can be my sole source of nurturing or cultivating of self.

Maybe that’s obvious for some, but that’s some hard-fought knowledge for me. Just as my life-long battles with managing depression happen through many ways–prayer, exercise, medication, therapy, community–I’ve realized that finding happiness in life has to happen through many ways. JUST surviving or NOT being miserable is NOT the same thing as actually seeking happiness and comfort. It’s not merely enough to not be suffering, but you also have to find ways to “suck the marrow out of life” (a la Whitman). And that will change throughout your life, which is why it can feel like a balancing act. Just when you think you’ve got it, another piece shifts and you have to reconfigure the whole thing.

Even though the trip to Boston was a whirlwind around the marathon, I was really happy to see and stay with my friend Swati. I can’t even begin to catalog the myriad things she’s gone through in the 8 years I’ve known her. But through it all, she is constantly on a journey to be balanced, to be happy, and to seek ways to be spiritually and emotionally positive. We talked a lot about what’s been going on in our lives–she just finished her doctorate, woohoo!!–and it made me reflective of how we have a choice in how we react or respond to various situations. Obviously we can’t control others or control the situations we sometimes find ourselves in, but we can choose how we react. And sometimes we have the choice to extract ourselves or disengage as well. But first, we have to recognize and acknowledge what our situation is and what our choices are.


Even in terms of my running, when I was beginning to feel disenchanted with all the speedwork and the demands of qualifying for Boston, I chose to start running types of areas and get out on the trails. I’ve loved how running has taken me to places I normally wouldn’t have gone. Case in point, down the street from Swati’s place is Forest Hills Cemetery. There are a number of famous people buried here, the most literary relevant being e.e. cummings. Sadly, I did not realize this until after my run so missed visiting his grave, but Mr. UnRunner did see it. It is a huge cemetery, with a mix of both old and new grave sites, and they day was crazy warm and bright.

I’ve always found the very fancy statue tomb stones (is that what they’re called??) intriguing. I loved the pose of the woman on this one.

I loved the idea of this one. This was a tomb stone (I’m just going to keep calling it that because I don’t know what else to call it) that had a very large birdhouse built onto the top of that. Even in death, you can continue to be a source of life 🙂

There was a section where a large number of Chinese were buried. There were even some families celebrating/holding a memorial at some of them. Burning incense, eating, meeting as a large group, etc. There was one group of plots that obviously belonged to an entire family. These Chinese dragons marked the entrance to that section.

And there was even this gorgeous water feature sent on the side of the cemetery.

I’ve been wrestling with the post-race blues, or maybe just the blues who knows, so I decided to try a new running route. I’ve been meaning to head south on the Centennial Trail by the I & M canal near work, and I finally did it the other day.

This area/trail is a very odd conglomeration of heavy industry and nature, as you might be able to see in the picture below (on the far right edge of the picture are a series of smoke stacks belonging, I think, to a petroleum processing plant).

The path itself is a pretty straight crushed limestone path that runs parallel to a rail line hidden by bushes. There were some pretty features along the path, though, including this fireplace/structure thing.

The path runs between two parts of the canal. To the right (or west of the canal) is the rail lines I spoke of and some industrial buildings set way back behind tree cover. To the left was some kind of excavation site. I saw bulldozers and earth movers at various points, and I know that it wasn’t public land. This was a particularly pretty spot and there was an even a snowy egret but my clumsy feet made too much noise and scared it off. If you look towards the back of the picture, though, you can see some kind of yellow metal barricade from the site.

The children are rumbling so it’s time to get the day started. Hope your running adventures take you somewhere new today, and you find ways to feed yourself emotinally!



The strength of others is what carries us

Whenever I get down about some mini-crisis or other, or feel overwhelmed by what life is throwing my way, my husband likes to remind me that things could be much worse and that it’s all about perspective. I usually find this extremely annoying and relatively unhelpful. Today, though, I was thinking about the truth of this. In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard of two different women (in their 30’s) being diagnosed with breast cancer after randomly noticing a lump on their own, a child getting their second round of surgery for a tumor, and had a friend post their daily medicine chart for her 4-year-old, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

And I am overwhelmed by the strength of all these individuals who struggle on, to keep going, and stay engaged. I always joke that one of the reasons I’m always running is that it’s inertia. It’s easier to keep moving than it is to stop and start. And so I see these individuals moving forward and doing the best they can, and it inspires me. As an individual who has struggled with depression, I know how easy it is to feel bogged down and overwhelmed. It reminds me of “the great nothing” in The Neverending Story, that threatens to overrun everything, or the bog of despair that Atreyu’s horse succumbs to (80s child much?). There are days, for all of us, where it is difficult to get moving, or keep moving, but some days/events/life happenings are particularly challenging.

My friend, Erin, has been in the throes of this. She recently found out that her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, has leukemia. And it’s been a whirlwind of diagnosis, treatment, and planning for a move across the country. All within 2-3 months. I met her through my running group, and she’s funny and warm and…dislikes running. Yet she has continued to challenge herself to get out there, because she enjoys the community more than she dislikes the running. She has been updating her Caring Bridge site about the progress of treatment for Emily and how their family is dealing with all of it. I loved a post she wrote comparing their struggles with her experience running a half marathon. It’s brilliant and poignant and at the heart of why we run and we are part of this community. I’m reusing it here with her permission:

On to the musings portion of today’s post (feel free to cut out here, I won’t include any additional Emily notes below)…….I was supposed to run a half marathon this weekend, but between late winter snow/ice and Emily’s various fevers my training was pretty much derailed.  I had been contemplating pulling out a few weeks ago due to the training issues and an annoying foot pain I was experiencing during my long runs, but for some reason I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Or rather admit it to myself maybe, the curse of being Type A and competitive.  My second half marathon last November I finished in 2:00:08 – it feels dishonest for me to say I did a half in 2 hours because I didn’t.  This was my race to PR, to finally break the 2 hour mark! For a woman who struggled to run 2 miles a handful of years ago, it is a huge personal goal of mine. Emily’s diagnosis removed any doubt in my mind that I would be able to run the race.

Truth be told, I actually don’t like running.  I joined a women’s running group a few years ago and they are really great people that I like to spend time with.  I have no choice but to run to make that hang out time with said women happen.  The group abides by a motto similar to Vegas……what’s said on a run, stays on run.  It’s comprised of everything from Boston qualifiers to Couch to 5k, everyone deserving of the same support and running sisterhood.  We don’t take ourselves too seriously, following most runs with coffee, drinks, or donuts.  Ryan refers to the group as “the running ladies.”  🙂 Running has become a great outlet for me as a mom, wife, and person.  It’s gotten to the point where Ian claims he can tell if I haven’t run in a while and encourages me to go because I come home a new person.  Since I don’t really like to run, I make a point of joining the group runs.  It’s just easier with company to crank out mileage.  A 5:45am early bird run wasn’t happening this morning, so I squeezed in a solo early afternoon run thanks to my mom.  Solo run….lots of time to think.  Ugh.

As I ran today, it struck me how similar this cancer diagnosis and subsequent journey is to my experience of running a half marathon.  I tried to write this post in my head as I ran to make the time go faster.  It didn’t work, but I did manage to crack myself up a few times.  I’m sure I was a sight.  As you stand at the race starting line, you are nervous and double check to ensure you have all the gear you will need.  You even pinned your bib on your shirt the night before…still can you ever feel fully ready?  Are you lined up in the right pace group or being overly ambitious?  You hope and pray that the past few months of training are enough to get you to the end, doubt creeps in and you push it down. The race begins and before you know it, you are swept up in the wave of people running.  Everyone else is running, you have no choice but to go. You start the race feeling great and hopeful.  A few miles in you wonder how the hell you got signed up for such a crazy adventure.  A quick glance to the side and you see your running buddies beside you so you carry on, casting aside any doubt of quitting mid race, not only because they will give you shit for not finishing but they are also quietly encouraging you along.

By mile 8, you are starting to feel like crap, and swear you are never ever doing this again no matter what.  The aid stations along the course look like a great place to curl up and take a nap, maybe even just break down and have a good cry.  Instead the people manning those offer you various drinks and fuel, you keep going.  By mile 10, you are cursing the name of whoever talked you in to this damn race and vow to never partake again.  At this point though, you are so close to the finish what’s another 3.1 miles?  Seeing familiar faces along the way, encouraging you to keep going, helps you push past the mental hurdles of self doubt.  Are you good enough?  Can you really finish this thing?  The standard race signs (I promise you do see these at every single race) like “Touch here for super powers”, “Smile if you’ve peed yourself” and “You’ve got this” keep you going and even make you laugh a little.  You see the mile 12 marker and wonder if you are hallucinating that the finish is a mere 1.1 miles away.  You aren’t sure if you need to stop at the mile 12 aid station, but you do and it gives you the final boost you need to finish.  Mile marker 13, the finish line is in sight!  You feel like complete and total crap, like you’ve been run over by a truck.  Everything hurts, your knees want to buckle, but you are going to make it. It may not be the 2 hour PR you were hoping for, but damn it, you will complete this thing!

Despite the bumps, detours, and craziness we will come out the other side of this diagnosis. Maybe not right on schedule or the type of race we were hoping for but we will.  Shoot, cancer was never on MY agenda to begin with anyway, but one foot in front of the other and a really amazing support group are what’s key to completing this thing.

Here’s a picture of the ridiculously amazing and cute Emily in a cape provided to her by our running group.

10995447_10204282504638784_8687000854488753130_nFurthermore, as the season of spring and renewal is upon us, I can’t help but think again of the bridging ceremony my congregation did for its graduating high school seniors. Again, they reiterated 3 things:

  • You are loved.
  • You are enough.
  • You are not alone.

And we are NOT alone. No matter what the struggle. My friend posted today on Facebook a picture of her whole family wearing shirts in support of a friend’s child who’s undergoing surgery for a tumor.

Snip20150521_2None of us is alone, and there is a community of love, strength, and support that carries each one of us if we let it. Whether it’s a half marathon, depression, or cancer. None of us have to do it alone, so let us inspire and be inspired by others.

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Finding community, support, and recognizing when you need to ask for help

One of the things I realized training for my first marathon over 10 years ago was the importance of community. I grew up in a family that…ahem, “encouraged” me to think I could do everything on my own and to not ask for help. This is not necessarily the same thing as being independent, but a shadowy cousin of it. Because of this, people have often read me as intimidating (versus shy or awkward, which is closer to the truth). This inability to ask for help also got me a C in Algebra in high school and failing out of Physics 106 in college (and derailing my pseudo-ambitions to be an astronaut). I knew I didn’t understand, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or even what I was supposed to do if I went in for help during office hours.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that I can’t do everything alone. And I don’t want to.

When I started training for the 2003 Chicago Marathon, I signed up with one of the Chicago Area Runners’ Association marathon training group. I only knew one person who had ever run a marathon (my most recent roommate), and I had never run a race in my life. In other words, I had no idea what I was doing. I had run for exercise since high school, but that was it. I showed up to the first group run in cotton cuz that’s what I ran in. Everyone was flabbergasted and schooled me about technical fabric. I thought it was too expensive, and it wasn’t clear to me what the point was. But I started buying a few pieces on sale, because I figured these people knew more than I did. In my defense, wicking athletic wear was nowhere near as prevalent or cheap as it is now. Back then, even most race shirts, including the Chicago Marathon’s, were made of cotton.

I ended up running most of that season with a girl Yolanda (my oldest running friend!), who said she picked me out of the group cuz I seemed the saltiest (she might not have used that word exactly, but I wasn’t the typical cute blonde 20-something). We ran that season together and the following several years until I left the city. From that first group, I began to understand the allure of running with others and what all this “community” was about. Here was a group of like-minded people who shared something with you, who’d support you, listen to you, and understood what you were talking about with little explanation.


Since that first sought-out community, I’ve looked for it in other places–professionally, socially/emotionally, and with running. Sometimes it works and clicks easily and sometimes it’s harder to find. But when it connects, it blows my mind how the group can become this amazing organism that is so much more than the sum of its parts. The friends I see the most right now are my running friends–women I spend hours with, sharing stories about our families, work, kids, spouses, hopes, etc. All while never looking them in the face (though I swear that’s the secret to why so much can be divulged on a run)! What amazes me, though, is how much the group is not just about the running but about supporting one another. In all areas of life. My running group, Best Foot Forward (BFF, cute huh?), has helped women through babies, various running-related injuries/ailments, real sickness, and all the curveballs life throws at us. And sometimes it’s not even the big stuff that will tear us down, but the everyday hardships of being a thinking, feeling being on this planet.


My amazing Ragnar Relay (Madison-Chicago) team from 2014–well half of it, since this is just my van. We took second for our division!

I recently reached out on BFF’s Facebook page to ask if anyone else had insight into emotional/energy issues around their period. I’ve been getting really low physically and emotionally, and I was thinking it was cyclical enough that it might be period-related. I thought I’d ask to see if others had this experience to investigate its likelihood. So first, this is obviously a women’s page. With almost 200 members, it’s unlikely I would throw that question out there to a mixed group. Secondly, there had already been lots of posts in the past 6 months or so about pelvic floor stuff, peeing after pregnancy, and a whole host of very intimate women-ish issues, so I didn’t feel totally random/weird about asking the group. Thirdly, the number of women I had respond to the post and in private messages surprised me. There are alot of us who struggle with various emotional issues that may or may not be related to cyclical things, and people were willing to share with me about them.

I was moved and buoyed by the sense of community. One of the things I feel is hard about the 21st century is the immense sense of isolation that can overwhelm us. As much as we are electronically connected and hooked in, we are also so much more emotionally disconnected from one another. Just look at all the cyber-bullying and social media terrorism/trolling that goes on. Yet here was a group of women, some of whom I knew personally and had run with and some who I didn’t/hadn’t, who were willing to reach out to me, offer help, and share their experience, strength, and hope.

My town was recently rocked by a very unexpected suicide. I did not know the man personally, but from what I saw/heard, he was the epitome of the description “pillar of the community.” He was involved in his church, active in local government, well-liked and well-known. As far as I can tell, no one saw it coming, including his family. All I could think about was how alone he must have felt, even though he seemed to be at the center of so many things.

The world can be an amazing, helpful, caring place if we let it be. But sometimes, we have to be willing to ask for help recognizing this.

I am an inherently introverted person–not in the sense that I can’t talk to folks and be engaged (obviously, I’m an educator so that doesn’t quite work, ha), but that I don’t get my energy from engaging with or being around alot of people all the time. Back when I was a kid (and weirder), I thought I wanted to be an astronaut or a nun, to escape from being around people all the time. I thought I didn’t need people. I realize more and more everyday that this is not true. My soul is nourished, healed, and nurtured by the relationships I seek and build around me. Whether it is my running group or my Cultivating New Voices fellows (oo-ooo!) or any of the other groups of which I am a part, I depend upon my connections and roots within these communities. John Donne was right, when he wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

I hope everyone has a community in which they have found comrades-in-arms, sisters, or kindred spirits. If not, go out and find them, because your life will be that much richer!

P.S. I’m not a regular gospel music listener, but I do like Mary Mary and their song “Can’t Give Up Now” got me through my dissertation. I still listen to it when things get rough!


My BFF’s at the 2014 Manitowoc Marathon, where Jenny qualified for Boston.