musings on running, life, and everything in between

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When you fall out of love

With running


The usual

It’s been a long hiatus. And to be honest, I’m not sure how often I’ll keep this updated either. It’s tenuous lately. My resurgence of interest in running and such. And the school year is starting, which for some parents is glorious, but for me means the startup of my regular work calendar again. So…here’s a stab.

The last couple of months have been rough. I’ve been pretty straightforward about my ongoing struggle with depression, but it reached a pretty bad low point a few months ago. I think what further compounded it was the fact that I felt like I was doing every possible thing I could to deal with it, but it wasn’t enough. It feels unfair that I have to be doing so much more to stay afloat or feel “normal” (whatever that is) than the average person. Is it a chemical imbalance, family trauma, psychic wounds, blah blah blah? I don’t know. But I cringe every time someone asks me if I exercise or sleep enough or whatever, because I want to scream, “All of it, I do all of it!”

And actually, the last couple of months, even the running has fallen by the wayside. Yes, I’ve been trying to get myself to grind out at least a run or two a week. I had been hating even that minimal amount, though, and was mostly doing it to stave off the creeping weight. I eat ALOT, and mostly run to eat. When you’re not marathon training, it begins to catch up with you. And while it really is probably just 3-5 pounds, it was enough to make me feel worse physically and emotionally. And I realize that nothing was giving me pleasure. I wasn’t interested in anything. Maybe sleep. More B horror movies. Escape. Not life, not my kids, not my writing. Definitely not my running. Nothing that required me to engage.

So I’m trying some new meds and starting to feel better. I’ve even begun ramping back up my running. I’m actually watching the Olympics track and field events. Hitting double digit long runs. Thinking about races. But it’s still a struggle. The new meds make me tired, so early runs have been difficult. I’ve had to play around with dosage and timing to figure out what doesn’t make me feel like I need a 3 hour nap at 10:30 am or that I’m treading mud at 3 pm. Which means running alone and in the awful heat and humidity. I’ll say that running while playing Pokemon Go has helped motivate and distract me (and give me excuses for stopping).

I’m not 100% sure if I’ll stick with these meds or need to get back on that merry-go-round, but for the first time, I’m being pretty open about my struggles with folks. Even the fact that I know a couple of my students read this blog, and I’m talking about this is something. My less-than-perfect behavior has probably been most indicative of my struggles. I’ve had alot of impatience, crankiness, and general snarl near and far. My ability to have any emotional reserve in response to life has been about nil. I’m sane and grounded enough to know (mostly) when I need to make amends for that behavior, but it’s still not fun. It would be better if I just didn’t do it to begin with. And I’m still leaning towards isolation. My general belief of, “If I don’t interact with people, then I won’t have to act out and apologize later” isn’t really a great one.

On the road back from this cycle of depression, I’d realized that I had slowly been socially isolating myself. Other than kid-oriented activities or running with friends, I was engaging in almost no social activities. A friend took me out for dinner in the city, and I realized it had been literal years since I had done that. Years. How did that happen?

So I’m not saying I’m cured, but I felt the impulse to write today. So that’s something. But one could say it’s something for any of us to show up in life today and engage. To do what you can. To try your best. Even watching the Olympics, I thought about all the athletes at the back of the pack. The ones with no chance to win a medal. How do they motivate themselves? How do they push to keep going? How do any of us? But we do. Onwards and upwards friends.


Where My Body Falls Apart and I Grow Up

I woke up yesterday with a swollen LEFT ankle and stiffness–almost like it was a few days into recovering from a sprain. This is NOT the ankle/foot/leg I’ve been having issues with. What gives?! After running 8 marathons under 2 years with no injury? This reminds me of a theory that Mr. UnRunner (he’s back to not running, ha) has about massage. He refuses to get one because he believes that the tension is what keeps him together. Knock out one knot or muscle contraction and the whole thing tumbles like a Jenga puzzle. Perhaps all this enforced time off has forced my body to realize it’s time to collapse…

Let me back up, though. I saw Magical Craig twice this week. And he highly suggested I NOT race this weekend the F3 Half Marathon I’d signed up for months ago. He knows I’m prone to not listening to him when it comes to things like backing off on running, but I’m going to be a grown up and DO THE RIGHT THING. Which means, NOT run it–just in case you weren’t sure. Here’s why. Craig suggested I skip the cardio stuff this week, or the cardio stuff that would have impact. I tried a barre class on Wednesday thinking it was going to be low-impact. Wrong. It was an odd cardio version and there was a lot of jumping. My foot started bothering me during the class (more on the class in a bit). If just jumping jacks and dynamic lunges were bothering it, hauling out a half marathon would not be great. Craig did say I could finally try running on it Saturday to test it out, but I had to stop if it hurt. An out and back loop in a race doesn’t really fit well for that. I think I’d rather have a DNS (did not start) than a DNF (did not finish)…at least if it’s for an injury. I also know that I probably won’t accept the idea of not finishing and further set myself back. If I really want all this time off to count for something, I need to make sure I’m not continuing to draw out the injury. Growing up sucks. I’ve already scaled back for two weeks, I can’t take it much longer.

So, what does “recovery” look like when you can’t do cardio with impact or that involves alot of ankle (he also banned the ellipticals this week)? Well, you can swim (barf, but also more on that in a bit) maybe, or I forced Craig to let me at least cycle. Seriously, what else is there?? Here’s what the week looked like.

Monday: Botched 2. 5 miles

Tuesday: Yoga

Wednesday: Cardio barre class

Thursday: 50 minutes of cycling

Friday: Nothing right now…maybe some yoga or strength training.

It hurts me to look at that. I swear I’ve gained weight in the last two weeks. Depressing. I know it’s better to work all this out now, then, rather than potentially not running or finishing Boston. Still.

Here’s the scoop on some things I’ve been trying in the meanwhile.

1) I really like yoga, and doing a partial supported headstand against the wall is safer. I go to the studio when I can, but I also like to do some different yoga apps and YouTube videos.

2) After my second attempt at barre, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. This class reminded me of a mom’s 80’s aerobics class. Except my mom didn’t do aerobics. So maybe YOUR mom’s aerobics class. I totally spaced and thought the class was almost over when I saw it was 9:55. When it was 10:04 and didn’t seem to be ending, I realized that we were only halfway through (the class started at 9:30). I almost wept in disappointment. You see, the reason I run is because I AM NOT COORDINATED. Following a variety of dynamic movements with garbled-sounding microphone directions, especially when I’m afraid of jumping on my right foot, was a nightmare. I still have one class left on my 3-class Groupon, though…so I’ll be back to torture myself (I’m also cheap about getting my money’s worth).

3) I really hate cycling inside. It feels indeterminately long. Give me a bike ride outside any day. Oh wait, I left the garage door open months ago and someone stole my bike. Sigh.

4) I need to learn how to cross train differently. i.e., swimming. Swimming is like the arch-nemesis of my athletic-ness. Well, after aerobics. So maybe it’s just a nemesis… Anyhow, I had a scary drowning-ish moment in a pool when I was a kid (think of getting fished out by the lifeguard but no resuscitation but lots of spitting out of water and maybe some vomit) so I tend to get panicky if I feel like I am getting too much water in my nose, or I don’t have control. To try and get over that years ago, I took private swim lessons and signed up for a super-sprint triathlon. I knew how to swim, but I wanted to learn how to feel comfortable in the water and work on my stroke, etc. The swimming portion of the triathlon got canceled because of too much bacteria in the water (I know, gross) so I never got to have my moment of triumph. And I’m still uncomfortable in deep water. So I’m considering signing up for a triathlon again to force myself to cross-train in the pool more. “Just” swimming for exercise sounds awful. I need something to hold me accountable and motivate me. Oh, and I’ll still need to buy a bike. And because I am friends with crazy people, someone’s already trying to egg me on to do a half iron distance triathlon in the fall. CRAZY.

It’s Friday. I’ll try and do a run tomorrow. And take stock from there. It’s hard recognizing that you have limits, and you need to take time to recover. I know I write about that alot, but it’s still hard to swallow. I need to listen to my body and take the time to do things right. Good luck to anyone racing this weekend and high fives to all those doing rehab/recovery work–in any sense.


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When the things that save us begin to kill us

On a run a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about depression and mental health. You see, I came across this Upworthy post about how there’s a growing movement of folks getting tattoos of semicolons. The English teacher in me partially cringes as I could rail on for days about the abuse and misuse of semicolons, but this post wasn’t about that. In fact, it was about people using semicolons to invoke discussions about suicide, depression, self-injury, and mental health awareness in general. You see, the semicolon represents a pause, a point where the author could stop; however, there is another part that is connected that continues the idea (see how I did that there? ha). The semicolon represents the potential for rupture yet also represents connectivity. This analogy between the choice to NOT commit suicide and the semicolon touched me deeply. I won’t go plumb the depths of my own mental health history, but let’s just say I’m not unfamiliar with the complexities of depression and anxiety. Nor am I unaware of how I use running and exercise to keep these things at abeyance.

Yet in the last couple of months, I’ve had some folks “come out” to me about their running addictions (or other disordered behavior, like overly controlled eating). It’s made me realize how complicated people are, how there are things we use to get by, cope, deal…really, survive…that can turn on us. Some of these are healthier like exercising, and some are self-injurious like cutting or drug/alcohol abuse. However, there seems to a knife-fine line sometimes between what is actually “healthy” and what is “injurious.” I have alot of friends who are in recovery–whether from church, dysfunctional families, eating disorders, drugs/alcohol, or life in general–and all of the coping mechanisms people use, whether dysfunctional or not, have helped them bear the burden of everyday life and keep going on. We all do this in small ways. If drinking and smoking didn’t take us out of ourselves–however briefly–no one would do it. In fact, I’ve heard of some people writing letters to these coping mechanisms expressing their gratitude for keeping them alive but acknowledging that it was also time to let them go.

You see, at some point, there is a tipping point and the survival mechanisms themselves begin to tear away at us. It’s easy to argue that running or exercising everyday is good, that drinking a glass of wine everyday is good, etc.. But obsessing about that running or that wine, doing it multiple times a day, or to extreme lengths, no longer helps to keep the demons at bay. Rather it’s another monster demanding to be fed and catered to. You no longer belong to yourself, but serve the master of addiction. And while it’s always possible to find someone worse off than you, more extreme than you, to justify that you’re ok, you begin to sense that maybe you’re not.

The first steps is always acknowledging the problem, but it’s also a long road of recovery after that. Of learning to heal what is hurting, of knowing how to ask for and get help. And it’s a continuing journey. There’s a line of an old Ani DiFranco song that says, “They say that an alcoholic is always an alcoholic. Even if they’re stranded on a small desert island, even if they’re dry as my lips for years,” and it’s sung with incredulity at the seeming-impossibility of such a concept. Yet it’s true. I’ve heard of my share of alcoholics/drug addicts who were clean/sober for 10 or 20 years, relapsed, and died within a few months.

Similarly, I have friends who struggle with cycles of depression. They get help, stay active, do the work of being healthy, but something still brings back that depression. But they know that it is a cycle and that the fog won’t last forever. As the Bible says, “this too shall pass.” Or for the Kurt Vonnegut fans, “And so it goes.”

The journey doesn’t have to be one of defeat or without beauty in its own manner. There’s a huge tree down the street from my house and I marvel at it. It’s large and probably very old, but it also has all these weird growths on it, presumably scars from some sort of disease or damage. It reminds me how we all carry scars, some visible and some not, but we can continue to grow stronger and survive.  

So if you think you might have a problem, ask for help. And if you’re struggling with some aspect of life, remember what I’ve said before, “You are not alone. You are enough. You are loved.” Be gentle with yourselves, be grateful for being here today because not everyone is, and be gentle with others.

P.S. Here is a simple 6-step screening tool I found if you suspect you have exercise addiction. And one blogger’s tale of running addiction.

P.P.S. I just read a post from a teacher blogger who encountered the Semicolon Project and wrote about her own experiences with depression/anxiety. Good read!

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Ankling anyone? And a long run with some awesome women

Happy Monday folks. Hope you had some good racing and long runs this past weekend. I know racing season is up and going since I knew a bunch of women from my running group who raced this weekend–a half marathon (April, Corey, and Emily–who PR’ed by 16 minutes!), full marathon (Kazue, her first!), and half Ironman (Deanna). I chatted briefly with Kazue, so I know she was disappointed in her time, but I thought it was a fantastic time! Especially since it was warmish, super humid, and a bit misty/rainy on and off that morning.

I actually went on a run that morning at a local trail, Waterfall Glen, that’s a pretty hilly not-quite-10-mile loop. I woke up extra early without my alarm clock because I was so excited about the run for a couple reasons: 1) I hadn’t had a chance to run Waterfall Glen since late last summer and 2) I hadn’t run with both these girls in probably close to a year. All winter/spring of 2014, I had run with Kirstin, Corinna, and Jenny in preparation for our marathon in Manitowoc, WI. We jokingly called it the early train because we created these convoluted routes where we ran to each others’ houses and got “on” and “off” the train depending on our running needs. Kirstin got injured shortly after last year’s Ragnar (she ran the crazy 6-person ultra team), and Corinna wasn’t interested in doing another marathon last year so it’s been awhile since we’ve all been together. Kirstin finally was able to start running again just a few months ago after struggling with lingering inflammation and pain for months and months.

It was magical! Ok, maybe not quite that, but it was awesome running with these two women again. We commiserated on Jenny’s injury and lamented our not-quite-complete group, but we were excited to be back on the way to being reunited. It was also awesome running Waterfall Glen. Everything was so green, and although it was humid, the light on-and-off misting of rain felt good. The hills also kicked our butts! Seriously, I don’t know if it was a combo of the yoga from the previous day or just the severe lack of hills in my daily running, but I’m feeling a little sore/tight today! We saw some deer and some lovely birds we don’t often see around the neighborhood. My favorite are these bright yellow ones, finches maybe?

I realized, though, that I had made a very very good choice not signing up for the Schaumburg marathon (that Kazue did). I was tired and the 10 miles felt challenging enough. The idea of running 1.5 more loops of that run was unfathomable (yes, Jen, you were right in telling me to not sign up for another marathon). I’m not sure why my recovery from the Champaign marathon has been so much harder than any of my races from last year. And, of course, being a typical woman/Korean, I’m beating myself up about it, thinking that I didn’t train hard enough, that I did something wrong, etc., etc. When, really, the truth of the matter is that conventional running wisdom says you generally shouldn’t do more than 2 marathons a year, so maybe last year was more of a fluke rather than the norm. Either way, I need to make my peace with it and move on. It’s not “normal” to expect your body to be able to run 2 (or 3 as the case last fall) marathons back to back.

So…I’m going to focus on getting stronger all around. And really making things more about quality and not quantity. With that said, I came across a video the other day about “ankling” drills. They are to help with form and foot speed/power. I had never seen/heard of such a thing, although there are a plethora of articles and videos online about them. They look really goofy–kind of like a tiny, reverse moon walk. But I tried them out (in the privacy of my backyard) and they are HARD! Take a look and let me know what you think. If you need more description, this article has some written description.

Kirstin, Corinna, and I had talked about really trying to work harder on cross training and doing more strength stuff. Kirstin has been biking and rowing like a mad woman to try to keep up her cardio while she’s on her way back to full running recovery. We talked about taking a bike ride (gasp!) out west on the Prairie Path and doing a longer ride for fun. I was also playing soccer with my 5 y,o. (whose at just about the right level of skill for me, ha) and thinking what a great workout it was. I’ve heard that soccer players run miles during the course of a game. I am contemplating putting together a casual soccer game as cross training with some friends. I am such a horror in terms of coordination that I’m not sure I want to play with anyone beyond the age of 5, though. Still, it would be fun if we don’t take ourselves too seriously (a challenge for me ha).

Anyhow, happy Monday folks. Hope you get out and moving today. Seems like summer really might be here–heat and humidity and all.


Recovery is boring 

I find recovery really boring, and the aimlessness I feel after deciding not to run another marathon this spring is maddening. I don’t have a plan. And all my favorite run bloggers are talking about how recovery is so important, blah blah blah. I know that on one level, and I definitely FEEL like–my legs are still heavy and I just feel slow. Still, I have been drinking coffee and eating sugar like I’m binge-eating before a ridiculous diet, which makes me wonder if I’m taking the recovery thing a bit far…I mean, I ran a TOTAL of 15.5 miles last week (3, 5, and 7.5). One of the blogs said, “even if you gain a little weight, it’s ok….” I’m not so sure on that one, but the coffee and sugar are keeping me going through this last bit of the semester. Also, thankfully, I don’t own a scale 🙂

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how to incorporate more cross-training without actually going to the gym. My friends make fun of me about my inability to “crosstrain”–you know, that thing you do in between runs. No, not eating. Nope, not sleeping either. Yeah, that other thing you do, the one where you move around and sweat…oh wait…that didn’t come out right.

ANYHOW, I belong to my local Y, but I’ve never enjoyed doing strength training in a gym. I will gladly do a workout video at home or even lift weights, but I find it even more boring doing that stuff at the gym. I was thrilled to see that there was a free app put out by North Face, called Mountain Athletics. It’s being rolled out in conjunction with their new line of “technical training apparel.” The app is slick, with preloaded videos, instructions, and great graphics. It has 3 6-week programs purportedly geared for “mountain athletes,” which translates into runners, skiers, and climbers (i.e., the 3 tracks). It’s meant to be pre-season conditioning for those 3 sports. Since I don’t ski (awful, awful sport for one with zero coordination) or climb, I’ve only had a chance to experience the run program.

BNR-MA-AppI’m only 3 days in, and one of them was a “recovery day,” so it’s early yet, but it seems quite promising. The first day ended up being about a 25 minute workout using weights (I just used the 2×5 lb weights I owned and not the kettle ball or barbell they suggested) and my own body weight, incorporating jumps, squats, and lunges. I found it a decent challenge. It’s based on a progression so things will get harder (meaning more weight/reps), and I might need to graduate myself to either the gym or better equipment at home to get the full benefit of the workout. Hey, they sell kettleballs even at Marshall’s nowadays. The second day was supposed to be a 2 mile run for time. I took it pretty easily as I am hardly speedy. And then today was recovery.

I haven’t figured out fully how I’m going to map this out in conjunction with my running. For example, today was supposed to be a recovery day, but I did a 7 miler. Even if I don’t follow the program perfectly, it’s great to have another tool in my fitness toolbox. If you want to check it yourself, you can look at their website here or search for “Mountain Athletics” in your app store. Just a heads up, I downloaded it to my iPad mini, but I’m assuming the Apple and Droid apps have similar functionality. Also, this is not sponsored or anything, just my desire to share (though The North Face, if you’re reading, I’m interested, haha).

Because I’m a runnerd, I was excited to get my newest Runner’s World magazine. I was particularly geeked when I saw this:

You may have noticed from pictures that I run with a hat. While that is for some functionality and vanity, like keeping the sun off my face and warding off sun damage, it’s also because I can not wear sunglasses while running because they won’t stay on. And as much as I love having UV damage to my eyes and early crow’s feet wrinkles, I wear a hat to diminish those effects as well. I gaze longingly at the coolness of runners in sunglasses, but alas, my face is flat and I don’t have much of a nose bridge. I am telling you, things in America are not made for my face shape/profile. Just another example of the ongoing oppression of my peoples. Ha.

Anyhow, when I saw that post in the table of contents of the new RW, I leapt for joy. SOMEONE was validating my pain! I was not crazy. Now I just need to find a way to either get them to sponsor me (hm, I see a pattern to this post) or wrangle some other way of getting a pair. I hear Mother’s Day is coming up 🙂  Maybe I should just create a “donate” button for every tidbit of Asian/Korean knowledge you glean from my posts. You didn’t know about the woes of sun/glasses issues we had. I’ve also had issues with snorkeling masks…

Anyhow, let me know if you try the Mountain Athletics app what you think! Or if you have other things I can try (I like my yoga app and Youtube videos). Happy running/recovery!

P.S. I forgot to mention that Jen qualified at Champaign with a 3:39. She’s been contacted by the race director that her time will be certified, so I’m continuing this BQ journey solo into the early fall. Wish her congrats, or a kick in the pants.


On being a survivor and recovering as a runner

There are alot of reasons I run and an even wider panoply of reasons amongst my friends. One recurring theme, though, is about time–time away, time getting stronger, time being something other than mother, sister, wife, daughter, etc. Protected, insulated time. I’ve found running to be very meditative, one of the few times I can be solely in the moment. In other areas of my life, I struggle tremendously with just being in that one moment. My mind races from things to do, things not done, things forgotten, things looming on the horizon. I can’t just BE. During a run, I am only focused on the mile I am in, the steps I am getting through. Even with the marathon, you fake yourself out by coaxing yourself through “just this mile.” You can’t leap ahead to what the next 10, 20, 5 miles will feel like. This is why nothing creates more loathing in a distance runner’s heart than the cheery “You’re almost there!” tossed off by unknowing spectators towards the latter end of a run. Until I see the f*ing finish line, I am NOT almost there. And at mile 20? Almost done?! If I had the energy to slap you for that ridiculous comment, I would. But I don’t, so I just glare and plod on.


You can buy this awesome shirt! I don’t produce it, but I’ve seen it and it looks awesome.

You get through one mile-sized bite at a time. Maybe not even the full mile. Yes, you plan ahead and think about it, but you can’t run mile 24 when you’re at mile 4. So you just keep moving through the mile you are in.

And this makes me think about the hundreds of conversations I have had with other women on runs and in other spaces, about how many of us are survivors–and not just in the Destiny’s Child version of Survivor or the awful snarky reality television version of it–but in the deepest levels of meaning for that word. And how we are all moving, running, walking to recover from all that has assaulted us in life. So we not only survive through brute determination or force of spirit, but we also attempt to recover from all of it. To heal and grow and BE.

upside down

I think that’s why so many of us FREAK OUT when we are injured as runners. One of our greatest avenues to emotional/physical/spiritual health becomes derailed. We are left like turtles tipped over on our backs. Vulnerable, misplaced, and disoriented. Our goals suddenly seem unreachable, all our hard work pointless. My friend Jenny, who’s been my greatest running friend, has had something which is essentially a stress fracture in waiting. She qualified for Boston last summer (at her second marathon ever!) and she’s been training for this year’s Boston Marathon. She started having pain while running and saw someone right away. She’s been in a boot, had to take time off running, and just had her second MRI. I don’t know what will happen yet, but I’ve seen how she’s had to take a huge step back and listen to what her doctor says. And while it’s difficult, she also knows this is her longterm health–both as a runner and everyday person. I think the most frustrating point for her is the fact that it’s a pre-stress fracture, so she MIGHT be able to run or she MIGHT make it worse. I am so proud of her, though, for doing what she’s supposed to. It’s hard to do what’s better for us, to recover from what hurts us, and to take the time that we all need. To do the work of recovery even when it’s boring or ugly.

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So this post is for all us of who have survived, move to thrive, and continue to do the work of recovery. May we all continue to move, walk, and run towards greater beauty, health, and strength. And may we all support one another in doing it.

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