Magic Wands

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There are times in life when we all just wish we could wave a magic wand and make something better. Times when we all want a fairy godmother a la Cinderella to bippity boppity boo something to smithereens. I’ve had the magic wand moment this whole week.

My neurological condition is still pending an official diagnosis. I am being referred to a MS clinic in a nearby larger city. In the meantime, my doctor this week gave me a MS medication to help alleviate some of my symptoms as a trial. If I have MS, this drug will help me. If I don’t then it won’t do anything.

I have not felt this good in years and I am insanely happy. I feel like I want to do as much as I possibly can this week. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good, and when I finish the medication, I’m sure that I will never feel this good again.

Once the medication is out of my system, I’ll go back to how I was. But for right now, my symptoms are reduced and manageable. The symptoms are not gone. Their severity is lessened.

I didn’t realize how impaired my functioning has become until I entered this period of respite that the medication has afforded me.

It’s like someone has waived a magic wand and made me almost normal again for a week. How many people ever get a chance to say they have had a magic wand moment in life?

I still don’t have an official diagnosis. However, three different doctors all think the same thing. I’m pretty sure if the MS drug is acting like a magic wand … it might be MS. I’m no doctor, but …

I’m going to enjoy my magic wand moment for as long as I can. I want to cram as much life and living into these moments as possible.

I’m just hoping that when my magic wand moment is over that I do not completely crash down into reality.

For right now, I’m just going to say thank you for giving me my life back. Even if it’s only temporary.

Unfortunately, the drug trial I am on is not something that can be sustained long term. But I’ll take the week of respite. It’s the best week I’ve had in years. Sure, the cooling vest gives me moments of normalcy too, but those typically only last minutes or hours. This is an entire week of my life in which I feel amazing.

The weather outside is indeed frightful. We have a few inches of snow and a layer of ice. I wish I could take advantage of this situation and do something fun like surfing. I have been running, of course. Running is awesome. 

I have mostly been spending this week getting everything done that I have been behind on. In a way, I feel like it’s kind of a waste. I really want to do something fun, but other life circumstances are not cooperating right now no matter how good I feel. At least I can check a bunch of things off from the never ending to-do list so I can have a moment to say “it’s done” before everything in life becomes so much harder to do again. 

Now if only this magic wand thing could also result in the entire house being clean without me cleaning it …even for Cinderella, midnight has to strike eventually. 

The Most Wonderful

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I have never understood why we need a holiday to be thankful. We should be thankful everyday. After witnessing some of the tragedies caused by the gluttony of capitalism today for Black Friday, I am thinking that perhaps the reason why we have Thanksgiving is that people so quickly forget to be thankful. They need a reminder. It’s a little sad that they so quickly forget the lesson the day after, but still. We need a Thanksgiving to remember to slow down and pay attention to what matters.

There is always something to be thankful for. Perhaps the most important are family and friends. That is the part I love most about the holiday season. The holidays are supposed to be that time of year when we hunker down amidst the falling snow to spend quality time with the ones we love. Holidays are not supposed to be about shopping and gifts and getting the best deals.

You can go out right now and max out some credit cards buying the best gifts. On Christmas, the recipients will squeal with delight, probably forget the gift in 5 minutes time once they open another, and then you spend the month of January and the first part of the new year working extra hours trying to pay off that credit card bill that brought only a few moments of fleeting happiness to your life on one day of the year. That is pretty much what every red-blooded American does this time of year.

Wouldn’t you most rather spend the time inside playing games with your children, drinking hot chocolate with your spouse and watching the snow? Children grow so quickly. The best gift you can give them is your time. Sure, that new 4-wheeler or other large ticket gift may be great, but it is more fun if they have time with you to enjoy. The holidays are supposed to be about peace and remembering to slow down to enjoy the people in your life. Instead, American consumerism has made it all about things.

I put up the Christmas tree today, and was a little sad that there are no gifts under it. All of the presents I am purchasing this year are either consumables (wine, chocolates, gourmet coffees, etc.) or experiences (movie theatre gift cards, rounds of golf, etc.). No presents kind of makes a Christmas tree a moot point. However, when I thought more, I remembered that the presents are not important. What is important is the fact that my cats love it when there are no presents under the tree because they enjoy curling up under it and sleeping. What matters is that I love turning off all the house lights to be able to view the tree lights while listening to holiday music from my youth, and enjoying someone’s company.

What makes this the most wonderful time of the year is the peace and joy that comes from having friends and family in our lives that make the world that much richer. People and experiences are the true measure of wealth, not how big of a TV you own, or how many vehicles are parked in the garage.

In the flurry of holiday activity, be sure to take some time between the parties and the shopping to remember the true meaning of the season. Be thankful for the people in your life and the limited amount of time that we have on this planet. The people around your tree this year may not be there next year. It is more important to enjoy the moments with those you love than it is to purchase the perfect gift. The gift will be set-aside in time, but memories will last a lifetime. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Baggage Check

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One of the great things about trying something new is the ability to experiment. Minimalism has been an experiment for me in being able to find balance in my life and focus more on experiences and people than on things. One of the more drastic ways in which I engage in this experiment is through travel.

The origin of the word vacation means to break away. Vacations are appealing because they are a respite from our everyday life. When we go on vacation, we have a break from our everyday responsibilities, which includes all our stuff. You only take what you need to survive and you leave all your other belongings at home without having to worry about cleaning or transporting them.

The past few times I have traveled, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of luggage I take with me. To illustrate, perhaps the most extreme example of my tendency to over pack comes when I run a full marathon. I remember a race, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, to which I traveled and had 9 pieces of luggage.

Nine pieces of luggage.

My reasoning in this was: “26.2 miles – what could possibly go wrong?” I packed all the things. Every single bit of running gear I owned I took with me, because I was uncertain of the challenge I was facing and wanted to be prepared. It was like an episode of preppers for the insecure athlete.

I am happy to report that since that time of packing nine pieces of luggage for a full marathon, I have been able to pare down significantly. I flew to Chicago a few years ago for a 4-day trip and took only a backpack and my purse. I had no checked luggage. Given some of the transfers I had to make in certain airports, I was thanking my lucky stars I had no checked baggage to keep track of as well.

Not only did I take only one backpack, but also that bag had room to spare. I was able to take a few gifts for my hosts in that bag along with the essentials I needed for the trip. Before you gasp in shock and exclaim that this is an exercise in self-deprivation, it was nothing of the sort. I did not repeat a single outfit the whole 4 days I was there and even had an outfit for a more formal outing.

Back to running. Carrying nine pieces of luggage is challenging and problematic. It is even harder trying to deal with so much luggage when you have just ran 26.2 miles and your legs are oscillating between feelings of warm Jell-O and leaden concrete. Sometimes, your legs give out, other times they lock stubbornly, but either way, having to contend with nine pieces of luggage in this state is not happening.

I am happy to report that the last time I ran a half marathon; I was able to decrease my luggage count significantly. The last time I ran a half marathon, I had one backpack (the same one I had taken on the Chicago trip), and one cooler on wheels. I always have a cooler on wheels when running a race as I have multiple food allergies and it is helpful for me to have food and snacks on hand in case I have trouble finding food I can eat that won’t kill me right away.

The more challenging concern than packing for a half marathon was packing for a full marathon. The race I just completed I had two pieces of luggage plus the cooler on wheels. I had the same backpack, plus one additional small size boat and tote bag. I consider this to be a significant improvement from nine pieces of luggage. I was able to take everything from the car to the hotel in one trip and had fewer belongings to keep track of. How many times have you left something in a hotel room because you simply had too many things to remember to repack?

I am happy to report that with a backpack, boat & tote, plus the requisite cooler for food allergies, that I had everything I needed to not only be out of town for 3 days but also to run a full marathon. 26.2 miles what can possibly go wrong indeed? I learned that all I can do is prepare the best that I can. In 26.2 miles there are many things out of my control such as weather and course conditions. The only thing I can do is pack for what is reasonably expected and hope for the best.

In streamlining my packing, I have learned to be more mindful of what I am packing. Rolling clothes instead of folding them allows me to fit more. Rolling underclothes and putting them in large Ziploc bags keep them organized, easy to find, and dry. I say dry because I also used this packing method on my last two camping trips, and when you are camping in the middle of nowhere, dry underclothes are tops on the priority list.

I have learned to pack more tops than bottoms. The jeans I wear to travel someplace can be worn again on the trip back. If you do wear the same pair of pants two days in a row, no one is going to care. Even if I do spill something on myself, most places have laundry facilities onsite or nearby. Plus, there is always the old spot clean in the sink method.

When I would pack for a race with nine pieces of luggage, I learned that I was so focused on what could potentially go wrong and ensuring that I was prepared for every scenario that I failed to enjoy the actual experience I was there to have. The best memories are not often the ones where you arrive impeccably dressed and have a mediocre time. The best stories often come from the times when you were so connected with your experience you were having that it didn’t matter what you were wearing or those times when things went so wrong that it was hilarious.

I consider my new methodology of packing to be trial runs for my ultimate dream of being able to backpack through Europe. I have a passport that has never been stamped, and if I ever get the opportunity (read: have the funds) to cross the Atlantic, I want to be sure that I am fully engaged in the experience and not worrying about the luggage I am dragging with me across a continent.

My new method of traveling with simply a backpack (and sometimes the food allergy cooler depending on the scenario) has given me more freedom to be more present in my experiences, more freedom to actually explore new locations, and has gotten me asking harder questions about the state of belongings in my home.

If I can survive for 3 or 4 days with only a backpack, what items in my home are really necessary? What could I get rid of or live without if that magical moment ever came where I had the opportunity to do a large inter-state or cross country move?

Traveling with less is a safe way in which to experiment with living with less in general but also with having a smaller wardrobe specifically. Having a smaller wardrobe means less laundry, less decision fatigue, and less stress in the mornings as I no longer stand in front of a closet with “nothing to wear.”

If you are looking for ways to experiment with simplicity in your life without making a full commitment, then travel may be the option. Think about how much luggage you typically have on a trip and think of ways in which you can cut it down.

I did not go from nine piece of luggage to one backpack overnight. It was a gradual process over the past few years (and marathons) that I worked to cut it down. I went from nine piece of luggage to seven, to five, and on down. At one point, I fit everything into a medium size duffel as my one piece of luggage. Then, I reduced the medium size duffel to a small size duffel, and finally a backpack.

How much freedom would you have while traveling if you could transfer planes or simply come off the plane without having to wait for baggage claim? You just grab your bag and explore the new place where you have landed. There is a lot of freedom in that. You can explore your surroundings immediately without having to check in to a hotel right away or trying to find someplace to store your luggage while you wait for it to be check in time at the hotel.

Let your next trip be an experiment in living with less. This is not about self-deprivation. This is about freedom. What do you really need to survive?

Seattle #TBT

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Monthly #TBT from when I returned to the east coast from the west, and all the thoughts and feelings a decade brings.

When I think about leaving the west coast and returning east in 2005, I think about freedom. Everything we owned fit right into the back of a pickup truck. I took one backpack with me on the plane from Sea-Tac to Upstate New York. I was perfectly content with being able to wait a week with the contents of that pack while the rest of my belongings arrived. While books, CDs, and other household items make one feel comfortable and help to fill the time, they are not necessary to survival.

Fully embracing your local community and taking advantage of what is readily available is key. Using farmers markets and shopping locally not only helps your neighbors financially, but helps you to make friends as well. When we were in Seattle, we were constantly going to this show and that show, and having the best time with people – all by word of mouth without things such as Internet and social networking.

While it took time to build this same foundation and network on the east coast, we did build. It started with a poster. Go to a show. Talk to like-minded people who hang out in the same places as you, and suddenly you have a group of friends with common interests.

What I miss the most about the west coast is that it was affordable to live right in downtown Seattle and be within walking distance to practically everywhere. While we did have a truck, it often set idle in the driveway. Many times, we could bike or walk any place we needed to go.

On the east coast, housing is too expensive to live in a city or town to be able to walk or bike anywhere. On the east coast, vehicles are a necessary evil, as housing prices are more affordable in the suburbs, and things that you need like grocery stores and medical care are too sparse and spread out to be able to rely on public transportation. Not to mention, public transportation on the east coast often runs infrequently with limited routes.

Seattle reminds me of being able to throw the surfboard in the back of the truck and spending a day at the beach. Literally everything you needed was readily available. There was no need to have a vehicle on a daily basis unless you wanted a beach excursion or other type of road trip.

I’m sure that things have changed since I left the west coast- housing prices and availability for one. There is something to be said about being able to pack up all your belongings in two or three storage totes and pick yourself up for a cross-country relocation. There is freedom in not having to spread yourself thin trying to get to work, obtain groceries, or run other errands. On the east coast, the geographic challenges tend to contribute to more social isolation, and thus I feel it necessary to have more entertainment and distraction options in my home – movies and books for when the snow flies, and everything shuts down for a day, buried under feet of white stuff.

While hindsight is 20/20 and often viewed through rose-colored lenses, the aspects of coming back east that stick with me the most is how much I experienced on the west coast with so little belongings. When you settle in one place for an extended period of time, as I have been on the east coast, you accumulate stuff. Life was so much simpler without all the things.

It is thoughts such as these that contribute to my wanting to rewind real slow. That yearning for the wanderlust of youth when you had exactly what you needed, and nothing more, and if someone said, “let’s do this,” you enthusiastically replied “okay.” Seattle also taught me that I was put on this planet to live. Living is not simply working and paying bills. I deserve to have experiences in my very short time I have to be on this planet. That is a lesson I often forget in the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of east coast workaholics.

Seattle is also special because it is the last large expanse of time in which I remember being present. Before the widespread use of smart phones, constant pings and notifications, social media, etc, we lived every day in the moment. Life really was much simpler when if you wanted to see or talk to someone, you had to find them, and if you could not get there due to distance, you wrote them a letter. The mail takes 3 days.

Ten years of living the grind on the east coast has definitely taken it’s toll. In my efforts to rewind real slow, I am hoping to return to some of the ease I felt on the west coast. Not only the relaxed pace, but the ability to live in the moment without fear of the future. The desire to recreate that feeling anywhere without being geographically bound to a particular location is what I am hoping to achieve. They say home is a place you carry with you. I am trying to build that feeling for myself where I presently am.

Is there a certain place in your life that elicits certain feelings? How can you recreate those feelings in your current location? Whether nostalgia or rose-colored glasses, how can you work to create experiences you envision?

Beauty in the Breakdown

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In 14 races, I ran my worst marathon this past week. It was wicked hard, but it was also an amazing learning experience. They say you can’t enjoy the good runs unless you know what it is like to have a bad run. Well, now I can appreciate the good runs more.

In this race, I learned what I like and don’t like in a race. I learned how to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I learned to rely on my training. If I had not been adequately trained and prepared for the challenges I faced, then the outcome would have been a lot worse that what occurred.

As far as the race itself, this is what it taught me: I do not like small races. With only 3,000 runners, this was my smallest marathon ever. I usually do the large city races with 30,000-40,000 runners. In such a small race as the one I just did, there is not a lot of crowd support, and medical care is so stretched out that it’s scary. I am used to the big cities where thousands of people line the streets screaming each and every mile unless I’m running on a bridge. I am used to having a medical professional within eyesight for the entire 26.2 miles. The positives in running a small race and learning this, is that I was able to prove to myself that I can make it without those amenities. I was able to push through and finish the race without an iPod, without cheering crowds lining the streets, and without the constant presence of medical support. I can run a marathon without those amenities. Do I want to run a marathon without those amenities? No, I don’t.

I sustained an injury to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in my hip somewhere between miles 18-22. If I had been on a course in a much larger city, medical professionals would have noticed the injury sooner and pulled me off the course. I would have been a DNF (did not finish). Instead, I pushed on to make the finish line. First, I did not understand exactly what was wrong or was happening, and second, I am one of those stubborn runners who push on just to get the medal.

I am fortunate in that I was adequately trained to be able to handle this injury in such a way that it will eventually heal and I am expected to make a full recovery. However, sustaining the injury has led me to a second reason why this was my worst race ever.

The course description was not accurate. Most course descriptions are not accurate. I have run marathons described as flat that were in fact gently rolling hills. I have run marathons described as gently rolling hills that were in fact downhill. While most race descriptions are not entirely accurate, they are usually pretty close to truth. This particular course was described as downhill, so I trained for a downhill race. What it was, in fact, was a hilly race. They were not gently rolling hills. They were not rolling hills. These were hills. There was a huge discrepancy in the description and elevation maps compared to reality. Sure, there were many course changes prior to the event, that required re-certification and new measurement, but there was a gross discrepancy in what was described and how I spent 5 months training.

After my injury, the medical personnel confirmed that the injury would have been much worse if I did not have the muscle tone that I have. I trained for a downhill course, and that was what I was prepared to run. A course that was extremely hilly put more pressure on my body that it could handle; I was not prepared for hills. HILLS. They were not rolling, nor were they gentle. I have run hill races before. I have done fine on hills courses, when that is what I have trained to run.

This race also taught me that the 2015 training season was my best training season ever. I was very well prepared to run a marathon. At my 18 mile split, prior to injury, I was on track to set a PR and within minutes of a potential BQ. At the end, it all fell apart due to injury and ended up being my slowest marathon time by over an hour. The important part was that I was able to finish and was not a DNF.

I have learned to do better research when looking into races to run. I usually try to choose established races so that kinks like this have already been worked out. This marathon was the 20th anniversary – I figure 5+ years to be my barometer for “established.” However, due to the drastic course changes that occurred in the weeks right before the race, the course I experienced was way different than the one for which I trained.

I will definitely be making changes and improvements to my training for 2016 to be able to strengthen the muscle currently injured. Right now, I am thankful that the surrounding muscles are strong enough to be able to support the one that literally took one for the team.

I am so thankful for every single day that I get to run. I can’t wait to heal and to come off the injury list to be able to run again. This race and this injury have taught me that I am so blessed to have been able to participate in 14 races so far. While I am looking forward to many more, I need to be able to continue to run smart.

I can’t believe that it took me 14 races to learn that I do not like small town venues. You grow through pain. You also learn so much about yourself once you go beyond your comfort zone. While this was my most challenging race in 14, I feel like I have learned so much about myself that is only going to improve my race decisions, training, and preparation for the future.

There is beauty in the breakdown. Without this experience, I would not have learned what I was capable of doing, or how adequate my training is, or what I don’t like. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like in life is as valuable as knowing what you do like.

I have been very fortunate in my running career thus far in that my good runs and races have way outnumbered my bad runs and races. This is pretty much only the second time in 14 races that I am saying, “I will never run that one again.” For the record, the other race I have said that about is due to logistics of the host city surrounding the race, not the course or race itself. This is the first time in which I loved the host city, but loathe the race.

I have learned so much through this negative experience than I have through my positive ones. The beauty in the breakdown is being able to take this knowledge to ensure that my race schedule for 2016 is amazing.

I’ll be on the injury list for the rest of the 2015 season, but I’m looking forward to the 2016 running season as being stronger, faster, and better. That’s the beauty of the breakdown.

Running Down A Dream

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Boston. It’s the Holy Grail of running. Every runner strives to earn a Boston Athletic Association medal. We throw around acronyms like BQ, PR, maxO2, and Gu. Ok, so Gu is a food group, but you know what I mean. Most likely when you meet a non-runner who finds out you run marathons, one of the first questions they ask is, “have you done Boston?” If you are in the Midwest, they probably ask, “how many Grandmas have you done?” referring to Grandmas Marathon, not your beloved senior citizen relative.

Everyone knows about Boston. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and has the strictest qualifying guidelines of any race outside of the Olympics. Qualifying standards for Boston are like Victorian chastity belts with a lock and key. Each year we look to see if the standards have changed, and pray for more birthdays so that we can change age groups to perhaps a less competitive one, or simply to get that extra 5 minutes to qualify. Many non-runners do not even know or understand that you have to qualify for Boston. You have to be invited. It’s like waiting for the fancy invite in gold calligraphy to be delivered to you by a guy in tuxedo tails wearing white gloves on a red carpet. You do not just “sign up for Boston.” It’s an elite club that not everyone can join. It’s kind of like a country club, except this one has lots of sweat and trail mix involved.

It is every runner’s dream to cross the finish line in Boston. It is truly the people’s Olympics. The finish line in Boston is the physical manifestation of everyone’s hopes and dreams as they sweat, train and run to achieve what less than 1% of the world population does – run a marathon. The magic of Boston is that in addition to all the professional runners who have 7 hours a day to train with professional trainers and chefs, it is also the housewife who rolls out of bed at 4am to get 15 miles in before the kids are awake and works in a supermarket that can qualify for Boston. You rip a training plan out of a magazine, and say, “I’m going to run a marathon.” Maybe your sister just got a cancer diagnosis, and you’re going to raise money and work with Team in Training (lymphoma and leukemia research). Maybe your mom just passed away from breast cancer, and you are going to run 26.2 with Donna (the marathon in Florida where all the proceeds go to breast cancer research). Maybe you ran a 5k with your kid and remembered how fun and free it feels to run and just “caught the bug” to run a marathon. Maybe you want to lose 40 or 60 or even 100 pounds, and start out just by walking around the block.

Whatever your story, wherever we come from, we are runners. We all have the same dream. The beauty of Boston is that the dream is attainable by any of us. Boston is not just for the people who have the privilege of making Olympic Dream Teams. Boston is the dream that many of us everyday people who have mortgages and kids and work 40 or more hours a week can make true.

Personally, I do not run fast enough to qualify for Boston. Maybe in a few years, once I reach the Masters category, and some minutes are tacked on to my qualifying standard, I will, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I would have to shave at least 40 seconds off of each and every mile to qualify for Boston. The full marathon is not my fastest distance. It is my most favorite distance, but it is not my fastest. Something happens between miles 22 and 26 where, even if I have been on track to earn my BQ, I completely lose my mind and blow it.

My best distance is the half marathon. I have qualified for and ran the Boston Half Marathon, which is how I earned my Boston Athletic Association medal. I don’t mind running half marathons. I do like to change up my race distances every now and again. The half marathon is not my favorite distance. The full marathon may be my most challenging, but is also my favorite.

As I have gotten older, and am approaching the Masters category in a few years, I still have a dream of Boston and getting my BQ. I am not going to kill myself for it. Yes, I can sit there and crunch the numbers and amp up my training, but what is more important to me at this point in my life than achieving my BQ is ensuring my health and safety to be able to run as long as possible throughout my life. Getting a BQ is not going to mean anything if I push it so hard that I sustain an injury that ends my running career. I have already overcome so much to be able to run marathons: a total of 10 broken bones, which includes breaking my spine in three places and spending time in a wheelchair, to 5 concussions, to a patella tear that almost did end my running career.

I am part of this magical community called runners in which we wave at each other as we pass on the trail, we help each other when we are struggling, and we line the streets to cheer for random strangers as they participate in their distance event and run pass. Yes, I am screaming for you, Random Citizen! You are not almost there, but you do look amazing, even if you are grimacing like a monkey humping a football because you are living your dream of running a marathon! That makes you look beautiful.

It doesn’t matter if you get a BQ or not. It does not matter if you come in first, middle or last. It doesn’t matter how many people have crossed that finish line before you, as long as you cross it. Many of us will never get our “15 minutes of fame.” But, you will get 1 second. That one second that your foot hits that finish line and clocks your time for completion, that one moment that you finish your marathon, whether it is your 1st, your 15th, or your 20th, that one moment YOU are the greatest athlete on the planet. That one-second is yours to own. You can say, “I did this.” “I ran a marathon.” Less than 1% of the world’s population can say that, folks.

Boston is every runner’s dream and it is always out there. For me, what is most important is not that I cross the finish line in Boston, but that I continue to keep crossing finish lines anywhere. We are all part of the same community. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and most beloved race. Even if you never achieve your BQ, that finish line belongs to all of us. It is the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams. If you never qualify for the bib, you can go spectate. You can still be part of the dream. Whether you are on the race course or part of the crowd, the magic that is Boston will course through your veins. A popular saying has been attributed to many, so it’s origin is uncertain states: “If you ever lose faith in humanity, go watch a marathon.” It’s true. Even if you never get your BQ, the magic of Boston can be experienced just by being there. Boston is every man’s dream.

As I approach medal # 14 this weekend, Boston is still my dream. Always was, always has been, and always will be. I chose one of the top ten fastest race courses in the country with a net elevation drop of 800 feet for my 14th race in an effort to qualify. Will I get my BQ? Probably not. But I will cross the finish line, and I will be able to train next year to cross a finish line somewhere else again. I will cross the start line. I will cross the finish line. I will run a good race.

Every April, whether we have achieved a BQ or not, the world watches with love and hope as people run the Boston Marathon. We are all running down a dream.

Playing Dress Up

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Children love to play dress up. Many times you will find kids clomping around the house in your shoes, trying to wear your shirts or hat. They love to pretend to be different things. Adults like to play too. Look at Halloween coming up later this month. Children and adults alike seem to enjoy the fantasy that goes into pretending to be something you are not at Halloween. This is your chance to be an astronaut, a ballerina, a superhero, anything you want to be. It’s fun.

We do the same thing in our everyday lives not only with our clothing but also with our possessions. Look around. Do you have a family of 4, but place settings for 12 because you have always dreamed of being the one to host the big family holidays, with a house full of loved ones? If you do, and you actually are able to use those 12 place settings to achieve that family gathering, then that is great. You are living the dream. Do you have 12 places settings with a family of 4 and never use the 12 for the large gathering, but simply only 4 or perhaps 6? Now we are getting somewhere.

If they are not in use, you are probably keeping them just in case. Those place settings are representative of your fantasy self. You may not be play dress up pre se, but you are imagining a life of hosting gatherings that you are not actually living. How do those extra, unused place settings make you feel? Sad? Overwhelmed that they are taking up space in your cupboards and you have to move a stack of plates to get to your favorite mixing bowl?

Get rid of them.

That’s right. Get rid of them.

Whether it is extra plates, those 4-inch heels you bought to go with the power suit you never wear, or the sports equipment for an activity in which you never engage, get rid of it.

It’s hard. Often, we buy things for the way we want to see ourselves and not for the way we actually are. We buy that shirt because we think wearing it will make us look just as glamorous and appealing as the model in the magazine. We buy that piece of outdoor equipment because we think it will make us look sporty, just like the commercial. Are you living a life of a TV commercial? Or are these items just reminders of things you want to do but do not have time to do?

In an effort to minimize, or rewind, we need to let go of false selves. Get rid of the baggage. Yes, you may have dreams of hosting house parties every weekend, but is that actually happening? If you want to host parties, host them. If it is not a reality, then get rid of the baggage that is weighing you down.

It is much easier to live with the things that are useful and enhance our everyday existence. Why hold onto ice skates if they only remind you of the one time you used them and have never been on the ice again?

Simplifying items associated with fantasy selves is one manner in which we can simply our houses so that they contain what is useful, what is beautiful, and what is loved. A house containing only these items is easier to clean, holds more positive energy, and allows more opportunity to engage in the experiences and activities you truly enjoy.

For me, I am currently looking at my spare bedroom. I have a genuine guest room that is set up to host company for a weekend or a few days quite comfortably. I have always wanted to be one of those people that are able to have people over to visit – family and friends from out of town have a place to stay if they decide to visit the area. Do I ever host company in the way I envision? No. I live in an area mostly surrounded by cornfields and cows. You can see those pretty much anywhere outside of a city limits. No one visits me here. My spare bedroom is a form of my fantasy self that wants to be a hostess for out of town guests. Would that room be more useful for some other purpose? Could I give the bed and the other accompaniments to someone who is more in need of them? Could I empty that room entirely and save money by moving into a smaller living space?

We all love to play dress up. If you’re dressing up for Halloween, that’s fun. What ways in your everyday life are you pretending to live a fantasy life? Is this an area of your life you can simplify? Remember that we cannot take it with us when we go. When your relatives are going through your belongings after you pass, are they going to find a pair of skis and wonder, “I never knew (s) he skied?” Only keep things in your life that are useful, beautiful, or enhance your experience on the planet.

What fantasy self do you need to say adios to today?

Ottawa 2008 – #TBT to medal # 2

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In early 2008, I broke both arms at the same time. I have had 10 broken bones total in my life. While this was not the most debilitating injury of my life (I have spent almost a year in a wheelchair), it was certainly an injury from which I learned the most.

My left arm was in a cast from my fingers to my elbow. There were three broken bones in my dominant arm. My right arm just had a broken elbow, and healed faster than the left. When the event first happened, I was in shock. I did not realize anything was broken. I actually got in my car and drove to work. As I was driving, I realized my left arm hurt. Then I realized my right arm hurt. When I got to work, it was fairly certain not only to me but to everyone around me, that they were both broken and I needed medical care. So came the casts.

I had plans to run Ottawa in May 2008. I was just coming off my first race in the fall of 2007. Ottawa would become my second medal.

The first few weeks after my injuries were the most challenging. The pain pills did absolutely nothing, so I stopped taking them. It was very challenging and uncomfortable to sleep at night with two broken arms, so I mostly slept during the day after spending nights crying alone to myself in pain. I could not feed or dress myself. I had to have someone help me every day. It took about 2 to 3 weeks before my fingers could wiggle enough on one hand for me to be able to pull off my own sock.

It was at this point in my life, that you quickly learn who is there for you – and who is not. I went without being bathed for quite awhile because I could not do it myself and no one would assist me. I did find someone to wash my hair in a sink, but had to pay for the service. I had to pay people to help prepare my meals, take me to orthopedic appointments, and clean my house. It was hard.

The doctors overseeing my care knew that I was scheduled to run in Ottawa in the spring. As it was winter, I usually start my planning inside on the treadmill and then move outdoors. Due to my injuries, I was forced indoors. The initial start of my training was delayed by about a month due to my injuries. I was still determined to train for and run the race.

I had numerous conversations with my medical team about training. They were concerned about me running – the bounce, and the pressure that would be put on my bones trying to heal. They regulated how fast I could go on the treadmill. One week they would say my speed could not go above 3.0. The next week they said I could not go above 3.5. It was a constant discussion, struggle, and compromise as I wanted to go faster, and they were concerned about rattling healing bones. The only thing I could think was, “at least it’s not my legs. It’s just my arms. I don’t need my arms to run.”

Running with casts on, even on the treadmill was a challenge in itself. I was weighted down. I was off-balance. Trying to stay on the treadmill without falling off and injuring myself worse or additionally was challenging enough.

I went through my entire training plan for my second race with two casts on.

My recovery really came down to the wire. My right elbow healed before my left arm, but I am left-handed. Towards the end, I could use my right hand, but it was awkward. You try using your weaker side for 3 weeks and see how you do.

Finally, my casts were sawed off and gone on a Tuesday. The race was 5 days later, that following Sunday. I still faced physical therapy for my arms, and was not fully recovered. When the cast came off my left arm particularly, I had a lot of atrophy. I still to this day have not regained full use of my dominant hand due to some nerve damage. I do not have all of my strength back. I have had to intentionally work very diligently to try to “even out” my left and right sides so that my strength is not lop-sided.

On a Sunday at the end of May 2008, I ran in Ottawa, and earned medal # 2. I ran with the Canadian National Army. I may have just has casts sawed off 5 days, prior, but by the second race, I had already caught the bug. I was a runner, and continuously trying to push myself, even coming off an injury.

The race itself was quite challenging. The weather conditions were reminiscent of Chicago 2007 – the year that lives in infamy as every runner’s nightmare when the temperatures hit unprecedented highs, runners died or were hospitalized, and the race was canceled in the middle of the race. The same thing happened that following spring in Ottawa. There were unprecedented and unplanned for highs that made the race that more difficult. The race organizers actually ran out of water and had to water us down with garden hoses not only the last few miles, but also in the runners only area after crossing the finish line. Luckily, the spectators were smart lifesavers. Many of the children had super soaker water guns they were spraying us with and some amazing spectators brought buckets of sponges in water. Running with sponges was a godsend in that race.

What I did not realize at the time I ran Ottawa or even immediately after, was that not only was I able to run Ottawa and obtain my second medal after a challenging injury, but I also ran a Boston qualifying time. Boston qualifying times are only good for two years. I had gotten an email saying that my time was only good for one more year, and that was the first I had heard or realized how well I ran.

I later went on to earn my Boston Athletic Association medal in 2010.

Ottawa taught me very early on in my running career that if you have your heart set on something, you could literally overcome almost anything to accomplish it. This is a lesson that has always stayed with me, and contributed to some other weird and off-the-wall feats in which I have engaged over the years since that race. Ottawa was the race that proved to me that marathon runners really are made in the training, not just one day when you race. It was the race that taught me that what happens in the middle is when you learn the most about yourself. It taught me that start lines are just as important as finish lines.

Your first race shows you that you are able to do the impossible. Only about 1% of the population will ever run a marathon. It is in subsequent races that you learn so much more – about who you are as a person, and what runners and spectators as a community are really all about.

Since overcoming two broken arms to run Ottawa, I have also overcome a knee injury that almost put an end to my running career, I have ran while fighting lymphoma, I have ran while dealing with multiple food allergies, I have ran through death, undergrad, grad school, falling in love, and happy tears. I have overcome so much through my running that Ottawa was really just the beginning.

Today, on Rewind Real Slow, we #TBT to medal # 2.

Whether it’s your first race or your 20th, each race and every runner has a story. Find yours.

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36 life lessons from 36 years of camping, running marathons, teaching preschool, and living life.

  1. As we get older, the quality of our friendships is more important than the quantity of them.
  1. Always pee downhill. Not only should you pee downhill, but also not too close to a tree in case some woodland creature decides to exit their home and accidentally gets a shower at the moment you decide to squat.
  1. If a child gives you a rock or some other small treasure, smile, say thank you, and keep it. Children do not have money to buy things. They do not have jobs. The rock/leaf/whatever is probably the only thing they have to give you of value to show that they like you.
  1. No matter how cute they may look, squirrels and chipmunks can be aggressive. This also goes for kittens, puppies, children and other things in small packages.
  1. Always take rain gear, even if there is no rain in the forecast.
  1. No matter which direction the wind is blowing, it will always send campfire smoke in your face, so do yourself a favor and remove your contacts first.
  1. Sneakers melt when kicking logs that are on fire.
  1. Always take time to look at the stars. They remind you of your place in the universe.
  1. A great radio station can totally make your trip.
  1. You can start a good fire with just wood and matches in about 15 minutes. Add empty toilet paper rolls filled with dryer lint, and you can decrease that time to about 5 minutes.
  1. Obtain wood within 50 miles of your campsite to avoid destroying ecosystems by introducing new predators.
  1. Pack light. The bears aren’t going to care if you wear the same pair of shorts two days in a row and it’s less stuff to haul.
  1. Nap time, time outs, and coloring are all for adults.
  1. While the first and last miles of a marathon are very exciting, its what happens in the middle that makes or breaks your race.
  1. Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself, you can learn in 26.2 miles.
  1. Baby wipes solve a lot of problems – even if you don’t have a baby. Keep a pack in the car – you will be amazed at what you use them for.
  1. The best friends are the ones with whom you can go days without talking to them, and then when you do reconnect, able to pick up exactly where you left off.
  1. If someone fails to communicate with you, and then accuses you of making a bad decision, it is not your fault! You made the best choice you could on the information available, and if the other party properly communicated, you would have made a better choice. Don’t beat yourself up for doing the best with what you have.
  1. Do not live like you are dying. We are all dying every day. Live like it is the first day of your life. You will not be this old or this young again.
  1. Always take time for your grandparents and those older than you. You may have “all the time in the world,” but they do not. Let them know how you feel before they are gone and remember that the greatest gift you can give is your time.
  1. Always ask before touching someone. Always. This goes for children, animals, pregnant women, senior citizens, everyone.
  1. The best times in your life are the moments where you were too busy to take a photo, post a status update, or write something down about it.
  1. “Please” and “thank you” never go out of style. They are timeless. Use them.
  1. If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember or worry about lies.
  1. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you are able to sleep at night, content in that your words and actions for the day were your best effort.
  1. It is okay to say “no.”
  1. Take time for you. You cannot pour juice from an empty pitcher. Refill your cup, and when it overflows, you are able to give.
  1. Batting averages are based on best 3 of 4. You don’t have to be perfect to be great.
  1. You may spend 40 hours a week working, but what you do with the other hours of your life is up to you.
  1. It is okay to distance yourself from toxic people, relationships, and situations.
  1. It is okay to sit and do nothing every once in awhile. Really.
  1. Run like you are 6 years old again. Rediscover joy.
  1. If you adopt a pet, remember that this is a commitment for life. Your pet may live for 18-20 years. It is like having a child. Are you ready for that type of responsibility? Do not be flippant with this decision.
  1. If you decide to downsize or minimize, you will not miss or remember the things you get rid of. There is too much clutter in our houses and lives. Let it go.
  1. If you love someone, tell them. Tell them before it’s too late. Tell them because people are not mind readers and they may not know. Tell them. Even if it is not reciprocated, it is important for people to know that they are valued.
  1. Always be thankful for something. Every single day, no matter how small, find a piece of gratitude in every day. Life is too short to be miserable.

Feels like the first time

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When was the last time when you did something for the first time? In the hamster wheel of life, many adults tend to lose that childlike joy of discovering something new or trying something they have never done before. Many of life’s biggest moments are “first times:” the first time you drove a car, your first dog/cat/pet, your first job, maybe the first time you went scuba diving, or sky diving, or even the first time you ever went to Disney.

It’s never too late to have a first time. One of the best things about being an adult is that you can make your own choices and do the things you have always wanted to do. When I was growing up and it was time to choose a musical instrument in grade school, I wanted to play the drums. My parents told me that little girls did not play drums. I ended up with a flute, which I played from fourth all the way up until twelfth grade, and still have to this day. A few years ago, I went to the professional music store in town, bought my first pair of sticks, and took drum lessons at the ripe old age of 32. I now go through the house banging on everything, and it is awesome. I like to drum at about 1 am, when I get home from work, am bouncing off the walls, and trying to calm down. I’m sure the neighbors are thrilled. (They haven’t said anything yet, so I’m lucky there.)

Another hobby I have is surfing. It’s been so long since I have had the opportunity to surf, not many people know I have that hobby. Back in the day when I was hitch hiking the west coast in the 90s, I learned to surf on the Pacific Ocean. I bought a board in California, brought it back east, and my surfboard has resided in a friend’s garage on Cape Cod for at least the past decade. Every so often, I get out to Massachusetts to use it, but definitely not as often as I like. I am currently landlocked in Central New York, so it is at least a good 6-7 hour drive to any oceanfront.

Then recently, in the course of using my park pass, I got this bright idea to surf the Great Lakes (okay, so there may have been some wine involved, but it was still a great idea). After doing some research, I have learned that surfing the Great Lakes is possible. Definitely on a completely different level than ocean surfing, the Great Lakes tend to have good wake in the early spring and late fall. Great Lakes surfing is generally not as challenging as ocean surfing, as the waves often lack the power. However, given that many ocean beaches recently had shark week, I’ll take the Great Lakes for now, thanks.

So I bought a short board. Part of the reason why my ocean surfboard has resided in Massachusetts for so long, in addition to ocean proximity, is that I have no way to transport my board back and forth due to length. Long surfboards are good not only for ocean waves, but also for beginners just starting out. Short boards are more challenging to handle, but I figure better for Great Lakes surfing given the smaller waves. I’ve been surfing long enough that I’m up for the challenge of handling a shorter board.

After a three-week wait for my short board from California, it finally arrived. Half the size of my ocean surfboard, I can fit the short board comfortably in my car. I used it for the first time on Great Lake Ontario two weeks ago. The waves on the Great Lakes are getting ready to die down for the summer, but I still had a great time. There is definitely a lot more paddling and floating involved in Great Lakes surfing than there is on the ocean, but the feeling of being on the water is the same, and as equally amazing.

My purpose in this Great Lakes adventure was to create a life in which I did not need to escape. If I can access a Great Lake in 2-3 hours, then I can surf and enjoy the things I love without needing to take a significant amount of time and money to take off someplace else and leave the life I have where I am. In my quest to slow down, I am looking to enjoy where I am and live in the present moment. Why wait for the next big thing when you have something pretty amazing in your own backyard?

For the record, my first time out on Lake Ontario with the short board was not perfect. I forgot to attach my armband, the board got away from me, and then my swimming skills were really put to the test trying to chase it down. The waves may not have been as big, and the board was new. As many times as I have caught a wave on the ocean, surfing the Great Lakes really did make it feel like the first time. It was awesome.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? Have you completely given up something you loved to do because life/work/school got in the way? What is preventing you from starting again?

I am so fortunate and blessed to be at a point in my life where I have the luxury and the privilege to not only reclaim things I love but to discover new things as well. What would you do if you could do anything? I don’t know about you, but I have some more waves to ride pretty soon here.