“You’ve got your strangling hands on,” he said, jokingly.

I snorted; it was a perfect storm.  It was school holidays – long before we could consider them drawing to a close; I hadn’t been able to run due to injury; we’d had four back-to-back days of 40 degree plus weather, meaning no exercise at all was possible; I had a chest infection that was making me cough and cough; the kids were bouncing off the walls and each other; and we were making lunch together in our too-small kitchen.

I stepped away from the counter space where my husband was working – where I wanted to be working – and shook my hands out.  Strangling hands indeed!

I’d hurt my knee way back in November, after my first true marathon.  I’d expected a week to recover but that had stretched into six weeks.  Then I’d messed up my post-injury recovery by going out too fast, and hurting my other leg.  So I’d had to pull the plug on running for another week.  I was grumpy, sickish, in desperate need of solitude and writing time, hungering for the woods that heal me when I run.  And none of the things I needed were available.

Out of nowhere, my eight-year-old daughter declared she wanted to run around the block.  She never runs; she hates to even walk.  Before we got to seize this wonderful opportunity, she got angry though.  My son was going to run with her, and he strapped on the training watch I’d given him that came with my new Runner’s World subscription.  She wanted one too!  It wasn’t fair!  She stormed around shouting until my son found an old watch for her to wear, and only then could they get shoes on (my son ran in thongs, a true minimalist).

Watched and shod, off they ran.  My husband and I waited at the top of the hill for them to reappear, and they did, charging.  They were puffed, but my daughter wanted to go again.  So she did, with my husband beside her on a bike.  My son saved himself for our planned 1k around the streets, trying to rebuild his fitness from his 5k race back in July last year.  Later in the day, I finally made it, all by myself, to the gym.

Riding my bike down the hill, it occurred to me that it had been days and days since I’d been alone.  I felt the wind in my face, felt freedom, felt glad to be alive.  The treadmill at the gym rewarded me with a 2k run, with no pain, and my heavy weights, well, they made me feel strong and warrior-like.

I rode home, contemplating how to fix the mistake of not giving my daughter a running watch too.  Perhaps I had an old one she could borrow?

As soon as I walked in the door, my son ran up to me.  “She wants to run around the block again!”  I was too tired by then to join her, and determined to stick to my 3k plan for the day, so I let the rest of the family do the run.

In the meantime I found a Training Diary that had also come with my subscription.  As my daughter ran towards me, completing her third lap of the block, I held it out to her.  Her eyes lit up.  She grabbed my hand, pulled me inside to my office, and we sat down to record the details of her three laps around the block, including time, feelings, and the course. For her good night story, we read about hydrating drinks, and talked about how important sleep is to recovery.

She’s gone to sleep with her new training diary next to her pillow, and is already planning her next run.  My son is planning to do a 10k race this year.  And me?  I’m planning to get injury free, and then fly like the wind on my favorite trails.

A return to the gym.

 

Missing out on Two Bays

Missing out on Two Bays

So, how were your holidays?  I’ve been away from my blog for several weeks, and, in fact, am feeling a bit rusty at writing.  Three weeks with young children around will do that.  “Mom…” and “Dad…” incessantly, all-out-war fights between the kids, plus a beach house with very limited internet access.  Thank goodness we bought a piano just before Christmas.  Though I do not play yet, it has helped keep me sane.

Let me rewind a minute.  You might recall that just after the Marysville Marathon in November, I hurt my knee.  It swelled up to three times its usual size, and I spent many weeks trying to get it better.  Cross-training, rest, physio, more rest (actually 9 complete days exercise free – a record for me), and then a gradual return to running.

I’m not real good with rest or with injury.  My family will surely attest to that.  But this time, during my 9 days rest, I had a new toy.  I’d always planned on learning piano.  My Dad was an accomplished pianist, and my fondest memories are of listening to him play.  Bach, Chopin, Beethoven; he could play them all.  But he couldn’t teach.  At least, he couldn’t teach me, an independent child who didn’t like to be taught very much, and certainly didn’t like his angry style.  Poor Dad; he would have loved to hear me play, but he scared the life out of me, and I quit, and began riding horses instead.

But it’s always been there, my secret plan to learn, once I was old enough.  I’m still sort of scared, although my Dad has been dead for twenty years.  I don’t want a teacher – if they are mean, I’m sure I’d quit, and I’m not very good at taking instructions anyway.  So I’ve coached my nine-year old son to say just these words to me when he hears me play:  “That’s great, Mom, really great!”  And he does.  Even though I know he’s just saying it because I asked him to, it works.

I bought a series of Easy Piano instructions books geared for children, as the grown-up versions were terrifying and serious, and I like the cartoon characters pointing at the notes.  I’m halfway through book 2 of the series, progressing slowly and deliberately and with great, rebellious joy.  Yesterday I played a piece by Bach! My son, daughter and husband are playing too.  The males follow the instructions carefully.  My daughter improvises – loud, scary music.  I asked her what it was.  “It’s the dragon coming to eat the villagers,” she replied, straight-faced.

Running?  Ah, running.  We are not friends right now.  I’ve tried this, after the swelling finally went down in my right knee: 5k, wait two days, 6k, wait two days, 7k, wait one day, 8k, wait one day (that’s when my left peroneal tendon started complaining), wait one day, 9k (ignoring left knee pain as right knee was fine), wait three days and limp, 10k (too hot to notice any pain at all, until I stopped and there was the left leg pain again!).  I waited two days, and went to the gym today.  After just one running step on the treadmill, I got off.  The left leg is still wrong.

Grrr!  While I’m delighted to tell you my right knee is now the right size again (with the exception of a strange bumpy line running across the center of the kneecap that has me obsessed), I still can’t run.

But, I can lift weights.  So tonight, although there were 72 young men in the free weights area at my gym, with only three or four centimeters room between them (New Year’s Resolution time), I did my full heavy weights workout. I’d forgotten just how good it feels to be strong.  Lifting gives me nearly the same buzz as running, and has a wonderful meditative quality (well, less so with Mr. Biceps next to me, but usually).  My body hurts so good right now, and the endorphins are back on, and it was simply wonderful to see some gym buddies and class members (I teach at the same gym), and I left there feeling like I’d come back to life.

So perhaps this injury is teaching me something.  First, how to play piano.  Second, that I really still love the gym.

One last thought to leave you with tonight – for Christmas, my husband suggested something.  He actually wrote the word “wild” and “i” on a small card and then drew an animal after it.  It took me ages to work it out, what with exhaustion and champagne.  “Wild-eyed dog?” “No.” “Wild-eyed goat?” “No.”  My mind got stuck on the goat until he gave up, and told me it was “wild i dear”.  The animal was meant to be a deer!

What is the wild idea?  To get a dog!  Us of the two kids, two cats, and asthmatic husband.  Well, why not…

I’m not sure just now whether to get a dog that will want to run with me or not.  I’d hate to disappoint him.  We’re looking daily at who is available at the local animal shelter, so hopefully this wild idea will come true soon.

By the way, I had to miss the Two Bays 28k and 56k race last Sunday, with these injuries.  I was terribly disappointed, but also super-inspired by the stories of the runners who completed the event.  To toe up at the start line for a run like that takes guts.  Thanks for the inspiration, Two Bay runners!

Emotions run high.

It’s been quiet at my blog.  I wanted to write, but the emotions were running too high.  You see, my son had his first sleep-away camp (two nights and three days away from home).  I’d like to say I handled it like Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet, who I referred to almost immediately after my son’s bus left.  “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth,” Kahlil counsels wisely.  “The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows might go swift and far.  Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves the bow that is stable.”

Stable.  Yeah, right.  That was me.  I was stable if that included snapping at my husband, crying my eyes out after the bus departed, and that horrible sad feeling I had for the whole of the first day my son was gone.  Last week, I wrote you the following blog, shortly after the squabble and just after the departure…

————————————————————————————————————–

Being a psychologist, I believe all emotions should be allowed, embraced, and used as learning tools.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I personally like all of them.

Take yesterday.  I wasn’t a little bit grumpy.  Feeling peeved.  I hadn’t had a bad morning in a generic sense, one of those someone-spit-in-my-cornflakes sort of days.  Nope.

Lava fountain within the crater of Volcan Vill...

Lava fountain within the crater of Volcan Villarrica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nope.  I was furious.  A red-rage kind of fury.  The kind that spills like lava and burns everything in a hundred-mile radius.  The kind that makes you want to punch a hole in the nearest wall.  It doesn’t matter what made me angry.  Because we all get angry.  Sometimes for highly justifiable reasons; sometimes not so much.  I’d already bitten the heads off all my family members (figuratively speaking), and they’d left the house anyway.  There was only one thing left to do.

I got my runners, my Garmin, and the key to the front door.  Then I bolted down the street like the pavement was on fire.  I was so angry (and Psychology 101 teaches us that pain underlies anger) that tears were in my eyes as I ran, and I kept my eyes focussed on the sidewalk because it was school-run time, and I didn’t want to explain my particular expression to anyone at school later.  What a relief when I moved off the direct path to school, and began along the coastal track.  The emotion still burned in me, the tears were flowing more freely, and I began to think hard about what was going on, swearing inside, shouting, cursing, raging.

On and on I ran.  The emotion made me run faster than usual, as if I were burning the emotion away by physical effort.  But it made me feel heavier as well, made me want to stop, rest my head on my hands on the fence and cry.  I didn’t; I simply kept running.

I had planned twenty kilometres for this run, and by the time I got to eight, the tears had gone.  I was simply feeling tired.  I kept going, up a set of stairs, along the bike path because my trail had run out.  Heartbreak Hill is near Rickett’s Point.  It’s a gradual incline on a straight, concrete path, with cars alongside.  No trees; no dirt; no native animals.  It feels like penance, like how running might feel to a non-runner who hasn’t found the elation button yet.  It only lasts a kilometre or so, but feels much longer.  I pushed on, noticing that my anger/pain had eased; I was almost surprised when it flared up now and again.  I’d started to forget how I’d been feeling.

It wasn’t until I had turned around and run back to around the 14k mark that I noticed I’d not thought of emotion at all in about twenty minutes.  Good.  It was working.  My pace was slower than usual, but I knew this was because of the emotional upheavals I’d been having – there is only so much energy in any one human, and I’d used a lot up lately.

The last few kilometres home were hard, but only physically.  The emotion had burned itself out.  I was calmer, had come to terms with what was bothering me.  I could face the problems I had with a more grown-up perspective, and know that the world was not ending, and that I didn’t have to end my world.

Did I feel better?  Did running magically fix what was wrong.  Nope.  But it gave me the mental break I needed to cope better.

Sometimes a bolt out the door is really very called for, for everyone’s sake.

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So that brings us back to this week.  My son has returned safe and sound, he hasn’t grown so much that I’m no longer important, and all my fears were unrealised (okay, so I asked about the Emergency Evacuation Plan at the pre-camp meeting – that seemed reasonable, what with bushfires and all!).  Oh, and I’ve stopped snapping at everyone around me.  Phew.

A new week has begun.  A week that marks three weeks until the Marysville Marathon, in fact.

Marysville Marathon Course courtesy of Trails +

Marysville Marathon Course (courtesy of Trails+)

Oh yes, perhaps that had something to do with the high emotions too.  I’ve been training hard, clocking up 60k plus weeks, with long runs of 30, 32, and 35k. I’ve been tired, but more than that, I’ve been nervous.

In the past, I’ve run an ultra-marathon (50k); I’ve run 43k all by myself in the woods in training.  But I’ve never run an actual marathon.  Marysville is a trail marathon, meaning hills and woods and tree roots. And up until last week, I was struggling to find a good course description (not that I’m a control freak and want to know every variable to train for, but…)

Luckily, I live in the same town as the race organiser, who also happens to sell mighty fine GU Gels.  Last week, after he released the above course map on Facebook, I stopped by his shop to buy gels.  He began to ring up my purchase (“What’s your name?” he said, to enter it into the computer.  “Patricia Bowmer.”  “Ah, the compulsive blogger.  I like reading your stuff,” he said).  I began to question him (okay, interrogate him like an NCIS investigator) about the course, so he kindly pulled the course map up on the big screen tv behind the counter.   Then he spent a good ten minutes talking me through the course, sharing the elevation change with me (I’d noticed that didn’t appear in his Facebook posts about the course), the technical sections, the hilly bits; I was reassured that the training runs I was doing were good enough.  The other customer in the shop was just relieved when I finally left.

So please forgive my silence.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth when I’m blogging, when life is more difficult than I’d care to admit.

I’ve made it through the dark clouds and rainstorms now, and with only one long run left before the marathon, I am looking forward to a nice, relaxing taper.

And now I’m going to give my son one more goodnight kiss…

“One day you will be domesticated,” she said.

Early on in my marriage, one of my new family members said to me, “One day, you will be domesticated.”

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an ...

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an early instance of a domesticated animal (cow being milked). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I’m American by birth, and I’d married into an English family.  I knew this phrase must mean something different from what it seemed to mean to me.  This well-meaning relative must have meant I’d learn how to cook and clean better, how to be a good mom and wife.  Still, my hackles rose.

To me, the word “domesticated” meant “tamed”.

For an Aquarian Fire-Horse like me, the most freedom-loving of all creatures, this idea was, well, not terrifying, but somehow unlikely.  Me, tamed?  Ha!  Me, of the wild dreams, of the adventure sports – me, who was sure I’d never have kids.  Me, who didn’t even have a kitchen in my New York apartment, just a hot plate, and lots of deli options.  Me, who sang songs of liberty at the top of my voice in the shower…

For five years, I’ve lived in the suburbs in Melbourne, Australia, with my young children, two cats, and a loving husband.  I’ve learned how to cook and clean, how to parent, how to garden.  I’ve examined myself up against the sound images of some strong domestic role models, friends, woman who I turn to when I don’t know how to do things like, “cream the butter and the sugar together”.  During this time, I’ve thought often of my own mother, and her path in life as an executive assistant in one of the largest New York City ad agencies – she never learned to cook. And I’m sure being “domesticated” never even occurred to her.

As a woman, there is a fine line between being domestic/domesticated and being tamed.  Wait.  I’ve got that wrong.  It is not a fine line.  It is a big, fat broad line.  I’ve discovered this line is so broad, we can run trails along it, waving our hands freely in the air, and singing our favorite songs.  We can be domestic, without being domesticated.

This morning in the gym, while lifting weights, I heard that phrase again, in a rap song on the radio.  The rapper was Robin Thicke and the phrase, “…tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal…”…

I know, I’m a Bon Jovi girl really, but that phrase, as I bench-pressed my twenty-pound dumbbells, followed up with a set of push ups, and a set of triceps extension with that same twenty-pound dumbbell – well, it was kind of perfect.  “Tried to domesticate you…”

And failed.  I am nowhere near domesticated.

Last week, in that same gym, I was the sole woman in the free weights area at 10 am on a Monday morning, and I was surrounded by young men from a footy team working out.  I had to fight hard not to feel intimidated by the overwhelming testosterone, to know that I too belonged there in that world of steel and muscles.  To be tamed would mean this area no longer belonged to me; I stayed.

This morning, when the rapper was singing, I was in the free weights area with just one other woman nearby, and I could listen to the words, and reflect on them.

“Tried to domesticate you…” 

It is the passivity in the phrase that gets to me – the idea that someone or something else is taming us.  For the stray cats among us women, for us with holes in our jeans torn from climbing trees, for the ones without makeup, for the rebels, it is essential that we remain untamed, even in the suburbs, even in the boundaries of our own homes.  I’ve learned to cook from YouTube videos rather than a cooking class, and I’ve shied away from any attempt by friends or family to tell me the “right” way to be a woman, a mom, a homeowner.  We all find our own way; I love having a home and a family, but I am sure I’ll never be tamed.

Running, long-distance running, ultra-running, is, for me, the ultimate act of “anti-domestication”.  Out in the woods, it is just me and my backpack, for hours and hours, all alone.  My only fuel, little packets of GU gel and salt tablets, the mud my best friend.

There, the idea of being tamed does not occur to me.  I sing the Savage Garden Animal Song loudly as I run:

“…Cause I want to live like animals
Careless and free like animals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
the wind in my hair and the sand at my feet…”

Domestication, bah.  Now I’m off to make my children dinner.  Wild and free.

The good, the bad, and the beautiful: running in Ocean Grove

Ah, winter in Melbourne.  Some days are glorious, the blue sky and warmer-than-average temperatures making running a joy.  Then, there are the other days.  Here’s my tale of several runs while on school holidays in Ocean Grove…

A fast 10k?  After running the trails in the Dandenongs for the last few months, the minor bumps along my favorite Ocean Grove trail are eat-up-able.  Where I used to struggle and swear and grunt my way up these small inclines, now I relish them, feeling the muscles that I didn’t know I needed to develop suddenly fire and fly me up, seemingly without any effort on my part.

That’s how it was last Thursday.  The tide was high, so the beach was out of the question. It was me and my TrailRocs on the fine gravel path instead, with a distance so short, compared to my longer runs of late, that I could really let go.  Running, singing aloud, immersed in the solitude of my one hour alone.  There were dark clouds on the horizon, it was raining out at sea, but around me was sunshine lighting me golden.  I was heading into the last stretch of the trail, high on a cliff above the pounding surf, knowing there would be rainbows.

But here’s the thing – when the rainbow appeared, I swear I was just at the end of it.  It sort of fell into the ocean, but from the ocean, I’m sure it was falling directly on me.  I ran there, in that rainbow’s end, laughing, thinking how far I’d come since arriving on these shores five years ago.  I ran and ran, down along the rest of the trail, in rainbow-land, watching white gulls hover on the wind, thinking it couldn’t get any better than this.

And then, as if God had heard me, and said, I can top that, let me show you, a second rainbow appeared.  Only now there was one on each side of my trail and I was running, all alone, right into the gap between the two rainbows.  I laughed out loud, at the wonder of it all, at the beauty, at being the only witness to this magical moment.

Then there was Friday.  It was the day of my long run.  I didn’t really want to go.  I’d had trouble deciding the course, as my long runs have all been up in the Dandenongs of late.  In Ocean Grove, I run out of trail when I try to run far.  And the storm that had been brewing the day before had whipped the wind into a frenzy, a bitingly-cold frenzy.  But I’d studied the tidal charts, and knew low-tide was at 2:39 pm in Point Lonsdale, and that meant a long, empty beach just for me, and lots of lovely kilometres to Point Lonsdale, around the hook of the lighthouse, and along the way to Queenscliff.  My 25k would be glorious.

I should have known when I saw my friend Anna on the beach.  She was wearing a heavy down jacket, with the hood up, and her back to the wind.  She took a look at me, said, “You’re really going to do this?  You’re brave!”  It was forbidding: this is her beach; she knows.  Still, I smiled, and tried to speak but the wind tore the words away.

But it would be okay; the tide charts said so.  Only they hadn’t reckoned on the winter tide in Ocean Grove.  There was only a thin sliver of soft sand left, and it was constantly threatened by strong waves.  The wind blew me forward, and I watched as, underneath me, the sand flew away from beneath me in a thin wave at my feet, ghostlike.  Still, I had this long run to do.  I ran on, slipping in the deep sand, dashing from the waves, glancing often to my right as the waves thundered in.

Point Lonsdale beach, near the lighthouse. Image courtesy of http://www.virtualtourist.com

It reminded me of my tidal wave dreams, where I’m often alone on the beach, thinking this doesn’t feel right, and then this big wave comes and smashes me.  And I always think, in the dream, this is not a dream, this is real.  Just like I was thinking then.

Anyway, I got close to the lighthouse, about 200 metres away, but the wind and the waves the rapidly decreasing width of the beach, and some inner wisdom which I always listen to – all of these things said, “No, turn back.”  What I said out loud was a bit more graphic, but that was the gist of it. So I did.  I turned back to run smack into that hard, cold wind in my face, that wind that would scald me for the next, oh, 10k or so, as I had to adjust my running plan.

Barwon Heads, Victoria.

From the Bluff in Barwon Heads. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

There were glorious bits of it, up on the Bluff near Barwon Heads, staring down the coast that always reminds me of Scotland, with the wind and the sea, and the isolation of it, the wild.  But that wind. It blew and blew and blew, and when I turned around where the trail came to an end, finally, with utter joy, it blew me all the way home. I only made 20 of the planned 25k but they were hard-fought for.

Finally, the run with my son, who is training for his first ever 5k race, Run Melbourne, that will happen in two weeks time.  He ran my trail with me (my trail, my son, this boy who is now nine that I have raised from an infant, who can now run 5k with me!) for the first time.  It is hard to put the magic into words, to describe how he flew up the steepest of hills, and I watched him as he went.  How he sprinted the last block to home, faster than I have ever seen him run, his arms pumping, him glancing back only once to make sure I was still behind him.  My boy, a runner now.

Each run has its own mood, its motive, its highs and lows.  Some are about the glory of rainbows and the white of the gulls, and others are about the pain of facing into the wind, finding the guts to go on when everything in you says stop.  But the best one of all was the joy of watching my young child run off into his very own future.

What’s next? After the 50…

Ah, that is the question.  Three weeks or so after the North Face 50km race, and my recovery is finally coming along.  It took some strong words from the Dandenongs Running Group to get me back on track, to realise I needed to slow down and heal, as I had come out pretty fast and hard.  The irony – in formulating my question the group, I almost laughed out loud:

“Okay experienced ultra-runners, can you help? It’s been nearly 3 weeks since North Face 50 and I am still so tired. I spent the first week after recovering and only ran 7k in total, last week I ramped it back up to 47k plus teaching 2 pump classes and 1 weight training day. This week I’m only up to 30k and 2 pump classes, and exhausted. What do I do? Should I be recovered yet? Feeling a bit of a dummy and wondering whether I am doing this right. (oh, and trying to gently train for the Surfcoast Century that will happen in September too). Any advice?”

Duh.  Slow down, they said, loud, kindly, and in unison.  I guess I kind of knew that, but somehow having real ultrarunners to validate my tiredness enabled me to take three days off running, to do a yoga session, and to finally, finally leap out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still going slow for the next couple of weeks, with my only real challenge the first race in the Salomon Trail Series, a 15km romp in some lovely woods near home.

But my heart and soul are calling out for the next goal.  And I don’t just mean running.  I have been contemplating the fact that it is June already, and that novel, my second, that I’d promised to get started, well, I haven’t got started.  I’ve already written a non-fiction book, and a novel about a woman lost in the woods.  This third book has been harder to birth.  It began as a book called White Bird of Freedom, about a woman whose marriage had dissolved.  It featured a cowboy named Jake Wyoming (a hottie of course, and very good with horses), and lots of soul-searching.  The trouble was, I set out to write it as a call to environmentalism (the husband was the bad guy, destroying the environment while the wife wrung her hands in despair before he left her), and it became kind of talking-headish.  At least the bits that weren’t a love story did.  The bits about Jake and Carol sung.  I don’t want to leave those characters, but I can’t write about the environment, just like I couldn’t write a book about Life Coaching.  I can only write what I know.

Lately I’ve been contemplating making one of the characters an ultra-runner.  But where is the conflict?  And that is where my fingers stop moving, and I can’t go forward.

Similar to my choice of my next serious event.  I feel the ideas simmering (Two Bays 56km; Surfcoast Century 100km; Roller Coaster 43km; events in New Zealand) away, but find it hard to unleash them, to let them flow away from my control.

Perhaps, like the autumn here in Melbourne, things are astir under the soil, getting ready to bloom.  Like when we bought our lovely home, and the first spring, these wonderful bulbs burst forth that I hadn’t known were there.  They were bluebells, and they were everywhere.

Perhaps White Bird of Freedom is like that.  I need to let it simmer, and eventually it will flow freely.  Or maybe I need to start writing.  Build in some time when the kids are at school, lock my husband out of my office and find my soul-space again.

The words, just like the words of my blog, do not sing except in solitude.  And being a wife and a parent makes that solitude hard to come by.

Truth or excuses.  I found the time to train for a 50km trail race.  I think the truth is I am afraid to birth a book in today’s world without an avenue to sell it.  But that is not why we write – we don’t just write to sell.  We write because what we say needs saying, for both our spirit and the spirits who find the words just when they need them.  I’m going to write anyway, scared or not, just like I run.  The words will come.  It will take some work, but I am going to sing this book into life.  Just you watch…

How it turned out…castle cakes, half-marathons and new shoes.

The cake I made for my daughter’s 7th birthday

So last week I told you I was going to try my best to make a Princess Castle Cake for my daughter’s birthday.  Here it is!

The look of delight in her eyes – I wish I had the words to describe it – and the moment she leapt up into my arms and hugged me tight – I smile just remembering it.

It took something like six hours from start to finish.  I baked four cakes, and used three of them.  I followed YouTube instructions ( see this video for details http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqOP4iygW2k) , and some clever ideas from friends.  Those same friends let me borrow obscure ingredients (anyone ever heard of “sanding sugar”?), and were there to cheer me on each step of the way.

Funny thing – I asked my children if they knew the most important ingredient in the cake – and they both shouted out, at the same moment, “love”.

And here’s another photo of love – my love of running.  This was taken during the Marysville Half-Marathon, on a very steep hill (I can’t tell whether this was the up or the downside of that hill).  Either way I was loving every moment of it.

Happily running in the Marysville Half-Marathon. Thanks for the photo Dandyrunner.com!

I am training up for the next great challenge – in two weeks, Team Inspiration will be fielding a four-person team in the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne, Australia.  My leg is the 15km trail run – my teammates will complete an ocean swim, a kayak, and a mountain bike, and we’ll all meet up for a short 1.2km run down the beach to the finish.

I competed last year in the race in my pre-Garmin days.  That was when I thought I was a) faster than I actually am, and b) running further than I thought I was.  So last year, instead of training the 15km I thought I was, I was training at 12km.  That made for a hard finish.  I’m hoping this year, with my GPS-mapped runs lasting for up to 24km that the finish won’t feel as brutal.  I’m really training for a 28km, 43km and 50km series of races coming up in 2013.  The Anaconda is purely for pleasure this year.

So…lots of love going on in my life at the moment.  Love of my young children and husband, love of the running I am so lucky to be able to do.  And super-duper-extra-super love for my new Inov-8 TrailRoc 235 running shoes (see this video to see what I mean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNyK4x6WnR0), which should be called Lightning Bolts or Superhero Shoes for how fast they make me feel.  They are zero-drop, minimalist shoes, and they really are the bright hornet green you see below.  I think the color makes me faster.

Inov8-Trailroc-235s!

So this blog is to celebrate all the joy, love, and Superhero-speed that is filling my life right now.

Of Princess Birthday Cakes and Running Races

So here’s the truth – my head is going pound, pound, pound tonight, and the kids have just gone, reluctantly, to bed.  I woke up this morning feeling on top of the world, full of life, full of energy.  I took that bursting-with-life-self for a short training run (6k in my new Inov-8 trail shoes) plus some weights at the gym.  Then I had a coaching client.  In between, I did three loads of laundry, checked that the fish I’d transplanted in their newly-cleaned pond were alive (they were, but hiding from my two very interested cats who can now see them), collected and didn’t open the mail, and rode my bike everywhere in the glorious sunshine.

But now I’ve bonked.  I think it is my daughter’s 7th birthday party that has done it.  I have got this idea in my head that I want to make her a Princess Castle birthday cake.

I’ve bought ice-cream cones for the turrets, and watched some very domestic women make one on YouTube (they were very scary!).  It seems like I need four cakes, and some strange sand sugar to make it all work, plus an icing thingy to make cool designs.  Hmmm.

I want her to know I love her.  I want her eyes to light up when she sees that cake.  To feel in her heart the effort and love that have gone into it.  So I will make it.

Because she and I have recently discovered (again) that we do, indeed, love each other.  We hug and cuddle in a way that wouldn’t have happened a year ago, and I am so almightily grateful for this fact that I’d set up a display of fireworks for her birthday to let her know I love her.

It began with the Miracle Question we’d talked about in coaching.  It goes something like this:  if you woke up tomorrow, and a miracle had happened, and life was just the way you wanted it to be, what would be happening?  I asked that question to a coaching client recently, and then I began pondering it for myself.  And my answer was that my daughter and I would love each other openly, with hugs and kisses.

And then it came true!  With some extra loving words from me, that I picked up from the help in the book “The Help”,

I have watched her, in two weeks, transform.  I have watched us transform.  So the miracle that I wished for has come true.

So now I’ve just got to figure out how to train for a 28km trail race that happens in January, while having the energy left to make this phenomenal cake.  A few more versions to watch on YouTube, and I’ll be ready to give it a go.

Doing it the hard way: Marysville Half-Marathon

Well, with only three sleeps before the Marysville Half-Marathon, I am fully physically prepared.

The trouble, now, is just in my mind!  It has been a fortnight full of turmoil, parenthood, health issues, and extreme weather.  Back in my hometown, Long Beach, New York, things went a bit crazy.  Hurricane Sandy hit with a vengeance, leaving the town underwater, and me in great fear for my friends and family.  The whole week was a series of Facebook and text messages back and forth, trying to find people, helping to rescue elderly parents who had gotten stuck without phones, water, or power.  Thankfully, all my loved ones were safe, though somewhat traumatized.  The photos of fallen trees and damaged homes are coming through now, and are both heartbreaking and chilling.

Then, perhaps in response to the stress of all this, a strange bump appeared above my eye.  It rapidly grew, then expanded into my eye itself.  I looked just like Bear Grylls on Man Vs Wild when he got stung by a swarm of bees.  But it wasn’t anaphylaxis, and I sure couldn’t run trails when I could only see out of one eye.  A quick trip to the doctor landed me with antibiotics (“You could end up in hospital with an IV drip,” is not what you want to hear a week before a half-marathon).  Of course, my BodyPump classes weren’t going to teach themselves, so on Halloween, I got to appear with a monster eye to teach.  Fun, fun!  I like to think no one noticed.

With a bit of a revised plan, I fit in my last 22km run with a full pack last Friday (just) and a few extra runs during the long holiday weekend.

My real challenge right now is the lack of detailed contour maps of the place I am running.  So far, I can only see that the terrain goes up to 1000 m with heights varying around 400 – 500, but not where my particular trails go.  Maybe I’ll ask for one of those whiz-bang navigation devices for Christmas, as this seems to be a hard thing to find here in Australia.

Oh, and then there’s the other real challenge – my six and eight year olds.  They are the light of my life, the center of my universe, but it is hard to make a race plan when every few minutes, one or the other comes down from bed with an emergency.  Tonight it was the Invasion of the Giant Moths, with one in each of my children’s rooms.  Man, they were big!  I managed to shoo one out the window, and caught the other in a mixing bowl with a magazine lid (I have a no-kill policy; it’s a karma thing).  So critters out, kids in bed, and not three seconds later, my wonderful husband appears with seventeen bags of groceries.  I’ve just put them away.

So…physically, I can certainly run 21.1km.  But I can’t get my head to focus on it with the family chaos that surrounds me.  I suppose it is business as usual in my family home.  And when I finally do get out on that trail, no matter what the terrain, the hills, the tracks, there will be just me and simplicity.

Which is why I fight so hard to fit these races in.  Because I know that come Sunday night, I will be more centered than I have been in weeks.  And more content.

Now, off to make dinner.  I wonder – do any of you have similar challenges?

Some days I can’t run far enough

Like many, I use running as a medication, a mood-lifter, a quick shot in the brain of adrenalin and inspiration. Trouble is the days when it is not enough.  When I can’t run far enough to be able to say, oh, that doesn’t matter.  When in truth, sometimes the bad stuff does matter.  Sometimes it is simply too big to be run down.

Being a parent to young children is hard.  Dinnertimes where I make my best effort and the plate is literally thrown to the floor. Times when my youngest shouts, “I don’t love you” or ends the day with “My best part was making you upset.”  I’m tough, tough as nails, tough as old shoe leather, but these things go right to the heart of me, and in those moments, I just can’t run far enough to push down the emotions that jump up and bite me.  I’m hit right in my core, and it shakes me.  I hide in the kitchen, where the kids can’t see me and I am grateful the wall is tall enough that they can’t see how I’m feeling.

And when they go to bed, I write.  When I can’t run any further, I write away the feelings, let them become mere words on paper that drift away and lose their pain over time, like sheets hung out to dry in the summer sun.

And I hope that in the writing and the sharing that others who feel that same pain feel better somehow.  Like that old Elton John song, Sad Songs Say So Much.

So tonight, if you are a parent, if you are a runner who simply can’t run far enough to mask the pain that very young children can sometimes inadvertently cause, know you are not alone.  I feel it too.  It scalds, it burns, but it will pass.  As all trials and pains eventually do, it will pass.

Right now, it simply is what it is.  Sometimes we can’t run far enough to make it go away.

But sharing it helps.