Learning To Run After A Marathon

I ran a marathon. To achieve this, I surrendered to process. I stopped accepting my own excuses and limiting mental frameworks. And, one day I became an athlete.

Running is one of my love stories. Breath visible in the air, classical music on the radio, solitude in the found gorgeous.

Training and the finish line transformed me. Surprisingly, the biggest challenge has been what came after the marathon: not running.

I am learning the limitations of my body. After completing the race, my right knee announced itself as a hostage-taker. With time, it has transitioned to a toddler testing for power.

In the last week I have begun to ease back in. My pace is considerably slower than my endurance allows, and each step brings unwelcome sensation. One month later I do not look like a marathon runner. I look like someone who is just learning to run.

Who cares, I think. I have found a way back on the road. Accepting pain — observing my pain, accepting my pain, and embracing the deep and vulnerable plunge required to stop my instinctive resistance to my pain — is the deepest meditation I have experienced.

Although finishing a marathon was pretty fucking cool.

1_m-100868826-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2752_176357-25231717

Advertisements

Reflections On Dry January

Greetings from January 42, 2019, more often identified as February 11. I joined Dry January this year on a lark. And, I haven’t yet stopped.

Started in the United Kingdom as a way to help people reset their relationship with alcohol, it’s pretty simple for folks who, like me, can stop drinking alcohol without encountering physical problems. Tonight I drink tea.

I like red wine, and I like hoppy beer. What I have learned over the past month and change is that I don’t need them. More than anything, Dry January has taught me how much of my drinking has been mindless and out of habit: Ordering a drink because a server at a restaurant asks me if I want one. Drinking because other people are. Drinking because I’m watching a movie or a game.

I was most nervous about attending a friend’s surprise 40th birthday party without drinking. But, it wasn’t bad. Not drinking during a night with dear friends who were drinking did nothing to interfere with my enjoyment of the evening, and it was easier to get up too early the next morning to catch a flight home. I can also report that not drinking in the face of stressors — such as, oh, being a Virginia Democrat — has been fine. I’m 42 days clear that drinking does nothing to resolve problems or calm me down.

My not drinking does seem to make some people nervous. That’s interesting. It’s easier for me to hear dark humor and offhand comments about drinking for how dark they truly can be. How hard walking and breathing through our culture must be for those with alcoholism. Compassion and respect, y’all.

Physical: I’ve had fewer problems with acid reflux overnight. My skin has lost its barest trace of a Keith Richards-like quality. I’m eating all the time and in the best shape of my life, although that one’s hard to tease out from training for a marathon, which has been happening simultaneously and is also why I decided to stay straight edge, for now.

When this is all over I’m looking forward to a glass of red wine with a piece of bitter, punch-in-the-mouth chocolate that makes my cheeks flush. The dark chocolate is at least as exciting. It has been nice to gain a greater appreciation for little life things I had conflated with alcohol.

Bullying Anti-Abortion Speech On The Playground

In my community, the Knights of Columbus operate a large pool that is popular for birthday parties. Behind the pool is a playground. And beside the playground, low enough to be visible for the children, is a monument to the ‘millions of babies murdered by abortion.’

When I saw this, at a party, I became so angry during the ride home that I started to shake.

Recently I was glad to have a conversation with a fellow politically engaged mother, who also expressed concern about sending her children to this pool.

As a professional feminist, I am well aware of how rude young men wearing Knights of Columbus regalia can be to women advocating for our own rights — it has happened to me outside of the Supreme Court more years than one. I, too, pause to give them my money or my presence, even for social situations.

But to think of my daughter and her friends at parties where this statue lies in wait for their burgeoning reading skills is another thing entirely. The line is tricky: My daughter is well aware that Mommy used to attend Catholic Church and doesn’t anymore, because the men in charge don’t treat women and girls fairly (also because of the priest celibacy requirement, which only breeds awful things, and rampant sexual abuse coverups, although neither are age-appropriate to discuss with her in detail now).

I have started to attend an Episcopal Church on a semi-regular basis. It is a good place.

At times, I have visceral reactions watching people who claim themselves pro-life applauding a president who conflates Nazis with good people and separates refugee children from their parents. The Catholic Church I grew up in is not what I thought it was then. Seeing it on a playground, I feel deep sorrow, anger, and resolve to keep at my work.

An Obligatory, Trite, And Earnest Note About Marathon Training

I ran a 7:49 mile in the fourth grade. They thought I cheated and skipped a lap. I didn’t, but I too was surprised by my relative speed. I was one of those types who did the bent arm hang instead of pull ups. I thought I was not athletic and couldn’t achieve much physically, so generally, I didn’t. Until I did.

Our expectations for ourselves can be far more limiting than our bodies and I have had to learn this lesson throughout my life.

I am currently training for my first marathon. It is humbling, exciting, and occasionally painful. Mostly it is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. In this process I have learned a lot. I must prepare. I must be willing to challenge what I think my body cannot handle. I must confront fears and jettison habits that have carried me through decades of 5Ks and dedicated running that was good, but not marathon-level.

For example: Eating while I run will not make me throw up, nor does it obliterate the point of a workout — I have to do it to survive. Or, pushing through pain is not heroic or tough; if I don’t take breaks when my body tells me to, I won’t be able to run my race. I knew I had gone pro when my period started while I was on a busy street, and I just kept going.

More than anything, marathon training has taught me that I can mostly do what I say I’m going to do if I focus and commit. It is also training me to better recognize the boundaries of what focus and commitment can achieve. I can’t and won’t become everything I’ve dreamed of, including some things I had thought more achievable than running a marathon. And yet, remarkably, I’m still going.

On Running And Eating Disorder Recovery

Running has made me a better person. It wasn’t always this way.

Distance running was the beginning of my eating disorder. While it wasn’t the running that was at fault, I quickly cruised from clocking miles to restricting calories and punishing myself with exercise.

How times have changed. Blissfully, I’ve been recovered for some time. And today, running is something I do for me.

Running gives me a feeling of rootedness in my body and mind. It also helps me feel connected to the Earth. Aside from reading a local newspaper, there is nothing I love more when traveling than a run outdoors.

Judging by the regular queries I receive, my stomach sticks out as if I were pregnant. As a runner, I don’t give a shit. I’m strong — as fit as I’ve ever been. My head is clear. When it’s just me and the road ahead, my body is capable of astonishing things.

32852833_10214668145071208_878918357946990592_n

Talking With My Child About Her First Active Shooter Drill

Last night, I set the clown traps on turbo. It helped my daughter go to sleep. Otherwise, she gets afraid. Then I researched what to say about her first active shooter drill, which they call a “lockdown drill.” It’s tomorrow. My daughter started kindergarten six days ago.

The more reliable articles I found online told me not to overreact when talking to my child about this event. There are fire drills, there are lockdown drills. It is important to stay calm and follow instructions. We do not need to give more context than “bad guys.” The word “gun” is unnecessary. Sharing our own fears is not helpful.

Tonight over dinner, my beautiful girl, who I first learned was a girl the morning of December 14, 2012, just after receiving the emerging news of a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, brought up tomorrow’s lockdown drill.

She told me where they will go. She told me what they will do to the room to secure it. She explained that they need to practice waiting for the police in case there is “a bad guy in the school.” They need to sit close together and be quiet, she said.

I had practiced for this. I stayed calm. I reminded her how this is similar to things we have talked about before; that when there is danger or we are afraid, the best thing we can do is stay calm, because then we have more power to focus on choices that keep us safe.

This rolled off like I was explaining the rules of Go Fish.

I sat, present and focused on this short conversation that seemed to be over, and a girl who seemed matter-of-fact about a variation on the fire drill. I congratulated myself on remaining calm through a conversation I’ve been dreading for five years.

“If it helps, you can take little breaths,” she said.

I felt the love and anguish of teachers around the country who put their lives on the line for their students, some of whom have been killed in the process. I loved them back, I held their pain. I kept a straight face.

In these words, I also heard my daughter coaching me, a card-carrying member of the Littleton generation that should have stopped this.

Instead, the shootings have become expected. Our babies are going to school. What I can do now, she says, is take little breaths.

Every Time You Ask If I’m Pregnant, I Post A Selfie On Instagram

I get asked if I’m pregnant on the regular. At first this shit made me cry. But it’s happened so much that I’ve had to get used to it.

Sometimes I still cry.

My stomach sticks out. It has stuck out for years. I am not pregnant. I gave birth to a creative, healthy, playful girl five years ago. Today I have a tight stitch where a C-section once happened, and there’s a pouf above it that reflects my love of wine, cheese, and life.

Your reassurances that I am not fat do not help.

I have noticed that friends feel compelled to insist I’m not fat. Just because you say that I don’t look pregnant does not mean I don’t get asked this question, on average, a few times a month. Just because you say I’m so skinny doesn’t mean I won’t get asked about the baby I’m not expecting sometime real soon.

I have created a new rule:

Every time I’m asked about my pregnancy, I post a selfie to Instagram.

I love it.

It puts me back in the driver’s seat of my life.

No matter what I’m wearing, how I’m made up, or what I’m doing, I take a picture of myself and share it with people who know me, mostly in real life. I admit forthrightly what just happened. And then I move on.

When I do this, I no longer remain the person whose body is being reviewed and assessed by others. I become the person who has this body right now, and is living her life anyway.

If you get asked if you’re pregnant a lot, my recommendation is to find something to do immediately that feels good to you. Then keep doing it. Having something to draw upon that does not require thought can be helpful when hurt slaps you in the face, as it did in the comfort of my own home (indeed, no place is sacred) twelve days ago.

IMG_4710 copy.jpg

An Open Letter In Advance Of My 20-Year High School Reunion

Hi, guys,

Erin here. I’m  self-conscious and nervous excited to see you in a few weeks for our high school reunion. During the past twenty years I have been a human diorama of someone who did not ‘peak too soon.’

Over the years I have grown wrinklier and larger. I take less shit. Given the choice of being tighter or taking less shit, I’d rather take less shit.

I’m grateful for each of us who are healthy and still here. Almost everything I cared about in high school didn’t really matter. It’s a privilege to age.

Cordially,
Erin