Saturday, April 15, 2017

Recalculating



By those who've known me best through my 34 years of livin', I’ve been well-known for doing some pretty unexpected things and ending up in abnormal circumstances . In fact, my sister, Kristin, has given these things done and circumstances a collective title, referred to as my “flighty” moments. She will often preface stories on these “flighty” moments with, “You gotta be careful; she’ll catch you by surprise!” since I tend to be a pretty serious, responsible, and logical person, or I at least try to be. With that said, these unexpected moments of flight are often ridiculous, sometimes dangerous, usually (at my expense) hilarious, and best of all, very memorable. They also tend to include my sister, as we’ve been confused as twins throughout our entire life and are much more similar than we are dissimilar; it is fair to say that she is my “flighty” partner in crime. From getting lost in parking garages, talking too long to strangers, sled riding down hills with holes, getting SCREAMED at by military police for enthusiastically standing in the street of Pennsylvania Avenue while the President of the United States is driving through, there are enough stories of our "flighty" moments to cover a 1,000 page book!  One of my favorite of these moments, which happens to be incredibly relevant as I’m reflecting on recent events, occurred during a late winter weekend in 2013 when she and I decided to visit our baby brother in college. While on our very familiar drive, we were so caught up in conversation (about teaching, of course) that we drove a good hour on the wrong highway without realizing it. It wasn’t until we were at an unfamiliar rest stop that we discovered our mistake on one of the SIMPLEST drives through Ohio that we’d made many times throughout our life. Fortunately, there was no need to panic, as we had GPS on our phones, and thanks to its help, we were able to navigate our way back on the right road. This required driving all the way across the state of Ohio on back roads, with trust that the GPS knew more than we did and that it’d help us get to where we needed to go. So, with extra time on our hands, we just kept chatting away, laughing at our scenic route of the most rural places in Ohio, promising to keep this “flighty” moment a secret from my brother-in-law, who’s come to expect something ridiculous to happen when the two of us are left to ourselves. It took WAY longer than we anticipated, but we eventually made our way to our destination and had a super fun night celebrating our baby brother’s last year of college.

JP's graduation 2013 following our travel mishap; couldn't find any pics from "that" weekend, but this pic very well captures "us."
Twinning at the Nike Women's Half Marathon in 2013 following our Presidential security scolding.

While walking through Target on my spring break a few weeks back, I came across some nice, cozy patio chairs that were on sale for just $19.99. I pulled one off the shelf, sat on it, and immediately envisioned myself sitting happy on my patio, with a book in hand and peace in my soul. I eagerly popped it in my cart, and merrily headed for the cashier to make the purchase. While walking to my car, I suddenly realized I didn’t take into account that it didn’t fold, it wasn’t compact, and therefore might not fit in my car. And, well, you guessed it: it didn’t. And, YEP, you better believe this was definitely one of those “flighty” moments. Despite turning it in every possible way, attempting to shove it through my side door and into my trunk, it just wouldn’t fit. Not willing to give up just yet, I thought long and hard about the likelihood of it falling out of my car as it dangled from my trunk on my short, but bumpy five minute drive home. And as I stood there, pensive and carefully observing the situation I had at hand, I heard giggling from across the parking lot. I took a quick glance over, and confirmed that YEP, I had an audience of people laughing at me. In attempt to save myself from ending up on a meme on Instagram, I took the chair out of my trunk and popped it back into the cart, pushed it back into the store all the while laughing to myself for being a complete MORON, and returned the beautiful, cozy, happy patio chair to Target. 

Unwilling to let this incident hold me back from enjoying the sunshine on my pretty patio on this particular day, I decided to settle for my good ol’ fold-up lawn chair that hasn’t moved from the back of my car since the Fourth of July fireworks. And, as I stepped on to my patio floor, book in hand and engaged in deep thought about God knows what, I turned my ankle. I was struck, AGAIN, by yet another “flighty” moment; I honestly have no clue how I did it. A disgusting sound, best described as “Grrrrrrrrrrsh” accompanied the turn, and so I fearfully placed my foot steady on the ground to assess the damage. Fortunately, there was no pain and after a little panic that evening, by the next morning I had completely forgot about it. Without thought of my ankle, I did a comfortable tempo run, feeling confident in my progress and energized knowing week 5 was almost in the books. That evening, however, while in the shower I noticed a huge lump on my ankle. Despite no pain, my ankle was very swollen. Fortunately, it was my left ankle and not the ankle that had been previously injured, but needless to say I was worried and held off from running for a few days. I had the Tow Path Half Marathon penciled in on my schedule for the following week, but with potential for injury always at the forefront of my mind, I had held out registering for it. I figured my best bet would be to wait until the very last minute to register, and if it happened to sell out, then I was to trust that not running the race was to be my fate.

Legit cankle...
As the days progressed, the swelling didn’t get worse, but it also didn’t get better. There was no pain, so I had difficulty making a decision on what to do next. This indecisiveness brought with it a great deal of anxiety and negativity, as I was struggling internally and beating myself up over what I did, a stupid turn of an ankle, a “flighty” moment, to potentially throw away weeks of solid work. Plus, I couldn’t’ figure out if I was I being overcautious, or if there truly was something else brewing underneath the surface. I decided I was being overcautious, and registered for the Tow Path Half Marathon just in time for the online registration deadline. Unsure if it was the right choice, I decided to put the decision in God’s hands and wasn’t going to let it occupy my train of thought for the remainder of the week. And it didn’t. I attended a beautiful, heart-warming school event that filled me with more joy than fathomable on Thursday, had a random snow day that enabled me to get ahead on school work on Friday, and a day filled with QT with family and friends on Saturday, best of all concluded with Jesus, as I was able to make the vigil for the Palm Sunday Mass that night. Life was very, VERY good, but by the time Sunday morning rolled around, I felt like I’d been on such an emotional rollercoaster over the week I couldn’t focus on the race if I tried. And, well, if there is one word I could use to describe my experience it would be just that: unfocused.

SO, as you may already know from my social media posts last week, the Tow Path Half Marathon was a huge bust for me (read here:Tow Path Half Marathon 2017). It was probably the biggest bust since the Columbus Marathon of 2012 (read here: Columbus Marathon 2012). Maybe it was my ankle, or should I say "cankle"? Maybe I had a touch of the flu (I learned later my sister’s family had been battling a 24 hour stomach flu)? Maybe I was exhausted? Maybe my head wasn’t in the game? I’m not sure what happened, but I went to bed that Sunday night defeated, frustrated, embarrassed, and incredibly disappointed in myself. I may have my “flighty” moments and accept that as part of who I am and happily find humor in it. However, I most certainly battle a chronic disease, the antagonist of “flighty,” of which many runners and nonrunners alike are afflicted: perfectionism. It is the WORST, and something I’ve struggled with throughout my entire life. The irony of perfectionism is that it is inherently flawed. Ambition, conscientiousness, and determination are positive qualities, but too much of any of those qualities can suck the joy out of the things we do and lead us down a path of selfishness, pride, and perpetual defeat. The truth is, with a perfectionist mindset, enough is never enough; no P.R., medal, or accolade will ever satisfy you. And that’s where I was. Stuck in the tunnel of perfectionism, unable to see the periphery. My plan at that point was to work harder, better, faster, and stronger, just as one of my favorite Daft Punk song goes, confident I could turn this failure into a positive in my 6 weeks left of training. 

When I woke up the following morning, those negative feelings were still brewing in me, and so I decided to take to St. Teresa’s example and to be cheerful even if I didn’t feel it. And in doing so, with each student who came into my classroom, I started to feel better. Soon enough, how I was acting was in fact how I felt, and I was able to see beyond the tunnel of my perfectionism and therefore started to see things with more clarity. By noon, I had made an appointment with my orthopedic doctor for the following Friday. By the afternoon, my ankle was super swollen, and after talking with my colleagues I decided I was definitely out of running for at least the upcoming week. By that night, I was at Fleet Feet buying new shoes, receiving further confirmation that my ankle needed medical attention even if no pain was accompanying the swelling, and  that continuing training would more than likely be detrimental than helpful if I had any plan for racing this spring. And after a date with Chipotle, as I drove home, I thought about my upcoming Eastern European trip in June, how extremely miserable it’d be to be hobbling around in a boot (or worse, CRUTCHES), and I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to be able to run the Cleveland Marathon this spring. My harder, better, faster, and stronger mentality had turned to a mentality of resting, recovering, and healing in less than twenty-four hours, thanks to the guidance of my favorite saint and personal hero, St. Teresa. Fortunately, I hadn’t yet registered for the race with my many concerns of injury, so although stepping away was disappointing, I knew it was the right thing to do. Like the the beautiful, cozy, happy patio chair and my car from a few weeks ago, the Cleveland Marathon simply just doesn't fit for this spring.

Chubby cankle overflow...
 
I love training and all the small goals that come through each workout, so these past 6 weeks do not feel wasted although I’m once again cut short; one of these days, I’ll make it through a spring marathon. I know I am capable of achieving my goal of 3:03:30, but it needs to be when the time is right. I truly thought I could do it this spring and had everything planned to make it happen, but it just isn’t meant to be; I have full faith that He has better things planned for me. Although this quick turn of events has caught me off guard, and it may take me longer than I’d like to reach my goals, I feel like God is just recalculating my path for me. Although it’d be nice to have a GPS to tell us every turn we need to take when we got ourselves lost in the road of life, God doesn’t always work as explicitly as we’d like. We just have to silence our busy minds, pray, and have hope that He’ll be with us as we try to move forward in the right direction, and that if we make a wrong turn, He’ll just recalculate our path for us. All the best things in life, conquering our long, sought after goals, falling in love with the right person, earning respect from people, finding that perfect home, inspiring others to be their best selves, all seem to be linked to a formula beyond reason: they just happen. The only “right” thing we can do is to always have faith, and never, ever stop believing that there is always a silver lining, even if we can’t immediately see it. It’s as simple as that. If we can maintain our faith, when we look back, we will be able to clearly see that hand that got us though the tough times, helped us recalculate, and ultimately led us to the right place; in time, we can see God and understand why life is SO good.

I will be seeing my orthopedic doctor, Dr. Cohn, on Friday, and will let his wisdom guide me forward. If I’m healthy, I still have a chance to at least complete the Cleveland Half Marathon, as I’m in good shape and will have four weeks to train and hang on to (and perhaps improve) my fitness. I spent this past week cross-training, and will likely do the same thing next week. The swelling has gone way down, and I’m fortunately in no pain, so I was hoping to do some light running (no speed work) this week. However, an incident during my attempted run today has me thinking that someone from above is pushing me to hold off until after I see Dr. Cohn. My plan was to do a light, hour easy run late this morning and to see how I held up. I made my way to the Tow Path, did a little stretching, felt good, and was happily trotting on my way. Around mile 2, deep in running thought and feeling great, something jumped up and bit me, right into my left calf, Forrest Gump style. I immediately turned around and saw a woman in bushes; I had been hit by a biker! I’ve run 1,000s of miles over the past ten years and have NEVER been hit by a bike; all circumstances considered, what are the odds of this!?! I ran to her side, and fortunately a man had been riding with her and came to help with the situation. She was shaken and confused, and fortunately unhurt. She said she didn’t see me, that I appeared out of nowhere to her, and I believe her! She didn’t even realize that she had hit me, and fortunately, I just have a few scrapes on my calf from the tires brushing my leg. BUT, it happens to be the same leg as my swollen ankle, and I most certainly do not believe in coincidences. So, once she was back on the bike and was able to ride away, I turned around, made my way back to the parking lot, and called it a run. I was able to get in 30:00, and I feel okay, but I’ll be awaiting an official green light from Dr. Cohn before I move forward from here. I’m not exactly sure what to make of the events of today, but I’m going to err on the side of caution!

The bike crash aftermath. A "brush" with fate?
 
Although the “flighty” part of who I am makes me (and my family) uneasy, it’s just who I am. Perhaps God made me this way to reduce my perfectionism, to help me see the humor and fun in the mundane, to make me more likable, to instill permanent humility in me, to affirm my constant, essential dependence on God in my life. Fr. James Martin, an amazingly brilliant, wise, Jesuit priest and a very real person (and quickly becoming a great role model for me), whose words and insight have helped me better understand and work to build a better relationship with Jesus, said in his book Jesus: The Pilgrimage, “Every day our human nature humbles but does not humiliate us, gently and naturally. No effort or great penances are required for us to experience our limitations and taste our sinfulness, both of which lead us to recognize our constant need for God. Thus it is a grace to know one’s sinfulness.” A flighty perfectionist, always shooting for the stars, constantly falling back to Earth, trying to find God and all the life lessons through it all, and hoping to help others along the way. That is just who I am. :-)

I hope everyone has a beautiful Easter, celebrating the LOVE God has for each and every one of us and His promise of eternal life. And God bless everyone participating in the Boston Marathon this weekend: runners, cheerleaders, workers, and volunteers! May you have a SAFE, wonderful, joyful experience taking part in the greatest marathon in the world!!!

Just bein' me with my very special Godson Luke's on his 4th birthday!



Tow Path Half Marathon 2017

My training has been on point. I'm injury-free (despite a little swelling from turning my ankle last week) and pain-free. I had my running buddy Jen to push me. I anticipated a comfortable 1:28 at the Tow Path Half Marathon on this gorgeous, picture perfect day. With plenty of time to warm-up and rest prior to the race start, I had no worries about not hitting my goal. When the race horn went off, I eased down the cozy downhill first mile and was sub-6:20; a little fast, but it was the approach I took on the course in 2014 and it felt good, so I went with it. From that point on, I can't tell you what happened; I was just so absent-minded and couldn't connect with the course. My pace was okay through mile 6, but thinking I still had more than half the race to go I suddenly felt sick to my stomach (I'm not sick, so no excuses!). Puking would mean dehydration, so I forced myself to hang on and let it pass. It did, I'm not sure when, but it did. And then somewhere around mile 10, I was done. Totally tapped out, physically and mentally. Jen tried getting me to pull through, but I was doing my best and had nothing left to give besides just getting it done. I felt like I had no control over my body at that point, I was so frustrated I couldn't help but cry. I finished just under 1:33, a solid 5 minutes slower than where I wanted to be, ready to crash at the finish line. I'm disappointed, and not sure exactly what wrong, but I finished and I gave it all I had. Definitely not the race I was hoping for, but I did it. I have 6 weeks until the CLE Marathon, and I most certainly have my work cut off for me; it's time to get down from the CHI-Town cloud if I'm going to make this happen! The greatest lessons and pushes in life don't always come from our successes, but rather through our failures; I know this is a part of His plan, whatever that happens to be. I'm going to do the work, do my best,  and trust that whatever is meant to be, will be; nothing is impossible with God. HAPPY SUNDAY, everyone! Enjoy this gorgeous, sunny, BEAUTIFUL day!


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Clarity



I firmly believe that what you believe, you become. While running in the Chicago Marathon this past fall, my Garmin signal cut out in the first mile and was intermittent throughout the course. With the loss of my pace lifeline, I ran by feel and at one point found myself running upfront in the 3:00 pace group. With limited training and absolutely no expectation of a 3:00 finish, I felt like a spectator among athletes of a caliber not my own.  And so when the wind picked up and I started feeling the distance, I willingly receded to the back of the pack, and at some point not distinctly beknown to me, I made my way to the slower pace groups, 3:05 and 3:10. In the same fashion in each pace group, I made my way from firmly upfront to dangling off the back of the pack. However, despite running scattered paces throughout the course, I finished proudly, joyfully, and in complete awe in 3:11:39, as it was a decent P.R. following  a very difficult comeback. It was a glorious moment of conquer against my perceived odds; I will always remember the Chicago Marathon as one I ran with all my heart. However, I can’t help but reflect and wonder: did my beliefs, or lack thereof, hold me back? If I believed I could run a 3:00 marathon, could I have hung on when the going got tough? Did I cut myself short?

After three months of recovery and casual running, I begin my training for the Cleveland Marathon tomorrow, which by coincidence happens to be in the first week of Lent. If you’ve been following my training (or if you know me even just slightly), you know I most certainly don’t believe in coincidences; something special is bound to come of this perfectly timed synergy. In his beautiful, heart-warming, enlightening book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.” There has been so much clarity in my perspective since reading his book; there is a level of contentment and peace that comes when you recognize and better understand the love of Christ in your heart. With that said, my goal for Lent and for my training this spring is to connect my heart with my mind, knowing that I can accomplish all the extraordinary goodness He has planned for me if I move forward confidently, patiently, and faithfully according to His time and His plan. I know I’m capable of running a 3:03:30 marathon (an average of 7:00 minutes per mile), and aiming for anything less at this point in my running career would be out of insecurity and laziness. The time is now to try to make this happen, as I will (hopefully) have some pretty exciting obligations this fall that will likely prevent me from being able to take on training. Working to make this happen is going to require a good plan, mindfulness, unrelenting determination, and trust in His plan; I know I have my work cut out for me on many levels.  

Although I considered looking for a new training plan and perhaps a coach to make sure I attempt this wisely, I’ve had too many other commitments over the past few months to dedicate the time and resources to seeking and building the trust I’d need to move forward with something new. Finding the time to write this blogpost has been challenging enough! So, I’m going to once again wipe off the dust on my good ol’ McMillan Training plan and focus on 12 weeks of solo training. I’ve managed to P.R. in every distance on this plan, and most importantly, I enjoy it. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…right? I do plan to tweak it a bit, cutting it down from 16 weeks as it is intended to 12 weeks, as less has proven time and time again to be more for me. I successfully trained 10 weeks for Chicago, and believe an extra two weeks will be just the right formula to have me fit but not burned out prior to getting to the start line. I also plan to stagger my training paces, dedicating weeks 1 through 3 to 3:10 paces, weeks 4 through 6 to 3:07 paces, weeks 7 through 8 to 3:05 paces, weeks 9 through 10 to 3:03 paces, and weeks 11 to 12 3:10 paces. Weeks 9 through 10 will serve as my “peak” weeks, and weeks 11 and 12 will be my “taper” weeks. I also plan to get in at least one half marathon, which will likely be the Tow Path Half Marathon in early April, and perhaps one or two 5ks.

To help with my "belief" training, I have my Chicago Marathon finisher’s certificate posted on my refrigerator with my current P.R., along with my new goal inscribed underneath it; hopefully by seeing my goal time each day, I will come better to believing it as I’m tirelessly squeezing in each training workout amidst the chaos of everyday life. I know I’m capable of achieving a 3:03:30 finish, and also I know that working toward this goal is a process, and most certainly not an end in and of itself. In the Book of Joy (another amazing, must-read book that dissects Joy from a Buddhist and Christian perspective), Douglas Abrams describes the Dalai Lama’s perspective saying, “Whether or not we succeed often depends on many factors beyond our control. So our responsibility is to pursue the goal with all dedication we can muster, do the best we can but not become fixated on a preconceived notion of a result. Sometimes, actually quite often, our efforts lead to an unexpected outcome that might even be better than what we originally had in mind.” All things considered, only the Lord knows what will happen on Sunday, May 21, 2017, but I’m most certainly excited to embark on the journey to find out! 


(My "belief" training! **Just for clarity: I was the 220th female, not overall; perhaps someday...LOL!)


My spring marathon training experiences of the past have not been the most pleasant (feel free to read through any spring blog post from 2011 through last year if you’d like to find out why, LOL). From all my good, bad, and ugly experiences, I know that focusing on only one training run at a time, constantly listening and responding to my body, seeking medical advice when I need it,  and adjusting my plans as I go will be vital components to fulfilling my goal of connecting my heart with my mind. As said in Hebrews 12:13, “Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.” I plan to make straight my path, knowing that this path by which I walk is not my own, but His. He does not challenge us to push our perceived limits without guidance, and so I plan to train carefully and close to Him through this Lenten season, and thus with clarity. With this clarity, I know that each training run for this marathon is for the greater good of more than just myself alone, but to further enrich my relationship with Him and to bring an abundance of light and goodness to others along the way.

May God bless everyone through this Lenten season. Happy Spring training! 

<3 MP



Friday, December 30, 2016

The Why of MP



After allowing myself a week of no running and a few weeks of light trotting, I decided to give the remaining few weeks of fall to training for a few short distance races. My goal was to aim for a 5k P.R., as I was still on a high from the P.R. train of the Chicago Marathon and felt I could carry this momentum with me into a shorter distance race.  As I was working though my November training and planning for the upcoming Cleveland Turkey Trot, I was jolted one Sunday morning by the sermon given by a priest at my church. He asked us to reflect on what we do, and ask ourselves if the things we do are for Christ. If the answer is no, then we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing it. If it’s not for Christ, then who is it for? And should this be something we are pursuing? In our secular, politically correct, business-oriented world, I find it more important than ever to ask ourselves why we do what we do, and identify who it is we are serving. So, while sitting in the pew, pensive and eager, I began doing an inventory of the things I do in light of what he said. Just about everything I commit myself to at this point in my life passed the test except for one thing: running.

Running requires a certain level of selfishness that has always made me uncomfortable. To ensure I don’t deny other life commitments,  I dedicate a narrow range of time in my day for it, and am therefore extremely inflexible when it comes to meeting up with running buddies to commiserate in the pain that help us grow into better runners. I have spent a great deal of money on entrance fees, hotels, travel, shoes, nutrition, and medical costs over the years, and haven’t been as truly conscientious of this as I should be until recently. Speaking of medical costs, I’ve burdened my family with terrifying phone calls from paramedics who’ve found me on the side of the road on three different occasions, in addition to the burden of my fibula injury that had me completely dependent on their assistance for 7 weeks. I’ve sacrificed Friday nights with friends and Saturday morning soccer games with my nephews for long runs and races. My passion for running ultimately gave birth to this brutally candid blog, and at one point a Twitter account by which I tweeted each detail of every single workout and race as consolation for the inherit selfishness of my beloved hobby; it has been my hope that through social media communication, sharing the good, bad, and ugly of my journey, I could turn something seemingly self-centered into something empowering and inspiring for others. Even in doing so, and knowing that I have accomplished this mission in more ways than I likely am aware, I couldn’t help but reflect on the priest’s words and began repeatedly asking myself: "Who am I running for, and why?" Later that night, while texting with my big sis about my internal dilemma, I told her I was going to go for a run and pray on it. As soon as I hit “send” and re-read the text, I laughed to myself, as I had my answer written on my phone in black-and-white. As selfish as running may be, something in it in the most mysterious way always connects me back to God, helping me better understand who I am, pushing me to grow into a better version of myself, and helping me help others along the way. But, even with this answer looking me bold in the face, I still wasn’t completely sold and still harbored some concern about the meaning of running for me moving forward. Before deciding on a commitment to spring marathon plans, I decided to give myself some time to do some deep reflection, pray, and let the answer found in my heart guide my way. 

As the days leading up to the CLE Turkey Trot approached, I decided to run the 5k race over the 5 mile race. I was not feeling up for the longer distance, and told myself that if I hit a homerun, aka a 5k P.R., I’d call it a racing year. When I woke up Thanksgiving morning, I knew the 5k race was the right choice over the 5 mile. My gas tank was feeling low, and I was not feeling particularly energized or enthusiastic about racing long. As I made my way into a drizzly, dreary, but never the less beautiful downtown CLE, I parked my car and hopped onto the streets for a warm-up. As I was making my way past the 1,000s of runners, I took a peak down an alley way and saw a homeless man picking out of a dumpster. As I continued on my way, I was overwhelmed by the image of what I’d seen, and felt a deep sensation of the guilt of privilege. Here I was, blessed to be one of the 10,000 runners burning calories and enjoying myself before having  a dinner of plenty with my family, while there are people stuck in the cold rain eating out of dumpsters in complete solitude among us. I decided to loop back around, not exactly sure why or what I’d be able to do, but felt compelled to go back never the less. And as quickly as I passed and went back, he was gone. I couldn’t get the image of the shadow of him off my mind, and the feeling of passing him in the motion of all the other presumably privileged runners around me. This image was particularly vivid when I made my way into the Marriot to use the bathroom knowing that I had the privilege of care-freely doing so, whereas others of a different appearance are denied such a right. This thinking stayed with me throughout the race, a feeling of sadness overcome by gratitude for all the blessings I have, and an awareness of all that could be taken away in a moment. It pulled me through a comfortable but hard pace by which I earned a 3rd overall female finish with a 18:41, 6:02min/mi P.R. As I crossed the finish line, suspicious of a short course and not particularly eager to celebrate a seemingly nice P.R., I decided to make my way through the streets of CLE for my cool down. As I did my cool down, I made a point to make eye contact and smile at each homeless person I passed. In doing so, it was my hope that maybe they felt noticed as humans, in the image and likeness of Christ that we all are, and perhaps feel a little less lonely and caste out on this particular day dedicated to gratitude.  No smiles were returned to me, but rather looks of puzzlement. I left with hope that underneath it all, something good came from it, although I will never really know for sure. I took the energy of the day with me to my family, and enjoyed the gift of all the love, time, laughs, and amazing food the day had to offer me.  

Although I had achieved the P.R. that should have concluded my race year, my short course suspicions were igniting the perfectionist flames in my mind, leading me to the Reindeer Run 5k in Lakewood the following Sunday. Any decision made solely to settle perfectionism is likely a foolish one. And a foolish decision this was. Throughout the entire week leading up to the race, I was completely physically exhausted. I was in bed at night by 8:45pm when my day allowed, and up by 5:15am as I had to be despite my body begging for more sleep. I had a 48 hour migraine from Thursday through Friday, that finally subsided by Saturday. Despite my body telling me it was done, I was determined to prove my P.R. on Sunday on the flat-fast Lakewood course that I had run a 19:04 on the previous year. I fueled up on both Friday and Saturday nights, and was feeling confident I could make it happen. Perhaps, a little too confident…

When I woke up with the sun shining and the feel of a fairly comfortable December morning temperature, I quickly hopped out of bed and rammed my foot into a huge frame jutting out into my hallway. OUCH…it hurt, and it was a sign of what was ahead. Without getting into all the details, the Reindeer Run was a disaster. From the moment I began my warm-up, I was feeling deflated, my right foot felt dead, and I was ready to get the race over and done with well before it even began. I just wanted a P.R. and be on with my Sunday, in other words, my focus was solely on the outcome. Extremely greedy, indeed. And when the race horn went off, I plunged my way on to the course and pushed. And, WOW, did it hurt. I was breathing heavy, my legs felt like bricks were attached, but I pushed hard anyway.  I knew it was going to be a tough pull, but I still thought I could do it. As I came to the first mile marker, my pace was way off…I was in the upper 6:30s! I was working so hard, it was a beautiful day, and yet my pace was a solid 30 seconds off of where it needed to be. I immediately became inundated with negative thoughts, angry with myself for not listening to my body, feeling like a complete fool. In my self-pity, I was passed by two ladies, and was told I was fourth female by a spectator. I felt like I was running against a river current with no clothes on; I was working so hard yet completely embarrassed by my performance. After crossing through mile 2, I finally started getting it together. I looked down to my watch, and was in the 6:00s. Knowing my pace matched my pain, I re-gained confidence for a strong push to the finish. I passed by one of the chicas who passed me earlier, trying to get her to pull through with me but she let me know she was spent. When I heard 19:00 at the 3 mile mark, once again I started getting smashed with that feeling of defeat, but pushed through any way. I finish 19:37, 6:20 min/mi, 3rd overall female by chip time, but started in the pack rather than upfront, and was snatched for the 3rd overall spot by gun time from another chica. I was extremely frustrated by my performance, and disappointed to end my race season in such a foolish, shameful way. 

I thought about perhaps getting in just one more “prove yourself” race the following weekend, but it would be after a week of no running. I was super wiped, and my body needed to heal. Additionally, the temperature dropped dramatically, and I could hardly stand outside long enough to open my car without having a temporary shiver-seizure. And with the cold temperatures, came lots of snow, which helped me step away from racing in 2016 for good and accept my accomplishments for what they were. After all, if 19:37 is a bad last race, I’ve come farther in my running career than I’m giving myself credit for! In fact, like all bad races, there was a lot I learned from that intended in-and-out experience, highlighted for me by Chuang-tse, a Taoist writer mentioned in the Te of Piglet (which I highly recommend, but be sure to read the Tao of Pooh first; Taoism is so good for the soul): 

“An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he were going blind. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of an external reward to cloud his vision.” 

Running a race solely for a P.R. not only drains out all the joy of the experience, it blinds you and inhibits your ability to perform to your greatest potential. My successes in running this year came when my sights were not tied to the outcome, the Chicago Marathon which ended up coming with a nice P.R. in addition to an awesome experience, and my failures came when I couldn’t see past the outcome, the Cleveland Marathon by which I was determined to hit a 3:03 finish time, but ended up injured before I could even make it to the start line. When I limit my focus to a P.R., I somehow fall out of sync with my body and everything falls apart. As one who is extremely goal-oriented and has accomplished a great deal because of this, I don’t believe abandoning goals will help me improve. But, rather than putting all of my focus on the goal in and of itself, I have to make it about the experience and trust that the results will come with it when it’s meant to be. Rather than putting my faith in a set pace and time, I have to put my faith in doing my best and trusting God to help me know what that is. If I could describe my Chicago Marathon experience in one word, it would be confidence. I had absolutely no confidence in my limited training, but all confidence in how I felt that day, and in God who brought me there and was going to get me through. If I can apply this confidence in who I am and in God in all aspects of my life, I know in His time I can accomplish whatever it is that is tugging at my heart. 

So, with that said, what is tugging at my heart?

God. I plan to continue pursuing my relationship with God, and work each and every day to carry out that of which He has created me to accomplish.

Family. I plan to continue working to be the best daughter, sister, aunt, Godmomma, cousin, and friend I can be, and ENJOY my time with those I love so dearly. 

Giving. In particular, I plan to be conscientious of giving of my time to others, no matter how busy life can be. Additionally, I plan to give 15” of my hair this year to Wigs For Kids once my pony tail reaches that length. 

Travel. I plan to head back to Europe this summer. My trip last summer opened up a door for me that has changed my perspective eternally. I am SO excited for the history, culture, food, architecture, connections to new people as well as the spirits of my distant ancestors!  

Learning. I plan to do lots of reading, from books of those who are kind enough to make recommendations for me, and also from those books that pull me in while I’m wandering aimlessly through Barnes and Noble. Just about every book I read this year, in one way, shape, or form, felt like a gift from above; my list is below (I’m happy to lend out any that are mine, just let me know!). 

Teaching. I am so beyond blessed to have a profession that is my passion. I hope to share all I learn with those in my classroom, as well as with those in my everyday life, and to continue to work to improve my craft so as to help others bring out the best in themselves. 

Running. As long as I keep my focus on Christ through it, and not on a desperate attempt for an outcome, I hope to run in the Cleveland Marathon this May! I know I will make mistakes, and I’ll need to adjust my thinking from time to time. My plan is to give CLE the same minimalist approach I gave to Chicago, trust my ability, and have faith that God will help me know what my best is that day; more to come on that in my next post. 

All these plans are God willing, and ALLELUIA to that, as His plans are always WAY better than mine! :-)

I hope everyone has a wonderful end to 2016. Make it a Happy New Year!

<3 MP



MP’s 2016 Reading List (in order of date read, not preference):

Breakthrough
The Name of God is Mercy: Pope Francis
The Happiness Advantage
All the Light We Cannot See
Great Expectations
Me Before You
Siddhartha
When Breath Becomes Air
The Color of Water
The Rosie Project
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
The Light Between Us
A Man Called Ove
In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better
Things Fall Apart
The Great Gatsby
Be the Miracle
The Tao of Pooh
All But My Life
The Te of Piglet
How Bad Do You Want it?

In progress for 2017: A Dog’s Purpose