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):

The Name of God is Mercy: Pope Francis
The Happiness Advantage
All the Light We Cannot See
Great Expectations
Me Before You
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

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