Monday, May 29, 2017

An Open Heart

Saturday concluded my "free to do anything" 5k racing streak with my third 5k in three weeks. Whether fully prepared and focused, or laid-back and lackadaisical, in everything I do, I always seem to find a lesson; the conversation will the God is ongoing, unrelenting, and one I can't shut off. This is why it's so important to get up and do things in life, whatever those things may be, and to always keep our hearts open; God is truly ubiquitous.

My streak started three weeks ago in Westlake at the Hyland 5k, an eye-opening confidence booster of the gift I have by which I tend to overlook, while also serving as a gentle reminder to be cognizant of my gut feelings and to have faith in betting on "those" butterflies. After the race, with just a few weeks left before my trip, I decided to continue to hold off on any official training. My plan was to do a few 5 mile runs each week, with at least 2 with fast finishes, and to let the 5k races serve as both my speed work and long run, as I usually end up running a little over 8 miles with my warm-up and cool-down before and after the race.

Feeling confident and eager, the following week I ran a 5k in Northfield for St. Barnabas' School. Although I was hoping to run the 5k in the CLE Marathon, logistics were not aligned well for me for CLE, so the sweet, small, close in proximity Northfield 5k was to be my race. And my race it was! The course started with a straight-away mile of beautiful rolling hills, which helped me stretch out my legs and get good turn-over in 6:00, the exact time I crossed through mile 1 the week prior. After a hair-pin turn around, I lost my momentum a bit and the rolling hills caught my speed on the way back, but with some sweet kids I was trying to pull through for strong finishes, it was a fun challenge and not too painful. I crossed through the finish in 20:19, feeling "ehhhhhhh you can do better," but was nevertheless pleased with a comfortable, enjoyable race experience. I finished first female, and was fortunate to collect some pretty amazing, very generous prizes! I ended the day with my family celebrating my beautiful Goddaughter's 2nd birthday. We concluded her celebration at the beautiful lake, where the kids playfully ran around and the adults quietly gazed at the water; God's presence couldn't have been more tangible.

Fun celebrating birthday #2 for my beautiful Goddaughter, Evelyn. :-)
This is CLE. Home. <3
Knowing that this weekend would be my last racing opportunity for a while, I decided to run the Bay 5k in Bay Village on Saturday. Although I was beyond physically exhausted from the week and pretty sore in my back, quads, and feet, most likely from wearing  4" heels Thursday night and going to bed WAY past my bedtime, LOL, regardless of what I had in me, I wanted to do it...just cuz I can! My body was very heavy when the alarm went off at 6:00am, and I considered just staying put, but my will took over and I peeled myself out of bed. I ate a quick breakfast, got dressed, and was out the door shortly after 7:00am and on my way to Bay! While doing my 2 mile warm-up around the course, my legs felt heavy and my back was hurting, but the pain soon subsided upon running into some super sweet running buddies of mine who reminded me of my favorite part of this sport: the people. After chatting and catching up, they enthusiastically invited me to join them in the Boston Marathon next spring, which I may be taking them up on if other life plans of mine do not go through. Their kindness, warmth, and positive energy were exactly what I needed to forget the pain, and to make the race enjoyable no matter the outcome.

When the gun went off, I immediately knew I was in trouble; my legs had that "dead weight" feeling to them that I've experienced many times before, in particular a few weeks prior at the Tow Path ½ Marathon. Accordingly, I listened to my body and backed off the pedal in mile 1, letting another speedy chica who looked smooth and strong take the lead. I crossed through the mile in 6:10, and from the point forward I shut down completely. I felt exhausted, unmotivated to push, terribly sick to my stomach...and really just wanted to stop. But, in true-to-MP fashion, I hung in there, looking like a fool I'm sure, as people passed me one-by-one. At one point, a very sweet old man tucked in by my side, saw my struggle, and kindly tried getting me to push. He didn't say, "Cmon, you've got more than that!" but rather, "It's alright, keep going!" He must be a coach, and I'm sure a really, really, really good Dad/Grandpa; it was just what I needed. Eventually, my running buddy caught me; it was almost deja vu from the Tow Path 1/2 a few weeks ago (and her name happens to be Jen, too!). She was having a great race, breezed past me, and took 2nd overall female. Deflated by my performance and totally spent, I finished behind her in 3rd in 20:20. It was a beautiful day and a flat-fast course; it simply wasn't my day. But after a 3 mile cool-down, I got to spend extra time with my sweet running buddies in the beautiful sunshine and collected another great, generous race prize. My mood was lifted and I finished feeling that although it was a tough race nor the one I had hoped for, thanks to the good company and a gorgeous day, it most certainly was a good one!

Knowing it will be a while before I can race again, I thought about running one more 5k this morning...just cuz I can! But when the alarm went off at 6:00am, my body felt even heavier than it did Saturday...and so this time I listened! I have just a few days before my travel begins, and I need to be well-rested, and most certainly not sore. I headed to Tow Path for the first time since being hit by the biker in April (aka, God screaming at me to STOP! LOL), and enjoyed five cozy, sunshiny miles.

So, what did I learn from my 5k race streak? As I said before, it helped me see what I can do that I often take for granted: RUN! Despite my best efforts, I tend to be so fixated on achieving a time goal that I overlook how gifted I am simply to be able to do what I do. With that said, just as not training helped me let go and just run, it also, on the contrary, helped me see the importance of training; it is through the long run that you build the stamina to keep going when you want to quit, and it is through speed work that you build the muscle and cardiovascular strength to go hard and fast despite the pain. More simply put, racing without training is like taking a test with studying; you might do okay, but that extra work is necessary for going beyond your potential, getting the best out of yourself, and truly mastering the task at hand. Even if training doesn't set you up for a PR, which in many cases it doesn't, particularly when you become a more seasoned runner, it is does help you to do your best in that moment. When you’ve given your training 110%, you can walk away from any race confident that even if you bonk, you were prepared to give it everything you could. And that is all I believe God asks of us: to give what we do our very best, and to enjoy and share the gifts He's given us with others.

In my most recent read, Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait, Fr. Leo Maasburg speaks of her saying, "She once said that even God cannot fill something that is already full. By this she meant that if we are full of self, of vanity and our own selfish goals, if we think we can do everything by ourselves, God cannot work with us; He cannot use us. But when we accept our "nothingness" and turn to Him with loving trust, then He can use us; He can fill us with His love and do "great things" with us." In a world fixated on pride, external imagery, and statistics and numbers derived from achievements and accolades, this can be REALLY hard, but we can learn from the example of St. Teresa and at least try to live beyond those things that inadvertently hold us back from true greatness. If we put God first, remain faithful, take risks with humility, and do what we do with love, "great things" are very possible, indeed. We just need to be sure to always keep our hearts open, no matter the circumstances, knowing He's always with us, unrelentingly, along the way everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. :-)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day in light of all those who've sacrificed everything for our freedom. I am so very, very grateful to be an American; God Bless America, my home sweet home!


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