I can feel the wispy hairs on my face and I wipe them away, again. This is the drill every few steps as I run through another web. My face is at the exact height where every spider in this forest has chosen to span the trail. I try to ignore the silky threads that are tickling my face and any hitchhikers I’ve picked up along the way – little eight-legged critters who might be clinging to my black sweaty shorts or hiding in the folds of my hydration vest. Like the spiders, I’m relentless. Each footfall, each balancing arm swing, each mantra uttered under my breath: just keep moving.
And I do, until it feels like I can’t move anymore. And I’m pissed that I’m stopping. That my pace has been about two minutes slower per mile than what I thought when I generously estimated my pace for this run. That I tripped and fell on the climb up from Muggun Creek. That I did so. much. walking in the second half. That I hardly feel like a runner today, and definitely not a trail runner. Not even close.
I dig out the emergency GU I shoved in my vest, the GU that was supposed to carry me through the final miles of this planned 25K route and I hop on the two-track that I know will take me back to the road, two miles shy of what I’d planned on covering at Swedetown. It feels like quitting.
This run was lonely. I left my earbuds in the pocket of my shorts, too worried I’d be flying (ha!) along the trail and not hear a bear ambling my way or a porcupine crossing the path (don’t get me started on porcupines). I thought I’d really miss my podcasts, but the toughest part was being stuck with nothing and no one else but myself for the better part of four hours. I did not expect this, considering that most of the time I’m begging for time alone—a few minutes to read, or knit, or for god’s sake, just go to the toilet with no one else in the bathroom saying Mama, Mama, Mama over and over and over.
It turns out I have a low threshold for myself. And the “me” time I crave wasn’t really that at all; it was time spent being distracted by other things. Other stuff. Anything other than just being alone with Amy Blake.
I wonder if I have ever been truly okay with being alone. Really alone. That deep down, trail running is tough not solely for the terrain and the challenges it presents, but that it comes down to two things: the trail and me. Nothing else.
It was a writing prompt from one of my favorite podcasts, Running on Om (check it out here in the iTunes store if you’re looking for a new running companion). I will admit I haven’t done many writing exercises since my creative writing days in college almost 20 years ago. But these seemed like they’d be fun and maybe get some sparks flying, burn up some of the proverbial cobwebs that have been forming between my ears.
The list was pretty easy to begin.
Product reviews for things I don’t believe in or really love.
Agonizingly descriptive race recaps full of information and detail that no one cares about but me (and maybe my coach). Because no one cares if you went to the bathroom, what you ate or where you ate it (or where you went to the bathroom).
Agonizingly descriptive blog posts about recipes. If I ever share a recipe with you, I promise it will be exposition free (because please don’t get me started on my intense loathing for the current state of “foodie” blogs). Ingredients. Steps. Done. Eat. This is why I’ve started buying actual cookbooks again, to get past all the stylized bullshit.
And then I stopped making the list, because as much as I am tired of the eternal battle of me vs. the scale, it is very much a part of my life—my real, everyday life—and that is one of the things I DO want to write about (that was on another prompt list). But I know it gets old, the self-flagellation, the food diaries, the efforts to put on a happy face and get on the Love My Body No Matter What bus. This bus is often found in a caravan, sandwiched between the Your Body Is Strong! bus and This Is What a Bikini Body Looks Like bus. Here’s the truth: most days I just want to flip the bird to those buses. Or if I do get on board, the trips are very short.
When people said to me that losing weight gets tougher with age, I rolled my eyes and recalled my past successes with weight loss. It’s simple, I thought. You’re all complicating it. Now I find myself in this spot: where all the old tricks I’ve employed in the past no longer work. Despite the exercise I am putting in, I’m stuck. I have boxed up more pants and shirts than a reasonable person should have, and I’ve put those boxes in the attic. (And not the proverbial attic; I literally cannot have them in my line of sight any longer.)
I am a mother to three young ones, including two girls, who will one day be young women, and I want them to have healthy habits and positive body images. And on most days, I feel like a complete hypocrite.
I promise I won’t clog up this space with woe is me ranting on weight, but it’s taking up a lot of headspace right now, making it really difficult to focus on other things.
And yes, I could buy new pants. I’m 40 years old. I’m allowed. But buying bigger pants feels like giving up on what I feel are reasonable, healthy standards for me at my height and build. I am not ready to give up, not yet.
And the truth is, I really like the pants I already fucking have.
My goal this past year was to keep moving as much as I could. I skied and snowshoed this winter. I ran when it felt right. I’ve been dabbling with training by heart rate, and the results are measurable—at the last minute, thanks to some peer pressure (and maybe a little alcohol) I ran one of my best half marathons last weekend, missing a PR by fewer than two minutes.
They even have great medals! Thanks, Eau Claire Marathon!
I’ve been running pretty slowly (on purpose) for over a year, so I went into the race looking for a little suffering. It had been so long since I’d pushed myself at that level that I wanted to feel it. Just for a few hours.
Of course, I paid for it. I was sorer after this half than I was after the Twin Cities Marathon last year. I’m trying to be mindful of recovery, of heart rate, of effort. And I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish the rest of this year.
I’ve been thinking about goals.
These goals are big ones. Not entirely unrealistic but require serious commitment. Time. Discipline. Resources. They’re things that in the past I’ve brushed aside because that was the easier thing to do. And there was always an excuse:
Just after this one thing is done.
My baby is 18 months old, and for me that means I can’t with a clear conscience use the “new baby” excuse. (It’s okay if you do, but it’s just not for me.) She was finally weaned back in April, and never really successfully doing that without immediately becoming pregnant again, I’m trying to ease back into what I envision as a “normal” running life. When I picture this, I usually picture the running life I had before babies.
Of course, I’m entering this new stage with a body that’s seen eight years of pregnancy and weight gain and loss and hormone shifts and deflated boobs sagging skin and all the other glorious aspects of giving birth three times. And I’ll be completely honest with you: it’s a little demoralizing, and some days it’s more so than others. Getting dressed in the morning becomes a guessing game (so, which jeans can I squeeze into today?). When it comes to getting dressed for a run, I’ve had to leave my ego at the door and try to not think about all the way these capris are hiding no secrets about my thighs, or that I seem to be gifted with a generous helping of side boob. You know it’s a thing.
And now I’m thinking of sending my ego on an extended vacation out of the country. I’m trying a new training approach—again, heart rate-related—because this is very much a rebuilding time for The Team That Is Me, and it seems like there’s no time like the present for laying down a proper aerobic base. I’ll need it for what I’ve got in store for the next few years.
I feel like I’m constantly struggling with this invisible line that runs right between these pretty ambitious goals and, well, life. Life that involves being a mom to three young kids who do a lot of relying on me at the moment for everything. Being a partner to someone who also has goals—and that they need a break, too. Every choice to go for a run or a bike ride has considerations and there are always sacrifices and trade-offs. This makes it a helluva lot easier to step away from plans, put them off for another year.
I’ll just say for now that I’m in the brainstorming stage. I have some events on the calendar for summer and fall, but I have no idea what they’re going to look like; I’m trying to be okay with that. And let’s be fair: rebuilding years are often painful and sometimes just ugly. But every once in awhile you win a few you weren’t supposed to take, and it’s pretty sweet when that happens.
I sat at the hospital all day, hooked up to an IV pumping drugs and saline into my body, all in an effort to coax my baby out. The baby who had no name. As I sat in waiting, Scott and I rolled through an alphabetical list of names. We started with A. Aaron. We tucked it away on the Maybe List.
In the end, it’s what stuck.
His entry into the world was fast and painful. His two-hour labor was meager compared to his older sister’s—an all-day affair that involved over three hours of ineffective yet exhausting pushing. Birth without pain-blocking medication and methods requires every ounce of brain power. There is nothing left over for embarrassment that you’re lying on a hospital bed mostly naked, or that you’ve shit yourself, or that you have no idea if you’re having a girl or a boy. You save that detail for the last day. You think, this will be an extra incentive to get through labor. The reality is that you’re out of your mind in pain and in that moment, you could not care less.
You just want it to be over.
And the end comes. And it’s a boy. And after the doctors and nurses have checked the baby, weighed him, bathed him, cleaned you up and roll out the mobile birthing unit, all is quiet. It’s as if they were never there. The only evidence is this little red human, wrapped up on a striped cotton blanket. And suddenly, all the pain and trauma starts to fade, as if it didn’t happen all.
You hold that baby, the product of a ten month-long growing project. That in itself is significant, but more than an artist finishing a painting or a composer an opus, you are never the same. You sit in that hospital bed, sleep-deprived and jacked up on adrenaline. You think, I will do anything for you, son. I will wake up every two hours to feed you. I will watch for the rise and fall of your chest as you sleep and worry way too much whether you’re breathing or not. I will cut your grapes into tiny bite-sized pieces. I will forget to write down the last time I gave you that dose of ibuprofen (and then I’ll probably do it again). I will clean you up after you’ve vomited all over your bed (when I didn’t believe you had a stomach ache) and let you sleep in my bed, even though I know there’s a good chance there’s more where that came from.
And one day you’ll ask for a birthday cake of your favorite cartoon character. And I’ll stay up late and sit in the kitchen with a pile of cake scraps and buttercream frosting that won’t spread and and do my best to give you that cake, even if it’s lopsided, imperfect, unrecognizable. Because this is what I do, even if I couldn’t imagine it that day you were born.
Happy birthday, Aaron. I love you more than this cake could ever say.
I know there’s that saying about how you never regret a run, and I can get behind that statement. Does the same apply to bike races? I’m still trying to decide.
It was sometime on Friday afternoon that I decided to go home and prepare to do this thing. Scott and a friend nailed it—[the race director] had gotten into my head*. I needed to just do the damn race if that’s what I wanted to do. Still, as I packed my bags I had a lot of questions about conditions. Was it worth the drive if I had to walk a lot of the course? I also had no clue what the course would be like. You can look at an elevation profile all day long but it doesn’t tell you anything about what a trail is like. In the end, it was a good thing I wasn’t familiar with the course. I don’t know if I’d shown up if I’d known what was coming.
*There were a series of emails that went out to participants that were of the “suck it up, we’re doing this even if we have to walk, blah blah” sentiment. And a bunch of business about “earning your pom hat” that you picked up with your bib. I found them more annoying than motivating.
I was also feeling some serious Mommy Guilt, after being gone the weekend before in Austin. Sophie was actually pretty annoyed that I was leaving, “AGAIN, Mom?”
As far as race reports go, there isn’t a ton you can say when the course is trashed and it’s 40 degrees. If you weren’t riding in slush on a snowmobile trail or bike path or road, it was ice. Most of the single track was mushy, with a six-inch deep tire track as your best line. I never realized how hard it is to ride in a straight line. Keeping your balance in normal conditions is one thing. It’s another if you’ve been pushing a 40 lb bike up and down hills and falling into snow banks all day long. My arms felt like they had run a marathon from just keeping the bike upright. There was no enjoying the downhills. I was just trying to stay alive.
I started in the back, knowing it wasn’t going to make much of a difference if I had 50 people in front of me or behind me. I leap frogged with a group for much of the course. We walked a lot of trail together. There were older guys, younger women, even some teenagers out with their mom.
My Garmin wasn’t keeping up. It kept stopping and wouldn’t start back up—so for most of the race I had no idea how far I had to go. This ended up being a good thing; I thought we’d only gone 4.5 miles but were actually at the 8 mile mark. I could’ve hugged the volunteer at the intersection who gave me that news.
The only other notable event was the whiskey and bacon aid station, right before the ten mile mark. Approximately 50 yards out, the road was slushy. My bike started to slip so I put my right leg out to catch myself and CRAMP. My entire leg from the knee up was completely locked. I stood next to my bike for a good five minutes before it subsided enough to hobble to the aid station. It was the worst cramp I’ve ever had in my life, and during that last stretch I fought off mini cramps in both quads. Maybe it helped that I ate a handful of bacon and took in a Gu and the rest of my GU brew (that shit saved me).
So do I have regrets? I suppose not. I don’t regret going, even if I had to push my bike as far as I sat on it and pedaled. I fell so many times I stopped counting, including one hard fall on a road that was a sheet of ice. It happened so fast I don’t even remember how it happened. (Side note: swapping out my clipless pedals for platforms was the smartest thing I did that day.) I’m pretty bruised up today and sore, but nothing major. I’ll live to ride/ski/run/snowshoe another day.
But would I do it again? I won’t rule out that someone won’t convince me to give it another shot in a year; a lot can happen in 12 months. But in the same conditions? It would be a tough sell.
Regardless, the event organization did seem pretty great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to partake in any pre-race or post-race festivities. I will say that—if I do ever lose my mind and do this again, I’ll make it a weekend affair. The volunteers were friendly and encouraging. The bacon and hugs station was like a desert oasis.
I’ve only done two bike races before this, so I don’t have a ton of experience. I tend to get nervous before bike races for this reason. even though I’d say I’m at least an average-ability rider. I was pushing my bike somewhere near the six mile mark—wondering how I was going to make it—and I realized this felt more like a marathon. All the running mantras applied, especially the one I had in my head for most of the 4.5 hours I was out there: Just keep moving. Sometimes “moving” meant pedaling. Most of the time, it was walking while pushing my bike. At one point, it meant rolling it down a steep embankment and climbing down after it.
I eventually made it across the finish line. The stats from the short race were 206 Registered – 171 Started – 128 Finished. I ended up finishing 106th (yes, I went back and counted). So yeah, I earned that dumb pom hat. Yeah, I guess I did.
There were many years when I ran marathons not because I was properly trained but because I’d paid the registration fee. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I did it and suffered through. I’d like to say it was a solitary event, but I did this a few times—I didn’t “respect the distance” as they say—and it was pretty…hurt-y.
Some people will tell you there is no difference between a marathon medal that is gotten untrained and one that is after spending 18 weeks putting in the time. Maybe they are right. Does it matter how you get across the finish line, if you run, walk, or crawl?
It matters to me. Or at the very least, the medals I’ve earned when I know I’ve put in hours and miles and passed on Friday night beers—those seem sweeter somehow. In those cases, the accomplishment isn’t really the 26.2 miles run from start to finish on race day but the hundreds of miles logged before even tacking on a bib. Those races? Those are my favorite.
That’s not to say I haven’t finished races with less than optimal training and felt really proud crossing the line. My ten mile attempt the fall after Sophie was born was in every way a disaster. I’m not even sure how I did it in the physical postpartum state I was in.
Grandma’s Marathon in 2008: we shouldn’t have gotten medals; we finished well after the posted time limit (they were even taking away the food tables as we entered the chute). But that race was by far the most painful of my life and we persevered for 26.2 miles. While I’m not proud of the time or the way we got there, I am proud of sticking with it.
Which is why it makes it really difficult for me to decide if I’m going to drive to a snow bike race tomorrow, one I signed up for back in November.
Since I am a maker of lists, I put one together of reasons why I should not drive to Marquette in the morning.
I haven’t trained for this. I’ve been out on my bike approximately twice and for a few miles, at most.
It’s a two hour drive to and from the race. Four hours in the car is a long time for approximately three hours of misery.
The weather is shitty, shitty, shitty, shitty for this type of race and I’m worried about possibly getting hurt on less than ideal trail conditions.
I’m having Mommy guilt; I was gone last weekend in Texas (more on that later) and this will force my husband to sit with the kids by himself for most of the day. Again.
When I signed up for this race, I said to myself, it will be fun. You’re doing this because biking is fun. Yay, biking! But I can’t help but wonder: is this going to be fun or is it going to be a torturous slog?
I don’t know. Really.
On the other side, the reason why I should do this? I’ve said in the past that my superpower is showing up. I might not be any better than mediocre or average on a good day, but I am pretty good at being there. Committing. It’s just sometimes hard to follow through on things you know are going to be painful. I mean, childbirth, amirite? Except with that you at least get a few days in the hospital hotel and a cute baby to take home. Fifteen miles tomorrow, and all I’ll get is a (kind of ugly) pom hat.
I guess I’m in. I think I talked myself into going while writing this stupid blog post. I’ll take it a mile at a time. Or a minute. Or a pine tree. We’ll see. At the very least, Marquette has a really good bakery, and this machine kills donuts.
We made a whirlwind trip to the cities for a baby shower last weekend. Babies were showered and dogs were groomed at outrageous big city prices. Fun was had by all. And while I don’t want to say that a sandwich was the highlight of such a weekend—I mean, we’re talking about FAMILY—I do have to say that while this sandwich didn’t “change my life,” it did completely turn my mood around mid-drive home.
This is one of those sandwiches that does make you immediately plan your next trip to Duluth so that you can eat another one. It’s also the sandwich I’ll request on my death bed if my death bed ends up being in the proximity of Northern Waters Smokehaus.
This did get me thinking about kimchi (the cole slaw of my people!) and if I could, in fact, make my own kimchi/sauerkraut love child. The thing that scares me is the whole fermentation thing, which is a big thing when it comes to kimchi, I know. You could say I’m in the curiosity phase at this point.
But I must turn my attention from Korean to Mexican cuisine, as I leave for Austin in three days and plan to eat my way across downtown over the extended weekend. Tacos might be a giant motivator in getting me across the finish line of the Austin Half Marathon.
It was the summer before my junior year of high school. I’d just gotten back from a two week-long bike tour in Minnesota and was feeling pretty good about myself. My great grandmother was visiting from Florida and we’d stopped by my grandparents’ house to see her.
“You’re not as chunky as you were the last time I saw you,” she said.
I’m 40 years old and I still remember that single comment made to me 25 years ago.
The thing is, we never know what will stick with a person. Words do, in fact, have power, and the ones that do the most damage are sometimes the ones we think the least of at the time.
I broke the unrunstreak on Saturday with a “long” run around town. (While that might seem like a semi-momentous occasion for this blog, let me assure you it was nothing of the sort. It was, in fact, so brutal I considered giving up running until the last bit of snow has melted from my front yard in April.)
The episode focused on eating disorders, told from two points of view: a young woman who’d emailed Dan about doing an episode on the topic and Margaret Cho, who has battled and continues to battle with the disease.
While I have never considered myself as someone who suffers from such things, as I listened to the podcast I couldn’t help but see glimpses of myself in these women’s stories. While my experience as a young(er) woman were not nearly as severe, I found myself on at least some level, relating to them.
Though I’m not a hardcore dieter, I’ve dabbled plenty. And every time I gave up on a diet, I felt like a failure. Even though those diets were setting me up to fail from the very beginning.
And I feel like I’ve gotten to a place, finally at the age of 40 post-childbirth x 3, where I’m learning to be okay with my body, the one that’s done some pretty cool things (see above: childbirth). The body that’s carried me across plenty of finish lines of long races and that’s pedaled me across states, through mountain ranges and miles of single track. The body that houses the brain that got me through college. The comforting harbor it provides for my kids when they climb into my lap and fall asleep.
It’s not a perfect body, but it’s the one I have and the one I want to keep using for a very long time.
But back to words. It made me wonder what my kids will remember. Will I say—have I said—words that hurt instead of help? Will they only remember the crap I’ve spewed when I was pissed off or not trying very hard?
It made me really mindful of what I say to them on a regular, mundane basis. Because those are the things they might remember. Those are the words that might stick for 25 years.
One of my intentions for the new year was to dust off my guitar and start playing again, with the goal of learning how to play songs in keys other than G.
That hasn’t happened yet, though I did have the trumpet out a few weeks ago, which the kids found ridiculously entertaining.
But I did get out on my classic skis yesterday. I went at lunch time, knowing I’d never last longer than about 30 minutes anyway. I hoped I could get in a few miles and minimize falling. And I’ve now skied 100% more than I have in the last two years (at least). Mission accomplished, I guess?
One of the reasons I love snowshoeing (and why I’ll be pulling those out at lunch instead of skis) is that there are far fewer factors to consider. For one, you don’t wax snowshoes. Apparently I don’t wax my skis either, or only do so every few years while forgetting which wax is on them. Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of gliding going on yesterday.
Note to self: get skis waxed properly before next outing.
And while it’s more difficult to enjoy your surroundings when you’re huffing and puffing in the tracks while wondering if your’e going around in circles and wow, you really just want to get back to the waxing shed and parking lot already, that’s not a bad thing. Nordic skiing is effort-wise right up there alongside a tempo run for me. So even though I only covered three miles, I’m going to say the workout was worth it.
Austin is less than two weeks away. I’ve accepted that I’m going to have to break the unrunstreak and get out there this weekend for some miles if I have any plans of keeping up with the other girls. I don’t want to, but I’ll do it. If only so that I’ll survive to eat my weight in chips and guacamole post race.
You can’t really appreciate the beauty and quality of trails we have up here in my neck of the woods until you get out on them yourself. And while that might seem like a no-brainer, “we have great trails” is something that gets tossed out there regularly by people who’ve never been on them. I know, because in a way I’m one of those people. Not that I hadn’t been on the trails at all, because I have, but there were miles of them I hadn’t tried. They were just colored squiggly lines on a map. And when it comes to maps, I am not an expert. “You can’t really get lost” doesn’t apply to me.
I’m spending my un-runstreak getting to know the trails a little better. (Note: As for my non-running, let me just make clear that I’m not suddenly anti-running. For me, it seems to be a good choice for my body and mind.) I’m trying to tackle a new one every time I go out, or at least venture down a new section or two. It’s not always easy to tell if you’re still on the trail, but I’ve only gotten stuck once and had to turn around and backtrack. Not bad for the girl who has trouble with direction.
It was especially important I get out and breathe in some nature today after having a frustrating morning, topped off by locking myself out of my car as I got out of my car at the trailhead. (Short story: broken door handle after super cold temperatures, can only enter from passenger’s side, thought I had my keys in my hand when I got out of the car.)
After waiting for awhile for Scott to come rescue me with the spare set of keys, I considered bailing on the planned snowshoe for time’s sake. I eventually decided I’d be worth more to everyone if I went back to my desk a little less tightly wound. It was the wise choice.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m going to miss these lunchtime snowshoe adventures when the snow is gone.
It’s not always easy to slow down for me, especially when it comes to exercise. If I am going to work out, I want to break a sweat. I want to feel like I’m pushing myself and making the most of my time. When I think of a good workout, I normally think tempo runs or intervals. I think of playing hockey with only two or three lines.
I don’t normally think of snowshoeing along at a snail’s pace.
But I know the effort heart rate-wise is on par with a slow run, so even though I’m not clipping along quickly, I’m doing something. And there are perks. On days like today that are warmer—meaning sloppy roads—I don’t have to think about where I’m going to go, if the sidewalks are plowed, or if I brought the right pair of shoes. I’m also able to enjoy what’s around me instead of putting so much effort into looking down and watching the trail or road so I don’t fall.
At the risk of sounding hippy dippy, today I really felt like nature had a restorative effect on me.
Or maybe I’m just hoping the snow on those branches doesn’t fall on me.