Yoga Retreat

yoga retreat

This one is called ‘Panic Pose’

After my recent beach trip, I set off on my much anticipated yoga retreat to the George Washington National Forest.  Yoga is something I suck at, but enjoy.  What I love about yoga is that you are allowed to suck, and this act of sucking is kindly referred to as an ‘individual practice’.  If sucking is too much trouble, you are always free to revert to ‘child’s pose’.

Last week, I was chatting with a friend who is new to yoga, and she described how her first yoga class was such a disappointment.  It was a little too confusing, hard core, and Sanskrit-spewing for her taste, so she promptly decided yoga wasn’t for her and never went back.  I get that.

I imagine she is not the only woman who has felt this way, exhausted and disheveled from a sweat-filled power yoga session, lower back twinging, while the lululemon-clad twenty-somethings remain glistening and beautiful on their way to grab a green juice.  Don’t even get me started on the intimidation guys feel.  My husband insists that he would be denied entry since his bald head is incapable of producing a man bun.

I recently discussed this with a thoughtful young instructor who had the body of a goddess, and even she admitted that some classes have evolved (due to demand) to be more like high intensity workout sessions masquerading as yoga.  Glad I’m not the only one thinking this.  I am also thinking, “Why did I not have her body when I was that age?” but I digress.

As I told my friend, if you’ve been to one yoga class, you’ve been to one yoga class.  Yoga classes and yoga studios are as unique as the many yoga instructors who teach them.  You have to try a few on, date around, until you find a good match.

Once you find an instructor or a style of class that resonates with you, you will experience the yoga buzz firsthand.  If you walk away feeling disappointment, then move on, but do keep looking.  Nothing beats the serenity of a good yoga buzz, surrounded by your happy yoga forcefield, inpenetrable by the grumpy people or aggressive drivers you will invariably encounter on the way home.

It took some time for me to find a good instructor, and of course, my favorite instructor will be different from yours.  My current instructor is close to my age, spiritually curious, sporting a cool tattoo, singing bowls, and is newly vegetarian (I think I’m rubbing off on her).  She’s also a smoothie entrepreneur, tree hugger, and she will hike your ass into the ground, because she’s cool like that.  I’ve seen butterflies land on her.  Enough said.

Accordingly, her yoga retreat was amazing.  Totally unplugged, rustic mountain cabins with bunk beds, drum circle, bonfires, babbling streams, ridiculously good vegan food (at my request), and a hike she described as featuring a small ‘rock scramble’, which turned out to be a death-defying mountaintop climb over boulders the size of small cars upon the summit of which she did a balance pose while I sat trying to stop shaking with fear.

That very same hike is the reason I love my yoga instructor and her adventurous spirit.  I am so grateful to have returned to my yoga practice this year.  Like every other form of movement I pursue, I try to embrace being in over my head.  Yoga is one of the few practices that will literally turn you upside down if you allow it to.  Namaste.

Success Cymbal

Cymbal

Cymbals:  the ultimate arm workout

Recently, I headed to the beach to recharge and reconnect with the sun and sand.  The beach is my happy place, and I am so privileged and grateful to have access to a little cottage by the sea.  I’ve had a dream to live at the beach since I was a young child, and this year I was planning to spend the summer there for the first time in my life.

Simultaneously, my daughter has been chasing a dream of her own, to march cymbals in Drum Corps International.  This was an intimidating goal, given that she was young, lacking an extensive percussion background, female in a guy-dominated world, and chasing a highly competitive instrument due to the shrinking number of corps that include cymbals.

I watched her plan over several years, gathering knowledge, attending competitions, and observing others.  This past November, she gathered her courage, signed up for auditions, admitted her goal to her friends, contacted mentors for advice, then headed to auditions.

The audition process involved traveling 6 hrs. by car, sleeping on a gym floor, practicing past midnight, and competing against college kids with years more experience.  She came back from audition camp bruised, sore, and exhausted, but also exhilarated.  I never realized what a workout cymbals could be!

Several months and several camps (and long car rides) later, she got word that there would be no contract for her this year.  She was obviously sad, but understanding that big goals take work and time, and she was on the right path.  Several months went by until she heard of another opening.  This was when the magic happened.

She expressed to me how much she wanted to try out again, but also how scared she was.  Trying out involved risk.  Risk that she would fail a second time, risk that she would feel embarrassed in front of her friends if she did not get a contract.  I advised her that failure could certainly happen, and that was the struggle she was going to have to accept if she wanted to reach that big goal one day.

As a parent, we want to give good advice to our children.  We want to protect them, but not shelter them from struggle in life.  I suggested that she acknowledge her fear, but instead focus on listening to her heart.  My advice was, ‘Close your eyes, and imagine you make the corps.  Does your heart feel joy, and if so, that is your answer.’  Let’s just say the decision was made pretty quickly thereafter, so we packed up the car again, and headed to the next audition camp.

This story ends with my daughter getting a contract, applying at the midnight hour for a cymbal scholarship (another big goal of hers), and finding out this week that she is one of the scholarship recipients.  As you can tell, I am a very proud mama!

So my most recent trip to the beach was spent packing up my things, cancelling my summer stay, and reflecting on how I will now spend my summer driving up I-95 to New Jersey, New York, and across the Mid-Atlantic to drum corps competitions.

Sometimes the Success Cymbal isn’t sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand.  It is working hard, taking risks, and chasing your dream.  Passion is contagious, and I could not be happier to be embarking on a new family adventure.  The beach will still be there for me when the drumline season ends.

A Dog’s Life

Zoe

Zoe, the Lawn Connoisseur

My dog Zoe is a rescue dog.  People often ask what type of dog she is, to which I usually reply, “Generic Brown.”  Although she is a mixed breed, I never had her tested, lovingly joking to her that she could remain undefined and would continue to love her as-is.  She may be lacking pedigree, but in her mind, she deserves only the best.

The ongoing joke in my family is Zoe’s habit of relieving herself only on premium grass.  Her delicate hiney is too good for common weeds.  No, the minute I turn my head, she sneaks off and uses the most pristine patch of perfectly manicured front lawn she can find.  All attempts by me to steer her toward common ground and dog areas have failed.  She’s got a radar for the good stuff, a taste for the finer things in life.

Just last month, we put a brand new patch of sod in our backyard.  I came outside to find the delicate new grass had promptly been christened by her highness.  At our favorite vacation spot, she consistently goes on the resort Bermuda grass, right next to the sign reading ‘Please Keep Off The Grass’.  She knows quality when she sees it.

Zoe’s kind of got a point here.  If this daily ritual is her main gift to the world (after love and affection), why not make it special?  She doesn’t do the whole deprivation thing, only using the nice grass at Christmas time or to impress when other dogs come over to visit.  Every day is reason enough for her to indulge.

Dogs really do lead the good life.  Toileting habits aside, maybe we should do the same.  Maybe we should burn the nice candle, and use the fancy dishes, for no other reason than joy.  If you are going to partake in something, why not have only the best and then use it often?  Less is more, but less can also mean better.  You deserve it, as does Zoe.

Getting Wet & Other Keys To Happiness

trail shoes

Day 1, the only day they were ever clean.

I looked outside this morning, and it was pouring down rain.  One of those warm, soaking, spring rains that looked like it would pour for hours.  ‘Not a problem,’ I thought.  I now own trail running shoes, also known as the shoes that are allowed to go anywhere, getting as dirty & wet as they please.

Trail running has reminded me that getting outside, getting wet, and getting muddy are keys to happiness.  One of those things I knew instinctively when I was a kid, but later forgot as I started paying for my own shoes.

I laugh at the progression of my recent 50K trail race, how I celebrated at keeping my feet dry while crossing the first stream.  By Mile 18, I was covered with mud and plowing through a deeper stream without a second thought, pretty stoked that I could not avoid the water, and thus the decision was made for me.

When did I start deciding to become so foo-foo in my everyday life?  Foo-foo meaning too clean to go digging in the garden because I was wearing my nice pants, too cold to play in the snow, and too inconvenienced by the rain to throw on a raincoat and go splash in a puddle.  Did I have better things to do, like staying indoors and checking my email?  Do I even want people to know that I check my email?

Today was different.  I am a trail runner now.  I told my feet to suck it up.  Trail shoes went on.  The dog and I went out for a solid hour of puddle splashing and sniffing.  We both returned soaked and happy.  A person (and her dog) can only get so wet, and once we reach that saturation point, we can relax and start enjoying the moment.

Get In The Game

Blue Ribbon

First Place, Baby.

The irony of me writing a running blog never ceases to make me smile.  Why?  Because I know myself, and one thing I know is that I am athletically challenged.  Elementary school P.E. class revealed this to me at an early age, as I unknowingly walked past home plate during a baseball game and got smacked in the face (twice) with a plastic bat during my classmate’s back swing (right cheek) and follow through (left cheek).  I still have the scar on my knee from falling during the 600 yard dash.  It took me 5 years of field days before I earned my first blue ribbon for grabbing the most flags in tag event (random luck, but I still have that freakin’ ribbon).

There are a few things I know about myself:

I trip and drop things a lot.

I’m very slow relative to many of my peers.

Muscle is a very small portion of my body mass index.  No. Matter. What.

Why, then, would I subject myself to endurance events on a semi-regular basis?  Self-awareness!  I know how much I want to be athletic, and how great I feel when I go out and run.  The fact that I am not naturally outstanding just makes me all that more motivated to work hard.  I am used to not winning (in sports), and that allows me to take risks, not having the pressure of a particular race outcome.  All those years of feeling intimidated by athletics built up my resiliency in facing uncertainty.  I am able to accept unpredictable situations without becoming judgmental and discouraged.  I’m used to being in over my head, which led me to venture into triathlon, cycling, and most recently, my first ultra.

If I had waited to be a talented runner, I would have never have gotten out the front door.  Instead, I relied on my other strengths:  my love of learning, my determination, my intelligence, my desire for adventure, and last but not least, my courage.  I knew I had to drink kale smoothies while the other runners noshed on pancakes and bacon, and that I would still weigh more and run slower.  So be it.  Enjoy the Boston Marathon for me, bacon eaters of the world.

If you want to do something, then get in the game.  Don’t wait to be picked by someone else.  Create your own opportunities.  Mastery comes to those who practice.  Rewards go to those who begin.

50K Ribbon

Not first place, but still cool.

Decluttering is Shallow

If minimalism is deep, then decluttering is shallow.  I don’t mean shallow in a judgmental, negative sense.  Rather, that decluttering our home is the act of peeling back the initial layer of what hides our authentic selves.  Decluttering removes what is on the surface, in essence, exfoliating the superficial surface of our lifestyle, revealing a glimpse of the true person underneath.

It can be easy to become stuck in decluttering, and to avoid moving on to the deeper actions of crafting your life.  Figuring out who you truly are and what motivates you involves feeling vulnerable.  It feels safer to dwell in the shallows, rearranging a bookshelf, or wiping the kitchen countertops, quietly avoiding the possessions you have a difficult time addressing but know you want to let go.  It is easy to hide.

I have been there.  Sometimes I feel stuck or stagnant in my minimalism practice, which I believe is something to be embraced and celebrated.  This discomfort means I’ve gotten past the shallows, and can begin to dive deeper into who I am and what person I want to be in the world.  When there are no distractions to hide behind, and no more easy things to get rid of, there is opportunity for self-discovery.

Going deep involves facing your shortcomings.  For me, that was feeling like I wasn’t fit enough, or thin enough, or popular enough, or doing work that I cared about.  What that looked like in my home was lots of fitness gear, kitchen gadgets, luxury items, and books on self-improvement, creativity, and adventure.  These were the possessions I valued, but they were standing in my way.

It felt so much safer to stay home and consume content, reading about things that others were doing.  I bought new pieces of fitness gear, hoping to find a shortcut to speed or ease the effort of working out.  I justified my nutritional shortcomings by dwelling on healthy cooking.  I purchased a house that was too large and difficult to maintain.

What I wasn’t doing in accumulating these things was diving deeper into my life by taking action.  You cannot curate the life you want by making aspirational purchases.  In fact, I think it can be paralyzing to own these things.  Things distract you from taking effective action.  Things shelter you from the rewards that come from struggle.  Things are just a snapshot of who you want to be.

Go ahead and dive deep.  Keep the things that serve you, but let go of the things that serve as a safety net or a distraction.  Build resourcefulness, empowerment, and self-confidence by accomplishing things with less.  Be vulnerable.  Be enough.   Be you.

Running…I am complete.

50K finish

I made it to the finish.

One of the first things I ask myself after a race is, “What’s next for me?”  It’s helpful to look forward whether my race experience was successful or challenging in hindsight.  It keeps the post-race emotional slump at bay (I’m not the only one who has this, right?!).  It reminds me that running (and life) is a process and that personal growth is never linear or straightforward.  Sometimes I want to improve in what I’m doing, and other times I want to go in a new direction.

After my 50K, what kept popping into my mind was “Running…I am complete”.  It was true.  When I started running endurance events in 2010, I had hoped to become a half marathoner, a marathoner, and ultimately, an ultrarunner.  I wanted to use my running to raise money for charity, and I did, raising $10,000 for autism in honor of my son.  I wanted to join Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, and then run a sub-4 hour marathon.  Check.  Later, I got sidetracked by an incredibly fun alpine cycling adventure (Thanks, France), only to return to running, and that elusive goal of completing an ultramarathon.

It took me seven years to work up the courage, fitness, confidence, and to build the consistency that I needed to accomplish my goal of running a 50K.  There were many failures along the way, all of which helped me correct and move closer to my goal.  Was my finish time the best I’m capable of?  Probably not, given my uncooperative knee.  But speed was never on my radar for this race.  I wanted to show up to the start, keep moving forward, and finish.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I knew immediately after the finish that trail running was amazing, and I wanted to run trails more often.  I knew that I had blown my annual fitness budget on this big trip, and that it was totally worth it to not race again in 2017.  I also knew (as I already anticipated) that I had no desire to ever run 50 miles, 100K, or 100 mile races.  Yep, 50K was a lot like a half marathon road race.  The perfect distance to enjoy the ultra experience without feeling trashed afterwards.  It was just what I was looking for, and no more.

It’s an elusive but positive emotion, feeling content.  It doesn’t mean I’ll never challenge myself, but it means I can look at the path behind me and think “That was amazing, and I’m right where I need to be.”

What’s next?  Haven’t answered that question yet.

50K of Tree Hugging

Tree Hugger

Who cares about race pace when there are trees to hug?

Ok folks, I’ve done it.  I’ve crossed over to the trail ultrarunning world with the 2017 Mendocino Coast 50K race under my belt.  I don’t want to admit to myself how much I just enjoyed my first 50K, as this will likely lead to ongoing muddy shoes and risk of being eaten by wild animals.  However, my instinct tells me that this must happen again in my running future.

I’m happy to report that I finished my first 50K, just squeaking under the cut off time of 8:30 by a mere 10 minutes.  Funny, in road racing, the cut off time has always been some distant non-concern of mine, to be considered only by those who walk the entire race or get injured.  Practically a joke.

Now picture me, exhausted after 31 miles, sprinting along a riverside cliff, dead Garmin battery, having no frame of reference for remaining clock time and distance to the finish.  In that moment, I was running as fast as I could, thinking ‘What if I miss the cut off by 30 seconds after all these hours?!?!’  Yes, I have been schooled by trail running.  Ego has been checked.

I now know that I do not know how to run downhill trails, or in mud, or how to use a rope to scramble up embankments.  I know that if the tree is big enough, I will stop to hug it, and the resulting poison ivy rash will be worth it.  I know that it doesn’t matter how muddy I get, because eventually I will cross another stream and get soaked, both of which are immeasurably fun.  I know that if I run on beaches, over breathtaking oceanfront cliffs, through redwood forests, and past waterfalls, my soaring soul will more than make up for my hurting body.  Lastly, I know that ultra races have a uniquely cool community vibe, and I might just be ok with wearing a trucker cap or drinking a microbrew on occasion, even though neither involve kale.

That was my 50K in a nutshell.  Freakin’ awesome.

More Bananas

Running has been the greatest ongoing experiment of finding out how little I can get by on and still survive.  I’ve found myself buying less fitness gear, and fueling more simply the more years I run.  I haven’t discussed food here for a while, so I figured today I’d talk about how my diet has evolved and simplified during this training cycle.

Mainly, I got tired of cooking and my tummy got tired of digesting.  Typically, I look forward to meal planning and creative recipes, but this go round, I felt over it all.  Maybe the extra miles and time commitment of training left me ready for simplicity in the kitchen.  Maybe my body just required simple food in order to process the number of calories I was burning.

Either way, stuff that I used to eat all the time started disagreeing with me, and my motivation to cook waned.  Accordingly, my diet evolved into mainly fruits and veggies.  Perhaps I should say devolved, since fruits and veggies were my very first foods as an infant.  Ok mom, you were right.

What does this look like in the grocery department?  I start with my weekly farm produce delivery, then I shop for a crapton of bananas and soft, ripe fruit.  (I’d like to formally thank DC Rainmaker for the crapton reference, as it’s my favorite word I’ve added to my vocabulary since reading his blog.  I also know he’s super technical, so I totally trust his accurate use of crapton references.)

What does this look like in day to day life?  Each morning, I pretty much sip green tea until I get hungry, then I eat a crapton (hee hee) of fruit until that gets boring, and by dinner, I eat a salad made of whatever needs to get eaten before next week’s farm delivery.  If I’m extra hungry, I’ll throw in some avocado or seeds, because sometimes lettuce just won’t do.

Dates are my running food of choice, and yes, eventually they taste just as gross at that fifth GU gel I used to down near the end of my races.  Nothing tastes as good at the end of a race as sitting down feels.

That’s it.  There is no secret recipe, unless you count ‘more bananas’.  When all else fails, I just eat more bananas.  On that note, I think I’ll have a banana.

 

 

Two Weeks Notice

trail run

It’s about 17 days until 50K race day.  Time to give my body two weeks notice that it is about to be trashed in exchange for bragging rights and a race medal, should the stars align.  I have to say, I’ve been tapering for about 6 weeks now, a taper length which doesn’t actually exist on any legit training plan.  More accurately, I signed up for a 24 week program and peaked at week 18 by accident.

I knew the last month of training was going to be tricky, filled with social commitments, volunteer hours, and those lingering freezing cold DC spring mornings.  I didn’t anticipate how much I would loathe running in those final weeks leading up to race day.  I’m chalking this up to poor weather combined with a purposeful lack of training buddies, both of which backfired into boredom and burnout.

Rather than dig myself further into an emotional hole, I decided to take some time off.  I wanted to feel fresh on race day, both emotionally and physically.  Heck, all I need to do is show up to the race start and I’ve outdone my past two marathon performances.  I’m pretty sure I’ll finish, give that the course is a loop, and the alternative to finishing is sleeping in the woods alone overnight.  There’s some motivation, although at mile 25, sleeping in the woods will probably seem like a brilliant idea.

I’m incredibly excited about race day…the travel, the scenery, the people, the vegan eats, and the inevitable suffering, which I am now oddly craving due to my exceptionally long taper…mission accomplished.  I’m pretty sure my 3-part race strategy is still spot on:

  1. Stay upright
  2. Stay on course
  3. Finish