LET'S GO RACIN'!!! 3 mantras i have, and have had for the past months ...
1) Smooth, Strong, Steady: this is not a race to win, this is a race to complete. If i'm in before midnight, i've won.
2) What i feel right now, is ONLY what i feel right now: Don't make it more than it is, believe the good miles are coming and
3) Dum Spiro Spero: which sorta sums it all up. See ya at the finish!
Ironman Louisville is 20 weeks away. Only 20. That's not many. Not to say that's short, I mean a lot can happen in 20 weeks. In 20 weeks, a woman can bake half a baby. In 20 weeks, the temperature in Kansas City can go from fifteen below to 102 degrees. And in 20 weeks, Kim Basigner and Mickey Rourke can get blindfolded and freaky in front of a fridge 2.1 times. But when thinking about getting ready to swim, bike and run 140.6 miles (in a row) just 20 weeks from now, it just doesn't seem very long at all. And I feel like I can use all the length I can get.
That's what she said.
Many thoughts go through my head on a day-to-day basis about Louisville. Those thoughts run the gamut. Some are positive (I can totally do this! What? Pshaw, ain't nothing but a thing … 140.6 times). Some are tear-jerking (Jenne Fromm … YOU…ARE…AN….IRONMAN!) and some … well, some aren't so awesome. The thing is, I can't think of Louisville without thinking about my ex in-laws (out-laws?) who lived there. I can't think of my ex in-laws without thinking of my first marriage – that makes sense. I can't think of my first marriage without thinking about my first husband – he was sort of there. A lot. And I can't think of my first husband without feeling, in a tiny tiny way, like I'm a failure.
If you've been married and divorced, you get it. It's the scarlet D you carry with you that no one talks about. No, it's not taboo anymore and yes, you are in good company but no one walks down the aisle thinking "eh, if it doesn't work, no biggy". And no one leaves a marriage without some scarring. That's what happens when something is ripped beyond repair. Divorce is hard. It hurts. And if you have any self-introspection at all, it makes you question every single thing about yourself.
There are tennis courts near my house. During the winter, the D.O.T. uses that space to pile up buckets and bucket of snow. Every season, this snow pile amazes me. For a couple of reasons - one, it's just always amazing to see Missouri actually plow snow (you'd understand if you lived here) and two, because that snow pile lasts well into spring. I wish you could see it the day after it snows. It's dreamy. Every year I just wanna run there and play in it. It's big and bright white and chunky. It's soft and billowy. It looks perfect – like snowball snow, and snow-angel snow and snowman snow and it especially looks like snow-fort snow. It's everything good about snow. It's whipped cream. It's marshmallow topped cocoa. It's meringue. I just love it.
For about 24 hours. Then it gets crappy.
See the thing about that snow pile is, the longer it stays there, the dirtier it gets. Exhaust from cars karreening around the corner turns the top layer dingy. Mud and muck from the melted street snow slashes up the sides. Dirty rain beats down on the top of the pile during each drizzle. And as the pile begins to melt, everything the D.O.T. scraped up along with the snow begins to show through. Tree limbs, slabs of asphalt, rotten leaves, trash. All this dirt and grime does two things simultaneously to my snow pile. 1) It infects it and 2) it insulates it so that long, long after it should be gone, it lingers. And it looks nothing like it did … all the beauty is leeched out. All the usefulness seeps away and it is no longer even recognizable for the goodness it once was.
A lot of things are like that, I suppose,
When they first fall upon us and pile up there is a good reason. It makes sense. Like the initial swelling of an injured knee or a twinge of pain in a pulled back – at first, necessary … if it sticks around too long, however, what was initially good can be downright grimy.
I didn't do everything right in my first marriage. I wasn't as forgiving as I could have been. I didn't call bullshit often enough. I under-judged my support system. And I under-valued myself. I made mistakes. I shut down. I built walls. I gave up. Quite honestly, there was a time, years ago – years and years, when thinking about those mistakes and working to correct them and make changes to my character served me well. There was a time when that thinking was healthy. New. Fresh. When remembering was key to changing. When my failure of the past pushed me closer to the me I want and need to be. There was a time when it was good. But the longer that thinking sticks around, the dirtier it is becoming. Until now, it doesn't even resemble what it once was.
Sometimes now, in the deepest darkest parts of my mind, in the melted pile of memories, I find it hard to think of my failed marriage without thinking I'm a Failure.
I need to let go of it.
I need to cross that finish line.
I need to associate Louisville with success, not failure.
The success of 140.6 miles.
The success of 5 years cancer-free.
The success of my current marriage, my current family, my amazing life.
Louisville is majorly hot in August. And I may be one of the only people who isn't worried about that heat. It's gonna warm the Ohio river, beat down on my back, turn my shoulders red and skin pink and when I fly across that finish line in the dark of night, that sun will have helped me melt a big ol' pile of nasty thinking.
20 weeks. In a way, it can't come fast enough.
How does it happen? How does a girl who literally couldn't run more than a block without feeling like her head was going to explode off her shoulders run TWENTY - SIX POINT TWO miles? Insert all the funny and clichéd lines here. Such as.... One mile at a time! and.... Slowly! and... With a great deal of Body Glide! Yuk to the Yuk!
I was in Seattle this year for the 3 Day for the Cure when I decided to sign up for the Walt Disney World Marathon. I was also feverish and delirious from some sort of bug at the time and I don't know that I was thinking too terribly well. I remember talking to my coach soon after and asking him if he thought I could and should do a marathon. I remember listening to him tell me all the reasons I could. I remember him going through the typical, "It's going to be a lot of work" speech and kicking around the idea of me doing another ½ marathon or continuing to do Half-Ironman triathlons. I remember him landing squarely toward the end of the conversation on "Yes, I think you can do a marathon." To which I said, "Good. Because I already signed up."
Which is typical. All my life I've made decisions first based on what I want to do -- then later figuring out the road blocks and ways around them. I know that's not how everyone makes decisions (reference: The Hub) and I know my method of making decisions that way can be somewhat unnerving to others (reference: The Hub, still). But it usually works for me. Usually .
Here are some of the things I learned:
26.2 miles is REALLY far.
Now, I know this may seem obvious but it sort of surprised me how far 26.2 miles really is. A few weeks prior to the marathon, I went to mapmyrun.com and created a starting point at my house and drew a line out 26 miles in many different directions. It amazed me. I know most of my readers aren't from around here but, as the crow flies, from my house to the Kansas City International Airport is only 20.1 miles ... and that drive takes me about 40 minutes. Forty minutes! And, since I'm not a car, nor a crow, it takes me a really long time to run 26.2 miles. Hours. And hours. And of course I knew it would take a long time but I didn't realize it would FEEL like such a long time. I dunno, maybe since I made the jump from a sprint triathlon - which has a 3.1 mile run, to a half-ironman distance triathlon - which has a 13.1 mile run, maybe I thought the jump to a 26.2 mile run wouldn't be that big a deal. Which just goes to show you can't underestimate the power of a little forethought (cue The Hub silently cheering this realization). Because even though I worked really hard at not thinking negatively during the race, I admit to having a moment at mile 17 when I said out loud "Wow. This is dumb." And the man next to me huffed out, "You can say that again." Unfortunately, I actually couldn't say that again - because it took too much oxygen.
At the same time, I have to be honest and tell you when it was over, it didn't really seem to take all that long. I finished and thought. Huh. I'm done! And this is pretty much like my life. There was a time when I couldn't imagine being over 40 and now that I'm here I'm all like : Huh, that didn't take long at all. So maybe the lesson here is - Don't make decisions about what you are going to do based on what it feels like the day you sign up. Instead, trust the finish line will show up sooner than you think. Don't wanna go back to school because you'll be 45 when you're finished? Guess what? You'll be 45 anyway - and sooner than you think. Don't want to start losing weight because it's going to take you 6 months to reach your goal? Guess what? Summer is coming anyway. Don't want to start reading this blog post because it runs way down past the screen? Guess what? I hear ya.
You don't have to run the race before you have to run the race.
Another one that may seem obvious. The running lesson here is simple - do your workout today and race day will take care of itself. Back in November, I had a 14 mile run I needed to get in one Wednesday morning. Thankfully, I was in Florida and I could run outside. My sister decided to be route support (what can I say? I get used to those fully-stocked pit stops every 3 miles on the 3 Day) and ride alongside on her bike with water and nutrition for me. All seemed good but there was nothing in me that day that wanted to run 14 miles. What's worse, I started off and felt super-duper awful. I was running about a minute per mile slower than my usual pace and the miles were dragging by mercilessly. When that happens, the negativity starts to creep in ...not just about that run and that day but more sinister, about race day. Thoughts bounce around in my head like bumpercars, slam into my psyche and throw me off my game. Thoughts like "How the hell are you going to run 26.2 miles on race day?" And "Even if you do finish, you'll be the last one" and "How the hell are you going to run 26.2 miles on race day?" and "Wow, You are miserable at this!" and "HOW THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO RUN 26.2 MILES ON RACE DAY??" And on and on it goes.
And on that day, I just knew I had to put a stop to it. I had my support team there and by golly, I was going to use it/her. So I yelled out to my sister peddling along behind me, "Beek! Your job today is to make sure I run 14 miles ...not 13 or 13.5 but 14 ... 14 is the number. Got it?" "YOU KNOW IT!" she called back. And then, because she's a perceptive one, I hear ... "You okay up there?" And I told her I was hurting. Told her I wanted to quit. Told her that I just didn't see how I was going to be able to run 26.2 miles. "Beek," I said, "How am I going to run 26.2 miles on race day?" And you know what she said?
"By running 14 today."
The life lesson follows. Seeing the end is good - necessary even - but don't get all caught up in it. Today just do what you need to do today. You know how you grow your business in the next 5 years? You return that phone call today. You know how you move from this lousy job to a great one in 6 months? You write your resume today. You know how you repair the broken relationship with your family? You be nice today. Do the baby steps. The rest will fall into place.
On a side note, before each long run for the rest of my training I would call my sister and say "Beek, how am I going to run 26.2 miles on race day?" And she'd say "You're going to run X miles today!" Of course, being her, on race day last week as we loaded into the car at 2:30 a.m. I turned to her and said, "Hey Beek! How am I going to run 26.2 miles today???" and she said "Hell if I know - that's really far." Then again, she hadn't had her coffee yet.
Everyone starts and finishes at the same place.
There were a reported 15,000 of us that started that race. 13,400 finished. We all crossed the same start line. We all crossed the same finish line. We all ran the same course. For some, it wasn't easy. Some stopped at every photo op. Some chose to run the tangents and probably ran a little less. Some needed medical help. Some walked the majority of the race and some ran so fast you'd swear they cheated. But we all crossed the same finish line.
It's like life. We're all born. We all die. We all travel through life together. Some have a harder time and some have an easier time but there is a beauty to knowing we are all in this together. And it is your choice whether you see your fellow participants as competition or comrades. It is your choice to be inspired or frustrated. It's your choice to groan or cheer, wave or sigh, pump your fist or pump your legs. Your choice.
Everyone has gas.
Self-explanatory. Both for marathons and for life. Deal with it.
Nothing takes the place of patience.
The week prior to the race I was flitting all over Orlando looking for all the things that I needed - gels, new compression socks, the right top, etc. Every running store The Hub and I went into asked if we were doing the marathon. With 15,000 signed up for the full (or the "whole" as my mom calls it) and 24,000 signed up for the half, chances were pretty good that people entering their store were running. In one store the shop owner gave a little advice as we left loaded with gels and recovery brew. "Just be patient," he said. "It's a long way." Good advice. Great advice actually. Because (contrary to what my sister said) it's actually very simple how you run 26.2 miles on race day - you run 1 mile ... 26.2 times. There's no shortcut (although I do think it was cruel to run us right past the monorail station) and there's no way around it: 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles and if you are going to finish, you have to run every one of them. And sometimes, it's a grind.
Disney does an amazing job of providing entertainment along the way. From characters to karaoke, music to magicians, cheerleaders AND marching bands - they had it all. And still, that race can be a drag. Once or twice I tried to break the monotony by cracking a joke or two. Only to find out that not many people share my same sense of humor. (I still can see the dismayed and confused look on the face of the supporter who was holding up a giant sign "GO SALLY!" when I ran by and said "Hey, my name's not Sally but thanks anyway!!"). And there were a few times when I heard that shopkeepers words in my head ... "just be patient" and I would downshift my thoughts and do just that.
Such is life. It's fabulous and entertaining and hard and challenging and awe-inspiring and breath-taking and hysterical and heart-breaking ... most of the time. But sometimes, it's just a grind. Sometimes we just have to keep moving forward. Sometimes things don't happen as fast as we want, take longer than we want, bore us to tears ... and that's okay. One my favorite sayings and one that floats repeatedly through my head during long miles is "Keep moving, time takes care of the rest." And now, thanks to that Orlando shop owner and my experience at Disney I've added: Just be patient. Mickey may be around the next corner.
LESSON SIX - and maybe the most important lesson of all
Nothing beats the power of a good support team.
And yes, I made the shirts.
I feel a little bit like Miss America after her reign, moving slowly down the runway one last time prior to giving up her crown. Except, of course, it wouldn't be a crown but a pink boa, coconut bra and crazy knee socks.
4 years. It's been an amazing 4 years. In those 4 years, I've said my share of words. I've held the mic and the attention of the room probably more than I should have, I've yammered and told stories and repeated jokes and talked and talked and talked. But I'm hoping you'll indulge me one last time to simply say,
Rewind the clock back to December 2006 … I was bald and broken and unable to breathe on my own. I'd been hospitalized due to complications from my lymphoma treatments. I was unable to walk across a room and my skin was a strange ashy color. Anyone who entered that hospital room could plainly see something was very wrong. Every visitor I had -friends, family, doctors, - all had the same look wash over their faces the moment they laid eyes on me. A look of sad compassion. Of realization. Of pity. In those moments, it was so obvious what cancer had taken from me. My health, my hair, my fully-functioning lungs, my strength, my rosy cheeks, my appetite, and my future. But for all those recognizable things chemo and cancer had taken from me, the most precious were the things no one saw.
Years and years ago, when I was in high-school, we had an old push mower with a pull cord. I had a date with that lawnmower every week. And every week, it gave me fits. One particular week, I stood in the barn and pulled and pulled and pulled on that old ratty cord but the mower just wouldn't start. I checked the gas, put in oil, adjusted the choke and kicked the blasted thing repeatedly. Bupkis. No matter how hard I tried, or how many times I pulled, the vurrump, vurrump, vrumump never turned into a varooooom!. Eventually I called my dad at work to break the news. "It's completely dead." I said. "It won't work. It's broken."
"Totally broken?" my dad asked.
"Totally broken." I said, hung up the phone and returned to watching The Young and the Restless.
When my dad came home he went immediately to the barn. I followed. Convinced the lawnmower was a goner, I rattled on beside him as he yanked the cord, checked the gas and adjusted the choke. "Yep," I said, "It's broken. Guess we'll have to get rid of it. Guess we need a brand new one. Probably should get one of those power ones. This one is definitely broken. Definitely useless. Definitely." On and on I went while my dad messed with the mower. And, what do you know, it wasn't too long before that bastard machine sprung to life.
"Spark plug," my dad yelled over the noise of the mower. "She's still good ... just needed the spark. Get to mowing, Kiddo." And I did. And it worked just fine. Of course it did. It wasn't broken. Everything was still there, but without the spark, it was useless.
I hate cancer for a lot of reasons. I hate it for what it does, I hate it for what it causes, I hate it for Jen, and Alison and Bridget and Becky and Daddy and Grandma and Linda and Jackie and Anna. I hate it because it's scary and frightening. I hate it because it's sneaky and ruthless. I hate it because it isn't fair.
And I hate it because it took my spark.
Just a few short months after my hospitalization and through the miracle of modern medicine and despite our fears, I was recovering. My scan was clear. My hair was growing. My lungs were breathing, my stamina was returning and my appetite - well, that homecoming was fast and furious. I was recovering. But I wasn't well. I may have looked okay on the outside but I wasn't okay. And as much as I tried to be okay, something was missing. Everything I once cherished and loved about the real me, the inside me, the me I enjoy the most was gone. Bupkis. I could varrump but I couldn't vroooom. And to be even more honest, I thought I was a goner for good.
Cancer took my spark. And you gave it back.
Thank you. Thank you for everything. For every opportunity. For every laugh. For every mile. For every high five and fist bump. To my partners at the event, thank you for listening to me. Thank you for playing "Greatest American Hero" again and again. Thank you for tolerating my calls to the 1-800 number when I couldn't find the command center. Thank you for shuttling me around the route and thank you for scheduling "emergency media calls" at exactly the right time. Thank you for being my official and unofficial writers and thank you for letting me steal all the good jokes and claim them as my own. Thank you for reminding me over and over again what city we are in and for more than my share of Executive stickers. Thank you for understanding the importance of colored index cards.
To the amazing walkers and crew members of the 3 Day for the Cure, thank you. Thank you for walking with me. Thank you for fixing my back so many times. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for letting me cry with you when you told me about your fears and losses and worries about your next scan, next appointment, next test. Thank you for trusting me with your hopes. Thank you for trying to scan my credential again and again and for giving me about 100 route cards per event. Thank you for giving me extra potatoes when I asked and for laughing at the dumb jokes I tell again and again. Thank you for giving me a space to heal and to hope. Thank you for welcoming me to your event each weekend and making every city my favorite city. Thank you for inspiring me. And for truly living the cure, not just walking for it. Thank you for never giving up.
And to the amazing organization I've been honored to represent for the last 4 years. Thank you. Thank you for giving hope. And for providing a place for others to hope and shed the boat anchor of impotence and helplessness. Thank you for the sacrifice you all make to this cause. Thank you for not only doing what you can but for doing what others can't.
The 3 Day has been some of the best moments of my life.
Thank you. I will always be grateful for the spark.
Even though it's only been a few days since I posted my "Difficult, not impossible" post, I had a lot of time to think about it. A lot of time. Hours and hours and hours. Mostly on Sunday.
Sometimes people ask me what I think about during all those hours of training on the bike, in the pool, during runs. I most often answer "Dairy Queen." Because I can get a good 12 miles of riding out of a dilly bar. But usually during training my mind mostly sort of shuts off. You'd think I could spend that time thinking about new talks I could put together or new strategies for some of my clients or new marketing ideas for my business. And I guess I could. But I don't. I often don't think about anything. And 3 or 4 hours later, when I get off the bike I often realize, "Shoot, I forgot to think!" But every now and then, I actually am able to think. About more than what I'm going to treat myself with. Sometimes I think about significant stuff.
On Sunday, during the ride especially, I not only had time to think but I had the focus. And I kept thinking about that post.
Difficult, not impossible.
<pedal pedal pedal>
Difficult, not impossible.
<pedal pedal pedal>
Difficult, not impossible.
<pedal pedal pedal>
Difficult, not impossible.
And that's when it hit me. Man! Something about that is buggin' me! I realized, quite suddenly, I had a serious issue with that post. The very post I posted. And I was frustrated because normally I get all my voices to agree before I post something. But apparently, somebody wasn't paying attention.
I spent a few miles during the run trying to zero in on what exactly was bothering me about that post. Then I spent the rest of the miles counting backwards from 300. Or upwards to 300. Or up to 150 then back down. Or, well, you get the idea. It was a long day. At some point between the niggling bugging on the bike and Monday morning on the plane, I nailed it down. Here's the thing. I stand by that post. I do agree with myself. I think I'm right about the Difficults in life. BUT if you would have said those same words to me … the ones about zooming out and seeing the bigger picture and embracing the difficult for what it brings; if you would have said any of those things to me when I was going through treatment - one of the most Difficults of Difficults in my life- I think I would have punched you in the mouth.
Because difficult sometimes is just too difficult. And in those moments when the Difficults fill the entire windshield of our focus, we can see nothing else. The clichés are too clichéd. And the encouragement is too hollow and the light at the end of the tunnel is just too far. We can't be our best. We can't have a stiff upper lip. We can't put a smile on our face and a song in our heart. We just can't embrace the difficult.
And that's okay.
This coming weekend I'll be back on event with the 3 Day for the Cure. Every event I see people do the difficult but not impossible. Every weekend I'm amazed by people pushing themselves. I see little old ladies chugging away mile after mile. I see overweight men and women with ace bandages and tape on their knees hobble along with smiles on their faces. I see people walking in flip flops on day 2 because their shoes rubbed their feet raw. I've seen firefighters walk the entire 60 miles in full gear. I've seen 2 girls do the whole route while hula-hooping. I've seen husbands push their wives who are weak and confined to wheelchairs. I've seen women leave early on Friday to take chemo and return on Saturday to walk. I've seen walkers sent to the hospital with dehydration only to come back the next day to finish what they started. I've seen people define "difficult, not impossible."
And I've also seen people collapse in pain. I've seen back spasms that require an ambulance ride. I've seen women sobbing in defeat and pain and men crippled by blisters as big as your fist. I've held women as they cried out in pain and helped ice a daughter's twisted ankle as she tells me her mom is watching from heaven and she has to finish. I've listened to mothers as they begged the medical team to let them finish and watched as the medical team does what's right and what's so hard and tells them they just can't let them go on. And I've watched as people try to come to terms with the fact that they didn't achieve the goal they set. And I've seen faces fall and eyebrows knit together and tears spill down cheeks as men and women feel like a failure. And it would be wrong, in those moments, to walk right up to them and say, "Hey! Difficult! Not impossible!"
See what I'm saying?
There was a time, not that long ago, when I knew this as clearly and distinctly as I knew how much a dilly bar cost. There was a time when if you quoted scripture to me or told me to have a positive attitude or sent me inspirational song lyrics I would have gone off on a tirade. There was a time when I wrote posts like this and this and this.
It's amazing what a person can forget.
Life is hard. And some Hards are much harder than anyone should have to endure. The loss of a child. The loss of a loved one. Chemo. The death of a dream. The betrayal of a friend. And on and on and on. Sometimes life is a really tough teacher. And sometimes life isn't a teacher at all. It's just a bitch. And for those of you who are going through the rough stuff, those of you who are facing the hardest thing you've ever had to face and you're wondering how you will do it; for those of you who are crying so hard you throw up and throwing up so hard you pass out and have lost the sense of yourself you once had and are surrounded on all sides by darkness and sorrow and pain, for you I say what my very wise sister once told me:
You don't have to do this well.
You don't have to be anyone's example.
You don't have to be an inspiration for others.
You don't have to be strong, or brave or kind or courageous.
You just have to keep going.
Right around mile 10 of the run of my last half-ironman and right when the wheels were coming off and I was ready to quit, I saw a hand-lettered sign someone propped up beside the path. It read, "Just keep moving ... time will take care of the rest."
Some things are difficult, not impossible. When life throws that at you, zoom out. Get some perspective. See the results of the difficult and not the difficult itself.
For the other times, be gentle with yourself. And just keep moving.