Ah, the irony of writing a post where I say I’ve been writing every day since I started vacation, and I have a goal to write every day… and then not being able to write at all one day.
I did not write anything yesterday but review notes for the person that is helping me test controls. The woman I work for wants me to step up and manage this new person, which is fine, but it also really kind of sucks. I was envisioning a situation where I could do my own work and the other person does hers, end of story. So far from feeling as if I am extracting myself from my current work situation, I feel like I am getting more and more entrenched.
I keep reminding myself that nothing is forever, and really, it takes only a conversation to alert her that I cannot work this project next year.
* * * *
Anyway, so here I am, sitting in my kitchen, stealing time to write while I wait for the babysitter to come so I can work for the day.
Mel had a great post yesterday.
Show up and write.
So here I am.
I have to admit I’ve had a hard time writing in my space because I feel like there are SO many blogs out there, with so many people who have much better things to say that I do. This idea wars with my other idea that there IS space for me in this community, the infertile who made it to the other side but remains one of the few that is working to accept that the family she was given is her complete family.
It’s hard sometimes for me to read other blogs, too. Where are the people like me?
I see all these posts with people who are done with family building, and the general theme is that they feel like their family is complete. I usually see those posts where they see their older child playing with the new baby, or they post a picture where the kids are interacting.
Those posts are written with such warmth and thankfulness and happiness that it used to make me ache with longing.
And here’s where I confess: I would get angry at a lot of those posts. I was jealous and bitter.
Of course it’s easy to feel like your family is complete when you get what you want, I’d think.
I know, I’m awful. I used to hate those feelings.
But for so long, I felt like I was MISSING something. There was a piece missing, a part missing. The baby I didn’t get to have. And though I had the very same thankfulness whenever I looked at Lucky – because, really, how LUCKY we got with him, it’s nothing short of amazing – it never lasted.
I wanted more.
I wanted my baby, the one I lost. The one that made me feel sick and who had a beating heart. I wanted her, the one who didn’t make it.
I wanted my arms and heart and belly to be full again.
I wanted to be able to post on my blog, looking at Lucky and our new baby, how complete I felt.
And I have still have days where I long for that baby, still feel that expansion and contraction of pain in my heart and belly whenever I see an infant; a visceral want that comes from a deep, deep place inside me whenever I snuggle with my nephew, or hold a baby. And it’s still hard for me to see pictures of siblings, because my heart hurts when I realize that Lucky will never know what it’s like to have a brother or a sister.
I think that’s the hardest part for me to accept; that Charlie and I have siblings who are such a big part of our lives, and Lucky will never get to experience that kind of love.
Whenever I tell people, or say out loud, there will never be another baby, I now have this deep, unshakeable sense of peace. I sometimes look at Charlie and Lucky and Happy, and I feel that same warmth and thankfulness and happiness that I see in those Complete Family blog posts.
Our family IS complete. There isn’t anything missing, no piece we need to find and fill into our family. The four of us (and yes, I count the dog, who is quite decidedly NOT the same as having another child… but oh so wonderful a companion.) make a unit that’s distinctly ours.
Acceptance. I haz it.
This acceptance is not at all what I thought it would be.
Over the years of fighting infertility to bring home the family we had dreamed of, I saw acceptance as a mirage, an oasis in the far distance. It was so hard for me to say the words, We may never have any more children.
Even with the “may” in there, it was hard to think about.
Even as I was giving away clothing and baby gear, I never really thought I’d ever look in the mirror and admit that we’d never have another baby in our house.
Even as we walked away from treatments, I had the idea, maybe. Maybe we’ll get lucky again, this time with a surprise pregnancy. Or maybe we’ll adopt. Maybe we’ll change our minds someday and go back to treatments.
I needed that maybe. I needed the hope that our walking away wasn’t final, that we were leaving the door open a crack just in case we changed our minds. I needed to sit with the decision, the hope, the fear, the fail, the bigness of the decision to stop trying. I needed time and distance from the cycle of hope and fear.
I don’t need the maybe anymore.
Our family is complete; we will never have any more children. And yes, it hurts to say that.
But it also feels right to say it, too.
It’s really hard sometimes to write when you have all this STUFF swirling around in your head and heart.
But it’s been like this for a while now, and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon, so I really want to try to make sense of things.
So that’s your fair warning: this post will likely be disjointed and maybe won’t have a point. And it might be boring or ridiculous. But I’m going to write it down, because I really, really, want to start writing more.
And the only way to write more is to write more, right?
* * * *
I’ve been working with my current therapist now for three years. Three years of weekly appointments, and I’m only JUST feeling like we’re getting below the surface anxiety into what makes me tick.
One of the things I’ve been noticing lately is that I am very closed off in my marriage. I spend time DOING things for Charlie to show him I love him. Whenever the gas in his car is low, I fill it. I create our weekly dinner menu with his preferences in mind. I will run at 4 in the morning or 10 at night in order to get more family time in on a given day. I take care of as much of the family stuff as I can – vet and doctor appointments for Lucky, school stuff, making lunches, bus dropoff/pickup – so that Charlie has one less thing to stress about.
But when it comes to showing my husband love and affection, I am a freaking Scrooge. I hide behind stress and anxiety, I keep myself busy so I don’t have to take time out to hug.
I’ve JUST noticed it, quite honestly: the way I am clipped and stressed whenever he arrives home from work, or how I find things to get annoyed over, like lights left on, when I arrive home when they are home. How I bury myself in my task list, the computer, my phone, laundry. It’s like I find excuses and justification to stay closed off, ways to avoid connecting with him.
I think it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that Charlie, with his high blood pressure and ridiculous stress levels, is a heart attack waiting to happen. What happens if I really allow myself to love him, to rely on him, and he dies suddenly on me? How will I survive?
Or maybe I’m afraid of relying on him too much, where my need becomes another stressor for him, and all of a sudden he realizes he can’t deal with the energy suck of his wife anymore.
Or maybe I’m worried that he’ll disappoint me. What if I rely on him and he can’t be there?
Or maybe it’s none of these things. I don’t honestly know why I’m so scared, why I am so stingy with showing love and affection.
What I know is that it needs to change.
* * * *
I listen to audiobooks on my long ass commute into Boston; I download them to my phone from the library. It’s a great way to pass the time stuck in traffic, provided the book is a good one.
The one I’m listening to now? It’s a good one. It’s this one – a true story about the chaplain of the Maine Warden Service. Listening to her story, told from her viewpoint, I can only marvel at her openness and love. And her faith, or non-faith.
How is it, after losing her husband in an accident, and working search-and-rescues and seeing all facets of death, she can be so enthusiastic, open, and loving?
And if she can do it, can I as well?
* * * *
Written in Athena for the month of August is this: Cultivate Love.
I’m starting simply.
Next week we are heading to my happy place – the cabin on the lake. I’m going to disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, no email, no running board, no Myfitnesspal. I’m bringing paper plates and bowls, and bottles of wine and board games and cribbage and royalty. I’m going work on cultivating a connection between us and with the three of us as a family. And when I find myself getting stressed or anxious, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and hug someone.
And when we get back, I’m going to kiss my husband goodbye and hello every day. I’m going to take a moment every day, when he walks through the door, to greet him and welcome him home.
When Lucky tells me he’s cold and wants to sit on my lap, or wants me to stop what I’m doing to watch him do something, or he wants me to sit with him and watch a TV show, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and be with him, in the moment.
THIS is my family, right here, right now. And I love them so much and am so grateful I have Charlie and Lucky and Happy in my life.
And I need to learn how to open up more.
I think I’m going to call my late 30s as The Time of Insomnia. Because I can count on one HAND the nights I’ve slept the whole night in the past 3 months or so.
Last night I was widethefuckawake for about an hour. And I have a strict rule when I am awake overnight: no devices, no computer, no books. The first two are to avoid making my insomnia worse, but the second is because I don’t believe a book should be used to help me fall back asleep. Books are all their own: a journey, an escape, a way to connect, a way to feel, a way to not feel. They are not a means to an end, though.
So what I try and do is slow myself down. I breathe a bit and try and slow my thoughts down. I suppose you can call it “meditating,” though I’m not quite sure I actually get to a place where I’m focused only on my breath. I more feel like I’m soothing an overstimulated baby, trying to get her to relax and drop off into slumber.
And last night, as I was doing this, a thought popped into my head.
I wonder what traits I inherited from my grandfather?
My Grandpa C was my absolute favorite person in the WHOLE WORLD when I was a kid. I wouldn’t even pretend that it was otherwise – from the moment he came into our house until the moment he left, I was by his side. He was such a loving grandfather; the only one in my family that touched me with love. He was quick with a hug, didn’t mind me climbing into his lap, even when I was at the age where most adults said, you’re too big for this! and always seems to put a hand on my head or shoulder or my arm; letting me know when he was near.
He made me feel safe and loved when he was around.
We didn’t share blue eyes – my older cousin got them instead. I liked to think that maybe I inherited his musical talent – but years after he died, my other cousin got into chorus, and when we heard him sing, it was like my grandfather was there. T definitely has the same amazing, booming tenor voice he had.
I clearly didn’t inherit his ability to sleep. He used to fall asleep on our couch all the time, but call it watching TV with my eyes closed. Just resting my eyes! Apparently he always did it, even when I was an infant and my parents were living with them, he’d be holding me on the couch, me looking around, wide awake, him snoring.
I definitely did not inherit his ability to make friends with everyone new he met. He used to sell Amway, back in the day, and the man could chat up someone he didn’t know so well that people used to tell me, Your grandfather is such a great man!
I really don’t know much else about Grandpa C otherwise, quite honestly. He died in 1995, not quite a year after we lost Amy, and I never got to have an adult relationship with him. So I don’t know what traits of mine I inherited from him, biologically, anyway.
What I remember is how safe he made me feel, how loved I felt when he was around.
It was Saturday when, as I was in the middle of writing a grocery list, Lucky pushed his way into my lap. He climbed onto me, all bones and angles and elbows and corners. And I stopped what I was doing and wrapped my arms around him and gave him a kiss on the head, even though I was noting how big he was and how hard it was to have him sit in my lap. But, you know. I still carry him upstairs, even on the days where I’ve had a long run and my legs are tired and it’s really, really hard to get up those stairs with 45lbs of 6 year old clinging to me and Charlie and I decided that age 6 was too old for “free rides.” Every morning when Lucky comes down, I pick him up and he snuggles with me quietly, all curled up, his chin resting on my shoulder, his feet dangling.
And last night, in the middle of the night, I realized something.
I do with Lucky the same my grandfather did with me. Even though he’s probably too big to be carried, I do it anyway. Even though when he sits on my lap SOMETHING hurts me, an elbow or knee or bony butt bone.
Even though I’m not very physical with affection to anyone else in my life, Charlie included, I am with Lucky.
I give it to Lucky because I remember how good it felt to have that kind of love and affection, how safe I felt with my Grandpa C. I do it because I always want Lucky to feel loved and safe with me. Because as he grows, that’s going to be what he remembers. Because it’s how I forge our closeness. Because Lucky’s like a flower; I almost see the tangible benefits of my affection with him.
And so, in a way, that is my inheritance from my grandfather. I might not have gotten his blue eyes, and making music is something in my past. I might not have the ability to make friends with everyone, and I definitely am not at all a sales person.
But I give my son the same kind of love and affection he gave to me.
And in that way, part my grandfather lives on through me.
What’s your inheritance from your grandparents?
I didn’t even notice.
On Sunday morning, I was lined up with a friend to run a half marathon in Boston.
And it hit me when the bagpipes began to play Amazing Grace.
What’s today’s date? I asked my friend. Is it the 24th?
No, she responded, perplexed that I’d ask in the middle of a moment of silence. It’s May 25.
More than 20 years had passed since my cousin died.
And I didn’t even notice the day.
* * * * *
I haven’t had much contact with my cousins, not really, since my aunt passed away. I see what’s going on in social media, of course.
One of my cousins is recently divorced and dating a woman he met in Brazil – for work, maybe? I don’t know, only that they post gushy love notes on Basefook in Portuguese, and he seems to travel there a lot.
My other cousin, hugely overweight the last time I saw him, is barely recognizable in his pictures; he’s lost so much weight, he looks like a different guy.
My uncle seems to be happy with his new wife; there are lots of pictures of the two of them with their dog on beaches in North Carolina. The Caribbean. In Europe.
It’s kind of funny: I had no idea he loved to travel. He and my aunt went to the Cape every year, and Disney with the grandkids… but that was it.
Have they all changed? Or did I just not KNOW them before?
* * * * *
About a month ago, my sister in law asked me how old my cousin was when she died. I told her that Amy was sixteen; I vividly remember her sweet sixteen birthday party, when I was a senior in high school. I was into Jimi Hendrix and classic rock and especially Pink Floyd. I wore this awesome tye dyed long purple dress and black converse to her party, my long hair pulled back into a ponytail. I remember feeling so much older at that party; here I was on the cusp of college, and they were stuck in high school.
She died a year later, when I was home from college for the summer.
No, I said. She was seventeen when she died.
My sister in law then told me that she had seen someone, a psychic, in the hopes of getting in touch with some of her and Charlie’s relatives. And the night before she went to see this woman, she had thought of my cousin in passing – only because, she told me later, she didn’t have any sort of unfinished business with anyone in her family like she thought maybe I did.
And that day, the psychic told her that there was someone in the room, not a relative of hers, but someone who wanted to talk to her. A young energy, the number 17 stuck in her head. And whenever the psychic focused on the energy, she felt this massive pressure in her temple, a squeezing feeling in her head. And the other people in the room were pushing her forward – they were trying to help her be heard.
My cousin shot herself in the temple when she was 17. And it is SO what she would have done – hoodwinked a number of strangers to help her hijack someone she didn’t even know’s psychic reading.
I thought about going to see this woman, but I’m not sure how I feel about the whole psychic thing: because, you see, a psychic once told me I’d have two boys – twins that wouldn’t come together.
And I’m not sure I know what to think, this idea that my cousin is hanging around, hijacking people’s psychic readings to talk about herself. Why would she do that?
* * * * *
When Charlie and I were planning our wedding, I dreamed of Amy a lot. Always in those dreams, she’d show up and I’d feel this crushing sadness come over me. I’d always end up saying something like, I wish you could be in my wedding. But you are dead.
Recently I started dreaming of her again. Except this time, in my dreams, she’s NOT dead. Her absence over the past number of years is explained away as “she went away for a while.” And I’m always thrilled to see her alive and happy and in it, we’re a family again. The kind of family that has reunions and sees each other every year on the Cape.
* * * * *
The thing is, I don’t know what kind of relationship Amy and I would have if she were still alive.
We were the kind of cousins that might have had a huge blowout over something ridiculous – too close, in that best friends/worst enemies kind of way. I sometimes imagine she would have stayed in Jersey and turned into one of those girls I loathe from my early days: close-minded, full of drama, always finding something wrong with her situation in life. And of course, she’d be uber-fertile, one of those women who keeps telling me I should just relax and it’ll happen, and really, did I want the chaos of as many kids as she had? I mean look at how crazy her kids make her – I’m lucky I don’t have to deal with that.
What I know: the passing of the women on my mother’s side of the family has affected me on a profound level. It’s like the female energy from that side of the family grounded me and made me feel whole. As time goes on, I miss my aunt more and more.
And I feel unraveled and untethered somehow by the fracture in the family.
* * * * *
Twenty years ago, my cousin Amy committed suicide. Her death affected me profoundly: everything I am today is a result of her death.
I still wish I could have done more to help take her pain away.
I am still angry that she died three days before I had a chance to hug her and tell her that life got so much better once you escaped our stupid close-minded blue-collar small town.
I will always regret she never tasted the happiness and freedom I felt that first year of college.
I miss her.
And I think I always will.
Mel had a post a few weeks ago about her new bullet journal, how she spends time putting her thoughts on post-it notes and has no real organization of those thoughts. She posted a couple of days ago; her little red notebook Charlotte has changed her life.
When I had my lightbulb moment, I realized I needed a good place to brainstorm and write down ideas for going out on my own. So the very day, I went to Staples and picked up my very own bullet journal.
Mine isn’t red, it’s black. And I named her Athena.
I initially set Athena up similar to Charlotte. I don’t need another calendar – all of our stuff is in google AND on a large dry erase 12 month calendar in our mudroom. So for the calendar page, I merely write down a few words about that day; the things that stick out for me. On the opposite page, I have a list of tasks that are more future-oriented; most of them relate to going into business for myself; networking ideas and people I should talk with, as well as a list of bills in the future I need to remember (like my life insurance policy, CPA renewal, camp fees, etc). The third page is a miscellaneous page, where I record blog post ideas or menu ideas or running training ideas or dog training ideas.
And initially, for the fourth page, I tried doing a “May Daily List” which would be a daily list of tasks. But it didn’t really work for me; I already have task lists for work and for home in places that are easy to access. I didn’t really need one place for both; my process works for my life project management.
So I deviated.
* * *
Last week my friend D mentioned to me that she had heard of an app called Happier. And she didn’t know much about it, but it was a place where you could record your happy moments during the course of the day.
And it seemed to me a GREAT idea. Because the longer I see my therapist, the more I start to see just how many times I actually sabotage my own happiness. I will take a moment – maybe even a few hours – where I feel amazing and good and happy… and turn it into something that’s negative.
Like my Mother’s Day marathon. And it was hot, and my strategy of slowing down in the first half didn’t actually turn into a faster back half of the marathon. And I ended up walking more than I would have liked to. In the moment, though, it was okay, and good. My family was there – they held me up in those miles; I got to see them cheer for me SO many times – and I had energy left for the last half mile, where I started running and didn’t stop – even sprinted to the finish.
You guys, I felt SO GOOD that afternoon. I did what I wanted to, and I didn’t care about the time.
But the next day, when I looked at my splits, I started talking myself down. And by the end of the day, I had decided I was, in fact, no good at marathons. And I FELT shitty about the race I had run just the day before.
It’s ridiculous: I am sharing my headspace with this bitter, angry old lady who finds fault with EVERYTHING and demands that I don’t enjoy feeling good.
And so I have this idea that maybe writing my happiness down will diminish her power over me; somehow I feel like putting those moments into words cements them somehow. Makes them more real. And when they’re real, Agnes (my bitter old angry lady) cannot take them away.
So I’ve been recording my happy moments in my Happier app. And honestly, I love it: I love how you can take a picture of something and attach it to your happy moment. I love the moment of “Eureka!” when I realize I feel good and am in the midst of a happy moment. And I love how easy it is to put it into words.
* * *
And this is where Athena comes in.
It’s not really enough for me to have an app that houses all my happy moments. I need them in a place where I can see them all the time, remind myself when Agnes’s criticism is too big and loud for me to ignore.
So after the “May Miscellaneous” page, I added a “May Gratitude” page. And I am writing those moments that are bigger than just a simple recording in an app; the ones I want to repeat – my points of focus in a given month. I want to make those repeatable and big; large enough to turn the volume of Agnes down.
Athena is my Gratitude Journal.
And I am counting on her to help take the power away from Agnes and put my happiness back in my own hands.
Man, I do not KNOW why I haven’t been able to write lately. I feel as if my thoughts and feelings are all swirled around in a murky mud puddle – the kind you get in March in New England. They freeze overnight, are full of sand and dirt and melted snow and slush and if you step on it, the thin ice will break and you’ll end up ankle-deep in cold murk.
Writing is complicated lately.
So much easier for me to close out the “New Post” screen and do something else. Like budgets, or chatting with friends, or dishes. Or nothing; anything that requires no thinking or feeling. Something where I’m skimming along on the surface.
My truth is that I’m both okay and not okay.
It’s freeing, empowering even, that I don’t have a Plan. This, right in front of me, is The Rest of My Life. Charlie and I are watching Lucky (and Happy!) grow up right in front of us, and we’re a family, and in SO many ways we have such a good life.
But I have many moments, too, where I think, This is my life? Wait!! I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!
I’m trying to decide if my expectations were unrealistic, or I’m just really unhappy with some facets of my life, or some combination of the two.
What I know: I am still full of self-loathing. I cannot put words to how much I hate my female parts. They utterly failed me. And then I struggle with this feeling. Because, I mean. I have a CHILD. You’d think that I’d have at least some measure of thankfulness that I was able to carry Lucky to term AND nurse him when he was a baby. My girl parts did just fine then, right?
But then I remember how, when I was pregnant with Lucky, I felt like we had snuck one in, came in under the radar. I never felt comfortable being pregnant; I felt like I was faking. And we really did get incredibly lucky – he managed to avoid the scarred, dead, unhealthy parts of my uterus which killed countless embryos; the part of my body which was responsible for so much loss over the years.
I’m thankful – so thankful – he’s here with us.
But I also cannot shake the unrelenting anger at my body for failing me so many other times.
And that anger is hard to manage, sometimes. For a while, I’ll be fine, and happy, and I’ll think things like, Wow, isn’t it a blessing we didn’t end up having another baby! We would have given up so much freedom! and I’ll go for a run and feel strong and happy and listen to the birds chirping and feel the sun on my face. And I’ll come home completely content with my life.
But the Beast will rear up and catch me completely off-guard, and I’ll flip the fuck out over a perceived slight from Charlie, and I’ll throw it all on him, because obviously he’s not good enough or fast enough or doing any of the right things and he doesn’t even KNOW ME. Because that’s what I do – I get pissed off at other people instead of looking into the black pit inside me. But while I’m yelling and pushing him away and trying to get him to hate me as much as I hate myself it’ll all come crashing down on me.
I’m the fucked up one, I can’t make any more babies, I’m a loser and a failure and I loathe being an accountant and I’m a crap mom to boot. And I don’t know what the fuck I want, so what’s the POINT of all of this shit anyway?
And I go to therapy, and talk through it all, and hear my therapist tell me I’m doing all the right things by talking it out and recognizing it about myself.
But nothing changes.
I still feel stuck. I feel gypped. I feel like the life I imagined when I was stuck in my room as a teenager with no social life and controlling parents isn’t at all close to what I have.
And intellectually, I can SEE that I’m doing this all to myself, that this is life, baby, and no one said it was fair, and good god Serenity, don’t you realize what you HAVE? There are people out there who are barely making their bills and cannot have ANY of their own children and are working jobs where they don’t have the luxury of disliking because it’s the only way they won’t DIE. This is a first world problem, your inability to have more children and the life you dreamed about when you were stuck in your room as a teenager with no social life and controlling parents. And anyway, teenagers know NOTHING of real life, which means that your expectations were probably too fucking high. Just let it go.
Let it go.
Why CAN’T I let it go? Why can’t I keep those moments of contentment close to my heart? Why do I keep spiralling back into pain and anger and fear and sorrow? What the fuck is WRONG WITH ME?
My truth is so complicated. I can’t hold onto the happy for long enough, and I keep trying to run after it, and it keeps eluding me.
And I KNOW, I KNOW that I need to sit down, really stop MOVING, in order to find the long lasting contentment I seek. Intellectually, I get this.
Sometimes, it’s just really hard.
I don’t talk a lot about last year’s Boston Marathon, with the exception of the posts I put up last year after it all went down. As you could tell from those posts, I was deeply, deeply affected by it all. Knowing that it EASILY could have been Charlie and Lucky at that finish line, injured, terrified, while I was doing something I love to do? Families of marathoners already make sacrifices – Charlie and Lucky do lots of errands for me in the hours when I’m gone doing my long runs and speedwork sessions.
And so, I hold strongly: I could never forgive myself if something happened to my son or husband because of me.
Not surprisingly, this year’s marathon coverage started early, with in depth reports about the events of the day, the manhunt, the changes to the marathon this year, the profiling of the victims and what they plan on doing this year. And it’s brought up a lot of the same kind of feelings from last year, reminding me of the ever present fact.
I could lose the two people in my life who mean the most to me. Nothing in this life is safe.
I record my workouts on a website called Dailymile. It’s kind of like Facebook, except everyone who is online is an athlete of some kind. Over the years, I’ve connected with a number of other runners and follow their training. I have met a few local people at meet ups: women who have completed Ironman triathlons, ultramarathoners, marathoners, new runners who just got started, cyclists, yogis, etc.
One of those runners, a woman I will call Dallas, signed up to run two stages, totaling 19.5 miles, of the One Run for Boston a couple of weeks ago, before a calf injury flared up. (As an aside, if you’ve never heard of the One Run for Boston: you should check the link out. It’s a relay from California to Boston, as created by two amazing people from England. All funds raised go to the One Fund, which has actually paid real money to the victims of the bombing. It’s just amazing.)
Anyway, Dallas ran a test 5 mile run the Wednesday before her stages and realized she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do the whole thing. So she went on Dailymile asked for people who might be interested in flying to Texas, then roadtripping with she and her sister to Oklahoma to run with her.
The mileage happened to dovetail perfectly with my training – this weekend I had a 20 mile run on the schedule. And interestingly, I was registered for a 20 mile race that Sunday, but was feeling pretty uninspired. Marathon training this winter has been HARD, weather-wise. More wind and cold rain were in the forecast for Sunday’s race.
I felt like a roadtrip to run in sunny Oklahoma would maybe put the spark back in my own marathon training. Another girl (who I will call Oregon) volunteered too.
I had never met either one of them before the weekend, but they seemed like such great people and I was all for the adventure.
So that’s how I found myself on a plane on Friday morning, heading to into Texas. I met up with Oregon at the airport and Dallas picked us up from there. We all drove to Chickasha, OK for the evening, had a good dinner, and settled into our hotel room for the night.
After a quick half mile warmup, our stage started at 6:45 in the morning. It was dark and chilly, but we were running right into the sunrise, and you could feel the promise of sun and warmth. The route we were running – a 9 and 10.5 mile leg which followed SH 152 from Chickasha to Minco, OK – was a series of hills. It’s funny, because I had this idea that Oklahoma would be more like Kansas – pancake flat, with a road that stretched as far as we could see. I was wrong! The part of Oklahoma we ran was NOT AT ALL FLAT. For most of our 19.5 miles, it was one hill after another.
But still, a great run. Along the way we saw red rocks and valleys, lots of cows and windmills, a couple of dogs that tried to herd us into their cow pasture, and lots of drivers who didn’t want to yield. In fact, one woman called the Oklahoma state police because “there were three high school girls running in the middle of 152!” Which gave us a huge laugh – the three of us are most definitely MANY years out of high school.
And we met such great people: the woman who owned the convenience store at the end of stage 147, who wanted a picture with us, who told us she was proud of us; a former Marine from St. Louis who was running one of the group stages that night and was too excited to wait. And of course, the founders – the amazing people from England who started this all.
When we finished the second stage, literally moments after telling Oregon and Dallas I barely cried in front of my husband… I lost it. I sobbed. For my running club friend, yes. But for me, too.
It’s too much sometimes, to think about. We went through so much suffering to bring Lucky home, and the idea I could lose him because I’m doing something I love… it’s just too much to process.
I swear, runners are amazing people. Because we ALL exchanged hugs – real hugs, real comfort – and tears. And, too: the amazement that we could play a small part in a this huge undertaking.
And then it was time to drive back to Texas, so I could catch my flight back home. Within 4 hours of finishing this amazing run, I was back on a plane, heading to my family.I don’t really believe in fate, or that all things happen for a reason.
But I also love how the weekend worked out. It was my reminder from the universe: we are all connected… and all drops cause ripples.
The thing about not writing that much is that when you DO try and go back and write, it’s full of starts and stops and messy and rust and nails.
I really have so much to say, but it’s all jumbled in my head.
I suppose the cleanest topic I can write about is running.
Last year was our Break Year; after my miscarriage in Fall 2012 I decided I’d focus on losing weight and running a marathon. In hindsight, it was an attempt to take back control over my body. I had this idea that okay, I might not be able to nourish another life, but if my body did something USEFUL – got me a Boston qualifier marathon time while remaining uninjured – then maybe I could make peace with it.
Except that’s not how it turned out.
I had an AMAZING training cycle. There was a 22 mile run I had where I hit my my goal marathon pace for the last 2 miles and finished on SUCH a runner’s high I smile when I think of it today, more than 6 months later. There were speed workouts where I felt like the pace was SLOW, like I could go faster and run harder and I just wanted to laugh with the sheer joy of it. I ran a half marathon comfortably, without a watch, finishing JUST over my personal best time for that distance.
And then race day came, and I held marathon pace for the first half of the race, and then the wheels started to fall off. And I ended up walking far more than I ever wanted, watching precious minutes off my goal time slip off.
The thing with a marathon is that you can’t just go out and run another marathon if you fuck up. You have to recover and start the process all over again.
So I came away from my marathon experience in October with renewed focus. I could qualify for Boston, I knew it. I just needed more marathon experience. Which meant I should run more marathons, OBVIOUSLY.
This winter, my training experience has not been at ALL what last summer was. I’ve had a plethora of runs where I’ve loathed every minute of my run. I’m cold ALL THE EFFING TIME. Granted, it’s been a ridiculously cold winter with little thawing and lots of snow, but still. But even discovering the magic of those throwaway hand warmer things? They’ve only made my runs for the past three weeks tolerable.
Tolerable. More runs than not that feel hard and cold and are without joy. The ones that I like are merely tolerable.
So I cried uncle, and had coffee with my coach last night. I truly expected him to tell me it was marathon training combined with winter training blues, and that I should just suck it up and get through it.
He didn’t say that.
Instead, he told me that marathon training was a huge time suck, and that maybe it was better for me to aim at lower mileage weeks and race shorter distance races. He said, People would be SO much happier if they just went out for a 5 mile run every day. He recommended that I let go of the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, at least in the near future, and find the happy in my running again.
Let’s bring the fun Serenity back! he said.
I don’t know why it is that I’ve decided I need to qualify for the Boston Marathon. After what happened last year, even thinking about running it gives me nightmares. Running the race means I’d have to training in winter. And the course is not one of the best marathon courses, either – through the suburbs. Granted, with tons of crowd support.
But still. Suburbs aren’t pretty to run through.
I think, quite honestly, this idea that I need to get better at running marathons comes from this idea that I have to be getting better, showing progress. I can’t just run because I love it – I need to get faster and be better at it with every race. And with marathons, I have this idea that I have to PROVE to myself I am a “real” marathoner by getting better at it. I’m a good runner, so clearly I need to focus on running to my capability, yes?
What that means is I turn it into Work. And making it Work sucks the joy right out of it for me. Instead of running for fun, I’m looking at my watch and worrying about my pace. Instead of finding a comfortable easy pace on the mile long hill in mile 3 of a 5 mile run, I’m pushing myself up and over so I don’t get slower. Instead of feeling strong and capable, I feel sluggish and worn out.
So yeah, I think it’s time to step back and stop this pattern I have of making everything into work.
I will run my marathon on Mother’s Day this year, but I’m not going to do it with any sort of time goal in mind. I want to run the whole thing – the only walk breaks I want to take are at the water stops – and finish feeling happy that I ran the whole thing.
And then, this summer, I’m going to focus on racing shorter distances. Maybe run a half marathon in the fall. Run with lots of my friends. Run without a watch. Run in pretty places where I can swim in the ocean afterwards. Run happy.