Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Year in Review, 2012

The past year was eventful, for sure. I turned fifty, ran a bunch, raced some, watched my children grow, loved my Gorgeous. Of course the passing of a parent makes for an eventful year, no matter what. So here are 12 things that helped make my year.

12. Team Fox

Running for Team Fox, whose proceeds benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, has given me a particular purpose in my running. I have always run for many reasons, chief among them my own mental health. Without running, I’m a pretty miserable wretch, grumpy, energy-less, depressed. 

At Jam In the Park
But this year, with my dedication to raising money to fund research for a cure for Parkinson’s has affected my motivation, my racing, and my mental approach. When I wear the jersey, I remember my father, and inevitably I meet people whose lives have been affected by Parkinson’s disease. I have met patients, family members, and friends whose loved ones suffer through the physical breakdown of a disease that gradually diminishes event he most basic functions. I remember how lucky I am (in so many ways), and how grateful I should be for being able to run ridiculously long distances with no other motivation than to do so.
The fund-raising aspect is simple: just click on the Team Fox logo on the right side of this page, and you’ll go directly to my donation page. All donations are tax-deductible, but more importantly, 88 cents of every dollar donated goes to research. Team Fox itself  raised over $6 million, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation has granted over $56 million dollars. I hope you will become part of that effort.

11. Supplements of the year

Performance enhancing drugs?
I’m not huge on supplements, in part because I know that I should be able to get what I need from a healthy diet, and in part because I forget to take them. But these two have been fairly constant in my life for a while. My chiropractor told me to take the iodine to help with Achilles and general muscle soreness. A few drops in a glass of water is all I’ve taken in a day, and to some extent, it seems to have worked. There may be a placebo effect here, but I’ll take it anyway.
The Feel Good pills are for my adrenal system, according to my chiropractor. I have a hard time getting past the bovine adrenal glands that lead the list of ingredients; that gives my family plenty to tease me about. I call them performance enhancing drugs.
      But they work. I feel better when I take them. I haven’t checked for any particular side effects. I don’t moo, and there appears to be no udder development. I am generally more able to recover from runs, and don’t feel like I’m dragging through runs. Said chiropractor told me my “adrenals were wrecked.” 

10. Race of the year

So I’ll name two: Terrapin Mountain 50K in March and the Last Chance 50K in December.
This year’s Terrapin Mountain 50K was the first time I’d run a 50K I’d run previously. Doing so gives me a sense of my training, it gives me a sense of time and pace. I worried this year about feeling too much pressure to hit my splits, and when I didn’t for the first 20 miles I kept telling myself that the 2011 race was perfect, in perfect conditions. This year, in the rain and cold, I told myself, I shouldn’t focus on time but on the experience. But I continued on, with focus and desire, and ended up running the last ten miles faster than I had the previous year. Chatting with ultra-legend David Horton afterwards, I was thrilled when he told me that my time--five minutes faster than the previous year and all made up in the last ten miles--showed that my training was going well. The affirmation was strengthening.
The Last Chance 50K was a different story. I knew the course was very flat, and I also knew I was not as far along in my training as I had been at Terrapin, for example. I started off slowly, and ended up running the same pace the entire race, with just a touch of slowing at the end. The experience was new to me at the distance, and one where I affirmed what I had heard about 100 mile races: you should get to mile 60 feeling like you’ve run too slowly. though my race wasn’t as long, the same pattern applies.

9.  Training lesson: running every day

Though I have surely run every day in my 29 years of running, I’ve never kept track of any streaks, and I never purposely set out to run a streak. After the Harbison 50K last January, I decided to give the streak a shot. After a coup;e of weeks of somewhat extra fatigue, I broke through some kind of barrier, and everyday running was easy, motivating, and remarkably physically energizing. I felt more loose, less tired, less achy. though I stopped the streak after 76 days, ending with the Terrapin race, I think the experience was telling. I’ll go on some streaks again this year, but as before, I won’t be silly about it. Injury, or what feels like excessive fatigue will no doubt lead to breaks. the consistency brought on by the attention to the streak is very valuable.

8.  Training lesson: every 4th week off

During that streak, I would run three hard weeks, and then rest the fourth. I’d read of such patterns in the past, but had never experienced the phenomenon. I had no choice the first month--I was dead-legged for a week. I ran every day, but cut back the mileage to give my body and mind some recovery time. It worked very well.
Partner of the Year, the B-Dog

7.  Training lesson: summer off

In the past, I have had down times every year. Often I would fret about it, feeling unmotivated and tired. these down-times generally came in the deep of winter, often when running was made more difficult by early darkness, cold and rainy or snowy weather, and more busy work times. I would spend my summers off from teaching like training camp. In 2011, though, I had a pretty rough summer, and realized something my brother had told me many years earlier: in the deep heat of southern summers, he would run when he felt like it, and do some long runs in the mountains on the weekends, but without focus. I made that part of my training, and in those 100 degree days of July, I was glad to be able to put my feet up and not feel like I was bagging my training.

6.  Racing lesson: say something funny at every aid station

I’m not sure where this one came from, but I started doing it with purpose in 2012. I have always been a pretty happy runner, and have gotten mad at myself when frustration or fatigue led me to be something of an asshole to the people around me. This year I established my forever goals: 1. love the trails, 2. don’t be miserable, and 3. say something funny at every aid station. Number three, I say, has a lot to do with number two. I have told folks that I paid money to run this race, so why should I take my misery out on others.

5.  Injury-free

At the risk of blowing my mojo, I have been basically injury free this entire year. I’ll attribute that to all of the above training lessons I’ve learned. I’ve had niggles, as they say--achy Achilles, sore hamstrings, tired lower back--but none have kept me from running for more than a day or two.

4.  Running with a Purpose

At the Terrapin 50K
Of course related to number 12, my blog’s tag line started as just something I’d say. But it has become such a great motivation and such a source of perspective that I hope to keep it up after May’s 50 mile race. Paying close attention to my father’s diminishing physical self, and reading more about Parkinson’s disease and its devastating effects, I am more grateful for what I can do, more in the moment with my running, and with less effort, if you will, than ever before. Running with the goal of raising money to help support the search for a cure for Parkinson’s makes the good, the bad and the ugly of my habit easier to take.

3.  Partner of the Year 

Easy: he always has time for me, carpools (though he never drives), doesn’t need to carry water or food, and is never earlier or later than I am. Bristol leads sometimes, follows some times, and gives me a great deal of pleasure.

2.  Family

I am lucky for so many reasons. This one should really be number one. I get such great pleasure watching my children grow up and develop lives of their own. They support my running with humor, and occasionally, when they forget themselves, will tell me, in the words of my 14-year-old son, that my running is “pretty bad-ass.” Little pleases me more.
Vacation lunch with my Gorgeous
What pleases me more is the love and support of my Gorgeous. Besides putting up with me going off to run all day sometimes, and getting home from work in time to go running, she has been able to go to some of my races, and her presence gives me immense pleasure. To finish a race knowing she will be there at the finish to kiss me, to bring me water or food, to take pictures, to generally give me a base that I need, is surely the joy of my existence. I am very lucky.

1. Life gives lessons for running

This year, more than any other, I find this reversal of what many runners talk about--how running teaches us about life--to be more true than I’ve ever thought. No matter the circumstances, losing a parent is difficult. We know EO is better off, we know my mother is well taken care of, we know that her life would have only gotten more difficult as his caretaker, we know that the parent dying is the right order of things. But that is my father, present my entire life, and now gone.
I remember that evening at dinner with him and my mother, the week C and I were heading to the mountains of West Virginia for me to run the Highlands Sky 40 mile race, him ordering a 19-ounce steak bloody rare, the way he liked it, and my mother reminding him to chew slowly and to cut his meat into smaller bites. But Parkinson’s makes such hand-eye coordination difficult. He choked on a piece of that meat, and despite my attempts to do the Heimlich maneuver, he could not clear his passageway, and he passed out in my arms. He never regained consciousness.
That memory will never leave me, and often wakes me up at night, as it does C. But I remember the conversation we were having. He and my mother had spent the past 15 or so years traveling extensively, four months a year, he would crow. But the Parkinson’s made travel first difficult as he fell in an alleyway in Turkey and had to cut a trip short, and finally made it impossible as getting through airports, to hotels, through tours became too tiring.
His answer runs with me daily: “We are satisfied with where we’ve been. We’ve travelled to 30 countries, and seen what we wanted to see.” That satisfaction with what he’d done, at the end of his life (and as it turned out, the very end), gives me inspiration for doing things, for enjoying what I have, for taking nothing for granted and living my life as hard as I can.
  As I’ve said before, running teaches me some things, like to carry water, and to double-knot my shoes. But life, and the living of it, gives me much more than just running. Running is part of my life, not my entire life. And the life-work balance, that's bullshit. There is life, and that’s it. Work is part of it, running is part of it, my beautiful children and the joy they give me, the amazing love of my Gorgeous--that’s all part of it. I could live without some, and could of course continue to live without running, but love--that’s it. 

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