Sunday, March 13, 2022
Saturday, September 4, 2021
"You swore and said,
'We are not shining stars'
This I know, I never said we are"
Here I sit, two weeks fresh off the Spartan Trifecta weekend in Hawaii two weeks ago. Flanked with my trusty race team and a year of training behind me, I was ready to take this challenge. Three races, two days and roughly 26 miles on the mountain with countless obstacles. We arrived a few days early to acclimate to the climate and time change and were ready to hit the course on Saturday. We would take off for about four miles until we hit the hardest obstacle that we would encounter all weekend. It was a mountain. A steep mountain. No flowery trails like Diamond Head, no steps, just steep rugged terrain for miles upon miles up, not to mention the equally steep miles and miles down. I set out leading with my right leg, as my left leg was the one where I broke my hip five years ago, so leading with the right was always my habit in all things. One horrific step after another, sliding back at times, cramped at times, and frankly shear misery as I began to wonder if I was ever getting off that picturesque mountain in paradise, any confidence I had was gone and I was shaken to my core.
After four or five miles of that I'd like to tell you I wanted to cry, only that was not accurate. To be fair, I actually cried. The "I can't's" surely beat out the "I can's" at that point. Certainly not the shining star I set out to be. If it were not for my team, I know in my heart of hearts I would likely not have finished that brutal 15.5 miles in roughly ten hours on Saturday. It was dark by the time I got done and I was physically and mentally exhausted. Later that night, my right quad began shaking so hard, I looked like I was breakdancing. Panic and doubt were setting in as I had a good 9 miles plus the next day. Stretch, hydrate, eat..... did it all, and took off at race number two, only to have my quad fire and fire beginning at 0.3 miles. I could not take myself off the course. I just couldn't. I would ultimately tell my race team to just go on without me. I would finish, but I was holding them back and I could not in good conscious do that.
"If you're lost and alone,
and you're sinking like a stone,
So there I was, trudging along alone in the heat, leg firing, just trying to cover the distance and be done. I stopped at two medical stations along the way. One offered a trip off the mountain, um no. The second a mustard packet, yeah well, that didn't help either. Disappointment reigned supreme. Months and months went into this and I was failing. The question was why.
"I like to think,
I can cheat it all,
To make up for the times I've been cheated on"
In those two very painful miles I had to admit what had happened in recent months. I had completely removed the word,"No" from my vocabulary. Extra shifts, extra tasks, travel, lack of sleep, overwhelming stressors, as regular 8-10 hour days gradually turned into 17 hour days as I attempted to conquer it all, somehow believing as long as I was moving I was invincible. The thoughts all came firing at my suddenly very weary brain with the same force as my quad. I finished, not even attempting the short race and truthfully sat and cried for a time until a very welcome friend showed up to help cheer the team on.
"Though I've never been through hell like that,
I've closed enough windows to know you can never look back,"
You may be wondering what has happened in the two weeks since that race. Make no mistake, as anyone on my race team will tell you, the gigantic pity party happened. It just did. They did their best to console me, and I love them for that. Later, I had a heart to heart with my trainer who agreed coming off the course was the right thing to do, as he had been through similar, but the biggest pep talk came from deep down. Let's be fair, I trained daily yes. I ate healthy food, also yes. Could I have done more? Not with 17 hour days and overwhelming lists of shit to get accomplished every day. I had to admit this is how I always do it, do whatever needs to be done no matter what the cost, but so is leading with my right and look what that got me.
"'Cause we are,
We are shining stars,
We are invincible,
We are who we are,
On our darkest day,
When we're miles away,
So we'll come,
We will find our way home"
In the last two weeks since getting back I have stopped leading with my proverbial right, and gone sharply left. I have stepped up my game in the gym and said,"No" to the things that interfere. I have rescheduled meetings and vet appointments to renew my investment in myself that quite honestly got lost in the overwhelming busy. As a result, my running is suddenly better, lifting a little cleaner, and my psyche is beginning to recover right along with my quad. I even had the courage to pull out my medals from Hawaii today. Until now, they represented disappointment and failure. Today, I decided they represent the 22.5 miles where I discovered how to lead with my left and take my life in a new direction. Do I still plan to get my Trifecta this year? Oh yes, Spartan Sprint in Fenway for my 52nd birthday? I'm coming for you, because if there is one thing I know we can learn from failure, there is always a new direction to go in, and only in that space will be be able to see that the best is yet to come.
Monday, June 7, 2021
I guess it's time I put this out there to the universe. As with most people, my actual life may not be totally accurately represented by what I push out over social media. There are pictures of my smiling children, and representations of that side of my persona which is the independent fitness badass. I post workouts and motivational quotes and pictures of healthy meals I create with my own two hands. Yep, that's me. Only, there's two issues with this. At times that independent badass vibe is little more than a "fake it til you make it" gesture. In actuality I struggle just like everyone else. COVID has made the last 12 months a complete nightmare at times. There have been unforeseen stressors personally and for my children, professional challenges, the assignment of treatable medical diagnoses on me that don't sit all that well, and am learning to deal with a whole host of other things that go with running a charity fighting against the COVID financial smack down.
All of these things have kept my head spinning and my nights sleepless. I have had to prioritize what I deal with and how, but about a month ago I was hit with a harsh reality no proclaimed fitness motivator really wants to disclose, but here it is. My youngest son is not the happy go lucky guy you see on Facebook actually he is neither happy or lucky. The reality is, he has an eating disorder he did not ask for. He binge eats and now is struggling with his weight. He hides his emotion on this by cracking jokes and deflecting. It is in really looking at his ten year old reality that I now see how it mimics my own reality at that age. His is coming from an early life of poverty from living on the side of a mountain in Haiti. His hard wiring says,"there's food now, but might not be tomorrow, so eat all you can." When we adopted him at age 3 he would eat until he vomited. It is that reflex of his childhood trauma that I had to face has now gotten to the place he is severely impacted by it. Until a month ago I was at a loss as to what to do. This was his hard wiring and until now he was not old enough to understand it himself. So here I was, fitness success and motivator with a morbidly obese child under my own roof despite what my healthy meals would suggest on Facebook.
So, a few weeks ago, after he was caught hiding with food again, I made the hard choice to sit down with him and discuss my own story. My own dark history of a childhood of closet binge eating that led me to an adult life of obesity. Much to my surprise, he was not too young for this. We connected on a level we had not before. There were tears as we shared our experiences and emotions and it shocked me how much like me this non genetic obese child of mine actually was. At the time, I didn't offer any solutions, more a motherly gesture of support for a child who's feelings only I could truly understand. What followed in the days that followed took me by surprise.
My little big man would sit me down and ask if he changed the way he ate and began to exercise for a month would I get him a phone. Big stakes for a big man. I told him yes but no. Yes to a phone, but not in a month. If he was interested, we could work to change his lifestyle from now to the end of summer with Labor Day being the coveted phone goal. I only had two rules. He was not getting on the scale, and he was not on a "diet," rather he was merely making simple life changes. Since that time, he has been learning to meal plan and cook with me, how to make healthy food choices, and has decided shooting hoops is his exercise of choice. As he enters his third week, morning after morning I hear the basketball bouncing on the driveway as he waits for the bus. The swoosh sound as he sinks another one with a resounding,"two points!" He now is setting the goal to be fit enough to play basketball on a team next winter. Something he would not have considered before. I see an actual smile, a head just a wee bit higher, and a gradual freeing of the very demons that held me down for four decades of my life. Having a front row seat to this has suddenly made my struggles as of late just a little bit easier.
"And the base keeps runnin', runnin' and runnin'.....
Let's get it started, in here....."
-Black Eyed Peas
Alex now greets the day with a dance party, today the Black Eyed Peas, fitting as he has truly gotten it started in here. This experience was a good reminder that what you see in social media does not always give a nod to the tough stuff in life, and that our demons can serve a valuable purpose when we can use them to pour into others and watch them grow just as we have. In my case, I see a new, deeper relationship with a son I love more than anything. This is going to be an epic summer for my big man and I am excited for him to come to the full realization that the best is yet to come.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
I guess I never really intended to have a hiatus from my blog since the middle of January, yet here we are. If I am being perfectly honest, life issues have gotten in the way in terms of transitioning from one role to another at work, and some personal struggles. So, here I am emerging with new transcript just in time to usher in Spring, in what I hope to soon be a post COVID world. Last year with the world shut down, my annual spring trip to Florida was cancelled just like everything else. No trips to the Gulf of Mexico like I had grown accustomed to on an annual basis for the 21 years that preceded. So, admittedly last week could not have come fast enough. It was time to go back. For the weeks leading in I dreamt of warm breezes and sun on my face and salt in the air. The ocean is where I always find my center and hit reset to come back to a life that generally is a bit too crazy most of the time.
Yes, I had all the breezes and sun, but what I was not prepared for after a two year absence from here, was the grief. The grief of visiting a place I last saw my mom alive. I would look at the bench where we had one of our last talks, or the section of beach where she told me all about her latest whacked out political theories, oh yes, she was chock full of those, which was always amusing. I even sat at the restaurant where we had one of our last meals together. What was meant to be comforting wasn't in that her death had been sudden, the circumstances unkind and this trip the grief turned itself into an almost unbearable fire of a monster with it's own fury. Maybe not being in the ocean last year wasn't so bad.
Add this to the little matter of my running as of late. This has been quite lack luster. Paces are slow which was a mystery to me when I can tear it up on the stepper with 8 minute miles for 9 miles. What the actual hell? Why can't I run any faster? Clearly my body can. What's wrong with my head? I came to understand it's simple really. It's years of gym class bullying during the dreaded mile runs towards my former morbidly obese childhood self. Running precipitates heavy breathing, which precipitates anxiety, because as a child I would wheeze for days after. Slowing down meant name calling and heckling as I was always the last one done. So a mild elevation in heartrate during a jog shuts my body down. Well, that's super annoying. Seven years into my fitness journey, fourteen Spartan Races and two Savages later, this still exists.
As an overthinker from way back, I have been ruminating on all of this for some time. Then, a simple children's movie would provide the answers. Friday night, in a rare turn of events, I had opportunity to have movie night with my 10 and 11 year old. They piled in my bed and we watched,"Soul." A line in that movie has stuck with me for days.
"One fish says to another,'I'm looking for the ocean.'
The other responds,'you're in it.'
'No, this is the water. I'm looking for the OCEAN.'"
Looking back, that's pretty spot on looking at my past running. I have always treaded along the proverbial feeder river hoping to one day be launched into the glorious running ocean where the times are fast and the high is amazing. Yet somehow, it always just seemed like plain old water. Today, armed with new mental sports psychology techniques to overcome previous demons, I set out on a beautiful trail. The sun was bright, the temps cool and my running more comfortable with my new technique. As I finished, in usual fashion, the musical timing of my play list would hit just right:
"We can live beside the ocean,
Leave the fire behind,
Swim out past the breakers,
Watch the world die."
- Everclear,"Santa Monica"
In that moment I was running beside the fresh waters of the Mohawk tasting the salt in my mouth from the sweat of a great run. I began to realize I truly was not in the feeder rivers, but in the ocean and probably always have been. Nope, my times were not any faster, nope I wasn't winning any medals, but I was 51 years old running nearly six miles without a ton of anxiety, thanks to some effective sports psychology, possibly for the first time in my life, and calling it "Sunday." That's no measly river, that's full on great white infested badass ocean territory. Oh yes, Everclear, I was way out past the breakers drowning my childhood bullies and extinguishing the grief fire all on a simple Sunday afternoon.
This whole experience has me wondering how often we let the trials of life keep us within the imaginary confines of small waters, not realizing we were never in the small waters at all. We have always had the opportunity to swim with the sharks in the badass ocean. We forget that no matter where we came from, what we have been through, there is always opportunity to leave the fire behind and be the best versions of ourselves. All it really takes is the right tools, being surrounded by the right people and the notion that we are always more wildly capable than we give ourselves credit for. I can pretty much guarantee I will never set any land speed records, and that doesn't matter because I now know I can run better and happier. As for the actual ocean vacation I took last week? It's time to pull out the photos, enjoy the happier memories of my mom in that spot and remember that as always, the best is yet to come.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Like so many others, I have spent the first two weeks of this year reflecting on the events of 2020. The COVID, the unrest, a world like we have never seen. It all seemed so unreal at times. I clung to what I could do. Trust what I had learned in the last five years before the pandemic to create my own training and do my best to move forward . I held on to my 20 years in clinical practice as a nurse practitioner to shape the way I attacked this thing called COVID. It was difficult, sure, but I found ways to pull off small wins to propel me forward, maybe not shining as brightly as I did pre-COVID, but forward. That is until December 9th. It was what should have been a typical Wednesday. I was off with a laundry list of things to do, the first of which was my annual physical.
Let me define,"annual". If I am being perfectly honest, I have not had an "annual" physical in 2.5 years. Why? As a healthcare provider, I too am victim of "Do as I say, not as I do." Life had gotten in the way. Busy with work and kids and life at 100 mph, had this simple act of a check-up lost in the sea of busy. I wasn't worried. I trained. I ate well. I drink water. I attempt to sleep well...ok I'm a miserable failure at sleep but it is not for lack of trying. Ah, a story for another day. Nonetheless, what did I need a physical for anyway? Yet, in the corner of my mind was the small reminder my mom had breast cancer and I was overdue for my mammogram. That should not be blown off. I have training to do, a job to work and a foundation to run. I certainly do not have time for breast cancer. So, I guess I went if for no other reason than to get a mammogram order.
My previous doctor has moved on and I was met by a new one. A woman I quickly came to like. She was my age, worked as a provider, had kids and consequently knew what my life was about so I didn't have to explain it to her. Through the course of the visit she said a phrase that I hear in my head all the time now,"your blood pressure is high."
I was quick to dismiss her and blame the coffee and allergy meds I had taken earlier that morning. I told her not to worry, I would check it at home, I was sure it was fine, because even when I was morbidly obese all that time, I never had high blood pressure. I left there with my mammogram scheduled and a referral for the dreaded turning 50 colonoscopy. There. Mission accomplished. As a precaution, I did begin checking, and I would discover not only was the blood pressure not fine, it was stroke level not fine, 185/104at times.
I quickly learned what I have passed off as heartburn and sinus pressure in recent months was actually extremely high blood pressure with chest pain. In the couple weeks that followed my physical, I had an emergent work up with cardiology. No, it was not safe for me to train. So much for my time with my heavy lifting tribe I have grown to love. The meds were not working very well and lets be fair, I was rip shit pissed. You mean to tell me I have spent six freaking years changing my life. Six years of blood sweat and tears to reach this level of fitness, only to wind up in the cardiologist's office with a blood pressure of 200/100 during that visit? I found myself begging the cardiologist to understand,"I have done two full marathons, six half marathons, fifteen spartan races and two Savage races in the last three years alone. I run. I should not be here. I was morbidly obese most of my life and NEVER had high blood pressure. This should not be the case." There was something completely unfair about all of this.
He knows me personally and what I have done in recent years and absolutely agreed, yet it absolutely was the case. Test after test, the EKG, the renal artery ultrasound, the CT angiogram of my heart following a blood test showing some evidence of heart strain, a blood test for my adrenal glands, only to get the phone call,"Your coronaries are clean. Calcium score is zero. Ultrasound is normal. There's a lot of good news here." Was it good news? I suppose it was on the one hand, but it wasn't the three things I really wanted. An answer, a quick fix and the chance to move on. I had shit to do, a tribe waiting and goals that were appearing to be further and further sidelined by a medical picture that made no sense at all. By that point, I was frustrated and was done being the patient. However, I did not have a choice, a stroke truly awaited if I gave up at that point and I really don't have time for that either.
In the couple weeks since that time, I have done some yoga and worked my way into a blood pressure regimen that involves four drugs totaling five pills a day, which is not doing the job totally, but keeps me out of stroke range so that I was cleared to start training again. I have had a chance reevaluate everything the end of 2020 has brought. Yes, scary high blood pressure and a bit of a forced time out, but I had missed something important with that "good news" phone call. Clean coronaries. I come from a lifetime of morbid obesity, a smoker in my 20's, yet here I sit at age 51, fit, with zero heart disease. I took a moment to think about how differently that call may have gone had I not done all I have in the last six years. Would I have raging heart disease? Would I be on the fast track to other badness associated with my selfish unhealthy ways? Surely there would have been. I could be diabetic, have breathing issues, degenerating joints.... the list is endless. I suppose my wise cardiologist had it right in the first place. There WAS a lot of good news here. None of my goals were truly sidelined as my previous pity party would suggest. I am training better now with a tribe that pulled me right back up and to this day continue to push me to be my best. The only catch is, I have to take five pills a day and stop being a dumbass about going to the doctor. I guess I can do that.
This experience has me wondering how many times we get bogged down with the immediate seemingly paralyzing crisis, drowning in a sea of bad news, and not taking the time to realize no matter what we face, there is always good news. There is the realization that this proverbial sea could always be deeper, the waters could always be rougher. However, if we look hard enough we will see our efforts are not for nothing. If we are lucky enough we will see in the middle of the struggle exists our tribe tossing out the life raft, pulling us to safety and pushing us to climb up the bank on the other side, stronger and better, and patiently waiting so we can take on the next high peak as a collective mighty force. I don't really have an answer to my medical mystery, and I have more appointments in the near future, that I will take on one at a time, but I do know that with whatever life brings, I have the opportunity to look forward and see that the best is yet to come.
Monday, December 14, 2020
In the last couple of months I have had to find ways to reorient myself in a COVID riddled world. As a nurse practitioner for 20 years, I thought I knew how to navigate medicine as a provider. Yet, here we are. Ever changing rules, guidance that becomes outdated almost immediately after it comes out, testing strategies, quarantine, on and on it goes until at times I find my head spinning just to negotiate it all. My personal world was turned inside out as well as the kids are trying to adjust to remote learning and trying to understand what exactly has happened in the world and why we can't have a birthday party. Personally, I had races cancelled, my gym was shut down for months and all of the events I trained for vanished one after another. It's all just a bit heavy.
As of late, I have tried a reboot of sorts. I set big 2021 goals that honestly, seem a bit crazy, but in my mind, if it seems crazy it probably means I should do it. That being said, I am learning to adapt to a whole new training strategy. Said strategy is the transition from a solely group fitness type HIIT training to adding in targeted strength training with a trainer and some new training partners. See, there was always something about group fitness. My peeps at the usual 8:45, singing along to our favorite songs, teasing our trainers and just having a good time as we busted it out day after day. However, as fun as that was, it didn't get me where I needed to be on the race course. Nonetheless, I still go, but outside of there, in a gym across town, there's a guy with a clipboard counting every rep, correcting every miniscule break in form. He even watches me breathe for God's sake. Yet, I had to put my fitness in his hands if I am going to get anywhere in 2021.
In one of our first sessions he pulled out these iron bars. Apparently that day I was graduating from a kettle bell carry to whatever this thing was. I was pleased with my initial kettle bell carry the week before. I easily carried 94 pounds 80 feet, not bad at all. However, with this contraption, he instructed me to put ten pounds on every corner. As he talked to me about gripping the handles, breathing, bracing, short steps, shoulders engaged, I found myself wanting him to cut to the chase. How heavy was this? What was I about to do?
"Let's not talk about weight. Now, here's what you need to do....."
Ok, well he's the expert. I did as I was told. Pick it up, short quick steps to haul ass 40 feet, set down, deep breath, brace and haul ass back. It was a challenge, but I got it done. Only then he asked me,"How heavy do you think that was?" I suspected somewhere where I had been last week. It was heavy but I was able to do it. Must be the same. Right? OK no. It was 144, a full 50 pounds heavier. He explained to me that in talking about weight we automatically put a limit on our capabilities as our preconceived notion of our own ability is always far below what we can actually do.
Let's face it, COVID is heavy, life is heavy. I wonder how often we focus on the weight of it all claiming defeat before we even get started, convinced we cannot handle that caliber of heavy lifting. Maybe the better thing to do is to look for the proverbial guy with the clipboard who can help us grab hold of life's challenges, breathe, brace, stand tall and haul ass forward no matter what the weight is.
Since that 144 pound day two weeks ago, I have progressed to 170 pound carries, and have come to learn that there is power in taking on the heavy and coming out the other side. I have also located a tribe of like minded bad ass heavy lifting women who refuse to talk about weight and instead push me to be my best. It is in this space I am reminded, no matter how heavy life is, the best is yet to come.