Confidence doesn’t come from being the best at something. It comes from realizing you don’t have to be.
How many times have we found ourselves working harder and harder to be better than others at a specific task, only to then reach our goals and realize we’re still just as messed up as we were before? I’m a runner, and the day I qualified for the Boston Marathon was one of the most amazing days of my life. I had finally proven to myself that I was legit, and I felt like qualifying meant there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish.
Only the incredible feeling of invincibility eventually wore off. Even worse, I felt less confident about my running than I did before I qualified. I became plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. By the time I stood at the starting line, I was a mess. I had gotten sick a few days before the race and knew I was in trouble. I looked around at all the toned, athletic bodies around me and felt as if I was an imposter, as if I didn’t really belong there, as if I didn’t deserve to be there. I had a miserable race and wanted to make myself invisible from the cheering crowds.
I was sick alright, and it wasn’t just physical.
My friends and I sometimes push ourselves to the point of injury to get faster, to get better. We claim it’s because we’re competitive, or because we want to be our best selves. Some of my non-running friends find all of this inspiring. Others think it’s just plain crazy. I think it’s probably both.
Because when it’s all said and done, it’s just not that important. Look at Lance Armstrong. His drive to be the best cost him everything in the end. Hubris also played a huge part in his downfall, but perhaps hubris and the drive to be the best at something go hand in hand.
Wanting to be the best doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be the impetus for some incredible changes in our lives. I think it’s when we make being THE BEST at something more important than anything else that leads to a hollow type of confidence. It’s like not being afraid to jump off the ledge but forgetting what’s waiting at the end of the fall.
Fast forward to today. I can’t honestly say that I’m any more confident than I was in Boston, but I can say that I no longer care as much about how fast or how far I run. Of course I still love to run fast. And long distance running is what I love the most. But I’ve realized neither defines who I am or how I view myself, and I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove, to myself or anyone else.
And if I don’t have anything to prove, it just means I’m one small step closer to being happy with what IS. And that’s good enough for now.
Running is something that makes me happy. I never feel more free, more joyful, than when I’m running through a beautiful landscape. It’s probably the main reason I love trail running.
I recently ran in my first trail race, the Palo Duro Trail Run. It was also my longest distance to date, 50 kilometers (31.1 miles). I enjoyed the experience tremendously and loved running in the desert, even though it meant seven and a half hours of running and 95 degree heat at the finish.
That’s Texas in October for you.
Trail races are very different from marathons. You have to bring a lot more gear. I always compare trail running to a small military operation.
It was 38 degrees at the start under a clear sky filled with stars. By 5:00pm the temperature would rise to 108 degrees.
Bagpipes played as people prepared for the 50K start at 7:00am. Away from the lights of the start area it was pitch dark. Headlamps were used for the first 45 minutes of the race.
What you run in is important. Skirts are always a comfy, cool alternative to shorts. Even for men.
Almost everyone carries their own water, either in their hand . . .
. . . or on their back.
You learn to eat on the go. It takes a lot of energy to run 20K, 50K or 50 miles, and the aid station tables are loaded with lots of goodies.
Some runners are able to resist the temptations of the aid stations and run straight through.
The early morning sun coats the canyon and those lucky enough to run there in a beautiful golden glow.
Even the parking lots are scenic.
The sky was a brilliant blue the entire day, with not a wisp of a cloud anywhere to be found.
There are man-made treacheries that need to be carefully navigated in trail races. These stairs were never fun, but especially not on the final loop.
Muscles tighten and protest in the harsh terrain. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop and stretch.
Trail running can be a solitary endeavor, but at times small trains of runners would come together and infuse the trail with conversation.
A lot of times walking up a steep hill is actually faster than running. By the third loop I enjoyed every opportunity to walk, even if it was uphill.
People run ridiculously long distances for a multitude of reasons. Some to challenge themselves, some to fight their demons, and others to remember someone they loved.
Some of the fastest runners stay so focused they barely register anything around them. Others make it look much easier than it really is.
Nothing means more to a runner than seeing the finish line–except maybe having their husband waiting there for them.
All photos taken by my awesome boyfriend, Michael Friedhoff, who spent the entire day lugging heavy camera equipment up and down the course. He fell asleep before I did that night.
West Texas is flat. Really flat. And treeless. It’s easy to imagine thousands of buffalo roaming the plain, or tornadoes barreling across the horizon. Amidst all this flat emptiness, it’s tough to believe there’s a canyon anywhere close by.
But there is a canyon, and it’s the second largest canyon in the country.
This past weekend some friends and I camped in Palo Duro Canyon in preparation for our trail race there in October.
Jay loved camping in his new tent. Because of it’s McMansion dimensions compared to the other two tents, it was quickly dubbed “The McTent.”
Some places in the country have snow drifts. In West Texas, we have mud. Flash flood warning signs are everywhere in the park. It’s obvious Palo Duro had a significant rain event in the canyon sometime before we got there.
But it wasn’t as significant as the rain and flooding they had there in 1978.
Though not deadly, spiders as big as your hand are nevertheless scary. There are tarantulas in the park. Supposedly they jump.
Looking for evidence of other animals in the canyon is easy in the soft sand. Other than these raccoon tracks, we saw other evidence of deer, hogs, coyotes, and lizards.
It was extremely hot during the day in the canyon. 114 degrees was the highest we saw. We had been hoping to have cooler temps, but at least it was cool in the mornings and evenings.
Even Shasta felt the heat.
To avoid the intense sun, we stayed under our shade shelter and played Uno, Monopoly, read, snacked, and played with the dogs.
Hari is like the overindulgent grandparent when it comes to Shasta.
Kurt braved the elements and went for a ride.
One morning we got up before the sun and went for an eleven mile trail run on the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. It was the best trail run I’ve ever been on. It was exhilarating to run through such amazing scenery.
Our trail took us to the Lighthouse formation, which is an iconic Texas landmark.
Hari and I took a break at the top of the Lighthouse. Kurt took photos.
The trail winds through the canyon. We had it to ourselves for hours.
We took the Little Fox Canyon Trail loop for a few extra miles. It was starting to get warm, but it was nothing like the humidity we’re used to running in.
Tired, dusty, trail legs after a run are never pretty. Even Jay was impressed enough to take a photo.
Our last morning, Kurt and I got up once again before the sun and took a short 3.5 mile hike on the Rojo Grande and Juniper Trails. I love the desert light in the early mornings.
West Texas is a dangerous place. On the way back to Dallas, even stopping at a rest area (which also doubles as a tornado shelter) can be treacherous.
It was a great trip. From the coyotes howling in the middle of the night, to the full moon rising over the ridge, to the turquoise blue collared lizard I thought was a bird, and the Milky Way and Big Dipper stretching across the night sky, Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful. And of course, everything is more fun with good friends. I can’t wait to go back in October for the trail race.
Lighthouse trail run photos courtesy of Kurt Cimino.
Tomorrow I’m jet bound to Portland, Oregon! I’m running the Eugene Half-Marathon on Sunday, but the best part is that my daughter and her fiance live in Portland, so I’m making a week of it.
My bags are packed, training is under my belt, and I’m ready to go.
I’ve only been to Portland twice, both times very briefly. Once was en route to Seaside and Astoria to meet some runners at the end of the Hood to Coast Relay, and another time for a wedding.
As I told someone when I was there, “These are my people.” I feel at home in Oregon. My mom even told me afterwards that I was probably conceived there, so I guess it is a true homecoming when I visit.
I’m having to live some of my unrealized dreams through my daughter, who’s worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone, a geologist in Jackson Hole, and now lives in Portland. I guess all those summer road trips out west to the national parks influenced my daughter more than I thought they would.
Dallas should reach a high of 90 degrees today, so it’s a good time to head north. When I called Dominique to ask what kind of clothes to pack, I was told to “bring a little of everything” and to dress “funky.”
Just what I wanted to hear. I’m the type who packs everything but the kitchen sink, but funky? I’m anything but.
Are Converse sneakers considered funky? Maybe they are if you’re my age.
For a race, it’s pretty easy to pack. All the sacred running items go in the carry-on, to avoid having to scramble for race gear at the last minute if the checked bag gets lost.
Now that I have a Kindle I’m traveling much lighter. I usually pack three or four books, and buy three or four more when I get to wherever I’m going–and keep my fingers crossed when they weigh my luggage.
But I rarely have (or make) time to do much reading anyway when I travel. Too much to see! Too much to do! Too many adventures to be had!
About thirty of my running friends and acquaintances are traveling to Eugene to run the race, though most are running the marathon. I would be running it as well if I hadn’t lost a full month of training back in February after a trip to the ER, then a pulled calf muscle, and then a stomach virus.
Sometimes you have to be realistic and scale back. I’m looking forward to running “just” the half marathon.
And if you’re a runner, or you saw the movie (actually, there were two), then you know about Steve Prefontaine. Eugene is where he lived, trained, and was killed in a car accident. The race finishes on Hayward Field where he trained.
After running with Dean Karnazes last Friday, it’s kind of like meeting two running heroes in one week.
So here’s to sunny skies in Oregon, a smooth, uneventful flight, fleet feet and lots of laughs with friends, precious time with my lovely daughter–and most of all, to running. Funky or not, here I come.
Last week I wrote a post in my running blog about how other runners judge each other and what constitutes a “real” runner. In reference to my post, a friend told me about a comment one of her friends made when they were wearing their bathing suits. This “friend” felt it was okay to make a comment about her being both “skinny” and having “so much” cellulite on her thighs. My friend is a tall, gorgeous mother of three who is faster than a lot of the men I run with. She just laughed and said nobody’s perfect.
This made me wonder: why do some people think it’s okay to make comments about a woman’s weight if the woman is thin?
I’m one of those women who have never had to worry much about their weight. I run, still seem to have a fairly high metabolism, and can generally eat what I want within reason. I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, and until I had my first child it was always a struggle to put on weight. When women ask how I stay so slim, I tell them I run a lot, that I’ve always been on the thin side, and that it must be genetic. They almost always make a comment about how lucky I am.
There is a flip side to all of this, however.
When I was little girl I was an extremely picky eater. I turned my nose up at all sorts of “yucky” foods. I loved meat, but hated hamburgers. I didn’t even like chocolate milk or chocolate ice cream (still don’t). I was allergic to milk when I was born (breastfeeding was actually frowned upon), and was fed goat’s milk instead. Maybe that’s where it all started.
I can’t remember a time when other kids didn’t make fun of me, especially in elementary school. Toothpick, Skinny, String Bean, and Olive Oyl were the most frequent names I heard, and Turnip was said a lot because of my last name. Adults didn’t make fun of me, but they made comments nevertheless. My grandmother made it her mission to fatten me up with chicken and dumplings and half and half. I don’t remember being necessarily bothered by the name calling, unless someone was being purposely mean. I guess I got used to it after awhile. I remember calling one of my friends Tomato Potato all through grade school, and he hated it, so I was just as bad as the others.
I spent most of my time outside, riding my bike, roller skating, hitting a tennis ball against the house, playing badminton with my sister, and running around the backyard setting up pretend Olympic competitions. Whatever calories I took in were quickly consumed by physical activity.
I had a hard time finding pants that fit, even in slim sizes at Sears, and my mom always had to bunch up the material at the waist and sew it together. Sometimes I just used a big safety pin on the sides. My junior high school drill team outfit had to be sent back twice because the person doing the alterations didn’t believe my measurements were correct. Even my top hat had to be made smaller.
In high school I was painfully aware that I was a late bloomer, but I had a circle of friends who were kind of geeky and accepting of my thinness. I was jealous of the other girls and their womanly curves. It wasn’t until I had my first child that I finally filled out a little and acquired some of those curves, especially hips. A chocolate chip cookie binge one Christmas vacation at 30 was my first realization that I couldn’t eat cookie after cookie without consequences.
Even though I’m not short, I’m small boned, and a few extra pounds on a small frame really show. There have been times I’ve changed my diet to eat healthier, but I’ve never had to diet for longer than a few days to lose a couple of unwanted pounds. The older I get, the more I do have to watch what I eat, however, and I have a wicked sweet tooth. I live for carbs.
When I started running six years ago I did lose a little weight at first, but mostly I toned up. I ate more to accommodate for the lost calories, but I also ate healthier. When a teacher colleague saw me for the first time in a year after I began running, she told me I was “too thin” and that I looked “unhealthy.” In my opinion she was overweight, but I didn’t tell her that. I told her I was running a lot, ate like a horse, and was healthy.
I was amazed that she didn’t think twice about sharing what she thought, but also knew she would never tell someone they were too heavy, no matter how “unhealthy” they looked to her. Her lack of tact didn’t really bother me, but it did make me wonder why she thought it was acceptable to be so blunt with someone about their weight.
It’s almost as if it’s okay to call someone skinny and make comments about it because, well, they’re skinny and that’s what’s accepted–even envied–in our society.
My daughter was once brought to tears by a high school teacher who asked if she was anorexic–right in the middle of a lesson. She’s shorter and smaller than me, and has always had a hearty appetite. He felt horrible when he made her cry, but why did his concern outweigh the embarrassment it caused?
I love watching The Biggest Loser, despite all the drama. I love the moment when the light bulb comes on in each of the contestants’ heads and they break through the wall that’s been holding them back, the moment when they give up all their excuses, let go of all the pain and hurt and things from the past that are holding them back, and allow themselves to be healthier, stronger, and happier. When you do something you’ve never thought possible, then the true person you are is able to emerge. Seeing that transformation in others is always inspiring to me.
Even though I’ve never had to lose a lot of weight to experience that moment, I think I know what it feels like through running. After I ran my first half marathon, which is something I never thought I could do, I was euphoric for days afterwards. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point, and for the first time in my life I knew that anything was possible. I knew that I had the strength to do anything I set my mind to.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to eat very little, exercise regularly, and still not lose weight. I have friends who eat like little birds, and they struggle week after week to lose weight. Some have struggled with weight loss their entire lives. Some have been made fun of and treated disrespectfully in ways I’ve never had to deal with.
Whatever package we come in, the journey remains the same for all of us. It’s easy to say be happy in your own skin, but not so easy to pull off, especially when others can be quick to point out things you already know about the way you look.
Let’s all start looking a little deeper.
Here’s the footage we took of the leaders in the Olympic Marathon Trials last weekend in Houston. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again in London next summer–even if it will only be from my TV.
As someone who runs marathons, I know that running is 98% mental. If I’ve trained consistently and put in the miles, the body knows what to do. If any obstacles arise, either during training or the last miles of a race, I’m almost always assured that it’s my mind getting in the way. This holds true for everyday life as well. I’m ready to turn these obstacles into words and take the sting out of them.
I noticed last year that certain things kept coming up in my writing, words that I wrote over and over. Probably the most frequent thing that came to the forefront was the idea of acceptance, especially acceptance of things as they are, not as I want them to be. This is also tied in with no control, awareness, and not judging. I went through a short phase where I tried to meditate every day after yoga, and those three concepts kept coming up each day. The actual words would appear in front of my eyes out of the darkness, unbidden and nagging, since I was trying to clear my mind. Eventually, when I got up to 20 minutes of meditation and it became harder to focus for so long, I turned them into a mantra, saying the concepts aloud in my head on each out breath. Acceptance . . . awareness . . . not judging . . . no control . . .
We all know how our minds can mess with us, how we can turn the smallest obstacle into something huge. I have a memory from childhood that stands out as a symbol of the word FEAR. My family had gone to Six Flags and we were high above the ground on a wooden deck in the trees. To get to the other side we had to walk over a suspended bridge. I remember being petrified of walking across that swaying, unstable bridge, and I refused. I threw a hysterical fit. I don’t even remember what it was that scared me, because I’ve never been afraid of heights. In the end, I think my dad had to take me down a spiral tree slide to get back to the ground below.
I still don’t like bridges that bounce, but not to the extent I did as a child, when irrational fears are somewhat more acceptable. Nowadays my fears tend to be more based on something that could happen, which might be the silliest fears of all. For instance, a few months ago Michael and I spent a day in Ft. Worth filming the race course for the Cowtown Marathon. Michael wanted to get some footage of downtown Ft. Worth, so we drove to the Trinity River levee and parked the car. Michael lugged the camera equipment to the top of the levee to film. I had visions of dead bodies in the river and gangs of homeless people attacking him. In the meantime, I sat alone in the car, in an empty parking lot behind a ballpark, watching some construction nearby. As a woman, I was afraid. I felt out of place and alone, like I shouldn’t be there, and was convinced someone would show up and hassle me.
Of course nothing happened. The construction guys didn’t pay me the slightest bit of attention and Michael didn’t see one single dead body or dangerous homeless person on the levee. It was the fear of what could have happened that caused more stress than anything that did–or didn’t–happen.
Last year I had a lot of lessons on acceptance, one of them due to training through an extremely hot summer. In the end, I had no choice but to accept I had no control over the weather. Either I accepted it, and ran anyway, or I got angry and stayed home. My training was therefore inconsistent and led to two nagging injuries. I’m sure I still have more lessons on acceptance headed my way, but at least now I recognize it when it shows up.
This year’s obstacle to be turned into a word is fear. I never would have called myself a fearful person in the past, but I think in many ways I am. I don’t like being pushed out of my comfort zone, and prefer to dip one toe in slowly until I get used to a situation. In a more literal sense, I’ve never been one of those people who runs screaming into a cold body of water. I go in slowly, inch by inch, at my own speed. I’m going to work more on being a screaming jumper, not letting fear hold me back.
I’m ready to turn these mental obstacles into nothing more than words. By doing so, I think I take away some of their power. Words can be turned off, left unspoken and therefore unacknowledged. As long as the concepts take up space in my head, in the form of obstacles, they can do damage. If I turn them into words only, with no experiences to back them up, they remain meaningless.
I posted this today on my running blog, Run Nature, but thought I would post the link here as well. This morning I had the immense pleasure of watching the men’s and women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. The top three men and women finishers will represent the United States this summer in London. As a runner, these are my superstars. To give you perspective, when I run a marathon I try to keep a pace of around 9:00-9:20 per mile. They keep a sub 5:00 pace. For 26.2 miles. Without stopping. To watch them fly past today, focused and deep in concentration, was like winning the lottery.
CLICK HERE to view the rest of the photos.
Last month I got upset. Several times, in fact. The reason: reading the comments sections of online articles.
Ever since I quit teaching I’ve had a lot more time to spend on the computer. In the past, I rarely had time to read articles, blogs, or much of anything. Now that I do have more time, especially since I now have the iPad, I’ve been pretty shocked at reading the comments sections of just about anything I read.
I had no idea there were so many mean people out there.
Everyone has explained to me that some people go out of their way to write offensive comments just to stir things up. I now go out of my way not to read the comments section of anything political. Scary stuff, indeed, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. Both sides are equally represented by some serious wackos. But sometimes it hits a little close to home and I can’t help myself. It upsets me.
I guess it’s like when people get behind the wheel of their car, and the anonymity and protection of all that steel makes them act, shall we say, not always considerate of other drivers.
But here’s where it really hit home for me. Last month I read two blogs, both of them ragging on runners and marathons. The first one was by someone who writes for a local, free, weekly magazine. He essentially makes his living pissing people off. He’s pugnacious, and goes out of his way to annoy. That’s what you expect from the guy. I rarely read anything he writes, even if I agree with his position, because I don’t like his style. I only read this article because someone shared it on Facebook, and it was just another one of his rants, this time against the city’s largest marathon and what he repeatedly called “positive runners.”
I guess deriding someone for being positive makes sense if negativity is your norm. And he obviously hasn’t run with me in the summer when it’s 105 degrees outside. I’m anything but positive. Just ask my friends.
What really got me going, however, was the degree of animosity from the people commenting, and not towards him, but towards runners and the marathon.
I had no idea.
I can understand being upset at road closures. Before I started running I forgot about the marathon one year and got stuck in traffic. I was irritated at the inconvenience, but mostly at myself for forgetting about the race. But these people commenting didn’t hold back, saying runners felt a “sense of entitlement” and calling the people who cheer them on “assholes.” When someone brought up the point that charities benefit tremendously from races, the consensus was that runners should just send in a check instead–which is kind of missing the point. The overriding sentiment seemed to be: not on my street, not in my city, and quit showing off.
The other incident that got to me was a blog post entitled “Running a Marathon Does Not Make You Mother Teresa.” It was supposed to be a humorous look at so-called self-involved runners. Again, it wasn’t the post that bothered me, it was the comments. Everyone seemed ready to jump on the Bash Runners Bandwagon. Quite a few people made comments about how runners were looking for attention by running marathons. Believe me, I can think of much easier ways to get attention than training for 20 weeks through the hottest summer on record just to put myself through hell for a 26.2 mile race. One commenter on another blog that linked to the article, a trail runner, made snarky comments about people running street races just for the attention it gets them, implying she was better than them because she ran on dirt. Even our own are turning against us!
People also made a lot of comments about those goofy 26.2 stickers people put on their cars after they run their first marathon. (Yes, I have one. Could this be the adult equivalent of the stickers we got in grade school for good work? I did love those shiny gold stars I got for getting 100’s on my spelling tests . . .)
I had no idea that pounding the asphalt ticked off so many people. I didn’t think anyone else really noticed.
Once I ran into a substitute teacher from my school when I went to pick up my race packet for our local Turkey Trot. She was one of the volunteers giving out race t-shirts. When I saw her again a few weeks after that, and asked if she ran, she went on a rant about runners always running down her street, and how she can’t get out of her driveway on Saturday mornings because there are so many of them. I had to really think about that. I’m guessing she has to wait 30 seconds tops to let a large group of runners pass her driveway.
What is this really about? I pondered this all last month, trying to figure out what people had against runners. Finally, I realized, like always, I needed to lighten up. It wasn’t really about me, or runners, or any type of inconvenience.
It’s about anyone who is different from us.
People like to gripe. We all do it. Guilty as charged. How many times have I made disparaging remarks about people who take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store? How many times have I cursed the cyclists who don’t let me know they’re passing on my left when I run at the lake? How many times have we all looked down on someone for doing something we think is stupid?
Maybe the runners I know, myself included, talk about running too much, especially to people who aren’t really interested. Maybe we talk about our races, our training, our nutrition, and it irritates other people. Maybe we tell people who don’t run what they’re missing out on, how running will change their lives, even when they don’t want to hear it. Maybe we put those 26.2 stickers on our back windows as a beacon to other runners, a sign of kinship as we drive around doing nonrunning things. Maybe we’re positive because running makes us feel good. Maybe we just really like running, and forget that not everyone is as interested as we are.
Everyone has a right to their opinion, and it’s not personal if someone writes mean things about what we do for fun. It’s only running. It’s not going to stop us, though, and that’s the bottom line. The human body was made to run. One day a lot of those people complaining about the marathon that inconveniences them so much now may decide they need to make a change in their lives. They may decide to push themselves mentally and physically beyond any limit they’ve ever known. When they do, my running friends and I will be there to encourage them and push them and cheer them on, no questions asked.
I’ll still read articles online, and I’m sure I’ll still get irritated at the rude comments. Oh well. At least I can always go for a run afterwards to cool off. Or to get attention.
I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or celebrate. We all knew this day would come but now it’s official: 2011 is the hottest summer on record in Dallas. Today, with the 70th day at 100 degrees or above, we surpassed the old record set in 1980 of 69 days. This is merely apropos since we learned a few weeks ago that we’ve had the highest average temperatures this summer, and the highest low temperatures ever, but it’s still nice to beat that old, official record. We may break the record again tomorrow, but hopefully the cold front blowing in afterwards will be the end of the triple digit heat. We’ll see. I reserve the right to remain skeptically optimistic. READ MORE