Ramblings on Running

This past Thursday, I set out for my regular run in good spirits, but within three blocks I just wasn’t feeling it. Knowing that those first few blocks are usually the worst for me, I told myself to run two more blocks and then decide whether I would be finishing with a walk instead. Somewhere during those two blocks my mind became engaged in other matters and when I noticed my surroundings again, I was almost at the 1 mile mark. I decided to do a 1.5 mile run and walk the rest of the way home. But when I got to the 1.25 mile point, instead of going straight, I made a right turn that would take me onto my 5K (3.1 miles) route.

I’d only run 5K once, the day after my 46th birthday back in June, and though it felt like a great achievement, it wasn’t one I thought I’d be repeating any time soon. So, I told myself “just go as far as you can…no pressure.” That line was repeated a few times along the way, in between the distractions of passing some neighbors and an older gentleman running who I exchanged the “running nod” with. As always, the “people encounters” energized me. Before long, I was crossing the 5K mark and slowing into my walking cool-down. I was a bit stunned that I had run another 5K when the session had begun with me wanting to stop after 3 blocks.

The next day at work, I was talking to a fellow runner, and before I could voice the thought, my friend said “isn’t it weird how there’s no rhyme or reason to how you feel when you start out and what you end up accomplishing during the session?” I thought I was the only one who felt that way—that slightly out-of-control, is-this-within-my-will uncertainty.

[Speaking of out-of-control, we won’t mention getting on the scale after running 5K and eating right all day only to find that I was 2 pounds heavier. Yeah, yeah, I know muscle weighs more than fat and all that crap, but it’s demoralizing, okay?]

Today, I set out for my run and I had the sense I was going to shoot for the 5K distance again. I didn’t want to be too enthusiastic. I’m a bit superstitious that way. Sure enough, I finished my third 5K, came home and did my crunches and stretches, and felt like I had conquered something. I no longer think of the 5K as a fluke in my running history. It’s something I can do on a regular basis.

[I guess that’s why I immediately started researching 10K training plans despite saying several weeks ago that I had no intention of increasing my distance. The Couch-to-5K program and Robert Ullrey’s podcasts that I used to get me to this point were a huge part of my success.]

So, what have I learned about my needs for a successful run:

  • Psychological state at the beginning of a run is not a good indicator of how it will end up, so “just do it.”
  • Running one or two more blocks when I want to stop gets me through the lethargy.
  • Bargaining with myself along the way usually results in running farther than the bargain offered.
  • Double knotting my shoe laces ensures the neighborhood kids won’t need to hear my muttered obscenities when I have to stop and re-tie.
  • I feel better in the early morning when the sun isn’t at its hottest, but I don’t feel like running until about 11:30 AM or so. See the “just do it” bullet above.
  • Negativity saps my energy, so ignore the idiot drivers and the smelly garbage trucks.
  • Encounters with people along the way seriously energize me, so acknowledge everyone in your path and feel the good vibes come back to you.

Please feel free to share your tips and tricks. Oh, and does anyone have a recommendation for a GPS/pedometer thingie so I can change my route and still know how far I’m running?

A Vacation for My Soul

I’ve always believed that the universe sends gifts our way when we most need them. My most recent gift came via email from my friend Julie Compton. There was a spot available at a writers’ retreat at a rented beach house in Virginia Beach. Nine other women who had known each other for years had room for a tenth. Was I interested? I admit for a brief moment I was transported back to school yards of yore and uttered “that sounds like hell.” My friend laughed and reassured me, “not these women.” I decided to go for it because I was beginning to feel despair over the lack of writing momentum with my next novel.

I flew in on Saturday and shared a shuttle to the house with Geri and Cal. We chatted merrily, unaware that our driver was hopelessly lost. When we finally arrived at the house, Linda and Mary welcomed us with gift bags filled with writing goodies and showed us to our rooms, the doors of which had been decorated with name plaques and doorknob signs requesting privacy for the writer within. Within the hour, Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of the fantasy novel Finder (but playing the role of gourmet cook), arrived with Signa. Finally, Diana and Sara (the dessert diva) pulled up. Julie would arrive the following day.

The Doll Babies, as the group is called, range in age from mid-forties to eighty-something and comprise talents and successes too numerous to list. Each woman had something special that drew me in and made me want to know more. I was reminded that everyone we meet in life is a potential teacher. If you pay attention, you can learn some wonderful things (about yourself, even) from other people. There’s something magical about admiring traits in others and realizing you can adopt them for the betterment of your own life. What a gift. Needless to say, a week just wasn’t enough, especially since I sensed immediately that this writers’ retreat was going to be about a lot more than just writing.

There’s something about being out in nature that sets me right, reminds me of who I am from the top of my gooey grey matter to the tips of my toes, and airs out my mothball-scented spirit. The house was huge, and there were balconies attached to every room that provided an awe-inspiring view of the beach. Before long, the natural rhythms of the ocean infiltrated the beach house and my existence. There was no set schedule, but my days seemed to flow as follows:

  • Wake to the sound of waves breaking on the shore
  • Exercise – I finished another week of the C25K running program.
  • Have breakfast
  • Write – I completed several scenes and had a breakthrough on a part of the novel that had me stumped.
  • Break for chats about writing and publishing – Writing is a solitary existence and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Do crafts – There’s something therapeutic about this even though I’m not very good at it. Focusing my mind on stringing beads or pasting paper silences the mental hamsters.
  • Eat dinner (and dessert) – Guinness beef stew, wine, homemade chocolate cake. Yum!
  • Converse – Listen to the stories of 9 amazing women.
  • Fall into a peaceful slumber, waves still breaking on the shore.

As an unstructured person (who secretly wishes she was more structured), this routine soothed. Life is best lived when we enter into its rhythms. I think my cells mutated from the joy of it all. 🙂

As wonderful as it all sounds, there was more. A spontaneous trip to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment got my mind percolating about my purpose and how I can better integrate body, mind, and spirit. This was live-changing and it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. I needed to process it all. (Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wondering where the heck I’ve been. Who says you don’t make real friendships online? It’s nice to be missed. 🙂 )

What this experience taught me was even though I think I’ve carved out “me” time by working only 3 days per week, it isn’t the same as going on retreat minus all the distractions, personal and electronic. Sometimes we need to isolate ourselves from our routines and the roles that we play in our daily lives (not to mention the other people in our lives and the roles they play). We must fast from the things that keep us from going deeper, enter into a meditative space, ask the questions, and wait for the answers. Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one. With all that said, I intend to make every effort to take a trip like this on an annual basis to share some one-on-one time with my soul. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You deserve it.

Gone Fishin’

Fishin’ for words, that is. I’ll be out of town until next Saturday at a writers’ retreat with 9 women. We’ve rented a beach house in Virginia Beach. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom. From morning till about 3:30 PM, we’ll go off on our own to write. In the afternoon, we’ll come together to talk shop or read excerpts. For dinner, one of the writers will cook up some yummy sounding meals. She’s already sent us the menu:

  • Saturday: Guiness Beef Stew, bread, salad
  • Sunday: Chicken parm, and pasta in a roasted tomato sauce
  • Monday: General Tsao’s shrimp, rice noodles and stir-fried veggies
  • Tuesday: We eat out together.
  • Wednesday: Whatever fish looks good, fixed some delicious way, asparagus (or anise) and either risotto or wild rice.
  • Thursday: Sausage (chicken) and peppers
  • Friday: Fritatta

Another writer loves to bake desserts and there are promises of a chocolate cake, warm and gooey from the oven. Did I mention I’m bringing my Couch to 5K podcasts so I can continue my interval training? 😉

This sounds like it will be a wonderful break for me, but let’s not forget the real reason I’m going. The writing. I started my new novel during NaNoWriMo in November 2009. Do you know what today’s date is? After writing about 27,000 words, I was catapulted into the world of book promotion for my first novel, which came out that same month. Not much writing, except for blogging, has been accomplished since then. And that’s a very baaaaaaaaaad thing. So, I need this trip to get me back on track. In fact, there’s a wee bit of fear that I won’t be able to, but I’m doing my best to ignore it.

If you happen to stop by while I’m away, feel free to send me some love. I’ll need it. If I don’t respond right away, that’ll be a good sign.

Catch you when I get back. Have a wonderful week doing things that make your heart sing.

[Update: See my post A Vacation for My Soul for more on my retreat experience.]

Reading Old Journals…Yikes!

A few weeks ago I dragged a box of old journals from my closet. I started my first diary in elementary school. It had a padlock on it so nosy siblings couldn’t peek. They could have just ripped the binding off the darn thing, of course, but they never thought to do that. I don’t know what happened to that early diary. I wish I had it now to see what my 9-year-old self thought was important enough to record. I suspect it was stuff like “Michael W. stuck his tongue out at me today when Mrs. N. was writing on the blackboard,” or “That kid Joe R. seems really nice. I bet he’ll marry my little sister 20 years from now.”

The earliest journals in my possession are from the mid-1980s when I was in college. But I didn’t pick up steam until after I graduated in 1986. From then on my journals record things like:

  • The loneliness I felt after leaving all my friends behind and returning from the happy bubble of college life
  • My growing dissatisfaction in a 9-to-5 job that just wasn’t me
  • Countless dates with “bad boys” who weren’t interested in serious relationships. Duh!
  • My fickle nature
  • My dreams and wishes for the future
  • The plans to realize those dreams and wishes
  • The actual steps I took
  • The successes and setbacks I experienced

Some of the entries are truly heartbreaking. They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words. But then, with the flip of a page, the tone changes and I’m going on and on about becoming a rock star. Yeah right! That band I was in with John, Richie, and Vito in high school obviously went right to my head.

A few journals later and I feel exhausted after reading about the hard work it took to start my business. And then, there’s the ridiculous: I’ve obsessed over my weight my entire adult life, but with the exception of a short period of time leading up to my pregnancy and for a short time after giving birth, my weight has not varied by more than 5-10 pounds. How do I know this? Because I recorded it. I could have refrained from worrying and had the same result. The best part of reading my old journals is the exhilaration of seeing dreams and wishes from one year become reality in subsequent years. Progress.

I also love revisiting the quotes I captured from books I was reading at the time or other sources.

From one of my favorite books Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman:

 “All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and the depth of understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort.” Rachel Carson

From Dinah Mulock, “Friendship”:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

From Alex Noble:

“Oh, the miraculous energy that flows between two people who care enough…to take the risks of…responding with the whole heart.”

My New Year’s Resolutions for 1996 were taken directly from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

Health enough to make work a pleasure,
Wealth enough to support your needs,
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,
Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,
Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God,
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

In 1997, I began my journal with “My Symphony of Life” by William Henry Channing:

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This will be my Symphony.

That same year, I was plagued by chronic back pain. The following passage by John Adams caught my eye. It was written three days before his death and reassured me that even as our physical bodies break down, our spirits can continue to thrive:

“The house in which John Adams lives is falling down. The roof leaks badly. The foundation is crumbling. The shingles are dropping like raindrops, and the windows let the frigid air through like screens. In spite of all this, however, John Adams is doing just fine, thank you.”

Reading old journals reminds me of who I was and who I wanted to become. Moment by moment, we make decisions that lead to changes that are sometimes barely perceptible in our lives. Yet years later, in hindsight, we realize how far we’ve come or how far we’ve veered off our intended course. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But when an alternate path does not result in fulfillment, it’s time to make adjustments and become aware of how we lost our way.

When I put the last journal back into the box and pushed it all back into the closet, I was feeling refreshed and ready to start daydreaming about what I want to do in the second half of my life.

Do any of you keep journals? What do you find most valuable about the practice? Do tell. 🙂

Magpie’s Shiny Things: January 25, 2011

As you can see, my artistic ability has not progressed since Kindergarten.

Magpie’s Shiny Things is a new feature that will highlight links to cool places I’ve visited on the internet, inspiring blogs, yummy recipes, to-die-for products, whatever has caught my attention.

As stated in my post Procrastination, “I’m like a magpie, a bird prone to thievery, according to folklore, because of its penchant for shiny things. I can be in the middle of one task, when ‘something shiny’ catches my attention and I’m off on another adventure.” The promise of something new gets me every time.

My hope is that you’ll find something you like here, too. And who knows, perhaps with this feature as an outlet, I may find my way to a more focused blog. After all, why should readers have to guess which one of Margaret’s 17 personalities they’ll encounter on any given day? 😀

So, here, without further ado, I present my first edition of Magpie’s Shiny Things.

With snow and other foul weather preventing me from getting out for my daily walk or run, January was the perfect month for online exploration. (Yes, I know I could have exercised indoors, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I mostly sat on my growing butt with the laptop slow-roasting my thighs and watched marathon sessions of Criminal Minds. There, I’ve admitted it.)

One of my great finds this month was the blog Altared Spaces. You’ll find yourself breathing a bit easier after reading Rebecca’s posts. One of my favorites is Cinnamon Rolls Taste Like Gratitude. No, it’s not a recipe. Not of the food variety, anyway. It’s more a recipe for gratitude and thankfulness. Though it was written back in November for Thanksgiving, thankfulness is something we can practice every day. And tell me the gorgeous centerpiece in the photo below couldn’t be updated a bit for display on Valentine’s Day, a holiday when we’re thankful for those we love. Think candy conversation hearts in the vase instead of pine cones and “snowflake” hearts in rosy hues hanging on the branches.

The re-designed movie blog Celluloid Zombie is a frequent stop in my blog travels. Richard Lamb offers up wit, sarcasm, charming English spellings, and tons of great reviews that will have your Netflix list overflowing with celluloid goodness. What I especially enjoy are his fresh takes on oldies-but-goodies. The Gremlins Gag Reel reminded me how much I loved that movie in my youth and it made for a great movie night with my son. I had tons of fun trying to spot the gags.

Nathan Bransford is an author, former literary agent, and blogger extraordinaire on all things publishing related. His recent How to Use Twitter was a good reminder that I’m not quite there yet with my Twitter platform. Okay, not even close. I also owe Nathan a big thank you for giving me the idea for Magpie’s Shiny Things. He regularly posts a blog that links to all the great sites he finds. It’s one-stop shopping for those of us who don’t have a lot of time but want to keep up with what’s happening in the industry.

Michael G. is the blogger over at Sharing a Love of Teaching. He is a Grade 4 teacher in Australia, and from the posts I’ve read, a wonderful one at that. What I love about his blog is that it challenges me to think, and I usually end up rethinking my opinions on topics in education, bullying, etc. Everyone with a school-aged child in their life should read this blog. And everyone with a child who has a social media profile on sites like Facebook, etc. should immediately stop what they’re doing, sit their child down, and watch the video he shared in his post I Urge You To Show This To Your Kids.

Okay, I’ll sheepishly admit I was probably the last person in the world to hear about Ree Drummond’s blog The Pioneer Woman. But just in case your siesta under the rock lasted a bit longer than you’d intended, skip on over there as soon as you can. Ree blogs about cooking, photography, and homeschooling. My favorites are the recipes, with her hysterical asides, anecdotes, and self-deprecating humor. If you want to experience the feeling of “died and gone to heaven,” you’ve got to try the Pecan Pie Muffins.

Well, there you go. Hope you found something to love here. Let me know if you did. And please feel free to share your great finds, too, in the Comments section.

I’m off to discover more shiny things.