Tuesday reflection

Tuesday after work. I am

camping with Stephen at Shinleaf,

on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail,

after he has spent much of his day

slowly moving himself and many

surprising (to him) pounds of gear from

Bayleaf Church Road, about

ten miles away. Tomorrow,

he will walk another thirteen to

Rolling View and await pickup

after I finish work. An experiment

in carrying everything you need and living simply.

He is tired and sore, but clearly pleased with

his accomplishment. Yet he’s puzzled to also

feel somewhat disappointed, and it

gnaws at him. I let him talk

but don’t say much, allowing him

space to think more and return later.

As for me–I sit outdoors at 8:45 pm

watching the waning sunlight,

an early bedtime whispering the

sweet promise of rest before the

sun rises on Wednesday. And I can

tell you that I feel content

with this ordinary

yet extraordinary

evening.

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Chicago Marathon-bound—and I need your help!

My best friend Ann helped me start running again, back when we were 20-something neighbors living on the bucolic Trusty Trail (nothing bad can happen on Trusty Trail—maybe we should have stayed). It was a great way to carve out time together. The upcoming Chicago Marathon will be Ann’s fifth marathon, my eighth. Although we ran our first half marathon together (2006?), we have never run a marathon together. Don’t think we haven’t tried!

I told her when she and Nancy ran the ING Marathon in DC in 2008, their first, that I’d never run that far (I’m still eating crow for that line). A year later (haha), I was at the starting line for my first of four Umstead Trail Marathons (I have yet to convince Ann how great this race is). Three weeks prior, she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I bought a pink shirt and ran the race with her on my mind. Even though she was feeling crappy, she came out to Umstead to see me finish. We hugged and vowed we’d run the next one together.

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Blue Ridge Marathon and Half Marathon, 2014.

Ann, Nancy and I threw our names into the hat for the NYC Marathon the following year—it was their second attempt at the lottery, my first. It never once occurred to me that I might get in and they might not. But, that’s what happened! I ran NYC in 2010 and Ann and Nancy finally had the chance to run NYC in 2013. Then I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2014, while Ann—wisely—opted for the half marathon option after all the training she did for NYC the previous fall (we did, at least, run the first part of the race together).

Last year, only a few weeks before she was re-diagnosed, this time with metastatic breast cancer, Ann ran the Asheville Marathon—but it was only 2 weeks before another race I had planned, so I decided to pass.

Ann has chosen Chicago as her last marathon, and hell if I’m going to miss out this time!

I have the opportunity to earn a slot and contribute through fundraising for the American Cancer Society as part of Ann and Nancy’s DetermiNation team, down-not-out. I committed to raising $1500 by the end of September. I am happy to invest my time toward achieving this goal, because the number of people with metastatic cancer is growing, and we need better answers, better treatments, and better outcomes.

A recent analysis of people with metastatic cancer projects that 11% of the younger patients will survive beyond the 10 year mark—and that’s supposed to be good news. We need to do better.

I am wary of lotteries now (see NYC Marathon, above), but I would bet on Ann any day of the week to defy those odds and lead that group of survivors. Just this morning, she pulled out half mile splits at a sub-10 minute pace—despite the July humidity and the many side effects of what I call “invisible chemo” –because she’s still on chemo, but that’s not evident to most of the world.

She may be down, but she is not out! I want to run 26.2 miles with Ann and her team, and see her achieve her Chicago Marathon goal. To read more of my story, make a donation, or cheer us on, please visit my page. You can read more about Ann, her story, and my other teammates on our team page. I’ll see you in Chicago!

Warm wishes and many thanks,
Steph

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Sunset Beach Half Marathon in May with our Peep friends. You can see the humidity!

Summer plans

This summer will be how I always intended to live,

Mapped out neatly in my notebook next to the scribbled to-do lists,

Allowing me to breathe in the sauntering, unstructured days of summer.

Filled with possibility and unmarred by the daily grind.

I shall go to bed early and sleep until I am rested.

I’ll nurture my family with meals we make together

With the summer bounty from local farms.

We’ll eat and laugh around our table, sharing our joys and woes

With space for deeper conversations, too.

I shall ride my bike to work, and give away things I no longer need;

Walk gently on the Earth, with pauses for wonder.

Appreciating my abundance with austerity and generosity,

Recalling that time is the only currency worth seeking.

My neglected summer garden

Will be raucous and beautiful, yet unsullied by weeds–

For I will work in my garden for an hour each day.

[I shall call it “happy hour.” Or maybe “half hour.”]

I will read a new book every week, and they will all be worthy

With thoughtful words, fiery ideas, and deeper meanings.

Words will flow from my own fingertips, and they will be precise and uncluttered,

Arranged with perfect balance and cadence and clarity.

I shall run any day that I wish, and soak in the company of friends

Like roots pull nourishment from the soil, and we will linger

Over jokes and earnest conversations with steaming cups of coffee

In the humid early mornings, just after sunrise.

I will seek joy and deliver it with intention to others,

Open my heart, to allow love to wash away the shattered bits

Love without expectation or fear for tomorrow’s woes,

Like drinking deeply from a clear mountain stream

Remembering only the cold wetness the moment it touches my lips.

Then I will awaken and notice the goldenrod flowering

The last brood of Carolina wrens has fledged,

And the sticky days of August are upon us.

Summer days stole by on silent yet swift feet,

Gathering into weeks that were surprisingly busy

And months that disappeared without a trace.

I’ll shake my head and laugh at my Quixotic optimism,

Roll my eyes at my silly, navel-gazing privilege

That enables such dreams and noble intentions.

Nonetheless, I’ll treasure those found moments, and promise myself

 That next summer will be different.

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Sick Day

Creeping out my back door on a perfect day in May,

Body aching, still in sweat-soaked pjs at 10 am;

Weak and dizzy from an unplanned, day-long fast,

Screeching red-shouldered hawk pierces my pounding brain.

 

Wind moves the tender spring leaves of white and red oaks;

I sit in filtered shade, cool wind evaporating sweat on my forehead;

I hear chickadees, Carolina wrens, and a pair of barred owls;

Raucous, joyful noise surrounding a quiet body and throbbing head.

 

I watch two blue jays share a tasty morsel;

For me, a piece of toast, no jelly,

Plus half a cup of black coffee—enough to prevent a headache crescendo,

Austerity seems best for a raging belly.

 

A gorgeous day for working in my garden, or running on trails,

Meanwhile my muscles ache like I’ve done both;

[I haven’t, of course; I’ve been in bed for the past 15 hours.]

Frustrating, to waste this perfect day.

 

Instead, I sit quietly (and queasily),

Listening to the drum of a red-bellied woodpecker,

Watching for the upside down nuthatch,

Absorbing the soothing green canopy and cooling breeze.

 

I don’t feel much better, but perspective helps.

Maybe patience is the lesson nature is teaching me today.

From my chair, I can see tulip-tree flowers, high in the canopy,

Sighing, I know that it’s a lesson I won’t remember long.

 

The shifting sun aims its rays on my face,

My head can’t take the blinding brightness, so I head back inside;

Pausing to scan a nearby sweet gum for the cardinal I just heard calling,

Accepting, reluctantly, the gift of stillness, and the healing pace of nature.

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Ocean of Stars

I want to lose myself in the night sky,
Shiver in the November air,
Lie by the sea among grains of sand.
I want to feel dwarfed by the universe
Tiny, and inconsequential.

Perhaps then my cares, too, will seem small
Fear drifting away with the outgoing tide
My heart growing lighter
So I might twinkle again,
Just one of a billion stars above my head.

To DNS or DNF

*To DNS or DNF–that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of a run unstarted
Or run the race and risk a sea of troubles
And by so doing: to die, or at least screw up my leg
And continue my IT band issues: to start, to run until I can
Run no longer; and by DNF, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That flesh is susceptible to? [Hell no!] ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly not to be wished on anyone. To start (or not), to run,
To run, perchance to Dream. Aye, there’s the rub,

For in the grand scheme of life, my IT band problems are self-inflicted and trivial.

Umstead marathon was supposed to be my last big race, but I had to sign up for the Medoc Spring Race, a race styled after Dipsea with a staged start. It’s only 7.5 miles–the perfect distance, plus a fun format to keep me out of a post-season slump.

Then my running buddy decided to drop from the Umstead 100, so I was no longer needed as a pacer. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail 50K is the same weekend, on Sunday. Here was an opportunity to squeeze in an ultra on my home turf. The timing after Umstead was perfect. Steve emailed me and asked, “which distance did you sign up for?” “What kind of idiot do you think I am?” I retorted. It was another two weeks before I actually admitted—um, THAT kind. [He wasn’t surprised.]

When I first went to Mimi, the ITB issue seemed bad, much worse than I thought. I knew my left side was out of balance, but not the extent—weaker, less flexible, limited range of motion. I emailed Bull City. The 12 mile distance is full. It’s 50K or bust.

But, I have made so much progress in two weeks that I have guarded optimism, perhaps too much. Why not start and see how it goes? It’s hard to know how much better I am, though. The only thing that caused pain was running downhill. I’ve done two flat runs with zero pain.

If I consider the distance, my ITBS, and the fact that I would like to be in reasonable shape to run well at Medoc, it seems ridiculous to even start the 50K. Why would I risk the setback on my PT and careful strengthening to do a race that is not my A race, a race that I signed up for out of serendipity?

It’s not just a 50K run, though. The following weekend, I will speak at the memorial service for my lifelong friend Suzie, who was killed last September on her early morning run by a hit-and-run driver in Eureka CA. I had signed up counting on the 50K to help me steady myself for a much tougher event, one that will take everything I have.

I could accomplish this in other ways. But the singular effort of running a long way and the need to focus intently on the trail allow me both time and space for my brain to wander and my heart to find peace. And Suzie loved running trails.

It seems unlikely that I can go the full distance, and I do want to run Medoc with my son Stephen and my friends two weeks later. A friend told me that my brain and body will reach an agreement at some point and I’ll know the right decision.

I’m not afraid of pain, which is temporary. I’m afraid of the setback, of having to start from scratch again and extending the recovery time. If I thought I could run the 15 miles to the dam without causing additional problems, I’d do so happily and call it a very successful DNF. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be able to run much farther.

My heart and brain will find the right answer. I just can’t see it yet.

*A line from a poem or story gets stuck in my head, and there’s no going back. Acknowledgement and apologies to: Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. “To Be, or Not to Be” [Internet]: Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_be,_or_not_to_be