Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Turning 40

In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
**Edith Wharton**

Wow, 40, what a concept! I'm still a young pup to those older than me, and an old lady to those younger. The population around me seems to be split evenly between the two.

My 30's were such a shocking decade to me. I have watched my two daughters grow from babies to young women. I have faced RA and overcome it as an obstacle in my life, and finished my Bachelorette. I've lost my grandparents and been abandoned by a sister and a father, but I have deepened the relationship with the family in my life. I've grown up and grown stronger. I feel ready for the next decade and whatever it brings, but I'm a little scared too. Now I know about the great curveballs that life can toss out and that it is not easy to knock them out of the ball park. I've lost much of the bravado of youth, that false confidence that you can often fool the world with, and sometimes yourself. It has been replaced with true confidence, the kind that comes from real success and not just the belief that I can succeed.

I listened to a book recently, (I love books on MP3,) called 5 Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. What struck me about the book was not the secrets, because they are pretty obvious, but that they found they needed to pose their interview questions to people over 60. It seemed that before one reaches 60, time is rarely taken to reflect on life. I think that is where runners have an advantage. There are probably other fitness activities that provide time alone to reflect, but running is generally slow, (compared to biking,) and more often than not, solitary. For me it is hard to dwell on negatives when I run. If I do, I tend to run too fast and wear myself out, and then the endorphins kick in and I get over my negative mood. RA gave me the incentive to reflect, running gives me the time to reflect. I think most people reflect after 60 because they find themselves retired with time on their hands. The kids are grown and pressing needs just don't seem so pressing anymore. To achieve this earlier in life takes some sort of jarring event like an illness or accident, either to yourself or someone close to you. This is why I can never look on RA as a disaster; it has inspired me to do so much and enabled me to become so strong, much sooner than I would have otherwise. I would never wish bad events on the people, but I think we need them sometimes to remind us of the important points in life. Family, friends, love, and fun, need to be on our minds far more often than rivals, obstacles, and irritations.

I used to hate the timing of my birthday, but now I see the value in cracking open a fresh new calendar and having it also signal a new age too. I'm rolling into 2009 with a whole new decade ahead of me! There are a few things I know will probably happen in the next decade. I'll wave good bye to my daughters as they go off to college and enter the world as grown ups, we will retire from the military, and we will change houses again and again. What will I learn, what will I accomplish, where will I go? It is all ahead of me and how much joy I find is all up to me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happiness is Being Grateful to be Alive

"I would have been afraid, except that I was so grateful to be alive." **Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum**

We often see great people on television, or read about them in news papers and magazines, and we can't help but ask, "What made that person so great?" It is the ultimate question. What is it that holds one person back and gives another one wings?
Last night I met a woman I consider a hero. If I hadn't known who she was, I would never have guessed. She is thin and somewhat plain, in that she wore no make-up and had her long straight hair up in a clip, and she wore a neat blazer with a lapel pin that said, "Army," in crystals. Despite her unassuming appearance, there was an unmistakable intensity about her; she does nothing lightly. Most people have dogs, but she breeds Gordon Setters. Most people in the military run, but she has run half and full marathons. There are many women in the military, but few have attained the rank of Brigadier General, or been prisoners of war. Of course, over small talk at a Christmas party, one can hardly delve into someones psyche to learn what drives and motivates them, but you can get an impression of their personality, and the impression I got from General Cornum was this: Excuses are not in her vocabulary.
We talked about running and she admitted that she never considered it until she joined the Army. However, once she started running, the migraine headaches that had plagued her for years vanished. That was enough reason for her to keep running as long as her feet would carry her. Now when she runs she plans surgeries, speeches, reports, whatever is occupying her mind that needs sorting. This is the real duality of exercise. To someone that does not exercise, there isn't time. They are quite sure they could never come up with a free hour each day to devote to physical training. To someone that does exercise, it is an invaluable stretch of time in which they plan, dream, and reenergize themselves to conquer the conundrums of the day.
Everyone can come up with excuses for why they can't exercise: "I don't have time," "I have an injury, an illness, responsibilities..." Excuses are like blades of grass, all we have to do reach down and pluck one, or two, or a handful, as many as we need to keep from doing something we don't really want to do, or we can look up instead, and step on them all. We can stroll across them with our feet bare, feeling their presence and knowing we have risen above and moved on. Rhonda Cornum could have given in to excuses and no one would have faulted her. She could have turned down the mission that brought her into the public eye, (she herself wrote the mission plan that placed her in harm's way,) she could have given up when her helicopter crashed and her friends died around her. She could have given up when she was being brutalized by Iraqi soldiers, pulled to her feet by her broken arms, abused, and terrified. She could have retired years ago, with a successful career behind her and rested, but she hasn't. Instead she pushes forward, on to each new assignment with a strength gained through adversity and tenacity. She could have given up running. After all, she had suffered serious injuries including torn knee ligaments and a bullet in her back, but the pain of rehab was temporary and she knows the benefits of moving forward last a life time. As a Brigadier General she is surely busier than the average person, yet she makes time for her physical well being and hits the ground running.
Scary things happen to people. Car crashes, cancer, disasters, chronic illnesses, and endless other dangers threaten to steal our lives, but when they don't and we survive to see the sun rise on a new day, we must rejoice in the opportunity to live. We must be so focused on the gifts of life that it overcomes the fear of failure, pain, and the weariness of starting over yet again, and let them push us forward to our own version of success. We all have adversity in our lives. It is what we do with that adversity that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.
When I first felt the effects of a full blown RA flare, I was terrified. Now that I know I have survived it, that it is treatable and I can still do all the things I most want in life, I no longer have time to be afraid of the scary things the future might hold. I could be afraid, (what if my medication stops working, what if it causes cancer, what if...), but I'm too grateful to be alive!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

At the foot of the hill, looking up.

I've started Hal Higdon's novice half marathon training plan and am trying to start off slow. I need to NOT run so hard and fast that I wipe myself out too much for the next day's training. So today, I ran 4 very very very slow miles. It took almost 55 minutes to cover the 4 miles, but I did it running the whole way. It aggravates me that keeping my heart rate at 65% max means over 13 minutes per mile, but I know if I keep at it, that time will decrease. I know from my race a week ago that I can run for 30 minutes with my heart in the red zone, but that it will take me days to recover and probably isn't the healthiest thing to do on a regular basis.

Hal's novice half is a 12 week training plan, but I've started 15 weeks out so I can repeat weeks if necessary, and not feel too guilty about taking a week off for vacation in a couple of months. My longest training run will be 10 miles and I'm actually looking forward to it. I've covered 10 miles before, but always with mostly walking so I didn't count it as a run. Really, if you count miles mostly walked, I'm pretty sure I've done sight seeing marathons with the only running being what was needed to catch a subway train :-)

I dream of running a marathon one day, but first I need to conquer the half, and maybe another length in between. Patience is not my strong point. The real highlight for today was, as I was running, nearing the half way mark, a startling flash of bright lapis blue streaked past my eyes. I watched it until it stopped and the vision of a bright blue bird lit on a near by branch. I thought, this is the real reason to run outside on a cold day, to see wonderful things I would never catch site of if I stayed inside.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

If we all did the things we were capable of, we would astound ourselves.

"If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves."
**Thomas Edison**

I DID IT!!!! I ran the 5K in less than 30 minutes!!

The weather was gorgeous, but cool, and I got there way too early so I sat in my car for a while, picked up everyone's packets and walked around. Of the three people that were going to run with me, 2 bailed out sick, but I still had hopes for one running buddy.

I headed for the start line with the crowd. Thankfully the walkers had a start 15 minutes later so I wasn't worried about dodging people. 30 seconds before the countdown clock hit 0:00 my buddy called to say she was still about 5 minutes away and could I leave her chip and number with someone. EEEKKKK! I told her it was too late for me to get out of line and with 2 seconds left I said, "Catch up with me," and hung up.

I took off WAY too fast. There was a bigger crowd than I had expected so I was too far forward and didn't want to slow people down so I just ran with the crowd until I got to a place where I could get out of the way and let people pass.
By the first mile mark I was more tired than I wanted to be, but still keeping a good pace and finally warmed up. About a half mile later, my buddy appeared. I have no idea how she spotted me from behind in a hat and new t-shirt!

At the 2 mile mark and was really getting tired and starting to doubt myself. I'd eaten to heavy of a diner the night before and was so worried about maintaining my energy for an afternoon race that I had probably eaten too much breakfast too. I took a short walking break and started running again. 2.5 miles was when my friend dropped back. By then I was way too close to meeting my goal so I picked up the pace and took off on my own. As I rounded the second to last corner I was running on sheer will power.

The water station at the 3 mile mark was a welcome site. My throat was dry and I wasn't carrying anything so I grabbed a cup from an outstretched hand, threw some water in the direction of my mouth and managed to get some in, enough to unstick my throat, tossed the cup, and picked up the pace one last time.

My official finishing time was 29:20! I was 7th out of 19 in my age group and 4:23 faster than last years 5K, but I'm more proud to have been part of the event than I am of my finishing time. Overall the Foundation raised over $70,000 with this event! The star speakers at the after party were the Snow Flake Princess, a darling little 7 year old that was diagnosed with JRA at the age of 2, and the mother and best friend of a young woman that died this past June during childbirth, due to complications of RA, (they lost both mother and child.) It was the most emotional after party I have been to.

Friday, December 5, 2008

If Oysters Had Legs

I admit it, I love symbolism, little things that remind us of more profound truths and keep us going when our mind tries to slow us down with negatives.

Everyone that has run a race has seen someone that didn't seem to take it seriously. You know the ones, the women with their hair and make-up done perfectly, nails manicured, donning a running outfit fresh off the rack and fully coordinated, standing at the starting line ready to run. I don't know how well they do, since by the time I cross the finish line they are long gone, but if they enjoy it, more power to them. I'm not one of them though; I roll out of bed, put my hair in a pony tail under my hat and am lucky if I have a little left-over eyeliner from last night. However, I do have one odd little idiosyncrasy that may make me look like I want to be one of them. I wear pearls when I race. Not a big gaudy strand or anything hugely special, just a little pearl in each ear and one on a pendant around my neck, (that I got from a $5 oyster at Sea World when I was 15.)

What does that mean to me? At some point, the poor oyster had a problem. A piece of sand, or a starter seed, was rammed into its mantle and caused an irritation. The oyster didn't whine, it didn't complain, it couldn't expel it, it had to deal with it. Over time the oyster covered the irritation, layer by layer, turning it into something so beautiful that it became valuable. The oyster took something bad and made it wonderful.

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that terrified me, but I believe I have taken this bad thing, this irritation that is always there, and made it into something beautiful. Because of RA, I have thrown away the unnecessary things in my life and focused on what really matters. I've taken control of my health and brought my body to a level that is better than it would have been had I not been challenged. I'm quite sure that without RA I would still be dabbling at aerobics DVD's, wishing I could shed a few pounds, and getting winded by a flight of stairs.

The oyster took a grain of sand and made a pearl; I took RA and made a runner.