Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Why Bragging is a Good Thing (and You Should Do it More)

bragging

Growing up in the Catholic school system, I was consistently taught that pride was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I was told by teachers, priests and parents that bragging about yourself in any way was a bad thing to do. Out in the school yard, my friends spoke poorly about and frowned on girls who showed any evidence of being prideful. “She thinks she’s so great,” they would say about a girl who raised her hand the most during class or got a little too excited about her quickly improving double-dutch skills. Bullying habits of school-age girls aside, I always used to wonder to myself why pride was such a bad thing. Even then it seemed to me like there wasn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own accomplishments, even sharing them with others. But I was alone in my opinion, because “the Lord taught us” that humility and pride are opposing emotions, and that humility was the good one.

The rally against pride continues still, and it’s all around me. Just today, my friend Alex mentioned in a Facebook update that he’s lost 12 pounds in 11 days, and that he was damn well going to brag about it. I expressed my surprise, because contrary to his usual divulge-it-all-on-Facebook attitude, he hadn’t yet mentioned his weight loss undertaking.

His response to me was, “Just because I don’t have all my damn apps update Facebook every time I break a sweat…”

His comment refers in part to my rather dependable use of DailyMile to track and declare my weekly running progress on Facebook. He is right, I use Dailymile to update Facebook every time I break a sweat. Guilty!

Hey, I enjoy posting my workouts. I like to know how far I go each week, compare this week to other weeks, evaluate my progress, and most importantly, to be proud of myself. I post on Facebook too. People who care are proud of me.

But the message is even sometimes passed along by fellow runners. I’ve read many blogs and posts by runner friends and acquaintances, encouraging others to just keep their runs to themselves instead of making it a public thing. They insist that true pride is the result of one’s inner strength and resolve, that you shouldn’t need accolades from others for your accomplishments.

I say fuck that. In these times when I’m exposed to an average of 38 complaints by 9 a.m., on every topic from workplace woes to baby’s bad sleeping habits, what the hell is wrong with posting a little positivity once in awhile? Why is it so much more acceptable for you to bitch about your shitty day than it is for me to brag about my great long run?

I’ll tell you why: because negativity breeds more negativity. It’s the whole “misery loves company” rule. Basically, negative people like you more if your life sucks. I enjoy posting to DailyMile, but I don’t post it for the benefit of the curmudgeons, I do it for myself, and I do it for those who will appreciate it. This is similar to when I share articles that reflect my opinions on controversial topics like motherhood or the role of government: I put it out there for the people who actually care, who agree and who are of like mind. The rest of the people are inconsequential. That’s how social networks…well, work.

If you get pissed off when other people post about their diet progress or running progress, that’s kind of a reflection on you. First of all, I’m posting text to a newsfeed on a social network, not cornering you at a party. You can always choose to hide or skip over posts you find annoying. And secondly, even if I was cornering you at a party, what is so bad about having to hear that people you know are doing good, happy things?

I think that people who get so worked up about things like this is because they feel bombarded by the personal guilt that it brings out in them. Every time they hear so-and-so ran ten miles or lost 25 pounds on their new diet plan, they’re reminded of their own lack of motivation. And I know it’s about guilt and self-loathing because, for example, I only get crap about posting my DailyMile app from people who don’t run. Usually followed by a lengthy, excuse-ridden explanation (that I never asked for) about why they can’t/don’t/won’t run themselves. It’s as transparent as saran wrap: they hate themselves for not being more physically active, so they take it out on people who are physically active.

And in the interest of transparency, I’ll admit it: I’m definitely guilty of feeling this way sometimes, too. But I’ve learned to recognize it. Whenever I find myself feeling a little green over someone else’s accomplishments, for example Trasie Phan’s video evidence of her 5:11 plank PR, I know that I have the choice to respond in one of two ways: I can feel resentment toward that very motivated person, or be inspired by her motivation. It’s my decision, and either way it doesn’t mean a thing to Trasie. Furthermore, she only posted that video for me if I’m going to be one of the people who watch and are proud or inspired by it, anyway.

So I say, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys publicizing your accomplishments on social networks for all to see, then you should keep on doing it. It’s a good thing, and there are many reasons why:

Being proud of yourself contributes to your happiness

According to recent studies, just the resolve to stop complaining, and  cultivating more positive thoughts and feelings in their place will make you a happier person overall. Having something like DailyMile or a weight loss journal to document your progress toward your goals is a great way to keep up the good juju. There’s nothing like a daily reminder of how awesome you’re doing!

It gives others the chance to root you on

Whether I have a triumph or setback, my friends will invariably read it and offer so much to keep me motivated in the right direction. Some of these folks have been responsible for encouraging my biggest and most ambitious goals! Without their motivation I probably never would have signed up for my first 50K race.

It links you up to like-minded people

Many of the friends we make as children and adults are those in close proximity: they’re in the same grade as you in school or you work for the same company. These people might be great but often you don’t share the same interests and passions. Joining a social network such as DailyMile and posting about your runs connects you with other people who are interested in running too. That way,  you’ll have more people to post for and you’ll feel a bigger sense of community.

You might inspire others to do it too

Like I mentioned earlier, people have a choice to feel inspired by your motivation, or be bitter about it. Those who are inspired by you might actually become your greatest source of pride. If they look at what you’ve accomplished and decide to join you in the pursuit, they’ll tell you. And they’ll probably thank you, too. And in turn you’ll have the satisfaction of watching their journey as it unfolds. This is truly a wonderful gift, every time it happens to me.

It holds you accountable

Accountability is a great motivator. Posting publicly that I’ve lost ten pounds and have twenty to go, or that I’m training for a marathon, renders me responsible to those whose interest I’m now holding. There’s probably nothing more frightening than being asked “so how’s that race training going?” by a friend who is rooting for me to succeed, and having to tell them I’ve given up the ghost. All my Facebook running buddies know I can do a 30+ mile week, and they might notice if I churn out seven lowly <10 mile weeks in a row. It’s always in the back of my mind to keep up the good work, because others are counting on me.

So if you’re doing something great for yourself, keep up the good work! And then go ahead and brag about it, everywhere you can. Record it on FitDay or DailyMile, post about it at length on your Facebook page or in your blog. You deserve the recognition. It’s also a great way to learn which of your friends are the Debbie Downers, Negative Nellys, and other great additions to your “blocked” list. Happy bragging!


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Magic {Prompted}

The following post is part of what I hope will be an ongoing writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have decided to undertake together. We are currently choosing topics from a list of prompts that can be found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. Therefore many of these posts may not look anything like the rest of the stuff I write on this blog. I’m okay with that, if you are. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us! But if you’re not into it that’s okay too. I’ll title these posts differently so they are easy to skip past if you wish to do so. And as always, thanks for reading!

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What is magic?

Is it that sleight of hand that conjures fluffy white flying hopping animals into the world? A black hat and a black wand and a black art? An anti-gravity, anti-science anti-religion? Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in that guy who ties himself up in ropes and chains, inside metal boxes and under water? Do you believe that someone can make an entire building disappear? Is that the definition of magic?

Or is that a bad definition, an incomplete description, a made-up phenomenon that paints an artificial gloss onto the world that already contains so much magic that we cannot see it through the horrible shine? Is it that the word alone has been coated in glitter and rolled down onto the Las Vegas Strip so many times that the meaning has become polluted? Cheap. Like a pair of six dollar rhinestone hoops on the ears of a lonely stripper moving slowly through the middle of a rowdy bachelor party. She is the eye of the storm.

The storm is a gray and black diversion from beauty, and it is its own beauty, brooding and moody. An artist at the apex of his singular genius, he bellows and hurls cloudy passion across a page.  As the storm yawns its end, the flowers bend back up to the clearing sky in relief. They arrive in colors that man cannot fabricate with chemicals and light. They vary at will, they wander as the wild do. And once they arrive, they will never return. They come and go as they please, they live, they stay, they learn to love.

They fall in love. They fall to the fate of that most hallowed emotion. They now know the worry of loss and the profound haunting fear for another. To a child, to a sister, to a lover. They know the true pain found layered deeply within the heart of elation. They know the joy of the view from the top is worth every step of this retched climb. They know the heart of a runner grows full as a tree in Spring, each soft leaf glowing from within, each tiny branch growing mighty by the strength of its elders. It is a metaphor of our evolution, and it is magic.

It is magic.


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The Marriage Question

couple-holding-hands

I think it’s time for me to put into words a topic that always receives much question and scrutiny in daily life: relationships and marriage. We live most of our adult lives looking for, learning from and being in relationships or marriages, we talk about the intricacies of them at length with our friends and family, and we dedicate at least ¼ of our media consumption on celebrity relationships, marriages, and particularly breakups.

We humans love war, blood, bad news and especially breakups. Love them. We feed off the emotional carnage of romantic heartbreak. I have a sort of half-assed theory that because, for the first time in all of history, humans have acquired such a comfortable, civil world with such a comparatively healthy, long life, we have everything we need, don’t have to hunt for food anymore or fight each other to the death in arenas for the entertainment of Kings, we instead feed our animalistic desire for blood with emotional death. We watch it unfold on reality television shows and in the lives of our celebrity royalty. In a way it really turns the tables. But that’s for another post, I think.

So we all naturally crave the drama of life, and watching it happen in other people’s relationships is one of our favorites. I’m sure many of you readers have experienced watching a close friend or family member go through a bad relationship…or, probably more accurately, what you yourself consider a bad relationship. You feel badly for them, but at the same time you hope they’ll smarten up and leave or that the other person will eventually change for the better. You’re probably a caring enough person to hope for the happiness of all involved, but, deep down inside, you’re still utterly fascinated by watching the whole thing unfold, no matter which way it goes. Go ahead, you can admit it. Drama is addicting. That’s why they always say it’s so hard to turn away from a train wreck. Or from that girl climbing onto chairs at the wedding and dancing seductively with the Best Man so she can make her ex-boyfriend jealous, as he sits across the room nursing a beer and pretending not to notice. They’re both the same thing, really.

I myself am guilty as well of being fascinated by the inner workings of human relationships. For reasons unbeknownst to me, people like to vent to me. Who knows, maybe it’s because I look like I’ve been through it all and couldn’t possibly have anything to judge them for! Heh. Might be true. But in all seriousness, I have found myself judging sometimes. It’s a hard thing to turn off. It’s way too easy to find myself rooting for the wrong side, or imagining that I’d have handled their situation better. With that said, I probably lend a lot more forgiveness overall to people’s actions in their relationships than most would (or so my husband Shawn often tells me). And that’s mostly because I have endured a whole lot of undue scrutiny in my life, and I don’t like the idea of passing on to others what I don’t like happening to me. You know, Golden Rule and all that. I’ll never say I’m perfect at it – I’ve had my share of asshole moments, but I digress.

What brought this rambling subject up to the surface today is the feeling that my marriage has been very much put under a magnifying glass in the wake of meeting new and different people. Mind you, I certainly understand why: even though we are married and share the same house, Shawn and I have completely different interests that barely, if ever, overlap. Sure, we both have art jobs that require us to work from home, thus we understand each other deeply on a creative level and we get to spend most weekdays in the same building. Also, we owe our relationship in part to our equal love of conversation: for the 11 or so years since we met, we have never run out of topics, and we love to ponder them together while sipping on cups of hazelnut-flavored coffee and relaxing on our cozy, taupe-colored couch. We share similar views about people and relationships in general. We see women and men as equals and although we each have our personal flaws and annoyances, we both generally feel that things are fair and just between us most of the time. We agree on the things we consider important: what we want our lives and our future to look like, how we value family, what we need from a partner, how we choose to spend our money, et cetera. And probably the most fundamental item that Shawn and I agree on is our absolute need for freedom and independence within our marriage.

We each struggled in past relationships for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of this one thing. I was so independent in my previous relationship that I grew out of it emotionally, always spending time with my own friends while he stayed home and sulked because he didn’t know how to reel me in. Shawn had two long-term relationships with women who wanted more mutually dependent relationships than what he could give them, and as a result he felt stifled and always at odds with their needs.

When we became friends, Shawn and I spotted that independent flair in one another. We were both not into being leaders, would never be followers, but would rather carve our own paths and leave them for others to join or not. With that frame of mind, Shawn has taken his love for comics, art and movies and crafted a unique niche for himself in the costuming/comic con/FX world that few others, if any, have ever done before or since. I am proud of him, I respect and support him in everything he does, would help him succeed in any way I could, and I think he is the best man I have ever known. But he goes to most ComicCons by himself because he has his own friends there, and because it allows him to fully explore his interests without feeling the need to keep me entertained.

And I have my own separate things going on, too. My big one, of course, is that I love to run. I spend many hours a week taking the dog out for a run or going with friends for an entire Saturday. I spend hundreds of dollars a year on races, and go on run-related weekend trips to see friends, many of whom he has never met (but heard a ton about during our morning coffee conversations). I am also a lover of the written word so I spend a good deal of time creating this blog, which he sometimes reads and sometimes doesn’t. And I honestly don’t mind either way, especially considering that most of what I write on here, I’ve already told him. But he supports all of my efforts and is genuinely proud of all my accomplishments, and I don’t need him to wait at the finish line at any of my races in order to believe that. Besides, if he was at the race, what would I have to talk to him about the next morning over coffee?

Recently I’ve joined a fun new activity, hashing. I’ve met some amazing, beautiful, funny and seriously fantastic people, who love to run and share my penchant for beer and fun. Many hashers are married and their spouses are hashers, too. It doesn’t really surprise me the number of times I’ve been asked, “Does your husband hash, too?” followed by, “No? Why not?” I dislike this line of questioning, but it does often remind me that our relationship is not the norm. Instead it is quite unique: we don’t participate in many of the same interests, but we still get along, love each other and appreciate the freedom to do our own thing. I understand that quite often when two people in a marriage seem to be spending a lot of time apart, it’s because deep down they want to be apart permanently. It certainly turned out to be true of my last relationship, anyway.

I go back and forth between caring and not caring about anyone’s opinion on this. My independent streak often affords me the luxury of letting lots of things slide off my back, because I don’t feel I need to have people sign their approval on my life. But sometimes when this type of conversation starts I want to reach out and start explaining the dynamics of a marriage that can survive two people not doing everything together. I want to get them to see the good that I see in it, encourage them to understand that not every relationship is the same on the inside. But gratuitous explanation just reeks of a desperate attempt to justify fallacy. For example, ever read 26 Facebook status updates in a row from someone lauding their oh-so-perfect marriage with their hunny-bunny, still so deeply in love after all these (3) years…and then see their relationship status change to “single” a month later? Yeah.

So how I answer those questions is much like how I answer people who ask me if I have kids: I give a truthful, simple answer, and then leave it at that. Do you have kids? No, no kids. Why don’t you want kids? They’re just not for us. Does your husband run with you? Nope. Why not? We do different things. Don’t you want him to come support you at the {insert big race name}? He does support me, just not by standing at the finish line.

Maybe Shawn and I are completely different, completely weird people, but one of the most important qualities for each of us to have in our lives is freedom. Hell, I even had a bird tattooed on my back to symbolize this desire (to the chagrin of my then-boyfriend, who had expected me to get his permission before marking up my body). The bottom line is that we both want and need to live a happy, free life without being held back by our partners, and we both know how to love someone who needs their own version of freedom. In my opinion, the most important thing you can give your partner is the one thing they want most. You should give it wholeheartedly, while expecting the same in return. It might be respect, trust, loyalty, attentiveness, freedom, devotion, intimacy or whatever. And if you cannot or will not give that one thing to your partner, then it may be harder than it is worth to keep them around.

I’m not here to say that I’ve got an oh-so-perfect marriage with my hunny-bunny. Or that your relationship is less than perfect than ours because it’s different. Just like any marriage we have our good days and bad days. But, like my amazing sage of a best friend Kathy always says:

Marriage is a choice that you make every single day. You wake up each morning next to the same person, and you make the choice to live with, live for and love them, all over again.

So, it’s my choice to be happy, and I applaud myself for choosing it again today.


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How to Make Friends with Women

dirty shoes

Throughout my life, I have never really been what one would consider a “girly-girl.” I was raised by my dad. I don’t own a lot of pink clothing. I have a raunchy sense of humor. I step in puddles, on purpose. I don’t wear shoes very often, and when I do they aren’t stilettos. I dislike thong underwear. When I come back from a run I am usually covered in sweat and dirt, and sometimes a little blood too. I’m totally comfortable in a room full of dudes being dudes, and it’s not because I need reassurance that I’m attractive…it’s because I like to drink pints of beer, eat spicy food, swear and tell dirty jokes. I typically forego the whole mani-pedi business and prefer to keep my nails super-short and unpainted. I go out in the rain with no umbrella. I’ll hold my own door and kill spiders myself. I don’t get grossed out by Porta-Johns (in fact I’m usually grateful to see them). Nothing in my house has flowers on it. I don’t spend an hour on my hair and makeup when I go out. I prefer beer over fruity cocktails. I go to hashes on the weekends. I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t believe that a man should have to ask a woman on a date, or pay for her dinner. I make more money than my husband, and I shun most gender roles.

I’ve often been told by guy friends that I’m the perfect wife-material (I guess you’re a lucky man, Shawn!). But when it comes to girl friends, I have historically had a difficult time figuring out where I fit in.

When I was in fourth grade I switched schools and tested out of 4th grade English, so I was put into a classroom in another building with all the 5th graders. I’ll never forget lining up at the end of class each day with all the older girls, who were starting to grow boobs and shave their legs. I loved listening to them while we waited for the class bell to sound. They were always so glamorous to me, as they talked about makeup and boys. I was too intimidated to participate in the conversation, so I mostly just listened, while pretending to be occupied with a doodle in my notebook.

One time, while they were comparing notes on hair washing, drying and curling techniques, I pointed at my straight, mousy brown, all-one-length locks and interjected: “I don’t do anything with my hair. I just wake up, comb it, and it looks like this!” I smiled, waiting to be included in the conversation. After a moment the prettiest girl looked back at me, rolled her eyes, and replied, “We know, it’s obvious.”

What every 5th grade girl looked like to me when I was in the 4th grade - except add plaid skirts.

What every 5th grade girl looked like to me when I was in the 4th grade – except add plaid skirts.

It’s not really that I don’t act or dress feminine at all, or even that I’m exactly a tomboy. Being a creative type, I enjoy fashion trends, cool home décor and acquiring things that look nice. Heck, I have a job as an art director for a company that makes wedding invitations and gifts for women. But with that said, I still have always felt like I don’t quite understand the typical woman. It started out early on, with me being intimidated by them – I always felt less pretty, somehow less feminine, with my messy, mousy brown hair and my penchant for catching toads in the back yard. I would always rather play King of the Hill with the boys than have a Barbie tea party with the other girls.  I eventually went on to participate in girlish hobbies like ballet and gymnastics, which I liked, but I never lost that less-than-girly edge, even into my adult years.

A lot of women like to say things like “I can be one of the guys!” Very often, that’s not true at all…at least not as true as they want it to be. A lot of women like to hang out with men because they want a boyfriend, or because they want attention and reassurance. And sure, at times in my life I’ve been as guilty of that as the next girl. But even now after most of that insecurity is gone, I still feel more comfortable around men in general, than I do women. In a lot of ways, I really do feel like “one of the guys.”

See, when it comes to making friends, men are mostly non-superficial and non-judgmental. They don’t have hidden agendas and they don’t play the drama game. Unlike that of many women, I love the way the typical guy friendship works. They’re light, easy-going and frank with each other. They don’t get mad at you for not wanting to talk on the phone or for cancelling on them that one time. They don’t make friends with which to compete, instead they make friends to play backgammon. If two guys don’t talk for six months, their next get-together feels as if the time never passed. If one guy friend doesn’t want to talk about his relationship, the other one changes the subject to what flavor of hot wings they should order. It’s simple.

I’m lucky enough to have made a few girlfriends who are just as care-free as this. I respect and appreciate them.  Even if I go through periods of frustration with those friends (as you do with anyone), I tend to give them much more forgiveness and leeway, because I owe it to them in exchange for their easy friendship. They are the ones reading this right now and nodding their heads, rather than being offended that I am talking about them. They are fantastic people and I wish there were more of them.

Since moving to California and having to make new friends, I have had the opportunity to observe myself becoming extremely particular about the types of people I am willing to spend my time with. I have had moments where I’ve revisited that bad hair day in 4th grade, feeling ugly and intimidated. And I have had moments where I’ve felt as if I was exactly where I belonged. While discovering this, I have become fascinated by the fact that I can meet someone and know almost right away what kind of relationship I would be capable of having with them. Just the way they wear their clothes or how they stand while speaking to me. Many of us seem to be rather good at gravitating toward and leeching out the people who are the most like ourselves, and we are better at it the more we know and understand ourselves.

So maybe this post could be thought of as a self-indulgent study on being judgmental about people. But perhaps, I am just at a point where I know myself a little better, and perhaps that means I’ll make better friendships, and be a better friend, for it. Maybe it means I’m finally okay with the fact that I don’t like lipstick and stiletto heeled shoes, and that the girlfriends I’ll make will be okay with it too. I like believing that.


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Review: The Summit Seeker, by Vanessa Runs

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Vanessa Rodriguez doesn’t look like your typical 100-mile ultra marathon runner. She isn’t wiry-thin and excitable. She is quiet and diminutive, with dark Central-American skin, muscular legs and black hair that falls lazily into several small, still-kinky dreadlocks. Sometimes she runs 100 miles in a week, sometimes maybe twelve, and sometimes she walks her dog Ginger or does yoga instead. She doesn’t use training plans. She doesn’t monitor her heart rate or record her running splits. Vanessa does not run with the front of the pack. Often, she doesn’t even know for sure how far she ran or how long it took her to finish. For these and many other reasons, Vanessa is not only a dear friend of mine, she is also my favorite ultra runner of all time.

The Summit Seeker is a story about this incredible runner. It is comprised of several snippets that, when bound together, open a wide window on the life, love, pain, joy, grit and heart of this woman who has grown from a lonely, introverted child into an inspiration for all those who cross her path. Its title is derived from the nickname she has given to the home she now shares with her boyfriend Shacky, a punchy little Rialta RV. It is also a rather tidy definition of Vanessa’s mantra for life: always seeking the highest point, always looking up and traveling toward a better, wider and more beautiful view on things from above. A view that one can only enjoy after overcoming the most difficult of climbs.

The best thing about this book is that it is so frank in its storytelling, so raw in its honesty that you will undoubtedly find yourself somewhere in its pages. Maybe it’s the neglected grade school aged girl charged with feeding and caring for her younger siblings, or the young woman whose first months living on her own found her lost in an unexpectedly stifling marriage. You might see yourself running all the many miles it took her to gain enough distance from her own inner darkness so that she could finally see the light of change. The story of The Summit Seeker is in all of us, and that is why it will inspire you, challenge you and perhaps even change you, as much as it did for me.

You don’t have to be an ultra runner, or even a runner at all, to gain something from Vanessa’s story. But who knows? You might just want to become one when you’re done reading.

The Summit Seeker by Vanessa Rodriguez is currently available from Amazon.com in several formats: Paperback Edition Kindle Edition, for Kindle/Kindle App or Smashwords version for Nook and other eReaders. You can also request a digital signed copy from Authorgraph.com.

What are you waiting for? Pick up your copy today and help support Vanessa Runs as she takes on her next adventure!


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Fatty

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Across the street from my little neighborhood, there is a park with hilly trails, single track, streams and a small pond filled with ducks, geese and seagulls. I like to take my dog there a few times a week and do some running. Sometimes I unclasp Oscar’s leash so I can watch him let loose on the large open field at the far end of the trail, which is one of my favorite things in the world.

It was cloudy this morning, but once my work day was over at 3 o’clock the sun peaked out and burned off all the clouds in short order. The cool February air felt nice. Oscar and I jogged down our usual path that runs past a swath of eucalyptus trees and headed toward the field. Sometimes there are horses grazing on the other side of the fence that delineates the public park area, and Oscar always looks for them. There were no horses today, but that was okay.

I’ve been feeling kind of lazy for the past two days, but on a whim I decided to add some sprints to my workout, maybe wake myself up a little. I found a straight section of the path around the outside edge of the field, walked to the farthest opposite end with Oscar, and then turned around and booked it, full-speed. Oscar followed behind and quickly overtook me, wagging his tail and running with enough joy to light up half the planet.

Like my dog, I adore sprinting. I love feeling all the normally awkward and separate parts of my body come together at once, feeling the fluid rhythm of my legs and arms as they push me forward. I love that even though all systems are on full-force, it feels like my muscles are only expelling as much energy as needed to do the job. When I sprint I feel efficient and beautiful. When I run like this, for a few brief moments I transform into a wild animal: I am a bird in flight, I am a lion in chase.

I did three sprints like this. Just as I was about to turn back for a fourth, I heard the couple across the field. They’d been hanging out by the little stream the whole time Oscar and I were there. They were two college-age kids, probably no older than twenty. She posed on the wooden bridge in her size 2 skinny jeans, knitted hat and fluffy shearling boots, while he took photos of her. As they walked back toward the parking lot now, I heard the boy remark in a low voice, “you’re still slow, fatty.” They both laughed.

There were so many reactions that I could have had to hearing this. I could have called them out on their rudeness or insulted them back, and I would have had every right to do so. I could have stated all sorts of facts and studies proving that fat athletes are twice as healthy as skinny couch potatoes. Or I could have let it hurt my pride, stopped running for the day and gone home. But instead I pretended I didn’t hear them, and turned back around for my fourth sprint as they disappeared down the path. And this time I ran harder.

Truth is, I am a fatty. I have been more fat and less fat than I am now, over the years, but I’ve pretty much always been at least ten or fifteen pounds overweight. I prefer being lighter, but hey it is what it is. When I was in elementary school the other kids called me “Mount Killamanjaro” and laughed at me any time I tripped and fell or ate junk food in public. They made fun of me for taking gymnastics classes and shook their heads when I tried out for the cheerleading squad. I was never very obese. It was just that I was the only overweight girl in the class, so it was fat enough.

fatgirldoll

I’m used to the stigma that’s placed on overweight people when they’re exercising. I’ve always been fat, but I’ve always been active, too. Only during my drunken college years did I not do some kind of physical activity on at least a semi-regular basis. So I’ve heard it over and over again. “You don’t have a dancer’s body.” “You’re too fat to be a gymnast.” “You don’t look like you could run twelve miles.” Even my father has said these kinds of things to me, and my Godmother said them to other people behind my back.

But despite my extra weight, I’ve always done well at the physical activities I chose to take part in. I was always placed front and center of formations during dance recital numbers, I was the first gymnast in my 7th grade group to perform a back handspring without assistance, and I was selected to be Captain of my cheerleading squad after only one year of participation. And let’s not forget that I’ve run an ultramarathon, despite what I look like I can do. In other words, fat has never stopped me.

So even though I made the choice not to respond to my antagonizers this afternoon, I spent a few minutes thinking about their perception of me. Their prejudice toward fat people has lent them the belief that they know what I’m running for. They think that I run so I can look more like them. But the truth is I really don’t. I don’t run to be skinny, even though weight loss is a fortunate side-effect. I don’t really run to be fast, either. And I certainly don’t run so that I can impress them. Or anyone, for that matter.

And even though I never spoke to that couple at the park, and probably won’t ever see them again, I want to respond to them here. I want to tell them, and all the others who have doubted my athleticism, why I run:

I run because I like to be outside.
I run to spend time with my dog.
I run to be social.
I run to be alone.
I run to listen to music I haven’t had time to experience yet.
I run to hear silence.
I run to put space between myself and my inner demons.
I run to escape my negative body image, the one that people like you have given me.
I run to sweat.
I run to breathe hard.
I run to hear my feet land almost silently upon the earth.
I run to feel the sun’s heat on my face, and the cooling wind at my back.
I run to burn off steam.
I run to burn off excess calories.
I run to recover.
I run to discover new trails and to see the ground from the top of a mountain.
I run to get lost in my thoughts, and in the wilderness.
I run to learn things about myself.
I run because it’s hard, and because sometimes it hurts.
I run because most people don’t.
I run because in some ways I’m good at it, and in many ways I am not.
I run because some have told me I never could.
I run because it constantly challenges me to be better.
I run so I can live a longer life.
I run because it is my life.

In some ways, I encourage people to tell me what they think of me when they see me running. I welcome the disapproval from judgmental family members, and the disgusted gaze from skinny elite runners as I slow to a walk up a steep hill and allow them to whiz by. And I gladly accept all the wary looks from people who don’t believe that I have run over thirty miles at once (and in one day), because it helps me to sort out the difference between the people I respect and the people I don’t. It fuels the fire in my (rounded) belly, the one that burns hot enough to add strength to my character and poise to my stride.

And I challenge them all to love the run the way that I do.


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The Great Big Wild World of Hashers: It’s Not What You Think

beerbuzz600

It’s been awhile since I’ve added posts to this blog. There’s a bit of irony to this fact, because it seems the busier I am the less time I devote to writing – but the more things I experience, the more I have to write about.

Well, what have I been doing with myself, you ask? True to form, I plan to answer that only in part, and I plan to do it in a very meandering, roundabout way. Starting with a conversation I had last night.

My cousin Alysa and I joined a Monday night running group sponsored by my friend Jon, who works for Merrell. I hadn’t seen him since the Raptor Ridge half marathon last fall, so we used part of the 4 mile trip to catch up.

Jon: So what have you been doing over the past few months?

Me: Well, I went through a brief running rut back in December, but then I picked it up again. And then more recently, I became a hasher.

Jon: So what…like, you smoke hash now?

Clearly, the popularity of the hash run isn’t as widespread as I originally thought. The reality of which has spurned this very post.

What is a hash, you ask? Well, first I’ll refer to Wikipedia for a history lesson:

Hashing originated in December 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, then in the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia), when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds”, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend. The original members included, Albert Stephen (A.S.) Ignatius “G” Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick “Horse” Thomson, Ronald “Torch” Bennett and John Woodrow. A. S. Gispert suggested the name “Hash House Harriers” after the Selangor Club Annex, where several of the original hashers happened to live, known as the “Hash House” where they also dined.

After the end of World War II in an attempt to organize the city of Kuala Lumpur, they were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a “group,” they would require a constitution. Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.

The objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

At present, there are almost two thousand chapters in all parts of the world, with members distributing newsletters, directories, and magazines and organizing regional and world Hashing events. As of 2003, there are even two organized chapters operating in Antarctica.

Most chapters gather on a weekly or monthly basis, though some events occur sporadically, e.g., February 29th, Friday the 13th, Typhoon ‘T8‘ or a full moon.

At a hash, one or more members (“hares”) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the “pack” or “hounds”). The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again; often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together despite differences in fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up.

Members often describe their group as “a drinking club with a running problem,” indicating that the social element of an event is as important, if not more so, than any athleticism involved. Beer remains an integral part of a hash, though the balance between running and drinking differs between chapters, with some groups placing more focus on socialising and others on running.

Generally, hash events are open to the public and require no reservation or membership, but some may require a small fee, referred to as “hashcash”, to cover the costs incurred, such as food or drink.

The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialise, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter (see Traditions). When the hash officially ends, many members may continue socialising at an “on-after”, “on-down”, “on-on-on”, “apres”, or “hash bash”, an event held at a nearby house, pub, or restaurant.

In most chapters, the use of real names during an event is discouraged. Members are typically given a “hash name,” usually in deference to a particularly notorious escapade, a personality trait, or their physical appearance. In some chapters the name must be earned – that is, hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant a name. In other chapters the process is more mechanical and hashers are named after completing a certain number of events (5-10 being the most common).

A few weeks ago, I joined the North County Hash House Harriers. Since then I have run with the group three times, and also attended an annual event with the larger San Diego Hash House Harriers, where they renamed their management group. I have not yet earned a hash nickname, but I am looking forward to finding out what it will be. And also a little scared.

I like being part of this hash group, the North County Hash House Harriers, or NCH3. I like it so much that I’ve even volunteered a chunk of my free time to designing their weekly newsletter. We have published one issue so far and it was met with a fair amount of appreciation, constructive criticism and good suggestions.

newsletter

Newly designed header of the hash newsletter.

And that’s all the really boring, above-the-board stuff. What I really like about the Hash Harriers is that they are a world-wide group of completely irreverent, politically incorrect, gutter-minded, disrespectful, beer worshiping, bushwhacking trail runners. They ignore fashion trends, make fun of each other, drink booze while exercising, and utilize completely inane terms like “on-in” and “down-downs.” After the runs are over, they call out those who have done stupid things to earn the Grand Master’s attention, and sing ridiculous, barbaric songs to each other. All while consuming at least one keg of beer together.

In other words, I absolutely love it and cannot wait until next Saturday.

Many of my readers (and a few estranged family members) might question my judgment for becoming part of such a group. Perhaps you’d ask why I’d let a bunch of almost-strangers make fun of me publicly and give me a trashy nickname, full of insult and sexual innuendo. You might want to know what kind of training I’m really getting with a running group that spends more time drinking together than running. You might even begin to question my own moral code (as short as it may be), running with a crew of folks who wear knee-socks with sayings on them and call themselves “hashers.”

The truth is, over the course of these few weeks I have met some of the most honest, open-minded, caring and considerate people imaginable. So what if they have names like “High Twattage” and “Anal Rose”?

All kidding aside, I recommend finding and joining a local Hash Harrier group (there’s probably one in your area). And here are 16 reasons why:

  1. It’s really refreshing to hang around an entire group of people who have quick wits and a wickedly good sense of humor.
  2. Hashes are a great example of social Darwinism: those without such a sense of humor typically won’t stick around (and from what I hear they usually leave shortly after their naming ceremony).
  3. There’s beer.
  4. The group is mostly made up of trail and ultra runners, so nobody bats an eye if you have to spit, snot-rocket, trip and fall, or make a trail-side pit stop (although they might bring it up later at the down-down).
  5. You don’t get assigned a hash name until the group knows you, which in a way is endearing and thoughtful (even if your name ends up being something like “Asian Orange”).
  6. Beer checks.
  7. Most groups run a different trail every time, so you get to experience a lot of new trails and see so much more of your local area than you probably would by yourself.
  8. Trail is planned ahead of time. You just have to follow it, sort of like a scavenger hunt. This way you can follow a cool trail without getting lost.
  9. You still might get lost.
  10. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, especially if you’re new to an area. Or if you just hate all your friends and want to make new ones.
  11. It only costs a few bucks to run a great new trail, socialize with people and enjoy all the beer and food you want afterward.
  12. Lots of beer.
  13. Running in a large group like this is really good exercise, the kind you don’t feel like you’re doing. Instead of just running in a straight line up and down your street, you may be searching for the right trails, doubling back, traversing through heavy brush, climbing excessively steep hills, balancing on drainage pipes and jaywalking across busy roads. It’s the kind of stuff you probably did as a kid. Only with more beer.
  14. Boob checks.
  15. Hashers love dogs. People who love dogs are A-OK in my book.
  16. Being part of a hash group is like being part of a fraternity, only without all the hazing. Actually that’s not true, forget that. Once you’ve received a hash name, you become part of this network of thousands of people. You have instant credibility to other hashers all over the world. I mean, how many other social circles have that perk?

Those are just the reasons I can think of while writing this. Hashes are my greatest new find: they are a lot like your average running group, only with a little extra pomp-and-circumstance and a whole lot more beer.

Are you a “hasher” and love it? Have you never heard of such a thing and think it’s fantastic or horrible? Share your story/opinion/questions in the comments below! I would love to hear from you.


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I Left My Mojo in Carlsbad

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

For weeks, it was nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere I could think of. I looked all over the house, in cluttered closets, under furniture, between my dog’s teeth and in the back seat of my car. It just wouldn’t turn up, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it, either. I asked some of my friends if they’d found it anywhere, maybe left behind in their car after a trail run or something, but nobody had.

I even ended up making an excuse to see my buddies Vanessa and Shacky, so I could look under the tires of their Rialta RV myself, because that had to be the last place on earth that I didn’t look. Or heck, maybe Vanessa stole it herself! I mean, she’s been running an awful lot of hundos lately, and nobody is really sure where she got all that mojo.

But, Vanessa is way too sweet to do something like that, so I had to let my suspicions go.

After awhile I made some “Lost Mojo” signs and posted them all over my neighborhood. No calls, not a single one. I started going door-to-door, but this is California, so I just got a lot of weird, uncomfortable smiles and no real answers. So I resigned myself to the reality that I might never find my running mojo again. I took up yoga and even looked into Crossfit as a possible replacement, but alas, it just wasn’t the same.

Then one day I went to the theater and watched a movie that was set in the east coast. It gave me that dull ache of homesickness for the first time since I moved to California. Those cracked old sidewalks and oak trees with their leaves that fell to the ground and made a crunching sound beneath my Merrells. Then I realized, that was it! Had to be. I must have left my running mojo behind when I left New Hampshire. Surely it must have been swept up and thrown into the garbage by the new owners of my house. It’s gone for good by now. What a goddamn shame.

Since then I haven’t been running much, if at all. And when I do lace up, my runs just don’t have the same fire that they used to have. I have been reduced to slowly gaining weight from lack of exercise and bad afternoon television, as I stare blankly at the pile of beautiful unworn INKnBURN clothing and tester shoes, for which I still have yet to write reviews.

Fast-forward to last weekend, when I actually, miraculously, showed up for the Tri-City Carlsbad Half Marathon. I wasn’t going to run it at all because, I mean come on, I haven’t trained in months! After all, I’d lost my mojo! My last long run was fifteen miles, sure, but that was way back in November. I just wasn’t physically prepared for a half marathon. Not to mention the fact that I’d signed up for the full marathon originally, and had had the Race Director demote me to the half over a month ago. There was shame written all around the idea of this big ole’ race in the fine city of Carlsbad, California. So why show up?

Well, last week I was talking with Shacky, while we stood around uselessly in front of the Rialta at the San Diego 50 Miler and Trail Marathon (I had also signed up for this marathon originally and then bailed on it, which begs the question: is there any end to my bad habits?!). I told him I wasn’t planning to run at Carlsbad at all. That’s when crazy old Uncle Shacky convinced me to just go ahead and do it. “Just half-ass it,” he said. “It’s one of the prettiest road races in the San Diego area. If nothing else, you can walk most of it and take tons of pictures.”

I take a lot of advice from Shacky. I’m not really sure why, since most of it tends to end horribly, while Shacky just sits by laughing. Maybe it’s the beard, it makes him look so sweet and avuncular while so successfully hiding his true maniacal intent. I’ve been burned by Uncle Shacky advice more than once and I don’t want to talk about it.

So naturally I decided he must be right, and showed up for the race.

The morning was gray, rainy and dreary, and the marine layer was so thick you could taste it in the air. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see much of the ocean, nor many of the other sights that typically make this so called “Surf Sun Run” so memorable. Once again, the joke was on me. Thanks, Uncle Shacky.

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

But all that aside, I’m glad I showed up to race, and I’ll tell you why. Even though there were something like 10,000 runners signed up, the whole event was exceedingly well-organized by the volunteers and race directors. There was water available literally at every mile, energy gels ever so often, and even pretzels and oranges (which I’ve never seen before at a road race) handed out on the course. Despite the absolute lack of sunshine, the ocean was still awesome to look at. The sight helped me ignore my aching hips and roiling tummy, which forced me to stop twice for the porta-johns (I’d made some bad nutrition choices the night prior). Conversely, because of the lack of sunshine the temperature was fantastic, in the upper 50’s, with nice cooling winds.

There were so many great things I could go on about during this race. But the greatest and most unexpected outcome happened as I rounded that one corner during mile 4, and saw those delicious foamy waves to my right for the first time. Because that’s when I finally found it: my mojo. It was there all along, on the sands of Carlsbad Beach!

Of course! I must have dropped it and left it behind on one of my early runs out here on the west coast. I was so freaking happy, I almost completely forgot I had no reason to be running 13 miles that day.

All joking aside, I’m not going to say this was the easiest long run for me to complete. In fact, I found myself walking a lot more than I typically do during a half mary (which is almost none). I had to employ my get-through-it mind-tricks a little earlier than usual, because my feet and hip flexors were on fire as early as mile 8. But despite all the pains I suffered from lack of preparation, my attitude didn’t suck the whole time. Well sure, I had a lot of trouble getting my ass out of bed that morning, but we’ll leave that aside for now. I crossed the start line of that race with a smile on my face, and that’s exactly how I crossed the finish.

I’m not going to say that there was any stellar kind of performance going on, either. I don’t even know my finish time exactly, but it was at least ten minutes behind my PR (a blazing fast 2:35)…and well, I don’t give the first shit. This race wasn’t about my finish time, it was about my attitude.

I’m not even sure what exactly it was about that day’s events that turned on my mojo. All I know is that I finished a half marathon race without any real training, equipped with nothing but my two feet, some good tunes and a boatload of determination. And that takes some mojo.

So I dunno. Maybe there’s something to be said for racing, at whatever distance. Maybe it’s that excitement we all share as we stand shivering in one large group at the starting line. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, the equality we find as we traverse the same course and overcome the same challenges. If you really think about it, the race is a place where we are all brothers and sisters, where we are a family of trials, determination and grit.

Whatever it is, whatever it was, I hope I never lose my mojo again. It was a bitch to find.

menalysacarlsbad.

Also thanks to my amazing cousin Alysa, who participated in this race as a bandit, but nonetheless inspired and impressed the hell out of me by completing her first 13 mile endeavor, despite not even being a “runner.” I love you, kid.


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Review: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? by John McClung

johnbook

Because I don’t have kids of my own, I spend all my time sharing my perspective on healthy running and minimalism with other adults. Not that I mind, of course. Kids mostly scare the crap out of me. But one thing I’ve always known is that my road to proper form and barefoot/minimalist running was made much longer because I didn’t learn it as a child. No, instead I was always told to wear shoes when I go outside, and was reprimanded when I tried to sneak out of the house with bare feet in the winter (which I did often). I did spend a lot of my childhood sans shoes, though, but like most kids I was taught early on to rely on the protection, cushiness and comfort of today’s typical athletic shoe.

We adults of today had to learn late and re-train our bodies, but our kids don’t have to.

Now that many of us have discovered the importance of strong feet and legs, and remembered the joy of feeling the ground with our naked toes, we would do well to pass that knowledge on to our future generations.

Thanks to my friend John McClung, children’s literature has now begun the dive into that concept. What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? is a sweet little children’s story about a baby bear whose momma teaches him that he needs nothing but his two four little feet to enjoy the outdoors.

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Illustrated brilliantly by Laura Hollingsworth (and I’m an art director so I’d know), What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? is a rather ingenious learning tool for kids and their parents. It asks us to shed the idea that we need to protect our kids from every germ, every puddle, every boo-boo. Momma Bear teaches Baby Bear to be a kid, to run around carefree, to feel the earth below his feet and to love being outside. And lucky for kids, these things don’t require shoes. It’s a message I wish I was taught, but I’m glad I re-learned as an adult.

If you have young children in your family or have some friends with kids, pick this little book up. Not only will you be giving a thoughtful gift, but you’ll be supporting some as yet undiscovered talent. It’s for sale at Amazon for about $13 paperback or $9 on a Kindle.


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How the Ultra-Marathon Killed the Runner

tired

I just walked in from my weekend long run. Well, what was supposed to be a long run, anyway. The plan was for eighteen miles all by myself on the pavement and trails of my new pretty California neighborhood. I wanted a new route so I planned three rounds of a perfect 6 mile loop with my ever-faithful running partner, Oscar the boxer dog.

That first loop was great. Nicely paved sidewalks and lots of different trees. The sun was out but the air was cool and crisp with a few leaves crunching underfoot, so it felt a bit like autumn in New England.

The loop ended at the start of my street and when I reached it, I kept going on to the second loop. I was feeling fine, legs still strong, and I was deep in the zone. I thought, if this was the end of my run I’d finish so strong, with a happy heart and positive thoughts about the experience. By the time I finish this second loop I’m going to be much more tired, and probably feeling less happy. And what about the third loop? How will I feel after 18 miles – will I never want to run again? Then I thought, if this was the marathon that I have coming up next month, I’d get to this point and still have a 20-miler ahead of me —

And that’s when I stopped dead. And I asked myself: For what reason am I doing this to myself? Why am I ruining a perfectly happy, gorgeous fall 6 mile run? To train for a marathon? And then what, another ultra? What exactly am I trying to accomplish here?

I looked down at Oscar and said out loud, “This is stupid.” He looked up at me, panting, with his huge brown eyes and a bit of drool hanging from his adorable jowls, and seemed to agree. So we turned around right there, and we walked the last mile home. When we arrived my Garmin watch said 7.56 miles. I remember a time when that was far enough to make me feel accomplished. Why isn’t it enough anymore?

The answer is this: because I became an ultra runner. And that just may have been the biggest mistake I ever made in my running life.

Last year at this time I was training for a 50K. My first ultra-marathon. I always loved that word. Ultra-marathon. The term alone sounds like a feat of royalty. In the running world, being an ultra runner holds such a high esteem. I wanted that for myself.

At the prodding of my well-intentioned group of trail running buddies, I signed up for the Pineland Farms 50K and started training with gusto. My short runs got longer and longer, and my weekend runs quickly went from 8 to 12 to 15 miles and longer. I ran as much as I could, and in the beginning I relished the piling on of miles. New personal distance records were happening almost every week for me, it was such a great high. But as my training wore on it got more dreaded and strained. During the last two miles of my final training run before the race, I wanted to cry. And I never wanted to run again. I was bored, mentally drained and desperately lonely.

Not surprisingly, the 50K itself went much like those last few training runs, only it was much longer and much more awful. I nearly threw in the towel twice, and if it wasn’t for the charity of my friend Sheree run/walking me in those last five miles, I couldn’t call myself an ultra runner today. I crossed the finish line, and I got my medal, but oftentimes I wonder, did I really accomplish anything that day?

It’s possible the only thing that 50K managed to do was murder my running mojo. And I’m talking murder of the gruesome, bloody and screaming variety, with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre score playing in the background.

All I wanted to do was earn a shiny new status as an Ultra-Marathon Runner, to exemplify my love for the sport; to take my strength and determination to a higher level; to qualify my place in the trail running world, among all the other serious trail runners that I count as friends, acquaintances and role models. But after that race was over, all I ended up with was a worn spot on the couch where my ass never left for weeks.

In the last 8 months since that race I have slowly begun to run a fair amount of miles again, though rather inconsistently. Some weeks I get to 27 miles, some weeks I barely break 10. I still dread any distance longer than a half marathon. Also I have gained over ten pounds because I have continued to eat like I’m running lots of miles each week, even though I am not.

I signed up for a marathon in January because I thought it would make me train again. That the thought of an upcoming race would ramp up my motivation. But it’s actually done the opposite. Because I have to run to train for this race, I don’t want to run at all. To be completely honest, I don’t even want to run this race and I’m contemplating the best way to sell my number to someone so I don’t waste the entry fee.

I used to be such a happier runner. When I first discovered the point of running with good form, I enjoyed the process of learning it. Then that joy transferred to the joy of adding mileage to my previously embarrassing weekly runs. And then the joy only grew. I learned how much I loved running 5, 6, 7 miles at a time. How much I enjoyed the silence, the time spent with my dog, the pure exertion. I began to lose weight, look stronger, feel better about myself. Back then, I was only running half the weekly distance that I am now.

Today on the seventh mile of my run I realized that somewhere along these last few months I’ve lost all the reasons why running made me happy before. Before I started running for this reason or that, for training or for some arbitrary weekly mileage number or for accolades from other runners.

Today I realized something very interesting: that running makes me happiest when I am doing it for no reason. No reason at all.

If all this time I had been running just that little 6-mile loop, three, maybe four times a week, I could have been easily racking up 24 mile weeks, avoided burnout, ended every run with a smile on my face, lost 8-10 pounds a month, and never had to attempt a grueling 20 miler, ever. If only I could have been satisfied with that.

If only I could have decided earlier that just because I look up to some of my more talented running friends, doesn’t mean I have to be just like them. If only I could have kicked that feeling a long time ago, the anxiety over being left behind in the dust by all of those fast and fit ultra runners, while I plugged along on my happy little 6-10 mile long runs. If only I had the fortitude to smile and wave at them as they left me, perfectly content to log my own miles, at my own pace, in my own way. Bon voyage.

But I didn’t. I didn’t have the courage to say “not yet.” Or even, god forbid, “not ever.” No thanks, it’s not for me. Instead I left my happy running place, under the guise of “discovering my limits.” I trained hard. I dug deep. I learned my limits, and I chased the dream. And in the process, I also managed to chase down and kill my own love of running. Not exactly the outcome I anticipated, although in hindsight, I really should have seen it coming.

Last night while I was home by myself, I watched a documentary film called Happy. I’m glad I did, because I found it quite moving and insightful. It’s a film delving into what it is that makes people happy on a universal level, and I highly recommend it. One particularly interesting point it makes is that people are ultimately the most happy when they can do things with intrinsic value to them, when they can get into a zone while doing these things, and often, when they are doing something for no real reason at all, other than the desire to do it. Playing a game, relaxing with a good book, going for a run. The movie goes on to talk about the importance of intrinsic values (sense of community, good deeds) over extrinsic ones (money, status) in a person’s happiness, and the surprising definition of wealth and well-being to some of the happiest people on earth (spoiler alert: it’s the Danish).

What this film taught me is that I need to curb my extrinsic feelings about running (an ever-growing desire for recognition, accolades and status from others in the ultra running community), and nurture my intrinsic ones (personal growth, self-motivation, volunteerism) instead. I need to kick off the shackles of training commitments and ever-looming pressures to sign up for races that are too far outside of my current comfort level, and go back again to my roots of running for no reason at all.

I need to go back to chasing only happiness, because I know that’s when I’ll finally start feeling like a runner again.