Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Rambling Post #170: So I Signed Up for Ragnar

ragnar-car

Just today, I officially committed to running on a Ragnar team. The race happens in June of 2014, at Wasatch Back in Utah, which I guess is the “original” Ragnar. I’m excited, and surreally motivated. In fact, I’m even tempted to go buy one of those nifty little “Team Ragnar” jackets and wear it around this winter to keep myself inspired about the whole thing.

A funny thing happens to me when I sign up for a new kind of running challenge. I immediately start figuring in my weekly training program, planning my next veggie-heavy supermarket shopping spree and promising my body that more hill work and squats, and also less fat cells around my waist, will be a reality of the near future. I start to daydream the perfect outcome to the race: finally being in the best running shape of my life, soaking in amazing views, impressing my friends as I blast out new personal records, et cetera.

Ragnar is no different. In case you’ve never heard of it, Ragnar is a 200-mile relay race where up to 12 team members share vans that exchange runners for their individual legs of the adventure. You don’t sleep much, you live in very close proximity to eleven other people who you hopefully like being in close proximity to, and you run three 4-8 mile sections of the course through the mountains, all night long and into the next day. Besides this and the fact that it commands an almost solemn brand of respect among most trail runners (and a rather interesting brand of scrutiny by the rest), that’s really all I know about Ragnar. Needless to say (if you know me), I’ve kind of always planned to run one of these races someday. Someday, when I have a stronger running body, a bigger group of running friends and the motivation to do it. Right now I’ve actually got two of those, and the third is going to require a lot more squats.

Let me interrupt myself here to acknowledge that yes, in the last two paragraphs I have mentioned getting in shape three times. You probably noticed that. What you didn’t see was that while I was typing out those paragraphs I was also scarfing down a donut from the pink box of evil that Shawn’s friend Damon brought into our home this morning. And I’d freely blame Damon for my complete list of diet faux-pas if it weren’t for the fact that I also bought a large chocolate bar AND a package of red velvet cupcakes at the supermarket last night, and definitely drank half a bottle of white wine with them after dinner. And I would definitely blame PMS for the chocolate splurge if it weren’t for the fact that I’m on birth control pills.

The truth is, even though on the everyday I tend to cook like a spokeswoman for clean eating, I still eat crappy food way too damn often. When I go to the grocery store I sail mostly around the outside of the building, filing half my carriage with fresh produce before adding meats, eggs, whole wheat items and toilet paper. Desserts in our house comprise of frozen real-fruit bars – you know, the ones that contain a grand total of three pronounceable ingredients, and are about 70 calories apiece. Sure, they come in packages of 6 for $4.99 but we consider them an investment in our collective avoidance of cupcakes.

Except, of course, when we buy cupcakes.

And that’s just it: there are so many exceptions to our insanely healthy at-home menu that it feels like a self-deception every time I look at the overflowing fruit-veggie bowl in my kitchen. There is almost always beer and wine in our house. And if we run out, it’s like a red-alert emergency to restock before Friday night’s OMG-it’s-the-weekend beer and grilled chicken dinner night. We go out to eat together a few times a month and, I’m sorry, but we aren’t ordering salads. Then add in the hash runs I attend twice a week on average, which pile on the calories of two to three heavy craft beers plus a not-very-healthy meal, and snack items that I never buy at home – thus tend to indulge in guiltily every couple of weeks, as that feeling of cheesy-Doritos-and-soda-pop-deprivation starts to set in.

Throw all of that onto that super-fun, once-a-month cupcake buying adventure, and today’s Boston Crème donut just sounds like another day in the life, doesn’t it?

As I’m writing this I tried to avoid pointing out that my exercise regime hasn’t looked like any arguable interpretation of the word “regime” in about eight months or so – but now that I’m halfway through it seems inevitable that I’m going to talk about it anyway, so get ready.

I mean, I gotta admit it: for the most part, I no longer run long. I no longer do core exercises. I no longer do hill repeats or sprints or even fartleks (yes you’re right, I just put that in because it’s a funny word and I have a 12-year old’s sense of humor). Hell, I don’t even carry my Garmin with me anymore. And that’s because I don’t care how far I run. I tried to tell myself this is because I’ve finally dropped my sophomoric vanity about arbitrary running goals, but really it’s because I don’t run far enough for it to matter anymore. In fact, I haven’t run more than about seven miles since my 50K back in May. And it’s not even that I’m in a running slump – I still love it. I’m just not pushing myself anymore. In other words, I’m fucking lazy.

Now, if you’re reading this and getting worried that it’s some desperate cry for help or advice on diet and exercise, please don’t. I assure you this is just my style of self deprecating humor, sprinkled in with a lot of useless, go-nowhere complaining. I know that I am overweight right now (at least three socially-inept male hashers have already taken it upon themselves to remind me of this in the last couple of months).  And yes, I even know why – and as referenced by my inconsistent eating habits, it’s pretty clear that it’s not just about genetics.

Or is it?

I mean, the most annoying part about being overweight is not that I’m a runner and that 99.998% of all the runners in Southern California are thin, so I stand out (although that’s really annoying, yes). It’s that I’m supposed to be ashamed of being overweight because I obviously must eat like a pig. The reality of the situation is that while I don’t pray to the gods of perfectly clean eating 100% (or even 80%) of the time, I do have a refrigerator stuffed full of fresh produce and lean meats that make up just about every meal I prepare at home. Except for the very rare occasion, I don’t buy soda. I don’t buy ice cream. I don’t buy potato chips, macaroni and cheese, frozen dinner items, canned soup, cow’s milk, American cheese, microwave popcorn, candy, cookies, white bread, anything with the word “diet” or “light” in it, or any product that has to tell me it’s “gluten-free” because it thinks that’ll fool me. My overall eating habits aren’t very different from my average thin runner friend. Most thin people cave in to the occasional chocolate bar/cupcake/handful of cheesy Doritos, just like me. So yeah, I happen to put on weight a little more easily than some people, but I don’t see why I’m supposed to be ashamed about that. Because I’m really not ashamed. I have a different metabolism. Some people have curly hair. It is what it is.

Refrigerator_full_of_1be3

The only thing I legitimately have to feel bad about (and I do) is this damn lazy streak. I’ve had access to far too much beer for my own good, and it’s making me fatter, drunker and lazier. “Running to the beer” is a really fun idea, but in practice it’s like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a spoon. My reward for a great hard run used to be an even better run later on, not 400 calories of dark beer that my stomach will make me pay for tomorrow morning.  And I used to do more than running before, too. I did core work after every run, lifted weights and took boot camp classes. Yeah, that was back before I was married, when my arms weren’t floppy and my weight was below the “overweight” line at the doctor’s office. Although to be completely honest, my diet was pretty much the same then as it is now, only without as many veggies.

Okay this is where I’m going to stop before the useless complaining really kicks in. Instead I should go buy that Ragnar jacket so I can wear it in anticipation of my exciting new race endeavor. And then maybe I’ll hit up a yoga class, or head out for a run with the dog, or I dunno…..maybe throw that pink fucking box of donuts into the dumpster. And the rest of the red velvet cupcakes too.

But not the chocolate, no way. That shit stays. I’m PMS’ing, dammit.

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A Place Called Home

carlsbadbeach

I am now approaching the eve of a full year spent living in San Diego, on the other side of the country from where my life began. I have been procrastinating this post for awhile now; partly because I’ve been keeping myself too busy to write (more on that later), but mostly because I wasn’t really sure what’s left to say on the subject without worrying that it’ll sounding braggy or trite. But I think I’ve finally come down from that surreal, vacation-like state of having first moved here, and I’ve had time to reflect on what this year has changed about me.

To be honest it doesn’t even feel like a whole year has passed. More like five or six months. A strange thing happens as we get older: the world just keeps spinning faster and the years fling by like boomerangs. Christmas, birthday, Summer, Autumn, Christmas. I remember being a kid and thinking how very long a year was. “Summer is right around the corner,” my Grammy would ponder, but to me it felt as if decades passed before swimsuit weather was upon us again.

Speaking of my Grammy, she lived here in San Diego once. She and my Grampa schlepped themselves west for promising work right after high school, along with my Grampa’s brother Pete and my aunt Pauline. They only stayed for a year, living for a time in the North Park area with my aunt Marion and her husband. It was tight living quarters for sure, but that was part of the family-centric culture back in the 50’s. Even though it was short lived, my grandmother definitely loved it. I know this because she told me so many stories about San Diego when I was a child that I think the soul of this place was permanently imprinted on me even back then.

Views of Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak, just ten minutes from my house.

Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak. My house may actually be in this photo.

This was apparent when I first vacationed here with Shawn in 2005 – and then kept finding excuses to come back. I knew it then as much as I know it now: this town, by the truest definition, is my home. For 33 years I existed in eastern New England, floundering a lot, finding friends and losing them again, moving from town to town. I looked hard between the forests and the cities for a place I could call mine. A town I would fall in love with. In 33 years I never found one. Finally I began to fancy myself a floater: I figured I must be just one of those people who prefers to be unbound to a particular place in favor of trying everywhere. I realize now I was just unsatisfied.

Unlike just about everyone I knew, I never retained a close-knit group of longtime friends who would drop by the house to borrow a cup of sugar or feed my cat while I was away. I had one or two very close friends whom I love like siblings, but because I moved all over the state we always seemed to be an hour’s drive away from each other. I’ve never been very close to family; both of my parents are deceased and my family of aunts, uncles and cousins are spread out all over New England. And frankly, our emotional distance is even wider than that. I’ve never felt I could count on anyone to be there for me the way I saw others could. I always thought it didn’t bother me, but I understand now that it really kind of did.

But you know, I think we all live our lives normalizing whatever is around us. Palm trees and year-round temperate weather is business as usual for a native Californian. But they were a far-off daydream to me, as I dug my car out of snowdrifts all winter long. A dream so big that I think part of me simply waited to begin living any actual life until I had a permanent tan and a back yard full of queen palms.

sunset

The SoCal Sunset.

And so here I am. Home, and finally living my actual life. This place suits me like a soul mate. I now get to look out the windows of the loft I’ve made into my home-office at a landscape rife with southern Californian beauty. Rocky hills and mountains in the distance that make way for sun-struck glimpses of the great Pacific, hawks flying above, coyotes howling at night, and skies so wide and so blue that I finally understand what it’s like to feel miles of open space and the roundness of the earth as it curves away before my eyes. The mercury hardly ever rises so high that I need air conditioning, nor falls so low that I need to put socks on my bare feet. That perfect happy temperature and humidity level, which tends to elude New England for all but ten days per annum, is the absolute norm here. And so is the sunshine. Sunshine, which has ever been the perpetuator of my deepest personal happiness, couldn’t be more plentiful: it has rained only 6 or 7 times since we arrived.

The beach-sandy, easy-living culture of SoCal plays to all the best parts of my personality. All 70 miles of San Diego coastline is public turf, which means you can park anywhere and walk, run, swim, surf, kayak, paddle or relax on the beach all year round, any time of day or night and never have to be elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of annoying overly-tanned strangers. There are stretches of beach, and even an entire island, dedicated to San Diego’s love of dogs, and a large number of restaurants welcome our canine friends with spacious outdoor seating and plenty of doggy water bowls.

neighborhood

A view of my neighborhood

San Diego is one of the largest hops-brewing cities in the world, housing over 100 breweries and microbreweries within the county lines. The city’s passion for beer has spurned some of the best hashing in the country as well, with something around 15 kennels of trail-running, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers, littering the earth with chalk symbols and baking flour dollops on just about every day of the week. People who become Hashers and Harriettes tend to be a lot like me: they are mostly educated, laid-back people with a love for good trails, fine beer and dirty jokes. Many of them with either no kids or grown kids, they are free to live the social lives they desire. They are athletic but not competitive, health-conscious but not militant. They tend to be quite comfortable within themselves, which makes for an exceptional (and exceptionally large, for me) network of friends and acquaintances who have kept me busy, entertained and running dozens of insanely awesome local trails for over eight months now (which explains my lack of time for blogging). Because of Hashing, I finally have the opportunity to gain that centralize social circle that has always eluded me in life.

Trails in Escondido

Trails in Escondido

And at least two-thirds of the people I have met here, hashers or not, are transplants like me. They have been equally drawn in by the magnetic pull of the SoCal life. It only figures that people who are bold enough to leave their original lives behind for something better tend to have a lot of other personality traits in common too. Because of this I find it much easier to be present in the friendships I have made, and I feel much more understood. Nobody here bugs me to have kids or to buy a home, or alienates me for my divergent choices. I no longer feel surrounded by complainers who hate their lives but are too lazy or cowardly to improve them. I sense more independence amongst these San Diegans: people play more active roles in their own lives and don’t seem as likely to expect from the world (or their parents) that morphine-drip of emotional and/or financial support that I saw so often back east.

I once heard the advice: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I used to worry that losing my east coast roots would bring forth the departure of my soul, my grit. But now I see that’s a completely bullshit notion. The only thing I have lost since I’ve moved out here is my bitterness: bitterness about the weather, about the traffic, about friends lost, about the insane cost of living and the life-sucking obligation to always settle for less than what I wanted. I don’t feel that way out here. I don’t feel poor like I did in New England, even though I make roughly the same amount of money. I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood because that’s all I can afford. Instead I live in a nice house in a quiet community, close to the beach and a few minutes from the nearest mountain views.

No, I have not lost my soul: instead I have introduced this soul to the joys I never knew I could afford or deserve. I have not lost my grit: instead I’ve applied it to more positive endeavors, like running for miles up mountains and learning how to stand on a surfboard (it’s much harder than it looks, by the way). I have learned that people desire different things in life and that there is just no good reason – not family, not a job, not fear – to relegate myself to a place or a lifestyle that’s less than what I ultimately desire. I only get one body and one finite period of time to live in it, and I’ve done myself a disservice to have even for a moment wasted it at the hands of my lesser obligations.

surfboards

A photo taken after my first surf lesson

As a result of this realization, I have come to no longer care what my distant family members think of my free-wheeling lifestyle. I don’t care how new parents feel about my rejection of the parenting life. It means less than zero to me whether other married couples think Shawn and I act married enough or spend an adequate amount of time participating in each other’s chosen pastimes. I don’t care if fellow runners think I drink too much beer or if fellow hashers think I run too many races. It took me 33 years, but my choices finally feel like they’re completely mine. I finally feel beautiful. I finally feel whole. I finally feel happy. And I mean really, honestly happy. And I don’t even give a shit if you don’t believe that. This is what it means to “find yourself”.

This, my friends, is what it feels like to find your home.


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Notes from 3,000 Miles Away

One of the really bright flowers growing in my yard. What is it? No idea.

Shawn and I are about a month into our new life on the West coast, and a lot of friends have been asking me how I like it here. My answer is always: “It’s Great! I love it!” because, well…I simply don’t have the time (nor do they) to sit down and explain my whole array of feelings about it. The true and short answer is that my feelings about the move are great, but mixed.

Just yesterday Shawn and I were talking about this, and I’m pretty sure we feel roughly the same way at this point. The “oh-my-god-we-are-finally-here” honeymoon is over and the real feelings are starting to move in like so many storm clouds. I have a tendency to hold in my feelings, but I think it affects Shawn in a more outwardly obvious fashion. As he explained it to me, he’s been feeling sort of “blah,” and as a result he’s been unmotivated to do much more than sculpt and watch television. It’s hard to get him to even come out for a walk or go to the movies. He knows that he made the right decision to move out here, and he knows intellectually that his feelings of homesickness and uprooted discomfort will pass, but it still bothers him at the moment. It doesn’t even matter that he grew up here. The friends we have known for a dozen years are 3,000 miles away. Our families, our favorite restaurants, roads and highways we are able to navigate without help from technological devices, they are no longer things we can get to without a pricey plane ticket. And although we thought the decision through for several years, no amount of sureness and careful planning can circumvent that feeling of having been transplanted into such an unfamiliar section of the world.

I love San Diego, and I have no doubts in my mind that I belong here. In a very general and sweeping way, southern California people are more like me than New England people are. They’re…sunnier. More calm and trusting. Open-minded. They like to be outdoors a lot more, and are healthier in many ways. To them, life is less complicated. Of course, I’ve made some great friends with all of these qualities back in New England, but here I see people like this just about everywhere I go.

This is a beautiful place to live in, as well. Yes, of course there’s those several hundred miles of beaches and ten months of summer each year, but it’s a little deeper than that. We have mountains. Everywhere. In the next town. In your back yard. I’ve seen views from places less than ten miles from my home that stop my breath and make me so thankful to be alive that it’s almost like praying. There are bunnies and lizards, coyotes, hawks and deer everywhere, and there are even a couple of bats that like to sleep in our palms. There is a myriad of trees and flowers all around me that I’ve never seen before, like eucalyptus and olive trees, cacti, three types of palm tree, and several decadent, bright florals that I can’t yet name. There is so much sky that I don’t know what to do with it, except feel really, really small. And it’s blue…all the time. I know that these things are all novelties to some people, but I’ll never get tired of seeing the beauty the world has to offer. And this is one incredible place to see it from.

See if you can figure out what’s different.

But upon my inevitable exit from that sweet, rose-colored honeymoon phase, I’ve found myself mixing old home comforts with the new ones. I put the same books on the same book shelves and kept most of the old knick-knacks from my cubicle desk in the Boston office. I work the same hours every day and go to bed around the same time at night because routine comforts me. I listen to radio stations that play the same seemingly incongruent mix of 80’s hair band, 90’s alternative and Mumford and Sons that populates my iPod. I pump Florence + the Machine through my earphones during runs because the sound of it reminds me of winter long runs back home. I spend as much time as I can keeping up with my friends back home, texting them, reading their blogs and watching their lives unfold on Facebook. I make the same recipes and shop for my favorite food brands.

But even still, the unfamiliar has crept into my bones and caused a melancholy sort of homesickness that will take me some time to recover from. I am eternally in love with the sunshine but it is so strong here that it sometimes feels alien, as it leans heavily over my shoulder during an afternoon run. I have become a friend of shadows, darting from one to another and seeking the rare tree cover that was so prevalent in New England.

I miss the tall and shadowed forests of trees, and I miss the smells that the air carried in – the scent of fresh life. Wet grass, rich soil, pine. Here the air smells heavier, spicy. It’s so different, in fact, that it was the first thing I picked up on when we arrived.

In this heat I have learned the usefulness of house-cooling window blinds, which were previously a nuisance to me, always keeping out the precious light of day. I’ve learned to appreciate the cooler air, as well as the hot summery days. That’s something I didn’t exactly expect to happen.

But I have also embraced so many things quite seamlessly. I relish the prevalence of runners, bikers, dog walkers and lots of other folks getting exercise and enjoying the day. I appreciate the wider roads and freeways, the fresher produce, the prolific Starbucks stores and Mexican restaurants. I can’t stay away from the beaches, and the thought of driving only twenty minutes to one puts a huge smile on my face.

The trails here are achingly beautiful; moreover, they feel so much more like real trails to me. I don’t know why, could be all the books and blogs I’ve read with photos of western trails have shaped my own internal definition of what a trail should look like. They’re dustier, more sandy and dry. The hills are astounding. And, surprisingly, I have found myself seeking out hills during runs, rather than shying away from them. It’s as if I’m finally making peace with them.

I miss my friends back east. Some I miss so much that it’s difficult not to cry a little when I think of the vast new distance I’ve put between us. At the same time, I appreciate the few friends I have made since we arrived. Friendships are important to me. I don’t need many, but I enjoy nurturing the good ones.

Working from home has been a blessing I didn’t quite expect. I mean, of course I knew it was going to be awesome to be able to work in my pajamas. But would I thrive working this way? Could I keep motivated and stay happy working outside an office environment? I didn’t know. But what I’ve learned is that working in my home suits my personality much better than working in an office. I like having my own space, and the relative quiet helps me focus better. I like being able to start work early and end early, or work later if something comes up in the morning. I can get to my work files at 8pm on a Sunday if I think of something, and I can go for a run on the beach before it gets dark. It’s like I’m always working, but also never working. This is an ideal situation for me. And for my employer, who gets a happier, more motivated employee out of the deal.

Overall I can see myself slowly becoming a much more centered individual, with more balanced priorities and a healthier outlook on things. Almost everything is better for me here, but I still need to get used to it, give it all time to sink into my soul and start to feel like home again. And that’s okay because I’ve got lots of time.