Wednesday, April 5, 2017

In The Pines

There's no hill named for me. There's no stretch of trail where my legs move to an unwritten rhythm sacred to that space. There's no spot, no fork in the trail where I had to decide whether grit or defeat would lead me.

But when I joined the trail running crew at Chain O Lakes State Park for the Fat Ass 50K, the big lead up to the Indiana Trail 100, as I traversed the unfamiliar course, I was introduced to Mike's Hill. And Jennifer's Hill. Sandy's Puddle. Joe's Section. The High-Five Tree.

These were parts of the course where the veteran trail runners liked to stretch their legs. To test them. These were parts of the course where they are reminded of a darkest moment but also how they took a step forward, toward the light.

There was an honor in the introductions, as if being led through a secret world hidden by trees and separated from my regular running life by miles and circumstance.

It revealed itself slowly with each footfall, each turn, each deep breath of fresh, crisp air. Tree lines and hills. Dirt paths and grassy fields. Foot bridges and old school houses. There was so much to see, so much to explore that it was hard to focus on the miles ahead. The sound of the wind rustling the bare branches, the voices of the blue birds as they flew from tree to tree -- all a welcome song from the worried refrain that plays in my head when I run 20 miles.

On this magical day, I was ready to claim it all for me. This place, this route could be mine if I just found a way to make my way there as I train for the Another Dam 50K.

But just as I was ready to stake my claim, the brown dirt turned red with rusty pine needles. The clean air took on a sweet fragrance, perfumed by the towering pine trees to the right and left. In an instant, I left that secret world. The one where my trail runners reside and build their lives.

I was home. Underneath the evergreen in the front of my grandma's home, a childhood Christmas tree planted when my mom was a child. Playing underneath, tripping on pine cones and climbing its sturdy branches. I was in a world where the future was abstract and the possibilities endless, accompanied on imaginary adventures by my  brother and cousin.

In that small stretch, just near the turn around, at a place they call Rally, I knew I couldn't put my name on the park. It wasn't all for me. But that spot, where the pine needles blanket the ground and cones ornament the line, I knew I could have that.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Mat

At the beginning of the year, when the calm of ocean apathy becomes full of waves of possibility ... when the will to change laps up on the shore ... when the horizon, the future, seems so much more attainable than it had just days prior ...

At that time, I thought about what I wanted for myself in 2017. Working and, for all intents and purposes, living in a gym, it is hard to escape the goals of health and physical fitness. I watch guys stack plate after plate on Hammer machines so that they can push 400 pounds with their legs. I see them curl 75 pound dumbbells. I see a crunch on an incline bench performed with such ease to the point of fury that I wonder why I can't do those things.

It's hard not want some of that. To draw up ideas in my head of how to do that.

But looking at my schedule, the docket of classes becoming intertwined with a training plan, I had to be smart. And SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.

It's not attainable nor realistic to add leg days or heavy lifting. There's just no time. But there's not the will nor the power - not necessarily mentally, but in the fibers of my muscles that so often speak to me as I get out of the van seat and jump down to the asphalt parking lot of the YMCA.

In those conversations with my legs as I walk closer to the doors, I found my answer. It wasn't trying to be a complete badass or prove that by lifting heavier I am a more competent trainer. No. In those conversations, I realized that I needed to find a way to quiet those muscles. To calm them.


Yoga is one of those things that I always say I want to do but after poring over schedules and plans, I dismiss because of time conflicts and price. But with my new schedule, this new life that I am slowly building, I discovered that there's this magic time of day between 1 and 2:30. At times, I spend it working on freelance pieces or creating menus for a recent foray into home meal delivery. But even then I tell myself that all I need is 20 minutes.

And so after my lunch, I sit on the couch and lose myself in an episode of "Girls" or "Big Little Lies" before cueing up YouTube on the Xbox. Yoga with Adrienne is my favorite channel, and I scroll through the library of videos searching for a 20-minute session that will hopefully loosen my hips and lengthen my hamstrings.

I don't roll out a mat or change my clothes. I don't reach for blocks and bolsters. Hell, half the time, the dog is laid out on our clearance Target rug to the point that I'm sequestered to a 3-foot-by-4-foot space. But I sit there. I pull out the flesh from underneath my sit bones and breathe.

In. Out. In through the nose. Out through the nose. Inhale. Exhale.

As I find myself in downdog, midway through a video, I find myself peering under the couch. A V-Tech ambulance. A keychain that Miles won during an American Heart Association fundraiser. The zip pouch where I attempt to store my crochet hooks. I say "attempt" because with two boys, anything is free game and anything that can be held is instantly a sword.

My head rotates to the right, catching glimpse underneath the TV stand. A Pampered Chef catalog. A tangle of cords and pieces of forgotten mail.

I return to center, focusing on the effort to ground myself between my thumb and forefinger to drive my hips a bit higher -- a loose term considering my lack of flexibility. I blame 50K training.

My practice isn't perfect. It's not serene. It's not always regular. Busy weeks, I never make it to the rug. Others, when I find myself groping for something, I find that seated position two times, three. Sometimes even four.

But it's there.

A small seed that I am starting to water. Feed. I can see it sprout, pushing up through the loose grains of dirt. Straining to find the sun.