The Little Voice Inside.

It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.

I read this today, and it hit home with me. The little voice inside me can be the worst. It’s been quite ugly towards me at times. Sometimes it comes up with original hatred. Sometimes it repeats again and again the hurtful things others have said. I’m not sure which is worse.

This year, the little voice and I have started to become friends. When my cheerleader walked away, I had to be my own cheerleader. At first, I tried to do that without confronting – without even acknowledging – the little voice, but I quickly realized that I had to have a heart-to-heart with the little voice or else it would send me into a spiral mind f*ck every time it reared its ugly head. Our talk went something like this:

I need you to be on my side sometimes. I’m not saying you can’t speak ever. But I need you to be careful about when you assert yourself. Tell me what you’re thinking when I’m strong, when I’m in a position to hear you and make changes to become stronger. When I’m down, stay quiet; a down me doesn’t need any help beating myself up. And if you could, every once in a while, come up with something nice to say. Don’t lie to me, but see if there aren’t things you like about me, and every once in a while, tell me those things, okay?

It hasn’t been easy, but the voice has changed. My self talk has changed. I no longer tell myself that I’m not fast; I tell myself that I can get faster. I no longer tell myself that I might not finish; I tell myself that crossing what appears to be an unlikely finish line will feel great. I no longer tell myself that I can’t handle change; I tell myself that I’m becoming more adaptable in ways that matter. It’s not that I’m not lovable; I just haven’t yet found the person who will love me best.

Ironman was never about Ironman. My races aren’t about the races themselves. Everything I do in this part of my life is an effort to remind myself again and again that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. That I’m strong physically and mentally. That I have a deep ability to focus on whatever it is that I want to do and find a way to get it done.

I remember being in Coach Burke’s gym class in the fifth or sixth grade. She was teaching us to do headstands. The idea was that we would start on our hands and knees, put our heads down, and straighten our backs until our bodies were shaped like a “V ” and our legs were extended straight with just the tips of our toes on the ground. Then we would have to bring our legs up together – never separating them – using our core muscles, until we were in a headstand. There were some kids in that class who could do it immediately. I wasn’t one of those kids, but I went home that night and practiced and practiced in my bedroom until I could finally do it. And the next day, when I showed Coach Burke what I could do, she put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes and said, “You are my hero. I am so proud of you.” It was a little thing, but I remember the look in her eyes, and I remember the feeling of getting it done after I wasn’t sure that I could.

That’s the feeling I want every day. I don’t want to go home feeling beaten. I don’t want to doubt myself, my worth, or my abilities or sit in envy of others. I just want to work hard and figure out a way to get things done for me.

That little voice in my head hurts me sometimes. But sometimes it helps. And lately, as I’ve worked through my feelings of sadness, as I’ve looked for ways to lift my own spirits, as I’ve discovered my own sense of adventure, that little voice has become less of a demon and more of an angel. Not always, but more and more, I hear it say things like you are getting there. You can do this. Don’t think about what she said to you. You are my hero; I am so proud of you.

There are definitely times the voice still tells me that I should quit. But when that happens, I think about all the little victories. The headstands. The timed 5Ks. The 800 meter swims. The marathons. The half-Ironmans. The Ironmans. The days when I wasn’t sure I could take another ounce of heartache. And I say to that little voice, “Oh, so you want to fight today? Tell me what you think I can’t do, and I’ll show you just how wrong you are, b*tch.”

Okay, so I don’t call the little voice a b*tch. I’m too nice for that. But you get what I’m saying. I’m a fighter. I don’t cross the finish line first, but every finish line I reach means that I didn’t let the little voice get the best of me. And more and more, the voice is urging me across the line because, like me, the little voice wants to win, and I think it’s figured out that it can’t beat me. It certainly hasn’t done it yet.

Three Months to Africa.

In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.

The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.

Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?

My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.

But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.

Who have I become?

I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.

Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.

I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.

Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.

More Favorite Things.

Just over two years ago, I did a list of my favorite things that was inspired by my friend Kate. (I can’t believe it was over two years ago. I remember the exercise so clearly. Where does the time go?) A lot has happened in the past two years. In some ways, life is totally different. In others, it’s exactly the same.

When I look back at the old list, I agree still with everything I said. But I see things that are missing from it, so I thought I’d give the list another try now. Here is the 2013 version:

Lounging with Bread and Butter, running with my friends, cleaning up after a hard workout, writing for this blog, hearing from friends that they read my blog, making lists, checking things off my lists, getting emails from my niece, making smoothies, visits to my chiropractor, reading anything by Marion Winik or David Sedaris, reading The New Yorker on Sundays, planning trips, my time in Portland, attending readings at Book People, swimming at Deep Eddy and going to Magnolia Cafe afterwards, meeting my friends’ kids, making new friends, listening to anything by Kacey Musgraves, watching The Voice, seeing Bruce Robison in concert, the Ironman finish line, reading essays and books my friends have written, attending Jeanne Guy gatherings, workshops with Christina Baldwin, Whidbey Island, writing in my journal, doing laundry, sitting on my couch after cleaning my house, the smell of baked brownies in my kitchen, Courage to Change (the Al-Anon book), watching Nashville, the bracelet Jeanne gave me, my Ironman ring, time on the Boettger farm, my memories of Hood to Coast, everything about my Grand Canyon trip, Toastmasters, seeing Bread walk around the house with a stuffed animal in his mouth, Donald Miller’s blog, flowers (especially sunflowers), the quote book I’ve been keeping

I love how easily this list came. It’s a good exercise, I think, to remind myself of all the things around me and in my life that I enjoy. There are so many of them. I’m lucky.

I bet you are too. If you want to make a list and share it with me, I’d love to hear about your favorite things.

Looking Towards Portland.

The weather in Austin this morning was perfect for my run. Kerry and I met at 5:45 and ran the 7-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake. It felt easy, probably because I took yesterday off. I needed to. My body was tired from the Saturday trail run, Sunday run, Monday trainer session and swim, Tuesday morning run, and Tuesday night trail run. That was too much packed into a few days, especially given that I’m supposed to be tapering for the Portland marathon.

I’m excited to head back to Portland next week. I’m staying at a hotel downtown, which is a first for me. Since I’ll be downtown, I plan to visit the flagship Powell’s Books. There are a couple of book signings there that weekend that look interesting to me. I’ll also get to see a friend from Austin who moved to Portland and another dear friend from my Whidbey Island retreat who will drive down from Washington to hang out with me on Saturday.  I’m also hoping to have a chance to either walk or run my favorite mountain and perhaps take pictures of the beautiful city view from the top of the mountain. I’ve been up the mountain a bunch of times but never with a camera. I also want to visit the bike shop that helped me last summer so I can buy an Oregon sticker and bike jersey. Those two things have been on my mind for almost a year now.

Aside from that, I don’t really know what the weekend will bring, but I’m looking forward to the cooler temperatures, being in a city I love, seeing some good friends, and having an awesome race.  And by awesome, I do mean a personal best. I’m aiming for better than 5:12, which is what Erin and I did when we ran New York in 2010. I came close to beating that in Barcelona this year. I think I’m faster now.

I would love to associate Portland with my best marathon ever. That would mean a lot to me right now. A whole lot.

Wednesday List #25 – Affirmations of Late

I’ve had a really nice few weeks. I’ve managed to shift my thinkingtrain well, explore the city, and rediscover things I used to enjoy. I’ve also read lots and reconnected with people I adore. There are seasons when my sensations feel dulled, but this isn’t one of them. I feel a heightened awareness of things going on around me – of things that help and hurt me in different ways. I want to talk about some of the really good stuff.

  1. A bit ago, I was looking for a law firm in the Pacific Northwest to help on a potential matter. One of the names I got from friends in the area was for a firm that has an Austin office, so I emailed the attorneys I work with and asked if they knew the firm. One of the lawyers who relies pretty heavily on me immediately asked me, “Are you leaving us?” When I said no and explained the situation, he breathed what appeared to be a sigh of relief. It was nice to see that I’m wanted where I work. I need that assurance sometimes.
  2. Last week, I caught up with two dear friends. One of them I spoke with over the phone. The other I enjoyed over lunch. In both cases, I told them about things that have been going on with me that I hadn’t discussed with either of them, though I consider them both to be dear friends. In both cases, they accepted the information and acknowledged that I don’t say much at times, but  they didn’t give me grief for having been guarded, as I can sometimes be. It was nice to be received so fully and, by the warm reception I received from both of them, encouraged to be more open in the future. I don’t always expect people to be understanding, but I’m learning that the good friends will be every time.
  3. Yesterday, I had lunch with a woman who used to be my swim coach and has helped me a number of times with nutrition questions I’ve had. We have Erin in common, and in talking about Erin, I suggested we connect, and she actually followed up. We had a great lunch. I believe that we will have a continuing friendship. It was nice to have someone mean what they say and follow through on connecting. So often, people don’t.
  4. Last night, I went on a trail run at Wild Basin Preserve with a trail running group. I’ve run with this group before and decided to get back into it for the fall because I’ve been thinking about taking on a longer distance, like a 50 miler or a 50K, sometime within the next year. Out of the blue, one of the coaches who has known me for a while through triathlon told me that she thought I’d be good at trail running because it takes patience and steadiness. It was nice that she took the time to say those things. It was also nice to hear that my patience and steadiness would serve me well in trail running. Sometimes people get annoyed that I don’t quickly pull the trigger on stuff. It’s just not who I am, so I appreciate hearing that how I am can be helpful at times too.
  5. At Toastmasters today, I got a table topics question that reminded me about my Grand Canyon experience last year. It was an incredible few days in celebration of my friend Jenny’s birthday. After the trip, Jenny made a photo book of our adventure and gave a copy to each of us. That book sits on my coffee table and is one of the last things I see every time I leave the house. It’s nice to have that very physical reminder of both the experience and the friendship that drove it. I’ve made books for others in the past, but Jenny was the first to make a book like that for me. What a gift.

I want to be someone who believes in who I am and in the goodness of what I have to offer and who receives others in the same way. Right now, I feel surrounded by people who are helping me become the person I want to be. I’m so grateful for each presence in my life. I hope they all know how much they’ve done for me in what may appear to them to be the smallest of ways.

Different Kinds of Fitness.

I’ve been less sore after an Ironman than I am today. I did one session with a trainer yesterday morning – the first in about a year – and I feel as though I went from a couch to a marathon with no preparation whatsoever. How is it possible that one hour of movements can cause this much pain?

I gripe, but I love this feeling. It’s been a rich few days of workouts. I did my 8-mile trail run on Saturday. I ran 7 miles on Sunday. Yesterday, I did the trainer session and swam in the morning and then went on a five-mile walk at a solid pace with my friend Ilene after work. This morning, Kerry and I ran five miles. I love working hard, and I love the tiredness that comes from feeling like I’ve worked hard. And yes, I even love the pain. Dammit, Jake.

I know my arms are sore because of the push-ups and weights we did. I think my legs are sore primarily from an exercise where Jake had me stand on a bench and lower myself into a squat on one leg while I kept the raised leg out in front of me. I got to use Jake’s arm for balance and for aid in getting back up out of the squat. It was tough. Apparently people can do this one-legged thing even on the ground. Right now, I can barely do it on a bench with the help of Jake’s arm.

This is a lesson for me that “fit” means lots of different things. Ironman fit doesn’t mean I can handle strength work. Running fit doesn’t mean I can handle swimming. Bike fit doesn’t mean I can handle running. Swimming fit doesn’t mean I can handle yoga. And none of this means that I can handle tennis, which is something I’m considering getting back into. Tennis? Yes, tennis.

I played a ton as a kid. Mom and I traveled all across the state and even the country playing tournaments until I was about 16 and totally burned out. Some of my friends are still playing, and others have recently taken it back up. In Connecticut, my friend Sarah runs a tennis club, and on my recent visit, I got to see the club and watch her play paddle tennis, which involves a smaller court, a solid racket, and, I think, more finesse than tennis. I loved being at her club and seeing the lessons and even just seeing my dear friend on a court again. Her movements on the court were so familiar, even twenty years later, that I recognized her immediately when I drove into the parking lot of her club.

Last time I played tennis with any kind of consistency, I was playing with my friends Don and Corky when I sort of tweaked my knee and decided that I better stick with repetitive movement one-directional sports to avoid injury. Now, I think I’m ready to give it a try again. Maybe I can get stronger so that all the little tweaks and movements don’t cause me pain. Maybe I can get to where I enjoy the competition once again. Perhaps most importantly to me, maybe I can reconnect with old friends and develop a community of women who play a few times a week.

There are these really cute old guys at my gym who meet most mornings for racquetball and then sit in the cafe and have coffee and some kind of pastry or cake that one of them brought. They are darling men who keep mugs with their names on them at the gym cafe, as well as one mug that says “Guest” because they like to include others in their fun. I love seeing them. I love hearing their laughter and their teasing of one another. It’s charming.

I’m not ready to be a little old lady at the club, but I do feel like I’m setting down roots. Tennis would be a nice way to be both active and social. But tennis is hard on the body – harder, in my opinion, than triathlon, even Ironman. So I need to be strong to make it work.

Yesterday was a good step towards strength. I’m hopeful that every little bit of pain I feel now will spare me some pain if I step out on the court again and as I get older. For many reasons, it’s hard to get older, but lots of people get stronger as they get older. I intend to be one of them.

Detoxing.

For the last four weeks, I’ve been doing a detox program. No wheat. No soy. No corn. No dairy. No peanuts. No sugar. No alcohol. No caffeine. It sounds rough, I know. But it wasn’t. It was actually quite easy, right up until Friday night when I decided, at a wedding, that I needed a glass of wine. (I blame the wedding for the lapse.)

Then the next morning, I had coffee, corn tortillas, and oatmeal cookies because…well because I’d already blown the detox. Then that night – Saturday night – I was so tired. I started falling asleep around 8:00 in the evening. There was no reason for me to be that tired, so I’m thinking the food I’d eaten that day had something to do with it.

I’ve realized over the last month that what I eat really does affect my body. It affects, not just my weight, but also my energy, my digestion, and generally how I feel.

I like doing the smoothies, sometimes even as meals. They taste good. I like eating avocados, bell peppers, berries and almonds as snacks. I enjoy going to bed without what feels like a big lump of rock or gas in my belly each night. During the last week, I even started sleeping better, which is huge for me.

So Sunday morning, on what should have been the last day of the detox, I got right back on the plan. It’s nothing drastic. It’s nothing I can’t continue doing. I’m still eating out some and eating the stuff my mom makes. I’m just making different choices and asking Mom to cook with brown rice instead of white rice and not use butter and such in what she prepares for me. It’s been more than doable.

Maybe here and there I can allow for the occasional slip – the piece of cake, the cup of coffee, the slice of bread, the bit of queso. But the reality is that I like feeling well. And right now, I feel great.