It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Get Stronger

This is a common encouraging phrase heard in the workout circuit.  Yes, it is true when it comes to working out. I can now do things I never thought I’d be able to do like run fast(ish) miles and complete half-marathons. But it also applies the regular life.

    

This week marked the eighth anniversary of my mom’s passing. I never really know what to do on that day. The first year, we took the day off and went to the area where her ashes are spread. We went to get ice cream at her favorite ice cream parlor. Now, I am not allowed to take personal days during the last two weeks of school and her favorite ice cream parlor is closed. I wanted to take Liam, Mike, and Banjo up the street to our local place, enjoy the company of my favorite boys, and have a sweet treat. The universe had other plans.

My friend’s dad passed away this week. The wake was scheduled on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. I selfishly wanted to get there at the beginning, pay my respects, and take care of my own mourning. Liam had other plans. He did not want to go with me, having attended my cousin’s services last week. I was not going to push it. He was fantastic last week and two wakes in two weeks is a lot for anyone, nevermind an eight-year-old.

I tried not to cry while I waited in the receiving line. This is not about you, I told myself, be strong for your friend.

The line provided time to think about what to say. I am terrible during difficult times; everything that comes out of my mouth is cliche. I hugged her. “I am so sorry this is happening,” I began. I asked how her mom and her kids were doing. I asked how she was doing. She admitted she was being strong for everyone. “Take care of yourself. I didn’t cry until five days after my mom died. It’s going to hit you at the weirdest, silliest times, and that is okay. I’m going to check in on you and help you any way I can.”

And that was it, a whole conversation while embraced in a hug. I managed to hold my own tears. I managed to not think about the conversations I wish I could have, the things I wish my mother could have taught me. I thought of what I wished someone had said to me when my pain was fresh and I was adjusting to my new normal.

Every year, I look for signs from my mom. Sometimes, she shows up in a dream. My son starts singing one of her favorites songs, that he has no business knowing, such as the words to Lionel Richie’s classic “All Night Long.” I see a rainbow. My mom always took care of others. This year, she took the focus off of my own self-pity and provided the opportunity to take care of someone else. Maybe I am making the events fit into the idea I need, but I’ll take it.

Gaspee Recap

There’s a sweet spot in New England weather that promises the arrival of summer. It’s warm but not hot, not too humid, but most of the spring pollen is on its way out. This past weekend brought just those promises to life!

Saturday started with the Gaspee Days 5K, the culminating activity from last year’s Beginners Running Group. A year ago, we were nervous to mingle with “real runners” and doubted our training. This year, we were seasoned, having multiple 5Ks and a half-marathon under our belts! It was great to return to see our progress and help a new round of BRG graduates to complete their goal.

Photo courtesy gaspee.org

Those who are not local may not be familiar with the story of the HMS Gaspee. While everyone knows about the Boston Tea Party, the burning of the British customs ship the Gaspee occurred the previous year, leading up to the start of the American Revolution. Each year, the town celebrates Gaspee Days over the course of several weekends. There is an arts and crafts festival, fireworks, music, race and parade, and even a reenactment of the burning.

It is worth noting that the Gaspee race is one of the most challenging 5Ks around; it contains long, sloping hills that never seem to end. But the race also happens before the start of a parade, so there are thousands of people cheering you on. Residents set up sprinklers for runners; kids hold out their hands to high five racers. While it is a challenging course, the energy is fantastic!

I was excited to run this race, even though I have been nursing an injury and haven’t really been able to get a good run in since the half-marathon last month. My expectations were not high for this race; my goal was only to improve my time from last year, even if only by seconds. At the beginning of the race, I took off, pushed by the crowd and excitement. My first mile was 11:11, a pace I knew I couldn’t sustain. (Remember, I am an okay runner!) My sugar started to drop, and I felt a little woozy. I slowed down at times, allowing myself to walk some of the tougher hills.

I made it through the turnaround, enjoying my turn under the passing sprinklers. I was just starting to get discouraged at mile two when I saw my friend Kerri waiting for me.

“You don’t need to wait for me; I’m not running as much.”

“Yes, you are.”

“I need to walk a bit.”

“We can walk tot he top of the hill. Then, we’re running.”

And we did. Kerri stayed by my side throughout the race, slowing down when necessary, but keeping me motivated to try my best. I would not have pushed myself so hard had it not been for her encouragement, to remind myself that I am stronger than I think. I need people who believe in me when I am doubting myself.

Pushed to a PR!

Kerri stayed with me until the final turn of the race. For that final .1, I pushed myself as hard as I could, finishing the race in 36:44, two and a half minutes faster than last year! That gave me a PR for my 5k, which I know will improve when I race again on a flatter, more forgiving course! My current goal is to complete a 5K in the 35-minute range.

Words cannot express how happy I am that I joined BRG last year.  I am grateful for the confidence BRG provided to teach myself that I, too, am a runner. I can set goals, work towards them, and achieve them. The summer offers a lull before “race season,” which includes a 5K, four-miler, 10K, and another half-marathon. Now that I know I can do all of these things, I can focus on getting stronger. I cannot wait to see what the next year brings!

Week Five: The Best Choices I’ve Made

This has been the week of weeks!

Mike had his gallbladder out.

Liam wasn’t feeling well; he tested positive for thyroid antibodies, most likely caused by Hashimoto. We have a referral to an endocrinologist. I am relieved to know what is the cause of his symptoms. As someone who also suffers from thyroid issues, I am confident in my ability to help him manage the condition.

I pulled a calf muscle, leaving me unable to run for two weeks.

Our bank accounts were hacked twice. We knew we would get our money back, but it is time consuming to get everything back in order.

I had oral surgery and, according to doctor’s orders, should only be eating soft foods (scrambled eggs, pasta, etc.) This lasted less than a week before I went to eating softish foods on the other side of my mouth.

If nothing else, this week served as a reminder about the importance of perspective. It was a reminder of how well Mike and I work together. We could have buckled under the stress, but it brought us closer. We made time to chat. We laughed and giggled. We finished the week reminded that we chose the best possible partners for this life of ours.

So this brings us to this week’s topic: What are the best choices you’ve made?

Marrying Mike is at the top of that list. I am thankful I met him when I did; my previous self would have played gamed and ruined the relationship. He supports me, argues fairly, and is an amazing dad! I am beyond lucky that Mike walked into my life when he did.

 

Going back to school. Now that I have been teaching for fifteen years, other jobs feel like they were in another lifetime. After a few years of working odd jobs after high school, I started college when I was twenty-one. It took me five and a half years to earn my Bachelor’s degree, but I did it! I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. Going back to school and fulfilling that dream was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Being picky about friends. My friends are amazing! I’m glad I chose not to settle!

Stepping out of my comfort zone. Running, traveling to California, starting a blog (then sharing it with people). Some of my greatest joys in the past few years stem from doing things that scare me.

 

Liam is a little young to be in a position to analyze life decisions. I asked him about some good choices he’s made.

Making good friends. He’s at an age in which he is realizing that, while most people are friends, not everyone fits that description. It’s not that he has enemies, he’s eight. But he has learned that it’s easier not to try to be best friends with everyone.

Loving to read. Liam loves to read! He is struggling with math, but the boy loves to read. He will read whatever he can find: magazines, chapter books, graphic novels, resource books. I love that he loves to read and I’m willing to do what I can to nurture that love.

What I’ve Learned from Banjo

It’s hard to believe that we have only had Banjo in our lives for four months. He settled in and life has never been the same. He is the happiest dog I’ve ever met, complete with enough personality for many dogs! I know that he struggled for a while before being rescued from a road in Lousiana. He was twenty pounds lighter, a third of his current body weight. We often wonder what his life was like or even what his name used to be. I’ve learned a lot from this little pup.

Focus on the positive. We often wonder what happened to this happy-go-lucky pup, what made someone dump a dog they had obviously put a lot of work into. We had hoped that he just ran off or got lost, but an interaction with an acquaintance with a specific look made it clear that Banjo had some interactions with humans that were less than positive. In spite of that, Banjo has more love to offer than any dog I’ve ever met.

Demand love. During our walks with Outtie, he would try to catch attention at the bus stop of high school students we pass each morning. None of them seemed interested in giving Outtie pats. Banjo demands it, walking to each teenager and stopping until they acknowledge him. He doesn’t jump or step into personal space; he just simply stands next to each person for a moment, giving them an opportunity to give him love. After several months, each student now smiles, says hi to him, and gives him a few pats while he wags his tail and smiles back. Life is too short not to find places to give and take love.

 

 

Show people you love them. Banjo is a love bug. He nuzzles, stays next to you, and smiles all the time. It is evident he is overjoyed to be surrounded by people who love him and is always more than willing to show his affection and appreciation.

Be active. We have learned that it is pretty much impossible to tire this dog. He will chase the ball every time you throw it, even if it means making himself sore the next day. We learned that we have to be the ones to stop playing because he will play as much as we let him. He loves running with me and going to walks. Banjo is a dog who needs daily activity.

Don’t let your past dictate your future. It is clear that Banjo went through some difficult times. You’de never know it. He is the gentlest, silliest, kindest dog you’ll ever meet.  He doesn’t let bad past experiences ruin his future hopes of happiness.  Since we just took Liam to see The Lion King on Broadway last month, I’m reminded of Timon’s advice, “You’ve got to put your past behind you.”

 

You’re never too busy to give love. Banjo will be in the middle playing or relaxing. If he sees someone walk into the room or yard, he stops what he’s doing, walks over, and offers love. It’s a nice reminder that we, too, are never to busy to be nice.

Week Four: Getting Out of Your Head

This one hits home this week as we have been helping Liam find strategies for managing stress and Mike and I have been dealing with a lot of stress. (I try to focus on the positive so I will keep that to myself. Nobody wants to read about our woes.) I have struggled with anxiety since childhood. It’s been a long journey, but I finally feel I have a good hold on it. Here are my ways I get out of my head:

  1. I have a ritual for worry. I allow myself a certain amount of time to worry, then I make myself file it away. I used to spend sleepless nights worrying about things that were frivolous or beyond my control. Getting an honest grasp on what is worth my worry have been huge.                                       
  2. Running and yoga. What started as activities for my physical health became huge components of my mental health. Since I am still nursing a strained calf muscle and haven’t been able to run in ten days, I am feeling the need in my head as much as in my body.
  3. Spending time with Mike and Liam. Yes, it sounds cheesy and I am not apologizing. They always manage to make me laugh and forget about things that are worrying me.
  4. Reruns. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime yet, whenever I need to shut my brain off, I find myself watching Friends, Big Bang Theory, or How I Met Your Mother reruns. I know them all by heart but refuse to venture into new shows. I stick with what helps me feel better. Maybe they work to shut my mind off because I can half watch them and still follow along with the plot.

I asked Liam how he quiets his mind when feeling stressed. He struggled to find answers. We talked about a few things he does when he is worried.

  1. Play with Banjo                                                                                         
  2. Watch funny TV shows. Liam and I just started watching Fuller House. It is totally cheesy and he loves it. Having traveled to San Francisco to work twice, I earn major coolness points when I able to point out landmarks and pull up pictures on my phone. I’ve even been to Alamo Park and saw the Fuller House house. He asks if we can visit when he gets a bit older. I loved visiting this area and can’t wait to take him in a few years.
  3. Go to the playground. When Liam is getting miserable, we know that we need to get him out of the house. Walking to the nearest playground is a great, free way to burn off energy. He is trying to teach me to cross the monkey bars. I love watching his patience and interest in trying to teach him something that comes so easily to him.
How lucky are we to have this beach a mile from our house?

When is a Good Time to Bounce Back from an Injury?

A week and a half ago, I was having a fantastic run! The weather was warm but not hot. I managed a great pace that was both challenging and sustainable.  After months of focusing on distance and endurance, my focus moved to getting faster. I joined the #sportsbrasquad and was feeling invincible. I was working towards my goal of increasing my speed.  In the middle of an interval, my calf gave out. It was sudden, like someone had whacked it. I couldn’t walk and had to call my husband to come get me. I limped for the next couple of days. It is still painful when I walk, just enough to let you know the pain is still hanging around.

It’s been ten days. I am itching to run. I’ve tried a few times, only to have to immediately stop. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do to help it heal: taping, wrapping, ice, compression socks, massage, foam rolling. It is getting better, but not as quickly as I’d like.

It makes me wonder when I can begin running again. Should I wait until there is no pain at all? Should I head back out when the pain is there but manageable?

Once I get back out there, how do I prevent this from happening again? I stretched before running. I started off slow, walking for a few minutes before beginning intervals. Now, like a scorned lover, I am trying to find the courage to get back out there. The pulled calf happened suddenly, leaving me scared that it will happen again and cause further damage.

Maybe, like recovering from heartbreak, I can put myself out there a little at a time and build up the courage to try again.

 

 

Week Three: Things I Am Good At

This one is difficult! I think about the things that make up the most significant portion of my life, and I struggle to find things I am good at without following with “but” or “even though.”   I am good at making bread even though I am terrible at baking. I struggled to create this list, but I managed to build it.

  1. Being organized. I am ridiculously organized. I can elaborate, but that would make for boring writing. Trust me, I am fabulous at organizing.
  2. Planning and time management. I am a self-proclaimed “pre-crastinator.” I get things done, and I get them done as soon as possible. My entire school year is planned before well before the first day of school, sometimes before the last day of the previous school year. My clothes are planned for the week. Knowing where things are going is one of the easiest ways for me to control my anxiety.

    New Planner Day is one of my favorites!
  3. Setting goals. I often tell Liam that he is not allowed to merely complain. If he doesn’t like something, he needs to either do something about it or accept it. At this point, he finishes complaints by saying he will practice. “I’m not as good at drawing circles as my other friends… I know, I know, I need to practice.” If there is something I want to be able to do, I try to create a plan to make it happen.
  4. Teaching. Teaching is the career I chose at the age of twelve when Mr. Eccelston cemented my love of reading and writing. It was then I decided I wanted to do exactly what he does. I consider myself fortunate that I knew at a young age what I wanted to do with my life. While the road to teaching was a long and winding one, I am thankful life took me down the path it did. After fourteen years, teaching is still something I enjoy. I feel I truly make a difference.                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Liam was younger, he had all the self-confidence in the world. As he gets older, he is beginning to doubt himself, which is sad to watch. I asked him what he thinks he is good at and he, too, struggled to think of real, noteworthy items to put on his list.

  1. Hanging and pull-ups. He just learned to do pull-ups and is very proud of himself, doing them from the swingset and the pull-up bar in our house as often as possible.
  2. Reading. Liam loves to read! He will read just about anything he can get his hands on: magazines, fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels. Right now, he’s devouring the Dog Man and Minecraft series. I love that he loves to read and I love his confidence regarding his ability to do so.
  3.      
  4. Playing outside instead of sitting in front of the TV. I was surprised to head Liam state this one because, like most kids, the struggle to balance screen time is real. Once he said it, I noticed that I can’t remember the last time he even turned on his tablet. He’s been reading his books. He and I had a Saturday morning date. After our classes at Laid-Back Fitness, we went to a new coffee shop then headed to the used bookstore. Liam loves roaming the isles and looking at all of the books. Because we came home with a shopping bag full of books, he has been focused on those over Minecraft and other games on his tablet. The weather has been so beautiful this week that we have been spending a lot of time outside. I’m thankful that he is conscious of his good decisions.

My Week of Firsts

For an average week, I experienced quite a few firsts.

Interval training After spending twelve weeks focusing on increasing my distance, I have been focusing on increasing my speed through interval training. The more I read about it, the more confusing it becomes. 4×400? 4×300? It seems like a lot of science and thinking and I am just not there yet. After doing a bit of Google research on interval training, one minute of running followed by one minute of walking seemed easy enough.  My last session before my half-marathon was my first interval session. It wasn’t too bad; I’d run a minute at a pace in the 10’s then walk. My weekday runs with Banjo have been intervals, but the waist leash belt I wear with Banjo did not properly hold my phone, causing it to fall out every time I increased my pace. I was looking forward to getting out on my own Sunday morning to see what I could accomplish.

#sportbrasquad  I got over my fear during Sunday’s interval session. It was 63 degrees when I started my run but quickly moved up to 70. I was pushing myself. I was dripping with sweat and had thrown up in my mouth a few times. There was a beautiful breeze and decided to shed the shirt. I watched the first few cars that passed, waiting for some sort of judging. Nothing happened. It felt so good! My self-consciousness kept me off the main roads, but it felt amazing!

Big, Run-ending Injury So I was feeling like a badass, running fast and feeling strong. I decided to push myself a little more during a downhill interval. Suddenly, I felt like I had been shot in the left calf; my leg just gave out.  I actually had to call Mike to come get me. It was a humbling reminder of how quickly situations can change. I missed church, staying on the couch alternating ice and heat.

My First Massage I have a weird issue with paying for certain things. If I hadn’t messed up my hair more times than I care to admit, I would not pay someone to touch up my roots every four weeks. I hate paying for manicures and pedicures, counting my lifetime pedicures on one hand.  I didn’t even have one before my wedding. After being in a constant state of recovery between half marathon training and weightlifting, Mike offered to buy me a gift certificate for a massage for Mother’s Day. He was upsold to a package that included a facial and massage and scheduled the appointments to run back to back yesterday.  The massage was fantastic! It is so nice to move my shoulders and back and not feel any knots or stiffness. The facial turned into a sales pitch. The esthetician talked my ear off about all the products she was using, how I should use them, and which of the many facial issues I have would be fixed by these elixirs and creams. I was so annoyed throughout the facial that it was not enjoyable. I will still consider the experience a positive one. I started out very self-conscious but actually dozed off towards the end of the ninety-minute massage.

Pictures of Me I Didn’t Hate This one is huge! Usually, I find something wrong with every picture of myself. I hate the picture of Liam and I from the mother-son dance because my upper arm looks fat, reminding me not to wear sleeveless dresses. One of the instructors at Laid-Back Fitness took a video during our Strength class and posted it on Instagram. When I saw myself, I thought about how strong I looked performing kettlebell swings and real pushups. I was swinging a heavy kettlebell and my form looked pretty good during the pushups. I watched the video loop a few times before the epiphany hit: I didn’t think of any negative as I watched the video several times, proving that my focus is moving from skinny to strong. When another video was posted during Saturday’s class, I wished I had adjusted my pants so I didn’t have a muffin but was overall pleased with how strong I looked.

       

List 2: Routines

Week two asks to list routines in personal life and work. This is totally my jam! Most of my life revolves around routine and organization. It is comforting and helps maintain order in all of our lives.  In random order, here is a list of some of my routines:

Meal planning on Sundays, even if only for lunches. Knowing we do not need to scramble each afternoon or evening makes weekdays less hectic. I simply refill Liam’s lunch box when he gets home from school and put it back in the fridge until the following morning. This week, we made chicken breasts, rice, salad, and whole wheat pasta to mix and match into different meals this week. I made buffalo chicken pasta salad to eat each during lunch.

Setting out mine and Liam’s clothes the night before. Again, knowing that Liam’s clothes are clean and ready to go and I have all the parts of an outfit together makes the mornings easier. Since Liam wears uniforms, his outfit planning is pretty easy. I look at the weather report on Sunday and decide which days to wear skirts versus pants and which days I can run after school.

Ordering Liam’s lunches a month at a time and noting his hot lunch days on the calendar. This makes life so much easier!  I am thankful that Liam’s school allows this service.

Mornings with Banjo. Even Banjo has this down to a science! He knows who takes him out when and whether he is out there for “business” or play. He knows that if he goes out to the backyard, we are going to play with him. If we take him out front, he is to make a deposit and go back in the house.

Mornings in general. I keep a mental list of what time I should be at each step of in my morning. I won’t bore you with the breakdown, but trust me, it’s good.

After school. Come home, play with Banjo, homework, chores, dinner, play.

 

 

 

 

When I asked Liam about his routines, he was too excited to explain his morning routine:

Wake up

Get dressed

Eat breakfast

Clean my plate

Walk Banjo

Play outside with Banjo

Bush our teeth

Give Banjo love

Go to school

I asked him to describe some of his routines a few days ago and let it simmer. This morning, while sitting a the swingset playing with Banjo, he randomly told me, “I have a lot of routines at school, too. Do you want me to tell them to you?” He proceeded to explain his entire day. Liam has always thrived on routine. Even a good surprise, if it changes what he expects is going to happen, makes him uncomfortable. I am beyond thankful for Liam’s teacher, who creates many routines and is very much cultivating the organization skills that will make him successful throughout his academic career.

Staying Safe During Solo Runs

I greatly dislike that this is a concern, but it is.

Many of my runs are completed by myself. While I know the odds of anything happening to me a slim, I know that it is important to be proactive to avoid putting myself in danger. Here are a few things I do to keep myself safe when running on my own.

  1. Let someone know when and where I am going. I know this is kind of a no-brainer, but it is essential. Before heading out, I let Mike know where I will be running. If I am leaving from school, I tell my coworkers where I am headed.
  2. Run is well-populated areas. I love running at local parks, but only venture there on weekend afternoons when they are busier.
  3. Check in during longer runs. When running longer than eight miles my myself, I will usually send Mike a text message with a picture of where I am. It also gives me an excuse to break up a sometimes monotonous run with a quick text.
  4.   
  5. French braids over ponytails. I remember reading this years ago, and it makes sense. I also usually put some deep conditioner in my hair before braiding it. It helps tame flyaways and provides a long conditioning treatment for my hair while I am running. It’s a nice bonus!
  6.     Run Angel.  I discovered Run Angel through one of my running magazines. It is a device that looks similar to a FitBit. You set up your account, providing information of your “angels.” If something ever happens to you, it can hit a button that sets off a 120-decibel alarm and alerts your “angels” that you activated the alarm and your location. Hopefully, I will never need it, but it gives a bit of peace when I am out solo.
  7. Say hello. I say hello to everyone I pass.  This may be silly, but saying hello acknowledges that I see them and are aware of their presence. Because of this practice, there are times I am running on the Boulevard after school and recognize many people I pass along the way.

Get him home safe.