“Long Run Reflections on Patriot Day.”

patriot

Long Run Reflections on Patriot Day

September 11th, 2001 was supposed to be a routine Tuesday. My students filed in and sat in their desks chipper or sullen, depending on the kid. I took attendance after the tardy bell rang and began class. We were annotating a passage from Sandra Cisneros’ story “Woman Hollering Creek.” In it, Cisneros transforms the myth of La Llorona (weeping woman) to La Gritona (hollering warrior). The woman in the story finally recognizes her inner strength and becomes empowered. Our beautiful class discussion was interrupted when my next door classroom neighbor rushed over to report the horrific events of that morning.

One after one, parents pulled their kids out of school … all they wanted was to hug their babies and know for certain that they were safe. I, dating my then boyfriend/now husband with no plans of children yet, could not exactly relate to that all-encompassing parental love, but I didn’t need to. We were all yearning for our loved ones and for normalcy. Because I taught eleventh graders, I felt it appropriate to show my students the news coverage of the horrific event. I also recognized my responsibility to my students to console them as they consoled me. To come together with my fellow faculty members in order to create a huge chain of love as we watched, over and over again, symbols of American prosper crumble amidst a beautiful sky. We watched our brothers and sisters fall to their deaths in hopes of escaping the horror within those buildings. We watched first responders risk life and limb to attempt to save as many innocent lives as possible, while most of those incredibly courageous individuals never made it out alive. We mourned together. Our school counselors were on hand to help us all navigate this horror and we prayed. We all prayed in our own ways. We shook our heads and we prayed for peace and mercy.

Now, fourteen years later, time has passed and we, as a nation, have begun healing; however, every single one of us was affected, and we pause in reflection on this day. I ran my long run on Saturday, the day after Patriot Day, and so I was given the wonderful opportunity to reflect upon this day. A lot has changed in my life since that horrific day. For starters, I have been married to my husband, David, for thirteen years, I have two beautiful daughters, I transitioned from a high school teacher to a high school librarian, and I became a runner. Obviously, becoming a wife and a mother has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined, and becoming a librarian has proven to be the best possible career for me, but running has transformed me. Running forces me to push myself in ways I never thought possible. Running teaches me to persevere amidst struggle, and this most certainly carries over into my roles as wife, mother, librarian, and friend.

Ben Sturner snapped a picture of a beautiful rainbow originating from the World Trade Center the day before September 11th, 2015 and shared it on Twitter. What a powerful image of beauty directly before the anniversary of a very dark day in our nation’s history.

For me, much like that rainbow, running is often my beautiful reprieve during difficult times. Not that I need to escape horrible events like the protagonist in “Woman Hollering Creek,” but I have certainly found that accessing my inner strength through running has made me a more capable and happy person. On Patriot Day it is nice to pause and reflect on our blessings and to see the beauty around us. I thank running for allowing me to do this.

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“Runner girl musings: has technology ruined human interaction?”

Runner girl musings: has technology ruined human interaction?

Today as I ran I thought mainly about two recent interactions with customer service representatives. I love shopping online as much as the next girl, but sometimes I want to shop in a store around other people and be helped by a live person. I truly appreciate all of the people who work in sales and serve customers with a smile and a warm tone. These people do still exist … I encountered two friendly sales associates just the other day, as a matter of fact. But, the two recent bad experiences I had are irking me. I was speaking to my husband about this and he echoed my sentiment when he said that he finds that in his work, with his frequent need to contact customer service representatives, he finds that quite often he deals with people who seem bothered by his inquiries and rarely follow through on the request of a phone call back.

So this got me thinking about technology and human interaction. Has technology ruined customer service? So many of us shop, or at the very least, pre-shop, online. Online shoppers get so many of their product questions answered through the stores’ websites and through online customer reviews. Has this online shopping made customer service obsolete? Are companies skimping on training their employees to greet customers and to ask them if they need help, and to do it without making the customer feel as if he is a bother? Could we even go so far as to say that the generation after us is lacking social skills because of excessive use of technology at a young age? Could it be that they never learned that they should make eye contact with others and greet others with a smile?

Now, I’m not suggesting the generations after me are across the board inept in human interaction by any means. I just purchased a vehicle from a salesman much younger than me and my husband, and we agreed that he was warm, approachable, and informative, and the whole exchange was pleasant. Many people possess social skills and widely use technology. It is not as if the two are mutually exclusive. It just seems to me that less and less importance is being placed on human interaction in our society. This is truly a shame, as Interacting with other humans is a basic human need.

Here is what I have decided based on all of these “running musings” about human interaction that I have explored here: I shall try my best to greet others with a warm kindness and to offer to help in any way I can. I truly believe that we all strive to do this already; however, I think that we get caught up in our own daily struggles and we let that affect how we treat others. I can be mindful of my tone and my approach with others. I can do this with students, teachers, parents, and administrators in my job as a high school librarian. I can do this with the parents with which I interact on my daughters’ soccer teams. I can do this with the children and adults with which I volunteer at church. I can do this with my husband, children, parents, and friends. I can be vigilant in my efforts. I can be better.

“3:08 a.m. Summer’s over. Back to reality.”

3:08 a.m.

Summer’s over. Back to reality.

Picture snapped on one of our summer bike trips to get ice cream.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to have my summers off to enjoy my daughters and to decompress in preparation for another school year. I love my job as a high school librarian, and I love having my summers off of work. It’s so nice to trade my dress shoes for flip flops and my dresses for bikinis; to stay up later and to sleep later. Our days consist of water park trips, long bike rides, snow cones, and salty beach hair. We drive with the sun roof open, attend barbecues, and go go-karting. We browse leisurely at the library or book store, and we read by bodies of water. We lounge around in the air conditioning and often don’t feel the need to rush anywhere for anything. In short, we enjoy each other and our vacation time.

Running in the summer is so very difficult.

I recently wrote about how hard it is to run in the summer and how easy it is to become discouraged. This is so very true. Summer in Houston, Texas is definitely hot, humid, and downright oppressive … especially in late July and August. Despite the heat, I love living in the Houston suburb of Friendswood, Texas … even in the summer. We are fortunate enough to have easy access to water and recreation, and we have a ball in the summer. I especially enjoy how we all stay up a little later and sleep in longer. I enjoy leaving for a morning run as late as 7:00 a.m. What a treat! I could never leave for a morning run during the school year as late as 7:00!

Daughter Callie (11) doing what she loves.

During the school year I must go to bed by 9:00 p.m. and rise by 3:08 a.m. I must do this so that I can leave for my morning run by 3:50 a.m., get to my home strength training and stretching by 4:25 a.m., and leave for school by 5:50 a.m. so that I can open my school library by 6:15 a.m. Honestly, I’m getting tired just thinking about my soon-to-be schedule. As crazy as that schedule sounds, I wouldn’t have it any other way. During the school year my daughters are involved in numerous after school activities. Once they get home from school we are hitting the homework, preparing for the next school day, eating the dinner I rushed home from work to prepare, and traveling to church, the soccer field, or wherever else the girls need to be that day. I love being involved with all of our family after school activities, but this also means that I don’t have a lot of time for myself after school. I also happen to be a morning person, so getting up extra early to workout makes the most sense to me.

Daughter Brynn (9 1/2) on one of our summer bike trips to the park.

So, I am ready to start my crazy schedule, but I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t miss staying up until 10:00 p.m. cuddling with my family and waking up around 6:30 to leave for a 7:00 a.m. run. I will miss the more relaxed schedules we have in the summer and the lack of homework for the girls and work email and projects for me. I will miss our summer freedom, but I am also excited to start another school year in a job I love and with people I truly care about. I’m excited for my daughter starting junior high school and my daughter starting intermediate school. I’m excited for the upcoming sports seasons, holidays, and milder weather. I am excited for my intensive marathon training, and before I know it, another summer will be here. So, I’ll see some later nights and mornings come Thanksgiving break … so until November 23rd, I’ll be back at the grind.

Plus, this means pumpkin spiced everything is about to hit the stores.

“Maybe we could all stand to be a little more Pollyannish.”

“Maybe we could all stand to be a little more Pollyannish.”

I’ve never noticed this arrow at the entrance to the park. Maybe it’s new or newly painted. At any rate, this morning it told me to, “just keep going, Dendy.”

I recently read a few articles by ambassadors for my beloved hometown marathon, The Chevron Houston Marathon, on the marathon press center website. The overriding theme of the articles was, “just keep going. Don’t fret about your timed place in the race. Do YOUR personal best.” This spoke to me. I ruminated on this for days. Yes, that’s what keeps us going despite self-doubt, fatigue, maybe even pain. It is that need to overcome the tough stuff in order to truly feel alive.

It is about testing the physical and mental limits in order to define the human spirit.

As I’ve often said, runners pick each other up because they are used to falling themselves. What runner hasn’t had a “bad” run? Is there even such a thing as a “bad” run? Yes, yes there is, but I wish we runners would say no. No, every run is a good run because it is a run in the books. But every runner knows this is a Pollyanna view and we all say if a person says that they are simply lying to themselves. For the simple fact is, some runs seem effortless, some seem laborious, some are finished quickly and efficiently, some take forever to end and make us feel horrible about ourselves. I guess those bad runs keep us humble. They keep us grounded. They remind us that running is physically and mentally difficult. It necessitates sacrifice in all areas of our lives and it challenges us in many ways. It is what we do and if it were easy than everyone would do it. These running ambassadors’ articles delivered the message that I needed to read. Isn’t it funny how sometimes it seems as though the universe presents to us what we need the most when we need it the most?

2014 Aramco Houston Half Marathon

While I’ve only been a runner since 2012, there was a time there in 2013 where placing in a race and getting personal records was of utmost importance to me. I remember being so fixated on obtaining a PR of 51:05 or lower in a 10K race in order to qualify to register for the 2014 Aramco Half Marathon and avoid the lottery. I tried for that time and failed in three separate USATF certified courses. This truly devastated me each and every time. I kept trying, though. I ended up with a 49:25 on my fourth try in May of 2013 … just in the nick of time. My dream had come true, I had finally done it, but I couldn’t tell you one thing about that race. I couldn’t tell you what streets I ran down or what the course was like. I have racked my brain and I honestly couldn’t tell you one interesting thing about that race. That’s kind of sad, really. I paid good money for that race and I didn’t enjoy one bit of it.

2015 Chevron Houston Marathon

I continued in that same vein through 2014 and 2015. As I sit here now I honestly still can’t believe I finished the Chevron Houston Marathon in 2015. The FULL marathon! Me? 26.2 miles. I wasn’t able to do it in under four hours as I’d practiced, but my time of 4:33 is still an accomplishment; however, I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t give myself a hard time about that 4:33 race time. However, these days I’ve been working on cutting myself some slack and celebrating my accomplishments. Now I simply wish to focus on staying strong. I want to keep running. Going longer distances means slowing down the pace, and I rather like that. I now think of my long runs as adventures. I’m going to have bad runs and I’m going to have good runs, I just have to keep going. Merriam-Webster defines Pollyanna as : a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything. Maybe we could all stand to be more Pollyannish.

“Summer running is so very difficult.”

“Summer running is so very difficult.”

My favorite early morning long run spot in Friendswood, Texas.

Summer running is so very difficult. I am off of work for the summer, so I always get excited about all of the free time I will enjoy and always have big plans for my running. I am pretty much fine with maintaining my mileage through June and the first part of July, but then something happens after the Independance Day holiday. I begin to feel oppressed by the heat and humidity. Suddenly I have trouble maintaining mileage. Suddenly I feel weak and worthless, inept and inefficient, powerless and paralyzed. I hate those feelings. I start to get REALLY discouraged.

Runkeeper summer long run logs from 2013, 2014, & 2015.

I beat myself up a bit and then, I turn to my Runkeeper log. My Runkeeper log is a lifesaver. On my log I see the mileage and the pace for runs completed at the same point of the summer the previous years. This is where I see that I struggled, but made it out the other side just by not giving up, just by going … albeit going slower and shorter than during better weather conditions. This is always the motivation I need to continue fighting and to go easier on myself. For me, that online running log is like gold. It’s so easy to feel discouraged and to fixate on the present struggle, but I can’t ignore data. That running log is real data. Followed by those rough heat-of-summer-runs are the Fall and early-winter-runs where I started to add mileage in preparation for a marathon. All of that progress those previous years is documented there, and I find solace in this.

I think the most poignant thing that I have discovered about life through running is that sometimes life is tough, unbearably tough, but sometimes, thankfully, it’s rather easy. Often it has little to do with forces conspiring against us and more to do with our attitudes and our perception of experiences. It’s easy to barely notice the easy stuff, but to fixate on the tough stuff. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but I do it constantly. Running has taught me to avoid dwelling on the tough stuff and to try to enjoy the easy stuff, knowing the tough days will come, but they will pass too. Additionally, along with the tough days, easy days will come. They won’t all be easy, but likewise, they won’t all be tough.

My coveted Sweat, Smile, Repeat shirt from Runkeeper.

It’s so easy to have a hard day and to feel hopeless. This, I believe, is why running is so therapeutic for me. It teaches me, regularly, that all things in life worth having have to be earned and that I shouldn’t give up. Runners understand what it’s like to fall down, and I believe this is why we runners are so quick to pick each other up … we’ve been there. RunKeeper is my friend, truly. Runkeeper picks me up when I have fallen down. Thank you Runkeeper for picking me up again. I’m sure you’ll be there for me next summer when I’m in this state again.

“I don’t want my girls to quit anything when it gets hard.”

“I don’t want my girls to quit anything when it gets hard.”

Brynn (9) practicing headers in the back yard.

Recently, I was driving my girls around and from the backseat I overheard my oldest daughter (a soccer player) telling my youngest daughter (also a soccer player) that she “wasn’t good at heading the ball and she just couldn’t do it.” I turned to her and said, “Sweetie, what you mean to say is, ‘I struggle with headers. It’s something I need to work on. Don’t say you can’t do it. Keep working at it.’” This made me think about myself and how rewarding it is for me to run and swim and practice yoga. None of these things were ever easy for me in the beginning, and some of them are more challenging than others.

My beginner attempt at a standing bow pose.

I used to be much more flexible when I was younger, as I suspect is true for most of us, and I lament this fact often at yoga. I also happen to have tight muscles from all of the running and they really need stretching. The yoga is a good activity for my tight muscles, but it is also quite challenging. The good news is that I believe I am slowly increasing my flexibility with each yoga session. Instead of giving up on yoga in the beginning, when I could barely do any poses, I kept going, and I’m starting to feel some success. I want this for my girls too. I want them to work at things that are hard for them and to then feel successful.

Lap swimming at the gym.

Swimming laps is relaxing, but at times I find it difficult to complete my workouts without feeling discouraged. When I swam as a young girl, it seemed effortless … now I find myself exerting quite a bit of effort. More often than not I want to skip my swim workouts or to cut them short, but I press on. Again, just like with the yoga, the only way I will fail is if I quit because it gets hard.

I don’t want my girls to quit anything when it gets hard.

This is how I feel after a long, hard run.

Running was incredibly difficult for me in the beginning, and I still have days where I want to quit because it’s just so hard. I haven’t quit and I won’t quit. I plan to be running, in some capacity, for as long as I can. The difference between a runner and a wannabe runner is simply that the runner keeps going, the wannabe runner convinces himself that he will never be a runner. More than anything else, a runner is motivated by their inner thoughts and motivations. I want my girls to be intrinsically motivated to keep going, even when it’s tough.

I’ve heard my girls utter that phrase, “I can’t” and “I’m not good at that” a few more times since I overheard it on that car ride. I quickly correct them each time in hopes of changing their thought processes. They can achieve so much more if they keep their minds open and stay positive.

“What is it about becoming a parent that makes us instantly feel guilty?”

What is it about becoming a parent that makes us instantly feel guilty?

We feel we are neglecting our children if we spend time on ourselves aside from their activities. I believe parents NEED to find a passion that they enjoy outside of their children, and a form of exercise is the most beneficial.

I found running at the age of 35, and I’ve never looked back. I am careful to tailor my running and strength training sessions around my family’s schedules so that I don’t miss out on their wonderful activities, but I no longer feel guilty about enjoying an activity meant solely for my own enjoyment. I recently saw a wonderful advertisement by Coffee Blocks that really got me thinking about this topic. Parents should carve out their own time for exercise because it will teach children:

1. Not to give up, even when it’s hard.

2. To care about something that improves the quality of life.

3. To not shy away from challenges and to celebrate accomplishments.

4. To cheer others on, and pick others up when they fall.

5. To enjoy feeling strong and inspiring others.

6. To always strive to improve.

7. To care about personal fitness and overall health.

8. To do what’s necessary, even when the motivation is lacking.

9. To be focused and goal-oriented.

10. To test physical and mental limits to define the human spirit.

This is why I say that we parents should resolve to not feel guilty about doing our own things. Something that is for us. Our children will admire us for our passion and strength.

“Why do I hate foam rolling?”

Why do I hate foam rolling?

I certainly have the motivation to run, do strength training, practice yoga, and to stretch, but foam rolling? Somehow I am always able to find excuses to skip foam rolling. I only wish my time with the foam roller could be as quick as it is in this video.

So why do I avoid foam rolling?

1. It hurts.

2. I can’t relax and lie down while doing it.

3. It hurts.

4. I’d rather just lie around.

5. It hurts.

6. It takes time away from my lounging time.

7. It hurts.

8. I’d rather make excuses as to why I can’t do it rather than to just do it.

Here’s what I know foam rolling will do for me:

1. Make my muscles elastic instead of tight.

2. Work out tight, stiff spots.

3. Keep me injury free.

4. Prevent trouble spots from forming.

5. Relieve my muscle tightness much better than stretching alone.

Here’s why I should foam roll:

1. When I’m done I will feel better (just like after a run).

2. It is good for me to do it on myself because only I truly know exactly where it hurts.

3. It is uncomfortable, but doable, much like difficult points on a

run.

So, in summation, the main reason I don’t foam roll enough is that IT HURTS. I also get lazy and after running, doing strength training, and stretching, it’s so easy to just skip it. I know that just like I tendorize meat, I need to roll out those tight spots. Stretching a muscle with a knot in it is rather like stretching a cord with a knot in it … that knot is not going anywhere. I also know that purchasing a foam roller isn’t enough, it turns out I need to actually use it.

“Why did I begin running?”

Why did I begin running?

Last week I tackled the question, “why do I run?” This week I’m asking myself, “why did I start running in the first place?” This question is somehow easier to answer for me. At 35 years old with a husband and a seven and eight year old, I was yearning for something of my own. My hormones were changing and I felt this sense of restlessness. I honestly couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was, but I knew I needed something to fill some deep void. Movement seemed like the obvious answer. I considered running for several weeks before I actually started doing it. It seemed very practical. I could make it fit into my schedule, I really only would need shoes, and I could work at my own pace and make up my own rules.

After much reflection over the past few years during my long runs, I have determined that it was that notion of making up my own rules that really made me stick with running. I am very independent and kind of a loner.People who know me would probably describe me as an outgoing, sociable, people person, but I certainly like to do things my own way and on my terms. Sometimes group dynamics prove to be too much for me. I rather like working alone and feeling complete ownership over my accomplishments.Perhaps this makes me territorial or selfish, but it is how I am. Ultimately, I believe it was this need for autonomy that prompted me to choose running as my method of exercise therapy. I had a very rough start, as I guess most beginning runners experience, but each time I laced up and went on a run I felt myself becoming stronger. With each run I became better. I will never forget the time I was able to complete a three mile run without stopping. It was a monumental day. The rest, as the proverbial saying goes, is history.

“Why do I Run?”

Why do I run?

No words. It’s impossible to explain no matter how hard I try, and somehow I worry that completely putting my feelings into words would cheapen them and make them less magical. How does one explain how it feels to fall in love? This is similar to how I feel about running. The answer to the question, “why do I run?” is quite simply, to feel free. I feel free from barriers, negative thoughts, worry, and apprehension. I feel myself become better with every run. I get closer to finding that inner me that is inherently good and has been there the whole time. I have too many thoughts in my head, and many of them are negative and counterproductive. I run because it gives me a chance to think them and then be done with them. Why do I punish myself with these thoughts? I’m not sure, but after a two hour or longer run I no longer have the energy to think about them. I am done with them … at least until they crop up again from out of the dark recesses of my brain days later. I find that after a long run with the constant thinking it takes a while before those negative thoughts start creeping back in. So, the running helps to stave off the beating up of myself. See a time lapse video of one of my runs here.

Another question I ask myself is, “why write about running?” I think It is because it is very nice to go back to these little blog posts and read what I was on my mind as I ran. As I read old posts I find myself thinking, “wow, yeah good point.” If only I could be that person writing the blog entries all of the time. Imagine … if I were able to keep from all of that negative thinking and just be happy. Be able to put it all together and make sense of it. The running stimulates my creativity and gets all of my cylinders firing. It really is sort of a shame to not put my thoughts onto the page, so that is how this blog was born.

I can never truly answer the question, “why do I run?” All I know is that when I am running and I’m in my zone, I am someone else. I am strong and confident. I am fearless and capable. Courageous and inspiring. Running is my friend. My companion. She is always there to give me what I need. Sometimes it is an easy, comfortable run and sometimes it is a challenging and frustrating run. In short, running fills a void. A void that I can’t even pinpoint. I am better because of running.