Tag Archives: let’s get physical

the spiritual practice of running

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I started writing this post two weeks ago, so now “a couple of weekends ago” = one month. I’m having a really hard time finding the space and energy to sit down and write, but I’m still determined to keep at it.

M and I found ourselves in the car alone a couple of weekends ago after meeting up with his parents halfway between our houses. Our children climbed into their grandparents’ big red truck and headed out for a week away at grandparent camp, and we headed home for a quiet week, just the two of us. We chatted for awhile, I tried to read a bit, we alternated between radio stations, trying to find something decent to listen to. We managed to dial in a public radio station, and I was pleased that the show playing was On Being, and the intro was just starting. The show started, and Krista Tippet introduced the subject of Running as Spiritual Practice, and I was completely hooked.

In the intro I heard Ashley Hicks, co-founder of Black Girls Run, recount a conversation with a fellow runner in a store. She was expressing her nervousness about an upcoming race and he told her something that has stuck with her ever since – the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.

I’ve listened to this episode four times now. I keep going to it when I need to unwind from all the normal things that I plug into my ears – news, politics, social justice issues, the noise of day. As I listened to it that first time, in the car, I kept saying to M – This. This is it. That is exactly how I feel. That’s me. That could be me. Over and over again, no matter the speaker. I could relate to a piece of each of their stories. I took away a thought or a phrase from each one of them, and they’ve been weaving themselves through my head since I first heard them.

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Last week we had record high temperatures, soaring into the 100’s every day – sunny, cloudless, oppressive. It took a toll on my running schedule. Even I’m not crazy enough to run at 5:30pm when the heat index is 115+. Instead of running, I griped about not running. I complained about the heat; I posted pictures of the thermometer in my car each afternoon for emphasis. I griped some more. My car’s leather seats were too hot, my skin melted upon contact. Our show at the Muny was too hot, the thick air hardly stirred.

In the meantime, I was monitoring some posts and keeping up with articles and discussions around the miserable conditions inside our medium security prison in north city. The facility is not air-conditioned, and temperatures inside were recorded as high as 115. Protests were being planned for Friday evening, and I saw the signs that many of my friends were making to carry there. I began to feel the heat in a different way, the kind of relentless heat without respite. I had respite. I’ve always had respite. I have to choose to be hot, to sweat. I can avoid it, or at least minimize it. It’s not a sentence, just a bridge between one comfort and the next. A string of comforts so long that I’ve lost track of where the line starts and ends.

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Mike Stavlund spoke in this piece about spending all day at work, dressed a certain way, trying to look put together and not a mess. Then came his “after work” – a time and space where none of the above mattered. The heat, the sweat, the mess – it was welcome. It was his own space to be as un-put-together as he wished. I get this, this is a big part of what running has become to me.

I spent years and years and years telling myself that I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t feel the pressure to do it – I was healthy-ish, and busy enough with other things. Any drive to be more active was usually tamped down as the day wore on – I was too tired, I was too busy, I should spend more time with the girls, I should clean more, I should tackle those unfinished projects. Too hot, too cold, too wet, too humid, too windy. I don’t have the right clothes, I’m not signed up for the right class, I look ridiculous, I’m not strong enough, I’m not fast enough, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know how to fit it in.

I looked for a sliver of time that wouldn’t really matter. I found it in that “after work”. If I typically leave work around 5:30 and get home sometime before six – what if twice a week I left right at five, stopped at the park on the way home, exercised for twenty minutes, and walked in the door at the same time? It felt like found time. I scheduled it on the calendar. Walking felt too small in this found space. What if I ran? I couldn’t really run, so I ran in 30 second sprints, heaving and panting between them. Bit by bit it grew on me. I claimed this space as my own – my “after work” before the rest of me takes over. I choose this time, at the hottest, at my most tired, stomach rumbling for dinner that is still a couple of hours away.

It’s good in and of itself.

Roger Joslin speaks about the act of putting on running clothes as a ritual. It is similar for me. Putting my bag together in the morning is my promise to myself that I will keep later. When I look up from my desk around five and see the weather, putting on my shoes is the tiny hurdle that I jump over, moving me from waffling on the outside conditions and settling into the weather extremes, whatever form it takes that day.

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I try to schedule these after work runs at least twice a week. In recent years, I’ve also found myself with an open ninety minute block of time on Sunday afternoons while E is at youth group just a few blocks from my favorite park. It’s very tempting to fit my grocery run in during that time, or run some errands nearby, or even just grab a cup of coffee at the shop on the corner and relax for a few. But I’ve grown to love the practice of this longer run on Sundays. Some days I’m able to work in 7-10 miles; other days it’s less, as I meander more and stop at traffic lights.  

Sarah Kasawinah talks of the spiritual practice of running – I will straighten out my arms and think “thank you god, this is beautiful”. I find myself practicing my gratitude on these longer runs. The beauty of the park is overwhelming, the people I pass along the path have become my friends. I whisper gratitude for their presence. I thank my body for its work. I thank my work for challenging me. I thank the sunlight for lighting my path. I thank the seasons for letting me lean into them, I notice the changes each week, and I’m grateful for the chance to see them in real time. From the piece again: My body can do things; my body can be trained to do new things. I express my gratitude that I can practice resting through running. I find a rhythm without a clock or a map and although I’m moving, and sweating, and breathing, I’m at rest. Everything on the inside ends up on the outside. Soon enough I’ll shower it all off, the salt, the dust, the worries, the doubts. 

I am fearless. I can stretch myself. I might not know how to do the work, but I know how to lace up the shoes for it. I step out of my comfort zone as a practice now, a ritual that has changed me in so many different ways. Ask me a question, to do something new and scary, and I’ll list a hundred things I don’t know, a hundred reasons why I can’t. But watch me put on those running shoes anyway. The blessing is outside of my comfort zone. The beauty is in the ritual. The practice is the gift.

chasing the light

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It’s gray here, and icy. We’re under an ice storm warning, and almost everything is closed – all the schools, a lot of the businesses. M and I are working from home, and the girls made their own schedules for the day. E and F are now playing jointly – from 11:40-noon, and I don’t hear any bickering. So far, so good. According to their schedule I have a break at 12:10  – an appointment with a stack of girl scout badges and a hot iron. There seem to be numerous snack breaks on the paper as well. Whatever gets us through.

This image is getting me through at the moment. I’m nearing the point where the light returns again – at least long enough to squeeze in some short runs after work. I’m trying to be patient, to flex those indoor muscles while I wait. It’s paying off, I can feel it. A few weeks ago I mastered a difficult head stand pose; I’ve never had the kind of upper body strength that I have now. Last night I was able to raise and lower myself in a what resembles a vertical, inverted series of crunches, for a dozen times before I had to return to the ground. When I started physical therapy three years ago, I could not touch my toes without bending my knees. I was tasked with tiny exercises for my feet, but I knew that commitment needed to eventually extend to the rest of me. That decision has changed me in ways that I could never have imagined or predicted.

In a few weeks I’ll flip back over, finding the ground beneath my feet again, stretching in new ways for a new year. I haven’t set any specific goals for running or strength training or yoga this year, outside of enjoying the practice. Chasing the light on a regular basis, and introducing it to our home in new ways. Those are my resolutions for this year.

on my counter, lately

I feel like doing a happy dance most days – the increase in daylight hours means I’m back on the running trail again. I was a little worried about the effects of my winter hibernation, but I’m pleased that the indoor work I’ve put in since November seems to have really helped my overall strength and endurance. E has a confirmation class / youth group meeting on Sundays just three blocks from Forest Park, which gives me ninety minutes of late afternoon sunshine to run my heart out. Last weekend I measured the perimeter + those extra blocks at 6.5 miles; if I add in an additional inner route I like, I can get in 10 miles in that stretch of time. Which means I’m hungry these days since I’m running off the rough equivalent of lunch and dinner several times a week.

My dear friend (and running mentor), Sam, reminded me a few months ago that distance running and high intensity workouts would require some additional fueling. This is a good reminder, because I’m not much of a snacker, and I’m pretty set in my eating habits. It has made me more conscious of our weekly menu at home – I’m trying to focus on eating really great dinners (and resulting leftover lunches) rather than throwing in additional snacks to the mix. I’ve noticed that my sweet tooth is almost gone – I’m craving dinners with flavor, grains like farro (which I could eat every night, I think), earthy flavors like mushrooms, and especially bitter greens coupled with citrus. Outside of my pregnancies (which were decidedly not food happy times in my life), I can’t remember having cravings like this. It’s kind of strange, and I wonder if it’s normal. Maybe I’m just getting older – everyone, particularly my doctors these days, like to remind me of that.

I can tend to go off on tangents fairly easily on certain topics, but I’m going to avoid that here, and instead just point to a few interesting articles and radio bits on the subject that have been interesting to me. I feel like cooking and eating and food topics in general can get to be touchy subjects sometimes, so I try to write about it (and photograph it) as a conversation piece on a topic that interests me rather than from a position of knowing all the answers about food. I like to be inspired in the kitchen, and reading and listening to others talk about food does that for me, and maybe it does a bit for you as well. As Michael Pollan puts it, “Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants.” I subscribe wholeheartedly to this mantra, and I build on it with the idea that there’s no reason it can’t be delicious and fun and different every single night.

Run Less, Run Faster – this book really speaks to me at this stage of my life. I’m committed to being healthy and building a good platform moving forward as I age (get old, I know – I get it), but I’m a realist about how I spend my time. I’ve said all along that I don’t care about being an elite runner, but I also know that I like to study and improve and throw 110% into most things I do, so this gives me an avenue to do that at a personal level which helps to keep me engaged, i.e. lacing up my shoes and actually doing it. I also thought the chapter on a runner’s diet was interesting – particularly because it states that a highly varied, plant-based diet (little to no meat) is optimal. (Another great rec from Sam, marathon runner extraordinaire and all around nice gal.)

–Anything by Michael Pollan, but specifically Cooked. The new documentary series makes me sad (again) that we gave up Netflix. However, giving up Netflix also means I actually have time to put these goals into action.

–First Bite by Bee Wilson, as discussed on Fresh Air – I thought this interview was interesting, and I am always fascinated about how babies and children learn to eat, but I’m even more interested in her discussions on how adults can also learn (re-learn) how to eat in healthier ways.

Here are some of the best things we’ve been eating lately:

Stellar Quinoa Burger from Bon Appetit (Feb 2016) – this was definitely a weekend dish, and as many of the commenters pointed out, the burger didn’t hold together very well, but it was SO delicious that I’m determined to figure out a better binder. Or just resign myself to a messy dinner again. I made a spiced tomato chutney and sliced avocados for the top of the burger and it was divine.

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This Blue Apron meal was DELICIOUS. I was all, what? Cheese? Lemons? Together, on a sandwich? And then I ate it. It hit all the crave points and the salad was spot on fantastic and I’m going to serve it at my first dinner party in our new dining room because I basically daydream about dinners with friends in the new space 24-7.

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An old standby, but such a good weeknight dinner, particularly post-workout. M improvised a bit by making bread crumbs with leftover focaccia and it was delicious. Watch the salt on this one – add slowly. I don’t smash it in with the garlic like it says in the recipe.

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And we hosted a table at trivia night last weekend, and I made a crowd favorite, the ginger-chocolate-apricot cookies from here, plus three sandwiches: Prosciutto-Pear-Brie with lightly dressed arugula, Roast Beef (cajun spice, rare, thinly sliced)-Aged Cheddar-Mayo/Dijon Mustard blend on bottom-Mango spread on top-Pickled Red Onions-Watercress, and Egg Salad-Watercress/Arugula blend-Pretzel Roll. They went over well, and we had a few leftover for Sunday lunch.

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Spring is coming – I can feel it, and I’m fueling up and ready. Asparagus and rhubarb are on the horizon…