Tag Archives: happiness

More than the numbers at the finish line

Sometimes a race report becomes a litany of facts and figures, pacing strategies and splits. When I write a race report, I’m usually still caught up in my race day mental state. I actually do math problems in my head as I run, especially in the later miles when I’m trying to figure out when I’ll finish and wondering whether I can push a little harder and achieve a goal… or if I can’t do that, then how little can I miss it by?

The numbers are important to me, I won’t deny that. But a few days after a race, when I’ve had some time to reflect on it and form lasting memories of it, other things come to the fore. Richer, less quantifiable, more embodied impressions of the event and its meaning.

About two weeks before the race, the mile markers went down on the pavement. On one of my daily walks I stopped to photograph several of them. Of course it was this one that I most looked forward to seeing on race day.

That’s mile marker 13 of the half marathon (and incidentally mile 3 of the 5K that would finish at the same location). Only one-tenth of a mile to go from here! Those markers will linger on the pavement for months ahead, and I’ll smile each time I see one.

At walking speed I’ve seen some wonderful things on the trail over the past two months. Sometimes I just have to stop at Morse Creek to look for eagles in the trees. I’ve seen as many as four at a time in this one location, one of several places along the trail where eagles are a frequent sight. Do you see him/her?

This has been a wonderful year for our local wild rose species, the Nootka rose. On race day some parts of the trail were lined on both sides with 10-foot tall rose bushes. Their fragrance was intoxicating. I was happy to back off the race pace just a bit here to enjoy them!

Of course, at the end there is a finish line. This year the finish line looked a little different to me, however. This time there was no special someone waiting for me there. I have no finish line photos of myself. Instead, I ran with a good friend, received my medal from her mom, and accepted cool drinks, food, and congratulations from other familiar faces.

Then it was time for me to hurry back to the finish line and wait for CFL to arrive! This time I got to be the one cheering and shooting photos of his arrival. He was a very happy guy.

 

I was thrilled to pose with him for the iconic medal shot!

Afterwards, of course, there was beer. There was putting our feet up and enjoying the sunshine. We spoke with runners from faraway places. One young couple had come from Munich! There were others from Indiana, Colorado, and Alaska, and other places. We relished their compliments about our beautiful corner of the world, and we shared a few tips about special places they should see before leaving.

In the end, it’s about much more than the numbers at the finish line. It’s about loving the journey, every step of the way.

Cheers!

If there’s a rock on the trail

If there’s a rock on the trail, try to step over it. (If there are lots of rocks, dance your way through them!)

If you trip on a rock, try to regain your balance.

If you can’t regain your balance, try to fall gracefully.

If you go down too fast and hard to fall gracefully, then take your lumps, get yourself up, start running again, and finish the last 0.7 miles of your otherwise-awesome 11 mile trail run.

Then get yourself to the emergency room.

If you follow my running blog, Slow Happy Runner, you’ll know by now that a few days ago I tripped over a rock while trail running and wound up breaking my left arm just below the shoulder. No running or cycling for me for at least 4-6 weeks. Therefore no OAT Run trail half marathon on April 26, no Bikes and Brews group ride in Seattle on May 3. Even my local North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1 is looking iffy.

I’ll know more about the recovery prognosis and timeframe when I see the orthopedist tomorrow, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear. My priority now is to heal both quickly and well. As a lefty, I shudder at the thought of not regaining full use of my left arm. Once the bone has healed, I’ll want physical therapy and lots of it!

My right arm is trembling right now from the unaccustomed effort of pecking out letters on the keyboard one by one. Trying to feed myself is a chore. Cooking is nearly impossible. Brewing a batch of beer is out of the question.

I’m committed to continuing my activity streak, which is now at 461 days. I’m still walking daily, although it’s surprisingly difficult to walk several miles, even on a flat paved surface, while focusing on keeping one arm absolutely still in its sling.

Perhaps the toughest part was looking at all the gaps in my calendar after I removed all my planned training runs, bike rides, and brew days. I caught myself this morning wondering why I should bother getting out of bed if I couldn’t run, hike, ride, or brew. I don’t like thinking thoughts like that! So I know I’ll have to watch my attitude. I still have LOTS of reasons to get out of bed! It’s crucial that I find a way to feel happy in the midst of all of this.

Slow happy living, indeed!

On my walk today I made a point of looking for things that I don’t always have time to see when I’m running or riding. The salmonberries are starting to bloom. So is the evil, invasive, but undeniably beautiful Scotch Broom. Small black-and-white butterflies are suddenly everywhere. Parents and small children are out on the trail enjoying slow, wobbly bike rides. Spring has finally reached the Pacific Northwest!

Maybe I’ll make one simple practice — slowing down to observe — the focus of my coming days and weeks. This setback is temporary; meanwhile I still have my health and my desire to make the most of each day.

What did you do with this precious day of your life? And what will you do tomorrow?

One step at a time!

 

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

A moment’s pause

I was driving home this afternoon after going for a run. It hadn’t been a particularly enjoyable run.

It was chilly — about 45 degrees with a breeze as I started my run. As usually happens when it’s cold, my hands and feet promptly went numb. I was wearing gloves and waving my hands around, so that part wasn’t so bad; my hands warmed up within a few minutes. But it’s tough trying to run on numb feet. It took two and a half miles for my feet to thaw out, and when they finally did, I realized that (as often happens) they’d been slapping the ground rather hard while numb and were now sore.

I’d almost given up and turned around in the first cold mile, but I’d decided that today it was my job to be out there and keep running in spite of feeling less than stellar. I went on and completed my run (from a county park to an Audubon center/park and back, 7.6 miles round trip), patting myself on the back at the end for toughing it out.

On the way home I stopped off to pick up some vegetables for tonight’s dinner. I also grabbed a bottle of fruit/vegetable juice to drink on the way home.

As I left the farm store, I noticed that the sky was quite dramatic. Heading west toward home, I was driving out from under dark gray clouds and into blue sky and broken clouds that were spectacularly lit by the late afternoon sun. I drove by two or three possible locations where I could have stopped to take photos. By this time, I was actually in a hurry to get home because my darned fingers were going numb again from holding the cold juice bottle (if you’re wondering, I have Raynaud’s phenomenon). So for a few miles my inner dialogue went: “Do I stop or do I hurry home to get warm?”

Finally the sky became so beautiful that I had to stop — fingers be damned! I pulled into a downtown parking lot and quickly snapped these shots with my iPhone.

It was a moment worth pausing for, don’t you think?

Some moments are just too good to let pass unnoticed. This is a lesson too easily overlooked, a lesson that demands we practice it, every day.

What did you notice that gave you a moment’s pause today?

October and half of November

Well, that was quick! I knew October was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea I’d be so swept up by events that I wouldn’t have another chance to post here until mid-November. While the living has not been so “slow” lately, it has certainly been happy.

October began with the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival, as documented in my last post. The following weekend was the Victoria marathon. As I’ve written here, I can now and forever call myself a marathoner!

The weekend of October 19-20 we went to Seattle to see the Moody Blues for what I believe to be my 40th time (CFL’s second). They never disappoint, and this was yet another great show by my all-time favorite band. The following evening we attended the 10th anniversary celebration for the local region of the sports car club that I belong to. As a charter member of the region, I was among those who stood up to share memories of our early days. Good times!

Our big travel event for late October was a trip down to Eugene, Oregon for a philosophy conference at which I presented a paper. My paper was a very preliminary attempt to make sense of what I have learned (and continue to learn) about running and personal transformation. I’m playing with the idea of the literal steps and place-to-place movement of my running “career” as a metaphoric movement through the course of caregiving, grieving, and re-creating one’s life anew. My paper was well-received at the conference, but I didn’t get enough feedback to determine which direction I want to go further with this.

Here’s the dilemma I’m mulling over in my mind. I think these life experiences that I’ve had make for a good story, but I want to frame them conceptually as something more than a simple memoir. As a scholar/philosopher, I want to put them in a philosophical context — which would seriously limit the potential audience. At the same time, as a person who has actually had these very real and human experiences, I do want to make them accessible to others — not as a slick “self-help” book, but as some sort of a guidebook for the journey. I’m sure there is a happy medium there between conceptual “navel gazing” and pop psychology, but I can’t quite grasp yet what that middle ground might look like.

So I think I will do some noodling around with alternate takes on writing projects and see whether the work finds the right direction, or at least the direction that it wants to go. Many times in the past, I have begun to write without having a clue where I might end up, and I have learned what I needed to learn in the process of writing. I sense that this will be another one of those times.

That was October. Now, what the heck has happened with November so far? I think I must have exhaled and collapsed!

We’ve brewed two batches of beer — a black IPA for Thanksgiving and an Old Ale for mid-December — and I’m tweaking my recipe for the imperial stout that we’ll brew next week to have ready for New Years.

We keep talking about a hike up the Elwha River valley before winter really sets in, but we seem to be so busy from day to day that we haven’t blocked out a full day for a good, long hike. We haven’t let up on the daily activity streak, however — yesterday was day 317, and I’ve logged just under 1,900 miles of running, biking, hiking, and walking since the beginning of this year.

This time of year, when everything changes suddenly and dramatically from green to gold and then to brown/gray, it can be difficult to escape a sense of the urgency and inevitability of passing time.

The “slow happy” mantra is a reminder to ourselves to appreciate and make the most of NOW. But it can be difficult to resist packing too much into each NOW.

Sometimes NOW needs to be a silent soaking-it-in time/place — even if we only get to be there in our memories or thoughts.

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I’ll try to remember to slow down and pay attention as I go about my busy day.

How about you?

Gray whale photos — Laguna San Ignacio

This morning I downloaded the photos from CFL’s camera and discovered to my delight that he had dozens of photos of me with the gray whales at Laguna San Ignacio. While I was squealing like a teenager (along with all the other women on our boat) he was calmly documenting the entire scene. How thoughtful (and lovable) is that?

So here you go — here are some of the best whale photos from the more than 500 trip photos that we have between us. Tomorrow (or soon, anyway) I’ll write about and post photos of the birds, the camp, the region, and some of the fun things that we did while in San Diego as well.

A mother and calf approach the boat…

Seventeen seconds later per the time stamp on the photos, THIS happens!

Here you can see mom just below the surface, lifting baby out of the water so we all get a better look!

Baby rolls on its side for a better look at us…

And stays on its side for another close approach.

It’s the next day, we’re with another mother/calf pair, and this one seems to be sticking its tongue out at us! (We also saw baleen, but we don’t have any photos of that remarkable “tooth” adaptation.)

Meanwhile the rest of our group, in the other boat, were seeing some nice fluke action…

On the third morning we were out on the water with a group of local children on a school field trip.  What lucky kids! Watching them play with this baby whale was almost as good as being with the whale ourselves.

Eventually the kids moved on and we got to take our turn with this exceptionally outgoing whale. Check out this eye shot!

I was shooting video that morning. The way I was squealing, I’m not sure I want to post those videos, but as you can see I got a shot of my hand touching the whale.

By this time several people had kissed the whale and it was my turn to give it a go. I had no idea I was so far out of the boat when this sequence was taken!

From all the upraised hands in this photo, I seem to have just completed that kiss… but alas, there is no photo of that split second. In any case, I’m glad someone finally got a hand on my life jacket!

By the end of that morning’s trip, we were all totally wrung out!

It was windy out there on the water. I had put gobs of sunblock on my head, which — combined with whale spray and sculpted by wind — produced a truly stunning hair style. But I can assure you, this is a smile of pure and total joy.

I’m so grateful to CFL for his wonderful photos. It brings a new perspective to the whole experience for me… one that I’m pleased and proud to share with you.

Yet these photos, awesome as they are, can only give you an idea of what it’s really like. Life changing? Absolutely! 

A slow, happy, and well-lived life

A dear friend passed away the other day, and I’m remembering him today with a soft, pensive joy.

I didn’t actually know him all that well, but in a certain sense we were close friends… because Charlie was the sort of guy who made everyone around him feel valued and valuable, loved and loving. He was a faculty member at the school where I did my PhD. We always said we’d work on something together but somehow we never did. I knew his name before I started my PhD program; he was one of the “founding fathers” of the discipline of organization development. I was speechless with awe the first time I met him ten years ago.

As I got to know him, my awe decreased while my admiration and love for him grew. How could you not love a ceaselessly smiling elderly man in a red shirt, suspenders, and a baseball cap? His humility, his perception, his empathy, his goofy sense of humor, and his obvious relish for life were all endearing and contagious. He sang and laughed with gusto. In conversation, he looked straight at you with absolute attention. He was completely, utterly present in everything that he did. He led workshops on “the use of self” in consulting, but his life practice was to simply be himself, and in so doing to make space for others to discover, become, and be themselves.

When I first described myself as a slow happy runner, it was almost as an incantation to myself. I didn’t have all that much to be happy about. Yet I was committed to running and to the idea that “slow mileage is better than no mileage,” and I knew from bitter experience that in the worst of times my running had the power to carry me through the pain.

When I met CFL the idea of slow happy living inspired both of us as a vision of a way of life. We’d both hit unanticipated bumps in our lives, and we’d both been jolted into an awareness that life is short and moments are not to be wasted.

CFL can be literally slow — when the calypso orchids are in bloom he can take an hour and a half to walk just one mile of trail. He… counts… every… flower… and comes back the next day to count… every… flower… again. He is very happy in the moments that he spends with those flowers.

I’m not such a slow runner anymore, but I find increasing happiness in the places I can go as I continue to gain strength and agility. Trail running in a beautiful place is the closest thing I have ever found to the sheer, simple joys of childhood.

I define happiness in the Aristotelean sense of “a whole life well-lived.” When we walk, run, bike or hike we are living fully in those moments and finding happiness in them. When we brew beer, we fumble our way from one step to the next with lots of joking and laughter. When we open a bottle of our homebrew four or more weeks after brew day, we are happy, satisfied, and proud of what we have done together and of how wonderful this moment feels. If we can add up enough of those moments, they might just total up someday to a whole life well-lived.

Not that we’re keeping score or anything…

For now I’ll just take the moments, and let the moments accumulate, trusting that as they accumulate I will be living each one as fully as I can.

When we realized that we were both on an activity streak and that neither one of us intends to break it, we told each other we would not be competitive; we would be mutually supportive. Now we each make room in our daily routine for the thirty minutes or more of activity that brings us happiness — whether we walk or hike together or he rides his bike while I run behind him. It’s already becoming something that we simply do each day without fail… because to do so is to live this day: fully, slowly, and happily.

Charlie wasn’t a runner, but I think he would understand and applaud our conscious approach to these moments.

I’ll miss you Charlie… and I’ll never think of you without smiling. You were a truly happy man, an exemplar of happiness, a model of unconditional positive regard, and a most cherished friend. Farewell!

Calypso Orchids