Even from 3,000 miles away, I could hear the wry cackle that always brewed beneath my best friend’s words. I adjusted the phone.
“Oh, you know. Situation normal.”
We laughed loudly.
“Honestly, what’s the right answer?” I asked.
“I think you just gave it,” she replied.
It was April 24th. I had been social distancing since March 7th. ‘I was born for this,’ I joked in the beginning. A classic introvert, I’d spent years coming up with convincing excuses to spend Friday nights at home, alone, mainlining peanut butter straight from the jar. ‘I just feel bad for all of my extrovert friends,’ I added.
Throughout March, a persistent, medium-level anxiety infused even my most treasured pastimes. Like other single, middle-class, white women in their 30s, I obsessively consumed the news, processed carbs, and every quarantine-themed offering on Netflix. As I flipped between State of the Union addresses, my 401k balance, and Kate Winslet with an American accent, I couldn’t decide which was most horrifying.
“I’m loving this time,” one of my most extroverted friends confessed in an email in the beginning of April. “It’s fascinating to me how taking away the option to go places and DO things lets me just be present and focus on all the other stuff I love to do.”
I stared at my computer screen. “Loving this time”? This was the guy who needed to install a revolving door on his guest room. This was the guy who helped convince me to move 3,000 miles away, from New Jersey to Oregon, to enjoy the community he and his wife single-handedly created! What is happening?
A few weeks later, my phone lit up with a text from The Second Most Extroverted Person in Oregon.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m two seconds from drawing a face on a volleyball,” I fired back.
“LOL I’m actually getting used to this,” she replied.
Once again, I stared at the screen. Seriously? What is HAPPENING?
Zoom chats. Virtual marathons. Stress baking. Spring cleaning. John Krasinski.
A roster that would have made me salivate in February now looked a To Do list from hell. (Okay, John Krasinski still looked pretty good.) As I stared at my dog, my lone companion and tragically underpaid therapist, I felt my Queen Introvert crown slide from atop my head, hitting the ground with an unceremonious thud. If a throne crumbles in quarantine and nobody’s there to hear it…
By September, my world was, quite literally, on fire. Record-breaking forest fires raged throughout California and the Pacific Northwest. Entire towns destroyed, lives lost, families displaced. As the air quality in Bend, Oregon reached “hazardous” levels, I cast one last look at my dusty crown and smoke-filled apartment before jumping in the car and flooring it.
“Sooo, all we have to do is get right up there,” I said, pointing my camera towards the mountain looming in the distance.
“Easy,” Stefanie replied, grinning.
I was already breathing heavily from the first two miles. This central Oregon trail clearly had no intention of showing any mercy.
While the trailhead sign passively proclaimed the summit was six miles away, it didn’t specify the elevation gain during those six miles: 4,900 feet. 490 flights of stairs. Half of which was loose sand and lava rock, meaning you took at least two steps for every one step forward.
As Stefanie and I slogged up South Sister mountain this past Saturday, pausing often to catch our breath, I started singing Gnarls Barkley. After that, Maroon 5.
“Songs keep popping in my head,” I explained, realizing that this always happened when I wanted to separate my body from my mind.
Eventually I fell silent, but there was one song that just wouldn’t quit, even after we summited: Justin Timberlake’s “The Hard Stuff.”
Anybody can be in love on a sunny day Anybody can turn and run when it starts to rain And everybody wishes all the skies were blue But that ain’t the kind of love I’m lookin’ to have with you So give me the hard stuff
The kind that makes you real I’ll be there when the storm comes ‘Cause I want the hard stuff When they’re throwin’ sticks and stones We can cut each other to the bone I’m never gonna give you up ‘Cause I want the hard stuff (hard stuff) Yeah I want the hard stuff (hard stuff, yeah)“
Sure, my big toenails were currently undergoing a messy divorce with my feet, but you know what was really hard? Actual divorce. Sure, that celebratory beer was now looking to make an encore performance, but you know what was more nauseating? Telling everyone I loved in New Jersey that I was moving 3,000 miles away. Sure, my head was throbbing thanks to a faulty alarm and zero caffeine that morning, but you know what was even more painful? Losing my first real mentor to cancer.
I welcomed pain complemented by sweat, jokes, and lukewarm water. The kind of pain whose reward was almost always immediately apparent.
“I feel so lucky that I have strong enough legs to carry me up a mountain,” Stefanie mused, as if she could hear my thoughts.
“I know it sounds morbid,” he had begun, “But sometimes during a hard run, I’ll think about what it would be like if I couldn’t do this.”
As Stefanie and I slipped and stumbled our way back down the mountain, we gave a breathless hello to a handsome, wiry man perched on a dusty boulder. He, like everyone else, was taking a much-needed break during the final, grueling ascent.
“Not bad for a 45-year-old with two broken hips,” he grimaced.
“Wow,” I replied. I hope he doesn’t mean they’re broken right now. “Yeah, this is probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done!”
“I’ve done harder,” he said.
“Don’t say that!” I teased. “We were feeling really good about ourselves!”
As we continued downward, I thought again about the subjectivity of “hard.” As the above AllTrails reviewer so aptly put it, “Super hard for one person might be pretty doable for another.”
“Stef, do you know I’m closer to that guy’s age than I am to yours?”
Stefanie looked confused for a moment.
“Yeah,” I went on. “You’re 30, I’m 38, he’s 45.”
And it doesn’t matter at all, I thought.
Even on a trail notoriously described as, “THE HARDEST F@^*#*@% THING I’VE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE,” there were people of all ages passing us, including mountain goat-like runners shouting gleefully as they slid on piles of lava rock, “This is actually better than if it were all sand!”
So what really makes something hard? Is it simply a matter of perspective?
And once we achieve that higher perspective, do we always maintain it? Does scaling one mountain mean you’ve, in essence, scaled them all?
Or do we simply return home to a newer, hopefully slightly improved version of ourselves, now ready to find a taller mountain to climb?
What’s the “hardest” thing you’ve ever done? Would you do it again?
There it was again. Another toned, beautiful, successful woman detailing her daily routine. It always ended the same way.
“…a cup of tea, or hot water with lemon.”
I picture these women in their perfectly matching, unstained leisurewear (“pajamas”? Ha. As if.), long, slender legs tucked easily under their perky bums, one elbow draped over the arm of a modern yet cozy Pottery Barn sofa.
The 2.5 children and Golden Retriever are nestled in bed, and her tall, square-jawed husband kisses the top of her subtly highlighted head before settling in at the other end of the couch, adjusting the glasses that somehow turn him from Jude Law into even sexier Jude Law.
On a particularly rough day, Tea Lady still pours her herbal tonic, but instead of picking up the latest [insert impressively topical author here], she turns to Jude Law and says,
“Babe, want to watch a rom-com tonight?”
In my mind, these are The Women Who Drink Tea at Night.
Where are all the Women Who Drink (Too Much) Wine at Night? Are they, like me, wise enough to sign off of social media and devote their attention solely to Netflix and the contents of their freezers?
In a year that’s felt like someone took an adult coloring book and started scribbling WAY the hell outside the lines -and not in a cute, “Oh, look how creative Johnny is!” but more, “Oh, f!&#, we’re gonna have to get this kid tested” kind of way- I’ve decided to make 2020’s pit of despair all about me.
As each month passes and some new, unimaginable tragedy strikes, I sink a little deeper into the hungry jaws of helplessness. In the absence of anything certain, my anxiety fills the gaps with Worst Case prophecies. In this dark space of unknowing, my default setting takes over. Self-doubt and her cousin, self-loathing, seep through the walls of my subconscious, doing that thing they do best.
If only I drank Earl Grey at night.
Tea Woman knows what to do. Tea Woman knows how to ward off demons with a good night’s sleep and breakfast smoothies. Tea Woman has all the answers.
If I lost weight. If I started meditating again. If I made another list. If whoever I am now could just become whoever sips tea, these feelings would find their way from “frightening” to “freedom.”
I pour another glass of wine and stare ahead, bleary-eyed. “Captive,” a new Netflix series about hostage victims, flickers onscreen.
I mean… I guess it could be worse.
What has your 2020 coping strategy looked like? More “Long Island Iced Tea” than Celestial Seasonings finest? …No? Just me?
When I moved to Bend, Oregon in June 2019, I knew there’d be an adjustment period. (See: #NeverInNewJersey Round 1 and Round 2.) What I didn’t realize, but probably should have given that I lived in New Jersey for 37 years, was that my people prefer clothes more than your average West Coaster that adjustment period would continue well into my second year in Bend.
#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT H – Finders Keepers…Or Not
These photos are just from this summer – that’s how common this central Oregon phenomenon of being…what’s it called…honorable…is. Lost glasses, keys, jackets, and water bottles are constantly placed in logical, visible spots, clearly with the hope that their owners will return. I’ve even seen a $200+ bike helmet.
And things like this [on a local community Facebook page] are far from uncommon:
#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT I – BEHOLD ALL OF OUR RULES…Or Not
I just love this sign so much. This is where my mind went as soon as I read it:
A group of stodgy, suited stiffs enters a windowless conference room, each taking a seat around a long, mahogany table.
“THIS MEETING OF RULE SETTING FOR CENTRAL OREGON IS NOW IN SESSION,” the woman at the head of the table booms, while her assistant jots down her every word with quill and ink. “RULE ONE: NO ONE MUST PARKETH AT ANY NATIONAL FOREST SITE WITHOUT A PASS.”
“RULE TWO: NO ONE – I REPEAT NO ONE – MAY MAKETH A PEEP ONCE THE CLOCK STRIKES TEN P.M.,” another councilperson adds.
“RULE THREE: CANINES MUST BE KEPT ON A LEASH AT ALL TIMES,” a third man continues, frowning. “AT. ALL. TIMES!” He clears his throat. “You know…except if the sweet little boofalicious doodle-y wonderfulness gets hot and needs a wittle drinky poo for his wittle mouth oh yes who’s a good boy he is yes he is.”
See what I’m saying? So. Great.
#NEVERININEWJERSEY EXHIBIT J – No, Really. It’s lawlessness here.
Look at these rogue cows, on hiking trails, giving zero f*@%s:
Not unlike these these cows:
This parking spot shouldn’t be allowed:
This beach-all-to-myself definitely shouldn’t be allowed:
And who does this frog think he is?
#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT K – DON’T YOU PEOPLE WORK?
I noticed something strange as soon as I moved to Bend last June. No one seemed to follow a schedule. “It must just seem that way,” I told myself. “Because it’s a tourist town.”
But then I started seeing lots of these:
That’s right. Mid-week yard sales. They’re everywhere out here. They’re everywhere, and I don’t understand. In New Jersey, yard sales happen on Saturdays and Sundays. You know. When people are…available.
#NEVERINNEWJERSEY EXHIBIT L – That family inside a new picture frame? They live here.
I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and did a double-take. “Wait. Do I know these people?” I thought.
I had to stare at the gorgeous family for several long seconds before realizing it was an advertisement.
Do you live in a place that catches you off guard? Are these examples surprising or commonplace to you?
Tomorrow is Dakota a.k.a. Rainbow Cloudjumper’s birthday!
If you’re familiar with Dakota and his world-class blog, Traipsing About, you know that there’s a 98.7% chance he’s out scaling big rocks or van life-ing somewhere spectacular to celebrate the occasion.
Which is why I thought I’d give him a present that won’t spoil:
A BIRTHDAY BLOG POST!
While I would have loved to have filled this post with a series of Photoshopped images, placing Rainbow Cloudjumper in a number of compromising positions, I thought I’d try something different.
I have a story involving Dakota, a story so bizarre and cool that you just have to read it to believe it – and even HE hasn’t heard it yet. I kept meaning to share it with him and [his spectacular wife] Chelsea, but it just never came up.
I was willing to do anything and everything to see this dream through. Since I had the practical side locked down (I am a project manager, after all) -the saving, the lists, the planning- I decided to delve into the metaphysical side. Could creative visualization, meditation, and energy work help? I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right?
I started listening to metaphysical podcasts, which eventually led to daily meditation. I immediately began having all kinds of…interesting…experiences. Things like the perfect name for my thesis project would hit me in the middle of a meditation. I’d set an intention to find a friend on a similar journey and POOF, she’d appear.
You see, something happens when you start believing in the scientific fact that we’re all just wiggly bits of energy – and that that means we have far more influence over our surroundings than what seems possible.
Fast forward a few months to August 2018, and I was so giddy about the remarkable results of this energy work that I decided to do something REALLY crazy. Something called Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique (QHHT) – basically a two hour-long hypnosis that can unleash insights from your higher consciousness.
I know. F&@&% weird. Stay with me. (And delight in the fact that, by now, Dakota is probably wondering what the hell is going on. Is this a birthday post or the confessions of a clinically insane -but very cute- blogger?)
You can read more about the experience here, but in a nutshell: that shiz was craaaaay. Crazy cool! What most people don’t realize about hypnosis is that you’re fully conscious and aware the whole time, just deeply, deeply relaxed – almost like the twilight feeling between waking life and dreaming. (You also typically get an audio recording of the session, as I did in this case.)
There are several things I didn’t mention about this experience in my earlier blog posts – because they didn’t make any sense at the time. Towards the end of my session, lying down on a comfy bed with a slight breeze wafting through the window, I suddenly giggled and blurted,
“Oh! That’s the rainbow!”
What rainbow? Who cares about rainbows? part of my mind wondered.
“It’s a rainbow. It’s from New Jersey to Oregon. The wholllllle country,” I smiled, my mind’s eye picturing a map of the United States, with a giant, colorful rainbow starting in New Jersey, my home state, and landing in Oregon – a place I’d visited only once, nine years earlier.
“One giant rainbow,” I said again, a goofy grin plastered on my otherwise serene face.
My session ended a couple of minutes later, and I spent weeks wondering what the hell that could have meant. While I’m big on signs and symbols, rainbows had never played a significant role in my life.
The following month, I was invited by a friend to a small, five-day gathering in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, organized by Dakota’s wife (who I didn’t know at the time). “A Vegan Creatives Retreat,” they called it, and asked me to present my Masters thesis to a group of seven fellow vegans. My thesis was about conscious consumerism on the path to financial independence. It had first been inspired by discovering the blogging genius, Mr. Money Mustache – someone who, despite his cult following, not many people had heard of.
Nervously, I walked into the beautiful, gray-shingled home where I’d be spending the next four nights, knowing only one person. In the kitchen, an attractive couple with mega-watt smiles greeted me.
“Hi! I’m Dakota and this is Chelsea.”
After a minute of niceties, Dakota said,
“We’re from Bend.”
My jaw dropped. Bend…Oregon?
That night, using a silly letter code system on the back of a cereal box, we were each given “unicorn names.” Dakota’s name? Rainbow Cloudjumper.
It didn’t hit me until later that night, as I went to bed. Holy forking shirtballs. He’s the rainbow.
Over the next few days, diligently sticking to our unicorn names, Rainbow and I discovered all kinds of uncanny overlaps in our interests, including the fact that he not only knew of Mr. Money Mustache, but was friends with him!
When the retreat was over, I shed a few tears as I bid goodbye to my seven new best friends. Something about that handful of days made my dreams feel more poignant; I realized just how deeply I craved a heart-centered, creative, nature-filled life, yet it still felt worlds away. Moreover, I was afraid I’d never hear from any of them again. (Ah, the never-ending after effects of childhood bullying.)
Dakota, being the Friend Ninja and Inadvertent Life Coach that he is, reached out to me just a couple of days later. He texted a stunning picture of Bend, Oregon. “Move west already!” he wrote.
These kinds of encouraging messages, from a guy who barely knew me let alone my deepest desires, filled the coming months, as did the undeniable signs from the universe. Thanks to them, by June 2019, I had the courage to quit my job, sell all of my stuff, and drive across the country to a town I’d never so much as visited.
Just a mile down the road from Dakota and Chelsea, Bend was instantly the home I didn’t realize I’d been dreaming of my entire life.
Today marks exactly one year here, and I still pinch myself every day.
So thanks, Rainbow – now you know why I can’t help but continue to call you that. I hope your birthday is filled with the kind of awe-inspiring magic that you bring to the world!
“YES. That’s IT!” I thought, putting down the newspaper clipping.
I gazed around my bedroom, its dusty rose walls matching my new 15-year-old style: shabby chic. My artwork -mostly sketches of my favorite actors- filled the walls, and next to my desk, where I spent long hours writing fan fiction, sat a collection of intensely sincere CDs by singer-songwriters I worshipped.
On top of the stack was Jewel’s Pieces of You, an album I listened, warbled, and cried to for roughly 99.98% of 1997. Which is probably why my dad thought to hand me that particular news clipping, featuring an interview with Jewel herself. The title quote was, “Do I have to be angry to be intelligent?”
I thought back to my 8th grade class, who, at the end of the school year, had voted me “Most Likely to Host QVC.” As a sensitive, straight-A student who’d never once thought about peddling jade brooches while sporting a fake tan, I was flummoxed.
“Why?” I finally worked up the nerve to ask my classmates.
“Because you’re always smiling!” they replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I inwardly scoffed. I shared a home with not one, but two, bonafide geniuses, and while I never reached their intellectual heights, being smart was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
By the time Jewel’s quote found its way into my hands a year or two later, I felt completely misunderstood. Just because I was smiling and non-threatening, did that automatically make me clueless and dopey?
“PREACH!” I wanted to cry as I read the article.
Jewel, a fellow blonde who, like me, loved art, animals, nature, and poetry, had had a similar struggle in being taken seriously. And while I use the word “struggle” loosely, fully acknowledging the privileged place from which I write, this issue has resurfaced in my life time and time again.
In fact, by the time I was an adult, I had almost entirely stopped reading -once my favorite pastime- because the books I wanted to read weren’t the “smart” ones.
After what felt like a brief hall pass to study creative writing in college, I had to choose a career. I wanted to work on screenplays, but was that “smart”?
So, naturally I picked a career that looked intelligent, even if it was laughably opposed to the artistic, spiritual, independent person I actually was.
During my 20s and 30s, not a single person genuinely questioned that choice. In fact, it was usually admired and celebrated – or completely ignored because it was sooo obviously the right decision. Just like going to college, having a steady corporate job meant you were smart. And smart, much like extroversion and facial symmetry, wins.
It was 2011, and I was now a married homeowner (more “smart” decisions). I called it “Go Guilty Pleasures!” and aired all of my secrets – all of the embarrassing, ridiculous, wonderful things that I liked just because they made my heart sing. ‘NSync, Glee, reality TV, dogs in costume, slap bracelets… I had a lifetime of skeletons to reveal.
Some things just scream, ‘Winner!’
My 27th birthday, at Medieval Times, natch.
The blog may have seemed over-the-top silly (and, er, probably still does), but that was the point. I was on a mission to prove, if only to myself, that “smart” and “silly” weren’t mutually exclusive. And if they were? Well then, dammit, I was choosing silly.
Still, though, a part of me was haunted by this notion that I’d never seem intelligent because I was too busy having fun. In 2016, when I became vegan and enrolled in a Humane Education Masters program (so I could seem smart about my new lifestyle), I spent two and a half years studying the world’s atrocities – from human rights to environmental protection to animal rights.
More often than not, I felt enraged by the suffering of my fellow beings and the planet we shared. I wanted to cry and scream and tell people how their choices were impacting ev-e-ry-thing.
But I didn’t.
In biting my tongue, I felt like a failure. I began to wonder if my entire life philosophy -the Golden Rule- needed revisiting.
“My brother called the other day and, for the first time ever, it’s like he read the news. He was PISSED [about the state of the world],” a friend recently said. “I was like, ‘Finally!'”
I stayed silent, wondering for what felt like the ten thousandth time: Do we have to be angry to be intelligent? By now, my age-old question had grown to include: What role does anger have in our lives and in our advocacy?
Is it okay to allow anger to fuel us? Where is the line? Do we break into animal labs and set executives’ houses on fire? What about lecturing our friends?
Or is anger simply a step on the journey? One we use to help pry open our own eyes so that we can better understand ourselves and the plight of others? If someone chooses to operate -and address others- from a place of anger, is this the easy choice or the hard one?
When does anger stop being inspiration and start becoming toxic?
For instance, how would you have reacted to this post had I come in guns blazing, instead of telling a story and then posing the above series of questions?
I get it. When things are f&#*ed up, anger is the first choice. It’s the natural choice. Sometimes we need to light shit on fire (IN THE METAPHORICAL SENSE, people). Anger can inspire change and the courage to point out injustices. But I’m not convinced that anger is the final stop. After all, anger may help shine a light on society’s faults, but will it fix them?
Again recognizing my limited and wildly privileged perspective, I can tell you that working through and past anger is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – and I do it every. Single. Day. If I can’t? I try to avoid public gatherings and conversation topics entirely.
Because I think you deserve better from me.
Because I think my campaigns deserve better from me.
And because I believe we all deserve to live from a place of peace.
I think we should all take a moment to reflect on how far my PowerPoint skills have come since this.
This is the part where I could have put up photos of B-Man in drag, but I’m a good friend.
And it looked like not much had changed: HE WAS STILL INSIDE MY HEAD. So, I’ll let him cover the quarantine goals category, and I’ll gladly move on, my party hatslap bracelet firmly in place. (Although it’s worth noting that I already had the rest of this post written as part of my original draft, including the retro B-Man shout-out.)
Acquiring new skills seems kinda hard, anyway. Besides, if these are end times (and who says they aren’t?), what are the most marketable skills we already possess? How can we prove to our quarantine comrades that they shouldn’t eat us first? I’ll take a crack at it, and then I want to hear from you!
Go Jules Go’s Quarantine Survival Skills
1. …give fantastic compliments. Did you know you’re the only person I write this blog for?
Last year, I got some really good phenomenal advice – which is generally how I like the transaction to occur. You, Oh Wise One, give advice, and I, inferior and questioning little human, smile and nod.
“You have to remember that where you are right now is exactly the right place from which to teach,” this Sage Advice Giver said. “There is someone out there at this very moment, experiencing what you did a few months or years ago, and they need to hear from you, just a step or two ahead.”
“Huh,” I replied, nodding, still not completely convinced.
“Think about it,” Ms. Guru continued. “If you had just held your first basketball and Michael Jordan announced he was your new coach, what would happen? Everything would sail over your head because he’s like 14 feet tall you’d have no idea what he was talking about, you’d be intimidated, and you’d probably throw in the towel thinking how you’d never get to his level.”
“Mmm,” I said, starting to catch on.
“We need coaches and mentors who are still on the same playing field. There are people who need and want to learn from you, right where you are, just as you are, today.”
And there it was.
In that instant, everything changed.
I, Go Jules Go, lover of chipmunks and pouring the last, saltiest, kettle cooked BBQ potato chip crumbs down her pie hole whilst googling Stephen Colbert’s astrological sign, was reborn.
Fast-forward to present day, when one of my good friends mentioned that she’s toying with the idea of running a marathon in 2021.
“I have no doubt in my mind that you could do it with far more ease than you think,” I texted.
“Well that’s good to hear! My only goals would be to finish and not die,” she replied.
“You have the best attitude and strength, physically and mentally [of anyone I know]. It’d be a done deal,” I went on, feeling only slightly guilty about the blatant peer pressure.
As we went back and forth, I began to think of all of the things I wished I had known about marathon running several years ago, and how great it would have been to have received that advice from, well, someone like me. Someone whose goal was also to “finish and not die.” Someone who didn’t run track growing up, who didn’t (and still doesn’t) understand the phrase “zero drop sneakers,” and whose childhood influences were more, “Let’s watch TGI Friday and order more cheesy breadsticks” than, “What do you want in your green smoothie?”
When I ran my first two marathons in 2014, my life was a Made for TV Special: divorce, job lay-off, new romance, new failed romance, moving back in with my parents (…at age 32…). I’d never run before and, fueled by chaos and cute men, I went too far, too fast, quickly paying the price with an I.T. band injury.
While I completed two marathons, it was ultimately painful and punishing.
Because I never really loved myself.
When I decided to pack up and move across the country in 2019, I knew everything would be different. I would run again, taking advantage of central Oregon’s outdoor splendor, and it would be good.
Last fall, settled in my beautiful new home, I began training in earnest with one simple goal: to make this the most painless experience possible.
Now, after having just run three marathons in nine days sans injury (chyeah I did just say that), I’m happy to report: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. So let’s do this.
Expect to have 14 different races in one marathon.
Running 26.2 miles is kind of like watching Tiger King. You are now on an emotional rollercoaster full of ups and downs you simply could never have prepared for.
SLOW DOWN, Buck-o.
On race day, you’ll be raring to go. Go slower than you can even stand to (and then silently judge all of the jackals who take off like their race bibs are on fire). Your body will thank you later. Like on mile 23 when all you want to do is find a bean bag chair and a box of wine.
DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
I’ve been known to eat Nutter Butters and falafel wraps before and during long runs. But please don’t do anything weird on race day. Don’t try new food or compression socks or chaffing sticks or, god forbid, shoes.
Incorporate as many plant-based meals into your diet as possible.
This will reduce inflammation and help your body recover in ways you can’t begin to imagine. (Don’t believe me? Check out The Game Changers.) I was vegan for almost four years before running three marathons in nine days last month, and that never would have happened without a plant-i-ful diet.
Miles 20 to 26.2 won’t kill you, but you might want them to.
You’ll never hate the fraction 2/10 more in your life. No amount of physical training can prepare you for those final miles. You have to want it, mentally. Unlike U.S. banks, you have to think, “THERE IS NO BAIL OUT PLAN.”
And most importantly, know…
You don’t have to ‘look’ or ‘feel’ like a runner (whatever the hell that means) to crush a marathon.
Just. Start. Running. You WILL have shitty training runs. You won’t want to leave the house. Do it anyway. Because, often when you least expect it, you will also have AMAZING runs. You will feel highs you didn’t know you could feel without potential jail time.
As we neared the sprawling, single-story, brick building, the butterflies in my stomach morphed into fire-breathing dragons, clawing at my insides, tearing through my heart, desperate to escape. My skin felt clammy and I started to sob.
“Please don’t make me go!”
My mom turned her right blinker on, steering our blue Dodge minivan towards the dead end street just before Terrill Middle School.
“Just calm down. Breathe. We’ll take a minute here.”
We were living in some nightmarish middle school version of Groundhog Day. Each morning was the same. We’d agree to drive through Burger King for an egg and cheese “Croissan’wich,” and as I lost myself in the familiar comfort of melted American cheese and processed pastry, I’d feel certain I could make it to my 6th grade classes without incident.
I can’t remember what triggered the first panic attack. In fact, I don’t remember anyone even using the phrase “panic attack” to describe what was going on. All I knew was that I was a chubby, sensitive, soccer playing 11-year-old, who, every time she approached her new middle school, succumbed to sheer terror.
My parents and the well-intentioned administration tried everything to get me to go to class. They sent me, a gold star-covered Honor Roll student, to the principal’s office (where I was both impressed by his en suite bathroom and horrified that he seemed to have used it right before I was sentenced to sit with him). They made me take IQ tests that I was sure I failed, arranging red cubes on a counselor’s tiny desk.
Finally, they made me sit in the guidance counselors’ conference room, where they closed the heavy tweed curtains so I couldn’t look out onto the courtyard at the students passing through windowed corridors, oblivious to the girl trapped by her own fear. I wasn’t allowed to read, write, draw, nap, or do anything except sit in that empty room. They thought if they took away my one true love –books– I might finally relent.
“Ha,” I thought. “I’ll sit here until I can vote if it means I don’t have to walk those halls…with those jerks…”
The prior year, I had had my first real encounter with The Mean Girls. The group who’d once been my ride or die squad turned on me for reasons I couldn’t fathom at the time, going so far as to arrange a fake shopping date to buy the latest toy, only to leave me standing in the store, alone, next to an empty shelf where the toys had been (the girls had bought them all before I showed up). Later, I realized my gap-toothed smile, big belly, and questionable fashion choices didn’t jive with their burgeoning popularity.
My parents sent me to therapy, where I also sat silently, daring the therapist to figure out what was wrong with me. How could she know what I didn’t even know? The entire year unfolded like this, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been on my parents.
“You have to cut this shit out and go to school!” my father, a well-respected educator himself, shouted one night after finally snapping. He threw something down the hall in my general direction while I cowered on the ground. I’d never seen him lose it before. Didn’t they all know that if I could just fix it, I would?
My heart goes out to that little girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. After having several panic attacks in my adult life, I finally realized that the source of my fear was simply the fear itself. Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack knows that you’ll walk through fire before facing the ‘thing’ that triggered the panic in the first place – however irrational that may look to the outside world. Most adults describe the feeling as “being sure [they were] going to die.” How the hell is an 11-year-old supposed to cope with that?
That year shaped the rest of my young life. Thanks to those unrelenting panic attacks, I missed most of 6th grade and attended only two hours of high school. When I was 16, I got my GED and started working full-time at a local independent bookstore.
Now, as every corner of the world swirls with uncertainty, grief, and fear, my inner 11-year-old nods, holding out her small hand, wanting to offer the only comfort she can.
I know how you feel.
If you’re looking for courage, camaraderie, and/or inspiration during these unprecedented times, I hope you’ll consider joining me live this Friday, May 1, 2020 (5:00-6:00pm PST / 8:00-9:00pm EST) for a free, interactive Zoom seminar!
Two dozen ice cubes hit the bottom of six water bottles. I paused halfway, switching hands, my left fingers already numb from reaching into the ice bin for the eighth time.
Uncle Jesse’s collar rattled as he pranced from paw to paw, letting out a low whimper every few seconds. His evangelical nature revealed itself every time I began our sacred ritual: Water bottle…yes…backpack…YES…leash…YES!…sneakers…PRAISE JESUS YESSSS!!!!
I wonder if he knows what he’s in for today, I thought, pulling a package of tortillas from the fridge.
With water bottles filled, I turned to sustenance, folding a few falafel balls into a wrap for me, and a sweet potato into one for Uncle Jesse. It was getting harder to believe the entire world was on lockdown, with Mother Nature beginning to show her sweeter side, beckoning restless souls to pack a picnic or meet some friends for happy hour around a sun-soaked table.
OH GOD I MISS THIS.
I checked the weather one last time. High of 60 with “abundant sunshine.” I was still getting used to the latter. Springtime on the east coast usually brought warmer temperatures by mid-April, but also a lot more rain. Bend, Oregon, on the other hand, still saw frigid nights and little precipitation.
As I packed my hiking bag, I went the extra mile (pun sooo intended), grabbing an empty shopping sack and stuffing spare socks, a shirt, Band-Aids, an extra hat, and a hand towel into it. I cast a glance at the calendar where I’d been counting down the days until this moment.
8 miles @ Maston
Crazy hilly 13 miles @ ?? Butte
Easy 5 miles @ Shevlin Park
18 Miles @ Tumalo Reserve incl. ?? Butte (seriously does it have a name?)
Every square of 2020 was filled with pencil scribbles tracking my progress, even though the Bend Marathon, originally scheduled for April 19th, had been canceled in March, courtesy of COVID-19.
As a final step, I put two extra sandwiches, water, and a can of Coke into a cooler bag. I clicked my race belt on, grabbed my hat, and put on my dusty and trusty Altra trail running shoes.
“Allons, mon chien!” I declared, tossing Uncle Jesse’s leash and my ear buds into the shopping bag as we headed outside. Neither four months of marathon training nor eighteen months on Duolingo French would be in vain!
I took a gamble on a new trailhead about 25 minutes east, near the Badlands, and landed in an empty parking lot just before 10:30am. Scoooooore. It was rare to find an empty trailhead on a Saturday morning, even during a pandemic. While a huge part of me felt guilty every time I got in the car to find a quiet place to run, it still felt safer to pick an open, abandoned trail than play ‘dodge-a-pedestrian’ while running on my neighborhood sidewalks.
Before COVID hit, I’d spent countless hours trying to find the least-used trails in a 30-mile radius – research that now paid off handsomely.
I moseyed over to the trailhead map, popping my ear buds in and snapping my water-filled backpack around my chest. Delighted to find a network of trails long enough to cover 13+ miles (meaning I wouldn’t have to do more than two loops on the same trail), I started my audiobook, locked the car, and began jogging. Uncle Jesse eagerly darted from side to side, making sure no stick went un-sniffed.
The wide, sandy trail was packed down, mostly flat, and totally deserted. A cool breeze wafted by as if I’d placed an order. Wow. Okay. This will work. I’d spent so many training runs trudging through thick sand, narrowly missing mountain bikers, and/or getting snowed on, that this felt like running inside Darren Criss’s smile while petting puppies.
The first hour flew by, even if my pace was nothing like flying. I was 6 years older and 2030 40 (thanks, COVID-15) pounds heavier than the last time I thought I could run marathons.
But I was also four years plant-powered and properly trained now, with a rock-solid faith in both my legs and my mental fortitude. I was a week ahead of schedule [for the originally scheduled Bend Marathon on April 19th], so if I couldn’t make the six hour cut-off time today, I’d simply try again next weekend, with no one the wiser.
While I may have missed the adrenaline rush of cheering squads, the aid stations, and the course markings of an official race, I didn’t miss the hard pavement, early start time, or collective anxiety, which usually peaked 20-30 minutes before race time in the form of mile-long port-a-potty lines. I especially didn’t miss the well-intentioned, but severely misguided “Good job!” and “You got this!” cries of much faster runners as they whizzed by.
Hour two was harder than the first, as I began to realize there was no shade whatsoever; parts of the trail grew sandier while my backpack seemed to grow heavier. In hell, a mountain of sand and nothing but warm Gatorade and Donald Trump speeches will await me. Around the same time, I accepted that I would chafe in new, exciting places, despite wearing entirely road-tested gear.
I stopped just before hour three under a rare, shady tree. Uncle Jesse stared at me with big, questioning brown eyes. I pulled out our wraps and we ate them quickly. The other bonus to jogging vs. running long distances seemed to be that I could eat whatever I wanted without gastrointestinal distress. GU? Electrolyte chews? Energy bars? You can keep ’em! On all of our longer training runs jogs, we had simply stopped at the halfway mark and eaten sandwiches.
The high desert sun grew more intense, though there was still a strong breeze, and our water grew warmer as we neared hour four, running along a dreary stretch of power lines. I made the executive decision to turn back to the car for more water, cursing inwardly as my toe collided with another lava rock hidden in the thick sand.
“And the making of a hero…,” the British narrator continued on my audiobook, Natural Born Heroes. Though I’d normally hang on Christopher McDougall’s every word, I tuned in and out, distracted by trying to retrace my steps.
Just as we neared what I was (…pretty…) sure was the path to my car, I spotted a man and his dog – the first person I’d seen all day. Guhhhhh. I did an about-face and started off in the opposite direction. The unexpected detour meant it was almost five hours in before Uncle Jesse and I reached Suba-Ruby.
If we’re not even close to 20 miles, I’m calling it, I thought, defeated. I glanced at my Fitbit. 21.5 miles. I grinned maniacally.
“Oh, less than 5 miles. We are making this happen,” I said aloud. Uncle Jesse tilted his head in response.
I took a few gulps of deliciously frosty water from the cooler pack, quickly refilling Uncle Jesse’s Water Rover and my go-to bottle. I gleefully swapped out my ill-fitting bigger pack for my beloved little Camelback, and we set off to conquer the last few miles.
During the final 45 minutes, stiffness settled into my legs and every minute crawled by. I refused to look at my watch until I couldn’t bear it. Knowing I could do all 26.2 miles offered little comfort; I still had to do it. I imagined sitting on the couch with my cheap bottle of Trader Joe’s bubbly, eating whatever the living f#@& I wanted, watching my long-awaited Redbox rental, Little Women – including all of the special features, dammit.
When we finally rounded the bend back into the parking lot, I had to do two more tiny loops before my watch signaled that we’d hit our target distance. I let out a small laugh.
“You’re a marathon man now!” I shouted to Uncle Jesse, 10-year-old Vegan Wonder Dog, who had already climbed into the backseat and was staring at me with tired, but alert, eyes. Par for the course, his expression seemed to say. He hadn’t missed a single training run.
I poured water on a towel and wiped off my wind and sunburned face, wedging my “2020 Bend Marathon” trucker cap on, having finally earned it. I fed Uncle Jesse another sandwich, snapped a photo for the obligatory social media show-off, and we headed back home, where we sat on the hallway floor and shared a pint of Coconut Bliss ice cream.
Though I laid low and downed a couple of Aleve the next day -mostly for my back which wasn’t used to carrying such a large, heavy pack during runs- by Monday we were right back at it, running jogging eight miles like it was nothing.
I’m almost 38, overweight, drink like a [quarantined] fish, and have no business feeling this great after running a marathon – much more than I can say for my younger, thinner, meat-eating self.
Also I love you. And if you’re a nurse, that love is, like, getting weird.