Monday, November 23, 2015

Post Marathon Blues

Finally, I'm starting to feel slightly back to normal.  The keyword there is slightly.  Let me just say that post-marathon blues are real, and they're terrible.  This year I completely expected them.  I've had them after every other marathon, and I figured they'd be there.  I also figured that, since I was expecting them, they might not be so bad.  Woo-boy was I wrong!

As you all know, two of my dearest friends came to visit right before the marathon.  This did a few things.  First, it boosted my mood and made me feel so very loved.  Second, it forced me to take a bit of time off and rest pre-race.  Lastly, it made post-marathon so bitter-sweet, because it meant I had to bid them farewell.  I very much wish that my friends lived closer to me.  The past week I've been moping around, trying to plan trips to see them.  I've been asking myself if I could fly up in a few weeks (no, I can't), or if we could all plan a mini-vacation together (difficult at best).  I miss my friends!!!  So, that's left me in a funk.

Also, my friends weren't the only ones who left the day after the marathon.  A week before the marathon, Hans' grandmother passed away, so the three of us all flew down for the funeral.  Since the funeral and burial were in different states (long story), this meant quite a bit of flying in a very short period of time.  By the end, I was wiped!  It took a little while for the shear physical exhaustion to set in, but when it did I could hardly move.  Picking Anna up or playing with her was more effort than I could stand, and for the latter half of the week I just wanted to crawl in a hole and sleep.  Of course, my body was completely out of whack, and sleep was somewhat evasive.  To put things plainly, this physical exhaustion did nothing to boost my mood.  I was too tired to be happy (I was grumpy), and I ended up just being sad because I was too tired to do things that usually make me happy (play with Anna, hike, etc).  It wasn't so great.

And lastly, there's the endorphin crash.  Runner's high is real, and after 26.2 miles there's a lovely intoxication.  The world is rosy and everything is wonderful.  And then your body realizes you're not running quite as much and suddenly you crash.  And this crash was so, so bad.  The worst part was that I could think rationally and tell myself exactly what this was, but that did nothing to make me feel better.  I just wanted to be left alone and mope.

Luckily, I have great support.  Hans has been wonderful.  He's pushed me to do the things I absolutely need to do, but he's also made sure I've gotten plenty of rest.  He played with Anna when I couldn't, and he took care of the housework when I simply didn't want to.  He's made sure I've gotten the nutrition I need, and he's taken time to simply hold me and tell me he's here.  Boy am I fortunate!

So, now I'm returning to normal.  I'm hoping I get through this hectic and crazy week, and I'm looking forward to the next big thing!

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Immigrant's Daughter

It's a fact I often forget.  I was born and raised in the U.S., and my dad has lived in the US for the majority of his life, but the reality is that my father is an immigrant.  He could never be president, he taught his mother english, and as much as we sometimes forget, this is not his native land.

My dad was born in 1950 in post-war Germany.  My Baba (grandmother) had been taken from her home in Ukraine during WWII to work as slave labor.  I know very little details about her time there, because she refused to talk about it.  The only things I do know are that the farm she was put on was owned by a family that was relatively kind to her, and she had an acid burn across her chest.  How it got there, one can only guess.

In 1946 my aunt was born.  I don't know the story of her birth or how my grandparents met, but from what I understand she was born out of wedlock.  Four years later, now married, my grandparents were attempting to immigrate to America.  My Baba had a cousin who lived in Philly, and that was helping to speed up the process, because this cousin was able to vouch for this little family.  As it's been told to me, just before everything was finalized, my dad was born, and now they had to wait even longer so they could obtain the proper documents for him.

At 6 months old, my dad was finally granted access to the US along with my Baba, my Papa Joe, and my Aunt Irena.  Baba wasn't extremely educated.  While she was an extraordinary gardener, she only had the equivalent of a 4th grade education, and while she could speak about 10 slavic languages and some German, she didn't speak English.  She had cousins in Philly, but her mother was in Ukraine along with many of her siblings.  Her brother had gone to Australia.  The move certainly could not have been easy for her, especially not with two young children.

So, one must ask why did she moved here?  The answer is simple.  She had no other options.  Germany was broken, and Baba couldn't tolerate living there anyway.  While I never heard her utter one thing against the Germans, she also made it clear she wished to never return.  After the war some of the family returned to Ukraine, but this was during the Stalin era.  Many of these people were lost forever.  Baba went wherever she could get a foothold.  She didn't see her mother or any of the rest of her family for nearly 30 years.

After a while Baba and Papa Joe moved from Philly down to Richmond, where Papa Joe set up shop as a barber and Baba set to raising her children.  When the marriage didn't work out, Baba found a factory job.  My father and my aunt would bring home school work to help her learn english.  My dad remembers helping his mom understand his kindergarten homework.  She worked hard, she pinched pennies, and after 10 years she bought a house- her pride and joy and where she lived until she died.

My father attended college, and when I was born he (and my mom) made sure I was well-cared for and provided for.  It was often difficult, but he made sure I attended some of the finest schools in the area because he recognized the importance of a good education as well as decent connections.  I attended and completed college upon my parents' persistence.  It didn't matter what the degree was in just so long as I had one.  Now, I have my own business, I employ others, and I'm looking to expand. 

Personally, I feel my immigrant family has been a plus to American society.  I may not be Steve Jobs (another child of an immigrant), but I'd like to think we've had a positive influence.  And so, I have to think about something.  What if, as my grandparents were applying for refugee status in the US, someone had said, "No.  They're living in Germany.  They could be Nazis."  What if they'd had to stay in Europe simply because someone saw where they were from and thought they might pose a threat?  How would that have changed life?  What sort of conditions would my aunt and dad have lived in?  Would they have lived at all?

I don't claim to be an expert on world politics.  There's a lot that I wish I knew more about.  One thing I do know, though, is that the immigration policy is not easy.  It's not an open door to anyone.  People work hard to get in, and it's a huge achievement when they do.  And once they're here they have to start their lives all over again, oftentimes without the support of family.  When I think of the Syrian refugees that so many politicians are trying to ban I just think of that mother with two children under the age of 5.  What will she do?  What will happen to her?  What will happen to her children?

It's just something to think about.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Marathon

I had planned on writing this post on Saturday, right after the race, but I was too tired.  Then I thought I'd write it Sunday, but the day got away.  Now it's Thursday, and I'm FINALLY getting around to it.  How did it go?  Let me just put it this way:


My goal was to finish in under 5 hours.  That was it.  I mean, I had a minor goal of finishing in 4:30:00, but that was quite lofty.  Previously my fastest time was 5:11:00.  That was even when all of my training runs had pointed to me finishing in 4:50:00 or less, so I was really nervous.  When race day came I was excited and nervous, and I wasn't certain as to what would come. 

I met up with my running buddy prior to the race and we agreed to stick together as long as we could, but we weren't holding each other back.  Luckily the weather was beautiful, and I was feeling as great as ever.  Running with her was great.  She and I trained for our first marathon together, and we've been running together ever since.  Finding a great running buddy is difficult.  For shorter runs it's fairly easy, but the longer runs are the ones that get you.  A good running buddy will talk about topics that interest you, but they'll also know how much to talk and how loud to talk.  During a long, hard run a buddy who talks too much or too loudly or simply about things you don't want to talk about can be painful, so it was quite nice to have someone I was so comfortable with. 

Through those first few miles, life was easy.  Hans and the gang missed me at the first stop (we passed sooner than they'd anticipated), but we were able to hand off jackets and what not around mile 5, even though we arrived slightly earlier than they'd expected.  We saw them again at mile 10 where I high-fived Anna and kept running.  Stopping wasn't an option.  At the half way point, a stop I normally don't see them at since they're trying to catch me further ahead, I first saw my best friend, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Andrew, along with everyone else.  I stopped to give them all hugs and hold Anna for a moment before I continued on.  I still felt great.

Around mile 16, we ran into another running friend of ours (he'd finished the Half and had come to cheer us on).  He ran with us and encouraged us on for a little while.  For the most part, we stuck together until mile 16 / 17.  At that point, I was feeling great and she was starting to struggle (she ran another marathon 3 weeks prior), so she walked a bit while I forged ahead.  I saw Jess & Andrew, Jackie, Dan, and Dad at Mile 20.  Hans was with Anna who was asleep in the car.  And then the pain set in.

Oh boy did the pain set in.  I found out later that, in filling up my fuel bottles the night before, Hans had filled them with only water instead of a coconut water mixture.  He's always filled them perfectly in the past, so I'm not sure what happened this time (some sort of miscommunication), but by mile 20 my electrolytes and everything was off.  My left quad started to cramp first due to the angle and slope of the road, and as I tried to alleviate that everything else started hurting.  I hadn't walked for the first 20 miles, but I was walking a lot now.

Just before mile 23 I started running next to another girl who was chatty.  Usually I'd love the opportunity to forget my pain and chat, but I hurt too much.  I just wanted to look at her and say, "Would you please SHUT UP!?"  It was her first marathon, she was from western VA, she wished she and her friends had made shirts, yadda yadda yadda.  I didn't care.  I was just about to start walking or run faster to avoid her when I heard a voice call my name.  I looked back and I saw MY RUNNING BUDDY!!  I'm not sure how I sounded when I said her name, but in my mind it was like seeing a long lost friend after being separated over 20 years.  Oh the joy!!!

She was running faster than I was at the time, but she was also enjoying long walk breaks.  I could run with her.  I  could let her talk and not respond, she knew to not ask questions.  Around mile 25 or so, we saw our other running buddy again.  He was going to take us to the finish (or as close as possible).  I stopped to tie my shoe in anticipation of the huge downhill before the finish.

I was worried about how I'd feel running down that hill.  My legs hurt so bad, and I was worried they wouldn't support me as I raced downward, but I didn't need to worry.  That down hill was an utter blessing.  I let myself free fall towards the finish.  My feet simply followed my body as I got faster and faster.  I past person after person after person, each just one blur after the next.  And then, I crossed the finish line.

I saw Hans and Anna and Jackie and Dan and Dad.  They were all there, cheering for me.  I stopped my watch.  How close had I come to my goal?


I beat my previous record by 36 minutes.  I didn't necessarily hit 4:30:00, but at least that second number was still a 3.  I was pleased as punch.

I stretched out afterwards and then joined my running buddies on the grass.  The one thing I'm still working on is immediate recovery.  I was fine later that day, but at that very moment I felt sick.  I couldn't eat, I was cold, and I just wanted to lie down.  Hans got me home and showered and fed, and after a couple of restful hours (reading, sleeping, etc) I was good to go.  We enjoyed Chicago pizza (Hans had it shipped in special) and pie, and Jessica joined in the celebrations.  All in all, it was a great race. 

I have a lot more to talk about it for post-marathon, but I'll leave this for now.  I'm perfectly happy.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Race Morning

Have you ever been so happy you're sad?  I know it sounds odd, but that's how I feel right now.  I'm so happy I want to cry because I wish every day of my life could be as wonderful as the past few have been.

It is currently 6:15 on Saturday morning.  My bags are packed for the day, and I'm decked out in running gear.  Hans is showering, the dogs are just waking up, I'm getting ready to wake up Anna (a terrifying prospect), and in an hour and a half I'll be staring my 4th marathon (slightly less terrifying than waking the sleeping baby).  In addition to this great day, two of my best and dearest friends, Jackie and Dan, are in town to visit. I couldn't be any happier.

Let me first say that I never really realized just how happy having them here would make me.  You see, I'm not a great long-distance friend.  I don't Skype, I hate phone conversations.  If I'm going to call you, it's going to be to make plans for what we'll do later.  I hate just chatting, (Unless I'm running.  Then I'll chat for hours.)  So, I don't often get to enjoy my closest friends.  While mentally I know they're always there, there are a few moments when not having them around leaves me feeling horribly lonely.  Those moments when life is hard and you just want to circle the wagons and have your dearest friends close around you become extra hard when your dearest friends are spread across the country.  It's just very nice to have them so close.

And I don't want to get sappy or overly-sentimental, but the past few days have been filled with nothing but love.  I love these two people more than even I think I can realize, and it's nice not just to feel that from them but also to be able to exude that love.  I know that sounds like some new-age hippy crap, and I can actually picture my mom saying something like that and me rolling my eyes in exasperation and annoyance, but it's true.  It's an energy, a joy, a happiness that leaves one feeling so happy.  It makes me feel closer to God.  It makes me feel like I've come home.  It makes me feel like I'm wrapped in a wonderful embrace.

Side note: I know at least one of these people reads my blog, and I have NO IDEA how this person will react to this outpouring of emotion.  I would like to tell this person: Yes, this is how I feel.  Yes, it's difficult to put into words.  Yes, it's awkward.  Deal with it.  I love you, and I always will.  Y'all are my giants.  :D

Yesterday, a friend sent me a Facebook message essentially saying that Mom would be with me during this run.  It was sweet, and I loved it, but I realized something.  Since my friends have arrived, I haven't been as upset about not having Mom on the course.  I know I can feel both upset over Mom and joy over my friends, but somehow the joy of having them is too great.  I find I'm thanking Mom or God for all the little treasures.  That beautiful sunrise?  That's a gift.  The little quirky things that happen?  That's a sign.  It's beautiful.

Jackie and I actually had a conversation yesterday about the belief in a higher being.  Is God real?  What are the arguments from people who believe versus those who don't?  I made the comment that I've had too much happen in my life for me to not believe in a higher power.  I've felt too much love, experienced too much grace.  I simply can't believe that there is not a higher power out there.

OK, I'm starting to ramble.  I really didn't intend for this to be a blog post about God or Love or anything else.  I simply wanted to state how happy and excited I am to have these two wonderful people in my life and to announce my marathon.  Ah, stream of consciousness!   Anyway, I have a race to run.  Am I nervous?  Unbelievably so.  Am I excited?  Unbelievably so!  Wish me luck!!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I Run

Hello again!  Man, I go a few months with only 1 post a month, if that, and here I am posting 3 in 2 days.  I'm just full of inspiration.  I will say I have a lot more I'd like to talk about, but I'm really struggling to wrap my head around some things and put into words what I'm trying to say.  If I can figure it out, I'll let you know.  That being said, I wanted to write today about why I run.

There are a lot of reasons why I started running.  I wanted to lose weight, it was something that was hard for me, and I wanted to get better, all the 'cool' kids did it, maybe even as a way to bond with my dad, the high school and college track star.  But none of those reasons really explain why I continued running.  For a long time, if someone had asked me why I continued running I'd have given them pretty much one basic answer.  I'd have said I got a great endorphin rush and the exercise kept me from becoming to anxious.  But there's more to it than that.  To do explain, I have to tell you a short story.

Back in college I studied music, and as part of my studies I took both piano lessons and voice lessons.  I'll never forget one particular week where both of my teachers in these subjects essentially told me the same thing.  They told me I needed to expose my soul.  Here I was, singing and playing my heart out, thinking I was being super expressive, and they told me they just weren't feeling it.  I needed to expose my soul.  Honestly, I really didn't know how to take that.  I've always thought of myself as a fairly open person; I don't really have much to hide, so I had no clue how to expose more.  After being told this, I started to notice this phrase (or some variation) popped up quite often in my life.  But, still I had no idea how to apply this to myself. I thought I did it when I was singing a song about being homesick.  I mean, I was as homesick as they come.  This was a subject I could really relate to.  Alas, no.  My instructor simply told me I was sharing enough of myself.  At the time I was frustrated beyond belief.  Now I think he may have been right.

So this leads me back to running.  For a long time I wondered if I ran to escape my emotions.  I mean, if I can't expose my soul in music then I must really be working at repressing emotions.  But I never really felt like I had anything to run from.  Running has always felt like I'm headed towards something, not away from it.  I had kind of settled on running as a way of meditation.  The deep breaths, the rhythmic pattern of my feet and breath, even the sound in my ears.  Yes, meditation.  And that almost hit it, but I don't always feel relaxed and calm after a run.  Even after good runs, I often feel slightly more agitated...slightly more exposed.

And finally, today, it dawned on me.  I run because running allows me to expose my soul.  After a run, I'm tired.  The better and longer the run the more tired I am.  In the end, I don't have any energy left to hide my true self.  Some of my best cries have been after wonderful runs.  I'll be happy but exhausted, I will have spent the past X miles thinking about various topics so there's nothing clouding my mind, and suddenly I will be hit with some emotion.  Somehow running allows me to tap into that part of me that I often keep hidden, even from myself.  It allows me to turn off my brain for long enough to truly feel my emotions.  I can't begin to explain the joy this brings me.  I'm able to feel every emotion I've buried deep within; every emotion that I normally only scrape the surface of: joy, sorrow, anger, it's all there.  Running allows me to actually feel it.

Now, I'm not saying I feel every little emotion with every single run.  Sometimes I run just to hang out with friends, and sometimes I run because I had too much cake (on my birthday), but that wouldn't keep me running in the long haul.  I run because I finally get what my instructors were trying to tell me years ago.  I run to expose my soul.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Birthday- Without Mom

OK.  I just wrote a post detailing the big events from my birthday.  I encourage you to read it, or else some of what I right here won't necessarily make sense.  I wanted to take a moment to talk about what my birthday was like without Mom.  I've had a couple of days to think about things, and I've had some revelations.

First, I have to reveal to you one of my biggest wishes on my birthday.  I wanted a visit from Mom.  I know it sounds odd, but I wanted to dream about her.  I'm a big believer in the afterlife, and I firmly believe that dreams about the deceased are not just dreams.  They're visitations.  Since Mom passed, I've had 3 dreams about her.  I won't get into the details of each one, but let me just say that I can only make sense out of one of them.  Anyway, that's what I wanted.  I wanted a dream.  I wanted to dream about doing all of our usual birthday traditions with her: shopping in Williamsburg, pumpkin cheesecake at Barnes & Noble, stupid, silly birthday songs.

Unfortunately, I woke up the morning of my birthday to the sad realization that I'd had no such dream.  I felt sad and alone, and that feeling very easily could have continued throughout the day except for some wonderful people in my life.

First there was Hans.  Hans really took care of me that day.  He comforted me when I was crying, and didn't make me feel bad about crying.  He stayed with me all day.  He made sure I felt well-loved.  I don't think Mom would have gone if I didn't have Hans.  She knew I'd be OK.

Second there were my running buddies.  I forgot to mention in the last post, but when they realized they'd missed running with me on my birthday, they stopped by the kennel with cupcakes (I ended up with a lot of cupcakes that day).  I didn't get to see them, but it was so nice to know they cared that much about me.  Like I said before, I wasn't upset with them or anything.  By the end of the day I was laughing over the whole thing, but that gesture was just beautiful.

Then there was the kennel staff.  They didn't have to do anything.  I certainly didn't expect anything of them.  Such a simple gesture, though, made me feel so wonderful.  It's lonely owning a business.  Most people make friends and connections with coworkers.  I don't have coworkers, I have staff, and it can often be difficult to separate out friend from employee.  It was nice to have them do something completely unasked for.  Mom's love for me showed through them.

And then there was the client who brought me pumpkin cheesecake.  I'm fairly certain he knew how much I love that cheesecake, and he knew that Mom and I always had at least one slice together, but I don't think he knew it was a birthday tradition.  He didn't have to bring anything, yet he chose pumpkin cheesecake...from Barnes & Noble.  That's when I first realized that Mom may be with me after all.

And there was the client who told me how much healthier I looked.  I'm not sure she initially knew it was my birthday, and I know she had no clue I'd spent the morning crying, but she told me how tired I'd looked when I was caring for my Mom.  She told me how much she wanted to be able to help because she was truly concerned for me.  And she told me how much lighter I looked since Mom's passing.  Of course, she knew that was the worst possible outcome, but she was happy I was under less stress.  That's the one that took a little longer to sink in.  It really didn't hit me until today.  Mom died so that I could live. 

I know it sounds weird, but I know the course we were on.  We were all slowly dying.  I'm not certain I fully understood it at the time, but I definitely understand it now.  We were under so much stress.  We could never fully breathe.  Something was bound to happen at some point.  Either exhaustion or illness or something would have taken all of us.  I think, to some degree (whether she consciously thought it or not) Mom may have let herself go.  She grew tired of the fight, and she saw that we were struggling to continue to the fight, so she gave in.

To some degree, there's a good deal of guilt that goes with this.  If I'd fought harder, if she'd known how much I was still fighting for her, would the outcome have been different?  And trust me, I've had a lot of what if moments.  But when I think of her passing as an act of love, a final act of love, things become a lot easier.

The morning of my birthday I felt sad and alone.  By end of the day, though, when I was sitting with my family, I felt loved.  I felt warm and relaxed.  I didn't dream about Mom, but she was there the whole day.  She was with me and will always be with me.  It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite childhood movies, The Land Before Time.  "I'll be with you.  Even if you can't see me."  I can't see her, but she's with me.

My Birthday- The Events

My 30th birthday was two days ago.  A year ago today, Mom got CT results back saying all tumors were gone.  Facebook from a year ago is full of so much joy and celebration.  A few people have asked me how my birthday was and how I've been holding up through all of this, so I wanted to share with you how things have been.

Tuesday morning was kind of awful.  I woke up early for my usual run, and I was exhausted.  Allergies were working hard on me, and I'd gone to bed a little late the night before.  Plus, I think I was just still physically exhausted from all the activities of the morning.  Still, I was looking forward to starting my day with a activity that makes me feel good about me and that gives me some social time with some much-loved running buddies.  Well, before I even left the house one of my running buddies bailed.  I was a little bummed, but oh well.  Stuff happens.  I grabbed my fuel belt and headed out the door.

I got to our usual meet up and was right on time (a rarity for me).  I scrolled through Facebook as I waited for my other friend.  About 5 minutes later, I got a text from him saying he'd just woken up and apologizing because he wouldn't be able to make it.  I had two options: Go home or run by myself.  Part of me feels I should have run anyway, but at 5:15 am with no one to run with and no dog I decided to just go home.  I was in the shower before the flood of emotion hit.

Here's the thing.  I wasn't mad or upset with my running friends at all.  It's early in the morning.  It happens.  I've done the exact same thing to them on a few occasions.  On plenty of other mornings I would have relished the opportunity to skip a run.  This morning, though, it simply sucked.  I was disappointed and I didn't have Mom, and I just broke down sobbing.  By the way, have you ever tried to shave your legs through a sob?  It's difficult. 

I kind of pulled it together for breakfast with Anna, but I definitely put the burden of the morning on Hans.  He got Anna bathed and dressed, he fixed breakfast, and he kept her occupied while I just sat on the couch fighting back tears.  When we went into Anna's playroom I lost it again.  I just laid on the floor and cried, which of course set Anna off, and poor Hans had to deal with both of us.  He finally managed to get us both in the car and we left to take Anna to daycare.

Lucky for me, I have an amazing husband.  Hans had decided to take the day off work, so he could be with me.  I decided that, as much as I love having all 3 of us together, I still wanted to take Anna to daycare, and I wanted the two of us to see a movie.  This was definitely the right call.  We hadn't seen a movie together since Les Miserables was in theaters, and it was wonderful to just be able to do something different.  After the movie, we had a few errands to run, we had to pick up Anna, and then I had to be back at the kennel for an appointment with an acupuncturist (for the dogs, and yes it works).

When I walked in, I was greeted by the staff...more staff than usual.  The led me into the training room and presented me with cupcakes from my favorite shop, a card signed by everyone, and pierogies (yummm).  It wasn't huge, but it was such a wonderful gesture.  Hans made certain to tell me it was completely their idea, and he had nothing to do with it, and I am just so touched.  Seriously, it meant more than I think they'll ever know.

While at the kennel I was greeted by a few clients who wished me a happy birthday.  Some of my longer clients asked how I was doing.  One brought me a piece of pumpkin cheesecake from Barnes & Noble and a scarf he knitted himself.  One client happened to comment how much healthier I looked lately.  She said had been really worried about me the past year with everything with Mom, but I really looked good now.  It was nice being at the kennel.

After my appointment, I went home where I was greeted by Dad, Cindy, my best friend, Jess, Hans, and Anna.  We enjoyed a lovely fondue dinner that Hans made; a meal I fear we don't have nearly often enough, followed by cake and ice cream.  Anna went to bed easily and on time, and I enjoyed a lovely evening.

So, to sum up, while the morning started terribly, the day turned around well enough.  I was tired most of the day from all my crying, and I had entirely too much candy at the movie, but I felt well-loved and happy.  My birthday ended up being a pretty great day.