A promise is a promise

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Last fall, my friend Melanthia asked me when I might return to Seattle.

We’d been colleagues at the Associated Press, where I was a staff photographer and she was a military reporter. I left the job and the state and had returned only periodically. For her wedding. To meet each of her three children. Her youngest is now four and it’s been nearly four years since I’d been back in the Emerald City.

Why, I asked.

I’m going to run the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon for my 40th birthday. OK., I said. I’m in. I’ll be there.

I said this in the fall of 2016. I had plenty of time to train. I knew what it would take and I knew I was nowhere near prepared. I had two marathons under my belt; they were both in the distant past. I was lighter, younger and better trained the last time I’d run any distance.

I had gained weight and lost muscle and endurance since I’d returned from Afghanistan in 2011. All my attempts at a return to fitness had fizzled and fallen short of my goals. I’d pushed too hard. I wrestled with too much stress.

I chose a fresh start with a new job in a new state in the fall of 2016. Melanthia and I now live in states that border different oceans on separate coasts, three time zones and a continent apart.

When I set a lofty goal, I draw inspiration from a quote by William Hutchison Murray from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. (The original of the couplet at the end, which Murray attributes to Goethe, has been debated.)

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

I had my share of setbacks and excuses to bail. I hung onto the quote and my promise to my friend.

It took me several months to find a place to live. It looks several 20-hour solo roundtrips by car to move my things. By the end of the year, I hadn’t started training. I hadn’t even unpacked.

I had started shedding pounds though. I knew I needed to be lighter if I were going to pound the pavement for 13.1 miles. I started walking and I watched Melanthia’s posted training runs. My trepidation increased with her increasing mileage. I was not matching her miles or dedication.

By April, I still hadn’t run much and I hadn’t bought my airplane ticket. I called Melanthia. I didn’t want to let my friend down and I didn’t want to hold her back.

And yet, a promise is a promise.

Are you doing this? I wanted to know before I booked the ticket. I also wanted her to know that I wouldn’t be a pace-setting partner. I explained that I hadn’t trained enough and I wasn’t as fit as I once was.

We set a simple goal: finish the race. The race rules warn runners that they will be yanked if they don’t finish in under four hours.

I’m going to run-walk, she said. I can can keep pace–and keep her company, I thought. I booked my ticket.

Yesterday we picked up our race bibs and packets.

See you at the finish line.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Practice

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These past five months in Fairbanks, I started noticing that my clothes were getting tighter. This is a problem because I brought a limited amount of clothing to this gig at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I brought three skirts, a few blouses, a pair of blue jeans, a pair of black jeans and some workout clothes. Right now, the only clothes that feel comfortable are the workout clothes…primarily because they give rather than cinch. And mercifully, because working out will be a big part of my weight loss and return to skirts that slip on my hips rather than hug them.

I heard all the usual rationalizations and explanations about how the body naturally adds weight in the winter, especially up here where the winter days become dark, cold and long. I know. I know. I want to have some compassion for my clever body. And I want to fit my clothes.

When the new semester started, I vowed to recover some of my fitness rituals. In Oregon, I walked at least five to seven miles every day. I practiced yoga at least three times a week. I swam with a rigorous group of righteous swimmers twice a week. I shook, shimmied and smiled in a Bollywood dance class twice a week. And I played golf whenever I could with my ladies group at Marysville Golf Course, weather permitting.

At first, I walked the eight miles round trip from my cabin to the campus. On the weekends, I went hiking. Then it got colder. I stopped walking and I found myself unable to muster a yoga practice alone at home.

I was actually craving the rituals of fitness, the feeling of flexibility and the calmness that yoga brings me. I was missing the joy of slicing through the water long and strong for an hour of focused swimming. I missed the meditative contemplation and appreciation of nature that my river walks offered me.

So, I signed up for conditioning swimming three times each week at the Patty Center on campus. My body went into shock when I put on my swimsuit. There, there, I told her, it’s going to get better. You’ll remember your strength. You’ll remember the rhythm. You’ll shed these hitchhiking pounds. I’ll write more in another post about my experiences in swim class. It’s good to be back in the water. And I immediately noticed I’d lost some of my beloved strength and endurance, although I still had my breath.

Back in the water. Swimming. Check.

A colleague…and a dear, sweet woman….Nancy Tarnai, reminded me that the UAF has a yoga club and the members meet every Saturday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. For a $5 fee, I get to experience a different instructor and form of yoga. I’ve been the last two Saturdays. Of course, I instantly noticed that I have a whole lot more tummy in the way when I move into certain postures. Yoga is great for body awareness…and I am all too aware of how mine has changed. Again, I do my best to summon compassion. There, there, sweet body. You were once so strong and flexible and vibrant. You will find your way back. Hush now. Breathe. Be gentle. Be kind.

Back on the mat. Yoga. Check.

Nancy also recommended yoga classes at Infinite Yoga in Fairbanks at the Artisan’s Courtyard, “a community space for the arts and well-being.” She attends a class, “Yin/Yang” with Kara, on Wednesday nights. The yoga studio is staffed by 10 different instructors who offer a variety of classes: yoga core, yogalates, Vinyasa Level 2, healing yoga, hatha, yoga flow. I purchased a new student pass tonight for $55, which allows me to attend as many classes as I want for the next two weeks. What better way to discover all the classes and teachers and jumpstart my practice.

I adored the class tonight with Kara. She is long and lean with a soothing, calm voice. She draws our attention to our breathing and puts us through the paces…at a gentle yet insistent pace.

Again my vicious self-critic noticed how much flexibility I’d lost, how much extra weight I was carrying. I was right next to the mirro and I was not happy with my silhouette.

And yet, I was happy. Happy to have discovered a great yoga class. Happy to have a wonderful new friend, Nancy.

And happy to return to my practice.

As I headed home and to the office to write this post (I’d been nagging myself about how far behind I’d fallen on my blog posts–again, out of practice), I thought about the expression “out of practice.” It fits. Literally, yoga is a practice and I’ve been out of practice.

I then realized that everything can be viewed a practice: photography, writing, relationships. All practices. Sometimes I get out of practice.

No sense in beating myself up. Criticizing myself doesn’t help.

I simply need to start practicing again.