California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home

 – Joni Mitchell, California

I ran the Big Sur International Marathon last weekend.  This was significant for a whole lot of reasons, all of which require me to tell the back story of Daily Angst, and my once-upon-a-time life on California’s central coast, and how I got into Marathons in the first place.

I’ve been writing Daily Angst for ten years in October, and started writing it on this site five years ago this year. At the time I started writing here, I was still in private practice and working very closely with a client in Carmel, California helping to close down a business.

At the time, I was young, new divorcee who literally did not know a single divorced person.  I think my parents had one, chronically divorced manchild friend who had a collection of wives, and a collection of Porsches, but that was basically my only example of How To Do This.

So there I was.  In Carmel.  Alone, but for a rag-tag bunch of executives from the client, and a marathon training plan for my first marathon, and the occasional middle-of-the-night phone call to Asia or from my insane then-boss.

I had started running marathons in the first place for two reasons: 1) because I had made a list in the end of the nineties of fifty things I had wanted to do in ten years, and I was coming to the end of the time limit in which to do them, and the only thing that remained from that list was “run the NYC Marathon,” and 2) my ex-husband used to say he was “allergic to exercise” and truly resented when I would go out and run — in fact, I recently found some old writing where I recounted that he’d held off proposing to me until I’d agreed not to train for a marathon — ever.

(I don’t think I’ve ever told people that before.)

Running, in my mind, was freedom.  Probably the first self-care type-thing I did upon leaving Andrew was investigate options on how to obtain a marathon entry.

So my  life in Carmel was a lot of late-night whisky, and chocolate cake, and running on country and coastal roads.  And I survived; I made friends; I thrived.  Then I went home and began again.

And life went on.

Late last year, when someone tweeted the date of registration for the Big Sur Marathon, I knew that I would sign up.  My marathon days are getting small — partly because of motivation; partly because of my health.  I have been running injured for a few races now — I tore the cartilage in my hip about a year ago, and it’s not improving.  I’ll probably have to have surgery and the recovery is long and painful.

So it seemed right, and good, that Big Sur might be my final marathon — at least for a while.  It also made sense to end things where I began things, and the Big Sur marathon begins in Big Sur and runs north up Highway 1 into Carmel.

eee and I flew to San Francisco last Friday, and drove down to Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur last Saturday to pick up our race numbers then spend the day relaxing on the coast.  We arrived at the hotel I had once shuttered, which had re-opened in the late Autumn.

This is where I ran away to when I got divorced, I laughed.

It’s a nice place to get divorced, she said approvingly.

It was a strange and familiar homecoming.

Here is the pool, and here is the parking lot, and here are the pathways I walked with friends.  Here is the fireplace we sat by that one night after that dinner with Maria Shriver, before we knew her own marriage was hanging by a thread, and where that weird lounge singer and his lawyer friend offered to fly us down to Esalen post-haste.

Don’t you remember?

It was so much tension, and so romantic, and such a wild adventure!

But there was no time to reminisce — we had to grab dinner then go to bed, since the buses left for the start at 3am.

So.  I ran.  It had been nearly five years, but I was there to run.

big sur marathon 2

One of the great thrills of the Big Sur marathon is crossing the Bixby Bridge, because not only are the sweeping views simply to die for, but there is also a tuxedo’d man seated at a grand piano on the bridge’s northern side.  People remember what he was playing when they crossed.

When I ran my first marathon — NYC 2009 — by some magic, when I crossed the 59th Street Bridge, my iPod queued up the 59th Street Bridge Song.

And when I ran Big Sur, as I crossed the Bixby Bridge, the piano player struck up Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Sometimes, things just work.

The run was hard, and the run was long and slow, but I finished it.  I met old friends at the end.  I went back to the places I had been before and I made it through them with new and wonderful memories; possibilities.

What I am saying is, going back to the places that hurt is not always equal to “being stuck” or “dwelling in the past.”  Sometimes, it’s the most glorious and triumphant way of moving forward.

I ran a half-marathon in Middletown, CT on Sunday.  It was crisp, and clear, and a mile or so into my race, a grizzled, Forrest Gump-like runner fell into step with me and ran with me for nine miles.  His name was Carl, and he had a profound beard, and was…nuts.

One thing I love about running is that wherever you go in the world, it’s a community.

I was using the race as the springboard for my Last Long Run before the Big Sur Marathon, so I ran a few miles before and a few miles afterward to reach the Magical 20.

I keep saying that Big Sur is likely to be my last marathon, and I’m not sure why.  Like Forrest Gump, there was a point in my life where I felt like I had to run, and now I’m reaching the point where I don’t have that feeling any more, and I feel like I should stop.  As to why Big Sur, well, I trained for my first marathon in that part of the country, and I tend to run to that part of the world to clear my head.  There’s something special and sacred about the craggy coast.

So I ran on Sunday in CT.

Then I drove back to Norwalk to spend some time with Katka and Matthew, before heading back into the City.  Made dinner plans on the Westside with Rebex.

photo 2

And I walked to dinner along Fifth Avenue, so grateful for the day, and the sunshine, and good friends, and the promise of spring.

I was running a few minutes late to dinner and so Rebex texted me and said, Do you want me to order you a drink?

Sure. What are you having?

Coconut margi, blended, no salt.

Perfect.

And I arrived in Midtown West as the sun was setting over the Hudson, to a coconut margarita and a good friend, and I thought: Does it get any better than this?

photo 1

I landed in London yesterday morning, immensely grateful to be out of New York.

In case I have not made it abundantly clear, I hate the cold.  And when you hate the cold, 10C feels like summer compared to consistently sub-freezing temperatures and piles of dirty, frozen snow.

(Why do you cite temperature in Celsius? someone asked me recently, with a weird scowl on her face, as if she was calling me out for Trying Too Hard)

(Because in January alone, I was in five different countries, and if the weather reports in the places I travel are to mean anything at all to me, I should probably be fluent in how that news is delivered? I replied, trying to sound Not Annoyed, but my voice clearly rose into a question mark at the end, daring her to challenge my logic.)

(Why do Americans think other Americans are being snobbish when they do things that aren’t obviously American? As if speaking in unfamiliar units of distance or temperature is pretentious or somehow treasonous, when in reality, it’s a measure of self-preservation.)

(Anyway.)

It is a fairly well-documented fact that emergency room admissions for interpersonal violence increase on the hottest nights of the year.  The weather has the opposite effect on me.  The colder it gets, the more hostile I get.  The heat lulls me into a dreamy, drowsy, happy state.  The humidity makes me a little cranky, but I am still docile.  I can’t really describe why the cold does to me what it does, but it shakes me at my core; makes me feel as if I will snap.

I am so tired of New York right now.  I am tired of winter.  I am tired of the dirty, frozen snow, and the brackish, icy ponds of street-slush that appear ankle-deep but are really more of a mid-calf situation.  I am exhausted of the landlords who don’t shovel, and the salt-shortage, and the New Mayor who is trying to start some sort of class war by not plowing uptown — particularly the streets around Mayor Mike’s brownstone.

London was a welcome change, tube strike notwithstanding.

So I landed at Heathrow, and I napped, and then I went for a Long Run in the Park in the Afternoon-into-Evening.

There are few greater joys in the dead of winter than running in a place where the grass is still green — even if that greenness is only the difference of 10 degrees Celsius above freezing.  And there are few things lovelier than the late afternoon sunlight in Hyde Park, as the sun dips behind Kensington Palace.

photokensington

I ran for miles and miles.

Generally, I am a big believer in the idea that one cannot/should not run away from one’s problems, and that one must sit through the suck.

But sometimes, it’s not just distance one needs from one’s problems; sometimes, it’s perspective.  Occasionally, perspective is one of temperature.  Sometimes, a girl just needs to thaw out a little before she can be or do or see any good.

I read something, recently, about how we are a culture that equates ease with value.

I think that is generally true, and I am very guilty of it myself.  I tend to think: Easy = Good.  When I struggle through something, or something does not come naturally to me, I must be bad, or dumb, or, heaven forbid, stupid or lazy.

Take, for instance, me with running.  I do a lot of running, but I am not a good runner.  Or at least, this is what I say in my head.

I am a 13-time marathoner.  I have run marathons all over the United States and the world.  Running does not come naturally to me, but I train pretty consistently.  I have only been running long distances for about 4 years, and have still managed to cram in a lot of experience in that short period of time.

And yet, because this does not come easily to me, I think I am Very Bad at it.

So I make a lot of excuses for myself.

I ran the New York City Marathon last weekend with an impinged torn labrum in my hip, with the kind of pain that was waking me up in the middle of the night.  Sickening, sweaty pain — the kind you get when you can’t get your body to stop hurting.  The pain had been going on and getting worse for about six months, and yet, I’d run five half-marathons on it, all over Europe and the Eastern Seaboard.

I ran NYC almost an hour slower than I ran it in 2011, and I’ve been beating myself up over it.  I have been running the race over and over in my head — thinking: What could I have done better?  Why am I not better at this?  Why didn’t I train harder, or devote more time to this training? 

What did I do wrong?

Why isn’t this easier?

These are stupid questions, by the way.

Aside from the stress, and angst, and fear of having had my brother stuck in Los Angeles with a mad gunman loose at LAX and all flights out of Southern California in shambles the Friday before the Marathon (which obviously impacted my race), the main thing here is that I still managed to FINISH this race while (stupidly) running with the kind of injury that would’ve sidelined most people.

And it wasn’t easy.

But we live in a culture where we value “natural athletes” and “underdogs” — but we beat ourselves up over our own legitimate accomplishments.  We don’t give ourselves room to succeed or enjoy our own successes.  We convince ourselves that we are illegitimate, or frauds, or not real something-or-others, because we are not fast enough, or this enough, or that enough, or natural enough.

In other words, we equate ease with value.

For me, I realise that is probably never going to be easy.  I can work really hard at it, and it’s probably always going to suck a little bit.  No matter how hard I work, I’m never going to be super fast.  I have learned, recently, that my hips are rotated at an angle that makes distance running comfortable, but that makes me injury-prone.

Depending upon how you look at it, I am, quite literally, not a natural runner.

And that is Okay.

Because I like to run.

And as I deal with this injury and recovery, I’m going to take it all as a reminder that the value is in the enjoyment; the effort; the journey through the activity — not in the ease of reaching the finish, since I have a feeling this will be a long road ahead.

********************************************************************************************
Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

finish cherry hill

There are things you think are never going to happen.

For instance:

I’m never going to run a Marathon.

My brother is never going to get better.

My life will never improve.

Things will never get better.

I’ll never find my way.

And then, because you believe — and you don’t have to believe as I believe, you just have to have something to believe in — things get better, they really do.

The thing about running marathons is…it’s hard.  It’s mentally and physically hard.  But, one step at a time; one foot in front of the other, you go from walking to running, to running for really long periods of time.

I have run a lot of marathons.  None have been so great as the 2013 ING New York City Marathon.  It wasn’t a personal best, and in fact, it was a rather painful day out on the course because I was running injured.  But it was one of the greatest days of my life, running with my brother; being paced by one of my best friends; meeting my brother and our parents, and Paul (who had met my parents for the first time that morning, and had obviously gotten on well with them, because they were all wearing matching fleeces by the time they got to Central Park) and Katka (whom my parents love more than words) at the finish line; coming home to a house full of the people I love most in this world shouting SURPRISE and handing us glasses of champagne.

So often, I forget to say thank you.  Sometimes, I forget to say, I love you.

This was one of those days where every moment was a chance to say thank you, I love you, thank you, I love you, thanks.

********************************************************************************************
Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

A guest post by my friend Kat.
*****************************************

Once upon a time an idea so big that it could not be spoken was scrawled down and tucked away, safely into a journal.

I think I want to run a marathon. I think I could do it.

I Think I Could turned into I Will.  I will became I Can.  I Can is now I Am.

November is meant to be about thankfulness, I know.

So I will not attempt to solve the mystery of what thanks can be found in Mile 20.  The true nature of The Wall is not something we can know.

The thanks we know is in giving all.

For each footstep.  We give thanks.

For every breath.  We give thanks.

For the feet hitting the pavement in time with ours.  We give thanks.

For each stranger-turned-volunteer who hands us a cup of water at an aid station.  We give thanks.

For each chew, gu, and shot block we choke down without hurling.  We give thanks.

For every sign that that takes our mind away from the eternity of the course ahead.  We give thanks.

For 45 degree start line temperatures, partially cloudy skies and delicate tailwinds.  We give thanks.

For the friends and family who wait.  And crane.  And hope.  And shout.  Not only for us but for all who set foot on the course.  We give thanks.

For the mysterious runner we pace off of for miles at a time.  We give thanks.

For the countdown from Mile 20 to Mile 26.  We give thanks.

 For the sacred space of the finish line.  Sanctified, you called it.  We give thanks.

As we come to know it, not only through running, but in all things: Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected.

And so we give thanks.

Strong legs and a safe finish,

Kat

Shoes

Kat is a frequent guest blogger and the woman behind the curtain at Tenaciously Yours.  A dear and beloved friend, as well as a fellow distance runner, Kat is someone I am grateful to have with me in my Finish Line Moments.

********************************************************************************

Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

Today, it is November.

Today, after wrestling with a hip injury for the past few months, I was finally cleared to run.

Today, the big picture was that there was a shooting at LAX. This shooting at LAX was (yet another) unspeakably horrible moment in our country’s struggle with gun violence. I don’t have anything to add to the conversation here that would help make sense of the senselessness of this tragedy.  My thoughts are with the families of the victims, and with anyone who had to endure the terror of the experience at LAX today.

The very small, personal, wallet-sized picture was that my brother was due to leave on a flight out of LAX to get to NYC for the Marathon.  That fight was cancelled.  Everything in the LA-area was swamped and booked, and shut-down, and the airline, who initially offered to be so helpful about the Marathon, refused to understand that offering to get him into town on Saturday night was useless, because he had to pick up his bib in person using his own photo ID, and the race expo closed at 5pm on Saturday.

I managed to find him another flight taking off from another airport — a red-eye — with a connection through Phoenix, which was on-time 100% of the time.  Perfect.  Until that flight was so delayed that the connections were not going to be able to be made.

He called me to deliver the news while I was out, and I rushed home, sat at the computer and…wondered: Why? Why now?  Do I not want this enough?  Am I not trusting enough in the process?  What am I not letting go of that is preventing this good from coming to our family?

The reality was: I wanted it more than anything.  And the further reality was that there was nothing I was doing that could control this process.  But for the past few months, I had been battling a serious hip injury, which had left me cranky and distracted, and particularly withdrawn.  And it wasn’t until this morning that I was even cleared to run the damned race in the first place. 

Because of this injury, I have joked — I am wrestling with the Angel; I am seeking a blessing.

If you don’t know what this refers to — it’s the Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling the Angel; the tale of two brothers from the Book of Genesis. In simplest terms, it’s the story of Jacob, the second-born son, who takes his brother’s Esau’s birthright, and then many years later, apprehensive about an impending brotherly reunion, meets an angel by a river along the journey and wrestles him till dawn — demanding the Angel bless him. At dawn, the Angel concedes the fight, blesses Jacob, but touches him at the hip and lames him.

That’s an incredible oversimplification of the story.

But I’ve become particularly enamoured of it since I hurt my hip, as if I could find some greater meaning in a sports injury. So I asked my Armchair Theologian friends, in particular, the Yeshiva-dropout, and the Pastor’s Kid for advice.  Sad to say, I didn’t get a lot of answers to my medical problems.  I just came away with more questions.

What if these angels and demons and issues are just the worst of Jacob himself, and the blessing he’s seeking is just a reprieve from his own madness; his own doubt; his own insecurity and fear?

And what about the questions that I have been wrestling with?  For so long, and in so many ways, I have let doubt, and grief, and envy, and fear keep me from victory.  I have let these things become a thief in the night, stealing the joy that is rightfully mine, and distracting me from being a runner, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a girlfriend — preventing me from enjoying perfect moments and crippling me as I partake in the things I enjoy.

I have let doubt and fear turn me into someone who afraid to fight against this creeping ambivalence.

0(Pierre who didn’t care – Maurice Sendak)

It was time to fight.

Why?

I sat down at the computer, and by some small miracle, a single seat had opened up on a JetBlue flight out of Burbank, leaving at 9.30pm. That seat hadn’t been there all day. But suddenly, there was this one, mysterious, miracle seat that would get Matthew into New York on Saturday morning, and I sat down at my computer, pulled out my American Express card, and booked it.

Victory.

As he boarded the plane, Matt texted me: Things are looking up. They even gave me an aisle seat.

So.

Today is the First of November, and we are on the cusp of change, in the season of thankfulness. In the spirit of this glorious time, I have asked some friends to join me in writing about change, and gratitude; in fighting the fight for joy.  And I am thankful for my brother; for my friends and family. I am thankful for this fight; for this hip; for these blessings; for these victories to come.