SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

White Elephant // What are the gifts you are looking forward to giving or hoping to receive?

Smplefy messaged me days before the NYC Marathon in early November and asked something like Are you sad that you’re not running? People had been asking me that all throughout late October and into November. People always ask me that. The year before, I had stood briefly in the middle of First Avenue as they’d cleaned up the Race and felt All the Feelings of angst and grief and failure. I had just had my knee reconstructed – there was no way I could have run even if I had wanted to – but the pile-up of injuries was breaking my heart and at the time, I had absolutely no idea what was causing my Personal Mess.

I had spent the Summer and Autumn trying to embrace my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome diagnosis; trying to say Yes to everything; however, this was a situation where I didn’t want to say Yes, but had to.

I’m sad, I admitted.

But that next day, I happened to check my New York Road Runners dashboard and realised I mistakenly hadn’t forfeited my marathon entry over the summer. I could’ve sworn I’d cancelled it around the time I had hip surgery; could’ve sworn I’d sworn off marathoning forever. But if I declined my entry for 2016, that would be The End – this year was the end of New York City Marathon deferrals. Historically, if you paid the fees, you could defer your entry in perpetuity. No more.

It was then that I sat with the heavy knowledge that I was physically healthy, largely untrained but in very good shape, and had a marathon entry.

The Friday before the NYC Marathon, I walked out of my office and went out to my colleagues. Do you guys think that I could, you know, run the marathon? I asked casually.

I was wondering if you were running, one of them said.

Have you been training? another one asked.

No, I wasn’t planning to run, and I haven’t been training. But I think I’m going to do it, I decided.

And that was that. I packed up my things and headed for the Javits Center to collect my race number. On the way over JRA called me (remember, I’m still a Phone Person so my friends actually call me on the phone as opposed to solely texting me).

What are you doing this weekend?

Saturday night, Paul and I are having dinner for our anniversary and Sunday I’m running the marathon.

Wait. What. 

Yes. I just decided. As in, I am at the Javits Center now. 

Does anyone else know? Are you sure about this? Do you want me to gather Team Merethon? Should we plan a party? 

I’m going to make a gametime decision on Sunday morning about whether I’m actually going to do it, but Yes. To everything. 

Oh dear.

And that was how I wound up running my final marathon.

I left on the morning of November 6th for a perfect, clear day and a slow race. I packed my bag and said goodbye to Paul, who never noticed I was leaving to run a marathon. I left the house wearing my 2011 Team Merethon shirt in honour of my friend Scott, who died by suicide a few years ago and who loved running; loved the team shirts. I stripped off my tearaway clothes at the start, left the shirt on top of the pile at Fort Wadsworth for Scott, a veteran himself, remembering the celebratory photos he and his wife would send me to cheer me on race mornings past.

Throughout the day, various friends figured out I was running, and came out to greet me on the course: Dorota and Michael at Mile 16 with signs; JRA, PB-BG and Lady H at Mile 20 with big cheers; RHJ at Mile 24 with a phone charger. I ran the slowest race of my life – a nearly a full hour and a half slower than my personal best – and arrived home to a house full of cheering friends and Thai food. I savoured every mile. I walked when I had to. I took on the Queensboro Bridge as a marathoner one last time. I put Harry Belafonte’s Jump in the Line as the “easter egg” on my playlist and it made me crack up when it came on.

I suppose there is some Big Takeaway or some Grand Life Lesson here. The gift I most wanted this year was to be strong enough and healthy enough to run my Last Marathon – to have the support of my friends and family to be able to do that. The real gift wasn’t the medal at the end – it was the truly unique experience of doing this in the first place; the unbelievable amount of support I got from everyone along the way. I got to say Yes to the New York City Marathon one last time, and I am forever grateful.

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Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, orjoin us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

Do Over Hindsight is the one thing we never benefit from in the present.  Is there one moment you wish that you could do-over?

I ran a really shitty marathon in Big Sur in April. It was a Bucket List Race — one of those races you sign up for because you just have to run it.  I was badly injured and Big Sur was and is a tough marathon regardless of whether one is injured or not (basically, 26.2 miles of Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast).  I was also inexplicably sick to my stomach throughout the course, maybe because of the pain of my shredded hip; maybe because I knew it could be my last marathon, and I was struggling to cope with that.

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I enjoyed it, immensely.

But if I could do it over?

I’d take more time. I’d enjoy it even more than I did.

It still might be my last marathon. So I wouldn’t be so maudlin about the whole affair. I wouldn’t go back to Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur trying to chase down the things that I missed; the life that I had had there years ago.

I would go to celebrate the race for itself.IMG_3120

No one is ever going to take away the fact that I’ve run 14 marathons — but I guess I didn’t know that when I was facing down the Big Sur start. At the time, I felt like if I wasn’t actively racing, even just plodding at a terribly slow place with one working hip, that meant that I was no longer a runner; no longer a Marathoner. It felt like I would have to give up a part of my identity that had been so hard-fought, and hard-won, and fiercely guarded.

Running has been one of those things that does not come naturally to me, but that I do for myself. Because it’s not easy, it’s more rewarding.

If I’d known, before I crossed the Bixby Bridge, that I would still be a marathoner after Big Sur, I would’ve had a happier heart on the day of what might be my last marathon start. So while I like to live my life with no regrets; no longing; no desire for do-overs, I wouldn’t mind a second chance at those hills with a lighter step.

Kat, Sarah, and I have once again collaborated on Project Reverb — a prompt-a-day writing project throughout the month of December.  Check out the Project Reverb page for instructions, and to sign up to receive the #Reverb13 prompts in your in-box daily.

December 3: Brave: What was the bravest thing you did in 2013?

I’ve struggled all day to write this.  Mostly because I am not sure how, exactly, I was brave this year.

Or I am not sure the ways in which I think I was brave really count.

Yes, I have stood up to bullies.  BIG bullies.  BIG, scary bullies who hid behind acronyms and titles like cockroaches cowering in the shadows.  Yes, I have taken on myriad challenges, and run dozens of races, and travelled to all kinds of places, and Done Things.

But is that; was that…being brave?

Probably not.  All of that was just…life.

I think, more likely, the bravery was in the baby steps.  It was in being open, and taking chances, and saying yes when I desperately wanted to say, no.  It was finally being ready after many years of NOT, to accept help, and love, and to withstand the discomfort of being wrong and admitting it.

But I guess what I am trying to say is that after a very long time of just spinning my wheels, I think I was finally brave enough to Try.

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…There’s not much you can do in the last few weeks to improve your performance, but there’s a lot you can do to mess it up.
– Ben Hurley, Marathon Tapering Tips: Why The Last Two Weeks Matter

I hate tapering.

For the uninitiated, “the taper” is a period of reduced activity in the weeks leading up to a major sporting event.  It is most typically associated with marathoning, but a variety of endurance and sprint athletes employ this method of calculated rest-before-race in their training.  For most marathoners, the taper period lasts 2-3 weeks, and follows the Last Long Run.  The taper is where runners strategically reduce their mileage; reduce the frequency and intensity of their workouts, and let their muscles repair before the Main Event.

Some people don’t believe in The Taper.  When I was a baby runner, I thought the whole thing was stupid.  But now that I am a more experienced runner, I really do get it.

Also, this year, I will be running the most important Marathon of my life and I will be running injured.  So this taper is maybe the most important taper I have ever tapered.

The injury itself is something I’m not yet willing to discuss (this is a long, involved discussion for AFTER the Marathon), but suffice it to say, it’s serious enough to be serious, but manageable enough where my treatment team is committed to getting me to Tavern on the Green.

Mostly, they are committed to The Finish since they know that they won’t be able to keep me from running.  But also, they are committed because they are some of the most elite sports rehab professionals this side of the East River and they love this kind of shit.

But the point I am trying to make is not about injury.  The point is that there is a point to tapering, and even if there is a point, I still hate it.

And part of the point is that you do reach a point where there’s nothing more you can do in training.  No more running the Queensboro Bridge; no more tempo runs; no more speedwork — nothing is going to contribute to your preparedness for the race.  The only thing it will do is harm you; increase your risk of injury; fatigue you.

These things are easy to write down, and easy to conceptualise on paper, but they are almost impossible to believe in real-time.

For me, a lot of running of it is achievement-driven, and tick-box focused, and these last few weeks when I’m supposed to be Sitting in Stillness dredge up a lot of the horrible not good enough feelings that are sometimes the spark that got me running in the first place.

This brings me back to my Yuppie Asshole Yoga Practice.

When I was in Thailand last Christmas, diligently studying yoga with an insane ex-equities trader Irishman who had given up Wall Street for India and then Koh Samui and was forcing me to spend hours each day just listening to the ocean and my own breathing, before doing sun salutations till I wanted to punch someone…I didn’t necessarily get it.  I didn’t necessarily understand at the time that Stillness is one of the most important parts of the activity.

I’ve written about this before, but, in yoga, we repeatedly come back to tadasana or Mountain Pose — standing stillness — to center ourselves and put the postures into perspective.  To catch our breath.

This had occurred to me in Hong Kong, earlier this year, as I was doing sleepless night yoga on the floor of my dreadful room at the Mandarin Landmark on the day before my brother called me to tell me that he was going to run the marathon with me.  But I didn’t necessarily connect that moment to this moment. 

Until now.

What I have to do is appreciate the stillness of tapering.  I have to take this moment to breathe; to re-center; to prepare for the next phase of the practice; to refocus.

I have always looked at tapering as an irritation; an antsy, anxious time leading up to the race.  But now, I am trying to really understand the stillness as a fundamental part of the activity itself.  I am trying not to be distracted by my friends who race-to-exhaustion and boast about their PRs; I am trying not to be focused on Things That Are Extraneous to This Moment, Right Here, Right Now.

This Moment is the one in which I am running my 13th Marathon with my little brother, who is running his 1st Marathon.  This Moment is the one in which I am running 26.2 miles with the brother I almost lost to his addiction.

This is the Moment I want to slow down; stand still in; enjoy.  This is the Moment I don’t want to mess up.

Tomorrow would have been my eighth wedding anniversary.

This morning, I returned from 10 days in Japan.

Paul and I took off for a long holiday at the end of August, and I just landed back in New York today.  File that under “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

And indeed, it was a very good idea.

We began the adventure in Tokyo, and then moved on to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, Hakone, and back to Tokyo.  Trains, and hot springs, and tea, and hard tropical rain.

I only screamed at Paul a couple of times — once, notably, when he ate a tiramisu that had been sitting out for two days.

What?! he said defensively, I wanted to try that!

That was sitting out for two days, you fool! 

(He had not been made aware that I was the food safety police.)

(Which I am.)

Later, we were sitting on a train platform in Kyoto, in hazy afternoon sunshine, and I may or may not have been yelling about something, when I stopped myself.

I’m sorry, I said, I really am.  My ex-husband used to say that he only loved me when I was “behaving myself” and I feel like I haven’t been “behaving.”

Paul looked at me confused.  He looked at me like maybe I was an idiot.  He may have even laughed at me.

It was then that I realised that he did not really give a shit whether I “behaved.”  He had, after all, consumed a tiramisu that had been sitting out for two days.

Things work for different reasons, I am learning.  I suppose I had to go to Japan to see what could and could not work.

More stories and photos to come.

But in the meantime, I’m back from a little holiday break.

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 29: TryWhat do you want to try this coming year?  Is it something that has been on the bucket list for a while, or is it something you swore up and down to others you’d never, ever do?  What new waters – those uncharted or those well-navigated – will you dip your toes into this year?

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 26: Typical dayDescribe a typical day in your life.  What do you think would surprise most people about your ordinary day?  How do you cherish and appreciate the everyday?

As you likely know, I am at a yoga retreat in Thailand.  So my “typical day” this week looks a bit different than what my days look like in New York or London — but when I am “home,” I am unlikely to have any kind of routine.

Which has, admittedly, been undoing me for the last year or so.

Here, however, I have a strict schedule, which is challenging.  And yoga is hard.

It has been particularly difficult for me — in ways I expected, and perhaps didn’t expect — to put myself at the mercy of a schedule someone else has laid out for me.  And to give my body over to the practice.  To submit to breath work, and routines, and physical activity outside of my comfort zone.

This isn’t how we do it in Manhattan.  This isn’t how it’s done in Mayfair. 

The routine:

6.00a – wake up.  Listen to the sounds of my Swiss German roommate rustling below me.  She speaks very little English, and I pretend that I speak less German than I do.  Swiss German, though, is a challenge.

(I spend the next 45 minutes catching up on emails.  I admit that freely.)

7.00a – swallow one of the peanut butter packets I smuggled in from the States.  We are not permitted to eat before 11.00a, and I am a first-thing-in-the-morning breakfast eater.  I am downright hostile if I am not fed immediately.  Also, I dutifully consume the day’s first handful of pills.

7.30a – opening session.  Prana; breathwork.  The first hour is focused entirely on the breath.  The first few days, this was torture.  How do I keep my mind from wandering.  How can I keep from focusing on whether my extended family is having an okay Christmas despite some devastating news; whether my brother is upset that his gift was sent to my house instead of his; whether my friends are fine in their various situations; whether I even want answers to questions I am not asking.

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Approx 8.30a – Asana begins. The first few days, this was instructor-led.  Now, it is on our own.  Primary; secondary; tertiary (?).  Do you do yoga?  Do you know the names of this shit in sanskrit?  I’ve done yoga — fairly seriously — for a long time.  But I am struggling and do not know how to ask for help.

11.00-ish – WHEN DOES IT END?? How do I manage my expectations when I cannot schedule things; when my day is approximated and not divided into blocks?  When can I eat my big breakfast of foods that I cannot guarantee that I will like; that I cannot order from Seamless Web; that will not necessarily satiate me??  Why is it that I can only have brunch and not a proper breakfast and lunch like I prefer?

Why am I not in control?

Noon – 4.00p – Free time.  This means I post the next day’s #Reverb12 prompt, and I then I take a walk, and I sit in the sun, and I try to sort myself out.  On two of the days, I got massages.  On another day, I went out snorkeling.  I then remembered why I hadn’t been snorkeling since 2005.

I’m glad diving and snorkeling is good for you. I, HOWEVER, DO NOT LIKE IT despite many attempts.

4.00p – Q&A; anatomy lecture. Why are we doing what we are doing and what is going on inside our bodies when we do it?  By this point, I am sticky with bug spray and sun cream and trying to stay awake.

5.00p – restorative practice.

6.00p – dinner, which ends with me casing the “dessert table,” insofar as these things can be called “desserts,” begging sweet Jesus for just a touch of white sugar.

9.00p – I am asleep before my Swiss German roommate comes back from singing kirtan around the fire, or whatever it is people do at night.

That’s my day.

I am Trying to Sort Things Out.  I am trying to put myself at the mercy of others; trying to accept the things I cannot control — which I wasn’t seeming to grasp on my own, so I came here to try it in a very literal way.

And finally, one aspect of yoga is touch.  A yogi must submit to the breath; to the pose; to the touch of another human being if the teacher comes to adjust the position.  All of those things are hard for me.  I use my routines and control to keep people away.

This is a challenge.  And these typical days are scary (in fact, I messaged a friend just this morning and said: If I ever again say tell you that I’m going to a yoga retreat, please beat me).

But these are truly extraordinary days.

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