Not Your Average Tricycle

Those who know me, know that bikes and I…well, we just don’t get along. My family jokes that I have a 3 wheel minimum – as in, anything less than a tricycle is off limits.  That’s because I have a less than perfect track record with bikes.  While in New Zealand, I rode my Kiwi roommates dirt bike approximately 10 feet, straight into a fence before tipping it.  Then, a few years ago, I went to Florida to visit my family.  While there, I decided it’d be a good idea to try out my uncle’s Vespa (motorized scooter).  I rode it really well for about 15-20 yards, and then I crashed it even more successfully.  It’s comical, really.  I was going maybe 5 mph and just dumped it.  Scooter = totaled.  My leg = broken.

Maybe a year a half after the Vespa incident, I decided I wanted to try riding my bike again.  I remember summers as a child spent zipping around the streets of Warsaw without a care in the world.  Many times I’d ride hands free, and intuitively steered from shifting the weight in my hips.  It was easy – and they say that riding a bike is well…”like riding a bike,” once you learn you never forget! HA!  Maybe I hadn’t forgotten the mechanics and theories behind riding a bike, but my body had certainly lost all recollection of how naturally it used to feel.

On my maiden voyage at at 27, my father and I decided to take a trip around the “4 mile square” in town – a giant block that is, just as it sounds, roughly 4 miles start to finish.  Well, I quickly learned that I didn’t understand when to shift into which gears.  I was working my butt off and not going nearly as fast as my father who wasn’t even breaking a sweat.  I called a halt to this foolish ride 1.5 miles in.  We turned around, I tucked my tail between my legs, and pointed my handlebars towards home.  As we came careening down this hill (ok, it was more like a small knoll), I decided it was time to shift about 10 gears at once.  My chain slipped and my foot came flying off the pedal, slicing the back of my ankle in the process.  I’m sure I yelled out some sort of expletive as I watched the blood drip onto Wyoming Street, documenting the comedy of errors this trip was being sprinkled with.

After learning that I was maybe being a tad dramatic, and I would indeed survive this dermal nick, I made my father carry my shoe back while I rode with one bare foot (I didn’t want to get blood on my new shoes).  I was already feeling resentful at this point.  At the bike specifically.  Clearly, it was personal and I was being attacked.  I felt embarrassed that small children could put my skills to shame.  The competitive beast within was disgruntled that my dad made it look so easy, and I could not have beat him in any kind of a race should he have challenged me.  Then things got serious when the darn pedal drew blood.  As I headed for home, licking my wounds (figuratively, not literal in the case lol), I had no idea that another attack was immanent.

I pulled up out front of the house, my mom was calling out the window to ask how it went.  I regaled the harrowing tale of how I narrowly escaped amputating my foot from the ankle down.  Then, as I climbed off my bike, I lost my balance and stumbled backwards.  I was headed straight for our garden pond.  Now, one might think that this would be a good thing – a wet, yet soft landing.  EXCEPT…we had just cleaned all the water out and scrubbed the sides.  So it was essentially a three foot hole in the ground.  Amazingly, I caught myself and managed not to fall backwards into what was sure to result in a broken bone.  However, the price of avoiding the pit of death was a pulled groin.  I literally threw the bike to the ground, went crawling to my mother and swore to never ride again.  A commitment I took very seriously until recently.

So clearly, even before my life changed with Dysautonomia, I was leery of any sort of two-wheeled machine.  Now, it just seems like a bike is probably a good thing to avoid.  Due to the Dysautonomia, I deal with a lot of dizziness and intermittent vertigo.  It used to be much worse before I had the TVAM procedure in January 2016.  I’d pass out weekly, and I couldn’t stand or walk too far without feeling highly symptomatic.  My world-spinning issues have improved greatly and now I can walk with very little feelings of dizziness.  I walk and/or run daily and I rarely notice it anymore – at least while I’m on the move, and for that I am thankful.  I do still feel quite a bit of dizziness if I’m standing still.  I have learned to cope and try to focus on something immobile, or better yet “anchor” myself in someway.  Oftentimes I’ll lean up against a wall, or touch something.  It doesn’t need to be much, just sort of make contact with something stable and I feel much better.  All of this to say – balancing on a bike can be tricky, but I have allowed my Dysautonomia to be a convenient excuse for why I “can’t” ride.

You see, the bike owns me.  It’s a left me in fear.  It’s in control.  And, I’m definitely a control freak  – so it bothers me that it’s “beating me” in a lot of ways.  I’ve been able to complete four different triathlons so far, but they’ve all been modified. Three were team events, and I found someone to ride in the bike portions and the fourth was an indoor triathlon where I was required to use a stationary bike.  Hooray!  No fear of tipping that baby over!  Many of my friends are competing in triathlons this month, and it’s reignited the fire within to finally conquer my fear of the bike.  These friends are truly inspiring and it’s hard not to want to keep up with the amazing people in my life.

At my new job, I learned about SMART goals – Specific. Measureable.  Attainable. Results-based. Time Limited.  So, I decided to put these into action.  Last summer, I did a team tri in LeRoy called “Tri-the-Oatka” and I wanted to make it my goal to do it solo this year.  That’s a 3.1 mile run, 13.1 mile bike ride, and a 1.5 mile kayak.  So, that was the goal, it was specific – I wanted to learn how to ride a bike without having an “anxiety attack.”  Measurable – I had a definite distance I needed to be able to confidently traverse.  Attainable – I wasn’t expecting to be able to ride in a 100 mile race or a mountain biking course on challenging trails.  It was a realistic ambition.  Results-based – you either complete the race, or you don’t.  No gray area of “well, I’m riding more than I was a week ago.  That’s good enough.”  And Time Limited – the race is Saturday July 15th.

So, I found a friend with a bike that I could borrow.  I was looking for something like a hybrid.  I needed something better than the Walmart variety mountain bike I had.  The gears and tires just aren’t designed for road races.  However, I also needed something that wasn’t too aggressive and scary.  I had borrowed a bike last year and only used it on a trainer (a device that holds your bike in place while the wheel spins.  So it’s sort of like taking a regular bike and making it into an apparatus you’d use at the gym).  The idea was to get used to the curved handlebars and shifting while safely staying upright – taking the balance out of the equation altogether.  Only, the trainer was far too tempting of a crutch.  I never developed the confidence to take the bike out on the streets.  So, my hope was to find a bike that was my happy medium.  I wanted thinner tires and better gears to handle riding long distances on the road, but the straight-styled handlebars from my childhood and definitely pedals that didn’t require clipping my feet in.

Beggars cannot be choosers.  I humbly accepted the offer to borrow a bike that had curved handlebars and pedals that hold my feet on.  I thought I’d just ride with the pedals flipped upside down, so the straps faced the ground.  Fail.  The straps scraped on the pavement and made it impossible to pedal.  I was forced out of my comfort zone and reluctantly put my feet into the stirrups of death.  How exactly do you fit your feet into the holds without dumping the bike onto the ground?  Also, where exactly do I put my hands so that I can access the breaks as well as the gears.  Do they go on the curved part of the horns? Or the straight part on top?  We picked up the bike on Sunday (as in 3 days ago), and after a lot of sweating bullets Dad and I headed out on the four mile square again.  This ride went considerable better than the one I took three years ago.  I made it the full mileage this time.  Starting and stopping was still panic inducing, as I knew I’d have to pull my foot out or put it back in.  All-in-all, I was feeling mildly comfortable by time I returned to the house.  Ok – I think my goal of doing the tri in less than 2 weeks may be attainable.

Well, I ran into a snag.  I have another commitment that weekend.  Crap.  So, in talking to another friend – I discovered that the Tour de Perry, a bike race in the next town over, is taking place this Saturday!  There are two courses, a beginner and an advanced, for lack of a better term.  The “easy” course is 17 miles long and relatively flat, while the challenging one is 53 miles with about 3000 feet of elevation change.  Is it possible to learn to ride this bike in 6 days with confidence enough to do the shorter course?  My friend told me about the 18 mile loop she does.  Starting at the YMCA, going north on Route 19 through Wyoming and out to Pearl Creek, then returning to town via Saltvale Road.  Seemed straightforward enough, and as a bonus – the shoulder width of the road is pretty generous and it’s relatively flat.  So, I left work on Monday with the goal of completing this 18 mile course.  If I could do it, then I’d sign up for the Tour de Perry.  If not, I’d have to find another option.

Nervously, I prepared for the challenge.  I set out and pretty quickly learned that my confidence was my biggest barrier.  I had to get off my bike and cross Main Street on foot, then getting back on the bike was terrifying.  I’ve been using the curb to help steady myself for takeoff.  I start with my left foot locked onto the pedal and push off the curb with my right foot.  Then, the hardest part is fumbling with the right pedal to get my foot locked in on that side.  It’s a balancing act of trying to pedal to gain a little momentum, then flip the right pedal around so I can slip my foot into the apparatus.  Oftentimes, I’m doing this little zigzag dance down the street as I’m focusing on my foot and not so much which direction my handlebars are facing.  On a desolate street – this isn’t an issue.  However, on a main thoroughfare with 3 feet of shoulder to work with before swerving into traffic….panic.  I legitimately tried four times before I got my bike moving in a controlled, forward direction. Phew!  I was off though, the hardest part was done.  Or at least I was hoping that was the hardest part.

I did pretty well for the first mile down main street, but then I came to the traffic laden, business end of town.  Between Tim Horton’s and Walmart cars were zooming by me, then I hit a patch of gravel on the shoulder.  I’d always heard that road bikes react wildly to pebbles because of the thin tires.  So, as I see this debris in my path, my heart starts racing.  How do I avoid it?  Then, I hear a large vehicle over my shoulder.  I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a legitimate panic attack, but this was probably the closest I’ve ever come.  My palms instantly began to sweat as I realized a semi truck was about to pass me, just as I was coming to a patch of gravel.  There was no swerving out into the road to miss it.  My eyes welled with tears and I literally thought to myself “holy shit, I’m going to die.  What the hell am I doing out here?”  I wanted to turn around.  To go back to the safety of the house.  I wanted to return the bike and tell my friend that I just “can’t do it.  Bikes aren’t for me.”  I could have.  Nothing and nobody was stopping me.  Just as quickly as I had decided to turn around and head for home, I also knew that I MUST keep moving forward.

We’re always going to come to obstacles in our path.  If we keep running from them, we never make it over them.  I thought about how disappointed I would be in myself.  I thought about telling the friend who had given me the tip on the 18 mile loop that I chickened out.  I thought about how I would feel returning the bike without having done a race.  That was all compelling reasons to keep moving forward – but the one that really mattered, was thinking about how then the bike would still be winning.  I’d still be ruled by my fear.  I wasn’t sure I could make it the full 18 miles, but I was sure that I could at least make it a little further.  I could always turn around a mile down the road if I needed to, but right now the thing I needed most was to keep making revolutions in a forward direction.

Things got much better from there.  Once I passed Walmart, I knew traffic would normalize and I’d have that nice shoulder the whole way.  There were a few semis who continued to pass me, and the reminded me just how small I was.  With each semi would come a gust of wind that would make my bike wobble a little.  I was hyperaware of exactly where the white line beginning the shoulder was.  I hoped that as long as I stayed on my side of that line, I’d be ok.  I was relieved to make it to Wyoming, but I was presented with the option of taking a road that would cut over to Saltvale and make my ride considerably shorter.  It was so very tempting.  However, I knew that my confidence needed me to go the full 18 in order to be ready to sign up for the Tour de Perry.  So, I carried on.  I stopped on the corner of my turn to Saltvale to snap a couple of photos, grab a drink of water, and pat myself on the back for making it halfway.  I think it’s important to take a second out in the midst of these big trials and recognize the work that you’re doing.  For me, this workload was more about the mental aspect.  Both sighing in relief that the hardest part was over, and feeling proud that I’d already done something that I didn’t think I was capable of.  9 miles was the furthest I’d ever taken a bike before, so even though I was only halfway there – I’d still accomplished so much.

Heading back on Saltvale was much less stressful.  There weren’t too many cars to worry about, and the views were stunning.  It’s funny, because by the time I returned to Warsaw I was so much more at peace.  I handled that busy section of town with a lot more ease, and I trusted that the cars didn’t want to hit me any more than I wanted to be hit by them.  I made it home and with a sigh of relief, I cried a little bit.  I’m not sure if it was joyful – that I’d done something I didn’t think I could.  Exhaustion – 18 miles isn’t easy!  Or maybe just a release of the anxiety I’d been holding in for the hour and a half I was out on the roads.

Some people think I’m crazy.  If you’re scared of riding a bike, it might not be the most logical thing to set out on a solo ride or sign up for bike race.  But we grow the most in the times where we face our fears.  If you’re afraid of riding a bike – I say the best possible thing to do is to challenge yourself by signing up for a ride.  There’s no backing out (ok, technically I guess you could back out and lose the entrance fee).

No more excuses.  No more leaning on my Dysautonomia as a crutch.  I’m going to face my fears and prove to myself that I’m stronger than a silly bicycle.


Crazy, Stubborn, Mileage (Part II)

Following my cousin’s wedding, I had to start my solo adventure back towards home.  As I mentioned in Part I, the plan was for my parents to fly down in time for the wedding.  If that had happened, we’d have followed the original itinerary of heading straight from Deltona, FL to Nashville, TN.  An 11.5 hour drive, all in one shot.  That wasn’t to be the case, however, as my mother was still in the ICU back in Warsaw.

I had started to work on a plan B as soon as it became apparent that my folks weren’t going to be flying down in time for the nuptials.  I had called my Aunt and Uncle, whom I haven’t seen in over seven years, to see if I might be able to stop in.  I had figured on just stopping by for coffee and hugs as a break on my way to Nashville.  Quickly, it dawned on me – with limited funds, Nashville seemed like a silly idea all together.  I’d be meeting my best friend there, sure!  However, neither of us were over-the-moon at the idea of sight seeing and doing costly tours.  Plus, the original plan was for Brandy to bring her daughter, Helen to Nashville to meet me for the first time.  At one year old, I still hadn’t had the opportunity to meet my niece.  Well, let’s just say that Helen has developed a strong disliking for the car and can only be soothed by Adele.  So, you can’t really blame poor mama for not wanting to rock out to “Hello” for 4+ hours.

LIGHT BULB!  What if I drove all the way to Illinois to visit Brandy at her home?  We’d save on hotel and sight seeing tours, I’d get to meet Helen, and we’d be able to have a relaxing visit.  I started to plug destinations in to my GPS and found that it would add about 2 hours of drive time to my overall trip.  Worth it.  The money we’d save by skipping Nashville was an obvious bonus, but meeting Helen was the closer I needed to make this the new plan-of-action! It still meant that I would miss the “Nashville City Cemetery Memorial Day 5k” that I’d signed up for, but overall I was happy with the new itinerary.

So, instead of stopping by for a quick “hello! Goodbye!” in Jasper, Georgia I decided to spend the night.  It broke the trip up nicely, as I would drive 7.5 hours from Florida up to Aunt Chelle and Uncle Jim’s. Then it would be another 7.5 hour onward to Brandy’s.  BUT WAIT… GPS took me from Jasper, Georgia to Mattoon, Illinois straight through NASHVILLE.  As in, I’d be driving through the city that my 5k was in.  So, I had another crazy idea.  What if?  What if I drove from Jasper to Nashville in time for the race, participated in the 5k, then hit the road again towards Mattoon?  It seemed like an easy decision!  I mean, I’d have to drive straight past the race anyways, it was too serendipitous to pass by.

There’s always a catch though – nothing can ever be that simple.  The race started in Nashville at 7:30am.  That meant that in order to make it in time for packet pick-up and the start, I’d have to leave my aunt and uncle’s house by 3:00am.  Sometimes, I feel like there are people who just think I’m crazy.  Ordinarily, I’d laugh and agree because being crazy can be a compliment.  Not when it’s a judgement type of crazy that they mean though.  It’s not meant in a “crazy/awesome” kind of way, and it can be hurtful.  Here, again, I was met with almost a feeling of anxiety as I felt judged by those who don’t “get it.”  I felt like I had to defend my plans and almost as though I had to keep them secret.  I felt a little nervous even telling my family members that I’d be leaving the comfort of their home in the wee hours of the night just to go for a run.  I got a lot of comments about how silly and stupid that was.  I found myself censoring my facebook posts to avoid the critical glare of the world.  Here’s the thing though –

  1. I actually really enjoy running and especially love races.  It’s not a chore if you love it.
  2. I had not only paid the $35 fee to run in the race, but I’d also put time and energy into an Americana themed outfit for the “racer with the most patriotism” award.  And I was RIDICULOUSLY excited to wear said outfit.
  3. I knew from my drive down to Florida that stopping to run was invigorating and could break up the 7.5 hour journey to Illinois nicely.  — Drive 3.5 hours, run in my race, then hit the road for the last 4 hours.
  4. It would KILL me to drive through the city a few hours later, knowing I could’ve run in the race.

So, I made the choice to go through with it and at 3am I was on the road towards Nashville.  I’m so glad I did it!  My legs were heavy while I was running, my ankles and knees were swollen from spending so many hours confined to the car.  I had a blast though!  It wasn’t my fastest race, but it fulfilled that sense of adventure.  The course took us through an historic cemetery with many peaks and valleys – both literal and figurative. It was exhilarating to literally be passing through a city and jump out to run with 100+ strangers.  It helped to wake me up, just as I thought it would, and BONUS!  I won first place in my age group and I won the patriotic award, or rather I co-won it with a little girl named Sophie who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old.

The one thing I really gained out of this trip was reconnecting with myself.  I think, sometimes we just get used to our current situation and we forget to take a step outside our comfort zone – whatever that’s defined as at that particular time period.  For me, I went from an incredibly independent world traveler, to sick and needing help with the most basic of life’s functions.  I’ve gained back my physical strength and I thought most of my independence.  I moved away from home to my ex-fiance’s town in Pennsylvania, then had the rug pulled out from under me again.  That’s when I moved back to Warsaw and into my parents house just about a year ago.  I’m so grateful that they’re willing to take me in, but I think in a lot of ways, it’s allowed me to be complacent in my current comfort zone.  I’m stagnant and not moving forward with my life’s plan.

This trip reminded me of how good it feels to not have to ask permission.  I didn’t need anyone to “ok” my decision to leave Georgia at 3am.  I didn’t need to plead my case for stopping for a few hours in Nashville to run and wait for the awards ceremony.  I got to dictate my own sense of adventure.  And for me – that’s running and traveling.  It reminded me of my bucket list and my life goals, and put me back in touch with who I am at the core.  I’m a nomad, an explorer, a fiercely independent even stubborn woman who doesn’t take defeat.  When something stands in the way of me and my plans, I figure out how to get over or around that wall.  It’s reinvigorated me for living the life I envision for myself.  I don’t need to be ruled by my circumstances, I AM THE AUTHOR OF MY OWN LIFE.

So, as silly as it may seem to some people that I would forfeit sleep for the opportunity to run a simple 5k – that race awoke the sleeping beast within.  The voracious appetite for seeing the world and fulfilling my dreams has returned.  Funny that I had to find it in a cemetery…running a race.

R.E.S.T. (Really (un)Enthusiastic Sedentary Training)

Sometimes the best thing we can do in our training plan is to not train at all. To deviate from the prescribed schedule and engage in life as it happens.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your goals, ambitions, and passions.  I’ve fallen so in love with running, that it’s become a part of my identity.  I can proudly announce when a new acquaintance asks me what my hobbies are that I like to run, take photos, and travel!  I’ve been reflecting the last couple of weeks how there are times that we allow the endorphin seeking part of our brains to override our sense of living in the moment.

69 days.  That’s what my Garmin watch now tells me is my longest streak of hitting my daily step goal.  I hadn’t planned on stopping there, but I’m now working towards that number again in the hopes of surpassing it.  I’m introspective enough to know that I was relentless and even boarder line obsessed with seeing my watch cross that arbitrary number I’d picked.  Heck, I even consciously picked an achievable number because I knew it would drive me nuts not to meet my goal every 24 hours.  I figured that was a smart approach so that on days when I was not feeling well I wouldn’t push myself past the point of stupid just to see my app light up green for victory.

I love to run, and I’m happy to carve out time each day to fit it in.  I’m always thinking ahead to the next day or even the week ahead of me.  I’m planning out which days are going to be busy, thereby dictating that I get an early morning run in.  Or which days I work in the mornings and have the afternoon free for my dose of “happy hour.”  There are some days that are tough.  You need to get creative to figure out when these steps are going to take place.  For example, on my epic road trip adventure.  I knew I’d be spending quite a few hours sedentary on the journey down to Florida.  So, the day I set out, I met a friend at 5am and hit the pavement for 6.5 miles.  This ensured that no matter how many hours I spent sitting in the car, I’d already succeeded that day according to my activity tracker.  Similarly, on the second day of driving, I had planned a pit stop to nap and then run.  This ended up being a wonderful idea, as I kicked up those endorphins and I felt refreshed and rejuvenated for the next leg of driving.

Sometimes though, this obsessive need to “feed my Garmin” can get in the way of human interactions.  I’ve witnessed this phenomenon in others over the past few months as well.  We become so single minded in our pursuit of our goals – whether that’s mileage, steps, calories to burn, weights to pump, group exercise classes to attend, the list goes on and on…. This laser focus can actually harm the relationships around us and keep us from experiencing this beautiful life with the humans who cohabitate this earth. If we’re not careful, we become so busy living for our Garmin/Fitbit/step trackers that we forget to look at life above our wristwatch.

On my way back home from Florida, I stopped to visit my Aunt Chelle and Uncle Jim in Georgia.  I’d gotten up at the crack of dawn to close the gap on the 7.5 hours separating me from them.  I was absolutely over the moon excited to stop in on my journey northward.  I had hoped that my family members would be up for a walk with me at some point in the evening.  I anxiously awaited my aunt’s return from work and as soon as I could work it into the conversation, I asked if she wanted to walk with me.  The only thing is…she works on her feet all day.  So putting extra steps in was the last thing she wanted to do.

I began to panic and slip into my obsessive way of thinking.  I looked at the road and wondered if I could set out on a solo adventure.  I could go for a run and get the steps in faster, or I could go for a walk and enjoy the beautiful area they’d moved into since my last visit.  As I sat there, pondering how I could excuse myself to go for a solo trek across Georgia…it hit me.  I had not seen these two people whom I love dearly for over SEVEN YEARS.  I had roughly twelve hours to spend there from the time I pulled into Jasper to the time I moved on towards Nashville.  I was really going to go out for a walk rather than sit and enjoy just being able to look at them, engage in conversation, and live in the moment?

That’s when I realized that my watch had made me selfish.  No – to be fair, no inanimate object can really make a person egocentric. That characteristic is either ingrained within or it’s not, but my Garmin definitely facilitated bringing that ugly trait out into light.  I’m so grateful that I was able to let it go right then and there.  I was at peace with the fact that I would end my streak that day.  My Garmin would read “longest goal streak 69 days 05/27/2017”, and starting Monday I’d be back at zero.  It was far more important to soak up absolutely every minute of time that I could visiting with Aunt Chelle and Uncle Jim.

This reverberated with me again this past weekend.  Every year since its inception, Camp Bonfire has drawn me to Greeley Pennsylvania for a pilgrimage of sorts.  It’s a summer camp for adults, and it is exactly what I hoped it would be. All the crazy fun of my childhood with the added bonus of being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.  I look forward to those three days of reconnecting with nature and friends all year long. It’s a safe space to be loud, crazy, goofy, etc.  I find it refreshing to be exactly who I am inside without fear of judgement.  I thrive off of the safe haven that camp has always offered me, from eight years old to thirty.  Just because I was at camp though, that didn’t lesson the desire to hit the road and add in some miles.


I recently started an eight week training regiment.  My goal is to increase my speed, and the schedule is intense yet manageable.  This is something completely different from any other training I’ve done.  I’ve always been focused on distance and pushing my body and mind to the limits of how long/far I could go.  I can’t honestly say whether my training for the marathon or this “speed camp” is more difficult.  In distance training, it’s a lot of mental strategy to keep at it when you realize mid 22-mile run that you’re only 15 miles in and still have 7 to go.  With my current training, the distances are much shorter with most days being 4-6 miles and a long run on the weekend maxing out at 12 miles.

This past weekend, my plan dictated that I get 6 miles in on Friday, rest day on Saturday, and 12 miles on Sunday.  I’d spent some time strategizing my approach to both enjoying camp and staying on track with my Runner’s World dictated training plan.  My hope was to swap Friday’s run with Saturday’s rest day.  I figured I’d get up early Saturday morning and get my 6 miles done before breakfast.  I was surprised to hear during the opening meeting that we weren’t allowed to reenter camp if we left.  So that somewhat limited my options for running.  I wasn’t going to be able to just go out on Route 6 for three miles, turn around and return to camp.  I understood the safety precautions behind the rule, but it put a damper on where I was going to be able to run.

I felt the familiarity of panic setting in.  When would I find time?  I could still get up in the morning and run laps around the soccer fields.  However, with recent rains, they would be sopping wet.  I had only packed one pair of sneakers and the prospects of walking around in soaked shoes was somewhat less than appealing.  I decided to try to wait for mid-afternoon when the sun would hopefully join us and dry up the grass.  After lunch it was rest hour, and I definitely needed to recharge before logging any miles so I laid down for a nap.  Following rest hour was the pool party – aha! Perfect!  I don’t like swimming because I get too cold.  I would run while everyone else was in the pool.  As the camp began to come alive again after a collective nap, people made their way to the aquatic fun.  I slipped into my running shoes and headed out to see how far a loop on the paved trails would get me.  0.3 miles.  Ugh.  So, just about the equivalent to running on the track behind the school.  I started out, not knowing how many miles I’d tick off the daily agenda.  I had hoped to find my groove, and get in the six that I needed.  I quickly began to get bored on my loop.  More than that though, I was feeling disconnected from my fellow campers.  They were off making memories, and I had chosen an antisocial activity.  There I was again, struck with the realization that I was missing out on life just because I had somehow convinced myself that my training plan was more important.

I finished three miles on that loop, then I happily ran back to the cabin to collect my towel and joined in on the fun.  Looking back, I don’t regret it for a second even as I play catch up and try to realign my week with the calendar posted on my refrigerator.  I had a blast at the pool party!  I took the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and I jumped into a freezing cold pool.  Then I joined a water basketball game, something I’ve never played before.  I made memories with teammates whom I hadn’t had the chance to meet prior to the game as well as cabin mates whom I’d already started to form bonds with.

The hardest part of any training plan I’ve ever followed are the rest days.  I’ve fallen so in love with running, that it’s something I actually enjoy doing every single day.  It’s hard to take a day off, even if I know it’s for the best.  We need those rest days budgeted in so that our muscles and joints have time to rest and repair.  Those breaks from running are a cornerstone in training and preserving the longevity of our bodies in the sport.  Most of the time, running injuries come from overuse and under utilizing cross training.  I, myself, have fallen victim to these.  It’s really easy to look at a calendar and pick out one or two days a week to purposely rest, it’s another thing altogether to get to that day and not don the gear and head out anyways.

Sometimes the best thing we can do in our training plan is to not train at all.  To deviate from the prescribed schedule and engage in life as it happens. Of all the things I’ve seen over all of the miles I’ve run – there’s no substitute for making memories with family and friends.  It may be hard to see the big picture when I’m so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, but I will never regret shelving my trusty kicks in exchange for loving on my fellow man.



Crazy, Stubborn, Mileage (Part I)

After months of planning and excitement, the eve of our big family vacation had finally arrived!  The plan was to leave home and drive down to Florida.  We’d spend a few days there for my cousin’s wedding, then head off to Nashville, TN for a couple of days.  We’d just been to Nashville for the first time ever back in December to celebrate my big 3-0 birthday.  My parents and I loved it!  We all agreed that spending two days exploring more of the city on our way northward after the wedding would be a great idea.  To sweeten the pot – my best friend, who lives in Illinois, was going to drive the four hours to meet us there.  All the plans were set, the rental car was reserved, hotels were booked, and I’d even found a 5k race to do on Memorial Day in downtown Nashville!

And then it happened.  We all went to bed around 11pm, and my mom was inexplicably cold.  In hindsight, she had probably already started to burn up in fever.  In the middle of the night, I awoke to her obviously sick and needing some help.  I assumed her sugar was high – feverish, not making a lot of sense, thirsty, weak, dizzy, etc.  Dad and I checked her sugar and while it was high, it has certainly been higher without being so symptomatic.  Still, I was convinced it was all sugar related.  Dad called the squad and he and Mom headed for the hospital around 4:30am.  At that time I was 1,000% certain it was her sugar.  I figured they’d give her some insulin, and she’d be checked out before we were supposed to pick up the car at 4pm.  Well, I was wrong.  Very wrong.  Turns out, she had an infection that had gone septic and her blood pressure was bottoming out.

I’m pretty sure the rational human being takes the news that their vacation plans have been compromised because their mother is in the hospital slightly differently than I did. I think the best words to describe my state of mind were melancholy and defeated.  After a rough start to 2017, we all needed this trip. Don’t misunderstand – I was concerned about my mother, of course!  It was one of those things though, there was nothing I could do by being in Warsaw to make the situation better.  Mom was very sick, but she was stable.  I was to be the maid-of-honor in my cousin’s wedding just four days later, so walk, drive, swim, or fly…I had to get to Florida. It seemed like the most likely scenario was going to be for me to fly down by myself, then Mom had planned to fly down three days later and make it in time for the wedding.  Of course, without the rental car that would mean that the second half of our trip wouldn’t be possible.  I wouldn’t get to see my best friend, and I wouldn’t get to run in my race.  The second Tennessee race to elude me in less than six months!

I had briefly thought of driving down by myself, but quickly dismissed that idea as lunacy.  First of all, I had never piloted a car for a solo trip over 3.5 hours.  Secondly, as part of my Dysautonomia, I suffer from chronic fatigue.  I’ve figured out how to skirt around it, by simply go-go-going all day.  If you don’t sit down to rest, you don’t have time to nap.  I try not to rest much throughout the day because A- it makes going back to work more difficult because my body has had a chance to realize how great my bed feels.  As well as B- I have difficulties staying asleep each night.  I got tired of hearing from my doctors it was because I was napping throughout the day, so I started purposefully busying myself and avoiding naps.  All that tangent just to say….car rides are my nemesis. It’s time spent sitting still, and the clouds of drowsiness become heavily laden with pent up fatigue.  As quickly as the thought flitted through my head, I dismissed the possibility knowing my parents would never feel comfortable with the idea.

While brainstorming what to do with the trip in Mom’s hospital room, Dad made the mistake of asking if I thought I could drive it.  From that moment, stubbornness took hold.  The way I saw it, this was our only shot at having hope that the trip could still be a success.  I had made up my mind that I WOULD drive to Florida, even if I wasn’t sure that I could.  It was scary.  It was exhilarating.  It was crazy.  I was about to set off on an adventure, and I’d forgotten just how much I loved being independently dauntless.

When I left that hospital room, the plan was for me to drive to Florida by myself, my parents would fly down as soon as Mom was released, we’d all go to the wedding, then carry on with the second half of our trip as planned.  Mom and Dad would get to see my cousin say her “I Do’s,” we’d all get to see parts of Nashville we had missed in December, I’d get to see my best friend, and I’d still get to run in the 5k!

I set out at 7:30pm on Tuesday.  My first goal was to make it to a family friend’s home in Maryland.  It was about a 5.5 hour drive away.  I used running to help me cope, as I have in so many other instances.  I rationalized this insurmountable task ahead of me with the thought that if I could run for 4.5 hours straight in a marathon, then surely I could drive for 5.5 hours.  Even better!  I was allowed to stop and take breaks!  So that’s how I attacked the entire trip.  Just as in life, taking at each step, each mile, each day just one at a time.  Running helped condition my psyche for the road ahead (no pun intended).  If I thought about driving for 21 hours alone, it felt like I would surely fail.  However, if I just looked at the leg ahead of me, my goals seemed attainable.  I drove that first segment and spent the night in Maryland.

I woke up the next morning and set out for my next benchmark – another 5.5 hours away to Kernersville, North Carolina.  A close family friend had some pseudo-family there and had called in a favor.  The plan was for me to take a nap at this woman’s house, go for a run, then hit the road again.  Ok – here’s where I lose most people.  GO FOR A RUN???  But…but, why?  Well, because that’s how I deal with stress.  It’s also a great release of endorphins and helps to make me feel awake and invigorated (another coping strategy to keep the fatigue at bay).  So, that’s just what I did.  I made it to Kernersville, took about a 1.5-2 hour nap, then I found a Planet Fitness and ran 5 miles on a treadmill.  I had planned to find a park or something, but the rain clouds followed me down from New York and I opted for a gym over torrential downpour.  After my run, I took a shower and got back on the road.  I felt GREAT!

I knew it was about 9.5 hours of road time between Kernersville and Deltona, Florida – my final destination for a few days.  I wasn’t completely sure of the plan, I just knew I was going to drive as far as I possibly could before pulling over somewhere to sleep.  I started to struggle quite a bit, but wanted to get to the other side of Colombia, South Carolina before resting.  It was late at night and I didn’t have to deal with any big city traffic.  I knew with the morning would come commuters and rush hour.  I managed to get past Colombia and had hoped I could squeeze through to the other side of Savannah, Georgia.  After about 4.5 hours, I had to admit defeat and I found a well lit Walmart parking lot.  Sleep would not come to me.  As exhausted as I felt, I just couldn’t settle my nerves enough to sleep in a bright parking lot amongst tractor trailers.  So, I found the nearest hotel and laid my head down for a few hours of rest.

My final part of the leg down went well.  I timed it perfectly!  I was going through Savannah before traffic picked up and hadn’t made it to Jacksonville yet for that morning’s rush hour.  I was on the home stretch and finally feeling that maybe – just maybe, I was stronger than I gave myself credit for.  I know to many people reading this who have done long, solo road trips before, my accomplishment might seem silly.  I get it.  I didn’t set any world records for most miles, or fastest land speed records from NY to FL.  For me, though, this was so much more.  After being stripped down of my independence, I’d forgotten how great it felt to be doing something like that.  I’d pushed my body in many ways, but I had somehow resolved myself to the idea that I was tethered to this small radius of drive-ability.  In retrospect, I can see how that would sound silly.


Part II to follow…more adventuring and finding independence


My cousin and I at her wedding!

Freshly Laundered Chinese Food

It’s funny how smells can take us back to a time, long ago. As I explored Warsaw, with my camera in hand, I went to the back municipal parking lot behind the Chinese restaurant & laundry mat. I was immediately transported back to my childhood with the smell of freshly laundered clothes juxtaposed with greasy oriental cuisine.

We had periods during my childhood when we didn’t have a working washer and/or dryer. So, I remember going to this laundromat on multiple occasions, passing the time with my mom and sister. Mom has always been a big fan of Chinese food, so I have a lot of memories of this restaurant in particular too (even though it’s under different ownership and name). I can remember many times when Mom would park in the back lot and send me in to pick up an order. A long walk down and black and white checkered hallway, usually trying to duck the boy who was a year older than me named Quanling.

It’s funny how these memories mixed together as I walked through the lot. So much familiarity and comfort in childhood memories. Two smells that seemingly oppose one another, one clean and fresh – the other greasy and heavy. Somehow, just like my memories, they combine to form one oddly sweet, somewhat melancholy amalgamate to my senses.

Reason number 189,373,910 why I love this community

April 6, 2017

The hardest part of running, or exercising in general, is taking the first step.  Some days it’s hard to motivate yourself to run.  There are a million and one excuses to stay home – it’s too hot.  It’s too cold.  It’s too early.  It’s too late.  I don’t feel like it.  The list goes on and on.  Once you start though, you quickly ask yourself why it was so hard to get going.  And I promise you, I have not once come home from a run and said to myself “I should have skipped that.”  Call it endorphins, call it pride at finishing, whatever the case may be…I’m always glad I took that first step.

So April 6th was no different – I was feeling unmotivated.  It took me almost 2.5 hours to convince myself I had enough energy for a run at all. I finally talked myself into a 5k route and headed out the door. It’s my old standby.  From my house, to the park, around the park twice, and back home.  3.1 miles, boom.  Done.  This run was hard, my breathing was off and I was still fighting to get into my groove.  By the time I got to the park, I was mentally beating myself up for losing so much conditioning.  After my marathon in January, I had nearly three months of little to no running due to a knee and Achilles injury.  I’d been cross training, building muscle, and finding my cardio in the form of the Arc Trainer and Expresso Bike.  While they helped, they were not the same as running.  Feet against the asphalt, heart pounding, mind freeing, running.

As I came to the park, I considered turning around and heading right home.  It would’ve been two miles round trip, and I could try again the next day.  My head was screaming to call it quits, but my heart knew I’d feel like I’d failed if I couldn’t even finish my 5k route.  So, I started up the hill by the tennis courts, battling my knee and my lungs.  Once I reached the pavilion at the top of the hill I knew I’d have a brief respite as I started the decent portion of the half mile loop.  As I neared the entrance to the park, I heard something over my music.  As I looked over my shoulder, I saw one of the wonderful YMCA families cheering me on with signs! That put a little pep in my step and joy in my heart. I literally knocked off a minute of my pace. Simply because my attitude had changed from “I can’t” to “I can.”

I thought as I rounded for my second and final lap around the park that surely they all would have gone back inside on the cool and rainy day. Yet, as I came to the park entrance for a second time, there they were! Cup of water in hand for me and high fives of encouragement! It was just what I needed to send me feeling full of love and gratitude on my way towards home.I thought all along that last mile how blessed I am to have this community and my job at the YMCA.  I also thought how I need to be more intentional about paying it forward in some way.  You see – you never know how a small act of kindness can impact someone you meet. A gentle act of selfless love can have a big impact on someone’s day. I need to remember that as I go to the store, go to work, go for a walk, whatever/wherever it may be. Treat others with kindness because you never know how that could impact there day and turn it around.