Even now, traces of the blood-red pomegranate stain the hyponychium of all ten fingers. I’ve spent the week picking, grooming, and covering up the lingering ashiness of anthocyanin pigment turned old, first with Essie Wicked and then with Essie Eternal Optimist. Somewhere underneath the two polish colors—the almost black crimson of a corrupted heart and the dusky rose of forever hoping—the keratin of my fingernails clings to the juice of forbidden fruit.

I’ve studied enough scripture to know the assignment of the apple to the Tree of Knowledge is most likely one modern error of interpretation, or assumption. There may well have been a pomme in the Christian stories, but most likely this fruit would have been the pomegranate (pomum for apple and granatum for seeded). The Qur’an refers to pomegranates frequently, as does the Hebrew Bible. Rimonim (pomegranates in Hebrew) is also the word for the intricate finials covering the handles of the Torah. Native to Iran and Turkey, pomegranates have an extensive ancient history across a variety of mythologies originating in that geographic region.

IMG_6718

They also happen to be Eric’s favorite fruit.

There might be ways to extract the seeds more quickly—submerge the fruit in water, pound it with a wooden spoon—but I deliberately choose the more painstaking way. I want the slowness with my son; I like the work. The greater the work, the more the delight. The seeds become precious, hard-won as they are. I put Eric on the counter with me, and we talk as I pry and flick the tiny garnet arils into my Christmas red bowl. It is an honest way to come by nutrition, I think to myself. You have to work for each seed, each pop of the juicy sarcotesta, the dribbling sweet burst of scarlet.

IMG_6719

As I work and he smiles and chats in his little boy voice, he often takes the bowl and begins to pile the seeds with wild abandon into his mouth. A single pomegranate, or even two, barely lasts the process. We’re up together often before Sister—Eric tends to wake up right after I come home from training—and we have spent many early mornings this week at this task. As that morning light fills our kitchen, I hear Juliet’s words from a time long ago when I taught 9th graders. She entreats Romeo in Act III, sc. 5:

Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.

It was the nightingale, and not the lark,

That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.

Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.

Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

At the break of day following the night of their marriage consummation, Juliet yearns for the nightingale—the continued night—and not the coming of the lark at dawn. If only he could stay with her. If only I could have these mornings deseeding pomegranates forever with my son. Current nutrition science suggests that one of the polynutrients, ellagitannin, found in pomegranates can help reduce inflammation, although ancient cultures have long been aware of the pomegranate’s myriad health benefits. I’ve needed my half-cups of pomegranates this week, as I pursued some significant  and new running and athletic goals for myself. I want to find out what dwells beneath my layers: how much tenacity, how much fight.

What follows for the next few minutes has very little to do with pomegranates at all, but I will come back around to them in the end. Sometimes getting all the bits of my thoughts out is a messy process!

My self-imposed project since the PR at the Long Beach Half Marathon has been systematically to break down, or peel back, as many mental barriers as possible to pushing my body as far as it can go. Although no one can reasonably argue that distance running is not physical—it most certainly is!—I find for myself that so much potential hides untapped almost purely in the mind. There is a mental component to my sport that I find much more engaging and enthralling than merely the physical pleasure of worked lungs and legs. I normally run between 30 and 40 mile weeks (a week for me is Sunday to Saturday). Leading up to Long Beach, I went for 30 consistently.

I run in the mornings on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Monday, I do not run, but I do swim 100 laps. After my runs on Tuesdays and Fridays, I swim 70 laps. On Wednesday, I add track intervals in the afternoon. Sundays are long runs; Saturday is my one day completely off. I also do weights here and there, motivated mostly by the prospect of getting to watch a TED talk if I make myself do them.

This training schedule has been good. Like Romeo and Juliet, I am always aware of the transition from nightingales to larks. I wake up at 4:00 AM on the days I both run and swim in order to get everything done. It’s dark and, lately, quite cold for this Californian: 38 degrees, 42 degrees. I felt my heart falter just a bit on the first really cold morning, but I got into that pool anyway. It’s what we make ourselves do when we want to wuss out that defines who we are. I always see the dawn. On mornings where I just run, I sleep in until 5 AM. Even on Sundays, I get up and try to get my run done as much as I can before my children wake up. As my runs increase in mileage, they do often beat me but not by much!

I’ve been looking for new goals since the 1:29.59 in Long Beach. Improving at my current race distances (my favorite is the 10K) is certainly always a given. Never settle. I want to run another full season on the courses I ran last year (5K, 10K, 15K, half) and see if I can achieve course improvements. I have a specific time goal I want to break at the 5K. I also have the goal of adding in more half marathons to my race schedule this year. I am training right now for a half marathon (downhill, though, so any PR won’t be comparable with what I did in Long Beach) on my birthday to ring in the big 3-5. I also want to break a 6:00 minute mile on a flat surface (I broke it in Eugene racing down a butte, but going sub-6:00 downhill doesn’t count to me; I have also run a sub-6:00 as a broken mile during intervals, but that doesn’t count to me, either). Beyond this, I have a sprint triathlon with my friend Steve in my crosshairs; the issue is training safely with the bike. Coach-husband, understandably, has great reservations about me riding on the roads around here. There has to be something I can do, though, and I plan to address options after the holidays. The big “M” word has come up, too, but I am not ready to commit to training for one of those yet. It takes an awful lot of hours to train up for one of those, and I might want to chip away at some other PRs this year first, at any rate. We will see. I have learned never to say never…

But in training for the half marathon at the end of December, I needed some other goals this month to help me push myself. I wanted to see what mental fears I could slaughter this week, knowing that each time I conquer a self-imposed roadblock, I will have more confidence to draw on during a race. It becomes a game with myself: “If you did ___________, then you can do ______ now.” Bill assigned 13.1—a half marathon—for Long Run Sunday this past week (I had done 11.8 the week before). I decided, also, to experiment with fuel part way through. I normally train on nothing, and although I will have 390 cals of Superfood Slam and a bit of water, Gatorade, and caffeine before a race, I normally take on no nutrition during a race…even the half. Yet I was curious if fueling would help with the gnarly 10-11 mile transition I seem to go through.

I decided to think about Sunday’s run as a 7.5 mile warm up, followed by a run. I demarcated the two by fueling and taking off my warm up jacket; thinking about the run in two pieces helped it not feel as overwhelming. But then what happened was somewhat surprising. I had been secretly thinking to myself that if I felt good, I would overshoot and go 14 miles—which would have been a distance PR, as I have never gone over 13.1. However, I felt so good with the fuel on board (I used shot blocks—love them, but way too chewy for a race, unless I cut them to make them more manageable) that I decided to keep pushing. I ended Long Run Sunday with 15.71 miles in two hours. That could stand to be improved before I think about much longer distances, but for the first time out at that mileage… I felt pretty good about it. I found that once I hit 14 miles, I had a moment of feeling like I could run forever. I had to reign it in, though, because one knows one can’t run forever and I didn’t want to overdo the distance here. Plus, I was sure the kiddos were up by then!

IMG_6727

With the distance goal of going over my 13.1 limit achieved, I decided to go for the big goal that I have been flirting with in my mind for awhile: the 50 mile week. It would require doubles all week, especially since I still wanted to fit in my swimming. Running five days a week, it requires an average of ten miles a day. On Tuesday, I started my afternoon run and my legs had a moment of rebellion before they shook out and got with the program. I decided then that I would accomplish the 50 mile week come hell or high water. It got to be a bit of a planning issue; I thought many times of the many runners who routinely accomplish 100 mile weeks. They must be running all the time, I thought.

No one knew how Wednesday night’s intervals would turn out. My legs already had as many miles as they are used to running in a week by Wednesday morning. Bill asked for two laps of warm up, a mile, a one-lap walk, a second mile, a one-lap walk, a third mile, and then two laps of cool down. He asked that I just break 7:00 on each of the three unbroken miles. Well, I wanted to go for it. I want my best three miles on that track this week, too. I actually wanted my sub-6:00 on the track this week, but my mind and legs just couldn’t quite get there. However, I did set my track mile PR this week: the third mile was 6:07, and it was the 10th mile of the day and the 36th mile of the week. It was actually a PR for that interval set: 6:19, 6:14, and 6:07. I really wanted to surprise Bill given the mileage already on my legs, and he was indeed surprised. Mission accomplished!

Who knows what hides beneath the layers, if we just peel them back? I had the pomegranate metaphor in my mind as I ran the track.

On Thursday night I came home from visiting Nana. I needed just two more miles for that day, but I decided to knock out 4.3 miles so that on Friday morning I wouldn’t need as many and could wrap up all of my mileage before swimming. I did not sleep well, anticipating this run: I was too excited, actually. All night I just wanted to get up and go get my goal. As I headed out the door in the pitch blackness with not even the waxing crescent moon visible, it began to rain. Oh well. Might as well finish a difficult goal in circumstances that make it just a little bit more difficult, right? I did my remaining five miles in the rain, and I got my 50 miles. It ended up actually being 50.72 miles.

IMG_6828

We do not know what hides within us unless we’re willing to do the messy work. The bigger the challenge, the greater the joy and deeper the meaning. I think often of the myth of Persephone and the pomegranate when I am training in 40 degree weather: the Greeks told her story to explain the seasons, the coldness and darkness. There are mornings when I am tempted to hibernate like Demeter, and if happiness were pleasure only, then I just might. Happiness, however, has very little to do with immediate pleasure it turns out…and everything to do with seeking out what is difficult and even unpleasant, and then overcoming. We must be loyal to ourselves, loyal to the point where we deny ourselves what is bad for us and govern ourselves over the long term as we would try to guide children.

The pomegranate tree is one of the main symbols in a favorite novel of mine, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. In many ways it represents the changing and deteriorating friendship between Amir and Hassan. At one point, Amir hurls pomegranates at Hassan, attempting to provoke him into a physical fight to assuage Amir’s guilt about a choice he has made. Hassan decides, instead, to remain loyal and silent; he takes a pomegranate and smashes it on his own head. Years later, Amir returns to find the pomegranate tree withered and dead. Hassan’s act is noble: he will bear much of the burden of Amir’s choice—not intervening in Hassan’s rape by the brutal teenage bully Assef—and will suffer that choice in silence. Yet, it is also instructive: the one dimension of Amir’s choice that Hassan will not adopt as his own is Amir’s guilt and shame. He will not alleviate Amir of that burden; no one can; it is up to us to accept the consequences of our actions, and to find our own way through guilt and to learn. No one can assuage his or her own guilt by anger at someone else, or by turning friends into enemies.

We can convert only our own energy, bad into good, or otherwise. Our potential…into our kinetic. Is the pomegranate seed potential energy? Yes. I will use mechanical energy to unlock its seeds, which are potential chemical energy for me, which I will transform into 50 miles. But aren’t pomegranate seeds, especially as they grow on the tree, also kinetic energy? Their atoms are moving, always growing imperceptibly.

For that matter, aren’t all things in a state of kinetic energy, atomically speaking? We’re taught that potential and kinetic energy are different states—indeed, I was teaching that to the kiddos this week: IMG_6804

(sorting Montessori energy classification cards and making a potential vs. kinetic energy collage) Then I got to thinking about it. Isn’t all energy both potential AND kinetic at the same time? Isn’t all of living, loving, being, thinking, and existing the process of this constant duality (both quite, quite literally and also metaphorically)?

When we stain our fingernails with pomegranate juice, what is it that we’re doing? When Eric and I laugh to Olaf’s song in Frozen as we peel and seed and revel, when I kiss and snuggle his red sticky cheeks, when we take that chemical energy and convert it into joy through hard work, what is the choice we’re making? We’re living on the side of energy that says, “Go forward. Live bravely. Work toward the treasure, and the sweetness.”

Advertisements