I am chugging along anticipating the Hayes Street Hill, an infamous hill with an 11% gain. A group on the corner has just thrown up a fit of cheers for a runner dressed as a gigantic red crab. Has he taken a hiatus? Because the crowd screams in paroxysms of joy, “The crab is BACK! He’s back!!!” One of the mysteries of Bay to Breakers, no doubt. I look up to enjoy the scene. My race is going well to start, and I want to savor as much of the San Francisco vibe as I possibly can. To run here, to run THIS race, to be with best friends, is a dream. To my left on the porch of an old Victorian, a man in FULL Darth Vader regalia is leaning against the railing, watching the race and eating his lunch with a plastic spork. I am in love with this city. In love.

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Bay to Breakers 2015 crew, just outside of the Dutch Windmill post-race: Marguerite, me, Dylan, and Steve

I am not entirely sure when we decided to be the outliers and racing nerds who take this race seriously—probably some time after we all saw that the entry form asked for an anticipated race pace and before discussions of “Seven Deadly Sins” and “physics of the universe” and “superhero” and “birds” costumes gave way to wanting to wear our favorite racing gear.

We are who we are. I am not sure any of the four of us here were capable of doing less than our best, and that’s one reason why I love us. For us, it seems, “fun” is finding the best in ourselves and supporting it in the others. Even though I considered “fun running” it for two seconds, as soon as I broached the topic Coach-Husband Bill essentially said, “Whaddya talkin’ bout, Crazy?” only with much more eloquence of language. A phone call with Steve only reaffirmed this point, and so my dreams of becoming a troupe of running Muppets or vaginas (no, for real…look it up) suddenly gave way to making a more official racing goal for this event.

We all came in somewhere behind the Kenyans and before the sharks with no arm rotation, old naked men, guys bouncing balls (sounds like I am describing the naked men again, but this truly was its own category), Wonder Women chained together, and drunks…and for us that was just about right.

As most extraordinary memories do, this weekend quickly took on a life of its own. First, Bill and I had our first major travel while kid-less for the weekend. (That experience, I think, requires its own entry later). Our explorations around the city on Saturday morning took us to old San Francisco history and one of my favorite movie sites (also its own entry).

By Saturday afternoon, we met up with my friends and some of their family members and friends. We figured we might as well make the most of the weekend together and so about a week ago, we added another “locked room game” to our weekend plans:

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We were planning to work our legs on Sunday morning, so why not our brains on Saturday afternoon? Mens sana in corpore sano. Right?

Held in Japantown, this room game had its first ever run on Saturday, and I think we were the fourth team to attempt it. The puzzles were completely different. Unlike the first room game we played last year—which would have required a logical leap to which none of us were close at the ending bell—we knew what to do in this room yet simply ran out of time to execute. We got caught in the middle on a long clue, and we used too big a portion of our time trying to decipher it. Eventually we did, but recovering time after that point was nearly impossible. Overall, I did think the puzzles were more well planned out in this version. There were stages that HAD to be completed in order to earn passkeys/clues into later stages from the hosts. In the previous room, there was less of a sense of “stages” and no sense of advancing levels; this room felt more like a video game in that sense. I loved it.

Then, a dinner in the Mission district:

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Marguerite told us about a favorite place of hers called Pi Bar that has the best pizza this side of New York City. She was absolutely correct. We must have sampled most of the menu: polenta fries, spinach and Caesar salads, a huge pizza, a side of more spinach (or was it anchovies, Steve?), baked ziti and vegetables, and more bread. We fueled up the vegetarian way. I swear by a highly, though not exclusively, vegetarian diet. Pi was delicious! They also open at 3:14 every afternoon. Their daily specials are $6.28. Could we be any nerdier? No?

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The crew

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Bill and I after dinner

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Marguerite and I have been friends since middle school; Steve became a friend in 9th grade. We’re getting fairly old now, so we’ve been friends for well over half our lives.

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Before the race with Marguerite and Dylan

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TVHS ’98, RE-PRE-SENT!

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At a certain point, we all went about our pre-race routine. I had finished my jog and was in the middle of taking off my cast-offs to finish my speed strides when I saw Steve. One last hug and then: countdown time!

I should mention here that the warm up marked one of the best parts of the race experience for me. Even moreso than at Long Beach, there were some very high-level, invited, flown-in, elite Kenyan runners here, among other invitees. In some ways, as whackadoo as this race is, at the front it was probably the most professional race I’ve been part of with the highest caliber collection of pros. Butte to Butte, of course, has all the Oregon runners, a few of whom are U of O level and about to turn pro; but B2B drew some talent. These elites and I were all seeded in the same corral (I had to submit an additional verification form after my initial race registration, in which I claimed a certain time) though of course they are faster. I had the chance to LEARN, LEARN, LEARN from the Kenyans’ pre-race warm ups and prep. In fact, at one point, we were all warming up to the side of our corral “together”—and by “together,” I mean, I went over and studied the heck out of everything they did and added a few elements to my own warm ups which I performed alongside them. I consider myself a student of my sport, and Sunday gave me a golden opportunity to be this eager student.

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My corral

I found myself fairly mellow in my corral, surprisingly. Maybe it was the announcement of the guy who had glued 995 googley eyes to his shirt to break the record for running with the most googley eyes. One of my racing habits is to put my mind into some kind of deliberate narrative/story/mindset/mantra beforehand. (At the Hot Chocolate 15K it was the idea of running with pure joy; at Big Sur, it was Cannery Row, family, and the energy of the waves/universe; at Long Beach it was the “prove yourself” story; there’s always something different, a dimension of my journey). Even with all of my history in San Francisco, even with a memory of having volunteered through my college philanthropic group at B2B years ago, even with all of the potential musical/cultural history of the area on which I could have drawn…even with all of that, by the night before the race, I still had connected with nothing solid. I woke up still trying to know that spark deep down inside of me: connecting to that authentic fire, whatever it is for the race, is truly one of the secrets to racing well. Given the training (a big order that takes my full commitment every single day), a race is, I believe, truly run from the neck up. Trust the physical training, if you’ve really done it; on race day, it is the head that matters most. Can your head inhabit an authentic, passionate space? Narratives and mantras that do not spark with that authenticity will not, in my experience, work out. When we run, we have to run with all that we are. It is ourselves we lay down on the line. To run exposed and vulnerable is the only way.

I wasn’t quite connecting with myself on race morning, and I knew I had to strip my mind of overthinking and complexity.

I also knew that I have been heading toward a point for a few months where, being forthright, I needed to stop being a wuss. I have been putting off having the kind of race where I could really fail. My data sets during training have indicated that I could have some better performances; despite this, I have continued to set more conservative goals (still progressive, but conservative) and to run conservatively while meeting those goals. They were still risky…but not risky enough. No one wants a race in which the bear jumps on too soon. I was so afraid of the bear at the Carlsbad 5000 that I let myself stay in the 19s. It was a PR, but I considered my response to lingering fear to be a defeat. Even my coach does not know how disappointed I was in myself or how I have been thinking for awhile that a race would come in which I would force myself to throw down.  The whole point of this journey is to root out fear and make myself, body and mind, stronger and stronger.

So. As I was dressing for this race, I knew it was just time. I adopted a simple mantra alone in our hotel bathroom at 4:30 AM: GUTS. It didn’t need to be more complicated than that, didn’t need to be the waves on the beach, or harnessing the beauty of nature, or anything else. Guts. Guts, guts, guts. I was going to risk everything—even not finishing or having to walk—and push as far as I could. No risk, no reward. So why not risk it absolutely all? I re-watched the footage of Prefontaine in Munich in 1972 just to understand what I was doing; the bear got him that day, and the bear rarely took Pre. Pre defines someone with guts, who risked it all every time he raced. Inspiring.

My hope for this 12K (roughly 7.5 miles) even as late as the day before was to finish in 50:00, if I could. I only ever share these goals with my coach beforehand. There is simply no way to know a new course well enough to be totally informed; 50:00 represented a conservative goal. I knew the Hayes Street hill would be gnarly, but I also know that I am a hill runner; I look at all hills in a race as to being to my overall advantage in many ways. And although Hayes Street is certainly a mother of a hill, I felt prepared to run it. After 4-5 MILES of ascension during Hot Chocolate and another several miles of cambered rolling ascension during Big Sur, Hayes Street seemed doable.

It did slow me down by about a minute on my pace when I got to it (clocking in for that hilly mile at 7:14 min/mile), though it turned out that I was the 3rd woman up it in my division. They offer a $2500 purse to anyone who gets up it first. I knew THAT wouldn’t be me, but I also thanked my stars that I train on miles of Temecula hills daily and have been doing hill sprints/charges weekly for much of the year. Hayes Street does intimidate when you first see it from the bottom, and I did have an “OH shiznitz!” moment. Still, I knew that once I was past it, I’d have the chance to get back into my pace as a reward.

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So in the corral waiting to start, I kept chanting to myself, “guts, guts, guts.” Then the horn. I went out quickly—a little too quickly—at a sub 5:30 pace for the first quarter-mile. I knew I had to reign that in a bit and started doing 5:55. Two guys next to me also checked their systems and said they thought they should back off to 6:00. That was about right, so I drafted off of them a bit and went a bit slower. My first mile split was 6:08, and I settled in, clicking off a 6:09 next. Hayes Street threw me off, but other than that I did sub-6:30s for the race, with many bursts at sub-6:00 pace, and some ridiculous burst at sub-5:00 pace at one point (all according to my watch). My average stride length was in the mid-170s; I am forgetting now what my cadence data said.

I finished the 12K (7.5 miles) in 48:11. For most of Sunday, the results said I was the 2nd place woman in my division; I am actually 3rd place. I was the 22nd woman out of 16,076. 232nd out of 29,970. In general, I don’t pay much attention to placements, less so in races with fewer participants. It’s a data and stats thing. And since my perspective is that I am always only ever racing myself, and since no one controls who shows up (how we rank changes drastically if we’re racing Olympians, right?), I really only look at my data to determine how well a race goes. However, a placement in a race like this—where many of the 21 women before me were the Kenyans—has a bit more meaning. Looking at placement history over several races is significant, not so much for one race.

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That said, during the race I found myself not focused at all on what others were doing. I knew early on that to be successful here I had to keep my mind focused on my own race only. I only “compete” in a race to the extent that at a certain point, I try to motivate myself to keep my pace through the pain by making other runners in front of me a target to pass, if I can, like a video game. I don’t really want to beat them, or not; I just want to do what I need to do to keep my pace going. When I train, I often target trees or fire hydrants. Every pass is a bit of a victory in my rankings, but it is more about letting the atmosphere of the race push me forward in ways that running alone at 4:30 in the morning often can’t.

There was not much jockeying at this race, though. Since I focused so much on running at nearly-but-not-quite a 5K pace for a 12K, I knew that thinking about other runners at all would throw me completely off. By the 5 mile marker, I knew I was doing it—going to go sub-50:00—and because I was starting to get excited and anticipatory, I had to give myself a stern talk. I was close to bringing on the bear, and it wasn’t yet time. “Keep it together. You are doing it. Continue this pace until the last 800 m. If you keep this under control, you will have a breakthrough today. Do not kick yet.”

Although I do not eat or drink during a race of this length, I do perform full system checks en route at almost every mile. My legs felt great, thanks to the perfect coaching of my husband. Everything felt strong. In fact, I got focused on my breathing at one point, but then drew on my swimming to get over that hurdle. I know how to ventilate, I told myself. I performed a breathing exercise, knew the lungs were in order, and went back to concentrating on keeping the mind where it needed to be. I checked my form a few times, as well. After my system checks, I would remind myself, “Run the mile you are in. Enjoy the vibe and spectators.”

Only in San Francisco do spectators dress up to watch a race! At Golden Gate Park, a man had climbed a tree and waved a pine bough at us. Some families watched from the upper windows of their Victorians, and at one point, I waved to some. The cowbells and cheering kept us all going. Bay to Breakers has to be one of the more festive, happy races I’ve ever done. Constant interest points, never felt drudging. Bay to Breakers has been run since 1912. I loved every moment.

And only in San Francisco would we round the corner into the last 800 m to the thump of Duran Duran’s “White Lines.” I turned RIGHT to the lyric “And don’t ever come down…Freebase!!” which is the best part of the song, I have always thought. I actually sang along, and then I knew it was time to KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICK.

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My coach is the reason for this performance. I simply do what he says to do in training. Intervals and double days most of the week may sometimes feel taxing, but every time I race I uncover more of the treasures he has laid down for me. So speedwork is never just about speedwork and merely getting faster. He’s trained my MIND, in addition to my body. When he asks me to do some fast 200s on miles 10, 11, an 12 of a 13.2 mile training day, it’s not just about breaking down my legs. I drew not only on the confidence that kind of training gives (if I can go that fast on a half-marathon-plus training day, I can do it now), but also on the mental toughness that forces into a person. I get it now. My husband knows exactly what he is doing.

And when I needed to go down that chute half a mile out, Bill was with me in my mind. It’s just an 800 m interval sprint, I thought. I’ve done plenty of those on more leg mileage than this… let’s goooooooo!

The BEAR jumped on the last 50 m. Really jumped. I closed my eyes a moment and then put what was left into getting to the finish although I could feel my stride choking and stuttering like a jalopy on fumes. I knew then that I had run with guts. I’d been flirting with the bear the whole time. Here he was, right where he should have been. There was nothing more I could have given. The BEAR meant I gave it all. I had beat my goal by almost two minutes. I had nothing else. No holding back. I had run with guts. I did not let myself down.

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Those moments when you tell yourself you are going to do something, and then you absolutely follow through? Yes. I cried and felt emotional. There is no feeling in the world like achieving something you have told yourself you were going to achieve. 

This was a breakthrough race for me. It was probably the race of my life, so far, in terms of speed and mental tenacity. Other races have their stories and their importance in the journey, but this…this I needed. I am hoping I can remember these lessons here and go to the next level in my training now as a result.

And since so many people were involved in accommodating that race on my schedule (Bill took off work on Friday, my parents watched the kiddos, the kiddos spent nights away from us), I figured I needed to have a good performance and make it count! After I came in, we lingered a bit and watched some more of the race. I enjoyed the costumes quite a bit, especially the man who had a large pair of cardboard scissors and a patch over his eye. So many random, creative ideas, too. Loved it.

The funniest part, though? After all of that… Well, that morning at the finish the parking was beyond insane. Bill parked, and understandably, thought he was on one street when really he was on another—but we didn’t know which one. SO. After a 7.5 mile race at leg-murder speed, I then ended up running another 1.5 or so looking for our car. Up and down the neighborhood outside of Golden Gate Park. We agreed that I should start running it, because it would be a faster search process by many orders of magnitude. I was still running when Bill used a Google app to pinpoint the last place the car had stopped. Heck yes. Between panicking and being hopeful and then despairing (we walked before I started running—the whole thing was maybe about half an hour to 40 minutes of searching), I actually knew we were making a hilarious memory.

All the way across the city…and then I found myself running aimlessly hunting for a needle in a haystack! Ha ha ha!

Nestled almost at the base of the hills, one of Temecula’s largest parks sits in a bit of a hollow on the other side of town from me. I venture to that side of town so seldom that I cannot even claim I watched the park evolve over the years into the sprawling grassy picnic oasis of forty-four acres that it is now. I knew it once only long ago, when in high school I went with the Earth Club to plant a tree there as one of our projects. That park, with almost no structure on it or development, was way out in the boonies back then, my most awkward year as a teenager.

In fact, the planting of that tree marked the single time I’d ever been there in all twenty-four years of living in, or visiting, Temecula.

Until this past November.

In November for the first time I took a running route that crossed over one of the main roads and found myself all the way over at the third high school across town. Circling back around, I passed the park, appraising for the first time its loveliness and extensive play structure. Later that day—it was a Sunday—I returned with my children to show them this new place.

The girl over on the cement benches under the pergola looked to be a junior or senior in high school, wore loose her long blonde hair, dressed too darkly and too warmly, and winced out a forlorn look that could have been mistaken for diffidence. She saw us, of that I am sure, but seemed not to care. A glance showed her bent over with her head almost on her arms, doing something—maybe texting? She carried a satchel large enough for books, and the optimist in me believed she might just be waiting for someone. My intuition suggested she was a bit out of place, but not to the point that she warranted any more than an occasional sideways check of peripheral vision. On one such check, I saw her wipe her nose with a tissue. The mom in me, or perhaps the lingering naif, thought maybe she had a cold.

Eric, Katie, and I moved away from the tables and benches and over to the big play structure, where we played for maybe forty minutes or more.

By the time we felt ready to go get frozen yogurt, many more families had arrived at the park. As we walked back toward our car, and toward the pergola, I saw a small group of a mom and a couple dads all staring in one direction: the girl was in the throes of clearly drug-induced behavior. Wild gesticulation. Swaying her body round and round. Pounding the table with her hand. Bloodshot and wan. Muttering nonsense. Clearly a danger to herself, possibly to others.

One mother wondered aloud if she should call the police. All of us cast about, as lost as we were afraid.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I just finished a couple of days ago, well-known psychologist  and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics Daniel Kahneman explores the ways in which two brain systems affect the way we process decisions and arrive at judgments. System 1 is emotion, quick, and (to a fault) intuitive; System 2 is more logical, more deliberate, and more able to process a statistical view of the world. Marshaling years of his own research as well as that of others,  Kahneman reveals that we all fool ourselves all of the time, and he gives us practical advice for thwarting various mental glitches and dealing with profound cognitive biases.

In a chapter on base rates, causal statistics, Bayesian reasoning, and beliefs, Kahneman summarizes an experiment (not his own, actually)—the “helping experiment”—conducted at New York University. Participants in the experiment, talking into microphones and separated by booths, through hearing witnessed a stooge experience a health issue So far as the rest of the participants knew, one of them was having a real health problem and had asked for help. Only four of the fifteen participants made a move to help. Six never came out of their booths, and five others emerged only after the stooge appeared to have choked. The experiment demonstrates the tendency to feel relieved of responsibility when we know others have heard the request for help. The point is that the results may surprise us: most of us fancy ourselves kind people who would be quick to help. The experiment, however, shows that this expectation is fallacious. Even normal, decent people can fail to act helpfully when others are present to take on the unpleasantness of a tough situation. This means all of us. Me, too.

We don’t always step forward.

Back in the park, I assessed the flailing girl most certainly there for the sole purpose of doing her drugs. No doubt she had sniffed something, as I reviewed what I knew in my mind. She needs help. I should call the police.

And then I got scared. For my children. For myself, as a mother of these children. Who knew what else the girl had in her bag? I didn’t want my children to see any more of this. Much is made about how protective parents are these days. Yes, and sometimes young people need sheltering. Not every opportunity for a lesson in real life is a good one, not at that age.

Sometimes young people also need to see consequences. And kindness and helpfulness to our fellow man.

I will never know for sure if I made the right decision. I summarily decided for the moment that the two dads and the mom already discussing the issue could decide to intervene. I hustled my children into the car. I cast a vote of burden on the shoulders of the others, without a word. One might easily imagine that those adults, too, watched and discussed her behavior and their indecision ad infinitum until action would have been useless or irrelevant, or until they decided to let her be and wandered away back to their children. Of course that could have happened; we know, in fact, that such an outcome is likely. I knew it might be when I chose to leave. My decision was selfish, through and through. And I knew it.

As a Utilitarian, for the most part, I take John Stuart Mill’s words seriously: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions, but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

I drove around the corner and texted my husband. We are each other’s check and balance when it comes to ethics. What should I do? Should I go back and call for help?

Bill’s response was clear and immediate: Take our children away from there, right now. Be safe.

Not a day of these six months has gone by when I haven’t thought of that girl. I wonder about the conclusion to her story. I wonder about the beginning of it, too. No one is born wanting to block out the pain and get addled in the park, an intentionally public space. That’s really the most gut-wrenching part, to me. Her outcry was plain: the park is a busy place. I hope she is okay. I suspect she is not, or will not be yet. If anything, the journey has only started for her.

I cannot say I look back with regret, because that’s really not it, not exactly. In all reality, I probably would make the same decision if I had to do it again. I know myself, for better and worse. Putting one’s children out of harm first may NOT always be the ethical decision when it comes to the fate of all humanity, but in this case, I think it was. It was high risk for them, a high risk brought about by a human being who was not assessing the potential risk to them when she made HER decision. But what if it had been just me there, without my children? Perhaps my mind would have found another reason to avoid involvement. Perhaps I am putting a narrative on my decisions in retrospect, to give my choices a convenient coherency.

What I question most is the moment when I glimpsed my own fear and when I stood in my grey area, as I have stood every single day since: that space when I know that I am not always what I expect to be. That space in which the ethics are not so clear, when we know we are trading one thing for something else…when we know we are making a judgment with all the frailty and bias of our own humanity. In those moments, can we see clearly? If everyone acted as we are about to act, would the universe be a kinder or a worse place? What if our intuition and our probabilistic view of the world conflict?

The ripples of my inaction are unknowable, as would be the ripples of acting. I don’t think I will ever know objectively if I made the right, or best, decision of those available; I only know that I had mere moments to decide, weighing quickly, making trades, as we all do. It is easy to stand in hindsight and judge oneself, and I know that by offering this story, I invite others to use their hindsight and hopeful speculation about their own behavior to judge me. We are a judge-y sort of species. It comes with the narrative-making thing. Always a morality tale.

But I have no morality tale for you today. I have only the description of the time when I lingered in uncertainty and tried to grasp my own heuristics and biases in the most honest way I know how to do. I could be wrong. I could often be wrong...

Perhaps we may only begin to trust ourselves when we know through reason that we never quite can.

“One of the most poetic facts I know about the universe is that essentially every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded. Moreover, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than did those in your right. We are all, literally, star children, and our bodies are made of stardust.” (Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing)

1. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove with Howard Chua-Eoan (March 2015, nonfiction)

“Yet even with an amazing specimen like Kotar, many things were amiss. For one, his dorsal fin was collapsed. It was a physical characteristic he shared with all of the adult male orcas at SeaWorld. I would soon learn that the cause is confinement: floating motionless at the surface of the pool without support for the height and weight of the dorsal fin leads to collapse…”

A few months pregnant with Eric, I remember cuddling with Katie in our big bed the morning I heard about the tragic death of 40-year-old SeaWorld (Florida) trainer Dawn Brancheau. Katie, at age two, had reached a place in her development at which Bill and I had just begun to take her to places like Disneyland, the Wild Animal Park, and more. I’d been eager to take her to SeaWorld, a favorite place of mine in childhood, since she was born.

I’m not one to jump onto bandwagons—quite the opposite, actually. I have an extremely wary and disbelieving mind: it takes fact—and verifiable at that—to get me to entertain a point of view. There is also the credibility of those who present the facts to consider. What rhetoric do they use? Do they embrace or reject science? Do they understand statistical variation? Even then, I hold everything I think at a remove, always aware that on any issue (death penalty, abortion, etc) I could be wrong. No matter the evidence one has, we have to leave open the possibility for further evidence. Just as I am not religious, I am also not religiously political. I walk around everyday thinking, I could be wrong. I could be wrong. I could be wrong. In cynicism there is an inherent humility. It’s a healthy self-doubt, knowing enough neuroscience, behaviorism, psychology, and statistics to understand that we all—all of us—are prone to fooling ourselves all of the time. We make cause and narrative when there really are none; we are affected by things like base rates, how we were raised, and myriad other variables. How many people do you know who walk around with a constant check on themselves, especially with respect to their dearest and most self-definitional beliefs? I could be wrong. I do not at all doubt my ability to think and search and to interpret, but I know that part of a healthy—and integrity-driven—mind is to be able to stand outside of itself and check itself, as objectively as it can. If there is an idea which we find in ourselves that is so dear that we would never, under any circumstances or evidence, be willing to let it go, then that should be a major red flag that the mind’s integrity has been compromised, in my view.

That said, when the documentary Blackfish came out, I held it away from me like the stink of propaganda I assumed it would be. So many jumped on that bandwagon so fast that I wanted nothing to do with it in the wake. I do not like issues that gather sudden furor: I don’t trust them, usually. In the meantime, though, I postponed taking Katie and eventually Eric to SeaWorld. I did not like some of the facts that had emerged, and while I still considered myself researching the issue, I wanted to hold off taking them there just in case.

Eventually I watched Blackfish. It occurred to me even then that I could be getting spun, but I made a decision that the evidence pointed toward continued avoidance of SeaWorld as the neutral position until I could probe the ethics more carefully.

Katie is seven and Eric four. Neither child has ever been to SeaWorld, and after reading this book this month, I can say with near certainty that they never will go while under my parenting. We’ve even had opportunities to go that would have reduced the ticket prices for us immensely—Katie for a penny!! A single cent, yes, as part of a student deal, and Eric and I at very reduced prices.—but I haven’t done it and won’t do it. Ethical decisions should not have a thing to do with affordability.

Author Hargrove worked as a SeaWorld trainer for fourteen years, at both the California and Texas locations. Becoming a SeaWorld trainer had been his life goal since childhood, and the degree of love with which he writes about his favorite whales, whom he shall never seen again, is heartbreaking. He resigned in August of 2012, coming to a place of understanding that, ethically, he could not continue to support SeaWorld or its inhumane practices…

…Of which he details many. The bottom line: orcas should not live in abject captivity. The science backs this up. We have a duty as humanity, I think, to honor these creatures and to protect the vulnerable among us. There is no reason at all to torture animals—majestic or humble—for our entertainment. There are other ways to learn about sea life. If any of what I have said here rubs you the wrong way, then I would argue that is all the more reason to put your biases aside and read this book yourself…from one skeptic to another.

Maybe take a good whale watching trip instead?
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2. Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff by James B. Stewart (2011, nonfiction, social science)

“This surge of perjury cases at the highest levels of business, politics, media, and culture poses some fundamental questions: Why would people with so much to lose puts much at risk by lying under oath? Whatever they may have done, why would they compound their problems by committing an independent felony, punishable by prison? What were the consequences? And what price are all of us paying for their behavior?”

Stewart, former Page One editor at the Wall Street Journal and Pulitzer Prize winner, handily narrates the downfalls (or lack thereof) of Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff. Originally part of a TED generated list of books about the nature, science, and psychology of lying and self-deception, Stewart’s social science expose was a bit of a different genre for me. I debated between this one and Dan Ariely’s more science-based treatment of lying, and this one with its opening chapters on Martha Stewart just grabbed me. (I plan on the Ariely perhaps this coming month, though). Stewart (James, that is)  brings to life a cast of characters that I had heard about in my late teens and early 20s, the sort of characters that come to one’s half-attention when one is finishing up college and beginning a time-demanding career. I read the news back in those days, but I didn’t pay much attention to the narrative life of it all.

Stewart brings the stories of these acts of perjury to life. I had many moments during this read of, “OH! So that’s what happened.”

If you like current social history, this well-written and extremely lengthy book is probably for you. I cannot say it was a memorable favorite of my books this year, but it held my interest.

3. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss (2012, nonfiction science/physics, math)

“Nevertheless, the declaration of a First Cause still leaves open the question, ‘Who created the creator?’ After all, what is the difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one?”

“The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. The existence of a creator is independent of our desires. A world without God or purpose may seem harsh or pointless, but that alone does not require God to actually exist.” 

“However, a negative charge moving backward in time is mathematically equivalent to a positive charge moving forward in time! …In this case one can reinterpret Feynman’s second drawing as follows: a single electron is moving along, and then at another point in space a positron-electron pair is created out of nothing, and the positron meets the first electron and the two annihilate…”

Krauss is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist educated at MIT and known for his studies of dark matter/dark energy.

This is one of my favorites reads of the year. Krauss is known for his accessible and yet still demanding treatment of science. If questions of physics fascinate you, pick this up. If you wonder whether or not it is turtles all the way down, pick this up. If you like thinking about how small human beings are in the continuum, pick this up. If you like a little real physics and math (diagrams, too!) in your reading, pick this up. If you favor science as a discipline of integrity through which we can come to understand more about the nature of existence, pick this up. If you do not favor a scientific view of how we came into existence, pick this up.

4. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (March 2015, nonfiction, history, military history)

“The most important effect of all this was to leave the determination as to which ships were to be spared, which to be sunk, to the discretion of individual U-boat commanders. Thus a long submarine captain, typically a young man in his twenties or thirties, ambitious, driven to accumulate as much sunk tonnage as possible, far from his base and unable to make wireless contact with superiors, his vision limited to the small and distant view afforded by a periscope, now held the power to make a mistake that could change the outcome of the entire war.”

If, like me, you can still picture a single highlighted line at the top and to the lefthand of your AP US History notes about the Lusitania and its connection (definitely not a prime cause, we find out) to the United States’ entry into WWI but that’s where your knowledge ends, then this book is a MUST read.

In fact, despite my personal connection to the book that follows this one in my list this month, I would say that Dead Wake is probably THE book that should make its way into most people’s stacks and book clubs immediately. 

Larson brings to life many of the passengers on the great ship while his revelations about British war intelligence will leave your spine tingling. Who knew what, and when? How did President Wilson’s personal life potentially affect his assessment of the war? What is a great passenger ship really like? What would life have been like on a submarine? How do small decisions lead to huge and fatal outcomes?

I could not put this one down.

5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945, fiction)

“And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country. Because he loved true things, he tried to explain. He said he was nervous and besides he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, to savor the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot. And people didn’t like him for telling the truth. They scowled, or shook and tapped their heads, they laughed as though they knew it was a lie and they appreciated a liar. And some, afraid for their daughters or pigs, told him to move on, to get going, just not to stop near their place if he knew what was good for him. And so he stopped telling the truth. He said he was doing it on a bet – that he stood to win a hundred dollars. Everyone liked him then and believed him.”

Ah. I found one. I found a book that has become a favorite of mine now for all time. Those books are the treasures. We can read dozens—hundreds—of books before we locate one of these. Cannery Row is part of my essence now. A favorite. The book you mention when someone asks you. The book you re-read every few years, perhaps.

In all of my reading, why had I never read Cannery Row? I’ve read my share of Steinbeck, adore Grapes of Wrath. The best I can say is that books wait for you. There is, perhaps, the right moment for every book, especially the novel. We make memories of reading them, too. We don’t just remember the book, but the act of reading. It’s intimate, that act. We remember what we wore, the scents of the day, where we sat, or stood, or walked. The act of taking a novel into oneself can be as significant as the content of the book; in many ways content and context are inseparable and become fused. The act of reading is a sensual one; there is particular magic when how we read and what we read coincide in a meaningful way. So, for me, the experience of Cannery Row.

I read Cannery Row last Sunday on a big yellow school bus along the 1, against the ragged backdrop of Big Sur as I waited at Garrapata Beach for my brother David’s hand-off in the marathon relay. I read it wrapped in a red and blue plaid blanket, in my running clothes and warm-ups, tucked away by a plein air art colony, as I watched the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean. I read it the day after walking all around Monterey (where we stayed) and seeing Cannery Row itself for the first time. I read it as a Californian, picturing the shores of La Jolla as doc attempts to collect his specimens on his road trip. I read it as someone deeply convinced that this book had waited for me all these years for just this moment.

Readers of this blog know from my last post about the relay that this experience of reading was a highlight of my whole life. When I am asked on my deathbed for memories that were some of my favorite, for moments when I felt really and truly alive, for  experiences that defined me, well, this is going to be one of them. Book nerd, literature lover, passionate runner… they were everything, these hours on the bus.

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A shark walking to work, Cannery Row, last Saturday afternoon…behind its fin, you can see the wooden biological lab.

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Katie and Amie explore Cannery Row

6. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey (fiction, 1943)

“When Homer isn’t going to school, or doing odd jobs, or playing with other boys, he works on his hobby which is building radios. He has a workshop in one corner of his room where he works in the evenings.”

Lentil, Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine—we love McCloskey in this house and re-read our favorite children’s books constantly. In fact, we just read Blueberries for Sal again in honor of the first blueberry pick of the season. McCloskey is, in fact, one of my favorite children’s book authors, so rich. Lentil is one of our personal favorites.

Homer Price is a chapter book collection of six vignettes, all taking place in small town Centerburg and utterly charming. Although it may seem like a children’s book, Homer Price is really a gentle and genial laugh at American culture without cynicism or too much satire. It’s a lovely afternoon in the sun that you wish could last forever, with abundant humor for both children and adults. Warm and inviting, this book.

I read this aloud to Bill, Katie, and Eric as we road tripped last weekend up and down the California coast.

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The Kindle is wonderful for road trips because I can load a bunch of books on there for all of us, thereby reducing packing considerably. I am a book-lover-nutso and over-take books wherever I go, always. You should have seen the boxes of books my dad helped me move into my frosh dorm at Stanford. I cannot live without my books nearby, it feels. When we drove across the country to Shil’s wedding a couple of years ago, or during last summer’s road trip to Oregon, or on even smaller weekend jaunts to San Francisco, I always pack satchels full of our children’s books and books for me. They probably take up more car space percentage-wise than any other single category of item. Kind of ridiculous, but how could we not have our nightly reading and our car reading? How could we exist for days without our books? But now that Bill let me borrow/have his Kindle, I can store much more on there. I still packed some tangible copies of our favorite books for this trip, but not nearly as many!

I put some surprises on the Kindle for this trip that the kiddos had never seen. The Day the Crayons Quit is now one of Eric’s absolute favorites and will forever remind me of this past weekend. We also found a children’s book about Paul Erdos, my favorite mathematician (The Boy Who Loved Math), and Katie liked her first experience with the Nate the Great series.

So what’s in the stack?

Well, I am in the middle of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, essentially about the science of judgment and decision-making and how we can take a more statistical view of the world and our own mental processes. I slowed down a bit on it, but would like to finish. Katie and I are also ALMOST done with Ender’s Game. TED just posted a list of book recs again on Facebook this morning, so that might influence me as well.

I have read 69 books since beginning the goal of reinvigorating the life of my reader’s mind last July 2nd. Five books a month for a year would be a total of 60 books, so I have fortunately exceeded my own goals already…with both May and June still to come. It may be a far cry from what I used to be able to read in a month, but I feel so much more whole. Motherhood (especially new motherhood, and homeschooling) and unprioritized time caused quite a dry spell in my reading, although never completely barren. I hope never to enter such a phase again! I truly don’t watch TV (except for Once Upon a Time with the kids), but we have to make trades to get done what we want, right? If it comes down to TV/Internet use/movies at night or exercise/substantial reading, as it did for me, then I know what I am happier picking in the long term. I still struggle with frittering away time now and then—surfing around for information is so addictive, I am an information-collection junkie—but I know who I want to be, and that makes it much easier to control my impulses. I find, too, that I have more to talk about with my children, husband, and friends. Those conversations about ideas/philosophy/science/literature are lifeblood. Not to mention how much more I have to think about in that meditative zone of running and swimming… It’s good, and I will probably continue to challenge myself with a similar goal this coming year.

Happy Reading to All!

“Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.” ~D. Antoinette Foy

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There’s a split in the sandy pathway down to Garrapata Beach along the ragged coast of Pacific Coast Highway, shortly before Big Sur travels up the rolling hills into the Carmel Highlands. If you don’t know the meaning of your life, one path is just as good as the other. The steps, however, must be deliberate and brave if they are to be truly ours. Step with intention and trust that the meaning will emerge as you go.

As it happens, I took the left path. Where it bends, you know, toward that Frostian undergrowth.

Perhaps this race was a daydream, lived somewhere and somehow in between the sunny palm trees of UCSB and the foggy chill of Monterey, swept in by the San Simeon gusts and carried along by Point Lobos. Perhaps this was the one race every life needs to run. Perhaps these miles reconnected me to the deep reason I run: to know thyself. Surge, break, struggle, breathe: and in the process, see the wonder—the WONDER—everywhere. The miracle of every green leaf. The thermodynamic probability of my existence, of YOUR existence, of all the billions of years of evolution that has brought the human body so close to the flight of a bird, the power of an animal along the plains. I am reminded of those feelings during training a year or more ago, those feelings of awe that here we are in the dark, running toward the morning light. Those feelings of awe to find ourselves alive at all. Those moments when I knew: the struggle of a runner microcosmically captures the struggle of all life. Make ourselves strong, fight against our cellular deterioration, resist the decay and strive for the freedom that makes life worth living. The wildest of dreams…

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“Nothing gold…”, you know. So there are walks down to the beach at 8:45 in the morning, a climb on a rock, and a gaze outward toward the expanse. I can make meaning with but one stare and a memory. I did take a selfie of this moment with my tear-streaked eyes in it, but those eyes are just for myself. What happened between me and those waves crashing onto the sand is a private moment. All waves became a oneness: all energy became almost palpable. I realized that the energy driving those waves and the energy driving my legs were essentially the same: waves of energy coursing through the universe since the hot dense state exploded into more. Whatever pain would shortly come over my legs in the hour to follow would come only in waves. I could use my mind to watch those waves of pain recede. Clear aquamarine water, delicate sand, the sun just up. Whatever comes in on the tide also goes.

Underneath I imagined the yellow fin tuna I saw the day before at the Monterey Aquarium. Majestic, those. There is an open ocean viewing room at the aquarium: you look right against the ocean. Whatever swims there is real and present of its own persuasion. You see underneath it all. And on Sunday morning, I saw it all again vibrantly in my mind as I imagined a similar scene right under the water. I can just run, just run, just run…and I always come back to this: to live in a state of perpetual curiosity and wonder is to be alive, so alive I can feel the life glowing in the dark.

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Perhaps this was the most personal race I shall ever run. I hopped on my bus at 5:45 AM, and then we waited roadside near a plein air colony at the Garrapata relay station. Oh, I should say now this race spanned a marathon distance broken into four relay legs. My mom and dad each ran the first two legs for a total of about 5 + 5 miles, starting at Big Sur Station. My brother ran the third 7-mile leg, up through Hurricane Point and across Bixby Bridge (which, incidentally, featured a GRAND PIANIST on a GRAND PIANO. Yes). I ran the last anchor leg for 9.2 miles total.

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Here’s a course map. Full marathoners ran also.

So the race started at 6:45 AM. My mom had had to be aboard her bus at 3:45 AM to get to the start on time. Once my bus pulled up, I broke out my cell phone with its Kindle App, hooked it up to one of Bill’s battery packs, and spent the first couple of hours or so watching the sunrise and reading all of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

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My view from the bus—a big yellow school bus—while reading Cannery Row. This was a highly intentional act of meaning-making, and now probably one of the best memories of my life actually. How many literature lovers get to read the entirety of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row parked on PCH in a school bus in the middle of a road race after walking around Cannery Row the day before? I am not sure what it means that this is a highlight of my life, but there you go. Definitely one of the more unique reading situations…followed by beach meditation and racing the heck out of 9.2 miles after seeing my brother and thinking about my family running all those miles before me. Unreal. One of my favorite lifetime memories…

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As I ran, I made sure to look around me. I wanted to be present, fully. The best part of this race was that there is absolutely NO CELL PHONE RECEPTION at all along the coast there. While this proved a challenge in some practical ways (no way to know for sure when the fam was coming, and hence no way to know for sure when to take a last potty or to complete strides for optimal power), I welcomed it and now wish most races could be this way. In truth, I had experienced the no-cell-before-the-race idea at Butte to Butte in Oregon last summer. For some reason, I had Bill keep my device that morning. I found a huge pine tree and meditated against its roots, felt my power rooted to the ground. It was another powerful and metaphorical moment, a deep connection with Nature. I found that I got my mind into imagining my family, and that the connection was deeper with them than having our cell phones connecting us. It was more magical waiting for the surprise of my brother showing up at our hand off point. (And I was surprised, more on that in a moment). We don’t often get a break from knowing all information with just a button. I like to dwell purely in the imaginary at times. I liked being present in my book and in the waves without distraction.

At 8:45 AM, I started the potty trips. I planned to do one every 15 minutes or so. We predicted David coming in around 9:45 AM or so, and we were just about on top of that…but there was also a possibility of wide variability that morning times three runners before me, and I had to be careful not to get cold. I started striding periodically at 9:15 AM. I kept my sweatshirt on, but otherwise was ready. My dad had made big orange signs so we could find each other easily. I saw the 4-hour marathon pacer go by and got a little nervous, making a mental note that come hell or highwater, I was going to chase that pacer down. So then I got too clever for my own good. I decided I would run down the end of David’s route a bit, see him from afar, sprint back to my place, dash my sweatshirt off, and grab the sign. Well, readers, I DID see him. But right as I was about to dash back to my place, a convoy came through on the right side of the road and I was cut off from the middle line where I needed to be. I grabbed our stuff and hollered David’s name, and we made the exchange.

However, I did not settle into the exchange properly. I had the wrist timer for our team and started to go, remembering at the last second to start my devices. I wear three, and I had already crossed the timing pad when I looked down and discovered that NONE of them appeared to be timing my run. You would think it is no big deal since I would have a chip time, but it was my understanding from the official relay meeting the day before that all of our individual times were going to be dumped at the end of the event. I don’t NEED to have a time, but I also wanted one for my own information since I had trained and tapered specifically for this event. So I pulled off for a moment—yes, to a stop, OUCH!—and got two of the three devices in gear. Ugh, it was SO awkward and I hate that I did it…by I am also glad I was able to get my data after all. I did the best I could do having messed up and crossed the timing pad before I was truly ready to go. Anyway, I told myself to shake off the blip and just fly the rest of the way, get over it, claw back that lost time. As it happened, the third device finally came online, too.

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I am in the blue. It was a strong run. I felt good. The rolling hills of the Carmel Highlands are considered by many to be the craziest stretch of this course (per the course description in the program), with incessant elevation and cambered roads for 9.2 miles. Crazy, indeed. Several days have passed, and my legs are still wrecked. I’ve been training still, but holy moly. I was able to do this stretch in a 6:44 pace. I felt bad at first about being a minute off my 9.2 mi PR, but then again, this was not the easiest course. Hot Chocolate with 5 miles uphill to start is also intense, but this one perhaps more so. The first three miles of my portion were headwinds galore. The wind was SO LOUD that it was all I could hear in my ears. When you figure speed, winds, hills, and slanted road…well, it is okay not to have a PR. In fact, in retrospect I feel this was one of the runs of my life. I have never felt stronger nor more ready to do and accept battle without growing weary. There was no mental fatigue to fight this time, which means I was able to stay present with my body and the race without wishing to be done.

After catching and passing that 4 hour pacer, as well as a few relayers who had left almost 40 minutes before I did, I tried to have fun with it. All along the way were variety acts: choirs, guitarists, DJs, a team of Polynesian dancers, scouts, you name it. When those kids hold out their hands for a high five? Come on, people. They are looking at us, possible inspirations for being healthy someday, struggling against ourselves, being brave, laying it on the line. I pull alongside and give the high five to the kids who ask for it, especially the girls. It means something. I also tried to keep my stride while doing a little Polynesian dancing action with my arms. Why not? Running may be competitive, but at heart, running is freedom to enjoy life. In fact, this whole race for me was about laying down meaning in intentional ways whenever and wherever I could.

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Team Matics-McGaugh. We ended up finishing 11th out of 92 open relay teams. Our time was 3:45:36 for 26.2 miles. At the finish line was hot minestrone soup and Smokey the Bear.

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After the relay on Sunday our little family of four went to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a little macaroon and latte action and to look around.

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This picture, which I found later, makes me chuckle. Here I am in Carmel of all places, in my sweats looking like a bum sleeping on a park bench. Nice, Sarah, nice. I was tired. My allergies had also picked up from inhaling all the pollen while running.
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Nonetheless, I pressed on and took the kiddos to the beach. I had my chance to run around; so should they.

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A happy sight for a tired mama.

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We climbed a tree, also.

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Fearless Katie

Images from Cannery Row on our wander-about-town on Saturday:
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I could spend forever at the Monterey Aquarium. I bought a sand dollar from the store that was the basis for Chong’s Market in Steinbeck’s novel, and I plan to make it into an ornament for our Christmas tree this year.

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My dad and grandchildren at the wharf in Monterey.

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With you, I can fly.

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Coach Husband Bill debriefs me on my data while we sit in a park in Carmel.

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My sis-in-love Ashley not only dropped all of us at our buses that morning, starting with Mom’s drop at 3:45 AM, but she also ran her own 5K at 7:45 that morning, AND COORDINATED THE WHOLE TRIP starting months ago. To say I am grateful would be an understatement. This is a forever memory.

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My loves along the coast: the kiddos especially liked the elephant seals in San Simeon. It’s corny maybe but we have a “Goodnight California” book that we bought at Berkeley in May 2008 the weekend my brother graduated. We keep track of how much we have done that is mentioned in that book—almost all of it at this point. The elephant seals were a necessary addition to our list. Yes, we brought the book in the car with us—are you kidding? We had to read it right after and raise our hands for that page: yes, we’ve done it!! (Confession: we also have a “Goodnight Oregon,” obtained a few months ago on the Kindle).

These children were EXCELLENT travelers as usual. We read off the Kindle primarily, including all of McCloskey’s classic Homer Price.

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Friday: lunch in Isla Vista and a brief look at UCSB as we head up to Monterey along PCH.

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One last shake-off run on Monday morning before heading back to Temecula. I fell head-over-heels with Monterey. Yes, I could move there.

On the way home, Bill suggested we stop in Solvang. Yes, please!
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Getting serious with pastry selection

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Solvang is always so fun. I’d love to take the kiddos up to SLO and just do that area for a weekend. Hearst Castle called to us, but we just couldn’t fit it in this time.

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And one of my favorite pictures of the trip: this was 2:30 AM the morning of the race. It had been a sleep-and-wake-up kind of night, culminating in Eric calling out, “I need my mama!” We three snuggled together, warm and toasty. There is such joy in being a mommy, no matter the time of day. I am used to racing on little sleep during these “away” types of races. I try to stash sleep two nights out, and then the night before just take whatever comes. These are my people: joy.

This had to be one of my favorite race events ever. Next up: Bay to Breakers with best friends of 20+ years. San Francisco, here we come!

Monday morning, 5:31 AM: I am one minute after the opening of the pool, and every lane already has two people in it. The crowd at the pool varies; we regulars tend not to miss, and every once in awhile new people show up for a day, or two, or a couple of weeks.

THE SWIMMER 
The contingent that just raced the half-Ironman in Oceanside took a few days off; the husband of the husband-wife pair in Lane 1 had an absence last week. There’s always a high school science teacher in Lane 2: it took Bill and I a couple of conferrals but we finally identified him. Helga comes around 6:00 AM and swims in Lane 1 or 6; this older German woman is one of my favorite partners in a lane. The Masters and triathletes usually do intense lifeguard-led workouts in the middle. When I am in Lane 5, I watch Ruth as much as I can, a 60-something Ironwoman whose stroke is powerful and gorgeous. Her hands hit the water with just the right sound. I am not much of a swimmer—or wasn’t, until recently having worked my way up to 3500 yard swims—but I know that sound is right because there is a certain authentic ring to it. We know beauty when we hear it, or see it; when there is a rightness in the universe, it sends off waves that vibrate with truth. There’s never any way to fake those kinds of waves, be they sight or sound, not really.

It’s like the voice, in writing. What’s authentic and real…is always clearly so. We hear it, and we just know. It is a light all its own.

In a blog entry that will largely be about voice, I return now to the pool at 5:31 AM on Monday morning, to a scene that shall be nearly wordless.

The destiny on this Monday morning, a morning in which every lane has at least two already, is a circle swim. I’ve learned to like those. Intense little buggers, the circle swims. Everyone seems faster than I am, except the once-in-awhile occasion when they’re not. My first few circle swims struck me as the most awkward social situations I’ve ever been in. Not really, but you know what I mean. It’s rare that three or more people in a lane are all going to have the same pace. There’s passing, pulling over, feeling chased, trying not to chase, and communication to deal with. A person learns quickly to get over herself. Often circle swims end up being a better workout for me because I have to push myself (to try) to keep up with better swimmers.

I choose the lane with the teacher; he gets out shortly after 6:00 AM, and so I figure that I will be circle swimming for only half an hour and then the remaining guy and I can just do a lane split. Even though the two men are going at a clip that will push me, it’s the surest bet.

Popping in, I go a few rounds. The teacher and the young man are ripping through the water. Eventually the young man (late high school/early college?) pulls over to the wall. I figure that he is being polite, perhaps letting me go so I can have a couple of more moderately paced laps. His goggles are off and his eyes shine a bit. In fact, besides noticing how incredibly fast his arms were pulling, his eyes were the first part I really saw. Pool water has tousled his dark hair. “Oh, please go ahead,” I say, “you are faster than I am!” He smiles brightly. “Nah, I need to rest a bit,” he says without any irony, just a remarkable sense of presence. You know those people, right? The shiny-eyed ones that handle life’s adventures with a sort of mirth and strength combined? As I swam away, I thought to myself about how I had just found another one of those, which is always cool. I like to find those people. They glow in the dark.

It’s on the way back to the starting wall, where this guy is still hanging out, that I see underwater for the first time: all of his left leg from the knee down….is gone.

Flashing water, foggy goggles, sleepy brain. We’d gone multiple laps together, and I hadn’t noticed. His strength as a swimmer and his eyes stood out, like the waves that ring true. What I will not do now is turn this into a morality tale: person with hardship reminds us all how good we really have it. I find those tales repugnant. Using someone’s hardship to build yourself up and make your life seem a little better by fallacious comparison/contrast? Nope. Human exceptionalism does no one any favors: we are exceptional neither in our hardships nor in our graces.

We just simply are. And this young man? Totally strong and badass. (I would ask to excuse the language, but there’s truly no other word for it). I get to be merely the recorder.

I spend quite a bit of time these days—charging up hills, having a good run, starting daily with my health and life in control, schlepping the kiddos hither and yon without batting an eyelash—feeling fairly badass myself. Endorphins do that, and I’ve had more than my overshare of Facebook posts hopped up on post-athletic hormones celebrating newfound (for me) strength and the freedom I find. I took my life and pulled it together right when unhealthiness and anxiety could have spiraled into chaos. That’s pretty wicked, and I’m pretty enduringly proud of such a huge change. I remember what that willpower and work signifies on days now when I don’t feel I have it quite together!

HOWEVER.

I am sure that voice of rollicking freedom isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Or coffee. Or milkshake. Or whatever. There’s no malice in that voice; in fact, the soundtrack in the back of my mind is less punk and more often more along the lines of Matthew Wilder’s hit: “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride/Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no/I got to keep on moving/Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride…” I am a child of the 80s, so I can’t comment on taste here.

Voice on social media is a tricky deal. I’ve always viewed my Facebook and Instagram (which I use more lately) as a scrapbook/journal of sorts. In other words, social media is mainly to chronicle moments with the audience (most of the time) intended to be myself. In college, I was sitting in my history of rhetoric class one day when we all began to discuss how a journal and our voice would evolve should that journal be for public, versus private, consumption. That question is more relevant now, than ever. I try not to use social media for PSAs, contributing negativity to the world, spreading wanton memes, or politics. But I am sure my voice, to some, can be just as annoying. That’s okay. How we choose to curate our lives artfully won’t reach a chord with everyone. And we cannot get away from the fact that, at best, the use of social media is a constant dance around the barbed wire fence of narcissism. Then again, so is any art form or version of self-expression ever in the world. Just when I think, though: “Who am I to make this expression?,” I remember that the flip side is this: “Who am I NOT to express my truth?” If we each are part of the mechanism by which the universe understands itself, then we might make the case that we have at least part of an ethical imperative to record our sense impressions, perceptions, and experiences as a form of data gathering and processing. Expression and information gathering/recording can be some heavy lifting—it’s good when we all participate. 

I am a born expresser. Expression allows, for me, a sense of appreciation for what is good. My voice is always ready. My hands want always to write.

Which is precisely why I think it is important to cultivate a purposeful silence every once in awhile. To have the voice, but to keep it quiet deliberately. Balance. I first experimented with this in February, going silent on Facebook and Instagram for a full week. This week, I’ve captured the silence since Sunday. In the absence of using my public voice, or rather, my voice in public (two different things, and only one authentic), what could I observe, hear, and understand differently? What does it do to hold the tides of expression back, to observe without immediate comment?

For me, to hush my voice a bit means that I go looking for other stories to tell. I feel the thrill of hunting for other main characters, heroes that are, essentially, outrageously awesome and that I think the world needs to know about. My heroes are strong, courageous, and making life better for those around them. 

The swimmer was one.

THE PROM DATE

At the track for interval work on Tuesday, I watched the lacrosse team practice and wondered why part of the track team appeared to be sitting in the bleachers. On my 5th 200, the track team began arranging hurdles. Uh-oh, I thought, they are getting ready to jump, so I’d better get done. When I looked back, however, the hurdles were all in a clump, some odd configuration that, clearly, was not for jumping. It dawned on me: the track team was using the hurdles to spell something! After studying a bit, I realized they had spelled out “P-R-O-M.” A couple of boys held signs. There were murmurs of a girl who would be arriving for practice.

An upperclassman appeared carrying a bouquet of roses. Ah. He is going to ask this girl to prom, and he has planned this whole memory for her. Were they friends about to become more? Had they already been dating? (Judging by her reaction later, I think it may have been the former, actually).

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I snapped this picture on my phone, feeling immeasurably lucky that I happened to be in the right place at the right time to watch this magic unfold. We forget, maybe, how much courage it takes to declare yourself to someone else. Seventeen-year-olds are some of my favorite people on Earth, for the very reason that they are capable of taking plunges like this. I felt I got to witness the best of someone right here, as well as the excitement of friends buzzing around and pulling off something that they’d spent time planning.

THE LITTLE FREE LIBRARIAN

Yesterday we went to visit for the first time a new Little Free Library, charter #22195, in town. Erin Brady curates this library, which she and her husband Rocky built by hand. If ever there were a heroine, Erin would be one. Her library’s name is Lumos Fiat Lux, and it is near Great Oak High School. Let there be light. Indeed.

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Erin’s library is a work of art, in every way. Her attention to detail can come only from a passionate love not only for books, but for the people who read them, for an educated humanity itself. She loves lighthouses and travels to see them; the theme of light winds its way throughout her library. Her guest book? Composed of a cover that looks like a library card and filled with all kinds of school papers: graph paper, handwriting paper, card stock, etc. She lives on Puffin Street; accordingly, there is a little puffin figurine demurely by the lighthouse, a little visual play on words: we cannot forget that Puffin is a major book publisher (an imprint of Penguin), as well. She has free bookmarks and pencils. Her books are stamped with a Little Free Library custom stamp. Papers inside give an amiable explanation of how LFLs work. It is not necessary to leave a book in order to take out a book, although we have a book we are now planning to bring over as soon as get a chance. As any good librarian might, Erin observes moments like Pet Week and sometimes arranges the books by theme.

This library is, in total, an amazing labor of love and time. And beauty. The hooks, hinges, and craftsmanship… I am new to Little Free Libraries, but there is a whole network of them. I am in a mind to visit many more. Lumos Fiat Lux enchanted all three of us. If you live in Temecula, seriously, this is a treasure not to be missed. If we lived on that side of town, we would be walking past it ALL the time. As it is, we cannot wait to drive back over.

Erin has painted a quote from A Wrinkle in Time on one side of the cabinet: “A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to brighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” If the lives of my three main characters this week comprise stories of their own, then one could say that the Swimmer, the Prom Date, and the Little Free Librarian are exactly stars: lights that cast something better into our expanse of space and time.

When we are silent, we can see the stars. We can see and appreciate them using our voice, too, but perhaps those stars shine all the brighter when we quiet ourselves long enough to reflect and refract their stories. The balance of expression is observation. Whatever we observe, we change; whatever we express changes even further as we struggle to put light into words.

Silence is the great moment in which we take in the light, let it become part of us, and decide to become its mirror.

1874, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn, part 3, section 4:
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

I had a bit of trepidation with respect to how my reading goals would turn out this month when I seemed to be almost one week in without a single finished book and had the core of my racing season to consider. We also had two field trips, a trip to the movies, family visiting time, and basically one of our busier months. Still, the process of goal-setting is not for nothing: to make a commitment to a goal is to know you will follow through no matter what. I am not one for the phrase, “I don’t have time,” which seems to slight other people’s choices and preferences for hobbies/pursuits as being too insignificant to consider in one’s (implied) more robust life. We’re all busy, yet we all have time; for those goals that are important, we must make time. The making of time is a lesson I learn on repeat.

Even so, five of my ten books were children’s chapter books and one was a comprehensive hiking guide. I’ve never been sure where to draw the criteria line for my personal reading challenge. I read scores of poems, picture books, school-related texts, periodical articles, short stories and so on each month, some of which are quite literary indeed or that offer far more insight than some chapter books I’ve read. So: who can define the nature of quality? It shouldn’t merely be length. In setting my goal last June, however, one key feature had to be that the text would be immersive over several sessions/hours; it had to have chapters and some kind of page heft. It’s all very subjective that way, I suppose.

Anyway, here comes the list. These lists are an absolute BEAR to type up, and I generally spend way too long composing them at the end of each month. I might try to be a bit more concise this time; with the way I get into things, however, one never knows.

I began the month with “neuroscience of music” as my theme and intended to devote the month to reading this, as well as more music history, musician bios, and the like. I did depart from this theme eventually, but my first two finished books filled a few holes in my education:

1. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin (science, nonfiction, 2006)

“Music, then, can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion in which our brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds. Just how this structure leads us to experience emotional reactions is part of the mystery of music….What is it about the particular order we find in music that moves us so? The structure of scales and chords has something to do with it, as does the structure of our brains….The brain’s computational system combines these into a coherent whole, based in part on what it thinks it ought to be hearing, and in part based on expectations….”

Rarely do I begin by going straight to the credibility of the author, but Levitin bears a bit of explanation. He has studied and taught at Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth, the U of O, and more. He is a musician, a record producer on major albums, a PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, a friend to several current musicians, and a Fellow with several prominent organizations devoted to thought and science. This is someone who has an unparalleled level of expertise in this field (and evidently several fields). His writing is both technical and clear. He does not shy away from the “hard science” in this book, yet he grounds his topics in a bit of narrative and certainly flowing prose.

A favorite book this month, for sure.

Levitin even takes on Steven Pinker (professor, neuroscientist), who has argued in other texts I’ve read that our love for music is a useless evolutionary spandrel. As a reader of almost all of Pinker’s work, I found Levitin’s argument to be exceptionally well made and cogent, adding fodder to the ongoing discussion my husband, brothers-in-law, and I have been having about music and the construction of reality in general.

I also learned quite a bit of rock history/trivia that I didn’t happen to already know, even though I spent years in college and beyond pursuing music history as a passionate hobby. Levitin draws upon everyone from Mozart to Schoenberg to Metallica to Joni Mitchell to Ella Fitzgerald.

If you are a musician, feel passionate about listening to music, or ever wondered about how the brain creates the psychological phenomenon of both sound (and color), then this book is a MUST read. Good science, too. I am generally not a fan of books that purport to give a scientific treatment of a topic and then treat the science very basically. This text hits the notes perfectly. READ IT for a deepened understanding of how we construct reality…

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2. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (psychology, nonfiction, 2007).

“For one of my post-encephalitic patients, Francis D., music was as powerful as any drug. One minute I would see her compressed, clenched, and blocked, or else jerking, ticking, and jabbering….The next minute, if we played music for her, all of these explosive-obstructive phenomena would disappear, replaced by a blissful ease and flow of movement…” 

Okay. I am not about to knock Oliver Sacks. OLIVER SACKS. No, one just doesn’t go there. He is legendary.

But honestly? After the Levitin work, this one just paled. I am so sorry to say that. Sacks doesn’t go all the way to the core science in this book, most of the time. Once in awhile he mentions anatomy. On the whole, this book read as case study after case study. That can be enlightening in its own way, but I wanted him to go further for me. What patterns and statistically significant data emerge from these case studies, and what might these patterns tell us objectively about the brain? I am sure he has theories and research. I want it. Anecdote will only go so far, though yes: reading each case study and exploring the range of the human experience (some of which is wild and bizarre and uncommon) does contribute to discussions of reality and how, really, unstable the brain truly can be. Superstitious, obsessive, ritualistic, hallucinatory, etc. Levitin and Sacks are good colleagues and each appears as referenced in the other’s book. Sacks’ forte is weaving compelling tales and narratives out of biochemistry. It is a wonderful talent. Contrary to reviews, though, I felt he stinted on the science.

If you must pick one? Download the Levitin.

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (science fiction, 1962)

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: you’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”

I missed this one in my time, but I enjoyed reading it with Katie this month. The nature of dimensionality, evil vs. good, turning one’s vulnerabilities into strengths, sibling love, dystopian living… all good.

Parts, I thought, toward to the end skewed a bit more into the fantasy genre than I would have liked (I am a die hard sci fi fan, not so much a fantasy fan), but I don’t think it detracted from the narrative for us. Katie right away noticed that Meg is much like she is, and Eric is almost a dead-on Charles Wallace. We have the other three books in the series, though we have stalled on the second one a bit mainly because we’ve had our hands in several events, books, and hobbies ever since we finished this one.

I am happy that this canonical book is now a part of my thought-life, especially the thought-life I share with my daughter. We’re making connections right and left among its themes and other works we’ve shared over the years.

4. Stuart Little by E.B. White (fiction, 1945)

“Stuart rose from the ditch, climbed into his car, and started up the road that led toward the north…As he peeked ahead into the great land that stretched before him, the way seemed long. But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.”

Ah, this was technically a re-read for me. We’ve been introducing Eric to chapter books more methodically at this point, and Stuart Little is an accessible story with luxurious illustrations by the incomparable Garth Williams. White’s rich language gave us plenty to pause and linger over, and we were able to look at parallels between Stuart’s debonair character and Steig’s Abelard from Abel’s Island (which we all read two months ago). Such cuddly time with my two littles!

5. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (science fiction, 2013)

“If the same object from two different times touches itself, one of two things will happen. Either the Universe will cease to exist. Or three remarkable dwarfs will dance through the streets with flowerpots on their heads.”

Gaiman is funny, playful, dark, and at times demanding of his younger readers. In short, a perfect read. We own and have read several of his books. This is short at just over 100 pages, but it is beautifully illustrated by Skottie Young. Eric was HOOKED.

The premise? Dad goes out to the corner store to get some milk, is a bit late returning home, and spins an exceptional yarn about why he was late. This is a study in the making of narrative. Both his children and the reader are asked with a winking eye to interpret various clues, to think about the logical integrity of what has come before in the plot, and above all, to be playful with language, imagery, and imagination. There is a section involving time travel that gets REALLY FUNKY, but the three of us had so much fun teasing it out and using it as a thought-experiment. Katie, especially, found herself primed for travel through space after reading Wrinkle.

We also showed both children Interstellar this month. Black holes and worm holes are all the rage in our house right now!

6. Odd the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (fiction, mythology, 2008)

“The wise man knows when to keep silent. Only the fool tells all he knows.”

After Fortunately, Katie and and I had to share this re-read with Eric, arguably a new Gaiman fan.

Gaiman reimagines Norse mythology, sending the boy character Odd to take on a never-ending winter with three gods disguised as animals. We love the ripe conflicts in a Gaiman work, and we like to teach the push-pull of lightness and darkness here in our reading. Gaiman is fabulous. Katie and I have even done Coraline. He’s excellent for reader-response and discussion.

7. Best Easy Day Hikes: Eugene, Oregon, pub. by Falcon Guides (nonfiction, instructional, 2011)

“This route, along a 2.0 mile segment of the McKenzie River National Recreation trail, may be the best hike in this entire book…During the first mile, hikers might feel like they could easily run into leprechauns or an Ewok village…”

OMG, I am stoked!!!! This experience quickly moved to the top of my Oregon wish list. We’re headed back to Oregon for another two weeks this summer, and I am so eager. I’ll be racing Butte to Butte, and we’re seeing two plays in Ashland. We are also heading through Portland to Astoria (GOONIES!!!) and spending all kinds of time in Eugene.

Bill has all-event passes to the four days of track and field Nationals in Eugene (at Hayward Field) for part of our trip. We could have gotten them, too, but I just don’t think the kiddos would find that to be much fun. So, while Bill watches the events, I get to explore widely with my children and really make Eugene and its surroundings a part of us. I am going giddily bananas with planning hikes and adventures. I am starting my reading now, since I don’t know all of the good hiking and day-trip spots. Yay!!!! I love showing our children beautiful places and having adventures with them. Bill is always welcome and of course I adore him, but there is something so very empowering about being able to take them hither and yon on my own. And Bill is in for a treat. He loves following track and field and hasn’t seen a proper decathlon in years. This will be part of his birthday present, actually. Very excited for all four of us.

8. This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress, ed. John Brockman (nonfiction, science, essay collection, 2015)

“Science advances by discovering new things and developing new ideas. Few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first. As theoretical physicist Max Planck noted, ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’ In other words, science advances by a series of funerals. Why wait that long?…What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?” 

So goes the question of the year (most recent) from Edge.org founder and editor John Brockman.

This is not an anti-science book, and since I would never want to be mistaken for that camp, I feel the need to point that out clearly. I feel strongly that only science, in all its glorious honesty and grit and logic, can essentially and properly ask this question of itself in a meaningful way.

The very fact that science is WILLING to ask this question of itself gives it an integrity that I find completely compelling as a thinker and curious explorer of our world and greater universe. Can we think of some lines of thought that would NEVER ask what tenets ought to be retired, evolved, changed, or completely discarded? Yes, we can. Whatever relies on NOT changing in the face of new information ought to be regarded as highly suspect as a foundation of thought, being, or behavior…in my opinion.

These essays are one thought-experiment after the other, treats for tired minds that need a boost or spark for the day. Need fodder for a long run or a long swim? Read one of two of these essays at a time, and then have a meditative go at it. Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein, Max Tegmark, David Deutsche, Michael Shermer, Daniel Dennett, Robert Sapolsky, Sherry Turkle…the authors are a who’s who of modern thinkers/scientists/professors. They take on topics like Plato’s essentialism, mind vs. brain, the continuity of time, human evolutionary exceptionalism, unification, infinity, free will, the self, altruism, and more.

Challenging, in the best way. I recommend all of these essay collections and have been working my way through some back collections this year, as well.

9. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (science fiction, short stories, 1951)

“‘I’ll burn, he thought, and be scattered in ashes all over the continental lands. I’ll be put to use. Just a little bit, but ashes are ashes and they’ll add to the land.'”

One of the most significant moments of my teaching career, and of my life, occurred within a few days of getting pregnant with Katie, and that was getting to see Ray Bradbury in person at the Temecula library. I hung on EVERY word he spoke. My copy of Fahrenheit 451, which I taught for many years, contains in the back several of his quotes from that night. I cherish that book.

Still, I had never quite made it to this collection of 18 short stories in my life, not until now. Published two years before F451, these stories foreshadow some of the themes, imagery, and ideas he would take up in that work.

Bradbury, as we know from F451, is completely a VISIONARY when it comes to the technology he describes in his texts. I always wonder at the connection between the sci fi literary giants who conceived of some of the wildest ideas of their time and the later scientists and developers who must have read those works and then worked to create those amazing advances. I am not sure we could have had the technological advancements we have had without some of the imaginative power of the writers before them.

My favorite stories in this collection were “The Veldt,” “Kaleidoscope,” “The Long Rain,” “The Rocket Man,” and “Zero Hour.” All were worth reading, though.

I shared “The Veldt” with Katie and Eric straightaway the morning after I first read it. It’s about a smart house that has a nursery/play room for the kids with walls that are essentially a virtual reality type of set up. You really, really, really need to read this one. Really. The kiddos were engrossed, floored, disturbed in a good way, inquisitive, and ready to discuss at length. Katie even wrote a reader-response on it for our English writing that day, and it kicked some booty. She got it. Perhaps because it is so exceptionally relevant to modern times? Oh my goodness, “The Veldt” is insanely rich for our current generation of tech-loving kiddos. It demanded we address autonomy, purpose, the source of happiness/pleasure, the parent-child relationship, and more.

Bradbury presents technology in a nuanced way: neither all bad, nor all good. He sets up complicated relationships between technology and human beings and certainly does the same in F451. One wonders what he would think of the ubiquity of digital readers.

Some definite highlights this month! I’ve already finished my first book for April, and the kiddos and I are currently reading Ender’s Game. We’re on a sci fi kick mainly, and I have spent time today figuring out what I want to read next.

Happy Reading to All,
Sarah

This morning: the Carlsbad 5000. One of my favorite races of the year, and one of two races by which I measure my progress each spring. If the Hot Chocolate 15K measures endurance over a hilly course (about 5 rolling mi worth, plus the other 4.3), then the Carlsbad 5000 measures speed. They are a week apart: one test, and then another.

I like tests. I get a thrill at having to lay it all on the line. The pressure is refining. Right before races like this my mind goes into binary schizo mode: I LOVE racing. I HATE racing. I LOVE racing. Why am I doing this? Why work hard every day to shave off handfuls of seconds? It would be masochistic if it weren’t for the daily benefits of training hard, and for the out-of-this-world endorphins that occur when seizing a long-worked-for PR.

This is living life in full color. In a culture that often celebrates getting big rewards for doing as little work as possible (I have heard people speak of that as if it is some kind of coup…or just look at some of our pop culture icons, famous for posting their butts on Twitter or contrived “reality” shows), I work for a life that more authentically links achievement with what we’re willing to put in. If I ran the world, there would be no reward without having to lay it all down: bleed, sweat, cry, feel the pressure, head for the biggest goals your time and life can afford to pursue in balance with other responsibilities. Life is not, for me, about scooting by. I want to throw myself at it, and one day, perish on the spikes.

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“Don’t waste your time/Or time will waste you/No one’s gonna take me alive/The time has come to make things right/You and I must fight for our rights/You and I must fight to survive.”

MUSE, “Knights of Cydonia”

Although I no longer train or race with music, nonetheless music is a HUGE part of my mental prep the week before a race. This week, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Muse. They have released a couple of songs off their  upcoming album Drones (cannot wait!), but I fell back also on songs from Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance. I’ve been trying to make Bill a fan; not sure where’s he’s at with Muse! I used to run with Muse on my playlists, so I am reminded of my journey a bit.

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I also prepped by trying not to get caught up in nerves yesterday and just enjoying the spring, and the farmer’s market, with my babies. I bought some sunflowers and kept my mind on beautiful things. Last year I felt the same way: after Hot Chocolate my adrenaline, spent, didn’t flare high until the morning of Carlsbad. I intentionally tried to keep my adrenaline at bay until this morning, when I could focus on turning it into excitement. Coach-husband reminded me before the race that feeling that adrenaline is exactly what needs to happen and just to go with it; we need the adrenaline to race well. It’s unpleasant, but learning how to manage appropriate adrenaline has contributed to an overall decline of anxiety in other realms of my life.

My sleep was ehn. I try to sleep well two nights out, and then I don’t stress about the night before. Good thing. At around midnight, a gentle tap on my shoulder sprung me bolt upright in bed; Katie had had a nightmare and needed cuddles. Well, mama life is always more important than runner life when we have really to choose, so I cuddled her and struggled to return to sleep. When I finally did sleep, I had super CRAZY dreams about the race. Nightmares of my own, really, such as accidentally repeating a section of the course and blowing my time to heck and having part of the race turn into an obstacle course where I had to jump a wall, thereby blowing my time to heck. Silly…and reminiscent of academic “test” and “paper writing” dreams. (I still have horrible “paper writing” dreams, in which I have procrastinated due to motherhood duties and have to write a lengthy English or history paper overnight).

Food prep: vegetarian all week. I am mostly vegetarian as it is, but I tried to eat very well. My go-to dish lately in prep for these races has been a bowl of jasmine rice, piled high with mixed greens, a soft boiled egg from one of our girls, and sriracha. Scores of pickled beets. Almond milk. Bananas and PB2 with honey. Greek yogurt. Acai and homemade granola. Chia bars. Hummus, hummus, hummus. Nuts and seeds. Green tea.

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So, how did it go?

Official time: 19:11, 35 second personal record. 7th in my division F 35-39 out of 214, 17th woman out of 628, 94th overall out of 1281 men and women 30-39.

Last year my official time was 19:52 for 3.1 miles (I often misreport this as 19:56, because that was what I saw on my Garmin and it has stuck in my head—Bill is forever reminding me). Last year, I was the 18th woman to finish in my division out of 266, the 35th out of 755 for my gender, and overall in my wave 135/1511.

My actual 5K PR that I broke today was en route to 10K at the Disneyland race this past August.

So, improvement. Not quite what I was hoping for today, honestly, but that was one second faster than Bill’s data tables predicted. I did not have the level of fitness I wished for today, but I had the level of fitness I trained to have. Looking at my Garmin data, though, I see that very large portions of the race had spurts of sub-6:00 pace. I couldn’t do that last year, and now I can. It’s there; I will spend the whole next year trying to unlock it.

My race was fairly paced, and coming in, I kicked it up as much as I could but didn’t have much left. That’s good, because with a bunch left I always wonder if I could have expended it more evenly across the race. 5K is not my best distance; it feels like a sprint from the outset, and I usually carve out placement achievements using my endurance. However, it was a fun course and I tried to go into with the mindset of “This is so short, whatever pain you have to bring on, it will be short-lived!”

By far the most interesting moment happened shortly after Mile 1 as we approached Tamarack Beach and got within view of the lighthouse. Several semi-pro (and by that I mean endorsed and funded) teams were there racing, some even from out of state. Still through the first mile, there were people not quite spread out yet. However, I had plenty of room and was just in front of, but off to the side a bit of this woman who was a bit behind her team. We were definitely not crowded, and there wasn’t much course management to worry about at that point, just a straightaway that would eventually lead to a hairpin turn. But that was yards away, and she would have had the advantageous position anyway. We were no where in danger of knocking elbows or anything like that. But we were poised to duke it out, similarly paced. I don’t think she liked that.

Never in my life (well, in the couple years I’ve been running/racing!) has a fellow runner in a race ever uttered anything but encouragement, either before passing or being passed. Runners are, in my experience, a courteous and respectful bunch. Most of us know the race is with ourselves, primarily. Yeah, we pick people off…but usually that is a respectful process. Most of us like watching others excel, because we know EXACTLY what that takes.

Anyway, this woman (who, don’t get me wrong, was very capable) actually trash-talked me…and not in a funny way. The gist of her words were that I’d better go faster and get more ahead of her, or “move out of my way!”

Now. I went through all stages of myself I’ve ever had. Shocked, I wavered a minute, and she sidled on past and gained the lead. As she went past, I went into the mode I’ve always had, that mode of not wanting to be a bother, not wanting to intrude on someone else, not wanting to cause a problem, wanting to shrink myself, take up no loud space on this Earth. That mode where I have no right. That mode where I really don’t belong here. “Oh,” I faltered sincerely, “I’m sorry!”

I’m sorry. For what? And everything I’ve learned in the past couple of years about being alive and having a right and working to be my best and belonging here and getting to live my truth without apology or fear of judgment came surging up from my gut. My legs churned it up. My lungs sucked in the truth of it. I’m not sorry. I will never be sorry ever again for having a space of my own, for not agreeing with you, for thinking I must get along at all costs, even those costs at great detriment to myself.

And I made up my mind to take her.

We rounded the corner near the beach. I saw the lighthouse in the distance. It was the very space where my kiddos and I had watched the sunset after the Legoland field trip a couple of weeks ago. My children, and what I hope to be for them in their memories of me: an inner roar louder than the loudest criticism.
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I waited, like a lion stalking its prey. In the past two years, I have found this lion. I could have taken her near the corner. But when you race to pick someone off? Timing is crucial. If I am going to pick someone off, I want to finish the job. I don’t want to jockey. Jockeying happens sometimes, sure, but this particular pick-off had to be decisive and sure.

So I waited, deliberately, until we started up a small incline toward the Mile 2 marker. (Carlsbad is known for being flat, but there are some gentle inclines). Inclines are a psychological burden, or they can be. I train on nothing but hills in Temecula, real hills. So, for me, instead of dreading inclines I try to turn them into a positive in my mind: places on the course where I can unleash. I try to convince myself that I have the advantage on a hill. I may not, but I tell myself I do…and that’s everything. So I let her start to experience the energy drain on the incline and to get midway through it, the absolute worst place to be when someone passes you. And then I surged.

It was decisive and, as intended, absolutely final. She never regained the lead on me.

Those racing teams sometimes intimidate me, or used to, especially when I have seen members of them refer to people like me as “hobby joggers.” I may be relatively new to the sport, but I’ve got fight in there, too. I will not be getting out of the way.

The rest of the race was fast. It barely begins, and then it ends. I remember thinking several times, “Wow, it’s warm. Can I breathe? Yes, I can breathe. Wow, it’s warm. How warm it is right now. You train in Temecula, you’ve got warm. My, it’s warm.”  I tended my Garmin pacer. I heard some waves. I heard my husband calling to me above the crowd. I hope he knows always how his voice sustains me when I run. I can always hear him. His voice gives me the boost I need.

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Obligatory racing shot near 2.5 miles. I never look pretty when I run. My husband described my face as looking “panicked that you were running so fast” here. I am not sure I would say “panicked.” I was having a great time with it, actually. But running is hard. The struggle is real indeed, and my face always represents the truth of that. At this pace here, taking off a chunks of seconds every mile gets to be a razor-like process. It was far easier for me to drop from 12 min/mile to a first half-marathon race at a 7:46 pace after a single year of training than it is now to keep breaking and carving my body toward the 6:00 minute and, I hope one day, sub-6:00 range. At this point, the forging takes years of work. It’s like dipping myself into fire repeatedly even to gain just a little bit. But I am willing and eager to try. Hard work? I can do hard work.

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Bounding in.

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Nervous as heck in the corral. I had to remind myself repeatedly not to be intimidated by some of the athletes I saw striding alongside me for warm ups. This is a race against yourself. This is a race against what you were. Race for the PR, try to pick off who you can. Don’t betray yourself by going out too fast from hubris. This is a race against yourself. 

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Pre-line up. After a jog and then some strides. Focus, focus, focus. Steady the mind. Don’t be a fool going out; don’t be a wimp coming in.

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Another struggle that is real? Pinning on racing bibs in a straight fashion. Oh, the consternation on my brow.

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Real Life for Runners: your contact is irritating your eye an hour before your race and the extra box you thought you had in your backpack turns out to be a pack of gum that is the same size, color, and shape as your contact box. This was a tense moment for me, especially when the contact got wedged in the upper part of my eye and I thought I lost it for a moment. I never did solve it completely but got it on. Good thing running doesn’t require perfect vision or comfortable eyeballs.

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That time in life when my body was almost entirely muscle… Sure wasn’t that way a few years ago! Here, I am loosening my arms. I have come to understand how important arms can be. Swimming has helped enormously. I plan to ramp up arm work in this coming year.

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My dad PR’d at 27:23, and I am proud of him as ever. The greatest gift he ever gave a child was to get himself into fit condition. I took up running because he had taken it up, pure and simple. He proved to me that we are never stuck, even if we think we are. Running has saved my life and given it new depth and authenticity, and I have my dad to thank for that. He was the first to push me into longer distances, as well, and believed in me even when I didn’t yet believe in myself. I hope to give my children even half of what he has given me by living his life the way he has.

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A highlight of my day: watching the women’s elite race. Deena Kastor, whom I admire very much, is all in pink here. She ran for the women’s master’s AR. Although she missed it today, I celebrate her amazing fitness and dedication to our sport. She is 40-years-old, and a mother of a young child, and trains far more than I do and has several records to her name. I often read her interviews and words for inspiration before racing. After she came in, I got to talk with her for just a moment. Made my day. Genzebe Dibaba, going for the WR today (missed by a couple of seconds) is standing just behind the blue line. Her spring amazes me. Her fitness is gorgeous to behold. These women are like rock stars to me. The men’s elites were equally inspiring. Beautiful legs in motion.

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With my big seven-year-old. I got a different medal for placing in the top 250 finishers. It has an engraving of Meseret Defar, who has won Carlsbad for the women several times and who has several Olympic medals to her name.

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Back in Mama Mode!

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Back home in Temecula, I did a 6 mi shake-out run, for a total (including warm-up) of just over 10 mi today for Long Run Sunday. It is my practice to run shake-out on Carlsbad race day, more as a message to mind and body that there is more work to be done. Yes, I met a goal. But I cannot linger there, or rest on laurels. Did you know that I don’t actually display my medals and, in fact, barely look at them? I keep them in a bowl on my bookshelves in my room. I don’t think too much pride gets a person anywhere. A bit of discontentment is good. Yes, the medals (almost all of which are actual placement medals in division or in the whole race, or both) are representations of achievements, but those achievements are just one moment in time. What was the course? Who showed up? There are always better runners who COULD HAVE come to race, but maybe didn’t show up that day. You know what I mean? The race is only ever against myself, really. The medals show a general trend, and over time, the data of my placements in large enough fields show something, too. But honestly? While those placement medals are nice memories, they don’t capture anything about where I hope to go next with my sport. I linger on them only long enough to give me momentum into pursuing my next goal. My mid-distance run today is a commitment to the mindset of continued work and improvement. One race might have turned out well in terms of goal-meeting; however, I already have other goals in mind, and one race won’t get me there.

Only work will yield results.

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Running is my passion, my first love in terms of sport. What’s next? I have a bucket list of dreams for my life as an athlete, but right now this pair of races has reminded me that running must subsume every other athletic pursuit, because I truly love it with every fiber of my being. I do swim—and a decent amount of mileage for only three sessions a week—but this must be to strengthen my arms and enlarge my lungs. Whatever I do, I want it to contribute to the further whittling of my race pace. I have further to go. I want to race, really be the best I can be at racing. I don’t think I’ve maxed out on the running yet, in terms of pacing limits. I want to get good, really good. More competitive, even in a race like this one. I think of myself as a woodcarver, slowly but surely whittling and carving away, shaping myself into new fitness…slowly, but surely, year after year. I’m not ready to take time away from this whittling to pursue other events at the moment.

Perhaps one day…but the thing is, Carlsbad is just one year away, and I have a new PR to try to go get!

Run with joy,
Sarah

“The journey I’m taking is inside me. Just like blood travels down veins, what I’m seeing is my inner self and what seems threatening is just the echo of the fear in my heart.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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Two and a-little-over-a-half years ago, up to my neck and near drowning in an unhealthy lifestyle and wondering where in the darkness of anxiety my goals and spark had gone, I stood at a fork in the road and decided to fight for myself. To fight, all in. To claim true happiness over comfort and immediate pleasure. To pry every scrap of vitality from my one life before my time came up. To send a message loud and clear to my children: I am going to have to be ripped from this Earth before I leave you prematurely. To look fear in the eyes and stare it down. To break myself and rebuild anew…

I’ll never forget those first steps. Like a baby testing out, over-shooting, falling short and wobbly. I put on my faded blue yoga pants—some of the only pants that still fit—and a roomy golden yellow 20th anniversary Golden Bear t-shirt from my high school campus. Old shoes. Socks that pulled down under my heel as I went (who had heard of running socks back then?). Barely half a mile. At a pace that might barely be measurable. Lungs and heart burst with the slightest of effort. Legs shuffled. I will never forget, ever, how difficult it was. The next day: same outfit, do it again. I saw a neighbor. I felt embarrassed at how plodding I felt. Those steps… so unfamiliar. So excruciating. So much a reminder at how unfit I felt, and was. So much a reminder of not being good at something, and how I’d trapped myself.

Those steps: the first to my freedom. That’s how I see them now. They may have been, of all the steps I’ve ever taken, the most important footfalls of my life. Those were the steps by which I found myself on a new path, in a life abundantly full of challenge and joy and a happiness built not on immediate comfort or avoidance…but a happiness founded sheerly on how hard I am willing to work and what is real.

I was on Mile 5 this morning during the San Diego Hot Chocolate 15K when I let myself remember and feel those steps in my memory. I looked out at the coastal sky, felt my arms slice through the wind, counted the beat of my breath with the churning of my legs…and remembered what it felt like not to have this freedom of flying through the daylight, along the roads, at the top of the world.

Never give up on yourself. Never. NEVER. Wherever you happen to be, whomever you happen to be, your inner spark is worth fighting for. You deserve your freedom.

The power of mirth glowed from right inside of my core and chills spread out over my arms, buffering the discomfort in my legs for a few moments. From those first steps a few years ago, the journey has been intense and wild and even I could not have foreseen just how deeply forged my identity is now in that of a distance runner.

Today’s race was a sweet victory for me, over myself, which is what this running gig is all about. Last year I ran a 1:04:56 on this course, 5th woman in overall. That day in the car on the way home, I told my husband (who had recently taken over my coaching for me) that I wanted to come back and do better in 2015. I would do whatever it took. We made plans. The woman who had won last year won it in 1:02:33. I wanted to match that, if I could.

So I have worked for a year. Had a goal for a YEAR. This, and Carlsbad, are litmus races for me a bit. I had several sub-goals this year, but my two biggest goals involved this pair of March races. In fact, I started getting really serious about training right after these races last year, adding weekly and now twice-weekly interval session, double-day runs, and swimming. Goals? It’s on. It’s a wild feeling to wake up on those cold wintry mornings we had in October and November and not want at all to get out of bed and plunge into the 4:30 AM dark cold, or lay base of 5 miles knowing speedwork would come on miles 8,9,10 that afternoon. Or to have to arrange plans (skipping things like Disneyland days here and there, moving other activities, etc) around interval Thursdays. Or to run on Christmas morning before the kiddos get up. To plan a road trip around opportunities to train in various cities. The training has been a way of life, and the goals have been motivating. There’s no sacrifice, but there are trades.

For me, though: you do the necessary work. All in. No fiddle-faddling around. No “I meant to train more, but I didn’t and if I had, I could have done x, y, or z.” No hypothetical forecasting. No. ALL IN. You only have what you do. Give it everything all year. Lay all the cards down. Be open about what you mean to do. And when the day comes, risk it. Risk the not-meeting-it. Risk the everyone-will-know. Risk the self-disappointment. Risk it ALL. Lay it on the line, every time. I’ve had some great highs this year, and PRs and goals met. I went backward at the Holiday Half. Oh well. Only by risking it all, I believe, do we get to touch on life’s essential vitality. We didn’t hide. We didn’t play games. It wasn’t halfway done. We put it out there with our whole minds, bodies, hearts…ready for the consequences. To me, that is living. To me, that is the power of being a runner.

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Today I ran this 9.3 mile course in 1:01:38, and I was the 4th woman in out of 4653 women. I placed 1st in my division (35-39) out of 824. I was the 23rd person in out of 6313 people. I had a PR drop of 3:18.

I would have loved a spot on that podium this year, but it was not to be. You cannot help who shows up at a road race, and this year three women showed up who absolutely smoked it at 55-something, 58-something, and 59-something. My level of fitness cannot run a 9.3 in under an hour yet, and they were just better. But I can do 9 miles flat in just under an hour (the 0.3 I did in 1:47 today), and I will take that! Because a few years ago? The thought of my running 9 miles/hour would have been UNTHINKABLE.

My goal today was a 1:02, and I beat myself. I’ll take it. Had I run my 1:01:38 in last year’s field, I would have felt that podium. I still have hopes for it next year. You know why I love my sport? I love distance running because it completely rewards consistent discipline and hard work. I know I can keep whittling at my time, if I continue to follow my process and work ethic. There’s so much more to add, so much more I can do. I average between 40 and 50 mile weeks—there’s the potential to add more at some point. I can cross train my arms more rigorously. Ramp up intervals. Continue to build base miles. Race more. There’s work to do, if I am willing to do it. (I am).

The race entry fee, our stay in a suite at the Horton Grand Hotel, and this whole weekend was a 35th birthday gift from my generous husband (and coach) this past December. Definitely a treat…and also a very serious message about how much he believes in me and supports me in trying to be my best and to conquer my personal goals.

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So… Expo shenanigans! Let’s do this thing!

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Picking up the bib!

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Walking in the Gaslamp

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Bill in front of our hotel
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Katie and Eric watch the sunset from the hotel

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I could not ask for a better husband, coach, and friend. With you, I can fly.

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Katie, during check in
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On the way to dinner

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My traveling buddies!

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Laying out gear the night before

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5 AM this morning. A restless night preceded this. Jolts of adrenaline kept shooting me awake. I would soothe my nerves by going through my visualization process again and again and channeling the nerves into excitement. It’s a big thing, though, to be at the point of knowing that you have to prove your year’s worth of work to yourself. I kept worrying I would disappoint my William (which he found to be a ridiculous concern, because he is never disappointed in me), but I realized I was most worried about disappointing myself. That’s the risk of laying it all down, of training all the way. If I fail, I cannot say that it was because I didn’t train; I did. For a recovering perfectionist, running is the ultimate in therapy, ha ha! Every race, I face failure and have to tell myself that I will be okay with it. At times, when I have fallen short of a PR or goal, I’ve had to walk the talk. Good practice. It’s not the end of the world not to meet a goal the first time; it IS the end of the world not to try absolutely all the way in the first place. What do we have if we don’t have our best effort?

I was worried all week about how to “hook in” mentally with this race. The goal was not enough. For each race, I cast it in a larger narrative—hey, that works for me, however weird it sounds. There’s always some sort of “thing” I tap into when I am running. Something to make the chills go. Something that helps keep the suffering away from the discomfort. Something to draw on mentally when the tanks are getting low, that buffers energy. Motivation. Races for which I have had this hook have tended to go really well. The narrative about “this is my second chance, I can come back and do better” was too time-oriented and not compelling enough to me. Last year, my hook was “I am the mysterious dark horse that no one knows, so let’s see what I can do” and that was my black outfit and black fingernail polish phase as a runner. This time had to be different.

Katie and I shared a bed, and I spent all night holding her hand and feeling the comfort of her breath. And I finally really tapped into it. Feel the joy that is running, Kara Goucher has advised. Yes. Feel the joy. It hit me. What is my inner gift? What do I have that has always been part of me? My capacity to feel joy, real joy. My optimism. My feeling that the universe is full of good and beauty. Yes. That’s what I should run on. Run on the joy of it all. Run by believing I can do it. Run by remembering that it is possible to change one’s life. Just run, and feel the freedom. Look at the day. Remember what a good morning it is for a run. Have fun with it. That’s who I am inside. So I promised myself that when I crossed that starting line today, no matter what else, I would run with the joy of it pounding in my heart. Let the legs work, don’t overthink it, have trust that I have trained enough. Run for the love of running.

It worked. It worked, because it was authentic. When the three leading women settled into their pace, I knew I could not catch them for they were clearly at a different place of fitness. But I could go from 5th to 4th woman, and I could pick off some men. So I did…and then for a little while, I had some stretch of road where I wasn’t up front, and I wasn’t in the next wave. I was just…kind of alone…doing my thing. Every once in awhile in the middle section, some one would come and we’d jockey a bit. The real jockeying came in the last 5K. I duked it out with some men. Some I went past, and some went past me. Once finished in the chute, some of them gave me their respect, and I always love earning that.

This was a very evenly paced race for me, my 5K, 10K, and finishing splits all coming in with one second of each other. My overall pace was 6:37 for the whole thing. During the last mile or so I kicked it up a notch, going 5:16 for quite a stretch according to my two Garmins. I raced it in literally chanting out loud the words of the great Pre, over and over: “DO NOT LET FATIGUE MAKE A COWARD OUT OF YOU!” Darn straight. I am still working on racing with his kind of guts. I am not there yet, still have some conservative instincts that I need to try to override.

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My solo walk this morning in the Gaslamp district to Petco Park. I never tire of walking in the heart of a city.

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I’m in the blue, with my arms crossed. All business, baby, all business. Game face. At one point the announcer was talking about me, right in front of me, and hypothesizing that I might be one of the front runners….and I didn’t even hear or notice him at first. In the ZONE. That was flattering and all, but then…

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…then literally the most exciting thing ever in a race happened to me. There’s this professional runner, Ariana, who just moved to San Diego from Minnesota. Folks, she’s like a rock star. I first learned of her at the Holiday Half. I saw her in the corral back then and just knew. She did go on to win that race. She has a blog, which I read, and she has Olympic trial times. I really admire her. Like me, she came later in life to running, and she is just AMAZING. Anyway, there I was, arms crossed in my corral when I saw her finishing warm ups just ahead of the corral. I looked at Bill and we texted, “Is that Ariana??” No way!

So then she comes to get into our officially seeded, qualifying-time corral. At first the announcer says no, you can’t really squish in here. Then a volunteer and I start speaking up (the volunteer knows his runners—that particular volunteer had just helped to organize the L.A. Marathon). We’re like, “No no no…this is Ariana H—— She belongs up here!” With her there, the whole field will be fast. In my mind, this is a great thing…because even though I cannot run at her level of fitness, a faster field means all of us might get swept along to do a little better than we otherwise might.

Anyway, the announcer tried to say something (because he didn’t know who she was) along the lines of Sarah and Ariana duking it out, and I was quick to say, “Uh, no no…Ariana is much better!” But, people, I felt so excited just to be standing next to her for a few moments before the gun. We talked a bit about the course, and she asked what I was going for… I shared that, and then I wished her a great run. She smoked it. She won the women, and only a few guys even beat her. To see someone there who is an inspiration to me was so meaningful. Definitely a boost right before the race, I felt.

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Bowl of chocolate! (Shared with my kiddos).

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My dad raced, also. I never forget that it started with him…watching him change his life and finish his first half marathon inspired me to want to be that kind of role model for MY children.

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After a late brunch, we took one more selfie in our cutie-pie hotel, and Hot Chocolate 15K 2015 was on the books.

Carlsbad 5000 next Sunday… I am looking to have fun with that flat course. The Big Sur Marathon Relay comes in April, with a team. I’m racing Bay to Breakers in May, and maaaaaaaaybe the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half (on the bucket list at some point) in late May. July will be Butte to Butte in Eugene. So, two out of three March races are done. They are going well. Trying to be smart the rest of the season here, with training and tapering at the right times.

And if I were smarter, I would go to bed right now. Early morning shake-it-off swim for 100 laps (or more) tomorrow morning!

Run with joy,

Sarah

This day has this Ben Howard song as its soundtrack in my head:
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“Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags,
I’ve come to know that memories
Were the best things you ever had.
The summer shone beat down on bony backs.
So far from home where the ocean stood
Down dust and pine cone tracks.

We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
As the old pine fell we sang
Just to bless the morning.”

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San Jacinto Wilderness State Park, Long Valley. Once at the top station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, my dad, Katie, and Eric and I took the Desert Trail to explore all five lookout notches. Taking in the alpine zone juxtaposed with the lower desert zones, we inhaled that crisp and essential mountain air, 8400 feet above sea level. All day we crunched in snow and goat-footed ourselves over rocky outcroppings (we went off trail several times—shhh!). Much more snow remained this year, and the ranger at the Ranger Station cautioned one group of would-be hikers that the snow was so deep in parts (3 to 4 FEET) that they would not be issuing permits for certain trails today. Those fallen pines and juts of granite and snow make a kind of magical beauty that I could get myself lost in for life, writing, sketching, wandering, thinking. I found myself wanting to hike every day forever.

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Billions of years of passing time—everything that ever was, compressed in the memories of rocks. From deep within the Earth and now amidst the buttery vanilla scent of Jeffrey Pines, these rocks of violence begat their limitless beauty. Orangey red, green, and black lichen are Nature’s paints on the rock faces. Ever notice how very much the folds of green lichen evoke the twisty and folded matter of the brain?

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This enormous fallen pine from the other direction evoked to me a rather large insect on all of its legs. It is perhaps difficult to see scale, but we are somewhat high up in this picture, and it took some climbing to get here. Katie-girl made me proud with her bravery. Heaven is a seat on a pine tree, here and now, as the pine begins its long process of turning back into earth, to nourish new life. I used to climb trees all the time as a child. It’s been difficult to find climbing trees in my adult life, but perhaps it just means I need better eyes and places to search… If we’re lucky, we become what we were.

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Eric fancied these limbs as his “spaceship” and from there spun out an elaborate narrative of planetary exploration that endured throughout the rest of our hike. He was fearless and had to be reigned in a bit—I think there were moments where he would have hiked right over several edges and down into the untouched snow, or searched out the highest rocks and looked for the homes of the bobcats. We had to keep calling him back, and I don’t like to do that—I want my kiddos to have a wide berth, get into and out of adventures on their own, wander and feel the contours of their range. However, I draw the line at safety. This person here is lured by beauty and just-around-the-bend and freedom in the landscape: he has my genetic imprint in this regard, no doubt. Thankfully, he is nimble and sure on his feet.

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What a treat to have my dad along this year, although we missed my mom, too. (She accompanied us last year). Dad, with his biology background, knows quite a bit about everything he sees in the natural world. He has a curious mind that engages the kiddos, too. We loved our time with him.

Last year we went off trail and found a special crop of boulders that made a sort of shelter and hid us away: no one could see us, and we could see no one. We really got away from it all. At the time, we had lunch there and played house with my mom there. The kiddos had designated rooms in this rock structure, and we all collected items and made a sort of play kitchen there, pretending to make a stew. How often we have thought of this place over the last year, we cannot say. We often retell the story when we have bedtime stories (“The Grand Adventures of Katie and Eric”). We wondered if we could find it again today, and we did—in fact, they remembered the off-trail spot perfectly.

We went up there, had a snack, and then I was just going to lay on my back under the pines for a moment…the sound of the kiddos’ voices nearby playing, my dad helping to keep an eye on them. Suddenly and without intention, I was aware of something deeper even than sleep overtaking my body. I could still partly hear them all, but was partly asleep, partly adrift on the sound of the wind. At any rate, it was the most supreme rest and refreshment I have had for many weeks. I’d start to stir then would feel the sky on me like a blanket, as though my mind were floating on the day while my body lay on nothing but dirt and pine needles. It was the most comfortable of beds, despite the small rocks and needles; it was almost as if I could feel my body become part of that earth right there, no division between the two…and that while my body rested, my mind was still hearing and sensing and free. I still am not sure how much time passed there, moments of complete refreshment and oneness with the vast nature around me.

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One of Katie’s pursuits today involved earning another Junior Ranger badge, as she did at Crater Lake. We spent time writing down some facts and answering questions. After all of our hiking, we turned in her booklet (Eric’s, too), and then we had coffee and hot chocolate at the Pines Cafe up at the top of the mountain center.

Today began with a waning-gibbous-moon 4:30 AM base mile run (“base miles” for me mean between 4 and 5 mi at a comfortable pace), followed by 2500 yards in the pool. Home again by 6:55 AM, I had mostly dressed for hiking in the locker room following my swim, but I still had to get the kiddos up and ready. My dad was over by 7:30 AM, and we were in Palm Springs by 9:15 or so. We hiked for many hours, then came home… I then ran to the track, did a series of 660s at a solid sub-6:00 minute pace (5:47 or so average) to finish trashing my legs thoroughly (5K run at race pace on Saturday, 10 miles semi-speedy on raced-out legs on Sunday, rest Monday, speedwork today) one more time before taper starts next week for the 15K that’s coming up. What gets trashed, builds back up stronger, right? That’s been the game plan this year. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the speedwork today after hiking on uneven and snowy terrain at altitude all day, but I’ve been pretty stubborn/tenacious about not missing, even scheduling life around those speedwork days the past couple of months especially. Hope the effort bears fruit! Regardless, I was reflecting today on how just 2.5 years ago, I could have made it through exactly none of these various exercise activities today, let alone all of them. I am grateful today for my health, for getting to explore around with my children and to play and to feel the wind in my hair when I run…to know how it feels to glide through water and breathe deeply…to feel that I can generate my own store of energy, so that I can pour that energy into savoring the world around me, trying to understand its many beauties and wonders. I am thankful to feel the vitality of the pine trees, to feel attached to the earth beneath my feet, to know that my cells will one day dissipate and become part of something else, a flow of energy and matter much more vast than I am.

I would like to capture the feeling in the Foo Fighter’s “I Am a River” here in a quote. Unfortunately, when I try to quote it, the emotion doesn’t quite render in the words. You have to hear it in Grohl’s voice and in the drums and bass: so here is a link to it on YouTube. It is about many themes, but I connect most to the subtextual idea of an eternally flowing river, like the flow of energy and space. This song has been on repeat for me lately. I usually listen to it on the way to or from swimming, as well as at times like right now, when I should be in bed sleeping. Music that connects to the essence, though, can sometimes be more restorative and refreshing than sleep, I find.

Nighty night!

“There are places I remember all my life/Though some have changed/Some forever, not for better/Some have gone and some remain/All these places have their moments/With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all…”

The Class of 1998 at TVHS chose this song as our graduation song, and it always reminds me of Bridget, our class president, who was responsible for bringing The Beatles so much into my world at the time. Shortly after our vote and the song was announced, I went after school one afternoon in spring that year to the local Warehouse music store and purchased my first compilation of Beatles music. I still have that red album and use it often in the car when my Katie and Eric and I are driving around town.

Even now, listening to “In My Life” as I write the introduction to this blog post, my throat grows lumpy. We had just thrown our mortarboards up to the sky standing and cheering on the TVHS field, the world forever open to us…but only for so long. In the seventeen years since I left campus that first time—not yet knowing I would be back to teach there for five years—I have only come to realize more how life is reinvention and cycle, how bound up we all are in each other’s narratives, how the most important stories are the ones we choose to tell again and again, like the great Norse gods at the hall. Life is the epic interpretation of a world that would otherwise be soundless and colorless (music and color not existing in-the-world, strictly speaking, but as a psychological state) were it not for our brains parsing all of the oscillations and wavelengths that come at us into an order and coherency—that is the true miracle. The very music and vibrancy of our lives depend upon our presence in the moment, our commitment to our interpretative faculty.

Every time I set foot on TVHS, the old is new to me. I turn over in my mind all the layers of time and story that exist there, for me. My friends, my own students, my teachers, my colleagues…all the connections in time both big and small. Thousands of lives criss-crossing through space and time. TVHS will always feel like a piece of home to me.

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(Early this morning, 7 AM, an hour before the event: TVHS will always be so lovely to my sight)

With three races planned for this month, today’s 5K was the first of the post-winter season. Put on by the  TVEA (union) and organized by the beautiful Dawn Sibby (an alum herself who had just returned to teach there when I was in 10th or 11th grade), this 5K was open to the community and celebrated fitness. On the way over there in the car, Bill and I wondered how marked and race-like this event would be, as one never knows, and we weren’t certain who was responsible for the course set-up. Well, it was impeccable. Both Dawn and her husband Ed (also one of my teachers once) are runners (Ed is doing the LA Marathon next weekend), and they know how to make a good course with ample markings and true to distance. My Garmin clocked 3.10 EXACTLY. This was a far more put together race in many ways than either of the races I’ve done in the local wineries. ROTC students helped to guide, and those students did their job with alertness and a sense of responsibility. As the course leader, I often did not know in advance where precisely I would be going; every time I needed it, a student volunteer was right on the ball, or there was a well-placed arrow. Amazing job, you guys!

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(Listening to instructions from Dawn before the race lined up)

Coach-husband Bill and I talked about strategy for this race. We both agreed (we are so often on the same wavelength about everything, including training and race plans) that I needed to look at this run as an entry into race season, a way to get my head back into game/race mode after a season of training. I was not to allow it to “take the edge off” my adrenaline (more on that in a minute), but rather to allow it to hone the adrenaline and practice getting into and out of “race mind.” I often practice interpreting my adrenaline as excitement, versus nerves; Deena Kastor does the same thing, and recently discussed it in this article. I agree wholeheartedly with her that one of the keys to racing well is to know how to interpret energy into positive energy. I have a tendency to feel nerves, and I actually train to feel the nerves as other forms of emotion, just as I train very consciously to let myself feel pain but not the suffering. The physical training all year is incredibly important, and I do that as a given; what many people may not know is how much mental training this racing gig requires, as well. I’ve come to believe that, for an athlete who has met all of her training obligations and made sure her body is ready, the most important factor on race day is her state of mind and what she’s done mentally to prepare for it.

I lost sight of that a bit in December, when I went into the Holiday Half with a bit of what I call a “floppy mind.” I wrote that race up at the time, and it is in my archives. There were significant physical factors, too, that contributed to that race not being my best; however, what bothered me about that race was the feeling beforehand that I wasn’t “getting my mind around it” in the proper way. I guess the best I can say is that neither my body nor mind was in alignment for that race, and that happens; combined, though, with what felt like a difficult winter training schedule (lots of pitch dark, cold, 4:30 AM runs to lay base at tempos that at times felt like I was going backwards in my training), I have been worried not only that my body would come back online for racing but also that my mind would be where it needs to be.

So for this race, at my old stomping grounds, I decided to take my body’s readiness on trust in the process….and to focus this week on getting my mind into the right place. This week I had only one session of speedwork (in addition to taper week types of mileage), and Bill designed it to help my mind. After some 100s, I had to see what I could do on a quarter (400 m). He wanted 80 seconds; I gave us 77.4 seconds. I felt the bear on the last 100 of that quarter mile, not something I feel even in my most stressed anaerobic states most of the time. Before I can start to conquer the bear, I have to feel him. After racing season is over, I have some new goals. The bear and I are going to have smackdowns on the track. But, back to this race…

I knew that today I would center my running in my heart and head, and just let my body do its own work. TVHS is so significant and special a place to me. I spent time all this week remembering specific people in specific places on that campus. I knew that, whatever the course, I would have memories along it. I remembered standing with the seniors of ’98 on the field during our special breakfast, arms linked and smiling, a big line of us. Mrs. Cutler kissing a pig on the field. Football nights and confetti in our pockets. Watching my brother graduate. The senior float during Homecoming. Trying to get up that XC hill during 9th grade P.E. with Mrs. Martin. Steve and I playing tennis. The very place where I dropped my binder and was worried about being late for class. A million other memories with hundreds of other people. I felt deeply that this would be a sentimental and symbolic race for me, and it was. That energy was so overwhelmingly positive that I found myself excited for this race without even trying not to have nerves.

I wanted to run with all the conviction in my body, mind, and heart to lay down a new layer of meaning and narrative on an old place. When I was a student there, and a teacher, I was known for academics—not athletics, not in the least. Here was a chance to merge a new phase of my life with the older phases, to try hard at something in a place where it has always meant the world to me to try hard to do, and be, my best. I’ve experienced failure there, and triumph, tears and laughter, uncertainty and confidence, love, anger, self-discovery, the making of best friendships, everything. It was a place—and with my students—that I found purpose and solace after my miscarriage. Many of the most important mentors of my life originated there. I’ve watched a generation of colleagues be my age now, and then grow and evolve into their current ages and states of being. Twenty years is a long time to know people. I think of the first time I met Beth, or Donna, or Kathy… And in the second phase: of meeting friends like Sandy. I could see the shadows of friends and my former selves all over the campus, and it really felt like past-present-future time were all happening at once, in a rightness together. Difficult to explain…

Last night I thought about the symbolism of it all, and then I spent time listening to Foo Fighters and just immersing myself in their music. I watched some interviews with Dave Grohl, checked when the Sonic Highways documentary would be available on Amazon. Foo Fighters are one of my go-to pre-race bands. They get me in the right mood.
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(1st place in the race, and Councilman Chuck Washington was there to give out medals)

So how it turned out: I was the first person in, male or female. Yeah, I won the thing…and that was cool! Now, had the track team been there? Or GOHS’ track team? Well, I would have eaten it in the wake of the Wolfpack, which is one of the best teams in the NATION. Thankfully, most the top of the track teams were at meets today, so that helped. Any high school track member who has trained should be able to do that course in about 18:00. I clocked in at 20:06. Hey, though, I will take it. We did that killer XC hill on our campus—freakin’ TWICE, man. I had a 6:29 per mile pace despite that hill, and my Garmin, which gives elevation and pace data throughout the run showed on our debriefing tonight that most of the race (other than my two hill bouts) was at a 6:00/mile or better, with a significant portion nicely under 6:00. The hill—steep like a beast and filled with ruts and hairpin turns on the downslide—was so killer that at times the Garmin showed my pace slipping way down. But you know what? When I was in 9th grade, I could barely run the darn thing…so, forward progress!  I am far fitter now than I ever was in high school. Also: based on this level of fitness on this challenging course, I am looking now more hopefully than ever at a substantial Carlsbad 5000 course record in a few weeks. I think I could have a big drop from last year. We’ll see. I’m stoked to try, I know that much! This was hills…Carlsbad is flaaaaaaaaaaaaaat, so flat, and I have my own personal course record to beat. I can run a dozen different courses and get different times; the meaningful PRs are those done on a repeat course, in my opinion. How else can we measure the growth? Not by comparing one course to a different course…too many variables.

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(With Mr. Brown, my AP Euro teacher)

So what I loved? Running into teachers before the race! Mr. Brown, Mr. Kingsberg…some of these teachers had transferred to other sites by the time I got back from college and had my own classroom, so they are still more like ” former teachers” to me than colleagues, you know what I mean? And some I hadn’t seen in years! Too exciting!

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Before the race, in mama mode. I loved that today, and always. There is a balance between self-fulfillment and my own personal goals and then being able to live for, and give to, these two precious people.

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On your marks…

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Heading toward the dreaded TVHS hill, the second time…

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First back in the gate on the track for the last bit of the race. The next person in was almost two minutes later. I could feel no one on me, but I still pretended there was (mentally) and tried my best to kick it all the way in. Practice what we want to do on every race, right?

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Finishing the race with one of my 9th grade teachers on the left of the picture, and one of my 12th grade teachers on the right. I am 35-years-old, my friends, so how wild is that? I love being part of this school and this hometown.

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My favorite coach-husband-best friend-teacher-guy

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No matter the race, or what I win or don’t, or the pace, or whatever….I am a mama first. Although my sports have become for me a way to know myself and to fulfill myself and experience life more robustly and vibrantly, I never forget that my husband and children were the motivating factors to get started on this journey. Two and a half years ago, I decided to become healthy for them, and for me. I want to live as long as I can with them. Joy is here, on this Earth, right now. THIS is what we have. I decided that I will fight kicking and clawing to stay here as long as I can, and that when it is my time, my children will know that I had to be ripped away.

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After the 5K, the kiddos go to do field events: dashes, tosses, soccer kicks. Very well done, TVEA! I think Eric has some sprinter genes like Daddy…

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And that Katie will have endurance like Mommy…

I will try to post some more pictures of the kiddos’ field events on Facebook tomorrow, I think, since it is getting late and we lose an hour tonight. Coach has scheduled a 10 miler tomorrow (which is what I was hoping for, actually). But legs, what sore race legs? Ha ha. It might be a sloooow 10 miler, people, if you happen to be out and about in Temecula tomorrow morning! Throw me some Clif Bloks around mile 7 if you see me, okay? I’m gonna need them!