Thursday, July 28, 2011

Embracing life's roller coaster

Have you ever had an epiphany, but been unable to explain it to anyone else? That is the case with this blog entry, which has been over 2 weeks in the making. About two weeks ago the material for the entry came to me during a morning run. And then last week, during another run, I found the title. But it is not until now that I am able to find the exact words to put here.

Running never ceases to teach me new things. And barefoot running has taught me things I would never have learned with my shoes on. Like the concept that lawns can describe life and death.

Some lawns are green, lush, and almost bouncy – like when you are in love, cared for, and taking time to enjoy sunsets with a glass of wine. Some lawns are dry and hard with spiky blades of grass – like when you feel lost, lack energy, or experience the cut to the heart when you lose a loved one. Some lawns are in between, sprinkled with mediocre grass and just enough moisture to not notice if it's too hard or too soft - like when life is the same old, same old.

Running with my shoes on, all roads, sidewalks, and trails feel reasonably similar. It’s as if my feet are numb to the ever-changing path beneath them. Running barefoot is like life without the bumpers. You FEEL! (Although you don't feel as many rocks as one would expect.) You feel the smooth sections and rough patches more deeply. And isn't this how we're truly meant to live life - embracing the roller coaster of experiences and emotions that flood us? And isn't it also true that we wouldn't trade the green and lush moments with people, even when we grieve their absence during the dry and hard times of sorrow?

I'm thankful... for the lessons I continue to learn about life through running... and for those who teach me how to live fully into all moments of life.

Barefoot progress: I hit an important milestone on Monday - I ran 3 miles barefoot!

In my Old Navy socks after Monday's run!

This is significant for two reasons. First, some online sources say that once you hit 3 miles barefoot, then your muscles are pretty much adapted to the new form. I wouldn't say I'm fully adapted - since my achilles/calf muscles still get a little sore - but I was able to run another 3 miles barefoot this morning. Two 3-mile barefoot runs in a week is pretty sweet. Second, it was also my goal to run 3 miles barefoot before getting minimalist shoes so that my feet would first adapt to themselves, not the shoes.

So what's the next step? For August - October I have a couple goals:

1. Increase the number of days I run barefoot to 2-3 days per week to build strength in my muscles
2. Increase my barefoot distance to 6 miles (ambitious?)
3. Find minimalist shoes that I can wear in the winter (yes, I hate to admit cold weather is around the corner!)

This blog entry is dedicated to Bibiana. A young woman who truly transformed us with her positive, loving energy and taught us how to fully embrace life. We miss you. 7/13/2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

the divine within, the divine around

Have you ever gone out for a run and felt like you’re wearing one of those sumo wrestling suits while sucking in air through a straw? That’s what my run felt like on Wednesday. Lethargic. Weighed down. Struggling to get comfortable. Jealous of runners passing me and leaving me in their dust. Motivation out the window. Wondering why I’m out there in the first place.

I’ve been running long enough to be thankful that these kinds of runs are usually few and far between, but it still doesn’t make them any easier. It reminds me of the advice in the book Born to Run that says make your runs easy, light, smooth, and fast – in that order – because if all you get is easy then you have something to be thankful for. Unfortunately I couldn’t even get to “easy” on Wednesday. Instead I started thinking about the past 3 weeks, since my last blog post.

I spent a week at the end of June at Holden Village, a retreat center in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains that is outside of cell service and internet range. I was there for the Haiti Focus Week (visit the blog and Facebook group), where we shared stories, remembered those you lost their life in the January 2010 earthquake (including our friend Ben), learned Haitian dance, talked about ways to continue to help Haiti rebuild, and of course took time to run/hike in the mountains, enjoy the jacuzzi, and eat ice cream and tasty homemade bread until we were beyond full.

Hiking back from Hart Lake to Holden Village

During one of the education sessions at Holden Village we talked about theology of the body. One of the main thoughts in theology of the body is that instead of looking to the divine to better understand ourselves, we should look within ourselves to better understand the divine. To be created in the image of the divine, in all our uniqueness, means embracing the creativity of “otherness” that we see in ourselves and in those around us.

Wanda Diefelt, a professor at Luther College and presenter for this class, writes:
The body is our dwelling ground, the place we inhabit and call our home… Our body is a sacred ground, the manifestation of God’s love, and the visible sign of divine creativity. Each person’s body is a revelation of this divine energy and power, affirming the goodness of who we are.

As I lugged through my run, I began to think about my unique “otherness” as a runner. I’ve run 3 marathons and every time I’ve been minutes away from breaking 4 hours. I hate speed work so maybe I’ll never break that 4 hour mark. That’s okay. I’ll never be a superstar athlete or run in the Olympics. That’s okay. I slouch when I run and work at a desk, but I’m working on it. That’s okay. And as I pondered my otherness I said to myself, “I am enough. NO, not just enough… I am amazing. This is the only body I’ve got. Yes, self, you are awesome just as you are.” And as I stalked my stride in the Pottery Barn display windows I smiled at myself. Yes, today I may be slow, but I am great!

Barefoot progress:
I wasn’t able to run barefoot on the trails at Holden Village, but for the first time I was able to run 2.5 miles barefoot last week and then again this morning. While my muscles are feeling great, the pavement has been so hot lately that it hurts my feet, even when I walk barefoot. I’m thinking about getting something to protect them – today I decided to run in an old a pair of black running socks. This actually provided just enough protection so that my soles aren’t sore; however, I learned that if you run in loose socks through too many yards that have just been watered the grass will soak your socks and they expand to feel like you’re running in swimming flippers.

Two nice people made my day last week during a barefoot run. A man stopped me mid-stride to inform me of new construction on a side street that I should avoid with my bare feet. And when a woman running towards me saw my bare feet she flashed the widest smile and greeted me with an enthusiastic “Hi!” as if we were long-lost friends meeting for the first time in ages. It was such a pleasant surprise when all I usually get are furrowed brows, glares, and stares. Thank you to these two individuals who saw the divine in my otherness!