Beyond Room 119


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Exhaustion

I used to think she was crazy. She’d talk about going on runs in the middle of a blazing summer day and loving the feeling of complete physical exhaustion that came from spending all her energy while the heat slowly pulled it away at the same time. She’d talk about being utterly spent at the end of a run and completely exhilarated despite (or perhaps, because of) that feeling.

Seven years I’ve known her, seven years I’ve thought this, and it wasn’t until today that I finally understood.

Today was a beautiful day, full of sunshine, heat, and humidity. It was the kind of day that you might sit outside for a few minutes to enjoy, and then retreat to the safety of air conditioning. At the end of my day, I decided to go on a six-mile trail run. The day had been fine, but I had been mentally working through some things that seem to keep popping up and I’ve been frustrated with my internal reaction to them.

I started my run with the goal of literally just running it all away. Not for the purpose of running away from it, but rather, to run through it. To show myself that I was stronger than it. That I was more than these reactions. That I could push through and come out on the other end.

My run today didn’t give me any of those things. I’d consider myself a fairly strong runner, but three miles into this run, I was already hoping that I was almost done. Trail running is much different than road running, mentally and especially physically. This particular path has a number of rolling hills, inclines that never seem to end, and the last mile is more uphill than anything else. It’s a tougher one on any day, let alone with temperatures in the mid-eighties.

My run today didn’t give me any of those things for which I was searching. Instead, it gave me the opportunity to earn them. As I wound my way around the roots, branches, and trees, running up and down and all around, I ran up yet another hill. With breath in short supply, I was faced with a choice: stop and walk, or push onward. And in every moment when I chose to forge ahead, I was reminding myself that I could do this. That I can do this. That I am doing this. That the struggle is only temporary, and the growth that comes from overcoming it lasts forever.

When we push ourselves in the physical realm beyond what we think we can handle, this mentality spills over into other aspects of our lives. In teaching ourselves that we can handle that physical hill, we learn that we can also tackle the hills in the other aspects of our lives. We learn who we are, and what we can do.

We learn that we are more than what our insecurities whisper to us.

We are stronger than our doubts would have us believe.

Who we are is not dependent on what we think, but on the way in which we choose to act upon those thoughts.

Strength comes in many forms – mental, emotional, spiritual, physical. Each one manifests itself differently, but at the end of the day, they are all branches of the same tree, and as such, are all related to each other. When we recognize this, we can draw upon one branch when another may bend under a heavier load.

I ended my run this evening more exhausted than I’ve been in a long time. I fought my way up that last mile and ended up at the top of the trail. I was exhausted. Completely spent. And strangely enough, more awake than I had felt all day. I still faced the same situations. Those same reactions will pop up when I’d rather that they didn’t. An hour run doesn’t change any of that.

But it does change me. It reminds me of who I am, and pushes me towards who I want to be – a woman of integrity, understanding, passion, and yes, you guessed it: strength.

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Pacing

We were stopped at an intersection with about a mile and a half left on the run when Randy appeared at my side. “I’ve got four questions for you,” he began.

Our conversations tend to start in one place, wander a few different ways, and end somewhere completely different, so I was curious to see where we would go on this day. “Shoot!” I said. As we waited for the light to change, he hit me with the first one. “How many races have you run?” Well, that answer was pretty easy – not a ton, and not a few. “Somewhere between six and ten, I’d say.”

The crosswalk sign switched on as he pitched the second question, without missing a beat. “How do you go about pacing yourself during a race?” This one was also pretty easy. I usually have a target pace and try to keep it steady throughout the whole time. I don’t like starting too fast and feeling miserable during the end of the race, and I just don’t enjoy progression runs as much (runs where each mile is done at a slightly faster pace). When the finish line is in sight, I’ll sprint and leave everything out there on the course, but usually by that point, I’m running on exhilaration (or dreams of the oatmeal that awaits me), rather than energy.

He tossed out the third one as we passed Ben and Jerry’s, with smells of freshly baked waffle cones wafting towards us. “Do you think our pacing in races reflects how we live our lives?”

Woah. This one made me pause, and though I answered him in the moment, I knew it was a question to which I wanted to return.

It seems that I’ve thought of running as a metaphor for life for ages, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Training for a marathon last fall only reinforced that perspective and helped me to find so many more connections. But Randy’s last question made me consider another angle: pace.

Among runners, pace is a pretty fundamental concept. Training pace helps you understand who you should run with on long runs, tempo and interval pace are your targets to guide speed work, recovery pace is for easy runs, and race pace is that holy grail: your intended goal for your next race.

How often in life do we consider the pace at which we live our lives? Is it reflective of who we are, and more importantly, who we want to be?

To work toward our goals is fine, and that often helps to shape and guide our growth. A career goal, personal growth, educational attainment – all of these are valuable, and creating an intentional path can help us to better ourselves in these various areas. But how often do we create that path intentionally, and how often do we jump from stepping stone to stepping stone, switching paces haphazardly, unaware of the pace that we keep and the life that we live?

We’re all different, and that’s one of the great truths of life. Because of this, we all run the race at different paces and with a different strategy. Each one presents its own considerations. If we start the race too slowly, will we achieve the goal? Conversely, if we rush towards the goal with reckless abandon, will we have the stamina to continue in our chosen path? And if we keep a steady pace throughout, maintaining an eye on the finish line, do we challenge ourselves enough?

It’s not about finding the one “right” answer, but rather, about finding that answer that is right for us. More importantly, it’s about finding the answer that is right for us at this moment in time. Each moment is presents a new opportunity, new challenges, and new experiences, and once they’ve passed, we can never get them back. Race day may be thirty degrees hotter than the rest of the training season, you may forget your socks, old injuries may flare up, and sometimes, something is just off. The same thing happens in our lives. Ish happens, and when it does, we adapt. We change our pace. We adjust course. We reassess goals. The goal, I think, then becomes to find the pace that allows us to enjoy where we’re at, while both appreciating the past and looking forward with hope. A runner’s GPS watch may not be able to help locate this, but with open eyes and faith in ourselves, it’s within reach for all of us.

 

(For the record, both Randy and I can count. The fourth question was, “Do you think the pace at which people usually walk is in any way a reflection of who they are?” but we ran out of miles before we got to this one!)


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Cultural exchanges

 

Visiting another country provides such a gateway into another culture. The traditions, heritage, food, and people are so different from our own, and it is through this exposure that we understand how we each fit into a larger picture. The United States is one little piece of a big world, but we often fail to realize that places exist outside of the ones we travel in our daily life.

Travel, then, is one way we can broaden our lens. For that reason, I was a bit wary of embarking on a Mexican cruise. I thought it would be a much different type of travel than what I prefer, as it’s difficult to get an understanding of a place from just a day in port. My sole purpose in embarking on this trip, then, was not to learn more about the world around me, but rather, to spend time with family that I rarely see, and that was reason enough for me. The cruise spent three days in different ports: Cabo, Mazatlán, and Puerto Vallerta. Though I did have a chance to talk with some different people and start to grasp a bit of what life is like in these three places, I did not enter port expecting vast insight into the culture and people that live here (and nor did I get it).

What I did get – and what I wasn’t expecting in the slightest – was the holding up of a mirror. The dock and the areas most easily accessible for a single day in port are flooded with tourists on a regular basis, and industry here has responded to that. And in doing so, the people in these areas speak loudly and clearly about what they think Americans value. In addition to the usual cheap trinkets, vendors in Cabo sell bandana-like materials with bright neon lettering proclaiming, “F Hillary!” “F Donald!” “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor,” and phrases with other obscenities to which I don’t even want to allude. The next day, a ride through Mazatlán to the country took me by a McDonalds, Carl’s Junior, and Starbucks.

Now, to some extent, these trinkets or restaurants may be funny or serve an actual purpose. College students on spring break want to let loose, and thus buy these items as a way to be a bit silly and take a bit of their break back home with them. That, I understand. And in moderation, I think that’s fine. But based on the plethora of materials and the sheer number of people who sell them, it seems clear that more than the casual college student choose to buy these items. After all, if no one were buying them, they wouldn’t be sold.

And this is what worries me. This is how people in other parts of the world view America? We’re crazy partiers who have little substance and choose to wear sashes that flaunt absurd or offensive slogans. We prefer our tried-and-true Big Macs to trying authentic Mexican cuisine, and we can’t survive without our Starbucks fix. This is a generalization, to be sure, but it has an ominous ring of truth.

One woman with whom I was speaking was from British Columbia and had spent a good deal of time in California. Never having been to Canada, I asked her some of the biggest differences between the two countries. She looked sideways at me, as if to determine how much I could take. “Well,” she began gingerly. “In Canada, this past election season, we had our longest election in our history.” Her seventeen year-old daughter chimed in at this point. “It took 78 days.” When I asked what those 78 days included, the daughter told me, “Everything. From the day the first signs went up in yards and campaign ads aired on TV, to when the election was over.” Her mother summarized the difference: “I’m not entirely sure how the American political system works, but particularly with this election, it’s…” she trailed off in search of the best adjective. “Interesting.”

America is a wonderful country in many respects. We’re a land of vision, the land of opportunity. The place where dreams are supposed to become reality, if one puts the work in. How realistic these epithets are today is an entirely different conversation; my point today is that America’s perception of America is much different than the rest of the world’s perception of America. And if others don’t take us seriously, I question what that does to our credibility both as a nation, and as individuals. I wonder if this might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we live up to those perceptions. I worry that as a nation, we aren’t even aware that this may be going on.

Ignorance is bliss, or so they say. I disagree. Ignorance breeds ignorance, and that is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing America today. We can’t simply believe that we are a world power and expect everyone to bow down to us. As individuals, we have to take responsibility for understanding our role in relation to those around us, and our country’s role in the global world. Only then can we move forward in true progress. Oddly enough, that was a lesson I learned from spring breakers in Cabo San Lucas. Go figure.

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