Monday, May 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Kellies

Only it's Kelly. With a Y.

And they're both me.

Tuesday at track I pulled a muscle in my left quad. It's the same leg (same quad) that has given me repeat trouble, so when I left class early, I felt very discouraged.


The moment it happened (ZING!) I knew I should stop for the night. The last thing I wanted was to injure it worse. But I was embarrassed to quit in front of a coach to whom I have not yet proven myself. I was embarrassed to pull up suddenly as a series of ace runners flew by me, all muscle and sinew.

I'm just gonna say it. I came home and cried.

Every time I get hurt, I go through a mini-mourning process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It's "mini" because I tend to jump straight to depression.

Acceptance/resolve after an injury takes me a few days, and in the meantime I swallow ibuprofen and make other physically recuperative efforts, hoping for the best.

The mental side of it is way harder. I go from a wildly-beating heart (I'm working out after all) to a hollow nothingness in my chest. There's a thick blah in my brain, akin to being tired but without the desire to sleep.

It's the kind of sudden absence of feeling that I assume most people fill with alcohol. But as I am personally opposed to drinking, I'm tempted to fill it instead with great heaps of black-tie mousse cake while lying on the couch watching old episodes of How I Met Your Mother until way past midnight.


Not that I'd ever do that.
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When I feel the weakest is when it's easiest to compare myself to others. Funny how that happens, isn't it? It's a habit that has got to be just as unhealthy as black-tie mousse cake.

Because when I compare myself to others, or even to where I want to be, resolve is hard to come by. There's always someone better, stronger, faster, lovelier. There's always further to go, and more than I think I have inside myself to get there.

But.

When I'm calm enough to consider the advice and encouragement of friends I trust, when I'm rational enough to compare myself not to others but to where I used to be, *then* I'm able to look forward... maybe not to the finish line, but to the next day. To the work that needs to be done, right now.

This got me considering something amazing.
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ME VERSUS ME:
A Comparison of 2012 to 2013
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Memorial Day Weekend, May 2012
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Here I am in the hospital, one year ago exactly.


Despite the demi-smile, this was not a happy time. The photo was taken by an orderly who came in to clean and resupply my emergency room cubicle around 2AM. As though you can't see them for yourself, suction cups were plastered across my chest and abdomen.

The good doctors were monitoring my erratically hiccuping heart.

I was worried. I was tired. I was very alone. A few texts with clutch friends kept me company. I had a book, but I couldn't concentrate well enough to read it.

I remained hooked up for most of one night in the emergency room plus 24-hours at home.

Why?

Two things had happened.
  1. Part one has already been blogged. I'd just started running for the first time in years when my heart began wigging out. And instead of getting better, every day it got worse.
  2. This bit I've kept pretty close to my vest until now. Twice that month, in the middle of the night, I awoke sharply, my head and shoulders rising with a great inhale of breath. Heaven knows I like words, but there are none that can describe what I felt at those moments. I was aware, both times, I had almost died. I knew that if I had not woken at that second, I would have died in my sleep. 
I cannot explain how or why I was so certain, but I was . . . am . . . certain. As a person naturally filled with logical doubts and questions about life, the universe, and everything, I remember almost-dying with a rare conviction. Gratefully, it has not happened again since.


These near-death experiences occurred before my heart misfires were noticeable, so I had no idea what was happening. And it terrified me. Both times, by the way, my only thoughts were of Bridgette. I was not ready to leave her. The thought of dying and being parted made me miserable.

So I found myself hooked up to an ECG.


The startling discovery was how many thousands of times per day my heart misfired: doubling, tripling, or skipping beats. And . . . how low my heart-rate dropped at night while misfiring. Coupled with permanently low blood pressure, this created a dangerous situation for me and explains to me the near-death feeling.

My parents were off in Bermuda, which sounds like an analogy, but it's the truth. They were on the island of Bermuda. I couldn't contact them, and like most adults, had to face this on my own.

Well. Let's come to the point shall we?

The ECG was valuable, the blood tests were more valuable, and we concluded what ailed me. It was not my heart per se. I lacked the chemicals in my body that control electric impulses from my brain to my heart. I'm on a life-long medication now to synthesize those chemicals, and I'm doing nicely.

So nicely, that one year later, I'd almost forgotten about that night at the hospital. Not quite, but sort of.
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When comparing May 2012 to May 2013, my heart is not the only improvement. The rest of my body and life have changed too. For example, last May I could not run 1/2 mile without stopping, and I couldn't run more than 3 miles to save my life.

I hadn't been on a bike in 14 years.

I'd never worn a wet-suit.

In terms of family life, we'd just signed Bridgette up for her first year of preschool. She could barely talk, was still using only one or two words at a time, and couldn't pronounce anything properly. We did a LOT of deciphering, translating, and gestures.

Jeff and I were about to venture out on our first trip without Bridgette, taking a just-the-two-of-us vacation for the first time since she was born. We were headed to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and I was worried about her and worried about my heart and whether we'd both be safe while away.



The comparison of last May to this May shows what a difference one year can make.
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The Month of May 2013
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Let me list all my FIRSTS, of which every single one scared me but were ultimately much healthier than the fear I felt in the ER.

First time attending a group track class.
(This continues to be the hardest thing for me.)


First time trail running.
Trails are the only reason I'm learning to enjoy running.
It's a soul reviving habit, and I love it.
(These pics are from Saturday's 14-miler, not my first run.)







First time clipping in to my bike.
(Speed Play Light Action)



First group bike ride.
(CK Elite Racing Team)


First coached group-swim in a pool.


First open-water swim with wet-suit.




First sprint triathlon.
I was SO nervous, but it went well.


Second sprint triathlon the very next weekend.
I was SO cold, but it also went well.
(Race reports to come.)


First bike crash.
Road rash and bruises, but the worst was the blow to my head / whiplash. (And THAT, people, is why we wear helmets.)
I got up and went on. I might not have done that last May.



First fresh-water group swim without a wet-suit.
First time swimming in a shallow, windy lake that felt like an ocean.
First time losing my keys at the bottom of a lake. :)
(Giggle. Those three are all related.)


First and second flat tires while riding.
First time learning how to fix a flat, re-place a chain, etc.


And in terms of family life, well, see for yourself how Bridgette has developed. Taken the last day of preschool on Friday. By the way, if you make it to the end of the video (3 mins), you can watch her add on multiple bows and kiss-throws. (She's the one in the front row, bright green leggings.)


And this year instead of Yellowstone, Jeff and I are soon visiting Alaska, where my biggest concern is whether I can find adequate time & facilities to keep up with my workouts in prep for my subsequent races in months to come.

I'm not worried about my heart, and it's a great feeling. In fact, I'm excited that I can hike, play, swim and have fun and actually be in good shape doing it!
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The Change(s)
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What a lot of positive change, none of which has come easily. First I had to address some serious underlying health issues. If I hadn't, I couldn't have started.

Then I had to set goals, LOTS of them. I'm having to seek help from others, venture out of my comfort zones, work when I don't want to, and learn to forgive myself and start again when I don't work hard or often enough.

I'm also having to figure out how to handle mentally what I can't control physically . . . like injuries & illness. And certainly there are other challenges in other aspects of my life that continue to arise & surprise and which I continue to address or ignore to my betterment or detriment.

Life doesn't stop. I'm just racing, too.

But the overall comparison from last year to this year is hard to ignore. I know it's felt path-changing in some non-ephemeral way, but literally because of my choices in the past year, my path through time has changed. I hope for the better. Certainly I feel stronger, more resilient, and as a whole, happier.
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Friends
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Another thing that's changed are the friends I'm finding along the way. My intent when I signed up at IMAZ last November was to make this whole journey ALONE. Completely alone. On purpose.

That's what I thought I wanted.

I'm finding it's not what I want. And fortunately, it's not what's happening.

There's a line in the Holstee Manifesto that says, "If you're looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love."

I've found that principle is accurate in forging friendships as well. And to all of you who have lent words of encouragement, I say from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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Quote from Josh Cox
(Long-distance runner & American record holder in the 50k)
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Speaking of encouragement, I'll leave you with these words.

I've been in contact with the race director at Thanksgiving Point, Kendall Wimmer, who has given his own support to Bridgette and me in our activities. He sent me a quote from Josh Cox the night I pulled my quad, and it really helped me reach for my resolve.

Excerpts:

"Doing something only when you 'feel like it' is a guaranteed formula for failure. Passion isn't enough, talent isn't enough; you have to commit to putting in the work.

"Pursue your passion and be willing to put in the painstaking work it takes to succeed. Lots of folks want success without sacrifice but life doesn't work that way.

"Marathon running is a great metaphor for life because in order to succeed you have to make daily deposits over a long period of time. Surrounding yourself with others who are working towards a common goal pays huge dividends and provides accountability. Even still, there are many days I don't feel like getting out the door.

"Something that renowned children's author Madeline L'Engle said has always stuck with me, 'Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.' I've found this is true in just about every area of life. In running, inspiration rarely finds you on the couch; it likes to wait around the first corner. On days when I'm having trouble getting motivated, I shut my mind off, get dressed, lace 'em up, and get out the door. It's not inspiration's job to come find us, it's our job to go find inspiration.

"The key to training, and life, is taking that first step. The first step is the best step; it's where intent meets action. Don't talk about it; be about it. When you don't feel like doing what you know needs to be done, take the variable of 'the choice' out of the equation. Shut the mind off and just begin."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

This Sums Her Up

It's Bridgette's last week of her first year of preschool.

These things happen, but it's hard to figure out how.

On Friday I waited in the carpool line to pick her up. As the kids came out, each was holding a balloon-toy twisted into a neat shape. The first two girls had pink and white Poodles, the third girl came out with a purple and pink butterfly. Two boys came out, each with a sword made of balloons, one green & one yellow.

The kids were so excited to show their parents what the "balloon-guy" had made for them. (What fun preschool teachers, no?)

Bridgette emerged in her little striped romper, as excited as everyone before her.

I laughed out loud.


Of course she would have chosen a pink sword. 

I couldn't help but think it was the perfect symbol or physical analogy or something, both for her person and her life. It fits. Always a little different, still kinda girly but also not. Feisty.

She's pretty great.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy? Mother's Day

I woke up early to the feel of one small body and 8 paws pouncing on me, my three little ones languidly draping themselves over various parts of my body, licking my face (dogs) or elbowing me (Bridgette). 

So much for my request to sleep in.

As I lay there under the soft ever-moving pressure of fur and skin, I started thinking about Mother's Day, and all the reasons I should write this post.

Because Mother's Day can be hard. 
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Here's where I get uncomfortably personal. It's my way.
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For a long while, I didn't think I would ever have a child. 

I'd known since high school that not bearing my own children was a possibility, and if the time came, I was very pro-adoption. But something happened when reality hit.

At a certain time in my late 20s, I wanted to be pregnant. It had nothing to do with the teachings of my child-bearing religious culture. It had nothing to do with trying to further a family line.

It was all me. I developed an intense desire to have a baby that was half of my own DNA. I wanted to feel a teensy-tinsy person hiccuping inside my uterus. I wanted to birth, raise and love another human to (hopefully) contribute to the world in her own unique way.

There were a couple of years in particular filled with raw longing. Every other woman's pregnancy, every baby I saw hurt my heart. The closer the person was to me, the more it hurt. The easier it was for someone else to become pregnant, the more I cried.

As Mother's Day is on a Sunday, for much of my life, it meant being surrounded in the pews by families with children, listening to the good-word over the lectern. About mothers. 

These sermons so often included messaging not just about the Godliness of mothers but also the trust given to women by God when they have children. "I'm so glad God trusted me enough to have this baby." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard those words.

There were messages of gratitude, of the responsibilities and joys of womanhood, of the divine purpose of motherhood and of the mother-child relationship. There were lots of specific examples of fairly-perfect mothers. 

It left me wondering, does God NOT trust me? With all these empty rooms in the house, am I not worthy to fill even one of them? And if so, why are there so many abortions? Or 15-year-old mothers? Or women who put their babies in trash cans? 

Individual belief-systems aside, I didn't intend to claim great knowledge or great faith. I hadn't developed copious maternal qualities or homemaking skills. Everyone knows if there's a flat surface in my home, it's covered in stuff.

But I knew I wouldn't throw my child away.

Perhaps most destructively, it left me with the impression that my primary purpose as a woman was to bring God's children to Earth. And if I had bought into that, it would have left me with a terrible sense of self-worth, wondering, "Why was I even born? If I can't fulfill my divine role of motherhood, why do I even exist?" 

Fortunately, I feel strongly I have intrinsic value. No one, or lack of someone, defines who I am. I am not defined by my own child, and she is not defined by me. 

At the end of the main service, it used to be that they asked all the mothers to stand and receive a small gift: a flower, a chocolate truffle, a tomato plant.

In recent years that has changed. Where the gift-giving tradition continues, now they ask all women 18-years and older to stand, regardless of their child-status.

Still. Coming to church surrounded by mothers/children, listening to these messages, being married and wanting a child. Mother's Day during those non-child years were rough and always ended in tears. 

I've never felt so completely isolated as I did standing up in front of a crowd, completely alone, to receive a potted plant. 

I started skipping church on Mother's Day and going to the movies instead.

The funny thing is, I've been a mother for almost 5 years (closer to 6 if you count pregnancy), but I still cry on Mother's Day.

That's because I'm still sensitive to those past feelings. And to the current feelings of others around me. 

In a way, I hope that never changes.
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As anyone reading this knows, I did become pregnant, and it was a way-beyond-surprise on so many levels. 

Then of course my daughter joined us with surprises of her own. The type of surprises that make me question whether or not I should have more children.

But that debate is for my family and no one else. In fact, it's a debate that leads to a whole new round of Mother's Day questions.

In the meantime, I've become hyper-aware of other people squirming in the pews. 

If I hadn't been so self-absorbed at the time, I think I would have noticed earlier.

Consider these Mother's Day scenarios, all of which are real:
  • Wanting children, but being unable to bear them.
  • Trying to adopt, but either
    • not being chosen by a birth-mom yet, OR,
    • being in the middle of the long and arduous process--hoping, waiting, struggling, paying, praying.
  • Having been a birth-mom, wondering now on Mother's Day
    • whether you did the right thing placing your child with another woman
    • where your child is & how s/he is doing.
  • Being a woman who has lost a child, of any age, to death.
  • Experiencing miscarriage(s).
  • Loving your own mother dearly and missing her desperately after her passing.
  • Listening to messages of perfect mothering, knowing (of course) you are ANYTHING BUT.
  • Raising a child with challenges, who may never be able to physically show signs of affection or say the words, "I love you."
  • Being a man, whose wife has died.
  • Being a child, whose mother has died.
  • Raising your children alone, woman or man.
  • Being gay and not quite certain what that means for your future relationships and chance to raise children.
  • Being anyone/anywhere whose mother was NOT a good mother (it happens) and trying to reconcile that on Mother's Day.
  • Considering divorce. Wondering how it might affect your children.
  • As a woman, asking yourself what you did wrong that your child has chosen ____________ in his or her life.
  • Being single and childless but wishing you weren't. Wanting a family life.
  • Having a family life but wondering, "Was this choice right for me?"
  • Being a woman knowing she could have children but not wanting them. Knowing others want them and can't.
I've probably missed something. But do you see my point?

If I took a public survey of everyone in my church congregation, and they answered honestly, I'm guessing at least 50% would relate to one or more of those bullet points.
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Please don't get me wrong. I'm not sad specifically that there's a designated day to remind us to celebrate the work and love that so often is motherhood. 

And I love my mother. I'm grateful for our bond and friendship. I'm grateful she cleaned up my vomit when I couldn't make it to the toilet fast enough, and I love that she came to all my high school volleyball games, even the ones out of town. I will call her today and tell her so.

Certainly I hope and try to be a good mom, too. It's nice to hear my husband and daughter "quietly" preparing a surprise card for me in the other room while I type this.

But I'm also asking you to look around and see who is having it rough this Mother's Day.

Who's faking a smile? Who's smiling through tears? Whose tears have washed away any trace of a smile? And who is absent altogether? 

I can't tell you what to do to help them either because every soul is different. I suppose I could recommend listening. And distraction. And not pegging people into pre-prescribed holes.

You'll have to figure it out though: what to do and what to say, how not to act and what not to say.

Do your best. Best efforts count.

Let's help everyone have a happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May is MINE

Wanna make a change? Prepare to be uncomfortable.

Back at the beginning of the year, I made a plan to participate in one race a month in 2013. Each would build on the last in distance, knowledge and/or intensity.

But April was weird. First, I couldn't find a race I wanted to do. I eventually decided on the Thanksgiving Point Kids 1 Mile Fun Run for Bridgette. Which of course was awesome. (See last post.)

It's a good thing that's the only race I paid for because, second, April was rough.

Two separate injuries and two separate illnesses pretty much usurped the whole month. My training took a big hit. Not only was I not progressing, I was regressing -- becoming weaker and less able.

Made me want to quit the process. It's been difficult, working hard for something harder. It's frustrating to move backwards and have to make up ground.

Do you know what it feels like to have all that carefully, laboriously cultivated endurance eroded faster than the footings of a sandcastle at high tide? Some of you do.

I decided that with April ripped off the calendar, my current battlecry is "May is mine!"

So here's what I've done.

Signed up for two races and hired a trainer.

Her name is Keena.

Coach Keena



Keena has an impressive record, not only of participating in lots of triathlons but also . . . you know . . . of winning them. In terms of Ironman (140.6 and 70.3) she has qualified for and raced in multiple world championships, including Kona.

She's tough.

And I'm? Wellllll . . . (if you haven't figured it out yet) not so tough. Really.

I've just started Keena's training regimen this week, and it's completely killing me.

"Killing you?" you ask, sardonically.

"No!" I shout, deliriously. "No, of course I didn't mean that! Because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! Right!? Right, Kelly Clarkson!?"

But in the meantime, it feels like I'm going to die.

Remember how I'm a slow runner?

That's because anything faster than slow hurts.

I mean, let's be serious. Even slow kind of hurts. Just not quite as much as it used to.

When it comes to swimming and running, I've found myself settling into a nice comfortable pace. (I'm still too novice at bike to comment.)

And I get it. My run pace is the same as your walk pace. But that's how I manage not to pass out.

Um, until this week.

(Now I'm a lot more empathetic to all those Biggest Loser contestants.)


Keena has me doing two-a-day workouts. Which is good. That's why I hired her.

And I needed direction. I hired her for that, too.

But sprints! Everything, everywhere! Sprints, sprints, sprints! Bike sprints, swim sprints, run sprints. Maintain sprints for X distance or X time... and then do it again! And again! And again!

I was comfortably swimming 50 yards @ ~1 minute (for a 30-35min mile). I'm sprinting the same distance in 40 seconds! That's a full 20 seconds faster per 50 yards than my comfortable pace.

When I'm "finished," I grip the edge of the pool heaving and trying not to lose consciousness (which seems a little dangerous in water), rest for a few seconds (that's all you get!) and do it again. 19 more times!

IT'S PAINFUL!!!

My heart, my lungs, my muscles.

Sometimes people say their body is screaming at them. I find it more accurate to say that when my body hits its threshold, it screams for a split second before it drags and whimpers and begs me to quit.

It's the same story on my run. I finally timed myself with a new watch the most expensive piece of hardware I have ever invested in personally. (It has lots of buttons and fancy features, but so far I only know how to use Start/Stop & Reset.)

What I learned was that I am slower than even I thought. I average a comfortable-ish 10:15 mile. But under Keena's suggested-force, I once managed to run a 7:30 mile. See? I told you I'm not fast, but that's still almost 3 minutes off my comfort-zone.

And it's UNCOMFORTABLE! Discomfort. Not comfortable. Completely and totally anti-comfortable.

In addition to two-a-days, I'm doing weekly Bricks. (And by weekly I mean I've just started, so I've only done one.) Bricks = two events immediately back-to-back. I'm triathlon-training after all, so that makes sense.

But it's . . .

Oooh! Guess! Guess!

Did you say "uncomfortable?"

Ding! Ding! Ding!

I did a Brick last night, bike sprint straight to run, and afterward I felt physically nauseous.


Granted, I went for three hours and hadn't eaten in ten. Not my smartest move.

Despite mangling my nutrition, it was hard. Plain and simple.

I really really really wanted to quit. I'm not kidding.

At one point I was on a spin bike (it was pouring rain last night in which I willing to run but not to cycle), and the spin room at the gym was empty except for me.

After 2 intervals for a total of only 4 minutes, I started talking to myself.

I did not murmur under my breath. Or whisper.

I was full-out talking. Loudly.

Like Smeagol vs. Gollum...


"Just do 10 minutes."

"No. I can't. I can only do 4."

"You big baby. You've just started. Get it done. And crank up the resistance."

"No. I can't."

"Do you let Bridgette say I can't? How would you feel if Bridgette quit when you knew she could do it, even if it was hard?"

"Fine. I'll do 6 minutes."

"Then you might as well do 10."

"I don't feel good."

"Of course you don't feel good. You didn't eat. You didn't exercise for a month. Chalk it up and suck it up."

"Okay, fine. But I need a break. A drink. I'll go potty and come back. Promise."

"Pleeeease! No you won't. Stay. Right there. Right on the seat. And spin! Do it! Faster!"

"Okay, I've done 8 minutes. I'll do 10. But I'm NOT doing 20."

"It's on the schedule. Keena wants you to."

"Keena's not here."

Silence.

"Alright, that was uncalled for. I'm sorry."

"You've done 12 minutes, so do 20."

"You're distracting me."

"Well, I'm not distracting you enough. Stop checking your watch. You're not even to 13 minutes yet."

"The minutes are getting slower. I guess Einstein forgot to account for biking-in-place in his relative theory of..."

"Shh. Someone's coming."

Spin. Spin. Spin.

"Okay, they're gone. You can do 20. You know that, right?"

"I hate you."

"Yes, I know. You're welcome."


My first triathlon is Saturday (3 days): the Splash-N-Sprint in South Davis. It's a cute name, I assume in order to make you feel like you're shopping at Toys-R(backwards)-Us instead of racing.

Distances = 350 yard swim, 12 mile bike, and 3.35 mile run.

Based on my Brick, I'd say I'm not ready.

Also based on the fact I don't have a tri-suit and still have never clipped into my new pedals and they terrify me and, oh, I've never done a triathlon before.... yeah, it's true. I'm uncomfortably not ready.

But I'm thinking that's okay for now.

I will trunk-mount my borrowed-bike around 3AM and drive it to Bountiful and take a gander at the unknown. This will be my "tri-play-a-thon" where I begin to figure everything out. And I'll go as slowly and painstakingly as I need to in order to get the most learning from the experience.

My second triathlon is the very next weekend (10 days): the Woman of Steel in American Fork.

At Woman of Steel, my goal is to go faster than my first triathlon and to push myself, as in training, out of my comfort zone. In other words, to actually (and for the first time) really make an effort to race.

Natalie, me, Lynne: trail running last Saturday

Before I head off this weekend and attempt yet again to become a stronger person, I wanted to share my discomfort in all of this.

Because I think we all get lulled into thinking that it's somehow easier-for-the-other-guy. When really, what I've realized is that, if you're stretching yourself, it hurts. Doesn't matter who you are.

It doesn't matter if you're trying to lose weight or you're training to be faster.

There's nothing simple about it. It's the same relentless heartbeat and labored breathing that gets you there. And it's hard for all of us.

Change is uncomfortable at best. And even on "good" days, it can be utterly painful.

No matter your goal, if it it's hard, you'll probably want to quit.

But don't. And don't not-start either. Start. Finish.

Smeagol will help you.

Here's to a new month!

Get uncomfortable, and may May be YOURS too!