Hurricane Motivation

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Fancy Pumpkin Patch 5k trophy.  Is that pumpkin smiling or laughing at me??

It has been a long time since I ran a 5k without kids… maybe at least 4 years.  I don’t run 5k’s because you are supposed to run them fast.  I prefer to run slow and steady for a longer period of time.  I’m too old to run fast.  Or so I thought.

As most of you already know, I have been in a bit of a funk lately.  No real reason for that, unless you count getting displaced by a hurricane, losing most of your household goods and having your family split apart.  But enough with dwelling on my woeful circumstances.  My concern most recently has been my history of depression coming back to haunt me.  Whether or not people want to believe it, depression is a real illness and should not be taken lightly.  It is not just about feeling sad.  Other symptoms include hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, fatigue, loss of interest in normal activities (or activities you once thought were fun), difficulty concentrating and making decisions and loss of appetite.

It has been about 14 years since I have taken medication for depression.  Instead, I have used exercise as my medicine and it has worked.  There were times I worried about it coming back, like when I had a protruding disk in my back and was unable to run (and barely walk) for 3 months.  I did my PT religiously and then I found a way to gradually get back into running… by doing triathlons.  From there I took it all the way to a half Ironman.  Yes, I fight back and I fight hard.

Two days after the hurricane hit and I was stateside, I went outside for a run.  I could barely run.  I dragged my feet and quit after 2 miles.  It was a tough week and I struggled with every run I attempted.  Honestly, I felt like I could barely do anything.  Then one day I went for a run in the woods and I felt the fight begin to stir within me.  I kept fighting and some days I would win and other days I would lose.  It has remained a tough battle even after all of this time.

Last week I signed up for a 5k on the nearby Navy base.  It was free so I thought it couldn’t hurt.  As I already mentioned, I don’t really do 5k’s.  I just figured I would at least get out and run with a group of people.  Then last night I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach and had second thoughts about going.  I made up excuses in my head:  “Well, I don’t have a costume” or “It’s free so it doesn’t matter if I show up or not.”  Even this morning after I dropped off the kids at school I was still debating in my head.  I went back to the house and just planned on running alone around the neighborhood.  Somehow I managed to tell myself to at least drive to the base and I could just change my mind if I wanted to.  I had to go the Exchange anyway.

Next thing I know I was lined up at the starting line.  Once again, I just told myself I was going to get a run in with a group of people.  I mean, I even had taken a weight training class the day before and my legs were still hurting.  What could I even do if my entire body ached?  The countdown started and my adrenaline and need for competition kicked in.  I know by now that I can’t just “run” a race.  I have to race a race.  I started off too fast as I always do (but I always coach people to start off slow and finish strong… just so you know).   Then all of a sudden my emotions surfaced.  It wasn’t joy or sadness.  It was anger.  All of a sudden I was just pissed off.

The sorrow and woes had turned to anger.  The many stages of grief.  Right.  I summoned up a new mantra:  “Fuck you Maria!”  I repeated it over and over again in my head, and maybe out loud a few times (but only when I could actually breathe).  When my body started to shut down, I fought against the pain and lack of air in my lungs.  As I got to mile 2, my mind was definitely on the prize.  I knew I had to win one of those trophies that I had seen on a table at the start.  At that point, it was definitely possible.  I knew there were only 4 or 5 woman ahead of me.  I just wanted to prove to myself that I had the fight within me and I could overcome all of the crap that has rained down on my family.  I know it seems crazy to obsess over a cheap trophy, but it symbolized not just a win in a race, but a win in this internal battle.  I fought so hard that last mile.  I thought I was slowing down so I kept pushing hard (and I found out after I finished that my mile 2 was actually the same exact lap time as my mile 3).

I walked away with that trophy after placing 2nd in my age group.    My finishing time was 23:10 and I am pretty sure that is my second best (if not best) 5k time ever… and I am not getting any younger!  Um, and let’s just go ahead and throw this out there:  I was faster than most of the Navy guys.

Even though I have a headache from the heat and lack of proper hydration, I feel much better today.  I feel like I have a fight stirring within me again.  I will continue to have the strength to do what needs to get done and I will even go beyond that in any way I can.  The next step is to find a purpose now that extends beyond my motherly duties.  Running keeps me on the right path and it will take me to where I need to go.  With that thought, I hope everyone faced with difficulty figures out what gives them the strength to move forward.

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Time for a change

As a military spouse, I am constantly making changes and maintaining a certain degree of flexibility.  It’s impossible to stay at a job for longer than 3 years and my career intentions fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the tides.  However, as I reflect back on the past decade, there is a common theme in my pursuits: helping others achieve something great.  Whether it be helping a 6-year old learn to read or getting a client to the finish line of a marathon.  I know that my natural skill is teaching.  I am good at it and have become even better over the years.

I have dabbled in many different areas of education.  In college,  I started off as an intern for the Bureau of Land Management working at a science center teaching environmental science to elementary students in Alaska’s natural habitat.  I quickly moved into a paid position.  I somehow convinced my academic advisor, Rusty Myers (an avid runner who recently passed away), to grant me a senior project that involved designing and implementing a shark curriculum for 6th graders even though I had no knowledge of curriculum design or any classroom teaching experience.  However, the classroom teacher was extremely helpful in this whole process.  I have continued to use an updated version of the curriculum and it is one of my favorite subjects to teach.

Next I was off to actually learn more about sharks in the Bahamas and upon my return to Alaska I dipped into the social-emotional issues of teenagers.  The following year I packed up a car load of belongings and headed down to San Diego.  I immediately signed up to volunteer as a docent at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and found joy in sharing my knowledge of the tidepool creatures found in the touch tank.  I did need to get paid so I searched the area for an opportunity that would fit me like a glove.  I drove out to Fiesta Island and walked right into a facility with a sign that read “SEACAMP.”  I remember walking back to the shark touch tank with the owner and telling him I had recently worked with sharks in the Bahamas in hopes of getting his attention.  Not sure if it was that or my natural ability to navigate through an interview, but he hired me and the next thing I know I was teaching marine biology to middle school students.  Not only was I teaching marine biology, but I was snorkeling, seine netting, boogie boarding, making visits to the aquarium and Sea World and setting up massive bonfires to roast marshmallows and tell spooky stories (okay, I really wasn’t good at telling spooky stories).

My love for the ocean somehow translated to seeking out the Coast Guard.  Not sure what happened there, but it was quite the adventure with many ups and downs (and rolling from side to side because that tends to happen a lot on a ship in the Bering Sea).  I learned a lot about what not to do as a leader and had to put together pieces I collected along the way in order to determine the qualities of a great leader.  I’m still collecting those pieces to fill in the puzzle, but I have a much better idea of what it is supposed to look like.

There was a time during my Coast Guard training when someone said to me that I acted more like an elementary school teacher than a platoon leader (I took it as an insult back then, but a few years later I finally agreed).  As soon as my military obligation ended I stepped foot into a Kindergarten classroom for the first time.  It was immediately scary and overwhelming (and there was lots of snot and drooling), but I managed to get hooked up with the most remarkable mentor teacher ever… and her name was also Heidi.  And wouldn’t it be my lucky year that as soon as I finished student teaching in her classroom she decided to retire and hand over the keys.  The first year in the classroom was rough, but the support from my colleagues was unprecedented and I made it through unscathed and ready for more.

Eventually, I gave birth to child number 2 and decided to wing it at home for a bit while supporting my former colleagues as their go-to substitute.  I couldn’t just stay home and take care of 2 children, though.  I had to stay busy so I worked on my Master’s Degree in Science Education.  Since my husband was still in the military, it was only a matter of time before we moved to Florida.  That is where my confidence in my teaching abilities was put to the test.  I miserably taught a rough 4th grade class for a few months. The discipline issues were too much and the scripted curriculum only added to the struggle.  There was no freedom outside of teaching to the test.  I backed down and returned my focus to finishing my Master’s degree even though I felt less confident about whether or not I would ever use it.  I still spent time in the classroom at my daughter’s elementary school and continued to search for the right path.

Well, the path took me down a road less traveled.  It sure was bumpy and I often felt unsure about which turns to take.  All it took was my Master’s degree in Science Education written on my resume.  They really didn’t ask many questions.  I should’ve been asking the questions.  I also should have had a degree in Special Education.  Let’s just say that teaching science (with limited resources) to middle and high school students who can not function in the public school system due to behavioral, social and emotional reasons was the most challenging job I ever took on.    On top of that, I never had any breaks during the day (we had to eat in the lunch room with all of the students) and I had to design my own curriculum for six different classes.  I often reflect back on that time because I don’t know where I had the energy to work full-time in the classroom, spend extra time working at home, train for the Goofy Challenge and raise 3 kids (with my husband deployed).  This time I was actually saved by a military move.

We arrived in Colorado and I said “that’s it, I’m done with this teaching stuff.”  I gave away most of my teaching supplies and resources and turned my attention to health and fitness.  In one weekend, my soon-to-be new boss interviewed a few dozen candidates.  I got the job.  Not only did I get the job, but I got paid what I was worth.  Not only did I get paid what I was worth, but it was part-time and I basically had the flexibility to choose my hours so we never paid for daycare.  At the fitness center, I did everything except teach the classes, but I watched, listened and participated.  With less time to spend working, I spent more time on my family and myself.  I trained hard and achieved many athletic feats during our time in Colorado.   It was the perfect balance of work, family and self.  I even received my run coach certification and started my own coaching business.  Then it was time to move and I left the state kicking and screaming.

Then we entered Virginia and for some reason I took a look at teaching employment opportunities.  One job description spoke to me right away and I said “the heck with it, I will just apply to this one and see what happens.”  The job was mine.  The past two years have been a mix of joy and terror.  Yet, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: my potential.  I became confident in my teaching and was able to navigate successfully through the terror and absorb the joyful moments.  However, maintaining the balance was a struggle.  It worked well for the first year and then I began to lose sight of my own needs.  My running motivation hit a wall and I found myself trapped on the treadmill.   I became tired and my health started to deteriorate.  At one point, I had a cold that lasted for two months.  The worst was when I lost partial hearing in my right ear and that compensated with a constant static noise.  I doubt I will ever see (or hear) any improvement.  My confidence in leadership waned once again and I began to feel like I was on a staircase with no railing.  On days I went home to complain, my husband repeated his mantra: “you just need to work for yourself.”

As the end of the school year approached I made my decision to move on.  I turned my attention back to fitness and decided I would put my personal trainer certification to good use.  I also decided to bring back my coaching business and I am currently working on putting all of the pieces back together.  As people ask me if I am going to teach somewhere else, I reply “Yes, I am going to teach, but it will be a different kind of teaching.”  I suppose I was always meant to guide others.  Even though the military moves have caused me to go back and forth in my endeavors, I am fortunate to have so many unique experiences.

Run Club

At my recent school I organized and coached a run club. These students finished a 5K! I found great joy in doing this.

Now it’s time for the next challenge!  It’s new and scary, but that’s pretty much all I’ve ever known.  On Sunday, for the first time in a very long time, I finally let my alarm go off at 6:00 AM so I could hop in the car and drive to the beach.  I ran outside.  It was tough and hot, sticky and buggy, but it was also exhilarating.  I ran past the swamp, up the tiny hills, over the roots, through the mud and greeted all of my fellow runners who were doing the same thing I was.

It’s not a secret…

My ride up to Red Rocks

It’s not a secret that even the seemingly motivated people are often unmotivated.  That doesn’t mean that they always give in to these feelings, though.  They have to work to overcome these feelings just like anyone else.  I don’t know if people see me as motivated.  Sometimes I feel like a blob on the couch as I scan t.v. stations at night.  Occasionally I cook dinner in the microwave or order take out instead of actually using the stove or oven.  Once in a while, I lay on the floor as my kids pile books and toys on top of me  while I think about how I should be teaching them how to read and write.   I’m not quite the model citizen here.

But, you know what?  I have the special ability to fight and overcome.  Maybe it has something to do with how I was raised.  My life was never picture perfect and I always had to be strong in order to stay intact.  If I want to do something, then I will get it done.  However, I can’t fight all of the time or else I would be too exhausted.  I guess I kind of have to pick my battles.

For me, staying physically fit and healthy is very important to me.  If I am not running, biking or swimming, then I am not happy.  If I am not happy, then I can’t make my family happy.  If I become a stick in the mud, then I become depressed.  If I become depressed then I lose all motivation to do anything.  It is a vicious cycle, I know.  So, in order for me to stay motivated in all areas of my life, I have to run, bike or swim.  Sure, I might be extra tired from a 20-mile run, but I actually have more energy when I stay moderately active.  I do more chores later in the day when I have gone to the gym in the morning.  If I don’t exercise, then I tend to sit around all day and nothing gets accomplished.  I really can’t explain it, but I know what works for me.

A few people might say that it appears as though I put my fitness priorities before anything else, including my family.  But these people are far from correct.  I have to take care of myself in order to take care of my family.

Yet, it’s no secret that I feel unmotivated at times.  I felt so tired before my ride today and I tried to use the crazy wind as an excuse.  However, I knew that if I didn’t ride then I would only feel worse.  Once I got on my bike and reached the top of our hill, I was a changed person.  I wasn’t tired anymore and I was eager to head up the mountain even though I knew it would be hard work.  I came home in time to help with dinner and even get a few chores done.  I have my moments, but I know the consequences for not following through.

Pushing Yourself Towards Greatness

First of all, this is my 50th post since I started writing this blog.  I write mostly for myself, but I do enjoy knowing that there are a few people who may find my stories slightly interesting.  I hope that I can be a positive influence on others and maybe even entice a few folks to take a crack at this running thing.

Last night I also realized that I enjoy encouraging others to be successful runners.  I couldn’t have been happier when I was asked to be a running coach for Team in Training.  I am not an elite runner so it may seem as though I don’t have a lot to offer the novice runner.  Quite the contrary, in fact, because I have a lot of passion.  I am also human and just plain average when it comes to running.  I do make mistakes and I expect my trainees to learn from my mistakes so that is why I share my embarrassing stories.  You just have to be willing to remain humble.

With that said, I love encouraging others to work harder and strive for greatness.  I suppose that is why I became a teacher.  Since I am not currently teaching, I guess that this is my new outlet for helping others. However, when it comes to this team, I find that I don’t have to try very hard.  They seem to find the motivation within themselves to push through the tough terrain.  I must say that I am proud to run next to someone who has made a choice to work towards running further from one training run to the next.  I know it isn’t easy to do something that pushes your body to the limit.  It is amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it.

Some do need more encouragement than others.  When an activity becomes too tough it is human nature to back off and take the path of least resistance.  That was how I used to approach running.  If it became too hard, then I would slow down.  Yet, running is very much a mental game.  I have learned that if I push back when it gets difficult, then I can achieve more than I ever have before.  It does take a lot of willpower to do this, but it can be done.  One step at a time is the best approach.  You can’t expect to run a half-marathon in under 2 hours overnight.

Not only does it take willpower, but it takes passion.  You can only achieve greatness if you want to.  Someone recently told me that they didn’t want to run fast.  Well, they won’t run fast.  If you don’t want to run far, then you won’t run far.  That makes perfect sense.  What doesn’t make sense is when you say that you can’t.  If you want to, then you can.  It does take work though.  Sometimes people can’t do something because they don’t want to work at it.

I tell my trainees that if they make it over the hill before everyone else, then they have to turn around and come back up the hill.  If they want to improve their running and not just settle for what feels comfortable, then they will turn around and come back up the hill.  Yes, it is a challenge, but that’s the point.  The point is to move out of your comfort level in order to achieve what you never thought possible.