Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Lessons from the Hill.

IMG_3946There’s this hill. I’ve mentioned it in my previous posts about running. It’s at the very end of my early morning run. The neighborhood is full of little hills, dips, tilts and slopes. But this is the last one, so it’s always the toughest. Climbing it is a bit like a recurring nightmare. The one where you show up late for an Algebra exam you forgot to study for. Painful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I have a love-hate relationship with this hill. It’s complicated. Dense with onionskin layers of complexity. I’m attracted to connections of this nature because they are the most profound teachers. They force me to expand and extend. Stretch beyond my comfort zones. Push limits. Smash down walls. Break through closed doors. Grow my physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual muscles. Their lessons take me above and beyond and back.

In no particular order, here are 15 things I’ve learned while running up the hill:

1. It’s rock solid. Dependable. Not going anywhere. I can count on it being there. Every day, whether I like it or not. I want to be that unshakeable, that steady.
2. Some days it’s easy. Some days it’s not. I don’t know why. That’s the paradox. The enigma. The mystery. So I soar with the easy times. I struggle through the hard times. One baby-step at a time. Either way, I keep going.
3. It takes guts. Especially on the difficult days when just getting out of bed is an act of courage. The bravest thing I do.
4. It’s okay to stop. Take a moment to catch my breath. To regroup. Consider my options. In the end there’s only one. Carry on.
5. It’s easier when I don’t look up. At the very the bottom it’s daunting. Overwhelming. Fucking intimidating. So I keep my eyes on the piece of sidewalk directly in front of me. And take it piece by piece. Suddenly it’s not so big. Little bits are doable. Far less formidable.
6. Don’t look down once I reach the top. It’s a dizzying perspective. A mixture of pride in today’s accomplishment and dread for tomorrow’s harrowing task. So I resist peeking over my shoulder. I simply turn the corner and keep going.
7. Honor my body and where it’s at today. It’s changing. Aging. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the hill. I listen to the subtle messages it sends. I’m respectful of my limitations. And grateful for what I can do.
8. Maintain my runner’s form despite the slower pace. This is part of the art of running and hard to articulate with words. It’s about the shape. Structure. Configuration. Contours. I keep the stance no matter how downtempo the present beat or cadence.
9. It’s not a competition. There’s no one else in this race so the pressure’s off. I don’t rate myself. Think about time. Check my pulse or heart rate. There’s no personal best. No need to push harder. I don’t give a shit about that. I’m not an athlete. I’m not going to Sochi. The beauty of this stage in my life? There’s absolutely nothing to prove.
10. It’s not about conquering. Nothing to beat. Vanquish. Quell. Quash. Clobber. Nor crush. I greet the hill with the peace of a Pacifist. In my heart I’m confident I’ll reach the top. But I’ll inflict no harm along the way.
11. It’s okay to be afraid. Some days the hill scares the living shit out me. It’s just too much. Especially on the dark and eerily quiet mornings. My imagination takes hold. The hill becomes my enemy. Then my legs turn to rubber. Shaky like jelly. That’s when I exhale deeply. And keep moving. Even shaky legs can get you there.
12. It hurts. It’s so fucking painful at times that I think, ‘This is it.  I’m gonna die on this stupid hill.’ But I don’t. I make it home in one piece. And the truly priceless part? It’s like the miracle of childbirth. I forget the pain when it’s over.
13. The weather doesn’t matter. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, the hill is still there. Waiting for me. So I dress accordingly. I never worry about getting wet. Or cold. Or sweating like a pig. The wind can howl like a wolf. I call its bluff and howl right back.
14. Every day is a sweet little victory. I celebrate that. Not in a big glittery New Year’s Eve kind of way. But I do have this little happy endorphin dance going on in my head when I’m done. This is a beautiful reminder to take joy in all the wondrous things life holds. Every day I’m here is a win.
15. The hill will be here long after I’m gone. Reliable. Solid. Stone-steady. Some things endure. Others, like me are ephemeral. But know this, the hill recognizes my footstep. It is imprinted in the soul of the earth. And that’s pretty fucking awesome.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Rhythm of Running.

running gearRunning doesn’t come easy for me.  The first few blocks are pure hell.  Psyching myself to go for a run is a marathon in itself.  Each new day is like starting over.  Even after 30 years, it’s still the same.

Before I run there are a few things I do first.  The Monday to Friday pre-run routine and ritual goes something like this:

1. Get up early. 5:00am at the latest. Except for the summer months, it’s dark outside and quiet inside.  The house is hushed and still in the undisturbed darkness before dawn.  Just how I like it.
2. Put on sweatpants and T-shirt or some other comfortable running attire.  These are found heaped on the floor next to the bed where I left them the night before. I prepare ahead.
3. Grope my way through the hallway to the kitchen where I put on the kettle. Sometimes I hit the bathroom first and take a pee.
4. Head to my office where I check emails and cruise through Facebook while the kettle boils.  Sometimes I read a Cowbird story.
5. Make a cup of Tetley’s Orange Pekoe tea. I like how the round bags fit perfectly int the bottom of the Vegas mug D gave me.
6. Practice yoga for an hour.  Because I’m so spiritual I do this in front of the TV.  Depending on my mood it’s either Steven & Chris or CMT. Until January it was CNN but I stopped that because it was counter productive and stressed me out.
7. Make the bed and tidy my office. I hate clutter and can’t get into an unmade bed.  Just one of my many quirks.
8. Make my lunch for work.  This is usually a salad and some kind of protein.  I don’t really care what I eat for lunch just as long as it’s reasonably healthy and doesn’t make me sleepy by two.
9. Boil the kettle again.  Make a cup of coffee spiked with cinnamon. I like to live dangerously.  I also add cream, which is completely over-the-top and edgy.
10. Head back to my office, pull out my latest Hilroy notebook, a blue Bic pen and write my daily letter to God.  This is private.  But possibly some of my best writing.
11. Sip my creamy cinnamon coffee and say my prayers.  I don’t get down on my knees.  This hurts too much.  God knows and doesn’t expect it of me.  We’re pretty tight.
12. If it’s cold out, I throw on my big old grey hoodie with the bleach splatters and pills under the arms.  If it’s warm than the T-shirt is all I need.  I don’t wear a bra.  I like to flop when I run.
13. Head downstairs and lace up my sneakers.  Nothing fancy here.  Nor expensive.  If they aren’t on sale I don’t buy them. One of my best pair of runners came from Zellers. This was before Target took over.
14. Check the clock next to the back door.  I don’t know why I do this. I never check it when I return and I don’t time my runs.  I really don’t care how long it takes.
15. Walk around to the side of the house, past the Camellia tree, the bamboo and the old rose bush that scares the shit out of me.
16. Open the front gate, take a deep breath, hesitate momentarily, mumble ‘what the fuck’ under my breath and hit the streets.

I start to run immediately.  It’s uphill right out of the gate. Brutal. Punishing.  Grueling.  My legs are already tired and I feel the burn.  It’s killing me and I haven’t even gone a block.  All I can think about is how lousy I feel.

But just when I think I can’t run another step, the sidewalk slopes downward and I coast along for the next bit. This is where grace and mercy come into play.

It’s during this little stretch that I set the pace. This is different every day.  It all depends on how I feel that morning.  Not just physically but emotionally.  One day I could be the hare. The next, the tortoise.  Sometimes I feel like a freebird.  Other days, a slug.  There are mornings where I feel like I could run forever.  Or at least a mile or two.  Maybe even ten.  Then there are days – many, many days – where I ask myself, ‘what the hell are you doing?’  I just want to roll over onto the boulevard and curl up like a wood bug.  Go to sleep. For a long time. Like Rip Van Winkle.  Some days, my youth is renewed like the eagles.  Others, I’m an old wizened woman.  Gnarled.  Weather-beaten.

The difference between a good day and a bad one usually comes down to rhythm.  I don’t plug in while I run.  No iTunes. No playlists. No music. No motivational talks.  No podcasts.  None of that.

I listen to my soul.  My heartbeat.  My inner cadence.

I hear the sound of my breathing.  My footsteps on the concrete. Crows squawking on the telephone lines.  The voices of the squirrels.  Leaves rustling.  Wind howling. Gentle breezes calling. Dogs barking. Cars racing.  Doors slamming.  All the early morning reverberations.

I hear the silence.  And the pauses between the clamor. I hear God whispering my name.

It is here that I get in the groove.  Find my rhythm.  This is the sweet stuff of running. This is the meditative place. Where everything works.  My body, mind and spirit are all in tune.  Harmonious.  Peaceful.  Grounded.

I run to the rhythm of me.