In Which Granny Runs an Ultra

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. ~T. S. Elliot

The Idea

When I began running almost 5 years ago, the idea of doing a marathon would not fit inside my head. I didn’t even have a clear enough picture of what it would mean to be properly terrified. It was like contemplating astrophysics. I had no hook to hang it on. But as I slowly built mileage, I began to flirt with the idea of a half-marathon. Still daunting, but possibly attainable. Once I had three of those in the bag, I discovered I could think about a marathon without my head hurting. And so it began…

I vividly remember those mystical Saturdays when one week after another I ran distances I had never run before. It was like magic. Sometimes I looked down at my feet in awe. I could hardly believe they were sill moving. In between the running, I read about running. Books like Ultra-marathon Man and Born to Run began to seduce me with a new challenge: The ULTRA. An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a marathon; from a 5ok (31 miles) to obscene distances well in excess of 100 miles. Last year I decided to use 2010 to make a go at a Boston qualifying time, and designated 2011 the year of the ultra. Little did I imagine then the irony that I would attempt my first ultra in the same year I became a grandmother.

The Event

I have researched events off and on for over a year. I ultimately settled on the Grand Teton Ultra for three reasons. It is beautiful. I know myself. If I am going to be on my feet all day, I want my eyes to be filled with wonder. It’s a trail event. Piling up mileage can be hard on the joints. Especially for old people like me. 😉 Trail surfaces, though challenging, will give my joints a break. It has a relatively generous time limit. I am strong but not fast. Even though choosing Grand Teton means running at altitude plus a vertical gain (and loss) of 10,000 feet, it is worth it to have more time to finish.

Unfortunately, the time limit for the 50 mile event has been shortened this year from 23 hours to 17 hours because they are doing away with the 100 miler that used to keep aid stations open. As a result, I have not yet decided whether I will still attempt the 50 miler or back down to the 50k. Either way, it will be a new and significant challenge.

The Training

So what does ultra-marathon training look like…for a grandma? 😉 Ultra runners are a breed of their own. Training is widely individual. Some runners log 120 plus miles a week in training. Others do one long run and some cross training. In between are a myriad of options. Here is what it will look like for me:

  • A tandem long run on Friday and Saturday. This is a popular approach. A long run followed by a moderately long run teaches your legs to run while fatigued, but with less stress than one super long run. These will begin the first week in May with a 12 mile followed by a 6 mile and build quickly to peak in August with 26 and 10.
  • On Sunday I will stretch, do yoga, or walk for recovery.
  • Monday through Wednesday I will primarily cross-train, though I may sometimes work in a moderate run of 6-10 miles. Cross-training will consist of plyometrics, core work, swimming, biking, kenpo, weight-training and yoga. Cross-training is crucial for trail running because balancing, jumping and hurdling creeks require a whole complex of muscles. Equally important is the fact that cross-training allows for conditioning without piling more stress on the joints.
  • Thursday will be a rest day in preparation for the tandem run.

Like everything else in my life, I will live this out here. Feel free to follow along if you like.

P.S. I use the term granny because it makes for an ironic title. However, I do not intend to be called granny by my grandchildren–or by anyone else if you know what’s good for you! 🙂

The Raggedy Man

My mom recited this poem to us from memory when I was a little girl. How I wish you could hear it in her voice! It must be read aloud. It really doesn’t make sense otherwise. Go ahead. I double dog dare you. Render it in the wide-eyed whisper of a little boy. Flavor it with an admiration and wonderment closely akin to worship. Not every Achilles is clad in gold.

The Raggedy Man

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
An’ he’s the goodest man ever you saw!
He comes to our house every day,
An’ waters the horses, an’ feeds ’em hay;
An’ he opens the shed — an’ we all ist laugh
When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
An’ nen — ef our hired girl says he can —
He milks the cow fer ‘Lizabuth Ann. —
Ain’t he a’ awful good Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

W’y, The Raggedy Man — he’s ist so good,
He splits the kindlin’ an’ chops the wood;
An’ nen he spades in our garden, too,
An’ does most things ‘at boys can’t do. —
He clumbed clean up in our big tree
An’ shooked a’ apple down fer me —
An’ ‘nother ‘n’, too, fer ‘Lizabuth Ann —
An’ ‘nother ‘n’, too, fer The Raggedy Man. —
Ain’t he a’ awful kind Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An’ The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes,
An’ tells ’em, ef I be good, sometimes:
Knows ’bout Giunts, an’ Griffuns, an’ Elves,
An’ the Squidgicum-Squees ‘at swallers the’rselves:
An’, wite by the pump in our pasture-lot,
He showed me the hole ‘at the Wunks is got,
‘At lives ‘way deep in the ground, an’ can
Turn into me, er ‘Lizabuth Ann!
Er Ma, er Pa, er The Raggedy Man!
Ain’t he a funny old Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man — one time, when he
Wuz makin’ a little bow-‘n’-orry fer me,
Says “When you’re big like your Pa is,
Air you go’ to keep a fine store like his —
An’ be a rich merchunt — an’ wear fine clothes? —
Er what air you go’ to be, goodness knows?”
An’ nen he laughed at ‘Lizabuth Ann,
An’ I says “‘M go’ to be a Raggedy Man! —
I’m ist go’ to be a nice Raggedy Man!”
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

*I have only included the stanzas I remember. You can see the whole of the poem HERE if you like.

Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. ~Salman Rushdie

My mother fed me poetry as a little girl. I vividly recall the illustrations of The Sugarplum Tree, The Purple Cow, and The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. There were some she recited by heart. These were my favorites. Especially The Raggedy Man. I hear it even now in her voice. She opened a space in me for words that sing. Words with rhythm. Words that conjure vivid images. Words that capture longing.

As I have grown older, I have found poetry to be nourishing, healing, troubling, provocative, stimulating, and delightful in turns. Charles Baudelaire contended that a healthy man might go several days without food, but not without poetry. I rather think he might be right. In honor of National Poetry Month, I will be sharing, in the coming days, favorite poems. Today, I would like to introduce you to a few much beloved poetic voices. I invite you, yay verily I implore you, to share your favorites with me.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. ~Robert Frost

I have only come to know the work of Mary Oliver over the past year. My, what a gift she has been to me! Her keen observations of the world around her and her fascination with all things living are a delight. And her raw explorations of the inner world have caused me to feel less alone…more understood.

Poetry… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ~John Keats

When I read the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, I sometimes feel like he has been inside my head, inside my heart. Unspoken anguishes, cries, longings in me find a voice in his words. Some have become prayer for me.

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own. ~Salvatore Quasimodo

Thomas Merton wrote a number of poems. But his was such a poetic soul that even his prose often sings like poetry. His chasing after God, his desire to be wholly devoted, and his frustration with his failings all resonate with me. It is my own story. He too is a lover of God’s glorious creation. His evocative descriptions carry me into the scene. I hear the drops of water, I feel the breeze, I smell the sea.

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau

Billy Collins writes poems that are whimsical and engaging. He writes about the most ordinary things, but he looks at them askance. And I see them as if for the first time. And sometimes, just when I think I am simply having a rollicking good time, he plants a bit of truth inside me that I was not expecting.

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. ~Plato

The first Taylor Mali poem I encountered was a piece called “What Teachers Make”. It was enough. I became a devoted fan. Mali is a lover of language, and he wields it like a rapier. He will make you laugh. He might make you uncomfortable. He will definitely make you THINK. Mali is writing a poem a day for the month of April. You can read them here. You simply must visit his Youtube channel and allow him to deliver his poetry to you in his own voice. It is a remarkable experience.

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. ~Wallace Stevens

For John Keats, beauty and truth are indistinguishable. His words pierce me with their loveliness and yearning, and make me glad of the wound. If you are also a lover of Keats, you might enjoy the artful film, Bright Star, which treats of his enigmatic relationship with Fanny Brawn.
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. ~W. H. Auden
The phrase “word play” takes on new meaning when you read the works of Shel Silverstein. My children and I have spent many delightful hours with his poetry. It is at once whimsical, ironic, and just when you least expect it, poignant. I especially commend to you The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup. ~Wendell Berry
Perhaps it is Wendell Berry‘s southern sensibilities that appeal to me. He sings of the agrarian culture I grew up in with much the same sense of wonder in which I perceived it myself. The images he conjures up might seem romanticized, unless you have known cool southern nights with dew on the grass or warm, freshly tilled earth. Then you know that no words will ever be romantic enough.
Poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn. ~Thomas Gray

Souvenirs…of Silence

Any retreat into solitude and silence has, for me, two parts. There is that extended quiet that gives way to deep, restoring breaths…to uninterrupted reflection. And there is the hope that some of the quiet will accompany me home; that I will remember to find silence where I am…in the midst. Here, a few of the meditations and moments that I carry with me…

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

These are the words of the Jesus prayer. It has for centuries been an integral part of the prayer life of Christians seeking a way in. A way into stillness. A way into the unique mystery within themselves. It has for some time been part of my own prayer life. As I journeyed toward my oasis, I listened to a remarkable teaching on this prayer, on the invocation of the Name, by the venerable Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. He spoke of its two-fold use. In the midst of our daily lives, the prayer helps us to “find Christ everywhere”, to see all of life as sacramental. And, as part of our dedicated prayer time, it is one way to “create silence”. I have listened to it several times hence. It was a most worthy beginning.

Two of the three nights I was away, I fell asleep to a lullaby of raindrops against a tin roof. One of those nights there was a spectacular storm. I snuggled beneath the covers, watching flashes of lightening and feeling the reverberations of thunder with my whole body. In the morning, I awoke inside a cloud. A cocoon of sorts. A place of resting…and becoming.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

I paused in the center of this bridge for a very long time…spellbound by the movement of the water. Very nearly undisturbed in its flow, its gentle gurgle seemed to work itself inside me. More silent than an absence of sound. More still than an absence of movement. Oh, that I might sing silence into those around me as this stream sang it into me.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.” ~Fyodor Dostoevzky

My friend, PJ, speaks of our shared ache for beauty. As I stumbled into a whole field of glorious Virginia Bluebells, ache was a most apt description. A glory almost too intense to be borne. A take your shoes off for you are breathing holiness kind of moment. A remnant, a memory of a world unseen, yet home. Wide awake. Delicious agony.

“He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die…that we may appreciate the joys of living.” ~Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

It’s ok if you don’t get this photo. I’ll warrant you its beauty is unconventional. But I found it captivating. That is to say, I found the tree with its multifarious hangers-on captivating. Perhaps one of the most valuable things God has been showing me of late is that gifts do not always come in the forms I expect…or ask for. But if I am willing to open my hands…if I will humble myself and receive as He is pleased to give, He is faithful to show me the beauty He has designed for me. For my good. For the good of those I love. I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.


I offer my profound thanks to Mary Claire and Nordeck for graciously opening to me their own particular piece of paradise. Your kind hospitality overwhelms me.

Thank you to my family for letting me go…for verily pushing me out the door.

And thank you, especially, to my extravagantly generous Father who is always, ALWAYS, waiting for me when I slow long enough, when I open my eyes wide enough, to see Him…from your sometimes unwieldy and recalcitrant daughter.

 

Awe and Inexpressible Innocence…

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The first chirps of the waking birds mark the “point vierge
of the dawn.
under a sky as yet without real light,
a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence,
when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song,
but with an awakening question
that is their dawn state,
their state at the point vierge.

Their condition asks if it is time for them to “be“?
He answers “Yes.”

Then they one by one wake up, and become birds.
They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing.
Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.

Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that
when creation in its innocence asks permission
to “be” once again,
as it did on the first morning that ever was.

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself
at that blind sweet point.
Man’s wisdom does not succeed,
for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask
permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose.
We know the time and we dictate the terms.
We know what time it is.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell,
but the virgin point between darkness and light,
Between nonbeing and being.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us
and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it:
we are off “one to his farm and another
to his merchandise.”
Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves
cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.

“Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.

~Thomas Merton

In Deep Nights

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thirst

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

~Mary Oliver

Why Sometimes the Mommy Runs Away

“Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”

~Henri J.M. Nouwen

Being a wife and a mommy is my favorite. It has been the primary focus of my life for nineteen years now. I adore my husband and children. I love making a home for them, listening to their stories and dreams and plans, welcoming their friends. I love hearing about their discoveries. I am grateful that they come to me in those moments when they are hurting. That they trust me. That they know I am safe. I hope they will always know that.

But every now and then, I run away from home.

Because I know…..to be the wife and mother I want to be…the friend I want to be…the person I was made to be…I sometimes need to be alone. I need silence. Outside and inside. I need to still the craziness around me, and the craziness that is me. I need permission to breathe slowly. To listen…to God…to my own soul.

My dear family has come to understand this about me. Whereas my children used to visibly grow uneasy when I left, they now encourage me to go. Not because they don’t like me. 🙂 But because they love me. And whereas I used to feel the need to defend these bits of solitude to my husband, he now pushes me to find time to get away. In fact, he is sending me away. Today. It is my birthday gift. Silence. Stillness. Best birthday gift ever.

So I will be off the grid for a few days. But I am leaving little gifts for you. Voices who sing silence into me, even in the midst of the craziness. Healing, nourishing, life-giving words. Pop back. I think you will like what you find.

~peace

 

Annunciation

Lingering bits of brilliance play
among the dust in slanting rays of sunlight.
A fragrance also.
Indefinable.
Mysterious.
Other.
She shivers as she remembers…

Taken completely by surprise,
His voice.
Man voice.
Inside her modest chamber.
Unheard of.
She is terrified. And yet…

He does not harm her.
A messenger, he says.
He does not explain how he came to be there.
So suddenly.
Shimmering…

Highly favored, he calls her.
Blessed.
She is to bear a child.
Son of the Most High.
Throne of David.
House of Jacob.
JESUS.

She trembles.
Tears betray her fear.
She barely breathes…

…HOW?

(It is too much.
She is so young.)

Words tender…
Holy Spirit
Son of God
You
are not
alone.

Silence hangs in the room.
Heavy.
Her heart pounds.
So much
depends
on this……

May it be to me….according to your word.

Her whisper rends time.
Nothing
will ever
be the same.
Inside her fragile body
the DNA
of God.

Lingering bits of brilliance play
among the dust in slanting rays of sunlight.
A fragrance also.
Indefinable.
Mysterious.
Other.

~sm

Today, Christians around the world commemorate the Feast of the Annunciation. We honor the Mother of God; she who first showed us how to open our lives completely to Christ. To allow Him to fully inhabit the deepest parts of who we are, whatever the cost. Inside her womb was wrought the Incarnation which is life to us all. Would that I might be more like her.

“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me according to Your Word.” ~Luke 1:38

 

Just Show Up

I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. But when God gently sings the same idea into my life over and over…..and over…..even I can’t miss that.

In less than a week, from three different sources, on three different topics, one message:

Just show up.

First, my sweet friend Anne poured her heart onto the page on behalf of those walking through the heart-rending pain and loneliness of divorce. She said the most important thing we can do when those we love are walking though this…or any kind of pain for that matter…is to be there.

“Here’s the catch. When a relationship is ending, especially a marriage, it physically feels as if your soul has been ripped out of your body. People going through this change will likely not have the strength to reach out to you….Not only do we not want to bring people down with us, we don’t have the strength to engage with others. This is why it’s so important you reach out constantly to your friends.”

It is cowardly to allow my own inadequacies to keep me from loving others. Just because I don’t have any earth shattering wisdom to share doesn’t mean I have nothing to give to those I love who are hurting. They need me now more than ever.

Just show up.

On Sunday, the Orthodox Church honored the great theologian, Saint Gregory of Palamas. Our priest confessed to us how intense and somewhat intimidating he finds the works of this brilliant man who was so important to the Church. He then gave us what he lightheartedly titled “Orthodoxy for Dummies”. Point number one: Just show up. The Liturgical life is a gift to us. God will use it to heal us, to restore us, to make us who He always intended us to be. But we have to make ourselves available to this process.

Just show up.

I have been slowly making my way through Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice.  This morning I was reading back through underlines and notes when I came to a section called “Rules for the Road”. Here is rule number one:

“In order to be an artist, I must show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.”

It is not necessary for me to know what I will write. I need not have everything worked out in my head. I know from my own experience that most of what goes on the page only reveals itself once words are already flowing from heart to fingers. But if I allow fear of the blank page to keep me from putting pen to paper in the first place, those words will never be released.

Just show up.

Three applications. One truth. It is not our wisdom, our effort, or our brilliance that is wanted. It is our presence. When we are available, the magic happens.

I have an idea this truth is not just for me. Where is your presence desperately wanted just now?

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