A day at a time, a derailleur at a time

For 15 years I’ve swore & cried & sweated to overcome the ever-present urge to numb myself. As one of my Bitches told me, “Reed, you feel BIG.”

My emotions have been (& probably always will be) of the Herculean variety. My joy is usually brighter than rainbow-farting leprechauns while my darkness can be the most blinding, frightening black. It’s scary for me to feel . . . but scarier not to.

March 3rd 2001 was a warm, sunny day I spent riding Frankenbike by myself. I was hung over, ashamed of who I’d become & scared shitless. The unpredictability that ruled my life had shifted from carefree & footloose to dangerous & foreboding. When my unpredictability changed from fun-loving to WTF, I knew I was out of time & choices: I had to change.

Over the course of 5,479 days that necessary change would involve so much more than not drinking. It would require only that I change how I saw everything. That’s it, just everything. And if everything would just stay how I see it at exactly that moment, it’d be easy peasy, but it changes, constantly, & it’s very easy for me to fall back on the old familiar: scary, big feelings that leaving me cowering in corners, hiding, or zipping up the gorilla suit & kicking ass. Neither option is all that great.

For example, today’s March 3rd? It was the end of my second week working as a NEWBIE bike mechanic & I had to build a Salsa El Mariachi. Um, ok? As I unpacked it, the only thing I had going for me was knowing I had to attach the rear derailleur to the hanger. It was a struggle. A head-down, sweaty, brain-scrambling schooling in hydraulic disc brakes, front shock airing & the further nuances of limit screws. It was a scary fucking day. Turns out clutches aren’t just for old tractors & farm trucks. I felt dumb, inept, out of place, inadequate, old & just plain awful. This is the stuff the thirsty little fucker who lies deep down inside me starts excitedly rubbing its hands over.

After the thousandth time of pulling Bobby, Bruce & Adam away from their own projects & even Dan away from his birthday day off, I caught myself thinking, “The jig is up, Homes, you don’t belong here.” That’s when I thought it might happen, when I felt a little tingle behind the eyes. (Big feelings, folks, I still don’t handle them well.) Of course my brain went ape shit: “You’re crying?! You’re the only chick in this bike shop and you’re gonnawpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseball cry?!!!” I didn’t. I wanted to. But I didn’t.

Thank gawd I’m not newly sober. Thank gawd I have coaches and cheerleaders who continually remind me how to take my life “a day at a time.” Thank gawd I didn’t start crying until after I’d left the bike shop, when I could talk with another sober person who understood exactly this kind of crazy & how to cut through the thick emotion & remind me, “Dude! It’s all good! You’re learning! You’re new! They didn’t fire you!” Um, yay?

I still want to run, take the easy way out & just hide. But I’ve done that. And it sucks. And every time I do it, it sucks worse! And I’m 45 & I simply lack the constitution for that level of suckage! So I’ll keep at it, just as I’ve been taught, a day at a time, a mile at a time, a derailleur at a time.

The angel on a snowy road

I keep running last night’s car accident over and over in my mind. My 12-year-old son and I walked away from it, but I can’t get the “would’ve, could’ve” scenario out of my head.

We were driving home from his basketball game and the late afternoon mist had turned to a light, snowy slush. Highway 30 was completely fine, but when I turned north from Calamus onto a paved, county road, the car slipped around the turn. Nothing terrible, just a slight skid, but it was enough to remind me to go the speed limit. In hindsight, even 55 was too fast for the conditions.

My son and I were talking about, of all things, dental hygiene as he dug into the stash of “flossers” I keep in my car’s center console. He’d use one, put it in the garbage and then seconds later, pull out another, complaining there was still something between his teeth. I told him to pull down the visor and check in the mirror, but when he did so, the mirror didn’t light up. And that’s when it happened.

Just as I was about to reach over and check if there was a switch on the mirror I felt the car drift into the slush in the middle of the empty road. I took my foot off the gas and applied the break. Feeling how hard we started sliding, I knew the car wasn’t coming out of this so I stopped breaking and tried to steer into the slide, hoping I could keep it on the road long enough to slow down.

When I felt us hit the left shoulder, the backend of the car whipped around and that’s when I threw my arm across my son’s chest and believed the car would  start rolling. I thought I told KidBoy, “Hang on,” or “Get ready,” but he said all I kept repeating was “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod” until we stopped. What I remember thinking was, “Please let him be ok. Please don’t let him get crunched. Please don’t let a fence post come through his window. Please! Please! Please!”

Melodramatic? Well, it’s been many years since I’ve been in a car accident, thankfully. During those events, the one thing I always remembered was worrying about myself, hoping I’d live, hoping I wouldn’t be injured. Until last night I’d never been in an accident with another person. Specifically, I’ve never been in an accident with my child. Last night, as the car spun out, sliding backwards down the 12-foot embankment and backending into a culvert before coming to rest at the edge of a field, my son was the only thing I thought about: “Let him be ok. Let him be ok. Let him be ok.” I don’t ever recall feeling so scared in my life, and none of that fear was for myself.

When the car stopped and I realized we were still rightside up, no windows broken, no dashboards crumpled, I asked and he verified that he was ok. EVERYTHING. WAS. OK. As we climbed out of our seats, I dialed my husband who was following with our daughter a couple miles behind us. And soon several vehicles were stopping to see if we needed help.

 We were both shaken up, of course, but we were fine. The car stayed firmly on its wheels, never launching off the road and down into the ditch. It was as if some force was pressing down on the car and keeping it right sided.

Once the tow truck and body shop were contacted, we gathered up our stuff and piled into my husband’s truck. And that’s when it hit me, when I realized where I’d crashed. Some people will think it’s weird, but I can’t ignore the coincidence: I crashed in the same area in which a dear friend was killed in a single car crash our senior year of high school.20160126_192219-1

Was Aaron with my son and I, keeping the car from rolling, making sure we slid backwards down the embankment and not nose diving headfirst into the culvert? I’m apt to think so. I keep remembering how firmly the car felt connected to the earth, how even in my seat, I felt pulled downward. I’m sure there are all sorts of scientific explanations for these sensations, but I’m no fool.

It’s been over 27 years since Aaron’s accident. Today, right now, I’m hearing my son up in his bedroom smack talk with friends over Skype while playing Minecraft. He’s groaning and yelling and giggling and sounding absolutely beautiful. I’m not a religious person, but I believe in the unexplainable. Was there some force, some being, an angel with us on that road last night? In my heart, I know he was . . . thank you Aaron.

Journeying to a healthier ‘bass’

The other day I saw a video clip of a horse in his stall, bobbing his head to the Meghan Trainor song, “All About That Bass.” Aside from the humorous aspect of seeing horses, like humans, enjoy a fun, funky beat, the song lyrics speak to the weird obsession our American culture has with size.

“I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop.
We know that s*#t ain’t real, come on now, make it stop.
If you got beauty beauty just raise ‘em up ‘cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size.
She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night.
You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll.
So, if that’s what you’re into than go ahead and move along.
Because you know I’m all about that bass ‘bout that bass, no treble.”

The song was released last summer and was an instant hit. While Trainor, the singer, was lauded for its message, it’s a sad reflection on the qualities our culture holds dear.

brrry scurry 2015Our culture has an extremely weird view of body image. I have a dear friend who lives with a disease that’s ravaged her body down to a size two. At her most unhealthy, I had another friend tell me how fabulous she looked. Knowing she wasn’t even capable of taking a daily walk, I was aghast.

And then there’s the flip side, enabling obesity. Given how much goes into the obesity issue: poverty, genetics, lifestyle, healthcare, etc., it’s no surprise that a large chunk (forgive the pun) of our nation is heading toward the blubber-esque future depicted on the spaceship in the 2008 movie “WALL-E” in which humans simply sat in hover chairs and motored around.

Mixed into this psychosis is the anti-aging business: Botex, tummy tucks, neck lifts and all sorts of breast enhancements.

Just last week there was the un-retouched photo of Cindy Crawford in which she’s rocking sexy lingerie despite a wrinkly, fleshy belly.

The responses were as varied as our craziness: there were many who supported the photo for its “realness,” others said it was re-touched to amplify the flaws, while still others lambasted people for praising Crawford’s aging body in an effort to make themselves feel better about their own aging, flawed bodies.

I can’t be the only one who sees this madness for what it is!

Personally? I’m not one to obsess too much about my looks. My sisters would prefer I learn to accessorize, but really, what goes better with jeans and a race shirt than tennis shoes and a hoodie?! I’ll admit, I color my hair, but make-up? Ugh.
That’s not to say I judge others for rocking the latest infinity scarf and never leaving the house without lipstick. I’m actually quite jealous. Just last week I told a sister, “You need to take me shopping. Teach me!”

But looks are not really my thing. Performance, I guess, is what pushes me to try to eat healthy, count my calories, pump the iron and pound the pavement.

A year ago, I gave full disclosure of my physical progress toward a stronger, healthier body. Here’s a comparison, in pounds and inches between then and the last time I was weighed and measured…

Feb. 10, 2014                 vs                Jan. 28, 2015
Lbs-175.8                                          Lbs-162.2 (down 13.6)
Neck-14.75                                       Neck-13.5 (down 1.25)
Chest-41                                          Chest-40.5 (down .5)
Waist-38                                          Waist-35 (down 3)
Hips-42                                            Hips-38 (down 4)
Thighs-23                                        Thighs-22 (down 1)
Arms-12                                           Arms-No change
Body Fat-38%                                  Body Fat-29.2% (down 8.8)

With an overall loss of 13.6 pounds, 9.75 inches and 8.8 percentage points, I’m making some real progress. Especially considering my eating during much of the last year was pretty crazy. It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve refocused my efforts.

As I’ve written before, I can’t exercise my way to a healthier body, I MUST be mindful of what’s going in my mouth. I don’t pay much attention to popular fads like Atkins and Paleo because of my person needs. Given the year-round triathlon training I do, I get the majority of my calories from carbohydrates, followed by proteins with the least amount in fat.

That said, I LOVE FAT! Specifically? Movie popcorn with extra butter (mixed throughout, if you wouldn’t mind).

But seriously, I put this information out there in an effort to stop with the fat shaming, the anorexia adoration, the Barbie doll idolatry and the desire for quick fixes. Change that comes quickly rarely stays. And change without a deeply personal idea of what that change will look and feel like, unfortunately, will never happen. We have to do the work, day in and day out, repeatedly.

So what’s my change look like? For 2015, a little more rational than last year. Just one ultra, one full marathon and two 70.3 Ironman events with lots of little stuff sprinkled throughout.

Originally published 21 February 2015 in The Observer.

Traithlon: Three athletes—one goal—all Ironmen

I’ve seldom met a hair-brained idea I didn’t like, and apparently I’m not alone! Enter No Limit Fitness owner Matt Dingbam and his client-friend (and my cousin-in-law), John Melvin.

Both DeWitt residents and I were among the 2,606 athletes who competed in last month’s July 20th half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin.

I remember speaking briefly with Matt at last year’s Paul Skeffington Memorial Race during which we both mentioned the I-word. Forget the fact neither of us had an ounce of experience with triathlon, the idea of taking on an Ironman was brewing in each of us.

flat jenny Racine 70.3 2014While I’d run countless races including several marathons, that Skeff Race was quite special for Matt and John. It was their first. EVER.

Their experience in DeWitt, from the cheering crowds to seeing family members on the course, prompted the two of them to sign up for more races throughout 2013, culminating with the IMT Des Moines Marathon in October. From 5 miles to 26.2 miles in four months! Even I’d call that cray-cray!

This seemingly over-zealous approach to running offers us a peak into the psyches of Matt and John. Meeting each obstacle with fortitude, each goal with tenacity, it’s no surprise neither man shied away from the challenge of the 70.3, which represents the cumulative mileage of a half Ironman—1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.

While I’ve logged thousands of miles on foot and bike, and probably as many laps as far back as college, I had a smidgeon of what would be required of me. Matt and John? Gut instinct, alone.

“I had always thought about triathlons,” Matt told me, “but I had never even road biked or really swam for distance. I decided to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ and signed up for Ironman Racine, knowing I would figure it out along the way.

“Of course, John Melvin followed my lead as he did not want me to do this alone!”

John and Matt knew each other, but it wasn’t until John began attending boot camp at No Limit Fitness when Matt unlocked John’s potential and the two developed a friendship that would transform their goals into a partnership.

Matt came at the 70.3 with calculated training and focus while John brought the grit, fine-tuned by his years in the military.

“I’ve always reminded myself to ‘Embrace the Suck,’” noted John, using a mantra made common by Iraq war veteran and writer Col. Austin Bay.

“The truth is that my preparation plan was changed constantly due to weather, work, family, money and any other reason.”

In fact, John’s work took him out of country to India for three weeks during the final month before Racine. As if the surroundings weren’t taxing enough, the 16+ hour work days prevented any training and it was then that John decided the Ironman was lost.

Perfectly understandable, life getting in the way and all, skipping the Ironman gnawed at John. Yes, the training wasn’t there, “but why not try?” he wondered.

At the last minute, John opted to ‘Embrace the Suck’ at a level few of us will experience. “Using this logic,” he explained. “I’ve been able to adapt to obstacles on and off the course that are always working to keep you down.”

He, Matt and I met up at the Ironman Expo the day before the race and then John and I drove the bike course.

It was during that drive when he verbalized the essence of strength: facing the fear regardless of outcome. Fear of the unknown robs so many from achieving greater heights. Sure John wanted to finish, but it was facing the possibility of trying and not finishing that was his foe.

But is it such a novel foe? Matt, John and I all brought our own fears to the 70.3 table. Turns out all three of us were less than enthused about the swim in Lake Michigan.

“When I arrived at Lake Michigan I got a sick feeling,” Matt admitted. “I could not quit looking at the lake and wondering how in the world I was going to be able to swim 1.2 miles in this huge body of water.”

Though water temperature was a chilly 61 degrees that Sunday morning, we were lucky to have calm conditions and a glass-like lake. Starting in waves divided by gender and age, we each navigated the breath-stealing cold and fell into steady swims that, once finished, buoyed our spirits for the remaining bike and run.

While Matt and I were confident of our abilities on the bike, John faced the real “meat” of this challenge during the ride. Prior to the Ironman, the longest John had ridden was 25 miles. Aside from the common aches and pains every cyclists copes with, John rode a borrowed bike in which the seat sloped downward. This would be his proverbial shining hour, shining four hours, to be exact.

He knew he could probably reach the 30-mile point, and the 13.1-mile run? If all else failed, he could walk it, but those final 26 miles on the bike? It was a giant, looming cloud of wonder that he answered with a ROAR by cruising through those 26 miles and on through the run.

All three of us reached our goals.

For Matt, this was his first triathlon and he finished in 6 hours and 28 minutes. “The sense of accomplishment and ‘runner’s high’ lasted for two days straight!” In the Finisher’s Tent, Matt met Lionel Sander, the overall winner who snagged victory with a time of 3:45.

“Even though I was totally satisfied,” Matt said, “I knew I would need to do a full IM (Ironman) to reach my full goal! At the same time I was thinking this, I got a text from John that said the exact same thing!”

For John, this was his second triathlon and despite the training woes and borrowed bike, he conquered the fear and crossed the finish line at 8:04!

“There was a time when the Crossroads (Triathlon) was the most difficult obstacle in front of me, then a marathon, then a 70.3,” John said. “My point to anyone thinking about doing something outside the box is this: keep moving forward and focusing on your goals. Everything else always seems to fall into place.”

Myself? I came in at 7:03, 27 minutes ahead of my goal! And yes, as with Matt and John, I too have set my sights on the bigger, badder full Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

Matt put it best, “To be continued . . . when (we) sign up for the 140.6.”

Originally published 2 August 2014 in The Observer.

Local 24-Hour-Run: crazy & worth repeating

For the past 33 years, the Cornbelt Running Club has hosted its 24-Hour-Run at the North Scott Track in Eldridge. That’s right, 24 hours of running or walking, around and around and around a high school track. Through rain, wind, sunrise, sunset, bugs, rabbits and birds; through night, through day; through burgeoning blisters, bad backs and sore hips; through chilly temps and blazing heat.

When I initially joined Cornbelt in late 2009, such an event didn’t even register with me. I’m sure I read about it in the newsletter, but because I was so far from considering anything beyond a marathon, I failed to see the event as anything other than LOONEY TUNES! The notion of doing something for 24 hours, paying to do so . . . and not even for a charity? I was completely unable to grasp such nonsense.

20140505_104216_AndroidWithin a couple years of joining the running club, I began to volunteer at a few events and eventually I found myself at a table near the North Scott Track counting laps in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

As runners and walkers completed the last three hours of the challenge, I began to see the 24-Hour-Run as something I needed to try. Back in January, when I made a list of specific goals for 2014, the 24-Hour-Run was part of my four-goal list.

Because I’ve done a few long events since March, I didn’t consider any specific type of training, rather I focused on staying healthy, listening to my body and in the week prior to the May 3-4 event, squeeze in a daily nap and carb load responsibly.

At 7 a.m. when I toed the line with 24 other individuals from as nearby as DeWitt and as far away as California, I had one main hope: to last all 24 hours.

In talking with others who had done it, I was interested in how pain would affect my psyche. I’m not a masochist and do NOT enjoy pain and/or suffering, especially the self-inflicted kind. But I’m curious about my limits. Back in 2009 when I set my sights on the 2010 Chicago Marathon, I assumed I’d find my limits there. Sure it was tough, running 26.2 miles is hard, but it wasn’t the mythical, life-changing “Everest” I’ve heard others claim it to be.

What if I were faster? Nope. I still don’t think it’d be any of that reverential stuff, it’d just be less fun.

And I’ve pretty much come to grips with the fact that if I’m not having fun, I’m not going to bother. But I must admit, I didn’t expect to have fun at the 24-Hour-Run. I expected myself to morph into some senseless, muttering, sleep-deprived ball of pain.

20140505_104829_AndroidI was most concerned with my feet, given they’d suffer the most. I knew I needed to have a variety of shoes and unfortunately I chose the wrong one to start in: a thin pair of Brooks Ravennas that, while fine for a 10k, have no business staying on my feet beyond that. Though no blisters appeared, the Brooks laces cut into the top of one of my feet, setting it on fire.

Not sure how long each of my three pairs of shoes would last, I kept the Brooks on for seven hours, 112 laps totaling 28 miles before changing into a newish pair of Asics Kayanos.

While the Asics have always been a good long-run shoe for me, and my feet did feel better getting out of the Brooks, the damage was done. I kept them on for another nine hours, another 108 laps totaling 27 miles before breaking out my ace-in-the-hole, a pair of Hoka Conquests.

These moon-like shoes have a sole that’s crazy thick. Its massive cushion helped me run much of that final eight hours. Except for a brief time in which I pulled off my socks and popped blisters on my toes (and then slathered a layer of A&D ointment on my soles) running the straights and walking the turns made for a comfortable way to pass the hours.

But if it was all physical, where’s the fun in that? Eventually everyone walks and it’s when falling in with another participant that the glory of the event comes to the surface. Visiting with DeWitt resident and pastor Curt Girod who was doing his fourth 24-Hour-Run, he told me about his prior experience and what got him to achieving the 100 kilometer/61 mile mark. He finished with nearly 77.5 miles logged.

Then there’s the character who convinced Curt to do the event in the first place, DeWitt resident Scott Hoag. I remember counting Scott’s laps last year, but getting to talk with him and soak up his experience of having completed well over 20 of 24-Hour-Run events, was much more fun. Curt, Scott and the vast majority of everyone else exhibited for me, how much stronger the mind is than the body.

The event defies logic, reason, and has most people thinking we all needed to be locked in a padded room.

Scott’s hips and back were aching and more than once I watched friends work on his lower back as he laid face-down on the in-field. And yet he never quit, logging a final tally a couple tenths shy of 78 miles.

I think Curt and Scott would agree that we powered on, not because our mental fortitude was so immense or our bodies, temples of greatness. We kept circling the track because of the people who joined us . . . the ones who love us, in spite of our quirky hobbies.

Curt’s wife kept him company and walked with him, Scott’s kids were there. Marty brought the kids down, holding signs that read, “Mom is 24 hours of awesome!” My parents came out and walked me over the 50 mile threshold, Charlotte resident and racing buddy Nancy McClimon came twice, first to walk with me, the second time to drive my car home afterwards.

Seeing so many friends and families come out to share in the experience brought real meaning to the term “team effort.” Even while I sat popping blisters, I was loving it.

I think it was Curt who said, “You’re hooked, aren’t you.”

Yep! My 81.65 miles were 323 laps of fun! A fun that was parsed into bits of endurance, slices of sharing, a chunk of eating, a heap of pain, a dollop of suffering, and a huge helping of joy!

Whether you’re a walker or runner, want to do 10 miles or 100, I think the 24-Hour-Run is our best-kept, most neurotically-loved secret . . . and I would love to see more of us out there in 2015!

Originally published 17 May 2014 in The Observer.