Tag Archives: running

An Ounce of Quit

Have you ever heard the expression “an ounce of quit?”  I associate it with sports, some bandy-legged kid who has more determination than the rest of the team put together:  “That kid don’t have an ounce of quit in him.”  It’s a high compliment. 

Last night, when I set the alarm for 5:01 a.m., I gave myself a pre-sleep suggestion:  “Wake up feeling like a bad ass.”  Don’t hit the snooze.  Don’t sit there on the edge of the bed feeling tired and sleepy. Get your feet on the floor.  Put on the clothes you’ve already laid out.  Eat some protein and GO.  It may be 13 degrees outside and you only had six hours of sleep, but GO.  Don’t apologize, don’t half-ass it, don’t quit.  GO.  

And it worked.  Until it was time to run.  

When I run, I can’t escape the simple fact that I am carrying 40 lbs more than I carried back when I ran long distances.  Try doing something you like with a large bag of dog food strapped to your back and see if it still feels the same.  It doesn’t.  Still, I forced myself to focus on each footstep, on one victory at a time.  I didn’t think about anyone else in the gym–just myself.  But my calves were screaming and I wanted to walk, just for a little bit.  I wanted to quit.

That’s when another music moment happened.  As I was rounding a corner, Kelly Clarkson belted out:

You ain’t got the right to tell me

When and where to go, no right to tell me

Acting like you own me lately

Yeah baby you don’t know a thing about me

You don’t know a thing about me

(from “Mr. Know It All)

I’d like to dedicate that song to the voice in my head.  To Fartbuster.  To every other person, including myself, who ever told me I wasn’t quite good enough.  You don’t know a thing about me.  So sit down and shut up.  

I kept running.  It was only a couple more minutes.  I told myself, “You’ve done harder shit than THIS.”  In my head, I heard a color commentary football announcer voice crowing, “She ain’t got an ounce of quit in her!”  

The truth is, I have more than an ounce of quit in me.  I have many many many ounces of quit in me!  But “quit” is what I push out of my body every time I sweat.  Every time I put my feet on the floor and remind myself to choose to be a bad ass.  

I got inspiration this morning from some Wesleyan sisters who are bad muthas:

-Irene has lost 75.1 pounds and she ain’t quitting.

-Wyanne had to give up her tongue to beat cancer, but she kept her voice.  She’s sitting up in bed today and painting–she ain’t quitting.  

-Stephanie has spent 2 years learning how to walk again after she was almost killed by a driver who was texting.  This fall, she and her horse made it to Nationals.  She ain’t quitting.

-Kristina is going home from the hospital today after fighting her way back to life for the last two months.  She’s going to be a teacher one day.  She ain’t quitting.

Sometimes it’s so easy to quit, to slow down–or to never try in the first place.  Don’t quit.  Don’t let that little voice in your head that wants you to be less win.  That voice may be inside your head, but it doesn’t know a thing about you.  


One Victory At A Time, Then Suddenly

Yesterday morning at boot camp, I teetered on the verge of crying.  Not from pain, unless you count the mental kind.  I could barely hear the complaints of my muscles over the cruel and negative messages in my head.

I was OK while we were warming up and doing squats.  I joined in the banter and the commiseration about it being 5:30.  Then it was time to run laps and my brain started thinking things about myself that no one should have to hear.  I imagined anyone ever saying things like that to my daughter.  Telling her she was fat and hopeless.  Telling her she shouldn’t bother.  Telling her it was never going to get better.  Telling her she probably didn’t deserve to feel better about herself.  That’s when I wanted to cry.

Because I was last.  Slowest.  The only one having to stop to walk in six minutes of running.  Marissa, who started coming to boot camp years ago because I encouraged–she lapped me.  I couldn’t catch up with April, who used to be my running buddy a couple of years ago.  New people, tiny people, genetically predisposed to speed, zipped past me, carrying on conversations with each other as they bounced along.  I lumbered down the lines on the basketball court and lurched around the corners.  Trying not to cry.

Here’s the kind of junk that rang between my ears:  It’s been TWO whole weeks since I started back to exercising and I’m STILL not in shape!  Everyone notices when I have to walk.  I’m really too fat to do this.  And it’s probably too late to turn this truck around–I’m 45.  I weigh twice what that girl who clocked a 3:30 marathon weighs.  I could be asleep but I’m out here embarrassing myself.  It’s never going to get any better.

Since there was no one behind me, I tried to think about the legions of people who aren’t there because they decided not to try.  That’s something, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chatter in my head.  The song from our coach’s ipod switches to Pink’s “Sober” and I truly hear the line:  “When it’s good then it’s good, it’s so good till it goes bad Till you’re trying to find the you that you once had.”  Yep.

That’s when April, the founder of WoW! Boot Camp hollered the thing that got through to me:  “One victory at a time!”

That was it.  I gave myself a tiny bit of credit for the victories I had already racked up since 5:01 when my alarm went off.  Getting out of bed.  Getting myself dressed.  Getting there.  TRYING.  Not rolling over and quitting.

My head was hanging at that point, but I looked at my feet in the running shoes that I bought for my last half-marathon, the one before Carlos was even on the radar.  I willed my right foot to run a step and it did.  Victory.  Then the left foot.  Victory. Each footstep a victory and I ran two fresh laps with my head up instead of walking because I was only thinking about the footstep that I was making, not the last one, not the next one, not the one I ran five years ago.  Not the one I will run six months from now.  Just this one, this victory.


While I ran, I thought about other “one victory at a time” moments.  My sister who chooses every day to stay sober.  My friend who doesn’t answer the phone when it’s a person who makes her feel bad about herself, even if that person is her mother.  The friend who can sit next to a smoker and not bum a cigarette.  The friend who resists the bait when a coworker fires an email at her with red caps and lots of exclamation points.  The mom who chooses talking over yelling.  The friend who sleeps in the center of the bed because it’s hers now.  One step at a time, not the whole race at once.

I finished the workout–at my own pace–and by 6:30 a.m. I was feeling euphoric.  I sat in the car, waiting for my butt heater to warm up and reading my email.  The daily message from Seth Godin popped up on my phone:  “Gradually, Then Suddenly.”  That’s a quote from Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises:  “How did you go bankrupt?  Gradually, then suddenly.”  Seth’s message was about how businesses fail that way–making small bad decisions that no one worries about along the way, then a sudden collapse that everyone sees.  The good news is that careers can be made the same way–years of slogging away, worrying that your tiny efforts aren’t having any impact then BAM.  You become the overnight success who’s been working hard at it for ten years.  Like when Shelby Lynne won the Grammy for Best New Artist for her SIXTH album!

That’s when I finally cried all those tears I had refused to cry when I was feeling bad about running in last place.  I sat in the dark parking lot, in the privacy of my car, and cried with relief that I might still have a Suddenly in my future, even if the Gradually was tough.

Gradually, then suddenly.  One victory at a time.


Practice Makes

running women

That’s me in the back. Way in the back. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Carlos was still sleeping this morning after the rest of us were clomping around.  As I crept around in my bathroom, which shares a wall with his bed, it reminded me of all those mornings when I woke at 5am and tiptoed out of the house to go to boot camp.  Before I could let myself remember how good it felt on those days to get out in the dark and work out HARD before my day officially began, I jumped straight to feeling bad about the fact that I don’t do it anymore.  Lately, I have had more practice feeling bad about my body than I have had practice feeling strong.

Boot camp workouts began with some stretching and kvetching then a couple of laps around the track.  Not a race, just an easy-paced run.  At my strongest, I could hang with the middle of the pack.  My best time ever was a 9:50 mile.  At my not so strongest, I was hanging in the back of the pack, about a 13:30 mile with some shuffling sprinkled in the running.  Erraday, I’m shufflin’ shufflin’…

When the super fast women like Becky and Danielle streaked by with their pony tails bouncing back and forth, I tried not to feel like a three-legged Holstein stuck in a bog.  They were busting out 8 minute miles while keeping up a lively conversation.  I tried to remind myself that they are fast runners because they practice it a lot.  They can run like that because they practice running.  They probably can’t quilt worth a shit because they don’t practice quilting.  Yeah, I could SMOKE THEM at quilting. Probably.  Oh, here’s a funny note:  I saw Danielle at lunch today and warned her that I was going to write about “the fast girls.”  She said, “Oh, Becky’s the fast one.  I can barely keep up with her.”  Then I asked Danielle what her fastest mile was and she said…6:20.  Yeah.  One gazelle comparing herself to another gazelle.

My point is–we get good at whatever we practice.  Even the things that aren’t good for us.  If I practice running, I get good at running.  If I practice running myself down, I get good at running myself down.

I’ve been writing every day for over six months and I’m getting better at it with all the practice.  I’m mothering like I never thought I could because I’ve been practicing it for six years (EVERY damn DAY).  I have a new job and I’m getting so much more efficient and exact in my tasks because I practice.  Quilting?  Haven’t sewn in six years, so I would need a little time to get back my running stitch.

Running?  I haven’t been practicing that since Carlos was born.  Running myself down?  Been training like it’s the Olympics without even noticing.  Yes–even as much as I focus on the positive and practice gratitude and cultivate mental health, I spend plenty of time subconsciously telling myself that I’m a fat, lazy, so and so and if I really had any gumption or backbone or SENSE I could make a better effort at being…whatever it is I’m not being.  I didn’t even notice how much I’ve been practicing that kind of messaging.  Ugh.  That crap hurts worse than running.

You know my favorite part of running?  Sprints.  WHAT???  I know!  Shuffling along feeling like my thighs were going to combust then…finding that little something extra that was still hidden in my heart, that let me go all out for a few seconds.  I loved sprinting because all I had to do was go 100% for a little while.  Hmmm.  Might be time to practice that again.  Go for one of my fat old lady walks then RUN.   Oops.  I fell back on my practicing there–I’m not a fat old lady.  I’m a 45 year old woman with 45 pounds I’d like to lose.  And I can run if I practice.

What do you practice?  What’s something you’re really good at because you practice every day?

Your Permission Slip

you are a runner

Back in 2008, I signed myself up for boot camp with a single goal:  I wanted to be able to do a military style REAL push-up by my 40th birthday.  Three weeks later, I did three!

Three months in, after running and working out three days a week in the company of my compatriots at WoW! Boot Camp, I felt better than I had ever felt about my body.  Not that it was getting thin–but I was getting STRONG.  I decided to jump on the bandwagon and sign myself up for a 5K.  

But to train for a 5K, I needed to increase my cardio training, which meant I would need to do some work on my own.  In the daylight.  Without my coach.  And someone who wasn’t also a member of the group might see me…exercising.  So my coach came up to me one morning (at 5:WTH30 in the morning) and asked if I had a training plan.  I stuttered, “Um, well, I thought I would start using the elliptical in my basement until I can do about 45 minutes worth because that will equate to about the same amount of effort…”  She looked at me sideways and said, “Nobody ever ran a 5K on an elliptical.  Why don’t you go outside and run?”  The immediate answer in my head was “Because someone might see me and laugh,” but I knew better than to say that to April.  I didn’t have an answer for her.  She suggested that I map out a 1.5 mile route from my house and go out and back, running as much as I could and walking the rest until I could work up to running the whole thing.  Easy Peasy.  

I was terrified to run in public because I felt like I needed a permission slip.  Wouldn’t “real” runners laugh at me if they saw in my $124 New Balance shoes and my double reinforced titanium running bra, size 40G (the G is for GOTDAMMM!)?  I took my dog with me so I could use him as an excuse to be out in public, taking up sidewalk, breathing the fresh air and pretending I was an athlete.  I started to run.  Just run.  I went at night so no one would see me, or on Sunday mornings when the mean people might be busy at church or still in jail.  

No test to pass.  No license to earn.  No membership card.  Just run.  

I finished my first 5K on a rainy Saturday morning.  I had to walk some.  Everyone there was nice to me.  I was scared to look over my shoulder during the race because I thought the only thing still behind me was the police car bringing up the rear.  But I did it and I was so proud of myself that I wore my number straight to a Weight Watchers meeting.  

So let this quote from John Bingham be your permission slip.  It doesn’t even have to be about running.  Replace the word “run” with sing, zip line, act, date, write, blog, swim, whatever you wish you had permission to do.  

Outrunning Crazy

This is an essay I wrote after running my first half marathon in November 2009.  I wrote it for the women in my boot camp group (WoW! Boot Camp) so some of the references are to our little group.  I sure do miss them.  The Atlanta Half is held on Thanksgiving morning and I highly recommend it if you’re thinking of trying a half…earn yer turkey!  

half finish.pngMy girlfriends at work asked for a picture from the Atlanta half marathon.  The only one I had with me was a screen grab from www.marathonfoto.com, so I attached it to an email and sent it out.  Jo replied, “We BELIEVE you ran it…you don’t have to stamp PROOF all over the picture!”  Duh.  We both got a good laugh out of that one.

But that kind of sums up the feelings I’ve had since crossing the finish line—I still need proof.  Marti asked if I had bought a 13.1 sticker for my car and I said, “No, I need to run a couple more before I advertise it on my car.”  I saw some cute shirts at the race expo (“I know I run like a girl—try to keep up.”) but I felt like a fraud about buying one.  I wore my medal to Thanksgiving dinner, but when my father complimented me on the achievement, I said, “Well, yeah, but I finished in a blistering 2:47.”  After my brother said, “I can’t believe you ran 13 miles this morning—that’s awesome!” I answered, “I didn’t run ALL of it; I had to walk up some of the bad hills.”  When the finish line picture arrived, my first thought wasn’t of the joy and pride I felt at that moment.  I didn’t see my smile.  It was more like, “OMG, my boobs look like they are trying to hide in my bellybutton!”

Yes, ladies, this is what a lifetime of Crazy sounds like.  Welcome to the inside of my head!  Anything sound familiar?

I spent $100 for an hour of therapy yesterday and our main topic was the Atlanta half marathon.  WHAT???  Have I honestly reached a point where I need a therapist to tell me that it’s OK to be proud of myself for doing something that was hard?  She reminded me that I have a teensy weensy old habit of thinking that nothing I ever do is good enough.  True.  That it only counts if it’s perfect.  Yeah.  That even if I run 13.1 miles, I didn’t run it quite fast enough, cute enough, smart enough….  OK, maybe she was on to something.  That did sound vaguely familiar, like she was channeling the voice of my first husband.  It’s a very old tape, maybe even an eight-track, that gets triggered in my head whenever I should be proud of myself—“Good job, Ashley, but it could have been better.”  The flip side of the tape plays when I even consider doing something that scares me—“Well, Ashley, don’t do it until you can do it perfectly.  People will know you for a fool.”  The greatest gift I’ve gotten from all those hours of therapy is the ability to hit the STOP button, skip tracks and play a new song.  Like Beyonce.  

So here’s what REALLY happened on race day.

  • I ran the first mile next to a squad of Marines.  Their cadence chant was about looking fine and feeling strong and I could have kissed every one of them on the mouth for getting those words into my head.
  • In the second mile, I talked to a woman who had only been running for two months.  It was her first race ever!  I encouraged her with all the things Michael harps on about running form—chin up, chest open, drive those elbows straight back, bend forward at your ankle, hold the baby bird eggs, in through the nose…
  • By mile three, so many people had passed me that I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was still back there.  I saw THOUSANDS of people and I giggled with glee.
  • Mile four and the towers of downtown Atlanta still looked as far away as the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.  But I had a target.  Just keep running.
  • I reached our hotel at mile five and there were G and Vivi, waiting in the middle of Peachtree Street to give me a hug.  Vivi sang her little song, “Go, Mommy, Go, Mommy, GoGoGo!”  I thought my heart would burst with joy.
  • Mile six, I passed a woman who was running for Leukemia Society’s “Team In Training.”  I thanked her for raising money for LLS and told her that I had lost my husband, Richard, to leukemia four years earlier.
  • Finally, at mile seven, I was starting to get tired!  I ate some of those sport jelly beans (I think the flavor was “Gag”) as I walked up that bitch of a hill in front of Piedmont Hospital.  I thought about popping in to McDonald’s for a large Diet Coke but decided that would be poor form.
  • Downhill for mile eight…whee!
  • Mile nine I heard Tami saying, “Loosey Goosey! Loosey Goosey!” so I flapped my arms over my head like a card-toting lunatic.
  • I slapped the mile marker sign on mile 10.  I had never covered more than 10 miles on training runs, so this was new territory.
  • In mile 11, downtown Atlanta, three women were chugging along in front of me. One moaned, “I can’t do it” and slowed to a walk.  I came up beside her and said, “I think you can.”  Another stranger yelled, “I think you’re already doing it!”  It felt like the way we help each other believe in ourselves in boot camp.  She went back to running.
  • At the start of mile 12, I got really emotional.  The crowds got larger and people cheered, “You’re almost there!”  My quads were screaming and I had to walk up the hill by the capitol.  I followed the course around a sharp left corner then looked up to see a small, dark-haired man standing on the sidewalk by himself.  He was wearing a Leukemia Society Team In Training coach shirt.  He looked a lot like my late husband and I started to cry right there in the middle of the street.  All I could think was:  “I can run.  I am still here.  I am alive.  Running 13 miles is not the scariest thing I’ve done in this life.”  I was grateful for how far I had come and I was filled with hope that I really was going to be able to do this.
  • I could see the 13 mile marker and I dug deep, shuffling my way up that long uphill bridge to Turner Field.  I. Would. Not. Walk.  I crested the hill under the Olympic rings.  The finish line was a few hundred yards away!  For the first time, I saw the clock and it read 2:59:11.  If I busted it, I could finish under three hours!  I took off like I had been shot out of a cannon.  I was running like Tami being chased by April.  My arms were pumping and I may have shoved a couple of people.  I streaked across the finish line at 2:59:21.  I had outrun crazy! 

Jovita reminded me later in the recovery area that I had actually run faster than that.  I forgot about subtracting my start differential!  I finished in 2:46:37, 7697th overall, 3647th for the women’s division and 449th in my age group!!!!!

miracleNow I have satisfied my homework assignment from therapy—I wrote this story.  I hereby own my accomplishment and say I AM PROUD OF MYSELF.  The shirt I should have bought at the expo said, “The miracle is not that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.”  I’m going to go out and buy myself a 13.1 sticker and I WILL put it on my car!

May we all own our victories and talk about them as much as we talk about our mistakes. 

It’s OK to succeed, it’s OK to try and it’s OK to do it imperfectly.  It’s OK to come in 7697th.

A Blue Bead for Boston

beaded necklace with all colorsMany years ago, so many that I can’t recall the name of the book or the author, I read about a method for seeing the pattern of your life from a grander perspective.  The idea is a simple one:  at the end of each day, imagine that you are stringing a colored glass bead onto a ribbon.  The ribbon is your life, stretching all the way back to the knot that was tied the day you were born.  The color of the bead represents how you felt on that one particular day.  A red bead for an angry day, when you spent your time feeling put out and put upon.  A green bead for the day when you were growing, when you could feel yourself becoming greater.  A blue bead for a day touched with sadness, a day when your heart was laid open to the world.  A gold bead for the perfectly balanced day, when your heart was blessed with joy and peace.

Once you have chosen a bead for the day and added it to the ribbon, you can look back to see the pattern they create.  I could look back and see the stretches of blue when Richard died that lightened into green when my life became whole again.  I could see how few red days are behind me, but how sharply they shout out for attention.  I could feel grateful for the gold days scattered here and there and there.  

Yesterday would have been a blue day.  A blue bead for Boston.

My boot camp coaches, April and Natalie, who finished yesterday’s race in 3:57, just minutes before the bombs exploded, have been robbed of their gold beads.  Their achievement should hold nothing but joy, but it will forever be darkened by violence.  There’s a boy in Boston who should have had a green day, after watching his dad finish something tough, but now the boy is dead and his father is left with a red bead, a blue bead, and many days before he will reach for a gold bead again.  How many people will mark April 15, 2013 as the first day they spent in a wheelchair?  Red and blue, red and blue; when will green return?

Today is also the anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.  Another of my former coaches, Stephanie, ran the Boston Marathon a year ago in memory of the 32 people murdered at Virginia Tech.  Her brother, Jamie Bishop, died there.  If I think about that tragedy too long, I reach for a red bead instead of blue.  Especially after Newtown.

So at the end of this day, pick a bead.  There will be blue days.  There will be red days.  But there are so many green days.  And just enough gold to make it all worthwhile.

Thank you to April, Natalie and Stephanie for all of the green days you have coached me through.  For the gold days when I finished a race that I never thought I would have the courage to start.