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Blood on the Sock January 24, 2010

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Job Search, Life, running.
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On my first attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I blew out my quads. A runner will turn his hat around when his goal is lost.

Here I am. After an 18 mile run I am in bed with a cold pack on my heel and a corn bag on my left thigh. I am a mess and this is only the beginning of the training for the Boston Marathon, my last bastion of freedom.

So I started out this morning, already sore in the heel (now thinking that it is the return of an old injury – Plantar Fasciitis) and new soreness in the knees. At mile nine, a quick stretch on each leg calmed the knee soreness but from there a malaise of pain gradually took over my lower body until around mile 15, when it felt like my legs were on fire. After the run, while slowly unraveling running gear (it was very hard to bend over) I discovered blood on the top of my sock where a persistent hot spot has opened up despite Body Glide ®, and taping. Yes, I am in sad shape and it is only the beginning.

I remember the training for my very first marathon. My buddies and I were experiencing a whole world of hurt that season. I was popping ibuprofen like it was candy. During the carb-loading pre-race dinner the night before the race, I made the grand pronouncement of, “Hey, maybe because we trained so well, it won’t hurt so bad.” My buddies, having run a marathon before, just laughed and laughed at that statement. They laughed again when I discovered that I was wrong – very wrong. I couldn’t go up or down stairs for a week.

I don’t know what is up with my thought process. Yes, I have embraced change. Yes, I am working hard on making my life the life I want. However, I always think, “Oh this will be easy.”  What the hell am I thinking?  My run in Boston this coming April will be my 7th marathon. You would think I would remember how painful the training is. It doesn’t get any easier, and now that I am 50, I have the age thing working against me.

At one point in my life I loved being able to say, “I have succeeded in everything I have done.” It was a hollow statement. I never challenged myself. I never thought that maybe if I took control of my life, I could make a better life. I was in an unsupported career, working with people who were not collaborative or open to new ideas. I ignored a relationship that had become nothing but a conciliatory, domestic partnership. I had the body of a 75 year old, wearing out before its time, and I didn’t care. Of course I am going to be successful accepting mediocrity and compromise. Anyone would. Things have changed. I have given myself monumental challenges in a quest to become the true me with a life better suited for me.  At one point I remember saying, “Changing careers will be a snap. Creating a relationship rich in intimacy, passion and commitment – no problem. Running marathons – bring it on.” Now it is mile 18 and I am feeling the pain.

Break it down into parts

Since the winter season dictates that I leave my bike on the rack, my cross training for this race is swimming. This will serve two purposes; Cross training for the marathon, and streamlining my stroke for a future triathlon this summer. My coach has us doing drills that break down the mechanics of swimming into individual elements. He has us focusing on each part in an effort to slowly rebuild a new, more “efficient forward propulsion,” as he describes it. Again, you guessed it, I found myself saying, “Oh! This  will be easy.” Wrong! I have completely forgotten how to swim! Rebuilding something new after years of doing it wrong is not easy. Frustratingly, painfully, incredibly difficult to say the least. Damn right.

“Rebuilding something new after years of doing it wrong,” that is what I am doing. I have to remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Breaking each element down into its smallest parts is the best way to approach this. I am not ready for the end result yet. I still need to tear it down, correct the misconceptions, practice each part, rebuild from scratch. You can’t rush the end result if the end result is to be successful. Patience and persistence will get me across the finish line when the time is right. Toss in a little blood on the sock as a reminder that this is not easy, but it is going to be worth it – someday.

We are all going to make it December 18, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Life, Love, Relationship.
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We just need to stay together in the dark.

A letter to my father December 15, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Job Search, Life, Love, Relationship.
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Dear Dad,

My Father

I know it has been a while. You died 11 years ago – May 10, 1988 – Mother’s Day. I remember it clearly. I held your hand. I told you it was ok. You can let go now. You took your last breath as I said goodbye.

I think of you often in these times – my time of change. I often wonder what you think of all of this. I know what you would have said when I left a secure career to accept a graduate assistantship. I am sure you would have told me it was folly on my part to even think I could change careers at my age. We would have argued I am sure. But Dad, I was dying. I was beating my head against the wall trying to maintain an engaging and effective program with no financial or administrative backing. More and more I found myself alone in a worthy cause within an unworthy institution. It became damaging to my soul and body and it was killing me.

I know it hasn’t worked out for me yet Dad. You would probably tell me, “I told you so” at this point. But look what I am doing. I am in a functional institution working with people equally committed to the vision and mission. I am challenged and engaged. I feel like I am making a difference in the outcome. Ok, yes I am not making any money and I am in serious financial stress, living in a back room, watching my pennies, worried about my children’s happiness and welfare. But Dad, I can’t wait to get up in the mornings! I love to go to work. I can’t wait to engage with intelligent, professional people. I now feel like I make a difference.

The best part is that I have learned so much about myself and my new field by going back to school, earning a new degree and working in a new environment. It will carry me dad. I am not done but only starting. I have tremendous potential and all I have to do is wait until someone gives me a chance to prove myself. I know I can do this and I know I can do this well. You watch, you will be proud of me Dad. Just give me some time.

My new career path is one thing Dad. I really feel I am making headway on that. Personally, I don’t know. I am a mess Dad. Here is where I need your help the most. I have been burned. I have been used. I have been lied to. I have been cheated on. It seems almost like I am being punished. Oh I know I am not lily white in all of this either. You had your problems with relationships too. It must be the curse of our line. What is it with us? Why can’t we get it right? I do think that your problems and my problems are different in this matter. Regardless, it would be helpful to me to be able to compare notes with you. It seems so easy for people. What is it with me? Is it a trust issue? Is it an issue of not being able to open my heart to anyone after having it ripped to pieces so many times? I am scared Dad. Maybe I am someone who is just meant to be alone. Maybe this suits me.

I am now on the edge Dad. There is a major opportunity before me. It is right in front of me Dad. I am scared, excited, horrified and thrilled all at the same time. Change, whether good or bad, is always scary. However, if there is one thing I have learned in the past five years it is to embrace change and let it take you. Only in this can new worlds appear. I am going for this Dad. I am heading straight into it with full steam. It will give me extreme challenges that will test me and allow me to grow.

I hope you are watching. I hope you are paying attention Dad. I am going to make you proud. You will see me for who I am, not for what other people think I should be. I am slowly breaking free of chains.

I am gradually becoming…. Me

Your Son

Keep swimming, you never know where the tide will bring you December 6, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Job Search, Life, Love, Relationship.
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Proceed with cautionWhen a person gets caught in a riptide, the natural reaction is to try to swim directly against it to get back to shore. At first it seems like the easiest, most logical way to save himself. Fear is a powerful force and in the face of death, the mind reacts instinctively to find what it thinks is the easiest solution to get to safety. Unfortunately, swimming against the current it is the worst thing a person can do. Eventually the swimmer becomes exhausted and drowning is inevitable.

The ending of a marriage or long-term relationship, the death of a loved one, job loss, diagnosis of a disease, mid-life crisis – good or bad, change is scary and people tend to react instinctively. When people are thrust into change, whether it by external circumstances or self inflicted, there is fear, anxiety, depression, and aggression. A person instinctively makes quick reactions to deal with the struggle. They fight the tide and thrash about to the point of exhaustion. It can take the form of hiding in drugs or alcohol. It can be quick fix tactics such as shady business deals or gambling. It can be short-term ego boosters like a one-night stand or a quick marriage. The tactics are as endless as they are destructive. At this point they see no other way. They just keep trying to swim against the current.

All a person needs to do to survive a riptide is to let it carry him out until it no longer has a grip on him. At that point the maneuver is to swim parallel to the shore to gain distance from the original danger and find another avenue to return to safety.

To be able to let change carry you away from comfort and familiarity is numbing and difficult to do. It takes courage. Letting go of what we know to enter a world of uncertainty takes strength. However, this is the best way to see new opportunities. Only then can change be assessed and evaluated to plan for its management and eventual solution. When the waters clear, fresh viewpoints can be seen.

Once the swimmer is away from the danger, they can then turn in toward shore and begin their trek back to the beach. This may not be a direct course since other riptides can be encountered and a return to the open sea will be necessary before another attempt can be made. However, the swimmer now sees that this is the right course of action and it is only a matter of timing and placement before he is successful in his return.

With new viewpoints and pro-active ventures, change can now facilitate a gentle move back to normalcy. This can take the form of further education to learn a new skill, a move to a new community, a new relationship based on trust, friendship, and love, a fresh commitment to health and fitness, a new and challenging career. Other strategies may involve timing. Sometimes the best solution is to wait it out and find the right moment to begin the swim back. Moving too early may throw you right back out to sea. Moving too late can be a missed opportunity. There will still be false starts and abrupt stops. There will be missed opportunities and there will be distractions that lead down the wrong path. Regardless, the strategies and attempts are now proactive and each failure can be learned from. Failures are a way of testing the waters.

Once the swimmer discovers the right path back to shore, the successful swim is made. They find themselves standing safely on shore. However, by swimming parallel to the shore to find the best path back, they have landed on a completely different section of the beach. A much better place from where they started.

With persistence, strength, patience, and growth, a person in change will find solution. However, in most cases, they land in a completely different world from where they came from. Their experience has brought them to new surroundings and new possibilities. They have come to a land better suited to the person they have become for in the time of challenge and struggle comes growth and wisdom. Not only will they have substance to carry them through the next darkness but they will have the gift of deeper understanding to share with others who cross their paths on the way to their own new world.

I know and love so many people in change today. I know they are struggling and are dealing with pain.  I want them to always, always remember…

Keep swimming, you never know where the tide will bring you.

“In order to discover new lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – anonymous

On the outside looking in December 3, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Health, Holiday, Job Search, Life, Love.
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He was faced with death at an impressionable age.   His sister committed suicide last year. He found her body covered in blood as it drained out of her wrists. It became difficult to follow the mainstream after that. With no guidance or grounding to morn in a healthy way, drugs and alcohol are used to temper the agony.  Rehab and counseling can only do so much.

She is on her own now. Her husband of 20 years died last year. His pension died with him and now it is only social security. The mortgage is due. The heat is off. The electricity is next. She misses him terribly.

She is a single mom with three beautiful children. Between caring for her children and working two jobs back to back (overlapping three days with two shifts,) she is lucky to have one Friday night every two weeks to call her own.  She worries endlessly about having the resources to keep her family fed, clothed, dry and warm. She calls it a good day when her car is still in the driveway and has not been repossessed. She is dealing with a relentless ex-husband who is constantly dragging her into court to shirk his responsibilities to his children and to generally make her life miserable because he can afford to and she can’t.  She has dealt with two bouts of cancer and fears every upcoming appointment and what it may find. She is tired, stressed, overworked and living day to day, dollar to dollar.

He is dependent on drugs to be able to cope with life. His fears and anxieties are about life in general. He can no longer work. He lives on social security alone. His loving parents are long gone, the rest of his family has abandoned him. He lives in an upstairs apartment but incapable of caring for his immediate space. He sleeps most of the time. He has lost faith in love, connection, and life. He is trapped in an internal struggle with his own soul.

She is in a loveless marriage. With three young children there is nowhere else to be. She has no means to support herself and her children without him. He has her trapped and he knows it. There is verbal and sexual abuse. There is an allowance issued. The odometer is checked every week. The phone bill is monitored. She is a prisoner only for her children.

She has lost family and friends. It seems like everything she loves dies. She lives in the pain that it may be her fault. She is afraid to love again. She is lonely. She is alone.

He was laid off last year. Unemployment is ending soon and there are no opportunities in sight. He is too old and too broke to go back to school to learn new skills. His children have families of their own and are having problems themselves. The bills are piling up. He no longer owns a car. He is about to lose his home.

Merry Christmas

The Finish November 27, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Job Search, running.
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Finish Strong

Wineglass Finish/Boston Qualifier 2008

The most difficult part of any race for me is when I see the finish line in the distance. For some reason, knowing I am that close after such a punishing pace only raises the anxiety. What if I come short? What if I don’t have what it takes to make my goal? Has the training been good enough to bring me there? Do I have enough experience?

I turn the corner and see it. Through the haze, through the masses of people screaming at me, “You are almost there!  You can do it! Don’t give up now!” I see it… and it scares the hell out of me.

I have been here several times before – very close to my goal. I can see it. I can taste it. It is invigorating to think I have come this far and all of a sudden the finish line is just in front of me. But I have been here before, and I have come up short.

I have done everything correctly. I trained hard and long. I planned and ran the race perfectly. I endured the pain through all the miles. Now I see it and I know I just have to hang on for a few more minutes and I will have my PR. All I have to do now is cross the finish line. Do I have enough? Will this be the finish that I have been waiting for?

Years and years of preparation, pain, study, more pain, miscues. Yes, I have been this close before only to come short of my goal. In this kind of race they only give out a first place ribbon. Finishing second or third only postpones the pain until the next opportunity, if there even is another opportunity.

My anxiety rises, my focus waivers. Seeing the finish line does this to me. To be this close yet so far away crushes me when I know this is where I need to be the strongest. “Push through the pain! You can do this asshole,” I scream at myself. “Don’t fuck this up, it is right there in front of you. Take it!”

I am again very close to my end. I have done everything right despite the pain involved. I went back to school. I finished top of my class with a 4.0 GPA. I took every opportunity afforded me. I have prepared for just this moment. I have been at this point before and faltered. Now I have another chance – another opportunity to cross that finish line. I must finish strong this time. There is no room for error. This one has to end perfectly.

I am almost there. The finish banner comes into focus. My chest is about to burst. My legs are numb. Every ounce of energy I carried is now gone. I am running solely on adrenalin. Time slows down. I see the crowds screaming but I no longer hear them. I am gasping for anything that will enter my mouth and nose. I am seconds away. I am so close now… so close…

Mountains and Molehills November 14, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Friendship, Life, Relationship.
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Mountains and MolehillsI recently had a light discussion about need with my good friend Nicki. The discussion centered around how difficult it is for a friend to admit that they need a friend in their life. I am one to tell it like it is. You have heard me say it before in this forum. I need friends. I need connections and I am not shy about telling somebody that I need and want them in my life. However, last night, I discovered a whole new dimension to need. It is one thing to need people in your life; it is another to be needed.

By circumstance or by divine fate, a friend of mine reached out to me last night. She was in crisis mode and needed me. I new the signs very well because I have been there myself. It was just a struggle for her to cope in the moment. Breath to breath felt like an eternity. She reached out and I was there. Sometimes a friend just needs someone to listen and that is enough. I felt needed. During that time of connection with her in this struggle, I lost myself and my mountains became insignificant little molehills compared to the pain that she was in. I became immersed in the pain with her. I was one with her. By the end of the evening she found ground and re-emergence of time and place. For the time being, her struggle was manageable. I felt honored that I was a part of bringing her back to this world and in this, my own struggle had taken a hiatus.

I have not felt this way in a long time.  Lately I have been wrapped up in my own need for connection but have not had much opportunity to be and feel needed. The two don’t come close to having the same emotional effect. Feeling needed by someone will trump the need for someone every time.  It instantly makes your mountains turn into trivial little molehills.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

The World is a Waiting Lover October 25, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Love, Relationship.
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Waiting Lover

Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is more common phenomenon than we would like to admit. For centuries, unrequited love has been the main staple for sonnets, poems, art, music and literature. Just go to the movie theater. There will be at least one movie playing that centers around one-sided passion. Turn on the radio. I will bet you that you will hear at least one song within the first three played that explains the pain of loneliness at the hands of another.

Trebbe Johnson’s, “The World is a Waiting Lover: Desire and the Quest for the Beloved” is an artful and thoughtful rationalization of pain and subsequent resolution of unrequited love that both William Shakespeare and Carl Jung would both endorse. Johnson, using personal experiences and reflection, uses colorful and descriptive narration as the brush for infusing Jungian psychological philosophy into this emotionally riddled topic.

The basic lesson that Johnson continuously accentuates in her literary journey is that unrequited love can be a mirror to find a new and unique affection for Self. Self is defined by Carl Jung as the inner spirit – what we would more commonly call the soul. Jung explains that the Self is the “regulating center of the psyche and the archetype of wholeness.” Johnson, for reasons you will see as you read the book, calls Jung’s Self, the “Beloved.”

If allowed, the pain associated with this experience can cloud our immediate lives. It can manifest in lack of sleep, stress, loss of productivity, withdrawal from family and friends, weight loss or weight gain and much more. However, Johnson explains that when we struggle with the phenomenon of unrequited love, the longed-for person actually serves as our “Escort to the Beloved.” In loving someone who is unavailable or unwilling to return the same type of affection, one can find a reconnection with Self through that person.

Johnson takes a step back at one point in the book to explain that throughout history there have always been references to a spiritual guide. Socrates taught that a semi-divine guardian called a Daimon accompanies us all. He argued that the Daimon knows exactly why we were born and continuously nudges us into making appropriate choices to fulfill our destiny; our path to heaven, so to speak. The Ancient Christian church, true to form, was not liking the idea of having such a helpful hand to heaven since that was solely the job of the sanctioned priest. So the propaganda from the church twisted the idea that the Daimon was not the guide to heaven but indeed the leader to hell and renamed it the Demon.  The Daimon lived on in the secular world however, as the Muse, the personification of artistic inspiration.  Artists to this day talk about their Muse and the different forms in which it appears.

The experience of unrequited love is powerful. It drives people inward to search themselves and find who they really are. It makes them think deeply about attraction, connection, and passion. Johnson, in alluring personal experiences and thoughts, grabs this two-dimensional struggle and morphs it into a three-dimensional spiritual journey. I strongly urge anyone currently struggling with the un-affections of another, to read this spiritually provoking and powerful guide.

Related readings;

Brehony, K. (1996). Awakening at midlife. NY: Riverhead Books.

Stein, M. (2006). Jung’s map of the soul: An introduction. Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

Trust in the training – Respect the distance October 18, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, running.
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Leaf PeeperI ran the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon in Cortland this morning. It was a beautiful crisp fall day and plenty of miles to keep everyone happy.  I also met some very wonderful people. The running community is so supportive and friendly. Many, like me are just out there for the base-line goal – to stay healthy.

I have to admit however that running has become something more to me. Running, in particular, marathon running has taught me so many things that I can apply to my life. These are just a few:

Train for the distance – Every runner knows that achieving goals don’t happen by chance. There is hard work that needs to be done. Most of us design our own training plan or use a pre-designed one by a professional runner or organization. A comprehensive training plan not only includes a running schedule but also rest, nutrition, hydration, injury prevention, and mental preparation need to be addressed. I knew I had a long way to go if I was going to complete my “life marathon” so I went back to college and received a second master’s degree. I accepted every opportunity that was offered to me in order to receive the best “training” possible for my new career goals. I prioritized my daily tasks and eliminated non-essential activities. I balanced my life socially, physically, emotionally, and culturally so that I nurtured body, mind, and soul. Now I am running the race and someday I am going to cross that finish line.

Pace yourself – Runners know the concept of negative splits. This basically means, start slow-end fast. Take your time and assess as you run. Read your body and always respect the distance to the finish line. Patience has never been my strong point. I can’t tell you how many times I have hit the wall because I went out too fast in the beginning. I expect instant results and consequently always end up disappointed with the outcome when I get cocky and run too fast. You must take your time and respect the distance. Life change always takes longer than you think. It is important to stay calm, conserve energy, and assess the situation. I have a lot to learn in this category.

Teamwork – many who are not part of the running community look at this sport as a solitary venture. Nothing can be further than the truth. You need people to support you. There are the running buddies who train with you, the friends who support you, the runners you meet up with on the course to share the experience with, the support staff at the water stations. On top of that, after my marathons I personally need a recovery support coach at the finish line to walk me around and keep me moving as well as make sure I eat and drink. This is very important for recovery and I am not very cooperative in the procedure as my past recovery coaches can attest to (many thanks to Polly, Ginny, and Nicki over the past 6 years for putting up with me.) My life marathon is no different. My friends have been a leveler for me. When I hit a wall, they are there to console me and tell me to get up and try again. When I achieve, they are there to celebrate with me but also to warn me not to get too cocky.  When I am impatient, they wait with me and tell me it won’t be forever.  No one can do this alone.

Pain is only temporary – In running, as in life, pain is always a factor. I tanked out at mile nine today and the pain was evident, believe me! Life has its pain too. There are financial problems, medical problems, relationship problems, career problems, etc… The key is to know that it won’t be forever. Things will change. When the race is over, the pain dissipates, and there is always a sense of accomplishment at the finish line. The key is to start the race, put one foot after the other, and finish. Push through the pain. It is only temporary.

And the most important lesson I have learned…

You can do anything you put your mind to – This is actually a psychological theory called Locus of Control which refers to what people perceive as determining factors of their life situation. Some feel it is all by chance and controlled by outside influences (the “life is a box of chocolates” wisdom from Forrest Gump’s mother.)  Some feel that they have control of their life and it is all determined by their own efforts and behaviors.

You have to believe that you can run a marathon before you can. You must know it as fact that whatever you put your mind to, you can do. This is called Intrinsic Locus of Control. [See The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer – Whitsett, Dolgener & Kole, for more information on the use of Locus of Control for marathon training. I used this book as my training guide for my first marathon.]

For years I settled into a mediocre life because I felt that I had no control over my circumstances. I was also terribly afraid of change and figured that I was better off if I just stayed where I was in life. Now, because of marathoning, I know I can change my life as well. I believe it can happen. Yes, it takes training, pacing, pain, and teamwork, but it can be done.

I am running my “life marathon” now and I am close to that finish line. I just have to remember to trust in the training and respect the distance.

I would be interested in hearing from readers about what you have learned from running. Leave me a comment and share.