Scared of My Own Shadow

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow

Miles run yesterday: 10

New pair of running shoes bought yesterday (post-run): 1

Time I wake up to run three times a week (Saturdays, we run later): 5:15

Two things I will tell you about running at 5:15 a.m.:

1. It’s cold.

2. It’s dark. After Daylight Savings Time started, super-dark.

Always a staunch supporter of Daylight Savings Time, I am now a hater. Well, a disliker.

Of course, I’ve done training before in the early morning. I trained for my very first half-marathon several years ago with 5:15 a.m. runs, back when my husband left early for work, and my kids were tiny. My husband ran after work, and I got the before-work slot.

That time around, it was a June-December training cycle, and early morning was definitely the way to go to avoid ghastly 98-degree heat.

But this time, did I mention that it’s dark and cold?

And sometimes, I’ll be running along, doo-de-doo-de-doo… minding my own business, and I pass under a pinky-white streetlight in my neighborhood… Psssst! Darkness!  No more light. Poof!

It’s unnerving.

Here are the people awake when I am:

1. Tired parents of middle and high school students who attend school far away. They sit in their cars with the headlights on and the engines running until the bus squeals to a stop along the main thoroughfare.

2. Tired but devoted dog-walkers.

3. People still in their pajama pants who have thrown on a fleece sweatshirt and just started sleep-walking down the street. They do not wave.

4. The occasional runner wearing a bobbing, laser-pointer light thingie.

5. Me.

Perks to running at 5:15 a.m.:

1. I never have a problem crossing a street. Never. Not once.

2. I don’t have to wear sunscreen.

3. I don’t have to breathe in car fumes, extending my lung life by .6 years.

4. I don’t have to worry that my shirt isn’t tucked in right or if my hair is sticking out.

5. Like so many people in America, I might have been sleeping way, way too much. There is no worry about that now. No sirree.

So anyway, one day in my first week of running in the middle of the night, I was rounding a corner near my favorite grocery store. The stoplights in the intersection behind me were flashing from red to green. I was on fire. Well… I was plodding along.

When BOOM! A large shadow loomed out of the towering bushes in front of me.

EEEEEEK!

Heart palpitations, sucking in of breath, fear.

Yeah. You may have guessed:

It was my own shadow, looming towards… myself.

Boy, did I feel stupid. And it brings to mind so many existential, high-brow questions…

Am I afraid of myself?

Do I have anything to fear but fear itself?

Why am I out running at 5:15 when most God-fearing people are tucked up in bed?

If I run a 9-minute mile from here to home, what time will I eat breakfast?

Coffee?

I have learned so many things about myself from my early morning runs. So many important, life-altering things.

Mostly: I like warm weather. And light.

And also: I still love and need to run.

What about you? When you’ve made a major life transition, what have you learned about  yourself?

Running and Life: A By-No-Means Comprehensive Analysis of the Similarities

Another way running is like life: there are always fast people at the front. Run your own race.

Another way running is like life: there are always fast people at the front. Run your own race.

Miles run today: 11

Pints of blood I gave on Monday: 1

Number of people one pint of blood can save: 3

[My plug for giving blood: I read a statistic that only 37 percent of American adults are even eligible for giving blood. Please give. You never know when you or a loved one may become a recipient.]

As we headed out on our weekly 11-miler this morning, I was reminded yet again of how much running mirrors life. Or really, how much life mirrors running. You can insert your favorite form of exercise in place of running here ______ if it makes you feel better.

1. The biggest obstacle is your front door. If your body has learned to crave exercise, you do look forward to a workout in much the same way some people crave Goodberry’s ice cream.

But there is writing to do. And there are toilets to clean. And warm, snuggly clothes to wear in the winter, blissful air conditioning in the summer. When you drag yourself out of the house, fingers bent around the door frame in protest, and make yourself start exercising, everything gets easier.

Life is like that, too. You probably won’t be enthusiastic about every single opportunity. Make yourself do it anyway.

2. You may lack the ability to see the big picture. My BFF gets mad at me every time we go on a long run.

The scene: Out in front of her house, me jumping nimbly out of the car like a superhero. (Ha!)

Me: You’re wearing your insulating rain jacket, a long-sleeved shirt, a tank top and leggings? You do realize it’s almost 60 degrees, right?

Her: Oh, you know it doesn’t bother me to just tie my jacket around my waist. No biggie.

Me: Are you sure?

Her: Yes. Now, can we go?

Me: As long as you’re sure.

Her: [Sigh usually made by teenagers in the presence of their moms.]

One mile into the run.

Her: Yep. I knew I’d be taking this thing off. [Delivered in a sing-songy, upbeat voice while tying jacket tidily around waist on top of water bottle belt.]

Three miles into the run.

Her: Okay. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore! Argh! [Delivered in a slightly grumpier tone while pulling off long-sleeved shirt and tying it less neatly around waist on top of jacket and water bottle belt.] Now I look like Paula Broadwell but with worse muscle tone!

Me: Your arm muscle tone is a paragon of perfection.

Nine miles into run.

Her: Seriously. The next time you allow me to leave my house with half of my running wardrobe on, I will kill you.

Me: I think I may have mentioned…

Her: No you didn’t. You just said, “You’re wearing a jacket?” And then I wore it. And it’s all your fault.

Me: When is our wine night again?

3. You can always do more than you think you can. Whenever you think you want to stop running, and your legs are tired, and your lungs are tired, and various parts of your body feel like they may fall off, you can keep going.

It’s crazy, but I’ve seen it happen again and again.

So hop off of this blog and go get that work done. Finish your novel or go for a bike ride or learn all about LinkedIn in a free webinar.

4. As much as everyone (including me) touts “living in the moment,” there is something incredibly satisfying about living through the moment and being finished. Hindsight is a delicious reward. For some reason, when we are finished with our run, the one where we talk constantly for an entire morning (or what feels like an entire morning), my BFF doesn’t want to hang around and talk to me more.

I’m pretty sure it’s because I stink.

But also, there is the blissful hot shower beckoning from inside the house.

And there is the satisfaction of checking that long run off the list.

Life is like that, too. Sometimes, especially if you are a storyteller, the best part is recapping the entire thing for posterity. Enhancing the best moments and editing out the less-than-stellar.

Unless your life is like DisneyWorld all the time. And in that case, I hope you continue to have a magical day.

What activity does your life most resemble? Do share. I find your comments both magical and satisfying.

Do You Want a Shake With That?

I love the bright yellow of the Lady Banks Rose against the gray sky.

Words written in my novel so far: 46,650

Miles run in Saturday’s 5K: 3.1

Place in my age group: 1 (I told all of the other people to stay home.)

Two takeaways from today’s post:

1. Try not to shake your booty to “Now That We Found Love” by HeavyD & The Boyz. Crank it up and just try to stand still.

2. To inspire trust in others, shake your booty.

So my BFF and I were standing at the edge of the Tobacco Trail on Saturday morning, at a time when normal people are sleeping or watching the Today show or drinking their first cups of coffee.

It was a return to the scene of the crime: March 2011, our first (and only) marathon to date. The sun was coming up, the air was crisp, people were standing around with bib numbers pinned to their chests, and I was struggling with PTSD.

But then we walked over to the Start line, and HeavyD & The Boyz were telling me that we’d found love. What were we gonna do with it?

“Seriously. You can stop dancing now,” my BFF said under her breath.

But I couldn’t. Because they played every dance song from every club night I’d had during my college years: “100% Pure Love,” “What Is Love?,” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “Groove Is In The Heart”…

How could I stand there and be cool, indifferent to the mind-bending lyrics: “Gonna make you sweat til you bleed/Is that dope enough? Indeed.”

So I shook it.

And I’m telling you: people trust someone who is shaking it.

People kept walking up, asking sheepishly, “Would you?,” handing me their iPhones and asking me to take their pictures. I mean, handing me their prized iPhones was akin to them letting me hold their ears or their extra appendages or something.

My mind might have been screaming “gormless,” (photo subjects kept explaining with very specific gestures, “THIS IS THE BUTTON YOU PRESS TO TAKE A PICTURE.” It was a camera. Who knew?)

But my body was screaming “trustworthy.”

Obviously, my dancing makes people want me to… stop.

Back in middle school, we had units of learning in P.E.: archery, softball, soccer, aerobics, square dancing… yes, square dancing.

You may get a complete picture of my super-cool middle school career by my telling you that I was on the winning square dancing team for all three years. Yep. It’s true.

The couple of weeks of square dancing usually took place in the winter, and we huddled in the gym in our shorts and t-shirts, anxiously anticipating the prospect of hand-holding with the opposite sex and acting goofy in front of half of the sixth grade class.

In sixth grade, I went into the square dancing set-up with a “stay cool” attitude, much like that of my peers. No cute boys ended up in my square dancing circle, but maybe that was for the best. I could concentrate on the cute boys in other groups as I spun and twirled with a nonchalant, sophisticated demeanor.

But it was a competition. And there was music.

So when “Red River Gal” incited us to get country-wild, our group decided to attack the competition with ironic abandon. Boys with sweaty hands swung and do-si-doed and twirled with me. They were definitely cuter when they were dancing. All that was missing was the cowboy boots.

At least, that was the idea.

It was nice to win, even something as uncool as square dancing. And honestly, I was uncool in so many other ways, I don’t think the square dancing counted against me in any significant way.

(Except that it was years before a boy wanted to hold my hand outside of square dancing. Years, people.)

In both running and dancing, I have learned:

1. You can love to do something, but it doesn’t always translate into insane ability.

2. A good beat goes a long way.

3. If you shake your booty, people will trust you, even with their valued appendage-extensions.

I am wondering how all of this will translate into a job interview situation. Thoughts?

Is there a song that implores you to shake your booty? Do people around you beg you to stop? Or do they ask you to demonstrate the latest dance moves?

The Acquisition of Accoutrements

You should see the accoutrements we require for a trip to the beach.

Miles run yesterday: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 41,412

Accoutrements my husband has acquired so far for the nifty new sport of triathlon-ing: 7

Never let it be said that my husband does things halfway. No sir.

So when he mentioned, back in the spring, that he was going to run a marathon, my first thought was, “I am going to know more about marathons than the entire staff of Runner’s World magazine, combined, by the end of the year.”

A veritable spreadsheet of numbers spilled out of his mouth each time he returned from a run, along with a laundry list of minor aches and pains.

“Well, today I went out hoping to take it slowly, at an 8:30 pace, but the weather was a balmy 65 degrees, so I picked up the pace near the main road, to about 7:26, then tried to take it down a notch to an 8:02 pace by the turnaround.”

I might have mentioned before that numbers are not really my thing.

He also expressed disbelief that his body hurt. At times, a lot. There were colorful descriptions, often peppered with bad words and rather pitiful expressions.

In the midst of all of the marathon prep, he decided he was going to start competing in triathlons. You might wonder: why start training for one’s first triathlon, nay, an Ironman triathlon, in the midst of one’s first marathon training?

I asked that very same question.

In the ’80s, my parents would have labeled this a mid-life crisis, speaking with friends in hushed tones reserved for cancer and mental illness.

But today, mid-life crises require accoutrements. Or at least, my husband’s mid-life crisis does.

So far, his mid-life crisis triathlon training has required the purchase of:

1 super bike

1 pair of tight, well-padded bike shorts

1 bike helmet

1 bike pump

1 (better) bike seat

1 pair of Daniel Craig-esque swim shorts (!)

1 kickboard

Still remaining to be purchased:

1 DVD to learn how to swim, total immersion-style

1 pair of flippers

1 swim cap

1 buoy to hold your legs up while you practice breathing

1 tight bike shirt to look like a real cyclist

I should report that he is a real cyclist already, becoming one with the bike in a way I have never and will never achieve. The bike’s moving parts would seem to me to be accoutrements aplenty, but then again, I am not a triathlete and have no intimate knowledge of the psyche of such an animal.

But he does look cute in the swim shorts.

And now, I must return to the accoutrements with which I am most familiar: pen, notebook, computer keyboard. Please note that these wonderful devices require no number-crunching and will never “rest” in the garage while my body recovers.

Can I Get An Amen? Catch the Exercise Bug.

Our version of a Rave Run in Boone, NC, a few years ago.

Miles run today: 10

Temperature at 9:30 a.m.: 80

Bunnies spotted on our run: 6 (yay!)

I may have a teensy problem with evangelizing. About exercise.

My parents get a glazed look in their eyes when they comment on being stressed or aching or feeling overwhelmed. The first thing I ask is, “Have you exercised lately?”

They roll their eyes. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me a preview of parenting teenagers.

In my opinion, I’m not as bad as, say, my running partner or my husband. They may be out at a store or at the pool or at a cocktail party, and the conversation goes like this:

Clerk: You get an extra bag of cheese free with the purchase of two bags.

My running partner/BFF: Well, that sure will help with my sodium levels after my 15 mile run this morning!

Or:

Poor random pool-goer: Wow! This is some wonderful weather we’ve been having!

My husband: Yeah, it’s been great when I get up at 5 a.m. and run 13 miles before you’ve rolled out of bed.

I’m embellishing a tad, but not much.

I love my running, but I’m convinced that if I weren’t running, I’d pick up another exercise obsession hobby. Trying to keep me away from exercise would be like trying to keep me away from orange juice/sweet tea/wine. (Wow. Seeing that in print makes me sound like an addict. Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the truth hurts.)

Middle school P.E. might have been the origin of my exercise love. For anyone who has read some of my earlier posts, I gravitate towards activities that stimulate me socially.

And by stimulating me socially at the middle school level, what I really mean is: there were boys there. Lots of boys. And I liked boys.

P.E. became my favorite subject.

I mean, I wrote papers on Edgar Allan Poe and learned about Virginia Dare and stuff, but let’s be real: there were boys in P.E.

We did units on aerobics and archery, kickball and soccer, even square dancing and this cool dance thing with two long bamboo poles we got to bang together on the floor while people danced in between them. I still wonder how I kept my ankles intact for that one.

After we got dressed out in the locker rooms where my friend Kim would sing, “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones every day for all of sixth grade, we had to sit on the gym floor in set spaces determined by the P.E. teachers at the beginning of the year. It went boy-girl-boy-girl, and the idea was that we were far apart from each other that we couldn’t touch.

The boy who sat directly in front of me was named Geoff, and he was a swimmer. Have you seen how fit swimmers are? Most of the girls thought he was pretty cute. And for the first five minutes of P.E., he was mine. One time, Geoff touched my leg, and I was incredibly glad I had shaved my legs that day.

In today’s world, it would be sexual harassment. In the mid-’80s middle school world, it was pretty cool.

When we broke off for special units with our groups, our group might head to the kickball field. Boys would always get chosen to be captains, and out of about 20 kids, I was chosen roughly twelfth. I had long, gangly legs, and I was in good shape.

However, I had absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever. And the boys usually forgot this fact each time teams were chosen.

There was then a moment during the kickball game or softball practice when they realized they had made an egregious error. By then, it was too late.

I would say it was part of my wicked plan, but I had no such plan. I kind of just wanted to run around and be on a team with boys.

Later on, when I was in high school, I didn’t have time for exercise. And I had back problems and stress problems and lack of muscle tone problems.

But when I took up running as an adult, I started feeling so much better. Exercise is a good balance for someone like me whose chosen work and fun activity consists of sitting in a desk chair.  I wish I could say my legs are still long and gangly, but I would be lying.

And I wish I could say I’ve outgrown the boy craziness. But I haven’t.

If my husband would let me run with him all the time, I probably would. When he allows me to accompany him tag along behind him, he has this moment during the run when he realizes he’s made an egregious error. And then he doesn’t ask me to go with him for a while.

Until the next time. Ha! He gets sucked into my wicked plan.

When Squirrels Attack

Coming to a suburb near you.

Days left in the school year: 3

Potential fiction writing hours available until then: 3, max

Cadbury’s mini-eggs on standby: 9… no, 8

The suburbs are rife with animals… animals who look innocent but aren’t.

Although we don’t have mountain lions, which freak me out from several states over, we have smaller natural elements close by that give us suburbanites that rush of adrenaline some might swim with sharks to achieve.

My neighbor would know. While puttering around his yard, he has been visually assaulted by snakes, crickets, chipmunks and bunnies. One day, he might be ridding the world of weeds, reach to pull back some shrubbery, and look out… BABY BUNNY!

He is certain that small creatures seek him out for their own cruel pleasure.

A feral cat now named Oreo has taken up with this same neighbor’s family after years of surviving bitter winters and fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement summers. Oreo is either A.) ticked that she’s been given the sissy name Oreo or B.) wants to show her love and affection or C.) is trying to avenge these small animal attacks. She leaves small “gifts” on our neighbor’s front porch. They represent a cross-section of the creatures who have wronged our neighbor. Coincidence, you think? Discuss.

Squirrels are a repeat offender in the ‘burbs. My running partner is convinced that squirrels are plotting to leap onto her back as she runs. We have had to nix the greenway runs because a large portion of the time is spent with her yelling, “SQUIRREL!” as a cute, fluffy-tailed squirrel scampers across the trail in front of us.

I used to think she was being silly.

But then our families spent several hours out at a local lake, and the squirrels there seemed to taunt my friend as she sat innocently sipping ice water. The squirrel contingent hovered at the edge of the woods, calling out to each other with little squirrelly squeaks, their tails twitching, lurching forward every now and then to get a reaction. I swear they were laughing.

We went out for our long run last week which takes us past posh mansions on the golf course and less well-kept homes with decaying fences, the kind that squirrels like especially much. (The bent and twisted fence boards provide more challenge for them than well-maintained, regularly-spaced wrought iron.)

So here I was, on the right hand side of the sidewalk, near the fence. My friend was running on the left, right next to the cars. You might think she was in more danger. You would be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

I was chattering away, telling a story about being in Florida as a kid and riding in a boat at some attraction where there were monkeys on these islands that creeped me out. Trust me, it was a great story. Scintillating. I was wrapped up in it, thinking about the monkeys and imagining them waving at me…

When a squirrel bounded onto the fence mere inches from my face! It was squeaking, and its claws! They were loud and scratchy on the wood! Like a monkey’s would be! (Do monkeys have claws?)

Well, technically, it was a few feet away, but still. It felt close. Too close.

I grabbed my friend’s very sweaty arm with my very sweaty hand. It was a very close call between pushing us both to the ground in front of a car or surrendering to the hostile squirrel.

Sweat won out.

The collision of sweat brought me back to my senses.

Pfffft. Seriously. It was just a squirrel. I checked behind us. Did anyone see that? That moment when I considered biting the asphalt to avoid a squirrel attack? No?

I haven’t ended up on YouTube yet, so I guess I’m safe. And let’s get real: at least it wasn’t a baby bunny.

Joe Likes Pizza! and One Big Thing

Focus. Just don’t annoy your friends and family.

Words written on novel so far: 12,344

Interviews to do today: 2

Miles run today in a delicious summer rain: 3

Hi. I’m Anne, and I’m a multitasker. If I’m folding laundry, I might do it for ten minutes, then remember I’m letting the bread dough rise. I go put the loaves in the oven, come back upstairs and think about my son’s soccer game. Are his soccer clothes clean? I pull them out and put them on the bannister. I go back to folding laundry. But I haven’t talked to my parents in a few days, so I call them while I fold. My mom teaches piano; she mentions her recital, and I remember I need to check my daughter’s shoes for the piano recital. And on and on.

But one thing I’ve noticed: most people can only concentrate on One Big Thing at a time.

When I was in college, I fell in love for the first time. It took up 96 percent of my mental energy, leaving 4 percent (if that) for academic pursuits. Here is how most conversations went circa 1991:

[Setting: dorm with four rooms attached in a suite.]

“Hey, who wants to order pizza?”

“I do!”

“Save some for me!”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza…”

Yeah. That was me.

Another example:

[Setting: my home, over the Christmas holidays.]

“So Jimmy Bob’s mother died. She was the one who owned the pizza parlor over on Lower Roswell…”

“Awwww. Joe likes pizza!”

Yeah, you guessed it. That was me, too.

One Big Thing. It’s the thing that sticks in your mind amongst all the other multitasking you do in a day: meetings, practices, doctor’s appointments, caregiving…

My husband’s One Big Thing right now is the marathon he plans to run in November. Here is how many of our conversations go these days:

[Setting: His car, on the way home from work.]

Him: Hey–what’s for dinner?

Me: Spaghetti.

Him: Awesome. I’ll be doing my 4-miler tonight and an 8-miler tomorrow. I need the carb loading.

Me: Great. So remember: we have to leave for the soccer game at 6:45.

Him: 6:45… When I was running yesterday, my average pace was 6:45. Well, I started out at a 7:15, but then there was a great stretch, and I got up to 6:55, and then…

There are a lot of numbers involved in our conversations now. A lot of numbers, people.

When I was training for my first marathon last year, it was my One Big Thing. My daugher would sneeze, and I would shriek, “Don’t get sick!” My children were certain I was losing my mind.

I might have been losing my mind: when I would try to sit down and write, A.) sitting down was not as comfortable with my newly bony behind (this is a joke; the marathon did not help in that respect at all) B.) all I could focus on was my next hit… er, run.

My point is: you have to watch out for what your One Big Thing is. You can multitask till the cows come home, with smaller, less brain-intensive activities. But if all roads start leading you back to the “Joe Likes Pizza!” point, beware.

That is why I chose to focus on my novel for a while. Novel writing is my One Big Thing for at least the next few months. Of course, there are articles to write, deadlines to meet, miles to run, kids to take to the pool, floors to clean, laundry to fold, in-laws to entertain.

But always in the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking about my characters. Their plights, their next scenes, their eccentricities.

While my husband spouts out numbers, my mind will be calculating words, feeling the sounds on my tongue, watching strangers to see their weird ticks so I can steal them.

Embrace your One Big Thing. It’s a little bit like being in love.

What’s your One Big Thing right now? How do you keep a balance in your life? Do you annoy others when you keep circling back to your unique “Joe Likes Pizza!” theme?