You Go Girl - Blog

Happy Run-iversary to Me!

On Sunday, I will run the Dallas Marathon, where ten years ago I made my marathon debut, and now, 16 marathons later, I begin again.  

Happy run-iversary.  

Many of these races involve running to something - a qualifying time, a personal best, and another PR and another and another. There was a sense of accomplishment and validation in myself knowing that dedicated training plus mental smarts equaled my finish time of choice.  

A few of my races involve running away from things. A needed distraction when my marriage was in serious trouble and eventually ended in divorce. A way to better handle the hiccups in health my father has experienced in the aging process. And sometimes just running away from feeling a little confined in the concrete suburban jungle.  

Running stokes my sense of adventure - to run across the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Poconos Mountains, on trails with my nature-loving friends, through St. Louis, around a volcano in Hawaii, through throngs of screaming fans in Boystown in Chicago, running through Rome and gloriously getting lost and discovering the most amazing view at the Piazza del Popolo (the People’s Square) and finding my way back to the hotel with my jumbled Italian inquires.

Much as life crests and recedes, I’ve run fast, I’ve run slow, I’ve run a little injured, I’ve run happily with endorphins exploding like the Fourth of July, I’ve run so emotionally raw and stopped on the side of the road to weep, I’ve run “That Boston” where bombs exploded and it was like a runaway thread that started ripping at the fabric of what I held dear. Only to learn that the people, the city and I all had to figure out how to reinforce it and piece things back together. To make it stronger.

love is louder

I could write volumes about the amazing people has brought into my life. Too many to mention. You know who you are. If you really want to get to know people, run with them. Run long distances with them. In the predawn hours, where all you see are stars, maybe a shooting star if you’re lucky.  And all you hear are the sounds of your footsteps and you talk about everything and consider the world’s problems solved after 20 miles. Those are the friends running has brought into my life.

But Sunday isn’t about running to something, away from anything, a grandiose adventure or even running with some of my amazing friends who have offered to share in this adventure with me.

So much of this running stuff started in the pursuit of happiness. But thanks to getting some additional life experience, and beaucoup amounts of yoga, it’s evolved into the happiness of pursuit.

I just thought it would be fun after a two-year layoff from marathons to celebrate. To run in Dallas, my adopted home city for the last 13 years. To enjoy the heck out of training - results be damned.

And I have to say, it’s been really fun to see gains in fitness. Not the kind I had four years ago when I was running 70-miles a week and throwing myself around the track like Nolan Ryan would treat a fastball.  Nope. Not a single track workout. But plenty of bread and butter, steady and strong tempo runs where I know I was feeling good at paces that used to feel hard.

I ran 1:44 for a half marathon a few weeks ago, on a humid and 60-something degree day, my fastest half in a few years. Logging a few 20-mile runs and even a 22-miler, renewed my sense of accomplishment, so it wasn’t just another long run. And treating myself to my favorite cinnamon roll pancakes - except when it was pumpkin spice season - and I happily consumed all of it. As a treat to me, from me.

So the race is superfluous.

A good thing because on Monday, I showed up in the office of my running pal and general practitioner Lowell Koppel’s office with a virus, fever, sore throat and body aches, feeling like garbage left on the curb on a wet soggy morning. Normally this would have sent me sobbing into child’s pose for days. But I was calm. I can’t change this. I can control my reaction. That’s about it.

Lowell gently suggested if I didn’t feel better I should consider a race in January. So as to not “waste” this training. Because now I have something in the bank, and I’ve earned this after all.

Uh, no, probably not.

Fortunately, while not 100 percent, I’m better and determined to see what happens on Sunday. I want to celebrate my run-iversary, for me. And the best part is that the race doesn’t matter as much as the fun in rediscovering my joy of running distance again.

Simply getting here - not just this training session -  but in every day I’ve laced up my shoes since 2006 is the real story here. All those experiences logged in great times, tough times, in between times, sunny days, rainy days, Texas summer squishy shoe days, ice cream cold pre-dawn days where my fingers become icicles - that’s what I have in personal bank, not just miles run.

Happy run-iversary to me.

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Yes, I took myself on a date for Valentine's Day


I recently posted a Facebook update that after a tough trail race, I treated my ravenous self to dinner. Solo. On Valentine’s Day weekend. At a nice restaurant. I was the only single person in a sea of red-dressed couples. I sat at the bar, chatted with couples, swapped stories and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I noted in my update, even if you’re not in a “plus-one” relationship, you still have special person. It’s you.

To my shock, this generated more than 100 likes, which given the fact I have just under 500 friends, is my equivalent of breaking the Internet.

I think I know why it resonated: Because I have unapologetically chosen to treat myself as better than passable and more than pretty good. I look in the mirror and embrace my cool cat anomaly – not to be mistaken with a blustery “full of herself” hurricane. More than 7 billion people walk this earth, and only one gets the opportunity to be me. I’m the only one who gets my extra special fingerprints and DNA, just as I have this amazing chance to be a mom to the coolest kid I know. I am the only one on the planet with my exact hair color – yep, you can’t bottle this. I’m the only one who thinks my thoughts and feels my feels, writes my words and experiences this ride that is my life. I’m the only one who has my calloused feet that have the character of a bunch of miles on them, and I’m the only one who flies from down dog to crow quite like I do.

I am 32 flavors and then some.

cowboy boot

One of my friends called me “brave” to go to dinner by myself. Understand, in no way do I think taking myself to dinner and ordering a cocktail and a fabulous entrée makes me courageous. It reminds me of a conversation I had in Las Vegas at the blackjack table with an off-duty police officer. We were playing $10 blackjack, and I hit on 16 as the dealer showed 10.  He looked at me, and proclaimed me “brave,” which is truly laughable. What he does for a living is truly fearless. Playing the odds on a low-stakes bet is not bold, daring or even possibly heroic. Just as I chose to play the odds and bet on 16 – I won the hand – I have found when betting on myself, the odds are generally in my favor.

I suppose to some that’s a leap – betting on you -- in a world that emphasizes upsizing your house, downsizing your waistline, romanticizing your relationships. But at some point when I got to the sage decade of life (my fourth), I stopped being as concerned about being a bit more of this or little less of that. Now, I mold the landscape of my world to best fit who I am, not shape myself to what I thought the world expected. 

So in my case, I celebrate Independence Day on Valentine’s Day weekend. And understand treating yourself doesn’t have to be a fancy-schmancy meal, though I enjoy those. Recently, I ordered a fresh fruit cup, and there were a few raspberries tossed in for good measure.  I had forgotten how much I loved the taste of a good raspberry. So now, I buy them with reckless abandon. And it makes me really happy to look in my refrigerator and see those little red jewels. Because I'm worth a few raspberries. So treat yourself. Maybe it’s a hot bath, a steaming cup of tea, an overdue pedicure, a sweaty yoga class or a run just because it’s sunny outside. It need not be expensive or time consuming. But it needs to happen all the time - it's a practice as sure as I practice yoga.  

Then, suddenly you understand that you’re worth a great deal. And all of it eclipses being brave or a nice meal. What it really comes down to is compassion that you give yourself as a gift every day through what you think, what you say and what you do. These little things are mighty big things indeed. So care for yourself as someone you love dearly. And if you are presenting yourself to the world as someone who wonders if the parking ticket of your life deserves to be validated, please just stop it. Self-worth starts with you. Nourish yourself with good stuff – meaning good food, healthy thoughts, a dose of physical activity and a supportive tribe. Punch your own ticket every day, not just on special occasions.  Be a VIP in your own life.

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The to-do list sham

My marathon long to-do list; it's the scapegoat of why I "to don't." 

I unearthed this in talking about blogging at 300-hour teacher training last weekend at Inspire Yoga. My fellow trainees know I have a degree in journalism. They asked me about it, and I declared myself on hiatus, when in reality it has been a 10-month drought. My intention to blog begins as probable, but quickly slides to questionable as I pick apart grammar. Then my quest starts for perfecting every last comma. I get distracted, and I move into the doubtful camp. And from there, it's just a brief layover to inactive. 

I'm embarrassed to share that I formulated a well-written blog about how putting up a Christmas tree is a Declaration of Independence for any single woman. Except I picked at it until it bled, then got busy with other "things," and even though it's 95% done, it will be shelved for at least 10 months, assuming I remember it's still there. 

In order to feel better about being a writer who doesn't write, or fill in the blank with noun and verb that fits your life, I recite my litany of "reasons." My personal laundry list that makes me "busy"  -- mothering, teaching yoga, planning for my running clients, carving out time on my own mat, running 30-35 miles a week, eating healthily, socializing a bit, sleeping - then hit repeat.

But Tara, my lead trainer, looked at me unblinkingly and said, "You know, you sound a lot like me when I make excuses about why I've gotten away from my yoga practice."

And for those who think that "practice" simply means time on the mat, reconsider. It's not about how many classes you take in a week - though that is physical part of the equation. It's more about trying to find some steadiness in your mind -- as if you could take a colander, pour out your thoughts, strain out the muck, and you'd be left with what really matters.  

In my yoga classes, I always address ditching the distractions, and I'm no different than my students. But I'm determined to improve. So I'm starting with shelving the sham of the "to do" list. The question I need to better focus on is not how much I have to do, but how do I choose to spend the currency of my precious free time. 

As a writer, it's that damn blinking cursor - or insert your obstacle of choice -  and it feels so limitless. It's taunting me a bit, and I can't just watch it blink. To address it requires time to think and slow down. My brain would rather flitter along like the stones my dad used to skip across the Gasconade River, which would stop oh-so briefly to skim the surface.

And nothing is more surface skimming than social media.  I can troll for a great writing idea on Facebook, while looking at pictures of food or people's perfect vacations. Or I'll see what's trending on Twitter, and that will help me focus. Perhaps it's time to check my text messages, respond to a few, dig through the black hole of my e-mail, and suddenly it's time to pick up my son from school.   

It's easy for me to clear the physical space, which is why I coach running and teach yoga. I tell my clients and students it's not about a quick fix, it's usually about getting started and making it a habit. If it's just 10 minutes that you have, do a few rounds of sun salutations, the multivitamin of your yoga practice. Or you tie your shoes and move forward, even if it's just a slogging mile and you are embarrassed because it's too slow or you have to stop at the side of the road and your lungs are rebelling. Just move forward. Do something.

As a runner, I build my base, except this time, instead of logging miles, I will first commit to writing and clear the mental space. This means I'm paying attention to, well, simply paying attention. I'll grab a sledgehammer and knock off the rust around the part of my brain that formulates ideas and spend less time flittering and twittering. 

That's where my real yoga practice can begin. 

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Why I'm not running the Boston Marathon

Dear Boston,

I'm signaling timeout, calling for a station break, taking a breather – boy, that’s easier to write than to say I’m not coming back this year, but that’s what it means.

For seven consecutive years, I've made my pilgrimage. Frankly, it’s amazing we stuck together so long. It’s been quite a relationship. I foolishly flung myself at you the first time we met, swept up in the wave of a juiced-up crowd, the camaraderie of runners and a downhill start that plunged like J-Lo’s neckline on Grammy night. It still qualifies as perhaps the stupidest race I have ever run – I hobbled to the T carrying the weight of an obese positive split, and professed to complete strangers I hated you. I was over you. Done with you – and every other marathon to ever be run in my lifetime – forever.

I left you. Came back to Texas. I considered getting to know you. You were different than the rest – more layered than a complex baklava. You’re complicated, like a 750-piece puzzle best worked by tinkering and figuring out what fits and what doesn’t. I began to appreciate your nuances. How scaling back on a downhill start meant my quads weren’t ground beef. How to skirt the line between basking in rock star treatment at Wellesley, but not getting too drunk on it and pacing too fast – I cut myself off at happily buzzed. How with proper training, running your hills meant opportunities to be seized, not obstacles to avoid.

I started to like you. I proclaimed I’d be back to visit until I was too old, sick or dead to run your hills. Yes, I wrote that. And at the time, I thought I meant it.

But my times stalled, and in some cases were going in the wrong direction. I trained harder, and I got a little injured. I trained smarter, and you threw ridiculously hot weather at me. Plus you’re an expensive date. In 2013, I returned to do the honorable thing: Run a respectable race, and tell you goodbye in person. I left the finish line on a perfect day basking in the crowd noise for an extra moment. I bid you farewell.

Forty-nine minutes later it all changed. The twin bombings attacked you, and in the process, the core of my core values. I stood slackjawed in my hotel room in Cambridge and watched the chaos. I sobbed from places that are deeper than deep. Tears from the depths of my soul –  a place so far-reaching that you drudge up stuff you held on to – beginning with death of your first dog when you were just 5 years old.  For you, out spilled the biggest gully washer.

You changed me that day. I called my parents, hugged my son a lot tighter and I considered how I wanted and didn’t want to live. You stripped me of my veneer of innocence - a Band-Aid prematurely yanked off a wound, making you gasp. But as Ernest Hemingway powerfully and beautifully wrote this crazy world breaks all of us, and we have to find strength in broken places.

I couldn’t leave you yet. I needed to see how strong you were. How strong I was.

bostonflag

You were no longer just “Boston Strong,” you were simply stronger. I not only felt safe, but secure running down Boylston Street last year. I crossed the finish line, and the physical and emotional wave crashed. I sobbed. Not for sadness, but for the joy of it all. Running an extraordinary 26.2-mile parade of humanity witnessed by a million spectators effusive in their civic pride for you.

I’ll miss you. But I’m on a training hiatus, running for the sake of upticking my heartbeat, feeling myself sweat and kick starting some endorphins.

I’ve spent less time on the roads and more on the trails flanked only by Mother Nature. It’s weightless running without a watch, scampering like a 10-year-old tramping through the woods. And I don’t feel guilty for not running 50 miles the week I went to visit my parents. I think it was a good choice to have an extra cup of coffee with them in lieu of a 20-mile long run that I would have otherwise felt compelled to finish.  I’m 45, and I’m slowing down a bit. While my PR days are likely in my rearview mirror, my best days are still to come. Not running is more than a decision not to run a race. It means I’m willing to question what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I’m making more time for other things – running my first-ever trail half marathon was equal parts fun and technical with inclines like Monkey’s Butt Hill; I’ve enrolled in additional yoga teacher training, because the charge of teaching a group of enthusiastic students can rival the endorphin rush of a killer track workout; and I want time with my son, who is fast approaching an age where he will want me to walk behind him, way behind him, not beside him.

I’ll think of you on Marathon Monday and the trek from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. In retrospect, my finish times mean precious little, it’s all kind of a blur. Kind of like life. The miles are kind of a mish-mash of the day-in-day-out living, with occasional startling nuggets of individual heartbreaking and heartfelt moments in your journey. You’ve given me those in spades. And for that, I will always love you, Boston. But the time has come to let go of what I always think will happen in life. It's time to enjoy what actually is happening. 

love is louder

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Susan, you'll be missed

While I was in my early 20s, I adopted a cat named Squeakers. Upon adopting first meeting her, she proceeded to pee in my car and meowed Beverly Sills' style for 30 minutes without ceasing. 

When my brother decided to be my roommate, my cat didn't endear herself to him as he was already allergic to her and then she peed in his bed.

I needed to find a new home for Squeakers to keep family peace, but who wants a cat who squeaks incessantly and pees?

My college friend Susan Zorsch took her in. She gave Squeakers a home.

It's hardly surprising. She was a giver, of herself, her spirit, her time, and if you were lucky enough, she'd give of her life story, which shockingly and sadly came to an unexpected end yesterday morning.

We met in college, as freshmen at the University of Missouri as two small town girls navigating a campus of about 25,000. She hailed from Mansfield, MO, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House fame, about 1,300 people strong. I was in a metropolis by comparison from Richland, MO, almost 2,000 residents. We both pledged the same sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, loved sports, were dilligent students who liked to have fun.

Susan was also one of the most reliable people I have ever met. Appointments were written in ink, not pencil. She never canceled, always left with time to spare usually with at least half a tank of gas in the car, could color code anything, sent Christmas cards early and always, always showed up.  She was also a lot of fun. She loved to dance, and we'd even sing boisterously in her car, pre-Idol Paula Abul's "Straight Up" and Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation."

Our lives moved circuitously. We navigated Missouri, which meant finding paths that led us in different directions. I settled into journalism school my junior year, was less involved in sorority life and spent Fridays playing basketball with my sportswriting buddies and then drinking beer and eating unhealthy food. She studied business and probably ate a bit healthier.  We got busy. We graduated. I stayed in Columbia covering MU football for the Columbia Daily Tribune, when one day I learned Susan had been sick. Very sick.

She was a graduate teaching assistant and full-time student, just 24, when she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia most common in children. The survival rate was low - around 20 percent. She ignored the odds. She underwent aggressive treatment losing her beautiful long blond hair. She kicked cancer. But that was merely the warm-up battle. The aggressive treatment that saved her almost killed her. Serious damage was done to her heart. She needed a transplant. 

I re-entered her life around that time, when she was facing a hoped-for transplant. While cancer-free, just getting on the transplant list didn't look likely given her history of leukemia. By the time she finally got on the list, her condition was dire. She had a matter of a couple of days to live. In the most miraculous miracle I've possible ever experienced, a heart became available in what seemed like less than a day. I remember at the time we were told it was the second fastest turnaround for organ donation of this sort in the entire country. 

I stayed at the hospital with her amazing tribe of family and friends and she emerged from that transplant in typical Zorsch fashion, wondering where her computer was so she could get to work. She had school obligations, she had life to live. 

Professionally she had landed at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia as the program manager of oncology. Through Facebook I followed her life from afar as I had relocated to Texas. She was passionate about helping others in her work and as a spokesperson for organ donation. I remember we once drove to Kansas City, to Kauffman Stadium in the year or two after her transplant in a night honoring organ donation awareness. She triumphantly walked the bases, and I don't think anyone would have ever guessed she had been sick.

And unless she was out raising awareness, I think she liked it that way. She would offer her story if asked, but she never once questioned to me why someone so young and seemingly healthy had been dealt such a rotten hand. Maybe she was practical, stubborn and hard-nosed enough to know it wouldn't matter.  She was not a wallower. Nor a sympathy seeker. Not a taker of pity. She was a giver. 

susanzor

Somehow her new heart rivaled her old one in its capacity to share. She gave countless hours to Theta serving in so many volunteer capacities I wouldn't even know where to begin. Her journey inspired others as a cancer survivor and bringing awareness to organ donation. But she also gave great gifts. I still have Mikasa Christmas dishes she gave me - I think of her every holiday season. I think she got them at the outlet mall at the Lake of the Ozarks. I bet she would buy them well in advance of the season and have them at the ready. She anticipated. She didn't just laugh, but guffawed. While smiles fill rooms, her laughter could reverberate city blocks. She gave willingly of her spirit. She truly loved Mizzou even when the football was god-awful while in college. 

I guess it's a testament to how healthy I thought she was that we had morphed into birthday-wishing, Christmas-card sending friends. She was no longer in my inner nucleus of friends, but I knew I could call on her anytime, and true to her style, she'd listen. In many ways, I was more prepared for her to die at a young age, when it was expected, than yesterday. That's when I hopped on Facebook and got the news that sent my heart into my shoes. 

It's all a mystery to me, how life usually hums along, then you get dealt a curveball a la Clayton Kershaw leaving you shaking your head wondering how it went by so unexpectedly.

She shocked us by staying alive, and now reminds us of the fragility of our house-of-cards-type of life that with a big poof, it can all come crashing down. It landed with a thud yesterday - it still reverberates. But I'm considering her example, and that helps: give often but not to just anything, pick things that matter and give a lot. Be kind to people, but don't forget animals. Be a meticulous planner but equally dedicated in your zeal to follow through. Have half a tank of gas in the car. Travel. Laugh and cheeer loudly. Hug friends. Life isn't about what you order up, it's how you handle the things that aren't even on the menu. 

You'll be missed, Susan. Deeply missed. 

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