My mom is like Beyoncé: she keeps shit to herself until she’s good and ready to let you know.
It’ll be crickets for a year, and then one day—boom—Queen Bey drops a visual album packed with generation-defining music, choreography and cultural commentary. She just blew up your life, and you’re welcome.
My mom’s bombs are a little different. She doesn’t aim for shock and awe; rather, she tries to figure out all the messy details behind the scenes and minimize the damage before making her big reveal. But there’s fallout nonetheless.
I woke up early on the first Saturday of summer vacation in 2003. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school and felt excited, free, like anything was possible. I was cutting strawberries for breakfast when my mom came into the kitchen and asked me to follow her outside.
Uh-oh—what did I do wrong? She instructed me to get in our car.
In the two minutes it took us to drive from the newer end of our apartment complex to the older one, my mom explained very simply and with little emotion: “I am asking your father for a divorce. I am moving out today. I have my own apartment with a bedroom that’s yours if you want it.”
We parked and walked up to a second-floor apartment. She pulled out a key and opened the door. I walked into a fully furnished home. There was a couch, a coffee table, a dining table and chairs. Throw pillows. A painting on the wall. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision; she’d been building a new life for months.
I don’t know how long we were there before she said this next, but I feel like it wasn’t long: “I have a TV being delivered and I need you to stay here and sign for it while I go tell your father.”
Alone, in an apartment I’d never seen before filled with furniture my mom chose, I understood life would never be the same again. I wandered into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. It was full of canned soup. And it was only then that I started to cry.
The rest is a blur, but my mom did move out that day, and so did I. I didn’t choose my mom over my dad; I simply wanted my brother to have a bedroom. Money was tight, and my brother had slept on a mattress on the living room floor of our two-bedroom apartment for months. If I left with my mom, he could have my room. So I did, and he did.
It’s not for me to detail what went wrong in my parents’ marriage, but I will say that my dad was (and is) a very sweet guy, and we didn’t flee from abuse or violence or anything like that. My mom didn’t want to split our family up any more than she had to. She stayed in the same apartment complex so I could walk just a short distance to see my dad, and my brother could pop over to our place whenever he wanted.
I think it’s fair to say my mom believed the marriage had run its course. I also think she knew my dad would try to talk her out of leaving—and he did still try. But by Monday, we were gone, and she had officially filed for divorce.
With hindsight, I realized she must have been stockpiling money from her job for quite a while to afford a whole separate apartment. And that new hobby she’d taken up over the past year—running—served as her alibi while she shopped for her secret TV, arranged her secret furniture and stacked her secret soup.
These are the things I think I know. I can’t even imagine the things I don’t. I try to put myself in her shoes for just one second, executing this escape plan completely alone, and I find myself breathless from the weight of it. Also, simultaneously impressed and heartbroken by the ingenuity of it.
She’d waged a secret battle for her autonomy, revealing its very existence to her opponent only after she’d already won.
My parents’ divorce was finalized in the spring of 2004, and one month later, my mom closed on a modest home of her own. The furniture she chose moved into the house she chose. So did the man she chose as her partner.
Together, they built the garden she’d always dreamt of: raised beds for vegetables, lavender for the bees, sunflowers for my mom since they’re her favorite. I lived there, too, as I finished high school, and intermittently during and after college as I found my footing. I helped water the garden whenever I lived there.
When my mom married her partner in 2015, she reclaimed her German maiden name, Behrens—derived from Bernhard, a compound of the elements “ber(n),” meaning bear, and “hard,” meaning brave, hardy, strong—and hyphenated it with her husband’s Sicilian surname, Macaluso—meaning freed, liberated.
Janet, brave and freed.
In December 2020, my brother, stepdad and I gathered around the dining table with my mom, masks on. The three of us had privately agreed it was time to look into memory care. As the death toll of the pandemic peaked, her cognition and ability to live independently plummeted. She was no longer safe in the home she chose.
This was not like one of her bombs. We explained to her the benefits of moving to a place where there were other people like her who had trouble with their memory, and how she’d be well taken care of by professionals. We showed her pictures of private rooms and read aloud from activity calendars. She cried with joy at the thought of being able to socialize with other people and participate in activities tailored for her abilities. She gave us the green light to begin the process of choosing a new home for her.
My stepdad and I researched places together, but he left the final decision to me.
I tracked down nice second-hand furniture for my mom’s room, and Aaron and I drove all around the Eastside in a borrowed truck, picking up the pieces of her new life.
We sorted through her belongings—clothes, books, quilts, photos—to decide what would stay and what would go. Everything we packed got a permanent label. I wrote her name hundreds of times.
And on January 29, we loaded the last of her things into our cars and held our breath when it was time for my mom to say goodbye to her home.
I gasped for air beneath my mask as I held back tears. My brother’s brow crumpled. But my mom was placid and detached, not quite sure what all the fuss was about. This house she’d chosen, the garden she’d planted, the autonomy she’d fought so hard to seize meant little to her disease-altered brain.
I’d pictured so many scenarios playing out in this moment, but never this one. Compared to all the scenarios I’d imagined, I found this one to be the saddest.
Due to COVID restrictions, we were not allowed to help set up my mom’s room. We simply dropped everything outside the building and relayed basic directions through the window regarding furniture placement. Her clothes, books, quilts and photos were tucked away and arranged by strangers. We said our goodbyes in the lobby, our masks absorbing our tears as she was led away to her new home.
I imagine her standing there alone, in a room she’d never seen before filled with furniture her daughter chose, with the vague feeling life would never be the same again.
I hope she forgives me for blowing up her life. I’ve long forgiven her for blowing up mine.
I understand now we were both just doing the best we could for each other.
Today, my mom lives a life she didn’t choose. Alzheimer’s continues to steal her autonomy each day. She can’t decide what she’ll eat or when to take a shower. She can’t pick out her clothes or put them on without assistance.
But inside every shirt, every pair of pants, every sock and every shoe, I have written her name.
“Pa threw mattresses into the wagon. Ma carefully spread their patchwork quilts over them. ‘We can’t leave these behind,’ she said. ‘All our joys and sorrows are sewn up into the patches.'”
Eleanor Coerr // The Josefina Story Quilt
The quilt my mother made for my daughter tells a story she didn’t intend.
The front, meticulously pieced together in 2015 when she found out I was pregnant with a girl, features strips of brightly colored fabric cut on the bias, perfectly straight, edges crisp—the work of a lifelong quilter.
The colors were chosen with intention: pink, of course, but well balanced with sunny yellow, sprightly green and a rich purplish-blue. You’d find these colors just before dawn on a spring morning, when the dusky sky gives way to the sun’s rays spilling onto new shoots of grass.
Evie was born on such a morning in late April 2016, just before dawn. By the time the light and those colors crept in through our window, we barely noticed; she had already illuminated everything.
The back of the quilt bears Evie’s full name, birth date and statistics, machine-embroidered by another woman onto a patch that my mom then sewed on by hand. The stitches are clumsy, like the ones I made when my mom taught me how to make my own little quilts when I was eight years old. I can’t remember exactly when she sewed this patch—2018, 2019 maybe—but I remember it took a long time for her to do it and to return the quilt to me.
Somewhere in those years, between the front and the back, when I was busy feeding, wiping, shushing, bouncing, not sleeping and falling deeply in love—learning to be a mom—my own mom began to slip away.
There’s a feeling that accompanies the deepest hurts, in the very back of the throat: an involuntary clenching that can’t be relieved by methodic breathing or swallowing hard. When I get that feeling, I know the best course is to surrender to the tears, let myself make the ugly, contorted faces, scream if I need to.
That feeling means something different to everyone. For me, it’s the feeling of missing my mom. Not the one who’s here now, but the one who was lost between the front and the back. The one whose wry observations and easy laughter grew quieter until they disappeared. The one who danced around the room when she found out she was going to be a grandma, then hesitated to play with her granddaughter for fear she would do or say the wrong thing. The one who booked flights and ordered catering for years as an executive assistant, then struggled to make sense of a digital clock.
Sixty-one is not an age at which one should be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, yet there she was. Sixty-two is not an age at which one should be moved into memory care, yet there she is.
There are so many losses to grieve. And the trouble is the losses continue to mount as my mom’s cognition declines. There are days I wonder if things will be better when she’s further along and not so acutely aware of what’s happening to her. I almost want for her to slip into some blissfully ignorant state, like floating on her back in calm, cool water on a stiflingly hot day. Then I panic that she’ll disappear beneath the surface for good, and I hold onto her tighter.
She recently said to me, “I’m afraid one day I won’t know who you are.” I’m afraid of that, too. I took a deep breath and said, “I know. That might happen. But that’s OK. I won’t hold it against you.” Another deep breath. “I think even if your mind doesn’t recognize me, your heart will still know who I am.”
I think of the hundreds of hours I’ve spent with my daughter pressed to my chest, my skin alive with the warmth and sweetness of hers. I think of the searching eyes that have stared into mine since the very first time they opened. Could I ever be in a room with her and not feel, somewhere in my bones, the pull of those invisible threads that bind us?
The mind may fail, but the heart still knows.
I will meet you wherever you are today, and tomorrow I’ll meet you there, too.
I will walk with you to the very end, holding your hand, holding nothing against you.
And when I have to let you go, I’ll gather the quilts your hands made, sewn up with all your joys and sorrows, and crawl beneath them, awash in the warmth of your love.
Oh, man—the world is much different than it was the last time I posted! What a carefree summer I had last year, running a marathon with a bunch of other people and not worrying about them breathing all over me. Masks were for Halloween; Corona was still just a beer. It was a simpler time that I hope we can all enjoy again someday soon.
It’s now been five months since COVID-19 first sent Washington state into lockdown, and the isolation has had me dreaming about future and past travels. We did an awesome road trip last summer, so I thought it would be fun to relive and write about it here. It was also the next big life event right after the marathon, so I’ll pick up right where I left off. It was so nice to go straight into vacation mode and rest my legs, taking two weeks completely off from running and formal exercise.
Every other summer, Aaron’s dad’s side of the family does a big reunion, which is always so much fun and a great way to catch up with family members who are scattered all around the country. In years past, we’ve gone to Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Washington; Union Pier, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan; and Monument, Colorado, just outside of Colorado Springs. Last year, our destination was Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Our first stop along the way was Kellogg, Idaho, where we stayed one night at an Airbnb near Silver Mountain Bike Park so Aaron could do some mountain biking. We had fun riding the 3.1-mile gondola to the top of the mountain—it’s the longest gondola in the U.S. and takes just over 30 minutes one way! Evie and I hung out at the top and played in a very convenient bounce house while Aaron did several runs down the mountain. If we’d had more time, we would have loved to go to the resort’s indoor water park (now a terrifying idea in the COVID era!).
Then we continued on to Bozeman, Montana, where we stayed three days with our friends the Pacinis, who moved there from Seattle a few years ago. We had a blast hiking, swimming at their country club, eating at some amazing restaurants (Jam! and Blackbird were faves) and visiting the Museum of the Rockies. The Pacinis have three kids—at the time, their son was eight and their twin girls were four—and three-year-old Evie had such a blast playing with them.
We loved Bozeman and could totally live there if it weren’t for the brutally snowy winters. We’ll definitely be back!
En route to our final destination for the family reunion, we swung through Yellowstone National Park and put in a solid half day seeing some amazing sights, including the artist paint pots, Grand Prismatic Spring and, of course, Old Faithful. Then it was time to head to Jackson Hole!
Well, we actually stayed in Swan Valley, Idaho. Turns out that large rental houses are crazy expensive in Jackson Hole! So we stayed in essentially the middle of nowhere, but the house was incredible and the scenery was unbelievably beautiful. Despite how small the town was—not even a grocery store for miles and miles—it was the perfect place for lots of family fun.
We spent a day exploring Jackson Hole proper, enjoying lunch and beer at Snake River Brewing and then walking around the cute downtown.
Another day, Aaron and a group of guys went four-wheeling at some sand dunes, and I went with Kelsi on a horseback-riding adventure with Swan Valley Outfitters! (Evie stayed at the house for a fun day with her aunties and cousins.) A guide took just the two of us on the most beautiful three-hour trek through fields and woods to the Snake River, where we ate a picnic lunch before heading back. It was so lovely and peaceful.
Another little adventure that was super close to our house: a trip to Fall Creek Falls. Who knew Idaho had this incredible scenery?? You could even climb down into a cave and look out from behind one of the waterfalls.
Back at the house, we had a “field day” that Aaron’s sisters set up with all sorts of fun games to compete in—and like with any family, the teams got super competitive! The kids loved running through the sprinkler and jumping in the bounce house, too.
It all culminated in a big water balloon fight, then s’mores around the campfire. Ahhh, summer! Does it get any better?
Once the kiddos went to bed each night, the adults got into some serious cards—euchre is this family’s game of choice, and it gets vicious! As fun as all the daytime activities are, my favorite memories from these reunions tend to involve the late-night tension and shit-talking from these games. All in good fun, of course. 🙂
Ahhh, what a nice trip down memory lane. Love these people!
Anyway, now I’m feeling slightly less resentful that we don’t have a big trip like that this year. I suppose lots of folks actually are on road trips right now, since there are ways to do it somewhat safely. The Swan Valley house looks like it’s still getting plenty of use, anyway! I look forward to when we feel comfortable traveling again, and I certainly hope it’ll be safe to do our next family reunion in summer 2021.
Next, I’m excited to write all about my attempt to train for the 2019 California International Marathon (key word: attempt), the beginning of my yoga practice and my experience at the Nourish + Escape Retreat in Bend, Oregon, this past October! It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend of cooking, yoga and hiking, and it came at just the right time in my life. Stay tuned.
I’ve never felt more joyful to be at a start line, to cross a finish line or to run all the miles in between.
It felt like a looong year coming back from last summer’s injury, and at times it was hard to believe I’d ever be ready to run this race. But once I finished my 20-mile run and began tapering, I knew I’d done all the physical work I could do. Then, it was time to start the mental work.
I listened to running podcasts throughout my training, and anytime a host asked a guest about the best books they’d recently read, they all seemed to mention Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run. I figured I’d give it a shot during the extra downtime I had in the three weeks leading up to the race.
If you’ve read the book, you already know it’s a game-changer. If you haven’t read it, get on it! I credit so much of my positive mental state during this race to the things I learned from Deena. I shared so many amazing quotes from the book to my Instagram stories, and one in particular stood out and rang through my mind again and again:
What I needed, I had. What I was seeking, I was. The accumulation of miles and wisdom were present, ready to be written in the race.
Deena Kastor, Let Your Mind Run
I was wary that I hadn’t included enough downhill running in my training—hello, it’s an entirely downhill race!—but I had purposefully avoided it since it’s so hard on the body and likely contributed to my injury last summer.
I pushed that and every other doubt out of my mind, simply trying to believe that I was well-prepared and ready to crush the race. Anytime a negative thought threatened to creep in, I squashed it with something positive:
I am so strong. I am so ready. This is going to be FUN!
I thought it. I felt it. And then I lived it.
My wonderful friend, neighbor and running buddy Hallie offered to drive me to the start line at Hyak, near Snoqualmie Pass. The course is point to point, and the alternative to being driven is to wake up really freakin’ early and ride a shuttle bus to the start, so I was very grateful to her! Also, it meant Aaron and Evie could sleep in a bit before cheering me on later.
It was so great having Hallie there with me, as she’s run this race twice before and knew all the right things to say. It was also nice to be able to take shelter in her car, since it was about 55 degrees and raining when we arrived at the start around 5:45 am. Everyone else was huddled under every available shelter, so it was nice to be able to stay warm and dry just a tiny bit longer.
On the drive up, I drank my usual Fab 4 smoothie, which literally no one would ever recommend you drink before a marathon! It contains spinach, kale, chard, cucumber, chia seeds, collagen, nut butter, frozen blueberries and coconut milk. So much fiber! So the opposite of what everyone says you should have before a race! (So don’t follow my example. 🙂 )
But I’ve had it every morning for the past six months or so, including before all of my long runs, and it’s always worked for me. And by “worked” I mean it gives me reliable results in the bathroom and keeps me full with about 530 calories of goodness and lots of protein.
I hit the porta-potties immediately upon arrival, then went back to the car, got all my gear on and did my dynamic warmup in the rain.
I also had a headlamp on since the beginning of the marathon course runs through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, a 2.3-mile stretch of pitch blackness. It’s very cool, but a little scary if you’re running through it alone, which I did last summer!
After my warmup, I was cutting it really close to the 6:30 start time to squeeze in one last porta-potty stop, and I really had to pee. I ran over to the lines and hoped they’d move fast. Hallie, bless her, grabbed me a Ziploc bag and wrote my bib number on it so that I could put my headlamp in it and toss it in a box after the tunnel, then retrieve it at the finish line.
I peed just in time (and it was a BIG one, so I felt good about my hydration level 🙂 ), then ran over to the start and squeezed in between the 3:55 and 4:00 pacers. I wasn’t planning to follow a pacer at all, but I figured that was a good spot for the pace I wanted to start out with.
Cut to the National Anthem, a few tears that threatened to escape my eyes and a very excited selfie. It started raining a little harder and I was all for it. Party in the rain!!!
They did a wave start to minimize crowding in the tunnel, and I was in the third group to go. We were off, and I was smiling so big from the very first step!
Grateful. That’s what I felt as we ran the short distance to the beginning of the tunnel. I couldn’t believe I was finally running a marathon for the first time since Big Sur in 2015.
Running through the tunnel with so many other people was so much fun. Compared to running through it by myself or with just a few other people, all the headlamps lit it up like it was practically daylight. It didn’t feel crowded at all, and I easily maintained a nice bubble of personal space. It felt cold in there at first, but I quickly warmed up and maintained a pretty perfect temperature for the rest of the race.
The bad thing about the tunnel is that it really messes with your GPS and you can’t trust the pace on your watch at all. I’d glance at my pace every now and then, and it would say I was running 9:45 pace or something, but I knew to ignore it and just keep going. People would pass me and I’d keep thinking, “Run your own race.” Mile one is not the time to freak out about going too slowly.
The tunnel seemed to fly by (again, running with other people makes a world of difference!) and I very carefully put my headlamp in the Ziploc bag, zipped it shut and tried to throw it in the box… and wound up hitting an older female volunteer standing behind it directly in her crotch. WHOOPS!!! I said, “I’m so sorry!!” and she said, “It’s OK!” Mega fail. But it did bounce off of her and land in the box. 🙂
After that, we hit the three-mile marker and I noticed a few things: my watch clocked in at 25:XX, so no way was I running 9:45s in the tunnel, and my watch said I’d only run 2.75 miles so far. All kinds of jacked up. Again, I just noted the discrepancies and didn’t worry about them. I felt good and was running at a comfortable pace, so I continued doing that.
I popped in my earbuds and turned on an episode of the Ali on the Run Show featuring Mirinda Carfrae, the three-time Ironman world champion. Fun fact: Aaron and I were in Kona on our honeymoon in 2014 and saw Mirinda come back from a 14-minute deficit off the bike to win the race! Noooo big deal. If there’s anyone who could keep me feeling motivated during a marathon, it’s her!
The interview was great and I just chugged along. I ate Gu #1 around 4.5 miles, and crossed the 7-mile timing mat at 1:01:05 (8:44 average pace). I’d planned to start out around 8:45-8:50 pace and then try to speed up after the halfway point, if possible, so I felt great at that point. I ate Gu #2 around mile 9.
Then, around mile 10 or so, my headphones shut off for no apparent reason. When the battery is about to die, it’ll usually say “battery low” in my ears several times, then eventually shut down. This time, it just said “power off” and that was it. Umm, OK?? I had fully charged them before the race, so I have no clue what happened. I tried turning them on again a few times, but they just kept shutting right back off.
It’s so funny that I trained for so many hours with these headphones, and THIS was the one time they chose to randomly die on me, but I didn’t dwell on it. I just figured that I was meant to pay attention to the sounds of the race—the crunch of footsteps on gravel, the cadence of my breathing, the rain—and accepted it.
Deena’s quote rang through my mind once again:
What I needed, I had. What I was seeking, I was.
I looked forward to seeing Aaron and Evie at the halfway point and focused on that. Somewhere around this time, I passed the 3:55 pace group. I didn’t really mean to, but I was running how I felt like running and it worked out out that way. The pacer was very vocal with his group, encouraging everyone and whatnot, and I was surprised to hear his voice fade into the distance behind me. Now that he was back there, I vowed to not let him pass me.
I crossed the 13.1-mile timing mat at 1:55:08 (8:47 average pace). Still on track and feeling good!
Evie and Aaron were THE CUTEST when I saw them, cheering me on with a big, bright pink sign that said “Go Mama!” I threw my dead headphones to Aaron and said, “I feel great! See you at the finish!” Another runner commented on how cute Evie was and gave me the warm fuzzies all over again. 🙂
I ate Gu #3 around mile 13.5. I think this photo was taken just before I took it out of my vest. Thank you to USA Endurance Events for the FREE race photos!
This race course is so freaking beautiful, winding through forests and over bridges, passing sheer rock walls, waterfalls and breathtaking views. Who needs podcasts?? I was happy to have my full attention on everything around me.
The rain was light enough to not be bothersome. Even when the wind picked up a bit, it felt nice and cooling, and I didn’t mind a bit. It felt like nothing could ruin this race for me!
My mental strategy was to not think about how far I’d already run, but focus on how far I had left to go. For some reason I broke it down into 10 miles + whatever, and that seemed so manageable. At 15 miles, “only 10 miles plus 1.2! That’s so easy! I can do that in my sleep!”
When I hit 17 miles and had only single digits’ worth of miles left to run, I was THRILLED. In my mind, I was practically done. It sounds funny now, but it worked so well!
I think I ate Gu #4 around mile 17.5. Along the way, my watch had adjusted to nearly match up with the mile markers, but then it kept on going—it was telling me I’d already run 18 miles, for example, but then I wouldn’t hit the 18-mile marker for another quarter mile. That was hard on my mental game, but I tried to keep track of how much it was off so I’d know when to expect the next mile marker. By the end, it was off by almost half a mile.
It seemed to take forever to get to 20 miles. I crossed the timing mat in 2:57:52 (8:54 average pace). I was stoked for several reasons:
I was not hitting any sort of wall.
I had less than an hour of running left.
I knew I could PR, barring complete disaster.
At that point, I hadn’t taken anything from any aid station and was getting low on my Nuun. I unscrewed one of my bottle tops as I ran up to the next aid station and quickly dumped three cups of water into it, screwed the top back on and kept running.
I knew around mile 21.5, we’d transition from the John Wayne Trail to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which meant we’d kind of run around a switchback at the Cedar Falls trailhead and begin our final descent to the finish line. Again, it seemed to take forever to get to that point and I was eagerly anticipating it! There were big puddles along this stretch and my legs got pretty muddy, but somehow I kept my socks dry. I ate Gu #5 somewhere around here.
Finally we made the turn onto the SVT. I heard the 3:55 pacer behind me as I made the turn and was like, goooo! He never did pass me. 🙂
My legs were feeeeeeling the downhill. I had expected my knees and quads to be in pain, but it was actually my calves that were like, “Hiiiii, what is happening?!?” They felt very heavy and like they might cramp up at any second.
Inspired by Deena Kastor yet again, I imagined that what I was feeling was actually all the power I’d built up in my calves over the past five months, and I pictured the ground sending energy back up into my legs with every step. When I started to worry about cramping, I just thought, “Nope, not today!”
I had made a Spotify playlist for this portion of the race called BREAK THE GLASS, as in “break glass in case of emergency.” Even though my headphones were dead and gone, I still wanted to listen to it, so I turned it on just loud enough so I could hear it and angled my phone in the vertical vest pocket so that the speaker pointed up toward my head.
I’M SORRY if that is an asshole move to play music out loud and potentially disrupt other runners when they’re in the zone, but the field was pretty strung out at the this point and I figured if anyone was mad at me, I could just run away from them. 🙂 No one ever said a word, so it was either quiet enough that nobody could hear, or they actually liked the music, or they were just too polite/hurting too much to yell at me.
Anyway, the playlist gave me just the energy I needed and made me so happy. I felt joyful and lighthearted even as my calves threatened to seize up at any moment. Here it is, to give you an idea of the vibe:
Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin
Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
California Girl – Cheap Trick
Tom Sawyer – Rush
Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin
Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith
China Grove – The Doobie Brothers
Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
Let It Go – Idina Menzel
Feelin’ Alright – Joe Cocker
Listen to the Music – The Doobie Brothers
Basically high-energy classic rock with a dash of Kelly Clarkson and the triumphant anthem from Frozen, then finishing off with some happy, chill songs that brought me through the finish line. So random, yet so perfect.
I ate Gu #6 at mile 23 or so in the hopes of fending off cramps, and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
At one point, I curled up my toes to try to loosen up my feet, and that legit made my calves cramp. It caused me to stumble a bit, like Bambi trying to walk on ice, and another woman asked if I was OK. I shook it off and kept running, vowing not to change anything again and just keep moving!
I look happy enough at mile 25. Almost done with this thing!
Those last few miles were so rough and felt like they took forever, but according to my splits on Strava, I kept a pretty even pace: 9:06, 9:07 and 9:06 for miles 24-26. I did stop for maybe five seconds at mile 26 to quickly stretch my calves for the final sprint, which I did at 8:24 pace.
Get. Me. To. That. Finish. Line!!!
I saw Hallie and her kids, Evie and Aaron cheering alongside the flags lining the final stretch and was sooo happy! I freakin’ did it and overall felt stronger and better than any other marathon I’ve run!
I finished in 3:54:16, a five-minute improvement on my previous PR from the 2013 Chicago Marathon (3:59:13) and a 20-minute improvement on my most recent marathon time from Big Sur in 2015 (4:14:12). It may have been a downhill marathon, but it came with its own challenges and required just as much strength to get through as any other!
Take the splits with a grain of salt because, y’know, tunnel:
I smiled the whole way across the line, then burst into a kind of dry heave/ugly cry, feeling so overwhelmed to have come so far, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t wait to hug everyone.
Bless these people for waiting and cheering in the rain. How often do you get a cool, wet marathon at the end of July?? Perfection!
I spent the rest of the day relaxing at home, attempting to stretch and foam roll but not getting very far because my legs were in so much pain, and hobbling around. I hobbled pretty solidly for three or four days. I don’t think I’ll be doing another downhill marathon anytime soon. 🙂
I’ve taken this past week off from all exercise, and will probably take next week off too since we’re going on vacation! Then, I’m excited to gradually begin running again and work toward my next goal.
For now, I’ll continue to bask in the immense joy I’ve gotten from achieving this one.
I’ve neglected this blog in favor of the ease of Instagram, but I want to catch you up on everything that’s happened since last fall. Spoiler alert: I just ran a marathon! And not just any old marathon; I ran a five-minute PR!
write a full race recap to share all about how I got to the finish line. But
first, here’s how I got to the start line.
After I got injured in July 2018, I went to physical therapy once a week through September to correct my SI joint dysfunction and build strength in the surrounding muscles. Then, I began working with a running coach in October to improve my form and slowly begin to run again. And by slowly, I mean sloooowwwwlyyyyy.
My coach gave me strict orders to not do too much, too soon. That meant sticking to an easy mix of running and walking, and keeping my heart rate between 135 and 145 bpm, which was equivalent to about a 12:00 min/mile pace. It was so hard to be patient, but I followed his recommendations!
several times through November, working on things like a warmup routine and
form drills, and then I took a complete break from coaching and running through
However, I stayed active by walking on the treadmill for an hour at a time several days a week. I watched a lot of Scandal. I also started the Bikini Body Guide program (BBG) from the beginning again just before Thanksgiving to get stronger and help keep holiday pounds at bay. It worked on both counts!
On January 1, I felt full of hope for 2019 and ran a symbolic mile around my neighborhood to mark my return to running. I ran it in 9:16, which was definitely too fast for my fitness level, and it made me feel achy in the SI joint area. 😦 I went back to a mix of walking on the treadmill and very slow running/walking outside, and scheduled another package of sessions with my coach.
so pleased to see big improvements in my ability to complete my coach’s drills
with proper form due to my increased strength (especially core). Thanks, BBG!
It made me think, “Huh… there’s really something to this idea of
whole-body fitness when it comes to running.” (Duh.)
continued to follow my coach’s guidelines with easy running/walking, and
gradually decreased the amount I walked and increased the amount I ran.
on February 23, I felt good enough to run a full four miles and completed them
in 38:34 (9:38 pace). I wasn’t exactly following coach’s guidelines… but it
felt great to me, mentally and physically.
From there, I just kept on running. Three miles one day, five miles another day. By the end of March, I felt solid enough to start training for Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon—the same race I’d trained for in 2018, but couldn’t run due to my injury.
My coach wasn’t exactly supportive of my jumping right into marathon training, but I chose a fairly conservative 18-week training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice 2) and figured I’d take it one run at a time and see how far I could get. Highlights of the plan:
surprise, I felt so much better following this easier training plan. It was so
manageable, and I never felt burned out.
any other time I’ve trained for a marathon, I actually completed all the runs
(except when I skipped the entire first week of the plan since I was so sick
with a cold) and cross-trained by riding my bike for an hour every Sunday
starting in week six.
I think the cross-training made such a big difference. I ran long on Saturdays, rode easy for 12-13 miles on a local trail on Sundays, and on Mondays my legs felt so much more recovered than if I hadn’t done anything at all.
I also grew to really love my time on the bike! Riding in (mostly) perfect weather in the spring and summer felt like total bliss. It was awesome and freeing to be able to cover so much more distance in an hour on the bike than any hour I’d ever spend running, and I got to see my usual running routes in new ways. I was also able to do a few rides with Aaron when the grandparents were watching Evie, which was super fun for me and probably very slow and boring for him. 🙂
Another thing I did differently: I consistently worked on my core strength with The Dozen workout (recommended by my running coach) and on my hip strength with the routine my physical therapist gave me to do at home. Well, I did all this sporadically for the first several weeks, then really buckled down for the final eight weeks and did core 2x/week and PT 2x/week.
figured out that I could use my lunch break at work to go down to the (free!)
gym in my building and do these strength workouts, then run in the evening.
Breaking up the work made it seem less daunting and gave me more free time in
the evenings. A typical week looked like this:
Monday: midday PT
Tuesday: morning core + run (I
work from home on Tuesdays)
Wednesday: midday PT + evening
Thursday: midday core + evening
Saturday: long run
I quickly established this routine and never looked back. Hitting the gym added a nice break to my day and made my lunch (eaten afterward at my desk) taste so much better. 🙂
I can’t stress enough what a huge difference this strength work made in my training and in running the marathon itself. In the past, when my long runs got up to 15+ miles, I always remember my lower back and shoulders feeling so tired and sore by the end. This time around, they felt perfectly fine. Sure, my legs were tired, but the rest of my body felt well-supported and strong.
A few other things that happened during training: when I started the plan, I no longer had time on weekends to meet with my running coach, so I phased out our work together; we last met in April. I learned so much from him—a proper warmup routine, form drills, etc.—but private, in-person coaching is expensive and not something I can afford on an ongoing basis. It’s something I’m certainly open to doing again in the future to continue improving my running.
I also ran a few races! At the end of April, I did the Mt. Si Relay with a team of four other women. We covered 59 miles altogether; my legs were 6.1 mostly flat miles (7:56 average pace) and 6.8 entirely uphill miles (8:27 average pace).
I was thrilled with those paces given that I hadn’t done any speedwork since getting injured. I just ran comfortably hard while listening to podcasts to keep my mind occupied. I was definitely spent by the end of each leg, but I felt strong while running and nothing hurt. It felt amazing to run fast (for me) and not trigger any of the familiar old aches and pains.
we WON the women’s open division of the relay with our overall average pace of
7:49! It was a beautiful weather day, and we had a ton of fun to boot.
I also ran the Nordstrom Beat the Bridge 8K in mid-May. I work for Nordstrom, so the event is a big deal in our office every year. The race benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and every Nordstrom team is tasked with raising a certain amount of money. I volunteered to help lead the marketing team’s efforts this year, and we raised more than $20,000, beating last year’s fundraising! I raised a little over $10,000 of that by asking for donations from friends and family on Facebook, raffling off prize packages on Instagram and selling a whoooole lot of Aaron’s amazing homemade cookies and treats at work over the course of seven weeks. It was fun to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the race this year beyond just running it. Huge thanks to any of you who donated! 🙂
the race itself, my only goal was to have fun and hopefully PR, since I was
sick (again!) that weekend and spent a lot of energy helping with packet pickup
the previous day and the morning of the race.
Luckily, I was able to shave four minutes off my 2017 time for a PR of 40:06 (8:04 pace). I also ran 10 more miles later on to complete the 15 miles I was supposed to do for the day. (This all seemed very normal while I was doing it, but now sounds crazy looking back!?!? I was really terribly sick, but somehow felt better while running!)
I think that about brings us up to speed on everything that’s happened since I last wrote! I documented most of my training on Instagram, so you can always catch up there, as well.
up: my recap of Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon, aka three hours and 54
minutes of the most fun I’ve ever had while running!!!
I am grateful for my injury. A year ago, I would have never imagined I’d say that. It’s certainly easier now, on the other side, to see beyond the struggle and heartache, to appreciate the lessons. When I surprised myself with a 9-minute half-marathon PR in the spring of 2018, I became intoxicated by the idea of getting faster. I believed I had all this speed I’d never tapped into before, and if I just worked at it, I could run a BQ. So I jumped right into an aggressive training plan filled with speed work, goal-pace runs and many more weekly miles than I’d ever run before. I did get faster—but I was stacking block upon block to build a soaring tower with a nonexistent foundation. It’s no wonder it eventually came crashing down. It took me a while to recognize that my injury was of my own making. And then I realized I could do it all differently and create a better outcome. I’ve spent the last year slowly moving cinder blocks into place. There’s one for strength. There’s another for stability. Another for form. And, to fill in the gaps between those: plenty of patience. Determination. Persistence. Belief. I’ve built my foundation. Every step of this marathon, I’ll run on that foundation. I have every reason to believe it will get me to the finish line feeling healthy and happy. And then? I’ll look forward to my next goal and start stacking my blocks: a speed workout here, a few more miles there. But not too many. Not too fast. And I’ll continue to work on all the things that will keep my foundation strong. I wonder: How high can my tower go? (Photo taken after my successful 20-mile run. I was tired. 😄)
My first meeting with Coach Frank left me lacking confidence in my running ability, and a horrible cold left me flattened for a few weeks. I felt like I’d lost all my fitness. When I got dressed for the session, I realized it was the first time I’d put on workout clothes since our first meeting two weeks ago. And before that, it had been since mid-September. That’s a big leap from working out six days a week for months at a time!
But my nerves dissipated as I walked onto the track on a beautiful, sunny Saturday and saw my coach finishing up with another client. She was a woman in her late 40s or early 50s, running at a slowish but steady pace. As she ran laps, I asked Coach Frank how long she’d been working with him. He said a few months. First, they worked on form and gait; now, speed.
In our initial meeting, he had mentioned some of the incredibly fast high-school track kids he coaches, so I was happy to see at least one other person who started with him from square one.
I was relieved to find out I wouldn’t be doing much running that day. Instead, we focused on learning 10-12 warmup drills that I should do before every run. I know from my high-school track days, Runner’s World and every serious runner I follow on Instagram that I should warm up—yet I never do! Those days are over. It was so helpful to have Coach Frank walk me through each warmup drill so that I knew exactly what each one should look and feel like. We’ll continue to work on them in upcoming sessions until he’s confident I have them down.
Next, I ran one easy lap around the track—an effort of 4 on a scale of 1-10. I was happy to finish the lap feeling good and not sucking wind like I’d imagined. I could have done a few more! Also, nothing hurt—thank goodness.
Finally, we moved on to two form drills: one for my arms, and one focusing on legs.
Coach Frank told me that I waste energy holding my arms up higher than they need to be and swinging them across my body as I run. I learned to hold them just above my hips, keeping them bent at the elbow at a 90-degree angle as I swing them front to back (or “hip to pit,” as he says) from my shoulders. Keeping my arms at that 90-degree angle is tough, since I’m used to flailing all over the place. It’s a change that won’t happen overnight. I’ll have to practice, practice, practice until it eventually becomes second nature. I can’t wait to see how this alone will change my running!
The final drill involved practicing an exaggerated version of the proper leg motion I should be doing while running; it also involved the arms a bit. It was like a four-step process in slow motion, and there was a lot to think about. I did it several times on each side as Coach Frank gave me correctional cues. With this, as well as the arm-swing drill, the more I overthought it, the worse I did. Every time I was able to relax and let things flow, that’s when I did well. Isn’t that so true of running, too?
I walked away from the track that day with exactly what I wanted: renewed hope and confidence for my running future. And I really like working with Coach Frank so far. He gave clear directions and gentle corrections, plus praise when I did well. He cracked a few jokes. I had fun learning from him! I’ve paid for a package that includes three more sessions, and then I’ll figure out where to go from there.
I have so much work to do before I start training for another race. I’m signed up for the Orcas Island 25K (recap) again at the end of January, so I hope to be able to do that. And the Lake Sammamish Half (2018 recap) is in March, which I feel like is far enough away that I could be ready.
For now, Coach Frank told me to run no more than a few miles a few times a week, and to really focus on warming up properly, cooling down/stretching afterward and practicing the form drills three times per week.
At this point, I’m running zero miles per week because I’m still trying to get over my cold. I’m through the worst of it, but my coughs are still “productive” (gross) and I still have pressure in my sinuses to the point where my teeth hurt. I was feeling a lot better, but then had a pretty active weekend (pumpkin patch, coaching session, family photo shoot on a 40-degree morning) and by Monday felt like I’d taken two steps backward.
I’m really bummed that I’m missing the best month of fall running. The leaves are ablaze and the weather is beautiful. I guess I could be walking, but I’ve been resting as much as possible in the hopes that it will help me get healthy faster.
Plus, I’m actually enjoying being lazy. Maybe I’ll just write off the rest of October and hop back on the workout/running train with—I hope—renewed energy in November.
I wrote this last week, before my first real workout with the coach. Post-workout post coming tomorrow!
Despite being cleared to run by my physical therapist, my attempts to return to running have been clumsy and painful. I know I need to change my form and gait to run more efficiently and help prevent injuries in the future, and I know I need someone to help me do it properly. I’ve read tons of articles, watched video tutorials, etc., but nothing compares to being on the track with a professional who can give me personalized feedback and cues.
I Googled my way into finding a local running coach who is certified by the Road Runners Club of America and USA Track & Field, and who was also a professional runner before going into coaching about 20 years ago. He is extremely popular, so I was nervous about getting time with him, but I was able to schedule an initial two-hour session fairly easily.
We spent the majority of that session talking about my history with running and injuries, his coaching method and philosophy, nutrition, hydration and more.
He’s a very matter-of-fact guy; there was definitely nothing like, “You can achieve any goal as long as you work hard enough!” in our conversation. I don’t think he was trying to discourage me, but was just making sure my expectations were in check. I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials or anything; I just want to run pain-free and eventually qualify for Boston, so I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
As we talked about my running history and I described the training plan I used for Jack & Jill, he wasn’t shocked that I got injured. Running six days a week with higher mileage than I’d ever run before for my first marathon training cycle after having a baby? Never warming up? Rarely cooling down/stretching after runs? Doing almost no cross training? Well, duh.
So I felt very humbled by our talk. Hindsight is 20/20 and he helped me see the reality of what happened. I wonder if a female coach would have been a little gentler with me and given me more encouragement about what I could achieve in the future, but I can appreciate that he’s just not that kind of coach, and I can handle some tough love.
We spent the last 15 minutes or so on the track. First, he watched me walk away from him and toward him several times. Then he inspected the wear pattern on my shoes; I wore the last pair I had trained in for Jack & Jill. Then he watched me run back and forth on the track with varying degrees of effort, and finally filmed me doing so.
He talked me through a laundry list of issues while showing me the video evidence, and it was all plain as day. I hold my arms too high and swing them across my body instead of forward/backward, which is extremely inefficient. He said that would be a relatively easy fix compared to what was happening with my gait.
My hips sit too far back, and I run from my knees down, meaning I don’t make use of my quads and hamstrings like I should. He said, “You’re a strong woman” (why thank you!) “but you’re not using your main sources of power.” Damn.
It’s encouraging that the coach could spot my issues and articulate them so easily. I should be excited to tackle them head-on; I can only improve, right? But I feel discouraged and embarrassed that I’ve been running so wrong for so long. I always thought running was such a natural human action; how could I possible screw it up? I also thought that about breastfeeding before I became a mother, though, and I quickly learned how wrong I was about that!
So my brain and emotions are at odds right now. Logically, I know I can improve if I put in the work. Emotionally, I feel intimidated and lacking in confidence. I’m three months out from my injury and have only run a few miles a handful of times since then. I feel out of shape because—between a week of travel and a horrible cold—I haven’t exercised at all in three weeks. My first workout with the coach is tomorrow. This… will be interesting.
I hope to walk away from the track tomorrow with renewed hope and confidence for my running future. If not, I’ll just need to put in more effort to get it. Despite having been a runner for eight years and having completed five marathons, I feel like a newbie all over again—nervous, insecure and full of self-doubt.
All I can do is move forward the same way I did back in 2010: one step at a time.
The first time I left my daughter was over Labor Day weekend in 2016, when she was four months old. I didn’t just skip town; I left the country.
One of my closest friends had her bachelorette party in Vancouver, B.C., and I was excited to spend three days celebrating with my girlfriends. Perhaps even more, I was excited to get a few uninterrupted nights of sleep for the first time in what felt like forever.
I was the only mother on the trip, and thus the only one pumping breastmilk in the car as we waited in the interminable line to cross the border into Canada. That kind of set the tone for the trip for me.
For some reason when I think of that trip, I don’t remember so much about the restaurants we visited or the bars we hit. The things that jump out at me are all the places I hid to pump while the other girls played party games and refilled their wine glasses; the careful management of my ice packs and the refrigerator/freezer situation between one hotel room and one Airbnb that were inexplicably located a car ride away from each other; the endless math of figuring out when I’d need to pump next and whether to save the milk or dump it (thanks to my own refilled wine glass).
I also remember the twice-daily FaceTime calls with my husband and Evie, and how my quiet, gentle missing of her suddenly became a gut punch the moment I saw her.
I particularly remember one video call I made to Aaron while pumping. I decided it would be funny to train the camera on my chest when he answered the call, and then I quickly realized my mother-in-law was right there looking over his shoulder. I think I moved the camera quickly enough, but oh man, I sure never did that again!
The other reason I remember that call is because Aaron and Evie were at my in-laws’ house, and Evie was dressed in a new outfit they had given her. Sweet, right? I’m incredibly grateful whenever anyone gives her a gift, but at the time, she suddenly looked like a completely different baby to me. She was wearing an unfamiliar headband, top and pants, and somehow that made her look so much more grown-up. Since I’m her mother and The Organizer of All the Baby Clothes, she had never been dressed in something I hadn’t at least seen ahead of time.
I’m not sure why this affected me so much. It wasn’t about the clothes themselves, but the visual reminder that she was experiencing new things—and thus growing—without me. It was only for a few days, but in the scope of her existence at that point, a few days was not nothing.
I’m pretty sure I confined my tears to wherever I was FaceTiming and didn’t make a big deal about things among the larger group of girls, but I still remember the exact feeling. I felt it again just a few days ago.
The weird thing was that I felt it when I returned home after five days away. It was the longest I had ever been away from Evie, and I worried beforehand that I would break down into FaceTime tears again and again throughout the trip.
Maybe it’s because we’re no longer tethered by postpartum hormones and milk, or because my trip was busy and her little life is busy—with school, with friends, with endless viewings of Monsters, Inc.—but I was happy to see her on FaceTime and then happy to continue about my day. I was so excited to cover her squishy cheeks with kisses when we were reunited at the airport, but I wasn’t counting down the minutes.
It was only when I saw her then that the tears came. She’s always been the most beautiful thing in the world to me, but somehow she looked even more angelic now: blue eyes, smooth skin, hair curling into perfect chaos.
I told her how happy I was to see her. She asked me for Goldfish.
My in-laws (not the ones I almost flashed) picked me up, so I sat in the backseat with Evie on the way home. I studied her and found so many changes more permanent than a new headband. Her hair was definitely longer. She’ll grow out of those shoes any day now. Her previously broken sentences were more complete; someone who remembers how to diagram all the parts would approve. All this in five days. Five days.
That evening, after dinner and before her bedtime, we had a family snuggle on the couch while watching—what else?—Monsters, Inc. Aaron sat on the far right of the sofa; I squished in as close as I could without being on top of him; and Evie’s body molded to my lap, her head resting on my chest. As nice as it was to get away, sleep a little bit more and have a little bit less responsibility, this… this was the very best.
I didn’t realize I was part of a puzzle until I found myself nestled in with the other pieces.
Last week I attended a creative conference in Nashville called STORY. I’m lucky to work on a creative team that values travel and experiences, and thus sends members of the team on several “creative inspiration” trips each year. Groups have gone to SXSW in Austin; Art Basel in Miami; conferences in Venice, Berlin, Dublin and more. Nashville was my first opportunity to take one of these creative trips, and I was thrilled!
For one thing, STORY is extremely relevant to my work as a copywriter. The goal of the conference is to reawaken wonder, to unlock creativity and to encourage creatives to take the reins of writing the future of our culture.
For another, Nashville has an excellent food scene. Armed with my corporate credit card, I was ready to experience five days’ worth of the city’s best restaurants. Also, it was warm enough there to completely avoid wearing pants (70 to 100 degrees), which is perfect for fully experiencing the food scene. 😉
In addition to seeking inspiration and motivation for my professional creative work, I hoped to find the same for my personal writing. I have lots of ideas for this blog, but haven’t dedicated the time to realize them. I’m a perfectionist when I write and tend to edit myself as I go along, so a writing stint can easily grind to a halt if I find myself stuck on the perfect way to express a thought.
I also tend to write with the intention of publishing the end result on this blog, so any number of doubts can stop me from actually finishing a post: Is anyone even going to care if I write this? What if people do read it, but it’s too ______ (boring, negative, annoying, etc.)? And so something I began writing as a way to express myself becomes weighed down by my concerns about what others will think of it. I toss my ideas into a bag, add a few boulders of self-doubt, push it overboard and watch it sink into oblivion.
The good news is that I did get some inspiration and strategies for doing fearless creative work. And the even better news is that this blog is entirely mine—I’m not beholden to advertisers or sponsors who are concerned with what I should or shouldn’t say—and it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. That’s hard to remember in this day and age when trolls are everywhere, sharing their unsolicited thoughts on how everyone should live their lives and how they should or shouldn’t share them online, but I’ll try.
The main thing holding me back from writing right now is the fact that I’m not running. I’m frustrated. I’m sad. And I don’t want to be the injured runner who dwells on it and spreads negativity. I don’t want to be ungrateful about the fact that my injuries are not nearly as bad as any number of other people’s injuries.
But still, I can’t deny the way I feel. I know reading about the experiences of an injured runner isn’t nearly as exciting or inspirational as reading about successful training runs and getting faster, but the people who don’t want to read it can skip it. Now more than ever, I need to write.
It’s difficult to sum up everything I learned at STORY—although I’ll have to do just that for a presentation at work—but here are a few nuggets of wisdom that are inspiring me now:
“Don’t be so obsessed with perfecting your craft that you lose your creativity.“ —Brad Montague
"Your worth and value are present right now [as a caterpillar]; don’t wait for a beautiful butterfly transformation.” —CJ Casciotta
“Process > perfection; being real is important and valuable.” —CJ Casciotta
“Don’t talk about it, be about it. There are a lot of talkers and not a lot of doers. Which one are you?” —Kevin Carroll