Autonomous Bombs

“The problem with Alzheimer’s is the problem of losing our autonomy—losing the ability, early on, to self-determine our lives.”

Dr. Jason Karlawish in conversation with Brené Brown

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.”

Boom.

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.”

BOOM.

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.

Boom.

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.

Inside, she is still Janet, brave and freed.

All Your Joys & Sorrows

“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.

Summer 2019 Road Trip: Bozeman, Yellowstone & Jackson Hole

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.

Palisade Falls in Bozeman.
Evie wished she could be triplets with Ava and Brooklyn!

Museum of the Rockies has the largest collection of dinosaur remains in the U.S.!

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!

Grand Prismatic Spring.

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.

The view from the front of the house—stunning!

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?

So brave.

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.

Lessons

I am grateful for my injury.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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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.⁣⁣
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I wonder: How high can my tower go?⁣

(Photo taken after my successful 20-mile run. I was tired. 😄)⁣

What I Learned at My First Real Coaching Session

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I was so nervous leading up to this.

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.

Working With a Running Coach: Step One

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.

Puzzle Pieces

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.

Telling My STORY

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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

Follow along in real time @dev.on.running.

Bikini Body Guide: My Review & Results

I first heard about Kayla Itsines and her Bikini Body Guide (BBG) in July 2017. My friend who’d had her second child not long before posted on Facebook that she was starting the workout plan to get back into shape, and I was intrigued.

For the longest time, I felt like I was stuck in my postpartum fitness journey and needed something to get me back into gear—a goal, a plan, a commitment. I read the comments on my friend’s post and saw that several other women had experienced great results with BBG.

But I wasn’t ready to go all in just yet. I did plenty of research first, reading various online reviews and looking at lots of before-and-after photos on Instagram. I longed to have an “after” photo, to look and feel more like my old self again. I was sick of stepping on the scale and seeing that the same extra 10 pounds were still there. I was sick of trying on my pre-baby jeans “just in case” and finding that they weren’t even close to slipping over my thighs, let alone buttoning at the waist. I thought back to the hard things I’ve done in my life, like running five marathons and traveling the world alone for three months, and knew it was time to take on something hard again—and that I could succeed. 

I looked through the details of the 12-week plan and felt pretty intimidated. At the time, I couldn’t do a single pushup, let alone all the variations of pushups that the plan calls for in the later weeks.

But the workouts were only 28 minutes long—four blocks of 7-minute efforts. The idea of completing three workouts a week for 12 weeks sounded like a huge effort, but thinking of it as just one 28-minute workout at a time? That felt doable.

I tried the very first workout one evening and thought I was going to die. I think it was the burpees.

But I had no doubt it was an awesome, effective workout. I was sweaty and breathless during, and sore after. I was finally all in.

We went on vacation at the end of July, and then started the plan for real in August, when Evie was 16 months old. Aaron decided to do it with me, which really helped me stay motivated and committed. There were so many times when I wanted to flake on a workout, but didn’t because he was there, ready to go. And I’m sure I coerced him into completing a few of the workouts that he didn’t really want to do, either. We worked out in our home office/gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, just like the plan prescribes, after Evie went to sleep for the night. I think I only missed three workouts out of 36, due to illness.

That’s not to say I did all the exercises perfectly. Some exercises were too hard for me to do at all (like triceps dips with legs up on a chair), so I modified them as needed (regular triceps dips with feet on the floor). I certainly did a lot of pushups on my knees. Better to do modified exercises than not do them at all! “Perfect” is the enemy of “good"—and "good” will still get you results.

You can easily do BBG at a gym if you belong to one, or at home like we did with some basic equipment.

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1. Jump rope: I had to buy one, since I hadn’t jumped rope since my school days, but there are so many for $10 or less! This one has great reviews.

2. Free weights: we have this set, and I set them to 10 pounds each. Any weights, like these, will work.

3. Weight bench: an essential for any home gym! This one is a reasonable price. You could also just use a sturdy regular bench or ottoman (you’ll be both lying down and stepping up on it for different exercises).

4. Step: I have this one. Evie loves jumping off it, so it doubles as toddler amusement.

5. Medicine ball: I borrowed an 8-pound ball from a friend to complete the first round of BBG, then got this 15-pound ball for Christmas. It’s almost a little TOO heavy! 10-12 pounds seems like a happy medium.

The guide also calls for a second weight bench (who has an extra one lying around, really?) and a Bosu ball, but I just made do without those. I used a sturdy chair instead of the second bench, and just did the moves that called for a Bosu ball… without a Bosu ball. 🙂

Of course, you also need the Bikini Body Guide itself. Kayla Itsines offers the eBook version for about $50 USD, which I think is totally worth it—especially when you compare that price to 12 weeks of classes at a gym, or 36 sessions with a personal trainer. (It’s worth noting that rather than 36 different workouts, BBG is made up of 18 workouts repeated twice: the workouts in week one are repeated in week three, weeks two and four are the same, etc.).

Of course, you don’t get the inherent motivation that a class or personal trainer provides—that has to come from you. I suggest recruiting a friend or partner to commit to the plan with you so you can keep each other motivated.

Kayla also has an app called Sweat that offers a short free trial, then charges $19.99 per month for continued use. If you want access to a lot more workouts, instructional videos, etc., this may be the route for you. I haven’t tried it myself, as the original BBG plan is more than adequate for my needs.

Back to that: BBG also calls for two to five days per week of low-intensity steady-state cardio, like walking, but I ran two to three times per week when I completed the plan last year. Since I’m currently unable to run, I’m now walking.

There’s also a separate 12-week eating plan ($50), but I had no interest in it. I’ve learned over the years that sticking fairly close to a Paleo way of eating works for me in terms of shedding extra pounds and feeling my best, so last year I did that Monday through Friday and was more lenient (but didn’t go nuts) on the weekends. I also tracked all my food using the free My Fitness Pal app, as I needed help adjusting my portion sizes and snacking habits since I was no longer pregnant or nursing. Two years of “eating for two,” plus several years of training for marathons, had gotten me in the habit of eating quite a bit more than a person should if they’re trying to lose a few pounds.

Tracking my food was certainly eye-opening and key to jumpstarting my weight loss after being stagnant for so long. I was not super-restrictive with calories, though, and always made sure to eat if I was hungry—even if that meant going over my allotted calories for the day.

After 12 weeks of BBG workouts and watching what I ate, I lost 7.5 pounds, gained visible muscle tone and finally fit into my pre-baby jeans! Most importantly, I felt so much stronger and like I was in control of my body again. When I looked in the mirror, I recognized myself—not as the exact same person as I was before I had Evie, but as a person who went through many changes to bring a new little person into the world, and then worked her way back to fitness.

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Finally, I had my “after” photos, and I shared them with the world via Instagram, even though my “after” certainly wasn’t (and will never be) perfect. But I was proud of my progress, and wanted to share it—and maybe inspire others who were thinking about working on their fitness, too. 

A few weeks later, I woke up to a bunch of Instagram notifications and realized Kayla had shared my progress photos on her official account, which had somewhere around 8 million followers at the time. If I was a little nervous to share my photos with a few hundred followers on my account, imagine how I felt when I knew MILLIONS of people would see them! I steeled myself for nasty comments galore. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all of them were positive, and the only one that wasn’t was just kind of neutral (“I don’t see a difference” or something like that—and someone called that person out, ha!). So, yay for a supportive BBG community!

I was so pumped about my results that I wanted to start BBG all over again, as many people do. Some women I follow on Instagram have done BBG back-to-back for YEARS. But as 2018 rolled around, I realized three days of BBG per week just wasn’t compatible with the amount of running I needed to do to train for the Orcas Island 25K and other races I had on my calendar. For a while, I dropped down to two days of BBG (arms and abs only, to save my legs for running), and then just tried to fit it in whenever I could as I ramped up with marathon training.

Now that I’m sidelined from running, I’m five weeks into another round of BBG and feeling good—definitely getting stronger again! I haven’t been as diligent with healthy eating as I should to see major results, but I’m fine with that since I’m still at a happy weight where I fit comfortably into my clothes. Once things start feeling too tight, then I know I need to pay more attention to my eating. I’ve definitely had to adjust the kinds of things I’m eating and my portion sizes now that I’m not marathon training or running at all. I do miss the food freedom I enjoyed when I just automatically burned everything off thanks to my training schedule! I’m looking forward to that again someday. 🙂

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful if you’ve been thinking about trying BBG! I’m not the greatest at sticking to workout programs, but I think this one is really worthwhile and effective if you give it your best shot. 

P.S. I have no affiliation with BBG, but the links to gym equipment are Amazon affiliate links.

Follow along in real time on Instagram @dev.on.running.

The Injury Diaries

When I began training for the Jack & Jill Marathon, I was certain there would be one of three outcomes: I would finish but not PR (maybe); I would PR (probably); I would qualify for Boston (hopefully).

I never once considered a fourth outcome—the one that actually happened—that I would never even make it to the start line.

My training was going so well—better than I ever could have hoped. I was hitting my goal paces, feeling great during speed workouts and long runs, and not having any issues with a much more rigorous training schedule and higher mileage than I’d ever attempted before.

That is, until the end of week 14.

I ended week 13 (one of my peak weeks, with 56 miles of running) feeling awesome and looking forward to the lower mileage of week 14 (just 43 miles). I cranked out a handful of easy runs Monday through Wednesday, then nailed my 9 x 800m speed workout on Thursday. Aiming for 3:30 intervals, I ran them all between 3:21 and 3:29. I felt on top of the world.

Then on Saturday, after an easy 6-mile run, I noticed my hips felt a little tight. We had Hallie and her husband Patrick over for drinks that night, and I asked her about stretches to help relieve the tightness (she’s a personal trainer and fitness instructor). My 12-mile long run on Sunday went fine, but I had the same tight feeling after that one. I started stretching, foam rolling and trying to release my piriformis with a hard ball like crazy.

Week 15 was meant to be my final peak week, ending with my third 20-miler on Sunday. I felt a little off as I began each run that week, but then felt fine after I got warmed up. The hip tightness and a strange feeling of weakness in my left glute plagued me every night. I continued stretching and cursed myself for previously not being more diligent about stretching after every run, and for not doing any hip- or glute-strengthening exercises throughout my training.

We drove up to Whistler, B.C. on Wednesday, the 4th of July. It was a 4.5-hour drive. (I later learned that my injury is exacerbated by long periods of sitting). My run on Thursday did NOT go well, but I thought that was because it was meant to be a tempo run and I accidentally did it on a very hilly trail.

Saturday was supposed to be my final 10-mile run at marathon goal pace (8:00 average). I shook off the weird tight/weak feelings in the first few miles and had a great run nearly on pace for the first four miles or so. The path then turned into rolling hills and I started feeling discomfort in my lower back, just above my left glute. At mile 5, I stopped to stretch. By mile 5.4, I was in a LOT of pain and knew I shouldn’t run another step. 

I was five miles away from our condo, so I called Aaron and asked him to come pick me up. It was raining. I waited inside the vestibule of a grocery store and tried stretching some more. When I realized stretching did nothing to help the pain, I started crying. I didn’t want to believe it, but somehow I knew my race was probably over.

I Googled like crazy to try to figure out what my injury was, and anything I found with symptoms similar to mine came with a recommendation to stop running for 4-6 weeks. The marathon was three weeks away. More tears.

We drove home from Whistler that day, and it was the most uncomfortable car ride of my life (other than the car ride to the hospital to give birth, but that was only about 5 minutes long!). This one took 5+ hours, thanks to the looooong line we had to wait in at the border to get back into the U.S. Sitting felt horrible, so I constantly squirmed around trying to find a better position. Putting a small, hard ball under my left glute felt somewhat better, but still not great.

The next few days were quite painful, especially in the mornings. I was super stiff and tight, and even something as simple as getting into the car brought me to the brink of tears. Bending over to pick up Evie was excruciating. Sitting for any longer than 10-15 minutes was uncomfortable, so I ditched my desk at work and took my laptop into the kitchen so I could work standing up at a tall counter. (I did that every day for a month or so until I finally got a standing desk.)

First I went to my chiropractor to see if he could figure out what was wrong with me, but I quickly realized I needed to see a physical therapist. I had my first appointment on July 11, during which the PT diagnosed hypermobility of my left sacroiliac (SI) joint going into anterior rotation, so that when I run and my left leg extends behind me, it forces my pelvis into an anterior rotation beyond the normal limits of the joint.

He recommended no running for 6-8 weeks and weekly physical therapy (along with daily exercises at home) through August, but he also said that since I’d been injured for a short amount of time (one week), there was a chance the issue could resolve in a short amount of time and I’d be able to run soon. Did that mean running a marathon on July 28 was a good idea? I didn’t know for sure, but probably not. I tried to stay positive and keep an open mind. I had come too far in my training to give up just yet.

My glute and lower back felt better every day as I continued my physical therapy. I was wary to even attempt to run until the day I woke up completely pain-free, in fear of ruining the progress I’d made, so I just walked in the evenings or used the elliptical or adaptive motion trainer in my office gym at lunchtime to try to keep up my fitness.

On July 20, my PT had me do a test run on the treadmill, and I ran ¾ of a mile with no pain. I was very hopeful. But then on July 22—the Sunday before the marathon—I attempted a run outside and didn’t even make it two miles before I felt the familiar ache of my SI joint and knew I should stop.

The funny thing was that I stopped my run right at the finish line of the actual marathon course. I looked at the empty trail that would soon be filled with timing mats, spectators and an announcer shouting out the names of finishers and Boston qualifiers. They would all be there—but not for me.

I let go of my dreams for this race knowing that I had given it my all. I gave it my all in training and I gave it my all in attempted recovery. Whether you make it onto the race course or not, that’s all you can do in a marathon. The rest just is what it is.

I’m tearing up as I write this, even though it’s now September and this all happened more than a month ago. I had hoped to be running again by now. I had hoped to be training for a December marathon by now. But it looks like I have to let go of that one, too, and put in more work before I can set another big goal.

My PT cleared me to run a few miles at a time starting in mid-August, and he gave me some cues to correct my running form and hopefully avoid future injuries. But either I’m doing something wrong or it will take time for my body to adjust because I started feeling pain along the inside of both shins that my PT says is posterior tibial tendonitis.

So now my SI joint feels fine, but here’s this new thing holding me back. I’ve added a new exercise to my PT routine to help with it, and tried to run through it a few times, but now I’m just done. I’m taking time off from running, focusing on walking, continuing physical therapy and doing the Bikini Body Guide over again. I’m planning to work with a running coach on my eventual return.

It’s frustrating to still be sidelined, but it doesn’t feel good trying to force my body to do something it apparently doesn’t want to do, either. I’ll stick with what feels good, which—for now—is not running.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been running since 2010 and am only now dealing with injuries, and I’m thankful that they’re not so bad in the grand scheme of things. I believe pain-free running is ahead for me. I just need more time—and more help—to make it happen.

Thanks for following along and for your encouragement. I still like to see other runners out there killing it. It makes me happy, and gives me hope.

Follow along in real time on Instagram @dev.on.running.