The November sky was a winter sky – painted every shade of gray with the wind’s brushstrokes leaving interesting patterns. The huge white stones in the pasture looked like sheep resting in field, a scene from Ballykissangel. Three dogs pulled at their leashes, happily bouncing along the pasture trail. But I was missing so much of it because I kept glancing at my Garmin. My pace was too slow. I was frustrated as the dogs kept stopping to sniff…or to pee…or listen for rabbits…
The struggle to control the run was overwhelming…and was just a reflection of how I try to control every aspect of my life. This is what drowning might feel like. Fighting the current never helps. You have to let go and just float. I’ve never been a fan of floating – always afraid of that loss of control. But the old ways aren’t working any longer so I need to find a new way. I’m going float more and race less.
My knee is giving me problems again so my running is suffering. Instead of getting angry with my body, I’m allowing myself to run slowly or not run at all. I’m allowing myself to walk when I need to. And I’m leaving my Garmin watch at home. I’m not tracking pace or mileage. I’m just moving. I’m not posting miles on MapMyRun and I don’t know if I’ll ever enter another race.
Shifting away from all these measures, scales, watches and clocks, I have to a chance to float freely…no guides, no maps, no public input. Just me. I eat when I’m hungry. I run when I want to run. I smile when I feel like smiling…and cry when I feel like crying. Floating along in my simple river…
This is my river…my beautiful, mossy, messy river.
Dogs recognize the exceptional in everybody because they take the time to sniff them out. Dogs don’t worry about your social standing, where you live or work, what kind of clothes you wear. They’re more concerned with who you REALLY ARE (or if you have treats in your pockets). Because I’ve been taking the time to sniff out the people around me, I’ve been blessed to meet some extra-ordinary folks
Today I’m going to introduce you to Ellen, a friend I met through running. I wasn’t sure how to write this so I conducted an email interview. Her words are in bold, mine in italics.
Ellen is a runner, fitness fanatic, mother, wife, ex-cop…and what else…(as if that isn’t enough).
So where to start on this interview. Of course, looking at your Facebook page, two things really jump out – your love for your children and your love of running.
I’m sure everybody reading will want to know “How does she do it?” But I think the answer is obvious “With love”
So let’s get started with you…
You were a law enforcement officer. Is that what started you on your fitness journey? What motivated you to join the force.
I guess I secretly wanted to be a police officer ever since I was a kid. I loved the show Dragnet and then moved on to Hawaii Five-O because they always got the bad guy. I was pretty focused, even as a young kid on trying to make the world a better place even if it was one bad guy at a time. Of course, as I got older, the line between “bad guy and good guy” got blurrier and more obscure. It was then that I learned of a thing called “situational ethics” (would you steal to feed your starving child?) and police work became more about social work based on personal morals. I liked that well enough, but laws and personal perspectives sometimes clash.
Over the past…how many years…you’ve lost quite a bit of weight and gained quite a bit of fitness…
Tell me a little bit about that.
Well, the long and short of it is that I was always a jock in high school. I was always a bit more athletic than most girls and competed mostly with boys. I did medical missions for years through a non profit I started. We brought 250 kids from 16 different third worlds countries to the USA for live-saving FREE medical care. That is a tale all its own. But while I was doing that, and traveling, I got lost somewhere and woke up with a whole lot of weight, which in turn, depressed me, which in turn, exacerbated into more weight gain and that cycle was born. When I realized that I had 2 kids, both age 5 who needed me I decided I needed to get my health back. Sooooo, 86 pounds later and a whole lot more healthier, here I am. I am trying to learn to be a runner because running is the total package for me.
You’re a foster mother to quite a few children with special needs. That takes a special person. What made and your husband decide to dedicate yourselves to these children? (I did learn Ellen is not a “foster” but read on…)
I am a Mom to 2 bio adult boys, both with children (3 grand daughters between them) of their own. As they were growing up, I did foster care for “the system” for a while, but again, got quite dismayed with the real purpose behind foster care (it is a numbers game) and how little “services” were actually provided. The pendulum swings from “you are a bad mother, let’s take your kids away because you feed them poor food” all the way to “ let’s put your 6 month old baby in a foster home for the 18th time and give you a break—oh and stop using drugs”. In other words..you can half kill your kids and still not lose them or you can be poor and be penalized for it. The system is broken.
Our ELEVEN adopted children are not foster children. They know the joy of permanency. I need to emphasize that because of our 11 children, SIX of them were adopted by other families who were unable to parent them. They ALL came from third world nations where they knew poverty, abuse neglect and lived a constant state of never knowing what was next. Permanency is a HUGE need for them. They are not foster children; they are all children who have a family and belong.
When people adopt children, there are challenges that not many talk about. International kids can be a challenge not only for the obvious reasons (they don’t speak the language, they are accustomed to the food, smells, even skin color of their new family. But they also can be a challenge because they had no say in the deal. There they were…in an orphanage which is the only home they ever knew and suddenly they are a million mile away, in a new culture with strangers who expect the child to immediately love them. These kids can be full of rage, sorrow and confusion. It really can throw a family for a loop. And usually, the mother is the target of that rage. Running helps nullify some of that agony from watching your child grieve.
I have 11 special needs kids. I love, adore and am smitten with them. They taught me more than any books, lectures or even ideas I have ever encountered. But not everyone feels that way about my kids. For school systems, they are a financial burden and we have struggled and fought with schools for services. Advocacy is not always a popular position. Educational advocacy can pit school against parent and I have to tell you, of all the tough things I have done in life, this is one of the toughest. I know my kids need me to fight for what they rightfully deserve, but there is a certain vindictiveness that happens when you force big entities to do their job. We have fallen victim to that vicious retaliation more than once. Running helps me clear my head and turn my anger around.
So, if I were to tell you that I run to keep the weight off, that would be true. But more so, I run to keep my head and heart balanced. The reason I hated running so much was that I KNEW I was fit, but I could not find that balance. I could not defeat that inner voice of anger and contempt. The real challenge of running for me, was learning how to be ok with not being my best or with feeling tired and waiting to quit and being ok knowing that some days are just like that. When I could give myself permission to just run and let my run be just that..a time to just “be”, I started liking running and now, it is the best medicine. It took great friends and real support for me to get there and I am still shaky with it all. Always a work in progress but it teaches me the value of friendship, too!
My first race was a 10K. I am proud of that but truthfully, I should have done a 5K. I did a 10K because I wanted to prove that I could do more. In a way, that is good. But in a way, that was the EXACT barricade that I was facing with my running. Needing to be the best without fail. The 10K taught me that I could prevail, but it also taught me a bit about arrogance. That is the dichotomy of running…it teaches you about your strengths, but it also flashes your weaknesses and lights them in bold marquee lights. Mostly, it teaches me about balance. We all need balance.
Another thing I love about running is the “brotherhood”. When I read yet one more story about how someone, without care and concern, stopped their own personal marathon to help a stranger meet their goal it lights my heart on fire with hope. When I read stories about kids who can’t even walk, hoisting themselves over a finish line named courage and determination, what does THAT tell you about the human spirit? When I read about a woman with stage 4 brain cancer, not only running her final marathon, but running it to make others aware of a cause, what does that say about self-sacrifice? I have found the camaraderie of runners is unique, inspiring and universal. I love belonging to such a cohesive community of hope in times of worldly division and degradation.
Yesterday I was so blessed to be able to attend the Texas Conference for Women with a dear friend. The caliber of speakers was impressive. The final keynotes were Patricia Arquette and Robin Roberts. I even got to shake hands with Robin and have my photo taken. (I want to point out that, YES, she’s taller in the photo BUT I’m wearing flats and she was wearing heels- and some amazing heels they were!).
Robin shared the title of book “Everybody’s Got Something” was a “momma-ism.” When Robin would complain about some misfortune, pain or seeming affliction, her mother would tell her “Everybody’s got something.” Her mother was a jewel box of pearls of wisdom.
How true!!!!!!! EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING…and EVERYBODY has OVERCOME SOMETHING….and EVERYBODY is SOMETHING.
Meeting new women, I see that each woman has an amazing story to tell. I started thinking of the women in my life and how each one has lived a life worthy of a novel. These stories deserve to be celebrated and shared. Most importantly, we can learn from each other and find inspiration.
SO……I’ve already talked to one friend and plan on talking to more. I want to do a something different with this blog…I want to share these stories of inspiration and achievement.
Don’t despair! It’s in keeping with my theme – when I grow up, I want to be a dog. Dogs meet new people and sniff then all over. They want to know every secret odor. Dogs dance with joy each time they see someone they love. They understand how to celebrate each individual.
So I plan on sniffing my friends and sharing their unique scents. I plan on celebrating each one with a Snoopy Dance of Joy and a blog post.
“How can you tell somebody has run a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll TELL YOU!”
On March 1st, I did it. I finished my second marathon and beat my previous time by more than 30 minutes. A few days before the race the National Weather Service predicted a start temperature of 40 and a daily high of 55. Sounded like perfect running weather. As the race neared, the predictions grew gloomier. At 6:30 a.m. the morning of the race, the current conditions were freezing rain, 30 degrees and a wind chill of 23. Now for some people this isn’t a big deal, but I’m a true Texan. I love sunshine and prefer sweat to chill bumps any day of the year. As sleet pelted the windshield, I honestly considered leaving – – – nobody would blame me, right? But I knew I’d regret it the rest of my life, so I stepped out, shivering and muttering obscenities under my breath.
I shuffled off into the sleet, determined to make my goal time and prove to myself I could do better than I did in October.
One of the problems I had with my first marathon was pacing. I was so concerned with the finish line, that I didn’t run a steady, slow pace. During a recent yoga class, my instructor explained that one of the problems beginners have with yoga is trying to hurry into the final pose. Instead of concentrating on creating a strong base for a headstand, they start kicking their feet into the air,wanting to get UP…NOW. It doesn’t work out well. So I focused on my base…I concentrated on my steady pace.
Around mile 6 I saw a sign on the back of a man’s shirt so I ran a little faster to catch up and read it. The sign read “Running off the chemo one mile at a time: 26.2” I ask him about the chemo. Last year he ran the Army Marathon. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed and had been receiving chemo all year. And there he was – out in the icy rain – running. His courage took away every excuse I had for not finishing. In Harker Heights the sidewalks were crowded with Harker Heights firefighters cheering him on. I remarked that he had quite the fan club and he told me he was a firefighter. What a motivation!!!
I trotted along, still at my pace (give or take). I rewarded myself at certain points by eating gels and drinking sports drinks. I had failed to take adequate nutrition at the first marathon. The lesson here is that self-care is vital! We can try to be brave and tough and unselfish but the bottom line is unless we feed our bodies and souls, we’ll end up pretty useless to everybody around us (and we’ll post a terrible performance).
I also focused on running one mile at a time. I didn’t think about how far I had to go or how far I’d gone. I tried to concentrate on that single mile under my feet. Step…step…step…focus on the step. Live in the moment. I reminded myself I can’t go back and run the last mile any differently and I can’t be at the finish until I’m at the finish. I tried to be mindful, living the race foot by foot, mile by mile.
Smiling…I smiled as much as possible. I thanked volunteers along the way. I made a game out of trying not to miss a single volunteer. Of course, when there were 15 folks at a water stop, I had to yell out a general THANK YOU. But I wanted my heart filled with gratitude and joy on this run. As I remarked to some of the law enforcement officers, I chose to be out there running in the ice. I’d actually even paid money to participate. But these men and women were there out of duty. I felt gratitude and compassion.
I was affected by the positive attitude of those around me too. Somewhere between mile 18 and 20, I ran with a wonderful woman from Killeen. She was so full of energy that I felt revived talking to her. We laughed and shared for several miles. I thought about how such exuberant energy is contagious…what a gift to the universe!
PURPOSE and REAL HEROES
Then I hit my wall…it started on the dam when the cold wind picked up and slapped me in the face. By mile 22 I was doing a lot of walking. Then I remembered why I was running . . .
When I signed up for the marathon, I was given the option of setting up a fundraiser page for one of several designated charities. After reading and studying, I chose Team Red White and Blue. Team RWB works with veterans to reintegrate them into the civilian world. From the website: “Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
Every day 22 veterans commit suicide…that’s one human life lost every 65 minutes. Involvement in sports and physical activities has been shown to alleviate the despair in which these veterans find themselves hopelessly lost.
(A good article to read: http://teamrwb.org/in-the-media/two-teams-unite-to-better-veteran-community)
As I ran, I started thinking about how so many of our veterans are living in darkness – in sadness, grief and despair so thick I can’t even imagine. I was just running 26.2 miles. I was smiling and happy. I felt some pain but it would be over in a few hours. These men and women can’t see an end to their pain so they opt for the most radical of solutions.
I could endure for them…I only raised $1,420 on my fundraising page, but just maybe that would change the life of even one veteran somewhere. Just maybe he or she would wear the Eagle (the Team RWB logo) and find hope.
Thinking of these heroes, I finished my race….I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t decide if I wanted to laugh or cry so I did both.
And just as the Army Marathon promises, I did run with heroes…and I ran for heroes. May God bless them ALL!
“I don’t like your hair like that. It makes you look old.” “Why would a grown woman dye her hair pink!?!” “You really need to start going back to church. ” “You really need to . . . (fill in the blank, the options seemed endless)”
The comments seemed to keep coming. After a long day of criticism and unwanted advice, I ran by the grocery store for comfort food. The cashier was so rude I couldn’t decide if I should slap her face or cry.
I finally made it home and noticed my husband had made lunch and not cleaned up after himself. There were crumbs and smears of mayonnaise on the counter. The dishes were piled in the sink. I went into the living to complain and found him soundly sleeping in his recliner, oblivious to the world and my complaints.
I needed to escape so I threw on my running clothes and headed down the road, but I couldn’t shake the ugliness inside of me. I was angry and hurt. The world wasn’t fair. My chest felt like it was holding back a flood of tears. My legs just hurt. I thought my head would explode. I knew my blood pressure was getting higher and higher because my ears started ringing.
So what the hell is wrong with me???
I slowed down and focused on breathing.
#1 – Just because somebody has an opinion doesn’t mean it’s right! WOW! Sometimes I believe everybody has the right answers except me. For years I’ve listened my family members and people in positions of authority as though they held the secrets to the universe. Hey…maybe I hold the secret! At least I need to give myself a little more air time. I realize I can be wrong, but sometimes I can be right.
#2 – Why should somebody’s opinion affect me? Another person’s opinions and thoughts don’t have to mean anything to me unless I want them to. Maybe I do look ridiculous with pink hair but I like it and at the end of the day, isn’t that really all that matters?
#3 – How important is it? How important is it that hubby sleeps in his recliner? I get some tv time that way. The dogs are acting crazy but do I have to get involved if nobody and nothing is being damaged? How often do I find myself stressed out by things that I could so easily ignore? Maybe I don’t “approve” of what somebody else is doing, but it doesn’t have to affect me…in the same way another person’s lack of approval doesn’t have to “harsh my mellow.”
#5 – MY LIFE! MY TIME! MY HAIR! What do “I” want? When I’m on my deathbed (hopefully a long time from now), what will I regret? What will make me smile? If I quiet down just a bit, I can hear my soul whisper her desires and needs. I just have to listen. I choose to be happy today. I choose to be calm. I choose to stay in my peaceful place and you can only come in if I let you.
I’m looking for my peaceful places…both inside and out.
On the home front I’m clearing clutter. I started purging closets, bookshelves, and cupboards. I hauled off two carloads of clothing, books, and kitchen “stuff”. I didn’t need three coffee pots, two blenders, an array of clothing two sizes too big, and magazines from the last decade. Incredibly I’ve only made a small dent. Why do I hang onto “things”? I’m sure there are reasons – some rewards I hope to gain.
I know sometimes I buy things hoping for some magical result. I look for the outfit that will make me beautiful, the self-help book that will dramatically repair my life, the trinket that will inspire, the kitchen gadget that turns me into Julia Child. Unfortunately, “stuff” seems to have the opposite effect. It only tends to constrict me and prevent me from growing.
Funny how that goes for the “inside” too. The more stuff I have crammed inside my little head, the harder it is to grow or find any sliver of bliss
So I’m integrating meditation into my evenings and I’m considering a short meditation in the mornings as well. I know most of my suffering is self-imposed and beyond that, any pain is usually imagined. I can dream up horrific scenarios that agonize me. I can focus on physical and emotional pain, reliving it over and over. I can remind myself of resentments that had almost cleared up. (* interesting little tidbit: I heard in a meeting once that resent comes from re-sentir or re-feel)
Meditation cures that craziness. I can focus on the only moment that is actually real – the current moment. In that space, I can’t get too carried away with torrents of thoughts.
When I do decide to veer from the present, I can make a point to be positive though. The past is gone and unless it’s happy memories, I don’t need to re-feel any of that stuff. The future is just a prediction, so why not predict happy endings.
Peaceful places are right here – right now.
Running with the dogs a few days ago was quite the little adventure. Noses to the ground, my two running buddies led me straight through bramble, brush and your usual collection of stickery, spiny Texas vegetation. We were following deer trails…and cow trails..and maybe even the scent of a few hogs.
I started thinking about how keen dogs’ noses are….they can smell 100 times better than we can. I think we’d probably go crazy if we could smell everything they smell.
I wonder if running through the pasture is like reading a book or watching a movie for a dog.
Running in town the other day with a friend, we talked about the various fragrances (and stenches) along the road. Some things are yucky – road kill, exhaust fumes. But early in the morning you can pick up the the aroma of bacon sizzling and pancakes on the griddle. On Saturdays, people do laundry and the clean, crisp smell of laundry detergent floats in the air. And there is NOTHING like fresh mowed grass. Ahhhh! Or bee brush before the rain….or honeysuckle…or a fireplace.
What can you smell this moment? I smell my shampoo and the oil in the diffuser. I cleaned house today with an eco-friendly cleaner and I can still pick up the faint geranium perfume.
What smells do you love? Rain? Rosemary? Dog? Curry?
Smells are memories too. Does the smell of a chocolate cupcake bring back the memory of a birthday party 40 years ago? Does the hint of a certain cologne remind you of the guy you dated back in the 80’s?
Try to notice smells for a few days. Pause and inhale and pay attention. Maybe it’s the mindfulness of sniffing that contributes to the peace dogs and cats seem to sometimes possess.