ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the tag “running”

Learning to Embrace the Turtle

One of my favorite stories is one my Dad told me from his time in Thailand years ago when he was working with Vietnamese refugees. On his off days he would go to the Buddhist temple by his house, he would teach English to the monks and the monks would teach him Thai. While he is not a religious man he was intrigued by Buddhism so he asked one of the monks how he would go about becoming a Buddhist, the monk replied “If you feel like you are a Buddhist, then you are a Buddhist,” which is exactly something I would imagine a Buddhist monk saying. Stick with me, I’ll curve back to this story.

On New Year’s Day my DH, Eric, and I made our way to the gym and ran our final run of a 36 day running streak challenge from Runner’s World magazine. My muscles were fatigued, I was feeling every run I’d done over the past 35 days, but I was motivated by the accomplishment of running 36 days in a row. We both planned to do a longer run, which meant my mind had a lot of time to wander and mull, and it did, I began thinking about the internal journey running had taken me on over the past two years.

Over the summer, when we were in the US on home leave and doing a lot of running on the gorgeous trails of rural Maryland and in Minneapolis, I started lovingly referring to myself as the “Speedy Turtle,” my pace is south of speedy and I’d struggled emotionally with that. But, with each run, I began to embrace my turtle self, I began to remind myself that I may not be the quickest but I never quit, my pace may be slow but I always put one foot in front of the other. I’d been calling myself a runner for some time but, until this summer, it felt not quite true, not because it wasn’t but because I was judging myself as not good enough to really be given the title of runner. Over the summer, I stopped paying so much attention to how quickly other people were running the trails and started focusing on my run, on how I felt about it, on what my body was doing. I was there, on the trails, several days a week, giving it my everything–and I finally started to realize that I should call myself a runner because it was true.

During the streak I started getting faster, at first without even realizing it, and then because I was pushing for it, and it was a revelation because of what was motivating me to do it. In the past I’d pushed myself to be faster because I thought it was something I needed to do, and every time I didn’t go “fast enough” I felt not good enough. During the streak I began to push myself to be faster because I wanted it, because it felt good to work my body harder than I had before, to shave seconds off previous times, to finish a run knowing I left everything on the road or the mill. And my arms fully encircled two truths …

The first is that I am a Speedy Turtle, and that’s just fine. All the feelings of not being good enough, not being fast enough, were causing damage to my self-esteem, and it was eating away at the absolute joy and release I find in running. A friend of mine who is also a runner summed it up perfectly when she wrote something along the lines of how comparing yourself to someone else is a form of self-violence, I read that and it resonated so strongly with me. Why should I chip away at this incredible gift I’d decided to give myself by comparing myself to others? Why should it matter to me how fast they are going? Everyone runs their own pace, everyone runs their own runs. These are things I had been saying to myself for two years but had never fully believed until I opened the door to them over the summer, and until the streak finally allowed me to let them in. Somewhere on that last run of the streak I thought of my dad and the Buddhist monks and it dawned on me, if you feel like a runner, then you are a runner. Don’t complicate it, don’t weigh it down, just run.

I learned a lot about myself during the streak, and I learned a lot about my tribe, my fellow runners. I belong to a FB group of ex-pat runners, many of whom were also running the streak. Every day I went to this group and read about the runs that people had taken, I read the words of encouragement from the streakers and from other runners in the group, and I was reminded of what a remarkable tribe runners are. Everyone is running their own run, very few are judging someone else’s run. This group is the only FB group I’ve ever belonged to where I’ve never seen one bit of negativity, or judgement, or snarky commenting–just support, words of wisdom, shared joy, and a common love of the run. I am so grateful for my worldwide tribe, and for their unconditional encouragement, for their humor, and for just knowing they are out there running.

So my second truth went along with my first, I must treat myself with the same encouragement and kindness that I treat other runners, and that I have received from other runners. I never find myself judging another runner, I just don’t do it because I love, in a pure and unconditional way, my fellow tribe members and it wouldn’t even occur to me to judge one of them. I finally realized that, as a member of that tribe, I should give myself the same level of respect and support I give to, and receive from, others. It sounds elementary but it took me a while to get there!

I am gifted many things through running, and one of my favorites is how it pushes me to venture outside my comfort zone emotionally and physically. This year Eric and I have signed up for a challenge called “Run the Edge,” where you challenge yourself to run and/or walk 2015 miles in 2015. Since there are two of us we’re splitting the challenge in two and logging running miles (if we were each doing it on our own we would log walking miles as well because, well, 2015 is a HUGE number). Even cut in half to 1,007.5 miles it’s pretty intimidating, definitely outside of my comfort zone, and will require a whole lot of determination. But I know, because of my journey towards self-acceptance, coupled with the love of my runner hubby and the support of my tribe, I will do it! Run on, my fellow runners, and continue to be the absolute rock stars that you are!

Done with the 36 day streak and holding the Mile 1 bib for Run the Edge!

Boomerang Lessons, How My Kids Inspire Me

“Boomerang lesson” is the term I’ve decided to start using for things I tell my kids that I need to pay attention to myself; in other words, listen to yourself speak, Heather, you might learn something. This past Sunday we ran a 5k race with our two oldest children, our 13-year old boy and 10-year old girl. It was a charity run for the Children’s Museum here in San Jose, my husband ran with our son and I ran with our daughter. Our kids are athletic and, despite the fact that if we let them they would immerse themselves for hours in electronics, they really enjoy being active. Since the time they were pretty young our kids could hike for miles and miles, the hubby and I are not parents who would push a 5-year old in a stroller–move forward and push on are lessons our kids learned early in life.

Our daughter was a bit anxious, she told me that she was worried she would slow me down, which I found a bit funny because I am not a fast runner, I consider myself to be a speedy turtle. My response to her was that I didn’t care one bit how fast we went, I only cared that we ran together and crossed the finish line together. I reassured her that she would set the pace and tried to drive home the lesson that there is no shame in walking or in running slowly, the only thing that matters is that you’re out there, having fun and challenging yourself and, in this case, being together.

The morning of the race came, she had butterflies (loads of them, she told me later) but was excited. I reminded her of all the things we’d been talking about, reassured her that she could do it, she nodded and smiled and we were off! We ran, we walked, we talked. The boys were far ahead of us (I’ve written before about how my hubby is a much faster runner than I am) but we all expected that. About two thirds of the way through the run her brain started getting the best of her, she began to believe she couldn’t do it, that it was too hard for her. Luckily for both of us two things are true: I believe in her completely and I have a Pinterest board that is brimming with inspirational running quotes! I told her that her brain could either be her best friend or her worst enemy, which side it landed on was entirely up to her. I told her “runners run a race in three parts–the first is with their body, the second is with their brain, the third is with their spirit and your spirit is so strong!”  She nodded, she liked that but she was still doubtful. I reminded her that she’s run 5k before, I reminded her that I believe in her. She still was not convinced. So I used a trick that I use for myself and told her we would just run to the next stoplight, then we could walk to the one after that, then run to the next, then walk. Running is a good metaphor for life in so many ways, in this case, just like in life, if things seems too large it can be overwhelming, but doing a little at a time can get you through to the finish line. We did this until we rounded a corner and she said “This looks familiar!” I told her to look straight, to the end of the street because the museum, and the finish line, were there, about 4 blocks away. She got a huge smile on her face and said “I can do this! I CAN DO THIS!” And she started to run, with me shouting after her “You’ve got this, girl! GO!” She ran and ran, walked for a few seconds, then hit the last 100 meters, a daunting hill–and she started to run, weaving through people, completely pushed forward by that unstoppable spirit of hers, totally focused on the finish line! She reached the top of the hill with me behind her, I caught up to her and we ran the last few meters, crossing the finish line together, just as we had wanted to do, it was a pretty incredible moment for both of us and, as her mother, I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

We stopped running, both winded from the hill and the last sprint to the finish line, and saw my husband and son walk out of the crowd towards us with huge smiles on their faces. Hubby told me he and our son, Liam, stayed together the whole way, then they hit the hill and he told Liam he was going to sprint it and then wait for him at the finish line. About halfway up hubby looked behind him and there was Liam, determined to keep up. They hit the finish line just a few paces apart, Liam felt pretty satisfied, then he moved to the sidelines and promptly booted– thank goodness that didn’t happen at the finish line!

So here’s my boomerang lesson … tomorrow I’m running my first 10k and, honestly, I’m pretty terrified. I can do it, I’ve done the distance, I’ve been training for this specific race for weeks and weeks but I am truly frightened. I’m not sure about what because I know I can finish it and I know even if I finish last, hey, at least I ran it! But I guess I’m intimidated by doing something new, and something that seems pretty daunting to me. So I have to remember all the things I told my baby girl while we ran, and I have to remember her spirit that refused to give up, and the determination our son had to keep running with his dad. So tomorrow my children, all three of them, will be my inspiration. The strength with which they approach life, all the change they go through, all the difficult transitions and goodbyes that go along with the life of a nomadic child, and the grace with which they handle these things, will be my inspiration to run, to keep moving forward, to not give up, and to believe in my own strength and spirit.

There was an amazing runner on Sunday, a man who would run to the front of our pack and then to the back, the whole time pumping his arms and shouting “Si, se puede!” Yes, we can! So, forward, and si, se puede!

Me and my baby running uphill, I reassured her that pretty much everyone had the look on their face that she does here, it was a tough way to end a race.

High five! The hubby crosses the finish line!

Liam crosses the finish line (pre-spew)!

Time to show off the medals!

The Tortoise and the Hare, Kind of.

Me and the hubby crossing the finish line of our first race

Me and the hubby crossing the finish line of our first race

This past Sunday my husband, Eric, and I ran our first race, a charity 7k to help Costa Rican police officers buy school supplies for their children. Neither one of us ever saw ourselves as runners but, for a variety of reasons, we’ve both been running for a while now. I’m in pretty decent shape, I do distance running three times a week, usually putting in about 14 miles a week, and I do hill running and strength training twice weekly. Eric does hill running at least five times a week, sometimes six, and when we run together he can leave me in the dust–but he never does. The first time we went running together we ran about 2 1/2 miles, I’d just started seriously running after too much time away from it so I was a bit spent, he’d been hill running for a while and had more stamina. We got back to our house, Eric turned to me, smiled, and said “I’m going to do some hill running, just to get my cardio up.” I shot him a look of absolute disgust as I bent over to gasp for air before squeaking out “I hate you,” he smiled more broadly and took off running up the hill, I dragged myself through our front door. We have a good natured competitive thread in our marriage …

Obviously, for a lot of reasons, men and women run differently, just by virtue of the fact that he’s nearly 6’5 he’s going to run faster than I am, monster legs and lungs count for a lot and the man has mad cardio strength. Eric is the kind of runner who does not need to take walking breaks, I haven’t gotten there yet. On my runs I’ll run for a mile, walk for two minutes, run to the second mile, and repeat that pattern until I’m done my run. So I told him going in to the race that he didn’t have to stay with me, we could each run at our own pace and I’d see him at the finish line, he said no, he wanted us to run together, that was part of the point!

The day of the race came, he calmed down my jitters, as he always does. I said to him “why the hell did I sign up for this?” he laughed and said “sweetie, you got this, you do this distance all the time!” We stood together, watching the clock, bouncing a bit to keep our muscles warm. We both had our music in our ears at that point, getting into the zone before the run. With a few seconds left on the countdown clock I touched his hand, we looked at each other and smiled, then we were off! After running for a bit I stopped to walk and motioned to Eric that he should keep going, he shook his head and stayed with me. For reasons I couldn’t figure out I was feeling a bit more worn than usual (I found out later it was because I was running at a faster pace than I normally do), I questioned the wisdom of running the 7K, asked myself why I hadn’t started with a shorter race my first time out, my brain was starting to beat my body down and I felt like I was dragging. I did a good stretch of walking, wondering if I should just walk the rest, reminding Eric with gestures that he should not wait for me and, each time I gestured to him to do that, he shook his head no. He never stopped running, he just slowed his pace to stay with me.

At about the halfway point we crossed a set of railroad tracks, a man who was racing in a wheelchair tipped going over the tracks, Eric and I, as well as the runner the man was with, stopped to help him. The men got him righted, I handed him his water bottle, he smiled at me, then we all continued on. I don’t know if it was his perseverance or just the fact that I hit my stride but I stopped feeling so sluggish and just ran, time and a couple of miles sped by, I walked a bit but just enough to get what I needed before running again. As we were rounding a corner Eric said something to me that I couldn’t hear, the look on his face let me know it was important so I took out an earbud and asked him to repeat, he smiled at said “it’s the last two hundred meters!” Sure enough, I looked ahead and saw the finish line. I nodded to him, put my earbud back in and we both started sprinting, he could have gone much faster but he stayed with me. About a hundred meters out I felt a bit winded but my brain, that had been so evil to me the first part of the race, had seen the light and said “you are not walking across that fucking finish line, run!” And I did, Eric and I crossed the finish line together.

A friend of ours who’d also run, and had already finished, snapped the above photo and when he posted it to my FB page it struck me as a metaphor for our marriage– Eric and I were together, running together, reaching a common goal together, just as we always do. I will freely admit that it takes a fair amount of patience to be married to me, I don’t know if I could do it. I’m not being overly hard on myself, just honest. I can be driven to a fault (common sense sometimes goes out the window) and very stubborn. And is there a term for “strong willed” that is stronger than strong willed? If there is, that’s me. I come by it honestly, it’s in my blood. Shortly after my great-grandparents, who were both from Ireland but met in the US, were married my great-grandfather handed his new bride a pair of his pants and asked if she would iron them. Soon after, she handed him back the ironed pants, only instead of ironing them so they were creased down the front she’d ironed them so they were flat as a pancake with the creases on the sides, clearly sending him the message “I’m your wife, not your mother, iron your own pants,” which he did from that day forward. So, yea, we Cawley women can be a bit strong willed and we’ve got tempers to match. Oddly, Eric loves those things about me. On the day of our wedding my Da (my maternal grandfather) pulled him aside and said “you’ve married a woman with Irish blood, the two most important words you need to know are ‘yes, dear.'” My Da says those words to my grandmother tongue in cheek for the most part, it either makes her laugh or roll her eyes, depending on the circumstances, and Eric and I are the same.

I can take a lot of patience, I have a selfish streak, I sometimes miss the forest for the trees and Eric has spent countless hours talking me down off ledges created by my tendency to fly off the handle. We’ve not always walked in lockstep but we’ve always managed to find our balance when we’ve misplaced it, hitting our stride and moving forward. We just had the eighteenth anniversary of our first date, in August we will have our sixteenth wedding anniversary and I can honestly say, with my whole heart, that I know we will spend the rest of our lives together. The fact that Eric stayed with me throughout the race, even though he could have gone much faster, is so quintessentially Eric and so quintessentially us–no matter what, we are together. He’s always been one hundred percent dedicated to staying by my side, and I am so much stronger for that. Whether it’s in running or any other thing we do, we’re together. I hope he does run a race where he really lets himself fly, even if that means I’ll sit it out and cheer him on at the finish line. But, for yesterday and for every day before that and every day after, I want to thank my amazing husband for always being my biggest cheerleader, for always believing in me, for always believing in us, and for never leaving my side.

The official crossing the finish line photo

The official crossing the finish line photo


Post race selfie, tired but happy!

Post race selfie, tired but happy!

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