Chi Running, Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer

Last week, I promised you running. I said I would write about it regardless of how my race went, and I suppose it was good I made that promise because otherwise I would try to pretend the race never happened. The disappointment of it would continue to eat away at me, and all of my workouts for the foreseeable future would be tinged with the overwhelming feeling of failure I had when I crossed the finish line on Monday. Maybe they still will be – I don’t know. But I’m hoping there will be some release in sharing the experience, that a few of you have similar stories and will know exactly how I feel, and that we can turn over a new leaf together.

Because, you see, after five months of training – five months that countless people made fun of me for needing (“Who needs to train that hard for a 10k?” is a phrase I could have tattooed on my arm at this point) – I bonked. Hard. But let me back up. Let me paint a picture of the week before the race. I got to Colorado last Tuesday, partly so I could help my sister-in-law get ready for her wedding and partly to adjust to the altitude for the Bolder Boulder. On Wednesday, we ran errands most of the day and then watched our beloved Rockies lose from the seventh row behind home plate while tornadoes and thunderstorms rocked the surrounding area. Thursday was a blur of bachlorette-related activities and Friday was spent tying hundreds of bows out of ribbon that all needed to look just so, followed by the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner (and again with the crazy weather! Who knew tornadoes came so far west? Not me, clearly.) On Saturday, I was on my feet from 6am until 2am. It was an incredible day, but when I had to get up at 8:30 on Sunday morning, I felt like I had been hit by a truck, and possibly one of those tornadoes. Over the course of those days, I also had to take an emergency Benadryl twice because lavender had found its way into my food (once in the form of a tea-infused salad dressing and once in honey), and by Sunday night, my stomach was so angry with me, I couldn’t sleep at all.

The funny thing was, I wasn’t even nervous about the race – not even at three o’clock on Monday morning when I was laying on my side trying to massage my belly into submission. I’d had plenty of tough training runs, days where I felt even worse – I’d still been able to push through and finish close to the time I wanted to. So when I still couldn’t stomach any food on Monday morning at seven, I wasn’t really worried. I had a Powergel with me, and a water bottle filled with Gatorade. I was going to be surrounded by happy runners; surely the adrenaline would carry me through.

If you’re shaking your head at me right now, you’re right. I’m wrong. Adrenaline is not enough to counteract a week of five or less hours of sleep a night and two straight days of barely eating. By mile two, I had given up hope that my legs would lose that leaden feeling, and by mile four when I finally saw my in-laws (the first people, out of fifty thousand, that I had recognized on the course), it was all I could do not to cry. At no point did the joy or energy around me have any effect on my run other than to make me feel utterly alone. By the time I pushed myself over the finish line fifteen minutes later than the slowest time I had expected, I had to force myself to swallow vomit. I spent the next half hour slowly making my way through a crushing number of enthusiastic racers with only one goal – find some quick sugar to restore some semblance of normality to me body. The Pepsi I finally found was warm and flat, but it helped. I was able to hold it together for another few hours while the rest of the racers in the wedding party gathered to celebrate Memorial Day in the stands.

It wasn’t until later, after my much-needed shower, when I was finally alone, that the bitter disappointment overwhelmed me. Five months of training. Five months of visualizing an exciting PR. Five months of talking to people about the race, people who expected me to do well, and to have a good time, who I had to smile blandly at because it hurt to admit just how sad I was. The people I did tell were supportive, of course. They reminded me that it wasn’t my fault, and that my training actually did kick in since I was able to draw on it in terrible circumstances in order to make it over the finish line. I appreciated that the people who love me could say that (and mean it), and probably in a few weeks, I’ll even believe them. I don’t right now, of course. Right now, I just have to grit my teeth and get back out there because I know running makes me happy most days.

That’s where Chi Running comes in. I started reading it a few weeks ago, and even though I haven’t finished it yet, I know it’s going to be the key to reinventing myself as a runner. It’s the lifeline I’m holding onto – that belief, held above all others, in the child-like joy of running. I need that right now. I need that reminder that beyond bad days and heart-breaking races, running is still my happy place. It’s still something I can do that defies the way I imagined myself as a kid and inspires me to persevere in other parts of my life. When I have a good run, it reminds me that I can do anything, really, because running is hard for me. Running is, some days, impossible for me in fact, and yet I still do it. I have failed so many times, and yet here I am, just a few days past failing big, and I want to pick myself up and start again. That is the best version of me, the version running has created.

I love the promise this book offers me. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t been overly injury prone as a runner, but it’s certainly not effortless exercise, and if the Dreyers can offer me insight into running in a more holistic, body-affirming way, I’m all for it. It won’t shield me from the disappointment that inevitably goes hand in hand with a bad race day, but with any luck, it will assuage my limping spirit.


For more about Danny and Katherine Dreyer, go here.

Catch a Body, Ilse Bendorf

I know, I know. Two weeks of poetry collections, and now, a poem. Am I trying to kill you?! (For the record, “are you trying to kill us?” was the most common phrase I remember hearing after being assigned poetry in school. Turns out, some things never change. I can actually feel the collective “are you trying to kill us” vibe expanding across the universe as you read this.) But no. I am not trying to kill you.

What I am trying to do is get ready to throw a bachelorette party for my amazing sister-in-law (my husband’s little sister) in a rental house in Colorado while juggling last-minute prep for her wedding in two days and trying to get in a workout to make sure I’m as ready as I can be for the race we’re all running at altitude three days after that. (For the record, next week I’m going to be talking about running, regardless of how the race goes, so you can at least look forward to a change from this more cerebral phase to what is essentially a physical manifestation of the idea of summer.)

Basically, I’m busy with the best kind of work – the kind that nets me a new brother by the end of the weekend and is full of family and exciting new possibilities – but that leaves very little free time this week for reading. And the books I have waiting for me look so good…soon, little books, soon.

For now though, in anticipation of a beautiful day, here’s one of the poems I’ve been reading this year as I’ve been thinking about E and O’s new life together. Marriage is really the great hodgepodge – it’s full and intimate and hard and wonderful. It leaves a lot unsaid, and it requires being more honest and loving than we ever imagine we can be when we’re young. It’s also not for everyone, but for those who want that commitment, I tell you from the other side, it is a great adventure.


Catch a Body

Salinger, I’m sorry, but “Don’t ever tell
anybody anything” is a string of words
I would like to wrap up in canvas and sink
to the bottom of the Hudson, or extract
by laser from the ribcage of all of us
who ever believed it, who felt afraid
to miss someone, to be the last one
standing. “Tell everyone everything” is
not exactly right, but I do believe that if
your mother looks radiant in violet
you should tell her, or when a juvenile
sparrow thrashes its wings in dustpiles
and reminds you of a lover’s eyelashes,
you should say so. We are islands all of us,
but we are also boats, our secrets flares,
pyrotechnic devices by which we signal
there’s someone in here we’re still alive!
So maybe it’s, “don’t be afraid.” We can
rewrite Icarus, flame-resistant feathers,
wax that won’t melt, I mean it, I’ll draw up
a prototype right now, that burning ball
of orange won’t stop us, it’ll be everything
we dream the morning after, even if we fall
into the sea—we are boats, remember?
We are pirates. We move in nautical miles.
Each other’s anchors, each other’s buoys,
the rocket’s red, already the world entire.


For more about Ilse Bendorff, go here.

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, Kevin Powers

I wrote about poetry last week, which means I should probably give it a rest and write about something more people love, since in my experience, the people who love poetry are greatly outnumbered by those who hate it or find it confusing, or even are frightened by the odd line breaks or the possibility of rhyme. The people who do love it tend to fall into two groups – one side proudly carrying the banner of  that love while the other loves it quietly, alone. People who hate poetry, on the other hand, seem to come in a rainbow of unexpected opinions about what poetry is or isn’t, and why they never read it or write it or even stand in the general vicinity of that section of the bookstore.

Most of my friends fall into the “hate it gently” category; for my sake, they pretend it’s only silly, when deep down, I expect that they absolutely loathe it. That’s okay with me. I still love them, and it allows me to hate things some of the things they love with much less guilt. I even understand it, although it still surprises me when I meet smart, well-read people who dislike not just a poet or a type of poetry but the entire genre with fierce determination.

I never try to force poetry on them because I know just how irritating it is when someone tries to convince me I’ll love something I already know I don’t, or won’t (soup, for example, or Mad Men). When I read a book like Letter Composed During a Lull in Fighting though, I find myself wishing I could strong-arm people into reading it because Powers is the kind of poet non-poetry fans could love, if only they gave him a chance. I, on the other hand, needed no convincing. I read four pages of his book before I knew, without a doubt, that it was coming home with me, and by the time I finished it (and for the record, I made myself read it over the course of a week because it was deserving of the extra time), I wanted to smear his words everywhere, on everyone, and have them see how perfect, and easy, and unbelievably painful poetry could be.

Reading it inspired me to pull out an old poetry project I had discarded a few years ago, and it also had me writing new poetry, which I haven’t done in over a year. It had me tuning into the news during my interval training at the gym because I didn’t want to be as disconnected and ignorant of the trauma he wrote about as I was when I started it. It was one of those books that influenced me for the better, but was also an amazing read in its own right; any writer will tell you that a book like that is both a joy and a kick in the ass.

This doesn’t happen very often, but this once, I wish my word were enough to convince people to read Powers’ book. It won’t be, of course. People who skirt around poetry will continue to do so, and even people who read and love poetry will mostly doubt how good it could really be. A few of you will go out and get it, or nod knowingly, having already found this book, or his first one, The Yellow Birds. And maybe in a year or ten, I’ll have forced a copy into enough hands that the desire to share it will dim, and I’ll go back to accepting that certain things are meant to be loved quietly, and alone.


For more about Kevin Powers, go here. Or, if you want to see what difference one letter in a url makes, go here and see an elephant jumping on a trampoline. It’s much more beautiful than you’d expect.

Living, Loving, and Leaving, John Rapoza, photographs by Rodrick Schubert

My husband brought back this little book of poetry from his trip to Colorado last week. I found it in his suitcase, and I suspect he pulled it off the shelves from somewhere in his parents’ home. It was published locally and written as a tribute to Rapoza’s late wife, who he cared for during a twelve-year struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He grew up in New England and lived for a time in California and Pennsylvania before moving to Boulder.

There was something about this little biography that resonated with me. As New England transplant to the west coast, but also as a person who has watched several family members die after years with Alzheimer’s, his story stuck in me, and I decided to give him a read. The poetry is sweet, and very personal, and while this is not a book I would necessarily recommend to everyone, reading it transported me back to my childhood quite unexpectedly.

Many of the poems have a rhyming scheme, something I’ve actually detested since I was old enough to read Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. As an adult, I’ve developed an appreciation for those authors, and for others who write in a similar vein for all ages, but as a child, I didn’t care for the sing-songy element. Nevertheless, I remember sitting in my room, in the sun, books spread out all around me, reading from A Child’s Garden of Verses and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I honestly have no idea why. I didn’t even like those books, but I think I just wanted to turn the pages and read aloud something I didn’t quite understand. I wanted to look at the old drawings and string long lines of poetry together under my breath. I would whisper the words just loud enough to hear them myself; it wasn’t a performance, but rather, an almost trance-like experience.

Reading this book reminded me of that (and reminded me again of what a very odd little duck I must have been). Here I was, decades later, curled up on the couch in the sun spending many minutes reading and rereading some of his poems while taking only a moment to skim others. Sometimes I stopped just to listen to the one bird who had taken up residence outside, or to the stream of cars passing by with that familiar tire swish a block away, and it struck me again how much power books have.

I had no intention of revisiting that little pink bedroom with its scalding metal radiator, and the holes in the window screen that I carefully widened with one finger, the little white bookcase that separated my room from my brother’s. That room had a closet full of witches. It had charcoal grey carpeting that rubbed my knees raw and the perfect place to sit to wave across at my best friend’s bedroom window. The door never closed right, and the walls were covered with art that even then I knew wasn’t very good.

I only lived in that room for five years, but after reading Rapoza’s book, I could remember how I’d organized my books (from the top shelf down by favorite author, either in alphabetical or sequential title order – Little Women, for example, was on the third shelf on the middling right, Roald Dahl’s novels were the top all the way to the left), what I kept on my dresser (a giant ugly purple plastic makeup box filled with hair ties, electric blue eye shadow and silver matte lipstick, and necklaces I’d made myself; there was also a brown hair brush, and some poorly crafted ceramic mugs I made in pottery class), and what stories were read to me there at night before bed (The Princess and the GoblinRebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, The Year at Maple Hill Farm, A Little Princess…).

I haven’t thought of that room in years. It didn’t matter to me until I happened to pick up a book that reminded me so strongly of what it felt like to explore reading when I was young. It was sunlight. Even when it stormed or snowed or I woke up in the middle of the night and snuck into the bathroom to read, it felt like bright hot sun on my hair. It was a glorious, strange, solitary thing. It was everything to me, really. Rapoza’s poems are not groundbreaking literary work, but they’re special because they evoked something unbelievably powerful for me as a reader, and when it comes down to it, that is all a book is desperate to do.

Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too, Shauna James Ahern

On Monday night, I was up until 2:30am with a stomach crisis. I’m the worst when it comes to self-diagnosing via the internet (oh how I regret the day Web MD debuted!), and since my husband was visiting his family in Colorado, I had no one to stop me from looking up every possible cause of my distress. By midnight, I had narrowed it down to either food poisoning from an unknown source or a reaction to drinking a banana and mango smoothie I’d made for dinner. Before I began Googling, I didn’t know that both of those foods can have an adverse effect on a  person with a latex allergy (which I happen to have), and I’ve eaten both many times before, although never together.

Of course, I have no real way of knowing what caused my stomachache, but I’m used to that. For close to twenty years, I had an undiagnosed intolerance to lactose, and since I happily drank milk with dinner every night, I had terrible pain just about every day. Looking back, our best estimate is that I developed the problem at three or four when I went from being an enthusiastic eater to one of the pickiest people ever. I was too young to be able to explain to my parents the deep-seated fear I was developing of food, and so many children go through fussy eating phases that, while concerned with the change, neither my doctor nor parents realized the extent of the problem. (Now, of course, I suspect I would have been diagnosed in under six months, but it was a different time.)

By the time I was seven years old, I was so good at hiding my stomach problems that I had everyone convinced I was just a difficult eater. The truth is, so much of my energy was focused on pretending I was fine that it never occurred to me to consider another solution. I thought, much like Shauna James Ahern, that I was just a low-energy, sickly sort of person. I didn’t see food as fuel, as pleasure, as anything but a necessity I approached three times a day with dread.

When I discovered the truth at twenty, it was both a relief and heartbreaking. Most of my favorite foods were full of dairy, and it was too much for a college kid to give up all of them at once. I was, at best, half-assed about my approach to eating better until 2008 when I was invited on a three-week rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. There was no question in my mind that I couldn’t consume dairy on the river; it was already an experience far outside of my comfort zone and I didn’t want to risk being crippled by cramps.

I can’t even describe how life changing the experience was, on many levels; the one that sticks with me most though is how different my body felt.  For the first time, maybe ever, my body was completely free of the thing that was hurting it the most, and food tasted so much better when I didn’t spend the hours after eating curled up in agony. I felt like a super hero those first few weeks, like I’d been gifted with powers I could never have dreamed of.

Since then, I’ve learned to feed myself the way my body needs to be fed. Sometimes I still find myself apologizing for inconveniencing people when I’m visiting, but I know it’s worth it. I think that was part of the reason I was so upset on Monday. I knew everything I’d eaten that day was good for me, and yet I felt just as awful as I did when I was a kid. I couldn’t sleep, so I pulled out my Kindle and looked for a book that might relax me. I’d purchased Gluten-Free Girl a few years ago and only gotten around to reading the first few chapters. I dove back into it, a new-found kinship blossoming with this woman I’d never met. Yes, I thought, clutching a useless hot water bottle to my belly. She gets it.

Admittedly, I had to skip over the recipes she shares because my body was not interested in considering any combination of ingredients in that moment, but I’ve gone back and bookmarked most of them to try now that I’m feeling better. I may not be gluten-free, but I see the benefit of a diet low in wheat and high in delicious local ingredients. More than a collection of recipes though, she shares her journey of not only adjusting her diet to accommodate celiac’s disease, but of learning to rejoice in food. Her excitement is contagious.


For more about Shauna James Ahern, head over here. Seriously, you won’t regret it. Fair warning though: I just lost an hour perusing recipes when I should have been working…