Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Day of Reckoning: Counting the Years and Logging the Miles


Lizzy
Today, my younger daughter, Lizzy, left for college in West Texas. A casual smile and a wave, a shouted "I love you" out the window of my car as she sped off down the street with her sister, and she was gone. It's 18 years and change since she first showed up in my life, all giggles and michief. How do you even begin to figure all the moments and milestones between then and now? The afternoon she crawled headfirst, fearless, into the ocean; the time she climbed the wall at her granny's and fell into the lavender patch; the day she saw her first rainbow, threw back her head and laughed for pure joy, explaining, "I didn't know they were real; I thought they were just in books!"  I'm playing the theme song from Rent as I write this because today is a day of reckoning, a time for counting the years, and logging the miles--for measuring in love.


Speaking of measuring, you might be interested to know that it's exactly 356.7 miles from my living room sofa to Lizzy's dorm room at Texas Tech--hell, yes, I counted! It may not seem too far to her sister, Joy, who traveled decidedly further afield to college in Minnesota, but anyone who's driven from Dallas to West Texas knows there are times when you think that journey's never going to end. You drive for hours through some of the flattest, dullest landscape I've ever seen outside of Holland, and the boring view is surpassed only by the dearth of decent eateries on the way. You begin to understand why people go crazy out there and why cow-tipping is a thing.

Joy
My older daughter, Joy, made her first trek to college two years ago, and the drive to Northfield, Minnesota, took two whole days. Don't get me started on the passive aggression of the Iowa cornfields, the way they suck you in with all their pretty and then go on and on and on, staring you down, moodily, from both sides of the highway until you begin to believe you've entered some bizarre, corn-filled alternate universe and may never get out again! If you've driven through them, you already know. If you haven't, there's really no way to fully explain. Six hours? Two days? Eighteen years? It's all relative. When you're in the middle of the journey, it seems like it might never end. And when it's over... Well, that's another thing.
Ready to run


Which brings me back, of course, to running because today is also my Runniversary--it's exactly a year since I staggered sweatily down to the end of my road on Day 1 of Couch-2-5K, wondering whether I might die on the way. In the 365 days since then, I've run an astonishing 1,110 miles, and it's quite comforting to me on this day of endings and beginnings, of counting and logging the data, to note that that's significantly further than the 356.7 miles my daughters drove to Lubbock today or the 903.9 miles between my front door and my older daughter's dorm room in Northfield, Minnesota.

I've done the math and figured out I can run to them if I need to, so I think we're going to be OK.

Photo by Jorge Namè

Monday, April 28, 2014

First Marathon Race Report: in which I discover my Inner Commandant

Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon: April 27, 2014

4am
I’ve had a couple of hours of sleep, and it’ll have to do. I wasn’t expecting much anyway. I’ve been a weird/wired mix of a little kid waiting for Christmas and a dental patient waiting for the drill for days now. I’m hopped up on carbs and equal measures of fear and excitement. I’m so ready for this—and so not! What the hell am I doing here? Eight months ago, when I started Couch25K, I could barely run to the end of my road. What makes me think I can suddenly run a marathon? I chow down distractedly on a handful of chocolate-covered coffee beans and a banana and swallow a mug of hotel coffee. That should do it!

5am
We’re getting on the DRC Party Bus and headed downtown to check our race bags and line up. Everyone’s
anxiously watching phone apps for news of the weather. This is “Tornado Alley,” after all, and there’s a big storm brewing. There are porta-potties everywhere when we get near the starting line, and I need all of them! I lose my DRC friends somewhere between the bag check and the loos but figure I’ll find them again at the race. I don’t. From this point on, I’m pretty much on my own.

6:30-8:00am
The race has been postponed… and postponed… and postponed again. I’m wet and hungry and depressed and tired. We had all fine-tuned our nutrition and our repeated visits to the porta-potties for an exact 6:30 start. Runners obsess about such things—what goes in, what comes out, and when. No one here cares about getting wet, but there is a dangerous storm system overhead. The race directors have to make a tough call to ensure our safety, and things are looking dicey out there.

More than 26,000 runners are huddled in doorways, parking garages, and buildings across the city in varying degrees of optimism and despair, waiting for more news. I find myself in the hall of a local Methodist church that opened its doors and started serving pancakes and coffee. I can’t be bothered to stand in line, and someone in the street gave me a cinnamon roll anyway. I don’t much like sugary pastries, but I’m grateful for the carbs because I’m still hoping to be able to run, and my breakfast has long since drained away with much of my energy and hope. . . I share half of my roll with some guy who can’t stop staring at it: he gives half of that to the guy next to him—the girl opposite me splits a sausage and gives half to me. It’s a modern day loaves and fishes scenario in this church, but this crowd just wants to run.

Eventually, I wander into the sanctuary. There are hundreds of runners filling the pews, and some of them may well be praying. Behind the cross on the altar, a big screen is blaring out Fox News weather reports. Could life get any weirder? They are talking about the possible need to cancel. 8:00am was the last window of opportunity, they say. The city roads need to open again at 1:30pm, and lots of the marathoners won’t make it round by then. Plus, the day’s going to get very hot and humid. If the storm doesn’t get us, the traffic or heat will. I am about to lose it. All the planning, all the work, all these runners with nowhere to run…

And then suddenly the race is back on. They’ve pushed the window just a little further out, and we’re pouring out of churches and parking garages back onto the course. I think someone is singing the Star-Spangled Banner. The mood is wild; we’re elated. I line up near some firemen, and I realize I’m crying. This is really happening. We’re going to run… I’M going to run…

8:15am
The press of people is huge, but there isn’t any rudeness or shoving that I can tell. The patience and grace of these people is helping me get a grip. I catch the eye of someone I think I might know, smile through my tears… And we’re off!

Holy crap, this is happening!!!



Crowds are cheering, feet are pounding, and everything’s moving very fast. It’s so easy to get caught up in the wave of speed, but I have 26.2 long miles ahead of me, and I need to hang onto some drive for the hours ahead. I need discipline like I’ve never needed it before. I check my watch religiously, every few seconds, to make sure I’m not getting carried away. It’s a rookie mistake to take off like a rat from a trap on the adrenaline high. I read on a running website recently that in those first few miles you should feel like you’re “just poking along.” That phrase is resonating with me now. That’s what I’m doing. It’s effort, but it’s far from all-out effort. All that training at differing speeds has given me a real feel for what might work, and I’m hanging onto it tight in the face of a killer desire to just take off as fast as I can move.


I run the first mile in 11:07 minutes, according to my Garmin, and then I reassess. Right now, this pace seems nicely doable. I’ll stick with it for a while. I run miles 2 through 4, from Bricktown through the State Capitol Complex, at 11:08, 11:01, and 11:09. I’ve decided the Garmin is the boss of me for the duration of the race. I read an article recently which suggested our bodies lie about what they can do and shut down early to protect themselves. We’ll be having none of that malarkey here today! Whenever I see my pace fall off, I tell my body she can never get these minutes back if she loses them. So, step it up!

Perhaps I should pause at this point and say I was kind of hoping I would find an inner serenity out on the course, a runners’ version of Zen enlightenment, an inner Dalai Llama, if you will. I was waiting for the appearance of this sweet fuzzy encourager who would say inspiring things like some of the posters held up by the crowds: “You are so awesome!” “You’ve got this!” “You’re an inspiration!” It turns out, what I have is a harsh task master who takes no prisoners and snorts at failure, who has much more in keeping with those other posters out on the road: “If it was easy, everyone would do it, so suck it up!” and “One in every 100 runners poops their pants. Are you that one?” Oh dear… Out on the course this day, I have discovered my inner Commandant, and this is a character not to be messed with! It tells my body whenever she starts to whimper, “You are a machine! Your job is just to do this, so DO IT! DO IT TILL IT’S DONE!”

Somewhere around those miles where I’m settling in with my inner Bossy Boots and my body is giving up the
reins, I see a DRC sign and yell out. My friend Jennifer comes running after me, holding up her other sign which reads, “GO SCARLETT. THE BRITISH ARE COMING!” I am so happy to see a face I recognize, and I kick it up a notch. C’mon, body, move it!!!

Mile 5, I run at 10:59, and this is where I admit that all that wise counsel that I should let go of my time goals for my first marathon has fallen on interested but decidedly ambivalent ears. I got injured in the last few weeks, and though I’m getting back on form thanks to excellent physiotherapy, I’m not where I was, so I’m not looking for a 4:40 finish anymore--but I do have a secret need to beat the five hour clock. If I can stick close either side to the 11-minute mile mark, I can probably manage it even with a visit to the loo! I need to time it right though. In the first few miles, there are long lines at every porta-potty stop. There’s no way I’m standing in a line watching the seconds tick away. I decide to wait till the Half Marathoners peel away on a separate route, little knowing that’s not till around mile 10.

Miles 6, 7, 8, and 9, I run in tightly disciplined splits: 11:03, 11:04, 11:05, 11:03. It looks like calm assurance—who would know there is a war going on inside? From time to time, my body mentions that her feet are sore, and wet, and that she’s not sure I’m doing the math right, that maybe we should slow it down. I tell her it’s well known bodies tell lies. I tell her she’s a machine, that sometime this will all be over, but now is not that time; she’ll be sorry if she doesn’t give it everything she has!

We hit the infamous Gorilla Hill around mile 7: it’s steep and seemingly endless. I power up, armed with the insider knowledge from my friend Jennifer that at the top will be people dressed like bananas. What she didn’t warn me was the banana-people are handing out actual bananas to runners, who are chowing down and trampling the skins! Who orchestrates a road for marathoners that’s covered in banana peel? I pick my way through, laughing at the craziness, and run on.

I thought I’d be settling in and listening to my music by this time, almost two hours into the race and with another three to go, but I’m not. The internal argument is taking all my concentration. When the Half Marathoners peel off and the crowd of runners thins significantly, I spend a precious minute and twenty seconds (Hell, yes, I counted—runners love data!) in a smelly loo. It costs me dearly. Mile 10 registers 12:23 on the Garmin. My inner Commandant is not amused!

Mile 11, I’m back to 11:10, but it’s rough going. I’ve been chewing the healthy nutty-datey snacks I’m lugging round with me because I’ve been warned that by the time I realize I need energy, it’ll be too late. It’s getting harder to chew, and I’m starting to worry my body’s right after all; I picked a too aggressive pace. The race delay means we’re running right through the heat of the day. The sun’s beating down, and the air is thick with humidity; the medical tents at regular intervals along the route are keeping busy. My body mentions she might need to sit down in one. My inner Commandant ignores her. That body is such a liar!

Mile 12 and 13, I’m heading towards the lake at 11:25 and 11:38. Dammit, I’m slowing down. My feet feel like lead, and I have a sudden certainty that the store sold me mismatched shoes—the right one is definitely too small. I love water. If only I can get to the lake, there’ll be a breeze… But damn, if you’ve ever read the Pilgrim’s Progress, you’ve heard of the Slough of Despond, and that’s what that lake is to me today--and to many others. This is the only place the route loops, so you can see runners slogging back from where you’re going. It feels pointless and like you’re heading the wrong way only to turn around. I’ve always hated U-turns, and this one is the absolute worst. The air coming off the water is hard, and hot, and thick with humidity and misery. I’m overheated and overwrought and not even halfway home. Mile 14 is the turn at the lake, and I somehow beat my way back to 11:22, but by mile 15 I’m in trouble. My right leg has cramped, and it feels like I’m running on a stump. I’ve been warned, just on the bus coming down here, that stopping to uncramp is a mistake. If I try it, I’ll never get moving again. I can see a medical tent and some helpful looking people. I lurch past them at a halting 12:11, aware I have a couple of hours more of this with no hope of relief. I’m distraught, but I’m in it for the long haul. Doggedness is my superpower.

Somewhere around mile 16, my miracle shows up. Through the fog in my head, I start to hear my name, and through my misted-up sunglasses, I see Douglas running at my side. He’s holding a book (he’s running and reading?) and has pockets full of stuff. He tells me later he had been calling a while and had real trouble getting through to me. I wasn’t very coherent apparently. He lets me know he has painkillers; do I need them? I’m confused and refuse, but he asks again. I figure out a couple of ibuprofen might be a good idea and eventually ask for four. He runs beside me till he finds a water tent when he gives me both at once. I chug them down and run on, leaving him and his book in the dust, but I hang onto the water bottle. I’m so happy to have seen him, but I know if I stop, I’ll never start again.

Someone has handed me a sachet of gu, an energy gel. I’ve never tried one. I prefer the natural gunk I’ve been hauling round unable to chew. I feel a little like I did when, in labor with my first child, I gave up on the idea of a drug-free childbirth around hour 20 and took the shot—a chemical-dependent failure. Nevertheless, I tear the top off and suck it down slowly between miles 17 (12:51) and 18 (13:12). The gu is like sugary glue and tastes like hell, but I’m starting to feel clearer. I couldn’t have swallowed it without my magical bottle of water. There have been plenty of water stops along the way, but I’m bad at drinking out of paper cups while running, and I daren’t stop. The water bottle feels miraculous as I sip and run.

My right leg is still cramped, and it occurs to me, vaguely, that it might snap off with the constant pounding. I alter my gait to try to stretch it a bit. My body, which has been moodily silent for a while, mentions that legs are not really designed for this kind of treatment. Also, it thinks its right foot is probably bleeding and has a huge lump on the side which might burst at any moment. And, of course,  that’s when the chest pain kicks in. 

Apparently, in addition to an inner Commandant, I have an inner hypochondriac. For a while, I wonder whether this tight band around me is the beginning of a heart attack—and then I realize that it’s just the bottom of my sports bra feeling too tight. I shake off the fear and remind myself it’s well known bodies lie—she was just trying to get in another medical tent, dammit! I remind her she’s just a machine, so she better keep doing what machines do.

I get someone to fill up my miraculous water bottle at the next station, and then I start work on a second gu which tastes even nastier than the last. At some point, someone hands me a big cup of something, and I take a giant swallow. Holy hell; it’s beer! Much as I want it, I throw it away. I can’t afford the dehydration or the distraction right now.

Mile 19, and something has changed. I’m still running on stumps, but I can feel an energy lift and I move through it in 11:18. And then I feel it coming back to me: hope, the thing with feathers. All this time, even at my worst, I’ve been running the data in my head, and as far as I can tell, a sub-5 marathon is still in sight. I power up a hill and kick mile 20 in 10:22. Am I making a mistake? Kicking it into gear too soon? I don’t think so... Mile 21: 11:06. Mile 22: 10:48. Mile 23: 10:55. Oh my God: I’m going to make it! I’m going to finish, and in a time that won’t make me ashamed. Mile 24: 11:13. Mile 25: 10:39. Mile 26: 10:31. And then I can see the finish. It’s slow and it’s fast all at the same time, and my vision has narrowed to a tunnel. I can’t feel my right leg anymore, but it can’t have fallen off or I’d over-balance, so keep moving, keep running, you’re almost, almost there…


As I cross the finish, still on my feet, still—miraculously—running, I’m vaguely aware that there’s a discrepancy between my Garmin and the race chip timer. It’s only in that last final burn that I realize I’m not quite going to make sub-5 officially. According to my Garmin, I’ve run 26.6 miles in five hours and one minute exactly. 

According to the chip timer, it’s 26.2 in five hours 42 seconds. At this point, it doesn't matter. Sub-5, not sub-5, who the hell cares? I ran a marathon, dammit, a MARATHON, and I left every bit of me out on the road. I slow down and start staggering, hear Douglas yelling through the fence, and make it to him in time for a hug before I collapse on a delicious pile of ice. There’s another marathon in Dallas in December: I can beat the five-hour then.

____________________________________________

Footnote: This was a wonderfully well-organized race with awesome crowds who did everything they could to cheer on the runners, from handing out strips of fresh-cooked bacon to dancing in the streets to playing music. The water stops were fabulous. The organization was great, and the hospitality of the people of Oklahoma City was warm and welcoming. 

Dallas Runners Club, it should also be noted, is the awesomest of all the awesomes, and I feel fortunate, lucky, blessed to count myself a member of this amazing group of people. When I joined, just a few short months ago, I felt intimidated to be among "real" runners. That only lasted until the first time I got to talk to the first one of them. I'm so glad to have found this wonderful, supportive community. Thank you for being!




Saturday, April 26, 2014

A dedication


I'm dedicating this race to the three most beautiful women I have ever known.

Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon route
 04/27/2014
Miles one through eight, I'm running for you, Lizzy. You have amazed me every single day of your astonishing, courageous life--and I'm pretty sure you're just getting started! You climbed walls before you could walk, crawled headfirst into the ocean as an adventuresome toddler, earned your own riding lessons when I told you I couldn't afford them, and then went on to earn your associates degree in time for your eighteenth birthday. You have never taken the easy or expected path. You are headed for the Honors Program at Texas Tech and have impressed a local scholarship foundation so much that they're putting you through college debt-free. School has only ever been your day-job though. You have given hundreds of hours of time to help riders with disabilities at Equest, and now you're rocking your new job as a swimming instructor in the evenings. And, of course, you want to become a doctor so you can work for Médecins Sans Frontières and help people in crisis around the world. Look at you go! It's never been enough for you to follow where others have gone before. You plow your own furrow, and it seems like you're always looking for the next mountaintop. I see that determined look in your eye, and I know the world better watch out! Miles one through eight, Lizzy: you're going to get me started because I'm going to need your tremendous courage as I stare down the barrel of all the miles and miles to come.
  
And you, lovely Joy, miles nine through sixteen are for you. The first time I saw you on a hospital scan, you did a somersault. Wild thing, you made my heart sing, and I've been expecting the unexpected from you ever since. Double-majoring in Computer Science and International Affairs, zooming between college in Minnesota and regular trips to Washington and New York as you work for Middle East peace, stalk congressmen in the Capitol, and hang out with geeks and banking bods in your "spare" time, you are the quintessential biter-off of more than can be chewed--but then you always chew it anyway. You earned a huge grant for college with your academic awesomeness and have landed a fabulous paid internship doing something geeky with algorithms that I will never understand. Whether you're directing hilarious Shakespeare spoofs, community organizing, or grading your professors' papers (lucky them!), you work with integrity and steadfast determination for the causes that you care about--and it's that persistence I'm going to need after the initial adrenaline has worn off and worn out. Doggedness, an unswerving faith for what you believe in and a stubborn refusal to say "I can't," is the superpower of yours I'm channeling to get me through the middle miles. When I'm tired, and it feels like it's all too much and it's all too far, I'm remembering you.

And those final miles, mum, that last long ten: I'm running all of those for you. No one I've ever known, no one I've ever heard of, has taught me more about what the tough do when the going gets hard. You are the absolute overcomer, and your whole life is a lesson in faithfulness. I have watched you year after difficult year, decade after decade, walking the path of kindness and determination in the face of impossible odds. If I can run through a thunderstorm when every muscle in my body is screaming at me to slow down, sit down, give up, it's because you taught me how it's done. I never knew a woman with more dignity and strength, more derring do, or more grace, compassion, and love. You are my quiet hero, the one who keeps on keeping on when nobody's watching. I'm going to run all the way to the finish line in Oklahoma to honor you.

With all my love to the three most incredible women I have ever known,

Your daughter/
Your mum/
Scarlett xxox




“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fundraising for Doctors Without Borders



Two days to the marathon--and yes, my bags are packed already! Please consider supporting my running fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) by sponsoring a few miles. Donations made at the link below go directly to MSF which takes teams of doctors to countries in crisis around the world. This, incidentally, is the organization my daughter Lizzy wants to work for after she qualifies. I'm at 30% of my fundraising goal--can you help me get closer? Thanks to all the awesome, generous donors so far. I promise this is the final nag before the race. Click this link to make a secure, tax-deductible donation:
Support Scarlett's Fundraiser for MSF


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Countdown to the marathon...



Tuesday, April 1 (26 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

April Fool! My left leg is being an ass--it's an anatomical miracle, but not a particularly happy one. I've been "recovering" from what is probably an overuse injury in my thigh (gracilis, iliopsoas, piriformis, for those who need detail) for the last three or four weeks. To be more accurate, I've spent a couple of weeks in denial and a couple attempting to cooperate with recovery. I'm slower and weaker than I was a month ago, and it's completely frustrating. Two weeks ago, I ran 20 miles. Today, I set out to run 10 miles after work but only made it to seven with a combination of slow running and walking. I'm telling myself not to panic.

March 15: 20 miles done.
DON'T PANIC!

I'm walking/running a tricky tightrope between not getting enough rest to recover and getting too much and losing fitness. I keep declaring I will run this damn thing, but I confess to some tearful moments when I'm not sure I believe me. Some of my friends can't fathom why I'm still heading toward my goal. The runners understand, but I get that it looks crazy to others. All I can say is running has become a part of me over the last seven months. It's a relationship, and it's given me way more than I've given it. I've failed enough at relationships in the past to try something other than throwing in the towel this time around. Running and I are going through a rough patch; that's all. I'm confident we'll find a way to work through it, fall back in love again. Some of the excitement and shiny romance is admittedly a little worn of late, but these things go in waves, right? I'm holding out for the next one.

.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

33 Days


My first Half-Marathon,
The Duel in Wichita Falls,
January 2014. Time: 2:17. Pace: 10:31.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and the truth is I'm struggling. I got a little behind on my mileage a few weeks ago and then pushed too hard to catch up. I made the classic error of trying to squeeze in all the missed runs rather than calmly picking up where I left off. The result? A not insignificant amount of pain and more familiarity with the biology of the human thigh than I ever planned to have.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I'm working through injury. So far, I've tried denial, Googling, foam rolling, and a sports massage. Of the four, the sports massage has been the most effective but caused the most bruises. As one of my pace leaders only half-joked, "Never go see your gynecologist within a couple of weeks of a sports massage--he'll ask you whether you're in an abusive relationship!" Don't be fooled by the word "massage" in there: any resemblance to a gentle rub with soothing oils is a linguistic deception. The only thing to which I can compare the experience is childbirth--but without the pain killers and cups of tea.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I've trained too hard and come too far to turn back now. The hard-headed Yorkshire lass inside me who tells me to "grit yer teeth and run through the pain" has not been serving me too well as a sports therapist, so I'm dialing down and easing more gently back into my miles until the old iliopsoas stops screaming. Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself of how I built to my first Half Marathon not too many months ago--lots of long, slow, easy hours at sunrise and sunset, nights at the lake when nothing moved but wind on water, indeterminate wildlife in the bushes--and me. Running is easy really. It's just like life: you put down one foot, and then the other, and then another, and then another... And then you just keep doing that forever--or until the finish line, whichever comes first!

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I've got this. Distance running, I've learned, is only a little about the iliopsoas and the road--it's mostly in the mind, and they don't make expensive shoes for that. You see, I'm not planning on running 26.2 miles really. I'm running five, and then five more, and then five more, and then five more... and then just to the next tree, the next bend in the road, the end of the song... And then, of course, the one after that...

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I'll see you at the finish line.



I run for Doctors Without Borders: click here to view the fundraising page and see the list of awesome donors. And thanks!






Sunday, December 15, 2013

Boxing Day Bash--you're invited!



It's almost time for our annual Boxing Day Bash. If you're reading, you're invited. Great company, yummy food and mulled wine, laughter, music, maybe stories and poetry, maybe dancing--it turns out differently every year, but it's always lovely.

Boxing Day is traditionally the day, back in the old country, when the lords of the manor would serve the people who spent all year serving them. It's a national holiday in England, but hardly anyone remembers why. For me, it's a time to celebrate my wonderful friends!

If you can bring one thing, bring your lovely self--and a friend or partner, of course. Two things? Add something for the table. Three things? Bring something canned for the North Texas Food Bank.

Boxing Day is December 26, 8 till late, but come and go as you please. Thank you for being part of my whirled. (Pic right, with daughter Joy. Lizzy misses Boxing Day this year because she's in England visiting her gran.)

https://www.facebook.com/events/698001120223600/

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Scarlett is not good at PE"


"Scarlett is not good at PE."

So read the damning indictment on a high school report way back when, as my mother, still laughing, reminded me on Skype just the other day. (The English never really bought into that whole positive reinforcement for the kiddos and give 'em all a trophy American thing.) And yes, I was that girl, the one the teams fought over NOT picking and then banished to an esoteric corner of the playing field known as "Left Wing" where I paced miserably in the rain for an hour or more, twice a week, hoping for as little action as possible and generally getting it.

You see, I have a natural reaction when a ball comes flying towards me: I duck. It has always seemed the sensible course to take. Ditto people with rounders bats and hockey sticks. So high school PE was a miserable time for me before I learned to skip class and head down the woods behind the playing fields to think existential thoughts and smoke soggy Woodbines bought from the sweetshop on the corner for 5p a go.

I had not been prepared for the horrors of phys. ed. at Holmfirth High School by my mentors at Nabb where the formidable Miss Bland (who was anything but) had us run about barefoot in our knickers and vests in the school hall twice a week while she praised us from behind her lorgnettes in what I now recognize as execrable French. During a five-minute freestyle session at the beginning of each class, students would show off their individual prowess--climbing ropes, juggling, balancing on their hands, running fast around the room... It was at this time that I perfected the one physically impressive feat of my childhood: standing on one leg motionless. I believe that year's report read: "Scarlett is quite good at standing on one leg!"

All of which is just to say that this running thing I've fallen into lately has taken me by complete surprise. I began training in August, completed my first 5K in October, and two weeks ago, at the age of 47, won my first ever trophy.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I began with health and fitness goals in mind, but I've pretty much already left those dreams in the dust. Now I run because it feels a part of who I am. I run before dawn and after dark. I run in the sun and in the rain. When the thermometer shows temps below freezing, I put on a hat and run. On the good days--and there are so many!--I run for the sheer joy of it. Yes, that's me with the maniac grin, rounding the corner by the boathouse, feeling like I'm flying and caring less and less how it looks. On the hard days--and, of course, there are a few--I tell myself, "You come from a family of dogged people. Anyone can put one foot in front of the other, and then another, and then another..." The sense of accomplishment that comes from the hard runs spills over into other, more complicated parts of my life. "You can do this because you could do that," goes my internal monologue. And it helps.

Yesterday, I ran 10 miles straight--it doesn't even sound to my own ears like it can possibly be true, but there it is. My marathon training plan called for 9.4 miles, but it was so close to 10 that when my app. intoned, "You have reached your goal," I answered back, "Like hell I have!" and sped up. At the disapproving 10-mile alert, I careened off the trail into the grass and flopped onto my back to the amusement of several passers by out for a stroll at the lake.

In the month of November, I ran a total of 93.67 miles, so at this point, I would like to add an addendum to those long-ago school reports. Let the record now show:

"Scarlett is not bad at running."


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Please consider a donation to my Doctors Without Borders fundraiser: 

http://events.doctorswithoutborders.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=1600

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

$13 for 13 miles: Fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders


Looking at the suffering in the Philippines and wondering what on earth you could do? 
Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been in Cebu city since Saturday. MSF is strengthening its team (currently 23) and there will be a total of 102-107 staff – including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists and water and sanitation experts – on the ground in the next few days.
(Source: https://www.msf.org/article/typhoon-haiyan-msf-working-reach-worst-affected-areas)
Please consider donating $13 for the 13 miles of the April '14 Big D Half Marathon I'm training for. Funds donated at my MSF page (see link below) go directly and immediately to Doctors Without Borders.




Friday, October 18, 2013

On graduating from the couch

Today I graduated from active.com's Couch-to-5K running program. It feels like something worth celebrating. When I started, I could barely run to the end of our road without getting winded. Last Saturday (and the Saturday before), I ran for more than five miles without a break.

I began my early morning sweat-and-stagger routine in the middle of August when the air was hot and thick like treacle. As the mornings turned cooler and the sun rose later, I learned to run with extra layers and a light at my back so pre-dawn cyclists didn't curse as they nearly collided with me in the dark.

This is the third time I've tried the program but the first time I've finished it. A hilarious but painful roller skating accident on Easter morning put paid to my initial attempt (and my figure-skating dreams) as I came hurtling over the bridge by the dog park, zooming round the corner, only to land in an ignominious heap by a group of holiday picnickers. I was in too much pain to continue running for some time after that. The second time, I abandoned the program to fly to England and be with my mum who was very sick. I guess the third time really is a charm.

When I began all this, running was just the method; the goal was to get fitter, leaner, and healthier. In the last nine weeks, I've logged 78 miles and dropped a lot of pounds, so I guess I'm well on my way to "Mission Accomplished." Along the way, though, I've fallen in love with the feel of feet pounding on pavement in the dark as the sun hits its snooze button and then rises, sometimes a little reluctantly, over the smokey lake. These days fitness is just a happy by-product of what I'm doing; I've graduated from the couch. Next week I start training for my first 10K, but this time the journey and the destination are one. This time, I'm running just to run.

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October 19 Postscript
2013 Komen-Dallas Race for the Cure. My very first race: placed 410th overall, 20th in my age group, running 5K in 32 minutes, 49 seconds. Not too shabby!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On fighting the metaphor


I dashed out of work at the earliest opportunity this afternoon and headed down to the Crow Collection of Asian Art with a friend to watch visiting monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet creating a beautiful sand mandala.

I felt a certain urgency since the exquisite artwork, which takes a painstaking week to create out of colored grains of sand, will be destroyed in just a couple of days, the sand swept up and poured into Turtle Creek, a startling and beautiful symbol of the impermanence of all things.

For a silent definition of irony, go stand there as the monks build this beautiful work of art grain by grain, calmly, unattached, knowing it won't last beyond its completion. And then notice the visitors--myself included--fighting the metaphor as we take our pictures, seeking to make the impermanent permanent...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A woman from hell and a helluva woman

"All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful."
(From Russell Brand's eloquent article in the Guardian on the passing of Maggie Thatcher)

Yep. That's what I remember.

I keep hearing retrospectives about how strong and wonderful our fearless leader was, but I remember covering the miners' and seamen's strikes as a young reporter. I remember picket lines and soup kitchens, angry rhetoric on both sides, violence, tears, stubbornness, and betrayal. Margaret Thatcher didn't just break the unions; she broke the people. A million of them never worked again.

I remember the cliché in all its ugly reality: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and all of us got a little more selfish--even if we called it something else.

I also remember standing outside the South African embassy with protesters at a time when Nelson Mandela was still rotting in prison and Thatcher was steadfastly refusing to condemn apartheid.

A woman has died, and that's a loss for those who knew and loved her, so for the last couple of days, I've held my tongue and said sorry to the universe each time something snarky rose to mind. But I can't listen to this nonstop outpouring of flattering eulogy anymore without comment.

Does no one remember the hunger strikers that she actually allowed to starve to death? 10 of them? They had families too, but I didn't hear much about them. I only heard the Iron Lady was not for turning.

My point is not to celebrate Mrs Thatcher's death like those who are campaigning to get "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number 1 in the British charts. My point is to offer a little qualification to all the eulogizing, a few reminders of the way things were. Our society tends to clean up its dead and whitewash their history, and it's happening again, right before our eyes. The trouble is, if we don't allow history to be what it really is, in all its messy inconsistency, how can we learn anything from it? How can we do better next time a victorious leader offers us fast ways to climb to prosperity on the backs of the very poorest among us?


Margaret Thatcher came to power as I was turning teenage. She stayed in power long enough for her policies to be the focus of some of my work as a young journalist covering the miners' and seamen's strikes. I wasn't watching policies at play in those days. I was watching families go hungry on the picket lines, proud fathers who had been lifelong breadwinners become broken versions of their former selves--sold out both by their own leaders and their government.

It's true, as my friend John points out, that things couldn't go on as they were back in the late seventies. There was a need for more fiscal restraint in government if the country wasn't to go completely broke, and Thatcher turned a tide that likely needed turning. It wasn't popular, and it was probably, in some respects, pretty brave. But my problem with Thatcher's reign (and it was a reign) was a lot to do with the way that she did things--so harshly, so uncompromisingly, even cruelly. I wonder if some of that was possibly fallout from trying to prove herself in such a male world, even though she never admitted that was an issue.


I have been remembering back to those days of riots and strikes. I was the newest reporter on the Dover Express in the early eighties--and for a while the only woman in the entire office who was not a secretary. Some of those men put me through hell trying to find out whether I was up to the job, and it never occurred to me to complain about sexism or harassment. In those days, you just sucked it up and got on with it if you wanted to be in the game. That was the Thatcher way, and though I never saw her as a role model, I went about building my own career pretty much the same way: ask no favors, give no inch, win on merit alone. Though I was never much of a mover or shaker like Mrs T., who rose through the ranks of the Old Boys' Network with a speed and surety that angered and astonished them all, several of those men who put me through hell eventually did answer to me. The very faint parallels were certainly unconscious at the time, but I can see them today, however unwillingly.

Let's be clear: Thatcher never broke the glass ceiling for her sex, whatever the eulogizers may say, and she certainly didn't pave much of a way for the women of my generation in terms of equalizing legislation. What she did was simply refuse to acknowledge the ceiling was even there. She rose right through it like an unsmiling Mary Poppins doppelgänger on steroids, and whether you liked the Iron Lady or loathed her, you couldn't help but assume if she could do it, so could you.

Margaret Thatcher was a woman from hell and a helluva woman. She ignored terrible truths and wrought miraculous change. Though many will speculate, no one but she will ever really know what drove her. People are complicated, motives are messy, and history is an inconsistent muddle. Let's pay it--and Mrs T--the compliment of acknowledging all of it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

All shall be well: thoughts on changing the world in 2012

On a wall in my house hangs a fading, framed newspaper clipping from 2008 with the headline, "Change has come." My friends on the political right have had a good deal of fun deriding that claim in recent months, and much as I admire my president, I'm tempted to chime in myself with "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Just to balance the equation, it should be noted that in the closing hours of 2011, Politifact presented a report card on the Republican presidential candidates. When the big prize goes to the guy who only lies 75% of the time, it's not exactly cause for celebration.

Don't mistake me. This isn't a partisan post, and it's not about shadenfreude. The problem's systemic. Will the face of politics change any time soon? Nah. As Eddie Izzard likes to say, it "tastes of human, sir!"

And that's the problem.

I'm a deeply political animal. I care about social justice issues. I still believe the old adage that the test of a civilized society is in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and I still agree with Gandhi who, when asked what he thought about western civilization, replied, straight-faced, "It would be a good idea!"

But I'm stuck. I'm stuck in the widening gap between my ideals and an unsustainable deficit, between what I like to think of as humanity and our all too evident humanness. I'm stuck watching the train-wreck that occurs when Nietzsche's warning is ignored--again, and again, and again. "He who fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he doesn't become a monster."

It doesn't work to "take arms against a sea of troubles" if, in doing so, we abandon the very things we are fighting for. The need for expediency is, perhaps, the oldest of the "old lies": we must torture in order to get the upper hand against a regime that violates human rights; we must impose a death penalty to show that killing is wrong; we must lie and cheat our way into a place of political power in order to fix the mess that other liars created.

Really? And how's that been working for us so far?

In the classroom, I'm frequently faced with knee-jerk, sound-bite answers to complicated questions. The most challenging part of my job is opening spaces where students will dare to think, truly question, crack open the door of an inner prejudice just a little to let some air and light in, so they can attempt to work out complicated responses to a complex world for themselves. Why is it so hard for them to imagine nuance? Why is it so hard for all of us?

It's easy to point the finger at the pants-on-fire politicians and to rave about how bad they are. What's harder is to admit that the politician we disagree with has shown an admirable commitment to his marriage and family, the one we love and who had a great handle on the economy treated his wife like crap, and the one whose faith--or lack of it--we can't understand might have some ideas worth considering. When we refuse a complex world of nuance, we force our politicians into playing caricatures of their true selves--and then, of course, we beat them up for giving us the government we deserve.

I'm not going to stop voting. I'm not going to stop caring. And I'm not going to stop arguing for what I believe is right anytime soon. But I begin to suspect we can only change society as we change ourselves... and that happens slowly, haltingly, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears, as we return to the place of integrity again and again, remember who we truly are.

I was chatting with friends the other evening about my crazy youth, when I abandoned my career and flew out to Romania after the revolution, determined to make a difference, to change the world, or at least some part of it. Who did I think I was: Batman? Mother Theresa? The greatest thing I learned was that change is slow, and incremental, and grindingly difficult.

In 2012, I'm not looking to change the world through grand gestures or partisan politics. Instead, I'm going looking for it in all my favorite places: in the middle of lakes, through the wisdom of poetry, in the laughter of friends and the colors of sky, on empty, wooded trails, and in challenging poses on my yoga mat.

From those spaces, I hope to come back to engage in my complex world with just a little more balance, just a little more integrity each time than the time before... That's how I'm going to try to change the world in 2012. It's only a practice--I make no promises.

The last word of 2011 goes to T. S. Eliot in this extract from "Little Gidding" in which he tempts us with "A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing not less than everything)." Yes, please!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't you just want to smack their heads together?


For the first time in my life, I'm beginning to feel some sympathy for my primary school teacher Miss Bland's preferred method of solving conflicts. She would haul arguing students to the front of the class, warn them that she was going to "smack heads together in a minute," finish her lesson, and then calmly do as she had promised.

I remember one time, my adversary and I thought we could outwit her, and we "made friends" quietly and worriedly as we waited by the blackboard where Miss Bland kept her long-distance missiles (otherwise known as chalks and erasers, objects which frequently found--and left!--their mark on student foreheads).

When Miss Bland finally turned to us to mete out punishment, we told her it was all over, and we had already said sorry to each other.

"Good!" she told us, and then whacked our heads soundly together anyway, leaving a ringing in our ears that lasted all through playtime.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the whacking of children, but I'm starting to wonder about the whacking of politicians...

Picture of Harry Reid and John Boehner:
By JIM KUHNHENN. Featured in Huffington Post article "John Boehner, Harry Reid Debt Ceiling Plans Create Stalemate In Congress."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Veggie Delight










I recently joined a local community garden and am growing my own organic leek and potato soup. Fun times watching my garden grow, working in the dirt at sundown alongside the pro's, learning about the beneficial effects of mulching, dried molasses and worm poop.

Pop by around June and the soup should be just about ready. I wonder whether the loving care lavished on each individual leek slip over the weeks and months to come will translate into taste... My mum told me recently, "You do know they won't come out looking like soup, don't you, dear?" Yes, mum!

Gardening, it seems to me, is rather like fishing or dry stone walling. It's only partly about the activity itself, and only distantly related to the end result. Mostly, it's about having a reason to be out in the open, enjoying the moments as they tick by more slowly than they do in other places...

"Garden as though you will live forever." (William Kent)


Monday, February 14, 2011

♥ Happy Valentine's Day ♥

I almost stopped my car in the middle of the road and cheered today when I heard this interview with Matthew Alexander on NPR. Alexander and his team were responsible for the capture of two major figures in the leadership of al-Qaida, one of them the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Given the rhetoric we so often hear on popular news channels, you'd be forgiven for thinking this guy would be all about the end justifying the means. But think again. The words that almost got me a ticket today: "I don't care if torture works a hundred percent of the time. I'm not going to use it because it goes against the very principles that I signed up to defend." I received some fun messages and delightful adjectives on this romantic day of days, but Alexander's was the one that made my heart sing.

"Well, I won't be one to tell you that torture never works. I've had friends who have given me examples of when torture did work, but I don't care because to me this isn't about efficacy. We have other things that work a hundred percent of the time like chemical weapons and flamethrowers. We don't use them.

"And the reason we don't use them isn't an efficacy argument, it's because it's against our morality, or because the laws of war have determined that they cause unnecessary human suffering, and we've outlawed them. And there's no exceptions to that.

"I think my big disappointment is the shift in priorities from an America that stands for principles to an America that stands for security. My oath of office, when I took it as an officer in the United States military, didn't mention security. It mentioned allegiance and defending the Constitution, which prohibited torture when we ratified the convention against torture and other provisions within the Constitution."

You can buy the book here. Thank you, Mr Alexander, you made my Valentines Day! ♥

(Pictures
courtesy of St. Martin's Press and via NPR.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

On cats, cars, snow, and Super Sissies

Crazy weather and football fever hit Dallas together this week. Schools and colleges were closed Tuesday through Friday as ice and later snow brought the metroplex to its knees as it was gearing up to host Sunday's Super Bowl.

The cat that lives on our porch has been having a chilly time of it. After weeks of refusing all approaches and offers of food, it condescended to accept a blanket yesterday but is otherwise unmoved. Apparently, those big macho footballers in town for the Super Bowl are not quite as hardy as SuperCat. Playing outdoors at SMU was just too much for them to face, poor things! "It's a little too cold for me," linebacker Clay Matthews said (ESPN). Oh please!

Mind you, I'm staying indoors today after yesterday's little adventure saw me skidding down a hill, bouncing off curbs, and spinning 180 degrees before sliding to a stop facing oncoming traffic--I was narrowly missed by a truck behind me that also lost control but managed to slip past me onto the sidewalk. I've about had it with automatics. This wouldn't happen with proper cars with gear sticks!

Meanwhile, anyone else have a problem with the fact that bad weather and rolling blackouts meant two hospitals lost power this week but the stadium for the Superbowl was kept at a balmy 72 degrees?