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Scary stuff is the best stuff of all

That thing topping your “to-do” list should scare the hell out of you.

Or at least make you a good bit nervous.

Healthy nervous.

This weekend, my dear friend and client Heidi Venter will be traipsing off to run her first-ever 20 mile race.

I know on Sunday, race day, she’ll have that energy cocktail of 3/4 cup of healthy excitement combined with 1/4 cup raw nerves.

And as her coach, I think that’s great.

I’ve had the pleasure of training her for almost three years. The first day, we went out and ran/walked a mere mile together. Take that mile, multiply it by a couple thousand or so, and here we are.

A cornerstone moment, whether Heidi knew it or not, was when she was going abroad with her family for a couple of weeks. She informed she couldn’t wait for the trip but there’s one problem: “I worry about finding time to run while I’m gone.”

BOOM. We had officially turned a corner. This activity morphed into something bigger than running with me twice a week. It has become part of her life, her regimen and more importantly, a part of who she is.

And, as so many moms can relate, she’s just “Heidi” when she runs with us. I kind of forget that she has four kids to chase down when she’s not running, and I think she likes it that way. While our kids’ accomplishments are amazing, I can’t only be known by what my child has done. You need a place where you are known by your own first name. Not that of your child (aka “Dylan’s mom”). And running, for many moms, is that place.

So Heidi ran 5Ks, then a 15K (9.3 miles), and last winter a half, which was water she uncertain she wanted to tread with new running partner Emily Tumis (who is running her another half this weekend).

She asked: “Should I dip my big toe in the water?”

Usually the conversations prior to signing up for your debut race begin with a seed of intention you plant in yourself. Then it’s up to you to either foster and feed that idea, or let self-doubt drown it out.

I told her jump on in. If the likelihood of getting to the starting line healthy is high, I say go for it. Everyone has to tackle distances yet-to-be achieved in running and in life.

So Heidi and Emily registered for their first half. And we celebrated with chocolate milk. A new journey begins. 

“Moving forward” kind of nervousness is the best kind of all. Because it means you’re likely to accomplish something you’ve never done before. That’s beyond exciting, because it’s what life should be all about. If you’re pushing yourself into new territory as a runner while logging those “mile” stones in training, you’ve become smarter about the stuff you’re made of to get there.

The alternative, of course, is to stay stuck. In fear factor land. Like that freakin’ possum that straddles my fence every so often. My dog, a German Shepherd is barking its head off and the damn creature is frozen. Will. Not. Move.

Fear holds you back. Nervousness moves you forward.

So go embrace that butterfly fluttery, first-day-of-school feeling. Realize once you start moving forward, it will melt away like ice cream on one of those sultry Texas summer days.

And bask in the afterglow, with your goofy grin, knowing you accomplished something previously unthinkable. And it’s all yours.

Then you go figure out what’s next.

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Focus on life, in face of death

Today I saw one of my friends in the final stages of cancer. She's a fighter, but this disease is claiming her, and the technical knockout is coming soon.

I held her pale hand, stroked her waif thin hair and kissed her cheek and she uttered my thoughts: "We all have to face this someday."

We do.

Usually I'm too busy living to focus on this dying stuff. But as hospice was leaving as I arrived today, there was no sidestepping this.

So I considered my personal rules of living life before facing death. Here are some of mine:

  • Don't waste time telling me what you don't have time to do. Seeing my friend jackhammered home that time is our most valuable resource. 

In living moment to moment, the littlest pieces of our lives can add up to big things. It wearies me to hear what people "don't have time" to do.  When pressed, we can usually squeeze a few extra minutes or hours to make things happen. The things that truly matter take priority.

Instead of finding things you wish you could do and have no time for, consider the things you make time for that don't serve any great purpose, back burner them and use that time for something that matters. For instance, don't tell me you don't have time to exercise but somehow can find 30 minutes a day to feed your brain full of sugar spun candy celebrity gossip. Make time for what matters.

  • Be kind, for no reason. I realized as I was making my friend and her family a meal, I'm pretty good at coming through if someone is dying or being born. But why not just give someone a meal because you're damn glad they are alive? Random kindness is a great gift.


  • Tell the people who matter to you most, just that. I'm beyond grateful I had the chance to personally thank my friend for being in my life. For her kindness and gentle yet strong spirit. I fondly have my "neutron circle" of friends and family members. They are the superglue of my life. When life gets frayed they keep it from unraveling. I've told my neutron gang just that. It's a select group, the MVPs of my life. Consider your neutron circle and tell those who are in it they are your All-Stars.


  • Live honestly and with pure joy. Yoga has wonderful principles, "satya" and "santosha" (truthfulness and contentment) as part of its social framework.

Truthfulness does not mean simply "don't lie" but to take an active stand to tell the truth. Say what you mean, then do what you say. Sometimes, that is a tough task. But if you say what you truly mean, there are no mental gymnastics or trying to locate the right pair of glasses to read between your blurred lines. If I make you a meal and it's awful, don't tell me it's good because you will get the same meal again. If I have spinach in my teeth, PLEASE tell me. Not telling me doesn't change the fact it's there. And if your child stinks at baseball but is good at drama, don't tell them they are an athletic rock star and leave every parent to sigh under their breath every time Junior comes to bat. He has not gotten a hit all season, and you might deprive the world of the next Tom Hanks.

Finally, my friend told me she felt "grateful" to not be in pain and flanked by her family. The idea of contentment is not to find joy through material things but to consider the cornerstones of your life that really matter. The designer sunglasses and perfect purse, while nice to have, won't bring you joy when you're lying on your couch in the waning days of your life. And if someone dying of cancer can find contentment, I'd say in that diseased body beats a loving heart and the knowledge of a life well lived.

My heart aches, and fills with joy simultaneously.

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Welcome back from recovery

It's time to run.
My podiatrist cleared me for a 30-minute jaunt tomorrow after finally reaching a peace accord with my foot and its nasty case of plantar fasciitis (excruciating pain in my heel). I've run very little for two months, but the real change about five weeks ago. I decided to stop pussyfooting around and get serious about this recovery business.  I didn't run. Not a step. For 37 days. Pulled the plug, didn't fall off life support and gained some perspective in the process because I actually allowed myself to stand still for a change.
So, if you're injured, or on the verge of being hurt, consider what I've learned in the last couple of months:
1. Recovery isn't a dirty word. I now look at this as not just a day to bridge two tough workouts, but smart recovery means being assessing your body. Every single day. If your goal is to truly run happy and healthy, I doubt your Olympic dreams will die, or your sponsors will care if you take an extra day off if your body is calling out for it. You may not finish the way you want if you're a bit undertrained, but you may not even make it to the starting line if you're overtrained.
2. Appreciate the heck out of your friends who run. This is different than "running friends" who are good people, but kind of in the electron circle of your life -- that outer ring. The friends who run, are neutron circle folks, my compadres who have sympathized, empathized, texted, e-mailed, called, drank coffee, chugged beer and sipped wine with me through these two months. They saved me boatloads in therapy. And I am beyond grateful for all of you, you know who you are.
3. Find some balance on your head, hands or forearms. The best part of not running is I've found another mental and physical outlet in yoga. If you think yoga is all just lululemon and "om" you're seriously missing out. It's injury prevention, yes, but healing, invigorating and inspiring. I finished my teacher training through the fine folks at Inspire in June. Being sidelined allowed me to jump handfirst and try new things. Including handstand, a pose I used to try to power right through to the finish, and only once I could be OK in finding a quieter balance, I was finally able to achieve. Fleetingly.
Clearly I live in a runner's body who does yoga. Or perhaps I am a yogi in a runner's body? The great thing, is I can be both. And while I might get slower as I age as a runner, as a yogi, I will darn well get wiser.
4. Running does not define me. If I go to Baskin Robbins, and I can't get peanut butter chocolate ice cream, I'll have to settle on one of 30 other possible flavors including mom, daugher, sister, friend, coach, yogi, reader, questioner, learner.
But I'm glad you can add "runner" back to the list.
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Dylan survived 10 years, so did I

My dearest Dylan,
Today you hit double digits.  Hard to imagine ten years ago, after they sliced and diced me C-section style, the nurse plunked you in my arms and said, “Here you go, mom.” Maybe it was the anesthesia, but I had no idea who the hell she was talking to. Then, in that instant, life changed because I realized she was talking to ME, I was now a mom.
A personal earthquake – major Richter scale hyperactivity.
NOW what do I do?  Somehow I managed not to break you, despite having no owner’s manual for something so precious, all 6 pounds, 10 ounces of you. We left the safety net of the hospital, and suddenly I was on a bit of a tightrope.
I tried to do it all just right, by the book, if there is such a thing, until I realized I needed to do it my way.  I sleptwalk through the not-so-fun infant stage (sorry I see limited payback when eating and eliminating waste are the highlights of your child’s day). My back and arms ached as you generally refused strollers, and I’d be left to either carry you or Baby Bjorn you before you could walk. We got through Thomas the Train stuff. Sesame Street and Elmo. Noggin. The god-awful Wiggles. Dora. Diego. Disney Channel. You’ve probably watched entirely too much television in 10 years, and there are days you’re on Minecraft overload.  But you don’t drink soda, and I can count on less than two hands how many times I’ve taken you to McDonalds. And you've moved far beyond the Wiggles knowing stuff about Wilco, Pearl Jam and Fleetwood Mac.

Parenting has humbled me.  One moment I think I've set a parenting PR (personal record) because you’re willing to share things with those less fortunate. But the next day, a colossal meltdown like ice being tossed into hot lava simply because you lost a so-called “fun meet” in swim class. In the process you tried to swim right over some other child. You yanked off your goggles and wept at such decibels that it resounded through the whole damn echo chamber of a swimming pool. I wanted to ask everyone incredulously, “I wonder whose child is THAT?”
But I like your spunk. And we’re learning you don’t have to like to lose, but there are ways to handle it that don’t include nearly drowning another child.
The best gift you’ve given me in 10 years is bust-out-loud laughter. Like when you were little and you went into the dressing room with me, so some stranger doesn’t snatch you, and you announce in your loudest voice, “Mom, that’s a really pretty bra you’re wearing!”
I love that you make up your own knock-knock jokes, that you sing in the shower, that you know what Caprese salad is and you made it for Mother’s Day, and you know all the Beatles and once asked me if a song was “mop top or hippie Beatles.”
I love that when you flew JetBlue for the first time ever two weeks ago, you walked off that plane and told the entire crew they were so much better than American Airlines.
I love that you love that I run. I love that you love even more than I run relatively fast for someone my age. I love that you make me handmade congratulations posters after my marathons. I cherish them. I love that you run in the rain with me, splish-splashing in puddles and guffawing as drivers do double takes as they pass.
I love that you love dogs so much that you once said your dream job was to work at PetSmart. I love that you are wary of strangers but not afraid to talk to other kids you meet for the first time.
I love that you love adventure and history. Of your own accord, you’ve chosen to study more about World War II and have taught me plenty along the way.
I love that your memory is machete-like sharp, that you knew the Texas Rangers’ starting lineup at age 3.
I love that you stick up for your friends. I love that you understand I’m not the craftiest mom, and I can pass off something I gift wrapped as something you did and you don’t tell on me (or maybe you didn’t hear me.) I love on days that it’s more curds and whey than peaches and cream, I apologize things aren't just so, and you tell me, “It doesn’t matter, you’re the perfect mom for me.” Yes, you said that. I might need to remember that as you get older and don't find me so perfect anymore.
I love that you love having me for your mom. I think you love it within a whisker of how much I positively adore having you as my son.
Happy birthday, Dylan. The next 10 years likely will be full of fun, frolic, education, laughter, occasional disappointment, heartache and
loads of love from me.  The best gift I hope to share is being on the journey with you and directing when I can, staying the hell out of the way when I need to, and always have open ears to listen and arms to hug.
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Back to Boston

Standing on Boylston Street, goose bumps tickling my sweat-soaked skin, I was taking a moment and drinking in the spectacle of humanity that was the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
This was three months ago, and I craved a moment to let it soak into my bones. Because I didn't know when I would be back.
After six consecutive years of running this race, maybe, it was time to take a hiatus. Check out someplace new. A city where downtown hotel rooms exist for less than $500 a night race weekend, a course minus Heartbreak Hill and weather at the start doesn’t oscillate from 80 degrees to a blustery nor’easter that could blow over the strongest NFL player shrink wrapped in Teflon.
Maybe it had all become just a bit too predictable.
And then it wasn't.
My memories were forever altered a mere 49 minutes after finishing. That’s when the first bomb exploded stripping non-runners and runners of a veneer of innocence in a plume of white smoke. Fortunately, my association was remote. I had returned to my hotel room in Cambridge before I even knew what had happened. Yet the bombings shook me as an attack on the core values I hold most dear --  passion for running mixed with celebrating the human spirit, with cheers lifting up to the bluest of skies for ordinary people like me who just set out on a 26.2-mile long run.
And after being home feeling a little rudderless for a week, I knew, I had to come back and run Boston again. Next year.
But I also wanted to return sooner, with my mom, who first came to Boston when I ran here for the first time in 2008, and my 9-year-old son, Dylan. He doesn’t come to the marathon, but this summer, he could see Fenway, learn a bit of history, and perhaps, catch some of the spirit of the marathon.
Dylan would proclaim to complete strangers I had run the marathon, which makes me equally proud to see HIM proud. Many would first ask where I was at the time of the bombing, then thank us for returning so quickly to the city.
We traipsed down to the finish line, I took him to the Arlington Church, which posted a sign that “Love is Louder” surrounded by homemade ribbons, and we walked through Marathon Sports, a store which had its front window blown out from the explosion and was closed briefly in the bombings’ aftermath. We talked to people who had been far too close for comfort, and others like me, who were all too thankful to be a safe distance away.
We spoke with an employee at Marathon Sports who had been working that Marathon Monday. He said despite the horror, at some point, you in your own way and time figure out how to move forward. It’s not prescriptive. It’s different for everyone. To me, I realized, it’s like running, everyone at their own pace. Different paces for differing stages of life.
He hopes to run Boston for the second time ever, in April 2014.  I plan to be there, too.
Make some new memories. Keep moving forward.
I think this trip was a real reminder the one thing in life – the one constant – is change. This can be all kinds of wonderfulness and awfulness rolled into one.  My lasting last impression of Boston, on Bolyston Street lasted all of 49 minutes.
Then it all fast forwarded into human chaos.
But once you consider the fleeting nature of it all, when the unfathomable happens, and it will, life throws you a Sandy Koufax-esque curve ball, I think you give yourself a little more leeway to savor the extraordinary, but also truly appreciate the oh-so-ordinary stuff.
The night before I left Boston, it was been a pretty extraordinary day of touring Fenway and being in downtown Boston. As the day wound down, the weather briefly turned rainy and then the sun popped out to say the briefest of hellos before yawning and exhaling into the darkness. And then, the most amazing rainbow – not a wimpy, must squint like a 90-year-old woman with bifocals to see it kind of rainbow. But ROY G BIV on full peacock-like display. So much that people stopped and looked, and pointed and took pictures, which couldn’t even do it a wisp of justice. And in that moment, life on Boylston Street was magical again.
So I tuck away new memories in my mental suitcase.
Boston, I’ll revisit you in April, where the running of the race will be usurped in a tidal wave of remembrance, a street party of sorts and a glorious celebration of also-rans out traipsing 26.2 miles.
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