Sunday, February 26, 2012

Going Bra-less

My barometer for whether or not the day ahead of me will be productive depends on my bra.  To clarify, it depends on my desire to wear a bra or not.  My ultimate chill-out-and-do-nothing wardrobe is made up of my most comfortable pajamas, stretchy yoga pants and any old t-shirts that are too ratty and stained to wear out in broad daylight.  Bras are optional with these outfits because I wouldn't dare leave home wearing any of them.  If I have no plans to leave home on any given day, there is no need to stuff my "girls" into an uncomfortable bra.  You see, I have worked in education most of my career so I get a ton of holidays off throughout the year.  Summer vacations, winter breaks, and all federal holidays grant me plenty of days at home.  For this very reason, I have to keep my "stay at home" drawer of clothing well stocked.

Bra-less days are usually those when I am either sick, pretending to be sick or in need of a mental health day.  Regardless of the reason, my bra-less days in the house are always low key and void of stress.  I move slowly on purpose when my boobs are unrestrained.  Literally! You can't get all worked up and move around too quickly or the boobs will go flying around in varying directions.  Getting hit in the face with a loose heavy boob can be both painful and painfully unattractive.  Someone (namely me!) could accidentally get knocked unconscious if I run up the stairs too quickly without anything to strap the girls down.  Who wants to end up in the emergency room having to explain that my swinging loose boobies are the cause of my black eyes?  Imagine a doctor trying hard not to laugh while he or she tells me the nipple imprint on my face will take days to fade.  Don't laugh...boob safety can be a serious issue.

My breasts stopped looking perky two pregnancies ago.  Whenever they are sans bra, the transformation seems to age me at least 15 years into the future.  Although I might look like a hot mess when I am not wearing a proper brassiere, I feel completely relaxed and at ease.  My don't-give-a-sh*t attitude goes on display loud and proud.  The doorbell gets ignored and the phone goes unanswered because I shift all attention away from activities that require congeniality on any level.  It is important that I use these days sparingly because doing this too often in a house full of men can make me seem like a slob.  If my sons only see me in this deep state of relaxation every now and then, I am in no danger of losing my queenly status any time soon.

The last several weeks have been way too busy and I have whined endlessly about needing some down time.  Now that I have it this weekend, I've been too afraid to leave the house for fear that I will waste my precious "me time" on some dreadful household duty like grocery shopping or playing taxi driver on a kiddie errand.  My hubby surprised me by taking the boys on a guys' outing and left me all alone in the house, staring at four piles of unfolded laundry and a dishwasher begging to be unloaded.  Instead of launching into a house cleaning frenzy, I took the avoidance route and used the time to download a new smutty romance novel on my eReader.  This quiet time required the proper relaxation attire, so I took a quick shower and changed into my unsexiest pajamas.  I washed off the layers of make up and left the bra in the underwear drawer where it would remain until it was absolutely necessary to wear it again.  Laziness was the first item on the agenda and I was all too ready to call that to order.

That was almost 24 hours ago and as I type this, I am still indeed bra-free.  I have not left the house.   I also have not applied any make up to my face yet or attempted to make my hair presentable.  The bra hasn't been touched at all.  Isn't it grand to be able to embrace this ultimate status of female freedom?  Every woman should be allowed to burn a few bra-less days every so often and not be judged for it.  Of course, they have to be used with discretion and with the strict promise that no bra-less individual will leave their home and force unsuspecting strangers to have to encounter loose boobs in a public setting.  It is for their own safety after all.  Loose boobs are a hazard to the environment and therefore must be contained to one's private residence.  If you are among the extreme minority of women that has never experienced a day like this, then you are truly missing out.  Remember to play by the rules of going bra-less and be sure to exercise this option only when you need it most.  After all, we women work hard to keep all our balls juggling in the air at once.  It is perfectly okay if a ball (or boob) needs to fall free every once in a while.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Race Report: Austin Half Marathon

I did not quit.  If you don't get anything else from this post, then I want you to remember that little fact.  Above all else, that is what I took away from this race weekend.  The divas and I headed three hours up the highway to run the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon.  Austin, Texas is by far one of my favorite cities to spend a long weekend hanging out.  The town is laid back, full of funky cool individuals and events that urge you to simply have a good time.  The race always falls around President's Day, so having a three-day weekend to drive up and enjoy the extra time off makes it easy on my schedule.  Steph, G and I piled into a loaded down SUV and hit the highway during the quieter minutes of a heavy thunderstorm that stretched the entire way from Houston to Austin.  We were all ready to throw in the towel on the whole trip when the storm let up slightly and we decided to go for it in hopes that we could get to our destination safely.  All the rest of the running divas left town at varying times and in multiple cars, so it was truly every (wo)man for themselves on the slick highways.

Needless to say, we took it easy on the roads and made a couple of pit stops.  Had we been in a bigger hurry or on a tighter schedule, we might not have stopped for the authentic Texas barbecue lunch that warmed our rumbling tummies.  If I had to declare a southern road trip "must", it would be to always make time for a slow smoked barbecue opportunity no matter what else is on the itinerary.  With full bellies and tired joints, we rolled into Austin just as the remaining rain was moving out.  We headed straight for the race expo to pick up our packets and gobble up the free give-aways before the vendors packed up for the evening.  I strolled around the race expo browsing in the usual running vendor booths hoping to motivate myself to get excited about the next day's run.  Normally walking around all the unique running merchandise gets me pumped and ready to tackle anything the upcoming race has in store.  This time it did not work.

I was completely under trained and ill prepared for this race more than any other I can recall in recent memory. Sure I had run a couple of races over the previous two months, but the weeks leading up to this race were filled with other non-running related deadlines and stresses that left me wanting to call off this whole Austin race weekend.  In other words, "life" happened.  Being the quintessential anti-supermom, I have never claimed to have it all under control.  Sometimes everyday demands can bite even the best of us in the butt.  Also the weather in Houston has been, well, chilly and very wet.  I've run through 90 degree heat, sticky humidity and blistery cold, but I absolutely HATE running in cold rain.  All you have to do is tell me it is both cold and rainy and I will hang up my running plans in an instant, no questions asked.  Add all that up and you can easily deduce that I did very few training runs in preparation for the Austin half marathon.  The end result was me trying desperately to wimp out before my bib number was ever pinned to my shirt.

Who knows what cosmic forces actually came together to guide me to it, but I did indeed find myself at the starting line as planned on race morning.  We were so far at the back of the pack we never heard the gun go off, but we muddled through the runner's shoot and immediately hit a deep downhill slope that woke up my sleepy joints with a bang.  Did I mention the brutally endless hills of Austin?  The hills of the Austin race  course are so bad, the race should feature a disclaimer to every runner before they sign up.  It should read something like this: 

Dear Unassuming Runner, 
The upcoming race course is so twisted with rolling steep elevation that even you macho tough guys will go home crying to your mammas.  Trying to attempt this race course makes you certifiably crazy, if you aren't already.  Run it at your own risk.

-from the Austin Race Officials

What makes me truly crazy is I did know all this ahead of time.  I have run the Austin half marathon a few  times before and got my butt kicked thoroughly enough to stay away for good.  But noooo, I had to come back one more time because I obviously did not learn my lesson the first couple of times.  Since I was not well trained for this event, I had already looked at the course map ahead of time and focused on a couple of mile markers where I could drop out gracefully and cash in my chips if the desire hit me.  If I did drop out, it would be a first.  I have taken much pride in the fact that although I've never come close to having a completely perfect running performance, I have never ever quit a race.  If I had nothing else on this tough morning, I still had that.  This is what I clung to as I achingly passed each one of my planned drop out spots along the route until I reached the half way point just before the 7 mile marker.  With my iPod playlist at full blast and Eminem yelling in my ear to "Lose Yourself", none of my usual tricks had their same pump-it-up effect on me that they normally do at this juncture in a bad race.

Beyond that moment all I thought about was my favorite running partner, which happens to be my 8 year-old son.  Thinking about that pint-sized 5K veteran struck a fear in me that pushed me forward the rest of the way.  There was no way I was going to return home without a medal, having to explain to him that mommy dropped out of the race because she simply didn't feel like running.  I tried out every possible excuse in my head and none of them sounded like a good enough reason to walk away from this race.  The news that mommy quit in the middle of the deed would have crushed him.  Better yet, it would have crushed me to have to face him with such a flimsy cop out.  During the race I could almost hear him running next to me telling me not to quit.  Our mother and son runs together usually only total 2 or 3 miles in distance, but they have an endearing affect on me.  He is my only fan and I am not ready to tarnish the grand image he has of me.  As a runner himself, he watches me with an undeserved idealism that always makes me want to do better.  I am pretty sure there will be enough times in the future for him to want to disown his dear old mom, so there is no need to bring that on any day sooner.

In the end, I made it through the rest of the race and lived to tell about it.  My running buds and I got to spend some uninterrupted child-free and husband-free time together.  Our weekend away gave us a chance  to stock up on running goodies, running injuries and funny stories to last us until the next time.  Steph surprised herself with a better than expected performance against the monstrous Texas hills.  G took time off from this race (thank God!!) to give her body more time to heal after a painful injury that still lingers from our Philly trip.  My big boy got another chance to gawk at my finishers medal and dreamily state his desire to one day do his own half marathon or more.  Although he was only with me in my head as I muddled through those final miles in Austin, it got me over the hump when nothing else was working right.  Maybe when he finally does get the chance to train for his own half marathon, I will be able to share this story with him in hopes that it might help him through a particularly difficult moment.  Along that same sentiment, I made my usual vow that I will keep running with him every step of the way as long as he wants me to.  If he does not quit, I won't quit on him...just like I have never quit on myself.  Incredibly enough, my "never quit" streak is still unbroken.  Let's hope it never does.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Memorial Run

This morning we did a virtual run in memory of another runner we never knew and never will.  Her name was Sherry Arnold and several weeks ago she started her day exactly the way we did today.  She set out for a Saturday morning long run in Sydney, Montana on her usual route at 6:30am, no doubt taking time out from a busy schedule to do something she loved.  She never returned home.  After several days of searching for her and clues to her disappearance, her family would later learn that she was abducted and murdered by two individuals that intended to do harm to any random person that crossed their path.  Sherry's morning run innocently and unfortunately intersected with their sadistic plans.

The media coverage about Sherry Arnold's abduction reached the running community from coast to coast.  One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Risdon, was her cousin and came up with the idea of a virtual run so others across the country could show their support in her memory.  Our little running crew decided to participate in the virtual run as well.  The running divas and I gathered at our usual meeting spot bundled up against 39 degree temps, set on doing a light run and then relaxing with girl talk over coffee.  We started out huddled in a group prayer for Sherry's final resting state and to give thanks for the gift of running in general.  At first glance, this might not appear to have been a proper memorial run for a fallen fellow runner.  We were upbeat and giggly most of the run, sharing funny stories and updates from the past work week.  We got lost in our conversations and plans for the next big race we are going to complete.  Sherry Arnold's name was not mentioned again as our morning run unfolded.

She was, however at the forefront of my thoughts because it constantly sticks out in my mind how normal and routine that fateful morning probably was for her.  If I were a fly on the wall in her home, my imagination tells me what her final days might have been like.  Since she was a high school math teacher, maybe like me, she left work long before the onslaught of evening rush hour traffic.  Maybe she opted for a fast food Friday night dinner because she knew she would burn off the extra calories during the next day's workout.  Maybe she went to bed early in anticipation of hitting the trail long before other pedestrian traffic crowded the route.  Maybe she laid out her running gear the night before, in hopes of quickly and quietly leaving the house without disturbing anyone else's lazy morning.  But among all these "maybes", the only certainty is that she did not realize it would be her final life event ever.

Having never met this woman, how can I boldly guess at what Sherry Arnold's final hours might have been like?  It is because as a runner, we can assume the same mundane rituals and habits are universal to us all.  The same tried-and-true methods of preparation are carried out by all of us as we transform from career women and mommies into seasoned weekend warriors.  We laugh in the face of fatigue and harsh weather conditions and make our running plans in spite of the obstacles.  We push our limits and call 10 milers "fun", anxiously planning the next big running adventure as if it were a trip to Disneyland.  This missing runner, although a stranger to me, could have been any one of my "sole" sisters.  In a carefree manner we set out on our weekly runs, sometimes as a group and sometimes alone.  Our corner of the urban landscape is fairly quiet, so we naively assume that just because nothing negative has happened to any of us so far that it never will.  We assume that everyone in our small community will be on our side and wish us good travels as we traipse along on our regular running routes.  Unfortunately as Sherry Arnold found out first hand, not everyone you encounter on the trails is just a friendly passerby.

Among my running buds, I have earned the reputation of being the paranoid one.  If you read this blog regularly, then this revelation should not surprise you.  I avoid running in the cold rain for fear it will lead to bronchitis or some other horrible sidelining ailment.  I don't like running solo in the dark, whether it is morning or evening.  I over plan for danger and accidents by always carrying a cell phone, toilet paper and lip balm.  I make a habit of requesting full disclosure of anyone's plans when one of us chooses to "go it alone" on a run.  When we all took our recent trip to the Philadelphia marathon, it was me who insisted everyone take their cell phones along during the race just so I would have peace of mind that they could text me in the event of something going wrong.

Could any of these precautions have saved Sherry Arnold from her tragic fate?  I don't know, but I still feel the need to pass along her story almost as a public service announcement.  I want others to understand that although we runners are strong and tough, we are not invincible in the face of danger.  Although we revel in the camaraderie of our sport, not everyone is looking out for us or cheering us along.  Thanks to social media and the swift pace of digital communication, Sherry's story was able to reach a massive audience very quickly.  For all of our good natured intentions of today's virtual memorial run, it will mean nothing if we don't learn from the lessons of her tragic death.  Prepare for emergencies, stick to daylight runs in a group, have a running route planned out and share it with everyone that matters to you.  We have to be careful out there and stick to the safest possible plan.  Our loved ones support us through long training months, racing seasons and a steady wave of mild injuries we earn with every run.  We owe them the peace of knowing we are making every effort within our power to make it back to them safely, so we can live to experience the next great running event together.  Be careful out there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Much Ado

As I type this, I am sipping a glass of wine in hopes that my pent up restless energy will calm itself enough to allow me to sleep through the night.  There is far too much on my mind right now.  The past two weeks have flown by in a whirlwind of activity.  I have been so busy that I lost track of my days. I just hoped someone would tap me on the shoulder to let me know when Friday arrived so I would not accidentally show up to work on the weekend.  You may recall from previous posts that spontaneity and I are not friends.  In my book of life, surprises are overrated.  Predictability is far undervalued.  I don't like when unexpected things pop up in my day or unexpected guests pop in for a visit.  I prefer being prepared and knowing ahead of time exactly what is expected of me.  When things don't flow according to schedule I am not a happy camper.

That is probably why I am feeling so off balance right now.  Glancing  at my calendar for the upcoming month, I realized I have something planned or something due for nearly everyday in the coming weeks.  Whether the events are social or professional, being too busy gets me flustered and anxious.  Blame it on my overly organized to-do-list-making personality, but a full plate spells trouble for me.  I hate having a tight schedule of overlapping activities where I am unable to give my full attention to any one thing.  Any of those packed events could go awry, bleeding drama into the next event and causing a blow up of the whole schedule in general.

Is that enough paranoid whining for you?  There is plenty more where that came from but I will try to hold back a little.  Although my schedule has been full, all the deadlines are slowly being met and loose ends are tying themselves up neatly.  That does not mean I will walk away from the overly loaded couple of weeks feeling I accomplished anything.  Instead it will leave me feeling unsettled, slightly empty and generally off.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because even though I will have taken care of other people's needs and demands I risk failing to carve out time for myself.  As selfish as it may sound, I no longer take my "me" time for granted.  It is at the very top of my to-do list.  As a full time working mom, it so easy to forget my needs and dive head first into the demands of marriage and motherhood without a plan.  Don't get me wrong.  Dedication to my family and home are my top priorities, but keeping myself centered and balanced is where I start my priorities.  Sometimes sneaking away for a quick 3-mile neighborhood run is the only time of the day I am completely alone and lost in my own thoughts.

Years ago during my single woman/child-free years, I could spent several self indulgent hours a day doing exactly whatever the hell I wanted to do whenever I felt like doing it.  That goes for the times when doing "it" was absolutely nothing at all.  Back then  the word nap was still in my vocabulary and I used it (and did it) quite often.  These days when I try to sneak to the bedroom for a quick nap, the male forces of the house swarm around me wondering if I have fallen ill.  My husband and I often joke about our life before the kids invaded.  He loves to ask me, "Do you remember what life was like B.T.B. (before the boys)?".  My answer is always the same.  Yeah, I do remember it, but I don't miss it.  It is probably because of them and their flare and their noisy presence that I can fully appreciate the precious hours I spend away from them.  No one questions me when I declare the need to unplug and escape to the streets for a quickie date with some asphalt therapy.

Since my schedule was so tight and tense these last couple of weeks, I had to perform some running workouts that would release those feelings and leave the anxious energy behind somewhere out there on the roads.  I chose to do speed intervals, which I normally try to avoid like the plague unless there is an extreme need.  Usually I avoid speed work for two big reasons.  The first excuse is because it is HARD!  The other reason is because it takes too much brain activity.  When I go for a run, I want to zone out and not think or feel anything other than freedom and the fresh outdoors.  Speed work forces you to be present and aware of your body and all its functions as if it were a machine tuning it parts.  Speed work makes you think about what you are doing during every moment of the workout. It has nothing in common with a leisurely fun run.  It crowds your brain with thoughts of foot turnovers, breathing, and gait.  It makes you feel discomfort where you normally feel at ease.  It makes you compete with yourself  in areas where you previously thought you needed no improvement.  It also makes you so consumed with your workout that you no longer worry about the crap of a packed schedule waiting for you when the sweat session concludes.

Maybe that is the beauty of doing speed work, no matter how ugly it feels.  It feels so uncomfortable and hurts so bad that the other "stuff" you are struggling with begins to diminish in comparison if only for a few short fleeting moments.  This speed work distraction worked for me this week simply because I needed the physical beat down to help me mentally toughen up for even more schedule demands that had yet to come.  I needed the time to fight against my usual habit of avoiding the hard workouts and all the other tough stuff that I want to avoid until absolutely necessary.  This served as a practice dry run in preparing myself for the seemingly endless deadlines I still needed to meet.  It helped me focus on the finish line when what I really wanted to do was run away and hide until the whole race was over.

I often wonder if the most skilled hardened athletes have moments like this as well when they want to avoid the tough workouts and just take it easy a for a little while.  Surely they do.  However, what makes those athletes true champions is the ability to go through the hard stuff and come out on the other side a little stronger than they were before.  If the same is true for regular old average folks like me, then I look forward to whatever transformation is waiting for me on the other side.  Will I be stronger, wiser or just too damn tired to notice the difference?  Let's hope for the former and not the latter, because there is still lots more "me" time I need to add to my schedule before this tough stuff gets the best of me.