Saying thank you for the smooth breath of relief

sunrise for blog post

When you work out regularly and try to eat right (mostly successfully, save for a daily serving of pita chips and a few spoon forays into the peanut-butter jar); when you try to focus on what’s good in the world (and usually succeed); when you regularly practice inhaling positives like courage and peace and exhaling negatives like stress and worry,  you kind of like to count on being healthy.

Or mostly.

Because, truth be told, there are no guarantees. You know that. I know that. And I especially know that after unexpected numbers showed up in a yearly blood test,  thus necessitating two similarly unexpected diagnostic tests two days after Christmas.

As I left the center following the second test, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in years. We talked; she comforted and told me she would pray for me. When she texted me the next day and I shared my good news, she said she’d felt a peace about the outcome all along.

As for me, I alternated between wondering whether I should buy green bananas and feeling buoyed by a blanket of optimism and prayers from my sisters, their families, my son. I didn’t lose sleep; I did, though, wonder  were the news not good, how long before I’d start feeling bad (which I haven’t felt in the slightest). And, quite honestly, if my son would be able to get a refund for the fancy activity watch he gave me for Christmas.

Christmas watch 2018

My son Charlie gave me this nifty watch for Christmas

Those hours of uncertainty reminded me how life can change in an instant. How one phone call, one pivot, one touch of a doctor’s finger on a page of numbers that make no sense to us non-medical types, can jostle, if not totally alter, your world forever.

My doctor wants me to have a follow-up blood test in a couple of weeks to see if the wayward number has dropped. As tempting as it is to fret about that, I’m instead focusing on trust; replaying in my head her reassuring voice on the phone the morning after my tests. I’m also taking particular solace in the radiologist’s conviction everything was so fine that he didn’t suggest repeating the test to make absolutely certain.

The results revealed nothing; they could just as easily shown something serious. I realize that — just like I know (or know of) healthy people whose lives are sideswiped by a scary medical diagnosis. And thus I am, in the most humble, knees-on-the-floor sense of the word, awash in gratitude.

So for sunrises that have taken on new layers of awe, for pita chips and peanut butter that taste head-shakingly scrumptious, for stalwart sisters and for outcomes that allow my breath to flow normally again…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you, on this first day of a new year, for 7 wishes

One, two, three, four, five, six seven: With each jump over a wave, you make a wish. Photo: Class Adventure Travel

One, two, three, four, five, six seven: With each jump over a wave, you make a wish.
Photo: Class Adventure Travel

I had high hopes for my first run of 2017. But a mile or so into it, good intentions swirled with clumsiness and a cluttered mind, and I kind of lost my momentum and ended up walking much more than I’d intended.

Thus, as much as I reminded myself how lucky I am to move at all (which I truly believe with all my heart), I just wasn’t feeling the joy. To be quite honest, that kind of embarrassed me a little, because I take great pride in gleaning snippets (or, quite often, large chunks) of joy — my Moments of Joy, I call them — from every blessed run. And to be six miles in and feeling a ho-hum heart, well, that was not good at all.

Then I heard Philip Reeves, an NPR reporter, talking about New Year’s Eve in Brazil. Millions of people gather on the Copacabana beach, not only to watch fireworks, but to take part in a tradition: They wade as deep as their ankles into the ocean, and when a wave comes, they jump over it.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven times. With each jump, they  make a wish. It’s a secret — much like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, I guess — but one woman opened up when Reeves talked to her.

“You just went in the water there, and I saw you jumping up and down seven times,” he said. “Do you mind if I ask you – I know it’s a secret, but what generally did you wish for?”

She answered this: “Money, peace, love, hope – everything that I think – that is good.”

Now, hours and hours later, when I remember my run, I remember — not my plodding, not my slightest discomfort, not my trepidation about a new year — but those waves hitting the beach, and the jumps of optimism.

So for love, for peace, for giggles; for the constancy of the ocean, and of our breath, and of the sunrise; for the human spirit that believes in the hope and possibility and promise of a new year — for our very own seven, giddy-with-anticipation wishes — the Grateful Runner says thank you.

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Saying thank you for those first glorious steps

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Every run is different. You can wear the same clothes, tie the same shoes, pull on the same red knit cap, stick your fingers in the same double gloves as you did yesterday or last Tuesday or three weeks ago. But how you feel, how fast you go, how far you go will not ever be the same — despite thinking you have it all planned out.

Which is why each run is special, and why getting ready and contemplating those miles ahead can make you — well, a little giddy, even. So you go outside and turn on the GPS of your watch, and while it’s finding a satellite, maybe you jump up and down a little because the air is so cold and the wind so brisk.

That was my morning today. I wasn’t sure what to expect, only that I’d be running. I pushed the start button on my watch, and I took off. Before I’d gone even five steps, probably four, I knew this was going to be good.

I was right. It WAS good. Glorious, even. I ran three miles farther than what I’d set my minimum to be, two miles more than what I’d hoped, a mile longer than I’d even thought about.

So for the promise every run holds…for the preparation we do because at least some will serve us well…and for those first glorious steps…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for in-sole surprises

money shoe

When I put on my shoes — old shoes, by the way, which I’d been planning to donate, but couldn’t seem to part ways with them — I felt something inside the left one, like paper. Had it felt like a rock or thumbtack or baby squirrel, I’m sure I’d have taken it off, turned it upside down and shaken it. But the object wasn’t enough to be annoying, so I headed out for my run.

Later, I went to the gym for a short swim, and when I took off my shoe, look what was there! A 10-dollar bill! Somewhere in the recesses of my recent memory, I vaguely remember losing — excuse me, misplacing — a 10-dollar bill, but had all but forgotten about it.

But then, voila! Here it was. To be quite honest, there it remains. I’ve yet to take it out and thus, yet to spend it. I will of course. Meanwhile, though, just knowing it’s there makes me smile.

So for the delightfully unexpected, for items we don’t quite remember losing but are happy to find, and for surprises stuck to the inner sole of a favorite pair of shoes…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for connections

breathe

This slogan, stenciled on the wall of Fit Yoga serves as a reminder that we’re all here together…where we need to be.

When I arrived on my yoga studio on Saturday and reached for my mat to carry inside, it wasn’t in the back seat. Then I remembered I’d left it on the floor the last time I went to class, which was um…before Christmas. So I dashed inside, and there it was…along with beloved instructor Jill Murawski and 14 other women — most of whom I knew, something that makes me exceptionally happy.

When I first started practicing (emphasis on that word) with Jill almost three (surely not four!) years ago, I knew no one in class. Now I feel this connection on varying levels to all of them. Some are just hello-insert-name-here. Cindy and I go to coffee with almost every Saturday, often joined by Karol and Brian. The four of us went to a play in December, which was oh-so-much fun.

When I needed a jacket to wear to a wedding last weekend, Cindy and Karol immediately offered several choices. A month or so ago, I had an 8:50 a.m. flight to Arkansas to visit my son; Karol and Brian both offered to give me a ride.

Twice now, Jill and I have run the Dallas Half Marathon together, which is such a wonderful memory (and now official tradition) to share.

Even if no one whose name I know is in class any given day, there’s still that connection thing. Be it with our mats, with the floor, with the air, with that  peace of being — as the sign on Jill’s wall attests — where we need to be…it’s there, and it matters.

So for branching out, for every breath, and for the connections created when the two of those combine…The Grateful Runner (who one day dreams of yoga-loosened hamstrings) says thank you.

Saying thank you for serendipitous reminders

schedule

I started training for my first half marathon about eight years ago. I had a friend who had run several of them as well as two marathons, and who convinced me that distance running was in my future.

So I found a training plan on runnersworld.com, filled out how many miles I wanted to run every week and how hard to train; printed out the schedule, and laminated it. We followed that plan diligently, rarely wavering from the specifics, and never ever missing a run. It worked; my first half was exhilarating, my time was decent, and I was hooked.

Through the years, I followed a couple of other plans, but eventually just kind of did my own thing.

This past week though, I found that original schedule in a drawer and was a bit astounded at what it showed. Namely, far fewer miles per week than I run now. Two days off! Plus, though I may be a somewhat faster now on longer distances, I was caught off guard a little — not only at the abbreviations and running lingo — but what those tempo runs and speed work entailed.

The timing on finding that schedule was serendipitous. As summer had worn on, my runs just weren’t as fast as I had wanted them to be or, on some days, slower than I could have sworn I was going. I’d been attributing my relative poky pace to the weather; maybe for good reason, maybe not.

But seeing on that faded schedule what I had been capable of made me wonder…am I still? So next time before heading out, I took an extra deep breath, letting that wave of anticipatory giddiness seep into my psyche.

And, well, what do you know? I ran stronger and faster and — most importantly — more joyfully than I had in awhile.

Since then, once, maybe twice a week, I’ve pumped up a run just to see where it takes me. Place, I found out, I’d all but forgotten I could go.

So for those serendipitous reminders of what we could do and, often, by golly, what we still can, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for dawn shared with strangers

My nephew Ben in a bike race that, like the one I saw today, inspired those who slowed their run to take it all in.

My nephew Ben in a bike race that, like the one I saw today, no doubt inspired those who slowed their run to take it all in.

I knew the Corporate Challenge in Richardson had started. How could I not? The signs for various events hang from light posts all over my neighborhood. Apparently though, I’d subliminally skipped those announcing the Sunday morning bike race.

So when I left my house this early this morning, turning west on Campbell Road (which tends to be eerily quiet at that hour), I was jolted out of my running zone by a parked police car in the middle of the street. Then I noticed dozens (hundreds?) of orange cones. Then headlights after headlights of cars.

And finally, ah, yes, the cyclists. Initially, there were one or two lone riders, their upper bodies bent parallel to the ground, their numbers attached to their handlebars. Then I saw more of them, some still alone or with a partner; others in groups of three, still others in a pack.

I turned north and began a kind of zigzag; Sundays are my days to run long, and every extra step, every changed direction, get me closer to my goal. By the time I reached Renner Road — the opposite side of the bike-route rectangle — there was an all but solid stream of cyclists. Some were riding professional looking road bikes; others, mountain bikes. I saw one woman on what looked like a Schwinn from my childhood.

In the last year, I’ve run all but maybe five miles by myself. That’s AOK, most truly. Still, seeing the cyclists and hearing bits of their conversations made me feel just the teeniest bit of wistful. Mostly though, I couldn’t help but smile at them, waving and periodically shouting good-luck encouragement.

When I reached my house, I realized my run today had been longer and slower than I’d planned, which caught me a bit by surprise. Now, as I look back almost a half-day later, I think there was quite possibly a reason for that.

So for the whooshing of bike tires…for silence-breaking sentence snippets…for dawn shared with strangers…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for starry September mornings

As I gazed at the Colorado sky, the morning stars were staying put in my Texas one.

As I gazed at the Colorado sky, the morning stars were staying put in my Texas one.

While I was in Colorado for my niece Julie’s wedding, the sky at home seems to have shifted. Not in the planet realigning sort of way that’s inherent with life-changing events, but more in an axle-spinning reminder of the earth’s rotation and the changing of the seasons.

Up until the week I left, I could see the first indications, however vague, of a sun preparing to rise when I’d start my morning runs. I propped sunglasses on my head; by the time I reached the front porch, I was as likely as not to need them to block those first sleepy rays.

But when I set out September 2, the morning after returning home, the sky was still starry. I saw no pink swaths, no semblance of shadows — only a ceiling of white pinpricks. When I finished running, the sun still wasn’t visible. I’d been in the house for 10 minutes before I remembered to take the sunglasses on my head.

Autumn isn’t here, not by a long shot. Temperatures are in the 80s when I wake up; the heat index surpasses100 during the day. The State Fair of Texas hasn’t even started, and I’ve long held that fall won’t arrive till after the last teddy bear has been won and the midway closes.

Yet yet yet…there is something in the air that reminds us, however subtly, of the inevitable passage of time.

So for starry mornings that seem somehow to hold the heat at bay, all the while still making me sweat…as well as for life’s sky-shifting, planet-realigning milestones…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for freedom

Feeling bursts of patriotism on a spar-spangled day

On a star-spangled day, feeling patriotic and remembering the star field of the flag goes on the upper left.

The night before Independence Day, my son Charlie and I went to the Dallas Arboretum for the Dallas Wind Symphony concert. As the lawn crowds arranged themselves on blankets and folding chairs, sailors and scullers gathered in the lake nearby, stilling their boats to catch strains of patriotism wafting through the air. The sun slowly sank, replaced in the sky by a crescent moon flanked by a pair of clouds.

The setting, the music, the aura — they were all so was beautiful, and Charlie and I both got really pumped. One of us felt teary — overwhelmingly appreciative of everyone who has fought for this country. Plus, I felt unexpectedly emotional missing my precious dad — he who arguably liked setting off fireworks even more than we kids liked watching them, and who drilled it into us that when you hang the flag from the porch, the star field goes on the upper left.

By the time Charlie and I got home, I’d missed my usual bedtime by about an hour, so I set my alarm to go off 45 minutes or so later than usual.

I woke up after the sun and got dressed, making sure at least my shorts were patriotic blue. As I set out for my Friday run/walk on this Independence Day, there was the slightest of breezes — just enough for the flags in almost every front yard on my route to wave.

Sure, it was hot, but boy did I feel lucky and oh-so-blessed to be an American, running under a cloud-puffed sky, touching flags as I ran past and feeling their symbolic strength to keep me going.

So for the freedom to get outside; to run wherever and whenever (quoting my dad here) I darnday well please; to live in this, the greatest country in the world…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for lane-sharers

How nice it is when someone offers to share a lane before you even ask.

How nice it is when someone offers to share a lane before you even ask.

I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself when I say this: Those of us who swim tend to favor having our own lane. Most of the time, this works out, at least the times and places I go.

When you run, you don’t need to think about that. You see someone approaching on the sidewalk, and just move a little to the right till you’ve passed each other. It doesn’t take much thought, and probably only happens once or twice a week.

This morning, when I peered through the window at the pool on my way to the dressing room, each lane looked taken. Two lanes though, were occupied by two women who were getting in a across-the-rope visit before their water-aerobics class began at 9. I thought maybe if I asked, one would move over so I could swim my laps.

By the time I put on my swim suit and made it to the pool, the women were indeed in one lane. A lap swimmer was in each of the other three lanes. I recognized a man in the far lane and even remembered his name. Jim’s a nice fellow, and though he’d have to rein in his arms a bit so as not to bop me in the face, I decided to ask if he’d share.

I hesitated though. You just don’t want to interrupt someone’s swim to ask something that can be sort of irritating. So while I stood there, the woman next to the water-aerobics classmates stopped.

“Do you want to share?” she asked.

“Sure!” I said. “Thank you!”

She had a really pretty stroke, plus she was so easy to swim with. We each stayed on our side of the black line dividing the lane, and we never came close to colliding. I finished feeling good, without that stresed-out, playing-defense sensation that can come with lane-sharing.

We ended up walking out together. I told her I had noticed her walking into the gym because of her bright orange flip-flops, which I love. She said, “Dollar Store!” and we both laughed.

Turns out she’s a Spanish teacher on her first week of summer break. The last couple of weeks have been so busy, she said, that she’s had no time to work out. Plus, her students were bringing in junk food (which they were more than happy to share) to sustain them during final exams. So she’s planning to use the next couple of weeks to get back in shape before doing some traveling.

We parted ways, each expressing hope we’ll see each other again.

Meanwhile, for chance encounters…for people who share…for a reminder to move over and offer half a lane when I see a fellow swimmer waiting…The Grateful Runner says thank you.