On Being

Come on, baby. Please turn. 15/#100daystobaby

I found this photo from the late days of my pregnancy this afternoon while looking for something else entirely. I was so big, and so tired, and so ready to be done being pregnant, and so scared about what would happen if all of the ridiculous things we were trying didn’t result in the baby turning around. They didn’t work, and he didn’t turn, and I had a surgery that I didn’t want, but everyone was just fine in the end.

On my way to the gym the other day, I passed a young girl with a huge dangly front tooth, and then I realized that my little son would one day lose his front teeth, and that realization made me want to cry because growing those teeth has been so agonizing – so much pain that he doesn’t understand, so many long feverish nights of tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable because bones are poking their way through his tender new gums. And for what? So that he can lose them all and start over?

And then yesterday, I was in the car in the early morning and so caught the beginning of a rebroadcast interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, where he said:

I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and, therefore, suffering should exist.

And it made me realize, again and again, that these are the pieces of our lives that make us human: the fear of the unknown that turns out to be not so scary, the inexplicable pain (physical and otherwise) that comes from growing, the extraordinary experience of releasing your heart outside your body that helps you understand how to love the world.

We have so much to talk about, always.

In the summer of my first year of grad school, I got back in touch with an old friend. Melissa lived barely 20 minutes away, the closest we’d lived to each other in the 10+ years that we’d been friends. In fact, we had lived closer than that for almost a year, if only we’d had modern conveniences like Facebook to tell us such things. But those would come later – at that time, and for the years before, we wrote letters.

I met Melissa at Covenant Harbor in the early years of our adolescence. We connected in the way that you connect when you are 13 and passionately in love with God and the world – while experiencing the first pangs of independence and angst. We were a part of a tightly-knit group that would return to camp every summer until we finished high school, even as our lives diverged in significant ways. But the passion of adolescence rarely lasts, and we drifted apart, until I passed Paxton on the highway one day and thought about dropping Melissa a note.

I wrote to her about my crisis of faith, how far apart my life was from the life I’d imagined, about the end of my first marriage and the relationship that followed. I wrote about my struggle to reconcile the pieces of my life with the faith and the church in which we’d both been raised. I wrote a long letter to a person I hadn’t seen in years, expecting nothing in response.

This is what I will always remember about Melissa: how when we met for lunch one day not too long after, she looked at me and asked, “Who are you to decide who God loves? Who are you to decide that God can’t love you just the way you are?” And I sat across the table from her and cried because I was so wrapped up in myself, in my hurt and shame, that it never occurred to me that I was shutting out exactly the love and acceptance I so desired.

Our lives diverged again in the years since then, though it was easier to stay in loose contact this time around. The last time I saw her was at her wedding a decade ago. She had family in the city, and her son saw doctors at the hospital on my campus, and we talked several times about connecting when she was here, but it never happened, and now it won’t.

There’s been so much loss this year, so many people gone too soon. I suppose that’s always the case, but it hits closer to home every year. Today my heart is with Melissa’s family, with her young son, with all who loved the wonderful person who was so important to me in those brief but crucial moments.

We have to do better than this.

I am sitting at my kitchen table and I am crying because I can’t even begin to understand what is happening in our country right now. People killing cops because they’re angry. Cops killing people because they’re angry? scared? because they can? People killing each other in the streets and in nightclubs and in cars and on trains and in alleys and in broad daylight for reasons or for no reason, out of hate and fear and inequality and injustice. More than 2,000 people shot in my city so far this year – SO FAR THIS YEAR.

For a long time, I didn’t think I wanted kids because I worried about the state of this world. I wondered whether it was fair to gift a small, defenseless person with a planet as profoundly screwed as ours. Back then, my fears were mostly about overpopulation, about the planet running out of resources, about the environment my child would grow up in being that much worse than the one I experienced.

Now that I have a child, it’s like – how can I even care about that stuff when a three year old was shot close to my work in the last few weeks? When a man was killed by a cop during a routine traffic stop? When a woman was killed by a stray bullet in our neighborhood while sitting in her car talking on her phone? And if I have those fears as a middle-class white woman with a white partner and white son – how much worse must it be for my friends who don’t have the inherent privilege that comes with being born white in America? For my friends who fear every day for the safety of their black husbands and black sons? For my friends who practice other religions, or come from other countries where the hateful expressions of a few color the perceptions of the many?

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table crying because it’s all too much, and I feel too small to do anything that means anything beyond loving my son and raising him to be a good man. There has to be more than this. We have to do better than this.

If you’re feeling like me right now, with your heart in your hands, here are a few places to start:

  • This Twitter thread has a long list of things that you can do RIGHT NOW to learn about police practices in your city, and to start reaching out to people who can do things to change them.
  • Campaign Zero articulates specific policies and agendas that can move us forward as communities and as a country
  • Find your Senator. Call them. Write them an email. Write them a letter. Tell them how you feel and what you want to see changed.
  • Find your Representative. Call them.
  • Find your state legislator. Call them as well.
  • Hold the ones you love closer tonight.

Shut Up and Take My Money

Coffee at Ferry Plaza//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I’m not sure how I got on Blue Bottle‘s mailing list, but does it really matter?

Or, rather, is anyone at all surprised that I’m on Blue Bottle’s mailing list, given my inclination to wax poetic about their coffee (about which they already wax well beyond poetic) every time I have the opportunity to have it – in SF, straight from the pour-over bar or in the form of a perfect cappuccino or even from a waxed carton of New Orleans-style iced coffee, or in Brooklyn on a hot day, or at lab after randomly running into the proprietor on the other side of the country while standing in line at, you guessed it, Blue Bottle.

All of this being a preamble to the “well, obviously” moment when I mentioned to N that Blue Bottle had introduced coffee subscriptions that included a free 2 oz trial by mail.

Our wee packet of Bella Donovan beans arrived earlier this week and was tucked away for this morning, the first day of vacation, as perfect a summer day as we’re likely to have in Chicago, where over the last 10 days we’ve slipped from early spring into high summer weather with no regard for the dates on the calendar. The toddler was awake at 5am, our stroller run was middling, our trip to the park culminated in tears and tantrums, and the breakfast I’d looked forward to making all week was a disaster.

But the coffee was solid. I couldn’t tell you whether it was “warm, comforting, [or] familiar” because mine was mostly lukewarm by the time I had wrangled my over-tired child into dreamland, but it did feel awfully luxurious to have really good beans (instead of the $5/pound grocery store variety) in the grinder, and an actual bloom on the grounds when I used the pour-over, and a cup of coffee to look forward to for more than just reasons of survival.

Race Recap: Presence Health Illinois 5K

Fortified by a late lunch at Za’s and a nice day wandering around Allerton Park and other favorite spots*, I felt reasonably ready for the 7:30 start time of the 5K. The weather had been iffy for most of the day – overcast, breezy, a little drizzle – but nothing terrible. I grabbed two cookies on my way out of the hotel, leaving at 6:40 for the 10 minute drive to the race.

That was my first mistake. I got to campus just as they were starting to close the roads. With literally every turn, I was hitting newly closed roads, and being redirected away from the starting line and back into the terrible traffic that had caused me to try to detour through campus in the first place. I ended up driving several miles out of my way, then doubling back and finding parking just in time to hustle to the starting line. At least I got a warm-up?

My second mistake was low-balling my pace when I registered. Of course, I registered back in September, so I had no idea what my pace would actually look like, but I could have given myself more credit! I was in the second wave, and I blame my missed PR on that entirely, because by the time I got to the starting line, people from the first pace group had already slowed to a walk.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me briefly explain: when you register for races, you’re often asked to estimate your pace/finish time so that the race organizers can group you with people of similar abilities. This should prevent traffic jams at the starting line by putting the walkers with the walkers, the elite runners with the elite runners, etc.

My estimated finish time put me in the 27:00-30:00 group – roughly a 9 minute mile. So everyone up ahead of me would’ve been running less than a 9 minute mile. Now, a 9 minute mile isn’t all that fast (the top 15 finishers ran a sub-6 minute mile), but it is fast enough that you should be able to assume that the people running at that pace are runners, not walkers.

All of this is to say that when I crossed the starting line with the 9-10 minute pace group, I should not have hit a wall of walkers. But that’s exactly what happened. It took me the first half mile to get around all of the walkers in order to get up to pace – a significant setback when you’re only running a little over three miles! So that was maddening, but there was nothing to be done except focus on the rest of the race.

I almost never intend to race this race, given that I will have another race to race in the morning, but it always ends up happening. Running through campus, often in gorgeous weather right at sunset, gives me such a high that I just can’t help myself. The course was reversed this year – I assume to fix an annoying hairpin turn – so we went past the rows of undergrad housing earlier in the race – always an energizing point. We sailed down Green Street, up 6th, and back towards the stadium.

I had set a pace alert, but didn’t feel it after that first frustrating half mile, so I assume I was doing well, though I didn’t think a PR was possible. I was mostly focused on beating last year’s time, though I’d written both – my time from 2015, and my PR from 2013 – on my arm next to my watch.

I crossed the finish line at 24:59, easily beating the previous year’s finish time of 25:56, but coming in four seconds over my 24:55 PR from 2013. How frustrating to have done SO WELL and then come up just barely short of a PR!

Tired, hungry, and grumpy, I grabbed a little post-race food and hobbled on my newly sore hip back to my car. On the way home, I picked up more Za’s, and returned to the hotel aghast at my missed PR.

Presence Health Illinois 5K by the numbers
Finish time: 24:59
Placing: #508 overall, #103 out of all women, #12 out of all women aged 35-39.
Average pace: 8:01
Splits: 8:18, 8:04, 7:44, .51

*It’s impossible for me to talk about these races without also talking about the places that bring me back to Champaign. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll keep that to another post.

Race(s) Recap Precap: Illinois Marathon Weekend

I’m attempting (again) to throw myself back into blogging. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This was my fifth year running races during the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend. The race weekend includes everything from a 1K youth fun run up to marathon challenge (5K + full marathon). I did the half I-Challenge for the fourth time – 5K at 7:30am Friday night followed by the half marathon at 7am Saturday morning.

These races are my favorites, hands down. The races are just great – great course, great communication, great gear, great people – and it’s always wonderful to have an excuse to go back to C-U for a weekend. I get such a rush running through all of these places that are so familiar and so special to me. It’s no wonder that I’ve broken my own records in nearly every race nearly every year.

Despite running a ton of halfs, I’ve never really had a “race plan” or a race strategy. I generally plan to do what I’ve done before, and roll with what comes my way during the race. This was easier when I was racing more often – now I have to try to remember what it was that I did 6-12 months ago? and did that thing work? etc. These blog posts are part of my strategy for remembering.

The last two weeks of training

I faithfully followed a training program for the last few months – for the first time ever. I did the technical runs. I used pace alerts and my heart rate strap. I trained in all kinds of disgusting weather. I went in hoping to break 2 hours in the half – not a PR, but pretty dang good considering that I’m still not getting much sleep, still breastfeeding, and only really training during my lunch breaks plus a long run on the weekends.

I didn’t run much for the two weeks leading up to the races. This wasn’t on purpose – I had an unexpected trip come up about 10 days out, and running just didn’t fit in the agenda while I was there. I got in a 12 mile run the weekend before the races, but very little the week of. My last training run was a lousy 2.5 miles on the indoor track due to bad weather.

I’ve had persistent groin issues since my toddler was born (via c-section) in 2014. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they cut through all the layers of my abdominal muscles – those enormous sheets of tissue that connect to many other major muscle groups. Anyway, that started acting up around the time I went out of town, and had me hobbling after every run for the two weeks leading up to the races. So that was a source of anxiety going into the weekend.

Nutrition

I feel like the clean-eating part leading up to races is actually harder than the tapering part. I’m terrible at following a specific diet. It bores me to death. My general plan is to cut dairy, fat, fried things, and fiber in the 2-3 days before a big race. Anything that might be hard to digest is out. In a vegetarian-mostly household, that tends to result in a lot of garbage carbs. This is something I need to change for future races!

My go-to pre-race meal place in Champaign has become Za’s. In fact, I’ve eaten there twice over the race weekend the last two years – dinner/dinner last year, and lunch/dinner this year. Their combo meal is an easy way to get exactly the veggies, protein, and carbs that I want, and nothing more. My pre-5K lunch was a salad with chicken, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. My post-5K, pre-half dinner was pizza with veggies and no cheese, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. Next time I’ll skip the pizza – it was too heavy on my stomach, and I regretted it all night.

Oh, and water. About 3-4 days out, I start hydrating like it’s my job. I don’t know exactly how much water I tend to drink, but I fill up two water bottles at a time, multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea, even if it means lots of pit stops in the days leading up to the race.

Travel

Our strategy the last two years has been to drive down to Champaign Thursday afternoon, giving us all of Friday to hit the race expo and do things around town. We made this decision last year due to rain in the forecast, but in general, I think it’s a much better idea than rushing down Friday and then trying to do things Saturday on race-trashed legs.

We stayed at a different hotel this year, which I hope we’ll be able to do in the future as well. For the price of a regular room at our normal spot, we got a suite at Country Inn and Suites – totally worth it with a toddler who goes to bed at 7. Other bonuses: better and more extensive breakfast options, and coffee and snacks (including fresh cookies) available around the clock. Don’t underestimate the importance of around the clock snacks when you’re running two races in 12ish hours.

In my next post, I’ll actually talk about the races. I promise.

Q1 Resolutions in Review

A new post in a new location! I moved my blog from my own domain to WordPress about a month ago, but this is the first actual post over here. Please update your feed readers, assuming you still use such a thing!

1. More letters.
I’m keeping up with my goal of one letter/week, but they’ve mostly been thank you notes. (I need to write more thank you notes as well.)

2. More books.
1/16 completed. Not great, but not too far behind.

3. More miles.
Running: 161/750 completed. I entered the Chicago marathon lottery in March, and am running the Illinois Half I-Challenge at the end of April. Running is feeling really good. I like my current training program, and my current running routes. I need to be more consistent about long runs, but the combination of winter and sickness has made this difficult.
Biking: 94/2000 completed. I just haven’t felt like riding lately. I’m not sure why that is.

4. More movies.
1/12 watched, but it was a big one! We took the baby to see Star Wars in the theater. He was unphased by the noise or explosions, but he definitely didn’t like the non-human creatures.

5. Less meat.
N is working on perfecting briami and the eggplant sauce from a favorite Italian restaurant. I’m playing with Persian food and crusty rice for bi bim bap. I don’t know that I’m eating less meat, but I am enjoying exploring vegetarian cooking.

6. Less debt.
We have a substantial amount of travel coming up in the next six months, including an extended trip to Belgium, so I don’t think that we’ll pay off all of my debt, but we’re making steady progress, which feels good.

7. Less complaining.
8. Less guilt and regret.
Works in progress, always.