Introducing: my minimalist office!

Lest you think that amid all this running and general goals talk I’d been slacking on my 2017 goal of growing in my minimalism practice: SURPRISE! For the past month or so I have been hard at work making over my work space into a “minimalist office”. Okay, okay….minimalist cubicle. I hope this serves as a great way to start off a year of trying to live minimally; today I want to share my inspiration for this makeover and how I’ve developed my minimalist office concept.

Look at this picture. Just look at it. Is it not the most breathtakingly boring space you’ve ever seen? I mean there’s nothing there! If I’m not around, will coworkers who walk by think I’m moving out or something? It’s so…plain! And…bland!

Darn skippy it is. Believe it or not, that’s the whole point.

I’ve been wondering for a long time if there is something I can do about my work space that will help me feel a little happier and more content while I’m at work. The monotony of desk life gets difficult and I often find it hard to concentrate and be productive. A year or so ago I thought I needed to go in the opposite direction: I became preoccupied with making my cubicle “homey”. I brought in a blanket and a chair pillow, even a rug. I pored over cubicle design ideas on pinterest. I collected artisan-made trinkets. I even cut out a piece of a cheap rug to put under my keyboard for my wrists to rest on.

It didn’t work. Maybe nothing could help that sterile office environment, but all that stuff just felt so awkward and out of place in my cubicle. And I felt crowded by it. It suddenly just looked so silly there. And why shouldn’t it? I’m not a decorator, I never have been.

More importantly, I felt ambushed by clutter. Piles of paperwork were everywhere. It was just a depressing mess in there. Getting our office space remodeled and having to move to a temporary area then moving into my new cubicle last year did force me to clean some of that up a bit, but in my new space I just went right back to my old ways. I hated it. I kept thinking what would happen if I were to suddenly lose my job, what an utter mess I’d leave behind. It was depressing.

Our outer environment and living spaces can have a powerful subconscious effect on our state of mind. Think of how you feel when the house is newly clean: that deep contentment and feeling of freedom. Conversely, when you have to live in a messy home or work in a messy office, you often feel stressed or distracted or uncomfortable without even fully realizing it. Eventually I began to dream of an office space that wasn’t besieged by disorganization or a total eyesore. I thought about how nice it would feel to work in clear, open space, and how much more productive I might feel without the weight of clutter constantly distracting me. And that’s when I decided: I’m going to make a minimalist office.

My vision was to take the word “minimalism” to heart. I wanted everything gone. If there was desk space that didn’t need to be filled, then it would not be filled. Other than my phone and computer stand, I made it a rule to keep on my desk only the things I actually need to have at hand on a regular basis. Important things that need to stay in files for reference are still around, in the cabinets and drawers, but since I don’t need them on a regular basis, I wanted them out of sight.

So much NOTHING! So much glorious NOTHING!

That leaves some lotion and chapstick, a pen holder, a notebook, and this file rack where I keep things that I need to use every day or have at arm’s length.

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I put them in these colored folders to make it more pleasant on the eye, but I only kept things I need to have handy or refer to on a regular basis.

There’s one more thing, though.

Here’s what I love most about it and, pardon me tooting my own horn, where I think the real genius comes in. Yes, this is PLAIN. It’s boring. You’d think no one even used this space if not for that one little personal touch, that dash of Hanna:

Elements like this, in my humble opinion, are the lynch pins of minimalist design. That “this is totally impersonal and sterile, BUT WAIT!” moment. That subtle, less-is-more stamp of identity that swoops in at the last second. This could be anyone’s cube, or no one’s, if not for that little human element. There is a big misconception that minimalism is a draconian act of stripping down to only the essentials for survival, but on the contrary – it’s these understated personal touches that make it thrive.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any clutter hiding away in some cabinets and drawers. I suppose a better description for this project is a “visually minimal” office. But unlike making your home or your personal belongings more minimal, there is only so much you can do in a work setting where you don’t get to make all the decisions about what stays and what goes. I focused on what I could control and what could benefit me most at work: my open work space.

Here’s hoping this makes me feel a little more productive and serves as a breath of fresh air. As I was doing this project, I decided it would be cool to tackle one big minimalism project each month to give my goal of better minimalism project a bit of a push forward. In February, I will be focusing on paring down my wardrobe again and maybe even giving Project 333 another go. I also hope to spend a month each on minimizing waste and my digital life. Stay tuned!

Thursday Running Thoughts: Change of Heart and New Training Methods

At the beginning of this year I alluded to the fact that I had a big goal for my marathon. But, true to form, I am already starting to waffle on it. Not because I don’t want to go after it, but because I’m now thinking of using this training cycle to experiment with a new method of training instead. It’s still way too early to decide on a training plan, but I’ve been flirting lately with the idea of doing something that’s more akin to the FIRST/RLRF plans (for those of you not fluent in Runcroynms, that’s “Run Less Run Faster”, the plan that’s gotten notoriety for the fact that you only run 3 days per week. Most people, FWIW, leave out the fact that you do rigorous cross-training on the other days, so you’re still working out 5-6 days per week).

There are a lot of reasons I feel like I need to shake things up and go in a different direction. As I’ve changed and grown in my priorities over the past year, I’ve become really turned off to the high-volume running lifestyle I used to employ. Sure, I achieved my goals by running 5-6 days a week…but at what cost? I ended up so burnt out on running that I could only train for one race a year and ended up having to take nearly an entire season completely off.

I’ve also started to become more interested in overall fitness than I was before. Fitness was never really the reason I ran – it was just to chase goals. And I still like to work toward goals. But the more I learn about health and fitness, the more I realize that my current approach isn’t necessarily the most healthy and I might be doing myself a disservice with my “run all the miles” approach. I mean, sure, I ran marathon-level mileage in my hey day and that ain’t for the faint of heart…but I also spent the vast majority of the rest of those days just sitting on my butt. How fit and healthy is that, really? What potential could I unlock if I actually committed to my overall fitness – if I biked, and swam, and stretched, and got strong? That thought makes me excited the way breaking new time goals used to make me excited (it still does, to an extent, but not as much as before).

I have also learned that I just enjoy running more when it’s balanced with other things. Running is not “my sanity” or “my release” or anything like that. I love to run, but frankly, I don’t want to do it every day. There, I said it. For me, it is like many other things in life, in that it is simply more enjoyable in moderation.

This may sound like big talk from someone who barely has the discipline to do 10 minutes of strength work in a day. But my realization that I enjoy a little bit less running makes me wonder if I’d actually perform better that way, too. If I did a plan like this it could either be a breakthrough…or a flop. I have no way of knowing and that’s why I will need to hold on loosely to any possible time goals. I always did well on higher mileage and thus wrote off plans like RLRF. The idea of running a marathon on a training plan that has little-to-no aerobic miles scares the crap out of me. But I also know a quite a few people – most of them similar athletes to me – who have used this plan and absolutely crushed their race goals. Most of them will point out that the lynchpin to success with this method is that you cannot slack on the cross-training. That is not lost on me. That said, I still can’t stomach the idea of running a marathon without an aerobic base, so I would likely make some modifications such as doing more of the long runs at an easier pace than recommended and subbing out 1 XT day with a longer easy run each week. I do think that if my 6 months of aerobic base building goes well, it will give me a good foundation to do well on this plan.

Again, this is all premature. It’s still way too early to plan my marathon training, and 4 months is a lot of time to change my mind for someone like me who changes her mind about things practically every damn week. But the reason I’m bringing this up now isn’t so much to talk training strategy as to illustrate a big shift that has occurred in my mindset over the past year. I really believe that both the highs AND lows of my running journey are what have led me to this place of taking more of an interest in my body and my overall health. Having running in my life has showed me how important it is to make better food choices, for example. It’s also opened my eyes to how strong and mighty my body is and the amazing things it can do. But it has also led me to see how much the quest for marathon success leads me to neglect other areas of my body (my first time doing yoga this past summer was particularly eye-opening!) and what consequences this may have, now or later. I’m changing. As a runner, and a person. And right now the main thing those changes are telling me is: I need more. It’s no longer enough to just aim for faster race times and pile on more mileage. I think that the massive plateau I hit last year was trying to tell me something. I am not on the right path anymore. I need to go in a different direction. And if getting slower is the sacrifice I have to make to actually get fitter and healthier overall, well, maybe that’s a sacrifice I’ll just need to learn to be comfortable with.

Have you ever tried a completely new training method? What was your experience?

Have you had success running fewer days per week?

Building a Running Base: Month 1

Wow – it’s been so long since I shared an actual running update! I’ve been base-building for just about 4 weeks now, so I finally feel like I have enough to go on that I can write a more comprehensive report, even if (spoiler alert) I really haven’t made any fitness gains per se.

My Base Building Strategy

Instead of training for two goal races this year, as most runners do, I’m taking the entire year to build up to one goal race, the Chicago Marathon in October. This means that I’m forgoing any winter/spring formal training in order to spend the first half of the year building up my aerobic endurance and general fitness base. Training for the marathon will officially start in mid-June.

My focus for January is quite simple: get my body adapted to running again by logging 100% easy miles. I took a lot of time off this past fall (7 weeks altogether), so I’ve started out the year with very low mileage and a plan to increase it very conservatively this month. My plan called for a a few 4-milers during the week (and, by the end of the month, a couple 5 milers as well) and a weekend long run, which started out at 6 miles and will be up to 9 miles by next weekend/the end of the month.  All of these miles are at a conversational, very easy effort. I also made it a goal to do bite-sized strength training workouts 6 days a week (we’re talking 5-10 minutes total each day) in an effort to get into the habit of regular strengthening.

The two guiding tenets of this month’s work were: 1) keeping all my runs at that conversational easy effort with my HR in the aerobic zone; 2) going GPS-free for 90% of my runs.

All that time off running definitely put me behind in terms of fitness, and that’s no fun, but I see the “starting over” process as a blank slate, an opportunity to re-train myself with better habits, namely: learning to truly run by effort, not pace. I think it will be more productive for me to listen to my body, work with where I’m at now, and progress naturally, instead of being a slave to my watch and forcing myself to run paces I feel like I “should” be running. Ditching the watch and having no clue how fast I’m running forces me to focus on other things mid-run: how I feel, how hard I’m breathing, how much effort I’m putting into the run. Once in a while I will track a run, to see how I’m progressing, and occasionally I will measure my elapsed time against the route I ran on my MapMyRun afterwards to get a rough idea of what my pace was, just out of curiosity (I record all my runs as manual workouts – timer only – so I can track my heart rate).

How it’s going:

Well, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I had some setbacks this month. My first week went great, logging 16 miles, but then the next week I got a cold and only logged 8. Determined to redeem my missed long run (which was not sickness-related, I just skipped it because it was like 8 degrees that weekend), I made up for it the following Monday, but due to a vacation we went on that same week, I only ended up logging 10 miles for that week. During that vacation and the sick time, I also missed a bunch of my strength training days, and there were a couple times during the month that I just flat-out forgot to do it, but otherwise I actually did well with my strength training. I really did make an effort to get a little bit in whenever I could, and I ended up doing it at least a few days each week.

I got home from vacation on Sunday, and I rallied this week: unless something happens, I’ll log 20 miles and an 8-mile long run to close out Week 4 of base-building. I’m planning on 22 for next week, and it’s only upwards from there for the month of February. It feels good to be back on track. I do regret that I couldn’t run more miles this month, but it is what it is, and I can only move forward, not back.

I have, however, so far achieved my goal of 100% easy running these first four weeks. In fact, I nailed it – I’ve focused on easy effort for every single run and succeeded. It’s taking some practice, and there are certainly still days when my legs and lungs do not agree on what constitutes an easy effort! But I’m getting better at it. I am gradually replacing my habit of listening to my watch with a new habit of listening to my body. I’m constantly paying attention to how easy my breathing feels as an indication of whether I’m running at an appropriate effort level, and I’m also staying aware of how tense and upright my upper body is on the run. I keep my effort level steady for the duration of my runs because I’ve learned to listen to my breathing cues to tell me when I’m starting to go too fast. When that happens, instead of telling myself “slow down!”, I use the mental cue of “relax“. I take a deep breath, let my shoulders drop, let my arms relax, try to adjust a little bit upright.

The Negative

While there are so many benefits to slowing down and running by feel, these slower paces do mess with my head sometimes. I haven’t consistently run at these paces in ages. I have moments where I seriously doubt myself and have to fight the urge to do more and push harder. It’s  all too easy to fall into the trap of “I’m not improving/I’m never going to get fast again/I’ll never achieve my goals at this rate“. This is a relatively new way of training and approaching long-term goals for me, and that naturally comes with some uncertainty and discomfort. I have to remind myself over and over and over again to trust in the process and keep my eye on the prize.

My easy paces may be slower in part because I’ve gained some weight since I stopped running and training this fall. Actually, I think I started gaining weight all the way back this summer after my spring marathon. My clothes have gotten a little bit tighter this year and the tone I noticed in post-race pictures from the spring has disappeared. I don’t think a few extra pounds is having as much of an affect on my running as the fact that I’m out of shape, but I am not as lean as I once was, and the laws of physics dictate that with more weight I will move slower. Neither this nor my lack of fitness will disappear overnight, so I just have to keep being patient and disciplined.

The Positive

Since running at a true easy pace, running feels good every single day. I have not yet struggled to get through a run, and I have not felt fatigued during or after any run I’ve completed, even my longer ones. I never dread running, and it demands pretty much no recovery: by the time I get home, rehydrate, shower and relax, it barely even feels like I’ve exercised at all. I think that’s a sign that I’m ready to start throwing in some harder efforts, and I will be starting that in February, once my mileage gets more consistent. I track my heart rate on all my runs and I’m happy to report that it has consistently been well within my aerobic zone – I would like to see it improve a bit since that seems a little high for my effort level, but I’m pleased with myself that I’ve done a good job keeping it consistent and steadily aerobic.

I know that going slower now is an investment in my running success down the road, so while it’s not always easy, I’m proud of myself for staying disciplined and doing the right thing each day. Each time it gets frustrating or boring, I remind myself that it will pay off later.

Looking Ahead: The Next 4 Weeks and February

I look forward to having nothing going on in my life the whole month of February (now there’s something I never thought I’d say!). I’m glad running is feeling good, but I really need more consistency. I can’t develop an aerobic base on 16 mpw, and in order to build my mileage, I need to be able to stick to a plan and develop a routine. I’m eager for that to start happening this month.

In February I will be adding a little bit of light speed work into my running once a week. This should spice things up and start the process of boosting my fitness. I wanted to start doing this at the 4 week mark (which is the end of this week), but since my mileage has been low and inconsistent this month, I’m pushing it back a week.

I’ll also start increasing my mileage next month: for the next 6 weeks I will be running 22-30 mile weeks, and in February I’ll start double-digit long runs, something I have not done since September. I hope this will help me start feeling more confident about my base and about completing the Canyonlands half marathon in mid-March.

Finally, on Tuesday I start my weekly “4-in-1 fitness” class (a combination of different styles of aerobics and sculpting), and I’m looking forward to adding some rigorous and consistent cross-training into my fitness routine. I’ll continue with my daily strength training, and I’m hoping that as I get used to it I can start taking on a little bit more each day.

Mentally, I need to improve at being patient with myself and my circumstances. Comparisons to the past constantly bedevil me as a runner, but they are just not helpful or productive. It doesn’t matter that I could run a marathon at an 8:30 pace in May. It’s not May anymore. Temporary or not, nobody enjoys being slower than they used to be, but I have to work with where I’m at now if I ever want to improve upon it. And I have to accept that it’s just going to take some time, and try not to freak out when many weeks – months even – go by without any noticeable and consistent improvement.

Pure

I just returned from 3 days in Mexico, celebrating as our good friends got married on the Playa Mujeres. We lived in the lap of luxury at an all-inclusive resort and we drank the days away at pool bars and on pirate ship cruises, but somewhere in all that I still found time for some reflection against the backdrop of the ocean water.

I had a couple hours to myself Friday afternoon so I headed down to the beach to play in the ocean for a while. In between bobbing in the waves and drying off in the sun, I took a walk along the shore, admiring what a purifying force the ocean is. The great vastness, the unceasing ebb and flow of the tides, the omnipresent roar and the blanket of sun that drown out the earthly “monkey brain” – not even the serene forests or the beautiful mountains or the quiet canyons have the ocean’s unique and mighty meditative power. Just yesterday, I’d been listening to some new friends at the wedding talk about all the half and full marathons they run, and I had a sudden fierce longing for the days when I was in long distance racing shape. I missed that feeling of being in great shape; where I am now feels so far from the breakthrough races I had in the spring of 2015 and the gritty marathon PR I ran this past May. Now, as the salty waves lapped at my ankles, I thought about that moment from yesterday and the great quieting effect of the ocean. By washing away my busy thoughts, the ocean’s great purity was getting me back in touch with my needs – the things that bring purity into my life.

The goals I made for this year aren’t just about achieving success, or even about the more commonly cited motivation of enjoying the process of working toward something. There is no “something”. There is only a calling back to the things that make me feel pure, and immersing myself in these specific goals/resolutions is a way of answering that calling.

Eating well, which I’ve never been awesome at, is the easiest example here. It is purifying in the most literal form: I strive to put better things in my body so it feels better and maintains more energy and vitality.

There is a lyric in a famous Blind Melon song that goes: “all I can do is read a book to stay awake/and it rips my life away, but it’s a great escape“. That “ripping” is how reading invigorates me, how it purifies my mind. Immersing myself in literature, different stories and viewpoints and lives, is like a big hydrating glass of cold water for my brain.

The practice of minimalism makes my soul feel pure in a way that’s harder to put my finger on, that is mysterious and promising. Having less – physical clutter, mental clutter, schedule clutter – makes me feel more connected the world around me and the life I lead. Acquiring clutter and stuff is like building a skyscraper – as I add more floors and get higher from the city below, I feel less centered, further away from my roots. The practice of minimalism is my short, stocky building: keeping me grounded and in touch with the world around me.

And, of course, running. Like eating well, it is purifying in the physical sense – Exercise! Endorphins! Fitness-building! – but there is very much a spiritual component to it as well. Running is very meditative. The steady rhythm of heartbeat and striding feet, the air in your lungs, moving through the world on foot (even if, in my case, it is usually just on unattractive city streets). It’s being present in time but removed from the social media updates, the news alerts, the gravity of life. It’s letting your mind be active without being consumed. I want running back in my life not just to get fitter but because my life needs more of these special meditative sessions that only running has been able to give me.

Now, I’m trying to reflect on the goals I’ve set in a new way – to remind myself of this calling they answer, not just the rewards they provide. I’m trying to remember the waves and the dull roar of water pushing out the noise – the purification.

 

Keep the Dream Alive

2017 hasn’t exactly started off with the “bang” I was hoping for. Well, unless by “bang” we mean, “BANG! You suddenly have a cold/sinus infection thingy that is here to throw off your whole week and make you feel miserable!”

The first week of January (once we begrudgingly say goodbye to holiday vacation time and trudge back into our normal lives), is usually the freshest week of the year. The gyms are crowded with bushy-tailed goal-setters, all throughout social media feeds and office refrigerators are colorful salads and leftover healthy crockpot meals, the internet is overpopulated with listicles about how to be productive, do it all, and have your best.year.EVER, and everywhere you go there is a pep in the air which rivals that of the holiday season, as everyone resolves to detox their bodies and souls and be some better version of themselves. Resolution madness is at its peak in the first couple weeks of January, before the pull of old habits and the realization that change takes hard work have time to set in.

But instead of charging across the starting line of 2017 with everyone else, I clumsily stumbled across it. 9 days into January and I already find myself besieged by setbacks and still stuck in a weird post-holiday limbo. The cold I got on Weds-Thurs of last week wasn’t too horrible – I didn’t miss any work – but it sapped my energy and I missed a couple runs and strength training days. The other thing about being sick is that it also made me kind of moody and detached, likely a result of the physical fatigue. Our trip to Mexico this week comes at a time when I’m peppered with work deadlines and pop-up projects and just finally starting to get into a routine, leaving me feeling stressed instead of excited about a few days in warm sunny paradise. The stress and the sickness has me feeling like I’m living in a fog, watching the days tick by.

The result, needless to say, is that all those fun goals and resolutions feel light years away, like they were set by another person in another far-off era. So instead of flying high on motivation and a surge of productivity, I feel like it’s already December again, and I’m facing down moments of looking at all those goals and wondering, “what am I thinking? I can’t do all this crap. I can’t even be a normal functioning adult and get out of bed on Saturday mornings.

(I will say that not all my goals are in the suffer tank right now – I did get a ton of reading done this week. Let no one say I don’t take lemons and make lemonade!)

Anyway, lest it seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, I’m gonna cut the pity party and get to the actual point of this post. Believe it or not, I’m not just writing this to vent (okay, maybe a little…)

Heather recently wrote a great post about having a guiding mantra instead of a concrete running goal for 2017, and it made me think about how I could use something similar to get myself through sticky weeks like this one. Thinking about how laughable my goals have felt in my blah moments lately, I knew immediately what it needed to be.

Kara Goucher once said, “keeping the dream alive is half the battle.” We’re always so focused on what to do to achieve our goals that we forget how important it is to keep ourselves motivated and feeling positive toward them. Obviously doing the work is important, but – and forgive me being a little presumptuous here – I think where a lot of people go off the rails with goals and resolutions is that they don’t think about what they’ll do when the work doesn’t come easy, when the thrill wears off, when life throws them curveballs that make it hard to stay motivated. This is especially true with goals that are further away in time, such as yearly or 5-year goals. The pursuit requires more patience and doesn’t afford us the instant gratification we crave, so it becomes so much easier in the beginning to give in to excuses, to convince ourselves that what we do now doesn’t matter, and as I’ve experienced these past 10 days, to feel in moments of stress that it is just not worth it and that I might as well give up on it while I haven’t invested much time or energy into it yet.

Keeping the dream alive is hard. Sure, there will be awesome easy days. But as anyone who has ever pursued any goal will tell you, there will be more days that are hard or uneventful. There will be more weeks that are hard and uneventful. Anyone who says otherwise is either not being honest or isn’t making very challenging goals. But my last 7 months of 2016 were all about giving in to excuses and not wanting to work for anything, and I’m a little tired of excuses. I’m tired of feeling stuck.

So my guiding mantra for all of my goals this year, and all those moments, is “keep the dream alive.” None of my goals are unreasonable for me, and I picked them because I know that even if I don’t achieve some of them, it will be worthwhile just to try. So whenever life hits a lull or I experience a setback, I’m going to remember that. I’m going to tell myself to keep that dream alive.

What is your 2017 mantra?

How has your year started off?

2017

 

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New Year’s Eve
2017…2017…oh dear goodness, this post has taken so many different forms over the past couple months of drafting and editing and thinking. This might be one of the most-anticipated new years I’ve ever had. Part of that is my overall less-than-enthused feeling toward 2016, but a bigger part is that I’m finally getting some of my energy back, feeling ready to move through life more assertively and get to work on some big goals again. And I suppose another part is that with two vacations and the Chicago Marathon on tap, I get to do some pretty cool stuff this year.

Oh, and did I mention I’m turning 30 this year? It’s odd – my 30th birthday is 10 weeks (!) away, and I keep waiting for some rush of introspection or motivation to hit me, but I can’t really feel anything about it. Isn’t that anti-climactic? Shouldn’t I be suddenly inspired to make over my life and scramble to check off bucket list items or something? Isn’t that how you’re supposed to feel when approaching a milestone birthday? But over the past year I’ve had some time to get used to the idea of being a 30-year-old, and now all I can think about is moving forward with life like it’s any other year. Maybe age really is just a number.

My plans and ideas for 2017 have gone through a lot of shape-shifting in the past few months. I still don’t know how this year will turn out or what’s in store for me (“I plan, God laughs”!), but I decided that I do want to have some new year’s resolutions and big goals for myself after all. The aforementioned return of energy has me feeling ready to get back into goal mode, and I think having things to work toward will keep me feeling positive when life inevitably hits a lull or two.

I thought I’d share my new year’s resolutions today. I  know how trite new year’s resolutions can become, and it was important to me to put a lot of thought into mine and make sure these are things that speak to my truth and I actually really want for myself.. They are:

  1. Grow in my minimalism practice. I know what they say about the likelihood of success with vague, non-measurable resolutions. But minimalism is not a numbers game, at least not to me. All I know is I want to continue to grow. I can say that a few things I will be focusing on in particular are: cutting down my spending, being less wasteful, and reducing my dependence on motor transportation by going more places on foot or bike. That last one is also borne of a desire to incorporate more activity into my daily life and feel more in touch with the world around me. And, of course – being a MINIMAL MARATHONER! It seems counter-intuitive to train minimally and have a big goal, but I have to say, I’m looking forward to the challenge.
  2. Reform my diet. Another vague cliche! Gosh, I sure am on my game! This is actually, however, an important resolution for me. I not only want to start saving money, I want to feel better. Is my diet the reason I often lack energy, feel like crap mid afternoon, struggle to get up in the morning, and get regular visits from ol’ indigestion and sour stomach? Maybe not entirely, but I’m sure it plays a huge role. My diet isn’t horrible (I’d give it a solid C), and I’m not looking to make drastic changes, just clean it up a bit. I’m particularly focused on eating more greens and veggies, cutting back on coffee and soda, eating (a healthy) breakfast every day, refueling better after workouts, and cutting back on fried, processed, and heavier foods. Kevin’s parents got us a new crock pot and a rice maker for Christmas (maybe a not-so-subtle hint?), and I’m already on the hunt for healthy and EASY slow cooker recipes.
  3. Read 36 books. THIS IS MY YEAR. I’ve made a 36 books goal for the last few years, usually halfheartedly, but this year I am DOING IT! I really want to become a regular reader again – it enriches my life so much – and making this goal will force me to do so, because when you’re an adult with a full time job and other crap to do, you can’t read 3 books a month without setting aside time for daily reading. You just can’t. At least 1/3 of these books (or one a month) will be nonfiction that explores social justice issues and illuminates the lives of people who see the world differently than I do. I want to be more educated and mindful of the experiences of people who don’t have the privileges I’ve enjoyed in my life, and I want to understand and empathize with people who view our world so differently than I do. I will definitely be sharing my reads as I discover and devour them. I’ve been digging around my library’s website and have already discovered several titles for my must-read list: Between the World and Me; Strangers in Their Own Land; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Hillbilly Elegy, to start.

In addition, I also set 3 big goals for this coming year. Like, big scary goals. One is marathon-related, the others aren’t related to running or fitness at all. I’ve told very few people what my goals are, and I’m not going to talk about them online. I’m not trying to be secretive, I just want to keep this part of my life personal. Sure, it takes a lot of pressure off me, but the real reason is that I don’t want to make a huge deal out of my goals and have them take over my life. Public accountability is nice, but I think I need to stick to the environment I thrive in: plugging away quietly and working diligently in the shadows, and otherwise getting on with my life without all the fuss.

I said earlier that I may be cutting back on my blogging in the first half of the new year. Until marathon training starts I’m not going to have much in the way of regular running content, nor am I even going to have much for my marathon spending log. I’m trying to have more of a life outside the internet these days, and I want my writing to focus on things that are interesting and meaningful to me. Of course, usually when I resolve to step away from writing is when I suddenly have much to write about, so maybe I’ll blog less, maybe I won’t. For once I’m just gonna go with the flow and see where it takes me.

Happy 2017! Now we’ve all got lives to lead, so let’s go live ’em!

2016 in moments

Most year in review posts only touch on highlights or notable events. It’s understandable – those are the things that stick out the most, the ones we hold onto, the memories that last a lifetime. But I don’t feel like the highlights and notable events capture what this (or any) year was really like.

So I’ve decided to review 2016 by remembering it through a collection of moments – some related to big events, but most just plucked from my everyday life throughout the seasons.

This exercise really changed the story I’ve been telling myself about this year. While I’m looking forward to moving on and I still feel like 2016 was overall a forgettable year, going through these moments reminded me that there was a lot of life in 2016. I’m glad I now won’t forget that.

And there was a lot of growth, too. It is through these and many other moments this year that I came to understand how nuanced life’s experiences are, even in – perhaps especially in – the biggest and most seemingly simple events. Sometimes the happiness of success is tempered by feelings of disconnect and emptiness; sometimes rest and routine can feel simultaneously boring and comforting; and sometimes the disappointment of failure is followed by a new path and a much-needed push forward.


2016: A Year in Moments

 

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Morning, January 1. We’d celebrated the new year by going to bed at 9:30 the night before. I was on a recovery run and it was so quiet out, and I felt so at peace. The easy miles were smooth and I was happy in the knowledge I still had 2 more days off work.

 

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Almost done with an early morning easy run on another frigid morning. I’m content in the feeling of having the world to myself and pounding the pavement before the grind starts, and smiling at how I could just run 8 miles on a weekday like it is not big thing.

 

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On a weekday in late February, when my home is freezing and encrusted in snow and ice and gray, I wake up in a rural area in warm Guatemala where the birds and the bugs are loud at night, the tiny streets are quiet except for our shovels and hammers, and little brick buildings in every color of the rainbow sit against the backdrop of towering mountains.

 

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It is Wednesday afternoon in Guatemala, another sweltering day. We are visiting the tiny rural village of La Plancha to visit some Habitat families and on our way out, this pastor invites us into his church. It’s in a shack and the seating is white plastic chairs but it is a house of worship like any other. His eyes light up as he talks about his church – which he’s led for 52 years! – and I can’t help but be struck by the fact that in this village is absolute poverty like I’ve never seen before in my life, and yet here in the middle of it, tucked away in a nondescript church, is joy and pride.

 

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Sunday morning, March 13th. This is one of my most vivid memories from Pittsburgh Marathon training. It’s the day after my 29th birthday. We take our time getting out of bed. It’s pouring rain outside but in the apartment awaits coffee, snuggle blankets, and this delicious leftover birthday cake. All the fixin’s of a lovely lazy Sunday – but I am reluctantly pulling on tights and a jacket and getting ready to go on an 18 mile run, that I must drive across town for so I can do it on hills. I’m moving slowly, trying to delay the inevitable. I grumble to Kevin how much I don’t want to go. He tells me something like, “you can do it. You’ll get it over with and we’ll be here when you get back!”

And when he looks back at me, I’ve burst into tears. I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to. My birthday is over, it’s Sunday, it’s raining, and I have to go run 18 miles, and I’m crying and I’m so full with dread and resentment.

I went. I never got a runner’s high or that feeling of being so glad I toughed it out. But the pouring rain made the streets almost empty, and there was a moment deep into the run when I was all alone out there running along the lake, not even a car around on this busy street, and the rain was beating down on me and for a second I just felt so alive.

 

 

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A quiet evening at home. I’ve just discovered Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, and as I sit there reading I can feel the seeds of real inspiration starting to grow inside me. I won’t end up fully using her method, but reading this book was what inspired me to start thinking seriously about practicing minimalism.

 

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We walked around the Pittsburgh Marathon finish area the day before the race, as they were setting everything up. I looked wistfully at this PR Bell stand, thinking to myself wouldn’t it be nice if I could ring that tomorrow…but, sadly, with the way things are going, I doubt it. Oh well… But then, 24 hours and 26.2 grueling miles later – there I was. After I crossed the finish line, the first thing I could think of was getting to that PR Bell I had seen yesterday.

 

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It took me a long time before I finally put my Pittsburgh Marathon medal away. As gray miles of rural Ohio and Indiana passed by out the car window the next day, I held onto it, loving its heaviness and its intricate design and the way it felt in my hand. Hours later, when we drove by Chicago in the final stretch toward home, the towering cityscape seemed to take on a new meaning. I’d worked so hard to qualify for guaranteed entry into the 2017 Chicago Marathon and, despite my doubts, had somehow pulled it off on that grueling course. Now, gazing at the city of my next marathon, it felt like I was actually looking at the future. I wondered what wonderful things  Chicago’s streets would have in store for me next fall.

 

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In the midst of an unrelentingly hot and humid and tortuously long summer, an enjoyable moment occasionally emerges. This one is on a Tuesday night, at Chill on the Hill. Tunes, brews, friends, the heat giving way to an almost cool breeze as stars filled the sky. Every once in a while summer is what it used to be.

 

 

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Thursday afternoon, August 11th. The heat and humidity are sweltering in our 2nd floor, non-air conditioned apartment, so I have two fans blowing on me as I watch the women’s gymnastics all-around final LIVE. I’m working from home in the afternoon to be able to do so, and wearing my Feat by Aly socks for good vibes. The live coverage, without all the NBC flair and hype, makes it such a different experience to watch. I remember being so nervous while Simone was on the balance beam.

 

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Summer this year felt a lot like winter often does. I started slipping into a deep but faceless rut, in running and otherwise. I was listless and uncomfortable in the “dog days”, and the heat was making me insane. Kevin also hates summer and we were both a little miserable during this time. The garden we’d cultivated went ignored for weeks, until I finally forced myself to go one evening to deal with the fruits of our neglect. The weeds and rot were as bad as I’d feared but I just dug in. And, to my surprise, found handfuls of survivors.

 

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On Friday night, October 14th, Kevin and I went to see the Tour of Gymnastics Champions. The show was enjoyable enough (better I guess if you’re a tween girl), but I was so happy in the feeling that I had just gotten through our busiest work week of the year. It was stressful but pulling off a successful event was exhilarating. It felt so good to be productive, active, and busy, and really earn nights out like this. Plus, the weekend was just beginning!

 

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On Wednesday morning, November 2nd, I’m groggily trying to get ready for another workday when I see this had hit my email inbox at like 2 AM. Suddenly, I’m a little more awake. After over a week of obsessively checking my email and CC statement multiple times a day, finally getting the “you’re in!” from the Chicago Marathon made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning. This year’s Chicago Marathon occurred at a very low point, running wise, in my life. I remember watching all the stories and triumph coming out of the day and feeling like it was only further exposing what a rut I was in. A year from today, I thought, hopefully this can be me – maybe I will be having my moment of triumph and I’ll look back on this blah day from one year ago and smile at how far I’ve come. I was giddy a couple days later to find out registration for 2017 was opening early this year. I submitted my time qualifier application the minute it opened, and when this email finally came it was like saying “yes, Hanna, you ARE going to have that moment next year.” This email, and this day, gave me something to look forward to in my running again and started my journey back onto a better path. Incidentally, the Cubs won the World Series that night.

 

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I was on the couch watching coverage on election night and there was a very specific moment – I think they were talking about Florida tipping toward Trump – when I realized what was going to happen and I could suddenly feel the gravity and dread and awfulness of it all at once.

 

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3 days before Christmas. I was to arrive very late Wednesday night in Pittsburgh for Christmas with Kevin’s family. I had a book to read and was all ready for a 4 hour layover in Minneapolis. Then my flight got pushed back. Then again, and again, and again, and finally it was cancelled. I trekked through the airport, caught a shuttle to the hotel where I couldn’t sleep so I ended up just staying up the whole time until I left the hotel at 4 AM to get back to the airport for my rescheduled 6:30 AM flight. At which point, I am informed that they are putting me on a different flight. And then, 20 hours after boarding my first plane, I finally arrive in Pittsburgh for Christmas, with this tree as one of the first things to greet me. I remember thinking that the whole exhausting and drawn-out experience was oddly symbolic of how this year went for me.