Lewis and I started dating a month before my first marathon. We got engaged a month before my second marathon. We got married a month before I started training for my third (his first). By our first anniversary we were training for an ultra-marathon.
Endurance training is the back drop of my love story.
It’s not really surprising that on the back of a picture frame holding a cute photo of us I wrote, in a fit of dramatic resolution: “Love is not a game of desire. It is a game of endurance.”
At some point in our dating relationship old wounds reared their heads and the giddy, moonstruck, giggles became intense conversations. My irrepressible excitement was replaced by a nagging sense that he was not giving me everything I had dreamed my love story would be.
The truth was this: He was living by a poorly calibrated internal compass and unable to see it was getting him nowhere. We were in an uncomfortable holding pattern waiting for some kind of magic to awaken in him.
I was on the brink of breaking up with him, because I was tired of waiting on his magical feelings to kick in and make me feel like the fairytale princess I’d waited so long to be.
But I remember the night I stubbornly looked at him and thought, “Damnit, I’m going to win this. I am going to outlast your issues with love.”
Because love isn’t for fairytale princesses. Love is for endurance athletes. …
No one, on the morning after economic collapse, breaking scandal, or other such meltdowns of public importance says, “If only we’d known less.” We can argue all day long about what-will-fix-it and what-will-break-it, but at the end of the day an informed disagreement is better than uninformed consensus.
It is our civic duty to be informed. I am convinced of this.
Transportation has been on my mind a lot lately, as San Antonio tries yet again to get some sort of rail system off the ground (or on the ground, rather). As I’ve begun cultivating my own Curious Urbanite, here’s what I would recommend to anyone looking to do the same.
Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Really, everyone should read this, period. It’s dated, but eerily continually relevant. Jacobs was a prophet in the wilderness for how we were destroying our cities, and her influence on planning has been markedly more successful than other wilderness prophets before her (at least among their contemporaries).
Her main arguments are that we need lively, usable sidewalks where diversity breeds community. She has great things to say about parks, district-making, gentrification (which she calls “unslumming”) and automobiles. As transportation has origins and destinations as its raison d’etre, it’s helpful to learn about them in context.
Speck, J. Walkable City
One of Jacobs’s disciples, Speck has basically produced a modernized version of her work. His goal is to point out first, why walking should be our preferred mode of transport (health, ecology, economy, community and safety), and then gives ten suggestion for how to create a walkable city. He’s funny and irreverent, and incredibly easy to read. Neither book is by any means dry jargon, but Speck is of our time and his humor is current.
Your Local MPO
A Metropolitan Planning Organization, (MPO) controls the transportation dollars for every city over 50,000. They are the ones who dole out funds for the potholes you hate, the bike paths you love, and the frontage roads on which you’ve become dependent.
In San Antonio, our MPO has a 45 minute introductory presentation, and anyone in the community can make an appointment to visit the office and hear it. The engineer are incredibly friendly and eager to be understood. Which seems unusual for a government agency assigned with designating monies.
My feild trip to the MPO was enlightening. I learned about walkable neighborhoods, urban greenways, and railroad rerouting. More importantly, I learned how those decisions are made. I learned the term CAVEpeople: “Citizens against virtually everything.”
And at the end I got some decent swag.
New York City
Even if you’ve already been to America’s transit/walking sweetheart, go again with transportation in mind. After reading Jacobs and Speck, you’ll see the city through new eyes. Geekier eyes, yes, but it will elucidate some of the mystery that haunts us as we wonder, “Why can’t my city do that?”
A walking/running/biking tour of your area. In San Antonio, for the sake of transportation, I recommend River City Run. It’s a three mile loop around downtown that helps participants understand the important landmarks as well as the walkability of various areas of downtown. With glimpses of dead zones, sprawling lots that interrupt the landscape, and other gaptooth issues in need of civic orthodontia.
My birthday, sadly, comes but once per year on January 31. And on it I do feel obligated to post something profound, or sentimental, or funny. Something reflective. Something hopeful. It’s the one day during the year when I can, sheepishly, with four words justify anything I want to without looking like a narcissist or a glutton. “Well, it’s my birthday…” So yes, I’m having cake, a second cocktail, a long lunch, and I’m going buy myself something.
Allow me to say, as my Christmas and New Year Posts may have let on, that I am so happy to leave 28 behind. My husband and close friends have said that they feel I have aged (though they kindly say “grown up”) more in that single year than the 27 preceding it. So there you have it. However, blog readers aren’t paid therapists, so that’s all you get to hear about.
There were lots of really great things last year. So in no particular order…28 reflections on a year of being 28-years-old, and one on being 29.
1) Complain all you want about Facebook birthday wishes being cheap. No one on Facebook should ever get to whine “everyone forgot my birthday.” Even if your mother, boyfriend, and co-workers do…your third grade babysitter and 2nd cousin from Iowa who you met for the first time last year, did not. I think we are a more celebratory culture for it. Thank you FB for acknowledging the importance of birthdays.
2) I wish life was an Aaron Sorkin ensemble drama. If he’s living in a fantasy world, which he is, I want to live there with him. The Newsroom made my summer and The West Wing coming to Netflix made my winter.
3) My last meal as a 28 year old was the most amazing bbq I’ve ever eaten. We had flights of craft beers, the best brisket known to man, and Texas Toast with bacon-drippings butter. UNREAL. My first meal as a 29 year old: a grapefruit.
4) Best discovery of the year: Birchbox. It’s helped me decide to start taking moisturizing and sun protection seriously. I think my 40-year-old self will thank my 28-year-old self for this.
5) All year I tried to mitigate the effects of sedentary desk work by getting up every twenty minutes (I work from home). Inevitably so much time would go by, and I’d forget to get up and walk around. Then we got a puppy. Problem solved.
6) Best books I’ve read this year: Cutting for Stone, The Shadow of the Wind, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
7) Writing for the Rivard Report may be the best thing that has happened to me outside of getting married. And maybe living abroad.
8) I actually really like grapefruit, and all these years I had thought I didn’t. Good thing, I guess.
9) It’s a shame about me and science. I think, had a few things gone differently in high school, we could have had a long and loving relationship. I’m too late in the game to make a career of it, but thankfully the MacDonald Observatory and the Galapagos are open to the public.
10) I agree. Everyone should be in counseling.
11) There is nothing like working as an underling in ministry to make someone pro-union.
12) Balmorhea State Park is the greatest thing to happen to Texas.
13) I like running…I like hiking. But they should be kept separate.
14) Sometimes a side effect of something going incredibly right is the feeling that something has gone entirely wrong.
15) Non-New Yorkers have a really strong reaction against New York City because they feel like it’s elitist. Like the city has the personality of a sophomore English major with a design minor. Everyone I know in and from Manhattan is lovely and not the slightest bit elitist. But if they were, I think it would have something to do with their superior transit system, unlimited access to cultural institutions, walkable city layout, and the gold standard of public parks…times two.
16) Biggest mystery of the year: why people are not flocking to the Lakes District in Chile.
17) Pets, plural, entered my life in full force this year, and I find myself enjoying caring for them. Whoever that girl was who didn’t want to be tied down…she’s long gone, and replaced with a snugglier, more motherly version who gets choked up watching “Love, Actually”
18) It’s just not worth it to drink too much anymore. Who am I kidding? I’m not mourning some wild season of life gone by. I never liked drinking too much. I did it, but I never liked it.
19) Lewis got me a bicycle for Christmas. I was scared about traffic, but before my year was up I navigated the Lasoya roundabout (which I avoid even in my car) on two wheels. I love my bicycle.
20) Liz Lambert is my design idol. The diva’s in the details.
21) The meaning of Christmas hit me full force when I heard the San Antonio Symphony playing at Haven for Hope this year.
22) It’s worth it to pay for a tour guide. When we were younger, and backpacking, getting lost was a luxury we could afford. We had all time and no money. Now that our time is money and vacations aren’t 40 days long, hiring a guide keeps the vacation in the “wow, that’s fascinating” zone and out of the “I told you the buses don’t operate on Sundays”
23) I have two age spots on my cheek. They will never go away. If you hold out long enough, your don’t need to get a tattoo. Your body will start marking itself up on its own.
24) I finally like fancy dark chocolate better than M&Ms. Lewis has won.
25) Having a beer or a glass of Pinot Grigio while watching the Colbert Report is a perfect way to end stressful days. This is a downgrade from tequila and Mad Men, which was how I was ending most days 6 months ago.
26) Prospect and refuge. It explains so much, and is perfectly illustrated by our puppy, who hides under the coffee table waiting to attack our shoes and steal Wiley’s toys.
27) The fact that semi-automatics, high-capacity magazines, and other guns designed to kill people are allowed to be bought or sold in any way completely baffles me. Completely. And I don’t really want anyone to explain it to me.
28) My husband loves me very much.
29) Everyday I am waiting for the answer to strike, as though God will throw it down like lightening, rather than unfolding it slowly like the way the sky looks before it it rains.
As I write this, I am sitting on the dog bed next to a (finally) sleeping puppy who has only recently abandoned her efforts to help me type. I cannot rest the heels of my hands on the laptop, because they are skinned raw, and Lewis is dead-to-the-world asleep. The sign of a truly productive vacation is when upon return home Lewis can’t stay up past 9, and I can’t fall asleep until after midnight.
Things lined up rather marvelously this weekend, if I do say so myself. A concert coincided with an important anniversary. A race with some unused vacation time. A spay surgery with a road trip. The results were five days of patchwork vacation held together by the Steve Jobs biography on audiobook.
Austin. We cashed in a “Friends and Family” rate at Hotel Saint Cecilia so that we could design-geek/beat-geek out. We also conducted research on counterintuitively veggie-based foods, which on South Congress mostly just means we ate out. To be honest though, as much as I love anything leek-based I would have been content with the minibar at the hotel…Central Market has nothing on Liz Lambert’s minibars.
The whole trip was planned around a Heartless Bastards concert. The date of the concert, January 17th, happily coincides with the anniversary of the day Lewis decided not the be a heartless bastard, an instead to ask me out on a “real date”…
The band was amazing. Definitely a band that should be heard live, which was why is was particularly peculiar that we were surrounded by an unusually uncouth group. Not what one would expect in Austin, the standard bearer for indie music culture. My inner, snarky, guardian of all social contracts, we’ll call her Emily Post-modern, would like to send the following memos:
To the gorilla grinder requiring five feet of clearance on all sides: we’re not forming a dance circle around you. We’re trying to avoid the splash zone of your Lone Star. And the girl you met five minutes ago with the line, “That’s a beautiful name,” is not making up a new dance move, she’s trying to get away.
To the guy whipping out disco moves while the rest of us do the Buster Bluth: I think you’re cool, but the girl with whom you are obviously on a first date looks a little uneasy.
To the sorority reunions happening in front of and behind us: talking over the music makes your voices sound fat.
More Austin. We check out vinyls from the front desk (it’s that kind of place) and Lewis makes the most of the outdoor shower (yes, that kind of place).
Big Bend. We headed out early in the morning for the National Park, armed with Steve Jobs’s biography on Audiobook. Which made us so glad to arrive at the headquarters of the Big Bend Ultra Run where your choices for company were happy, sun-dried, endorphin-fueled nature nuts…or no one for hundreds of miles. Either choice seemed better than imagining myself in the company of Steve Jobs circa 1982.
We hiked to an amazing waterfall. In the middle of Big Bend. Amazing. Lewis tells me that it is great for skinny dipping when not serving as the meet-up point for three generations of a family reunion, which it was at that moment. Lewis, though intensely private, is an avid streaker and skinny-dipper. I, though intensely public, am neither.
The Race. Last year we ran the Big Bend Ultra Run 50K. After nearly losing my religion, I declared that I hate trail running and had no desire to do anything of the sort ever again. So this year we registered for the 25K, employing theory that stopping half way through the 50K would have made me incredibly happy. Ergo, if I ran a race half the distance, I would be incredibly happy.
We we right. It was great.
Other than the moment I caught sight of the finish line and forgot to watch where I was going.
We met up with Lewis’s parents for dinner and soaked in the views of the Chisos, as the medic informed me that soaking the Rio Grande or the hot springs with open wounds was ill advised. I drank a soda and a beer. One for the race. One for the road rash.
The Long Road Home. We piled back in the car with Steve Jobs (having had all the laid-back, balanced people we could take) and headed back to Marathon for breakfast. The Burnt Biscuit Bakery is always an entertaining stop, so we made it and were regaled on why there were flowers coming out of the coffee roaster while we feasted on fried pies (I’d run out of reasons for indulgences, so this one was just a plain old indulgence).
At exit 477, we took a detour to Marble Falls, to meet the newest member of our family. Florence McNeel (formerly Chloe the rescue rottweiler) rode home in my lap, finally fully vetted and ready for her new home. At this point, Lewis, who bikes to work most days, had been driving for five straight days (except when he was running across the desert). I knew he was exhausted, and wondered if the two-hour detour to fetch Florence had been the right call.
I need not have feared. Lewis’s assessment after 1,380 miles: “If only all long road trips ended with a puppy.”
It’s that time of year again. The lights are twinkling on the Riverwalk. Around the country calendars are filling, credit cards are swiping and ovens are baking. Yes, it’s that time of year.
Training season. I feel it in my fingers…more though, I feel it in my toes.
I have learned a lot from marathons. People say, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” referring to the important things in life that require wisdom and endurance. That long, slow muscular burn of pushing forward through pain and monotony with eyes toward the far off goal. Marathons are supposed to be metaphors for life.
Last year, in a stroke of masochistic brilliance, Lewis and I signed up for the Big Bend Ultra Run 50K. Fifty kilometers across the Chihuahuan high desert. I’m never doing that again.
But apparently I’m still crazy enough to hazard the 25K, as though I was having a good time at the 25K mark in last year’s race. I wasn’t. But this year I have a plan. I’m going to train on terrain that is tougher than the race course. (Cue dramatic music)
Which is how we found ourselves, the Saturday after Thanksgiving 8 miles into a 9 mile trail run at Government Canyon State Natural Area, with daylight light waning around us, and me…whining.
The reader should here note that Lewis was made for trail running. His ligaments are like something manufactured by Nickelodeon, and he’s built like a white-tail deer, also a good trail running species. Lewis didn’t complain once during the 50K.
To begin my first truly challenging day of technical trail training, we headed off on a broad, fairly solid trail, Joe Johnston Route, and started loping deeper into the park, passing hikers of various shapes and sizes, feeling confident and sure-footed. Nature! Fresh air! Glorious!
I’m about to start waxing poetic in my head when I heard it.
“Pllleeeeease, Daddddy!!! I’m sooooo tiiiiirrred! Pick me uuuupppp!”
Not far up the trail, we passed a father and his three daughters. Eldest daughter was happily tromping along, swinging her arms and bossing middle daughter who was skipping to keep up. About ten feet behind them was dad, with youngest daughter hanging from his arm, dragging her feet across the gravel. Wailing.
“Puh-lea-ea-ea-ease, pleeeease pleeease, Daddyyyyyy. I’m so ti-i-i-irrrred! Pleeeease, please can we stop?”
Dad had employed his masculine superpower of selective hearing and was staring blankly ahead at the trail while the 50 pound shrieking deadweight dangling from his right arm caused him to jerk sideways every few steps and limp a little. Clearly having the time of his life.
I knew I had just seen a premonition.
Soon we turned left onto Caroline’s Loop. For two and a half miles we alternated between swishy grass, steep rockslides, and a few yards here and there of basic mixed-media trail. No segment was longer than a tenth of a mile though, which meant that any hope of getting into a stride was gone.
I’m a big believer in zen running. I can run marathons for exactly the same reason that, as a child, I could play with my shoes for an hour. I’m just really good at doing the same thing for a long time.
But trail running is not doing the same thing for a long time. Part of its attraction to some—more active minds, I guess— is that it is engaging and challenging. It requires strategy, like Battleship and chess.
I cry when I play chess.
Caroline’s Loop ended and we had a choice. Unfortunately it ended on a lovely soft downhill, and I was feeling confident and determined to stick to the plan we’d laid out back at the beginning. Back at the car. Back at the pavement. So instead of prudently turning back onto Joe Johnston Route, as Lewis lobbied to do, we turned onto Little Windmill, and charged deeper into the thickness.
The reason I keep trying to trail run is because of images I have in my mind of the lithe and wile Native Americans dashing through the forest. Or a graceful doe darting through the trees.
Instead I am 90% certain that with each footfall, I felt my brain tissue come into contact with some part of my skull. Because of uneven topography and the general wobbliness of it all, whatever muscle control is usually devoted to stabilizing, say, my cervical vertebrae, was devoted to keeping my ankles from rolling out from under me.
On the pavement I’m so quiet, people often comment on it as I whisk past them. “Oh! You came out of nowhere!” one woman shouted.
On the trail, I’m like a dinosaur crashing through the Jurassic flora. I’m pretty sure my footprints will be studied by the archaeologists of future eons. Not that leaving tracks is all bad. We got lost at one point, and Lewis literally did have to go find a set of my tracks to figure out where we’d been.
The final push was down a long trail called Sendero Balcones. These were the final miles, and suddenly, as we began the same infuriating stop-start irregular gait of earlier stretches of trail, I felt my inner self begin to tug on my right hand.
“Bekah! I’m tired!” the little curly-headed fiend whined.
I ignored her. Press on. You’re strong. You’re fueled.
The trail moves into a climb, and I’m sending a shower of rocks behind me as I scrape my way up the hill.
“Beekaaaaah,” Inner Me stamps her little foot and yanks my hand, “Puh-leeease can we stoooop? Puh-lease? I’m tiiiiirrrrred.”
Shut up, kid. I’m a graceful doe!
All is well for about a quarter mile until the spine crunching descent down a limestone shelf. With each step the ground wobbles and the following maneuver looks more and more like I’m dodging bullets than moving in a forward direction.
Inner Me looks up with watery, pitiful eyes, draws a deep breath and lets out a psyche shattering wail.
The last mile I’m dragging Inner Me along by her sweaty little hand while she hangs from my arm like an octopus. My head hurts, my toenails feel like they are ripped from their beds, and my hips are on fire from the lateral motions.
As we reached the flat, wide final path back to the parking lot, we slowed to a walk and I completed my first full thought of the entire run.
Road racing is not a metaphor for life. Trail running is.
In a road race, it’s me and the goal. The focus is on form and speed and progress toward the goal. It’s neat and orderly and for miles at a time I can process thoughts through to their completion. But the reason that this is such a treat, why the zen of running is so precious, is that the rest of life is nothing like that. The rest of life is interruptions, stops, restarts, changes, uncertainty, adjustment, and stumbling. The rest of life is a trail run.
Just when one terrain starts to even out, we round the bend and a new challenge awaits. We have to be ready to leap forward from wobbly place to wobbly place without the footing we think we need. Life, at best, is a series of zen moments interrupted by all that is beautiful and hazardous in the world. People, passions, opportunities, mistakes.
I want to be good at that kind of messy life, just like I want to be able to nimbly skip across the most treacherous terrain of West Texas and the Hill Country.
So if nothing else, I am going to keep learning to trail run in hope that as my ankles, hips, and feet get more agile, that I will gain from trails a new kind of mental toughness, with the added ability to change gears more gracefully.
Either that, or Inner Me is in for a rough eight weeks.