Sunday, April 20, 2014


The (redheaded) wicked stepsister
I grew up back in the day when all the princesses were blond or brunette, when gingers were cast only as villains, wicked-stepsisters or--if they were lucky--orphans. It wasn't easy being a redhead in a pre-Ariel, pre-Merida world.

As a kid, I wished a million times to trade my red hair and blue eyes--the rarest color combo on the planet--for something a bit less flashy. A muted brown sounded dreamy. And don't even get me started on the freckles. I despised them, along with all the names I was called. I never personally smashed a tablet over Gilbert Bly's head, but I sure as heck understood why Anne would do it. (A temper to match her fiery hair, Rachel Lind might speculate.)

One of the things they say about gingers is that we're more sensitive to thermal pain--the extremes of hot and cold. We also require extra anesthesia (and I have a wisdom teeth removal story that will support this finding). I thought about the thermal pain theory this morning as I dunked my leg in an ice bath. I wondered if it feels like a trip to frozen hell for everyone, or if that's just another one of my redheaded privileges.

I'm icing and cutting back on my mileage and training intensity thanks to some newly flared tibial tendonitis. Tibial Tendonitis is a fancy phrase for "my ankle hurts like non-frozen hell". It also might be the name of an ancient Greek antagonist who is purported to have kicked the very first marathon runner in the shins at mile 22.

Anyway, I've been slowing down my runs, holding back, avoiding the pavement pounding, taking it "gingerly". I'm paying attention to the pain. This isn't my favorite. It's easier to swallow some motrin and go full speed ahead. Being careful messes with my head. I toggle between two screens of worry--one with me on crutches and the other with my hard-earned fitness slipping like sand through an hour glass. Do you know how hard it is to turn that hour glass over, to start from scratch? Definitely not the hardest thing ever, but pretty close to the definition of discouraging.

So I'm back to talking to myself, asking the no-right-answer questions. How hard do I push? When do I lay off, take a break, and for how long? I really have no freaking clue.

The other thing they say about redheads is that we have a reputation for being strong and determined, at least that's how it was back in the day of the Roman empire, nearer to the time when Tibial Tendonitis was going around acting like a chump, picking on poor innocent distance runners. I think it's pretty true, the determined thing. If you were going to be a jerkface about it, you might say we aren't so much strong and determined as we are ridiculously stubborn. And you would be correct. Mean. But correct.

At church this morning, there were four red-heads in a choir of maybe sixteen. All four were girls, none older than 17, and I wanted to hold up a sign--a secret sign that only redheads could see--to tell them that they are fabulous. And that Gilbert Bly can be an idiot sometimes, but he didn't mean it to be rude. And that red hair is a good thing, albeit awkwardly disguised, and that it's okay if sometimes the cold and the heat hurt a bit more, if it takes extra doses to dull the pain.

Because we can handle the pain even when it's sharp. And we can keep going, doggedly, stubbornly, even when we have to go gingerly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In which the trying is the sweet spot

Call it denial. Call it optimism. It's probably both. But there's a place where, given enough sunlight, 37 seems warm and 39 feels young.

There's a sweet spot in every sport, at least that's the theory. In golf, you know it when you hear it, club to ball. It sounds like a hole-in-one. And in baseball, you know it when you see it, or maybe when you don't--because it's already out of the park. As for the sweet spot in road racing--the sport I'm supposed to know the most about-- I'm not totally sure. I'd guess it would be the finish line. Well, unless you puke in the chute. In that case, it's more of a delayed sweet spot, like later that afternoon when you're polishing off a cheeseburger and relishing in proving yourself to be faster and stronger than you were the day before, the year before, maybe than ever.

The thing about sweet spots is that they aren't very big, very often, or very easy to come by.  You have to work so hard to find them, and when you finally do, they're fleeting. You can't put them in a mason jar, poke some holes in the lid and hope they'll last until August.

This week I found myself in a contented striving, the sort of place where you're delighted just for the privilege to try. I ran on bare pavement in 37 degrees on 39 year old legs underneath the highest sun I've seen in months, and for maybe a quarter of a mile I felt strong. Top of the mountain strong. Bow of the ship, I'm flying, king of the world strong. Look me in the eye and tell me I can't, I dare you strong. Of course it didn't last. Of course. But those sweet spots--damn if they don't keep you going through the next one hundred shanked shots. (I'm back to golf again, if you haven't noticed).

I have a friend who's running a marathon tomorrow, and I keep thinking about her, hoping that tomorrow's her day, the day of the BQ. She's the bravest sort of lady, the kind who ignores all the really good excuses and only pays attention to the lofty goal, the kind who lets her heart publicly break in the almost-but-not-quite achievement of a huge PR and a barely-missed-Boston. The kind who duct tapes her heart back together and trains through the polar vortex and goes RIGHT BACK OUT THERE.

The sweet spot isn't always (necessarily) at the top. Sometimes it's in the climb and the burn.
You guys. This is how we stay young, and this is how we stay warm, and this is how we stay alive. We keep striving. We keep hunting the sweet spot. We tell the melancholy and the disappointment and the negativity to suck it. We chase the maybe-just-maybes and the almost-but-not-quites. And in the chase, we get warmer and stronger. We get faster, braver. And who knows if we'll ever catch whatever it is we're after. But we're sure as heck gonna bask in the privilege to try. And sometimes? The trying is the sweet spot.