Stillness

Well friends, I am sitting here recovering from my second surgery in the past few months, and I struggle with a cacophony of emotions.  Deafening thoughts and feelings banging around in my mind, unable to be calmed by the rhythmic pounding of my feet against the earth with the cadence of my heartbeat pumping in my ears. 

Stillness. 

When healthy, I literally run from stillness. My closet bursts with running shoes, tennis shoes, walking shoes, workout shoes – to busy myself into avoiding stillness. 

When the outlet of physical activity is impossible, and I am alone for hours, going nowhere, with nobody, and caring for no one, I find that healing is as much of a mental feat as a physical one. 

The mind begins to wander and play tricks and create fantastical scenarios of “what ifs?” My insecurities and inadequacies are maximized, while my strengths are temporarily and physically furloughed. 

How does an athlete successfully cope with time off? Where does the energy once channeled into physical exertion get reappropriated? 

When our minds are geared towards constantly optimizing our bodies, nutrition, hydration and performance – how do we balance those changed needs while in the idleness of recovery? 

With 4-6 weeks of inactivity looming before me, my fears bob to the surface readily.  

Will I lose my muscle and strength? 

How long will it take me to get back to a 5-mile run distance?

How soon can I begin training for a marathon? 

When will I be able to reach my max squat weight again? Deadlift? 

Will I still be competitive on my tennis team when I return?

What do I do with my time for the next 6 weeks? 

How do I stay focused but balanced? 

My biggest fear – which I’m ashamed to admit – which is even more reason to be brutally honest and admit it – will I get fat? Will I gain back the weight I’ve lost? 

I am becoming more and more aware that there is no end destination to health and fitness. My entire life I’ve subscribed to a belief that if I was a certain “size”, a certain “weight”, if I could run at certain pace, run a certain distance, if I could achieve mastery of a certain physical skill, that would qualify me as “healthy” or “fit”. And since I never fit my own subjective “ideal” – I’ve always labeled myself as inadequate. 


This is both disturbing and heartbreaking. It’s sad to think about how many achievements and celebrations I have missed out on because I was striving for the arbitrary end-result of something. Case in point, when I lost 30 lbs over the last year, I was still striving for an elusive ideal weight. I kept changing the rules – pushing the number on the scale down as the goal achievement. The moment of glorious satisfaction I thought would arrive at certain scale number and fitting into a size 6, never came. 

Now, between the downtime of my first surgery in May, multiple vacations this summer, and starting new hormone therapy for my perimenopause (YES!!! I’m 42 and in perimenopause) I’ve put 10 pounds back on (last time I checked!). Which reinforces my self-induced never-ending cycle of inadequacy. 

Confronted with my current immobility, I am consumed by this feeling. Filled with lists of unanswerable questions.  

What if, faced with the inability to put on my shoes and running from my feelings of shame and deficiency, I use this opportunity of stillness to lean into them?

When I give myself time, space, and quiet – I come to settle on some important realizations.  Inevitably leading me to set new goals. 

  1. Health and fitness are not absolutes. Being physically fit is not black and white and does not fit into a static mold. There is no ideal that works for everyone and there is no “right” way. We are seeing many examples now through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, that oftentimes the quest for physical and competitive excellence, leads to a breakdown in mental and emotional well-being. Sometimes hours of training puts stress on relationships and family. GOAL:  Prioritize my health and fitness as a trifecta of physical, mental, and emotional strength and well-being. This means finding balance and self-acceptance while digging deep to motivate and push myself to be the very best I can be. 
  • Bodies change. Our physical needs evolve. Our life circumstances and priorities shift. Our stress levels cycle. What is right for me today, is only right for me today. My needs, desires, capabilities, body, and circumstances might change tomorrow, next week, or next year. I need to develop a better connection with my body to understand what it needs in any given situation. Now – right now – recovering from a medical procedure, my body needs rest and healthy fuel. That is all it needs. That is all I can give it. Next month, when I am emerging from recovery and re-entering the world of fitness, my body will need something different. I mentioned I have entered the dreaded world of perimenopause at a relatively young age. My body needs different things than it did 5 years ago. My body responds to training and external stressors differently now than before. I have a choice to either ignore the reality of what is happening to my body, or embrace the changes and through trial and error figure out a new way to eat, train, sleep, and recover. GOAL: I will work to recognize what unique needs my body has on any given day or moment and respond gracefully, without judgement or force. By developing a trust with myself, I will optimize my performance while minimizing fatigue, stress, and strain. 
  • Food is fuel. Whenever I eat – absolutely every time I put something in my mouth – I either feel proud or guilty. And this changes constantly based on whatever diet I’m trying. When I fall into the trap of fad diets or trying the latest and greatest revolutionary research about eating – I stop listening to my body and giving it what it needs. Depending on the week, carbs are either good or bad. Calories are over consumed to build muscle or under consumed to lose fat. Fasting is employed before cardio to use up store glycogen, intermittent fasting is used to burn fat, or eating small meals 5-6 times a day is tried to stimulate the metabolism and ultimately burn more calories. One week, plant-based diet eliminates inflammation and enhances performance. The next week, eating organic lean meat is the key to getting all the essential amino acids for building strong muscles. The conflicting information is maddening. In its simplest and purest form, food is composed of macronutrients that act as energy and fuel for our bodies. If we consume more macronutrients than we burn, we store the excess fuel as fat. If we burn more macronutrients than we consume, we utilize our fat and muscle storage as fuel. The optimal rate of consumption, timing of consumption, and ratio of macronutrient consumption – is what we should all try to individually optimize based on our own bodies, needs and goals. GOAL: Listen to my body.  Become tuned into its cues for what it needs as fuel for optimal performance, rather than an optimal physique. 
  • Food is more than fuel. By denying the reality that food tastes good and is pleasurable, we make food the enemy. Eating and cooking are primitively social activities ingrained in our unique cultures and family histories. Cooking is a form of art that has tremendous power to connect people and evoke emotion. Sharing a meal with another person or people can foster tremendous intimacy. Memories are often centered around the tastes and smells of our childhoods. To deny this vital part of our human existence out of fear of weight gain is extremely sad. We miss an entire facet of our lives meant to be celebrated and enjoyed. Now, experiencing a good meal with family or friends is different than binging on a family-sized package of Oreos on the couch. Food can become an addiction and an emotional crutch that can be abused like anything else. I’m guilty of this, more times than I care to admit. GOAL: By honoring food, celebrating it, and enjoying it with others, I will respect it more and reduce mindless eating. 
  • Discomfort and Pain are different. I tell my kids all the time, if they want to be athletes, they have to get used to feeling uncomfortable. If they are never uncomfortable, they are not pushing themselves to their limits. By not testing their limits, they’ll never meet their full potential. Whenever they tell me they want to throw up after a hard workout – I say “that’s great.”  I try to lead by example and hold myself to the same standards. Every single time I go into the gym, my focus is how to maximize my effort with every single rep. I think through the movement, the motion, the extension, and contraction. I increase weight when I can. If there is a hill on my run, 9 out of 10 times, I take the route with the hill, instead of going around. However, I have struggled with intuition and listening to my body, because too often, I have pushed myself beyond my limit and created an unnecessary injury. I have done too much, gone too far, and overtrained, which is the polar opposite of healthy progress. Discomfort is a signal that you are working at the upper limit of your capacity and you are expanding yourself. Pain is a hard stop – telling you something is wrong and damage has occurred. There is a very fine line between the two. When I start getting into high mileage training for my 50-mile race, I am sure my perception of discomfort and pain will be blurred. I’m sure I’ll sustain injuries that could have been prevented. But it is an important distinction that I will need to figure out. By stopping myself because of discomfort I will be limiting my potential. By pushing through pain, I will be creating an injury. GOAL: Train hard enough and deep enough to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learn to recognize when to stop before creating an injury that could detract from my long-term health and fitness goals.
  • There is always something new to learn. I recently embarked on a course to become a Certified Personal Trainer. I’m a nerd that has always liked school and academics. I thought it would be fun with so much personal interest on fitness to add this certification to my tool belt.  I was quite arrogant thinking that my years of running and boxing and weightlifting, while working with a variety of personal trainers and coaches, would make the 15-week course a breeze. I was wrong. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. The body is an extremely complex system of systems. Everything is interdependent. Water, vitamins, supplements, hormones, food, the type of food, posture, balance, strength, endurance, respiratory functioning, brain-muscle connection, cardiovascular conditioning, the list goes on and on. If you change one variable, the entire system can change. That is why it is so incredibly vital that we tune into our own unique system and tweak the variables we can control to optimize our own desired outcomes. GOAL:Continue to research and implement improved nutrition, self-care, and training strategies that support my health and fitness goals and objectives. 

Wow, look what comes up when I give myself the gift of sitting with my thoughts, instead of running away from them. 

Building stillness into my training and cultivating space to address my fears head on, might just be the answer to working through them. 

Love Letter to My Body

Dear Body, 

I open this letter with gratitude. Thank you for all you have given me and done for me for the last 42 years. We have had quite a journey already, and our time together is hopefully, not yet half-way complete. With all we have been through, we still have a lot of growing and experiencing to do together. 

The saying, “youth is wasted on the young” resounds loudly in my mind as you and I have sailed past our prime and now cruise into middle age. 

I also write, to express to you a heartfelt apology.  

I will admit, I have struggled with you lately. I have avoided looking at you in the mirror. I have been embarrassed by you. I have been ashamed of you. 

I have tried to hide you and conceal you from myself and others. 

I have been overly critical, unappreciative, and held you to unrealistic standards and expectations. 

I have compared you with others, magnified your shortcomings, and minimized your gifts. 

I have punished you by over training and under eating. I have indulged you by over-eating and sometimes drinking too much.  

I have lost moderation. My intuition is weak in regards to how you feel, and what is healthy for you in the long term. 

For all these things, I am deeply sorry. 

As I reflect on our past and what we have accomplished together, I’m truly grateful for your strength, your durability, and your resilience to undergo tremendous amount of pressure and stress. 

We have weathered infections, bone breaks, and heart breaks. We have run marathons and hiked mountains. We have raced cars and slalom ski courses. We have ziplined over jungles and snorkeled with sting rays. We have traveled the world and experienced cultures, food, and people that are so uniquely different from ours that our mind has opened and our heart has grown. 

Perhaps most importantly, most magically, we have birthed, nursed, and raised two healthy baby boys. We have pulled all-nighters at the hospital for toddler croup infections. We have had countless sleepless nights soothing nightmares, sick tummies, or just providing a safe embrace for a child that needs comfort. We have walked endless miles at Disneyland, pushed thousands of swings at the park, and read hundreds of bedtime stories. 

Now, we rise before dawn to prepare breakfast and pack lunches for four hungry teenagers. We drive thousands of miles every year to countless soccer games and tennis matches, school performances, and sports practices. We experience with the kids the stinging pain of their defeats or the warm joys of victory.  We agonize, stress, and debate over the most effective parenting strategies. Together, we invest countless volunteer hours at school and in the community, trying to give back more than we receive. Soon, and with a gut-wrenching sense of fear, a new phase of sleepless nights will begin while we wait pensively by the door for the teenagers to drive themselves home after being out with friends. 

Together we hold the hands of our loved ones and provide devoted care for our family and friends. 

These things are not trivial. They are everything.  

So, without shame, I will raise my eyes and look at your reflection, squarely, confidently, and lovingly. Instead of being ashamed of a pudgy stomach or sagging breasts, I will be awed by the sturdy vessel that carried my babies. For the size of my legs, I will appreciate the hours in the gym to build the muscles to propel me up the hills of my runs. For every gray hair, I will appreciate the wisdom I have gained through my years of experience. For the deepening lines around my mouth, I will be grateful for every belly laugh that ingrained itself onto my face for the world to see. For all my scars, I will be reminded of the strength it took to acquire them.

So thank you, Body, for being there for me, through it all. For supporting me and giving me the ability to pursue my dreams. 

We have many more decades together. We can’t trade each other, give each other up, or exchange each other for a new and updated model. We can’t predict the future, foresee our future health, or know what our abilities or disabilities will be. All we can do is embrace this day, this moment, and do all we can to live our best life, right now. 

I will do better, Body. 

I will do better listening to you, respecting you, appreciating you, and treating you with the care you deserve so we may one day, reflect on a long life together with fondness, fulfillment, and no regrets. 

Most lovingly yours, 

Shannon 

Focus On The 1%

I’m a big dreamer. I’m a doer. I set very loft goals and corresponding high expectations. Hence, the 50-mile race dream. 

Recently, however, I watched a very inspirational TEDx event titled, Don’t Dream Big. 

This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Definitely misaligned with how I’ve approached life so far.  

Dreaming big is reinforced in mantras and quotes all around us. 

“Shoot for the Moon, Even if You Miss You’ll Land Among the Stars” – Leslie Brown

“Dream Big, Dare to Fail” -Norman Vaughn

“Think, believe, dream and dare” – Walt Disney

“Work Hard. Dream Big. Never Give Up” 

As I began to watch Eric Butorac share his story, I was intrigued. I had never heard of this guy before. His tennis story was completely foreign to me and we are a pretty devoted tennis family. 

I encourage you to watch his video.

In short – he worked his way from being a Division 3 college tennis player in his 20’s, to an internationally ranked No. 3 doubles player for a period of 6 years, making it to the Australian Open. He also succeeded Roger Federer as president of the ATP Player’s Council and at the conclusion of his term, was succeeded by Novak Djokovic. 

How did a guy, with no lofty goal to turn pro, let alone the aspiration to play in a Grand Slam tourney, become an internationally ranked tennis star and a leader in the professional tennis community? 

By not dreaming big. 

Rather he focused on improving consistently, deliberately, and steadily, every day. 

He focused on getting 1% better with every effort. 

He systematically tracked his progress and monitored his statistics. His measure of success was small, but incremental, improvement.  

This work ethic and philosophy eventually landed him on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe stadium playing in the 2014 finals. 

Boom! Mind blown! 

I’ve been processing this philosophy and trying to apply it to my own internal benchmark of success. 

By shifting my perspective from measuring myself against progress towards the ultimate achievement, where the gap can oftentimes feel oppressively vast, how does my outlook change if I gauge my progress on incremental goals and steps?

Let’s put this theory to work on weight loss, since I’m in the middle of a weight loss program. 

Last June, there is no way on this planet, I would have ever believed I could lose 30 pounds. If you told me I would easily be fitting into a size 6 in less than a year, I really would have thought you were an alien from another galaxy. Size 10 has been my standard – sometimes creeping up to a 12. I remember in college working out at a new gym and telling the trainer “I’ve never been a size 8. If you can help me do that, I’ll love you forever.” It didn’t happen. Lost love. 

Fast forward, 20 years later, in my 40’s, I’m in the best shape of my life. 

30 pounds was not my goal. In fact, when I started out, I didn’t really have a goal, I just knew I needed to make a change to my lifestyle. 

I gave myself time, 8 weeks, and the intention to just see what would happen if I made different eating choices. My exercise routine stayed the same.  

I weighed myself every week through the summer, and miraculously, with fundamental and consistent diet changes, I started dropping weight. 

I was elated. Every pound dropped was a success. I felt proud of myself and my accomplishments. 

I was measuring myself on incremental improvement from where I had been, rather than how close I was to an ultimate destination. 

There is a fundamental difference there. 

Dropping one or two pounds can feel like a success, when we compare it to where we were last week. Or it can feel like meager, inconsequential progress if we position it next to a lofty weight loss goal. If I told myself at the beginning of summer, I wanted to lose 30 pounds, a 1-pound change would be discouragingly minute in comparison to the ultimate destination. My bar would have been 30 pounds, not 1 or 2. I would have been setting myself up for disappointment every week. 

Oftentimes, weight loss goals are arbitrary. So many of us say, I want to lose 5, 10, 20, 50 pounds – or whatever the case may be – but who really decides that? Where does that number come from? Who says what is healthy? What is healthy for one person, might not be the definition of healthy for another. What one person thinks is aesthetically pleasing, may not be the archetype for someone else.  

For the vast majority of people, weight loss goals are purely subjective. When we measure small progress toward these lofty and subjective goals, it is easy to become discouraged and give up. 

If we shift our perspective to measure our progress on where we have been, rather than where we are going, we open up new possibilities for success. 

I’m taking this into consideration for my 50-mile race goal.

50 miles seems daunting and overwhelming. When I measure my progress towards completing 50-miles on my own two feet, I begin to question my sanity and wonder 1) How in the heck did I come up with this crazy idea? 2) Why on God’s green earth, did I put my dream out there in a public forum to document my journey? 3) What happens if I can’t do it? (injury) 4) What happens if I decide not to do it, after I’ve already made a commitment to myself and the world?

These are negative questions. I feel uneasy and almost sad inside when I read them. I feel like the opportunities for failure are overwhelming.

Let me shift into 1% thinking. 

I completed a half marathon last year. 

I’m lighter, leaner, and stronger today than I was when I completed my last half marathon. 

I will begin training for my long-distance race this summer. A half marathon is my first milestone on the plan and it’s completely doable. I’ve done so many of them, I understand the training and what it takes it get there. It’s going beyond that 13.1 that feels daunting. 

1% of 50 miles is 0.5 miles. 

Can I regularly increase my distance by 1/2 mile? Of course I can! That is absolutely doable. With 52 weeks in a year, it would take me about two years to increase my weekly distance by .5 miles and cross the finish line of a 50-mile race if I start from a baseline of zero. Put in those terms, any healthy person who has never run a step farther than half a mile before, could cross the same finish line. Incremental progress is manageable. 

My energy just shifted from negativity and failure-bound, to one of optimism, hope, and excitement. 

I can measure my success on improving .5 mile every week, rather than closing the incredible distance to 50.  

Does that mean I’m going to feel amazing every week and make linear, uninterrupted progress? Does that mean I’m not going to have setbacks? Does that mean I’m guaranteed to actually complete the entire race if I follow this 1% plan?  

Nothing is guaranteed. 

But at any time, if I improve incrementally, if I run just 0.5 miles more than I have ever run before – that is its own success to be celebrated.

Apply this concept to saving money. Growing a business. Playing a musical instrument. Academic achievement. Communicating with our spouse. Developing a closer relationship with God. 

The list is endless. We can always make, and then appreciate, small positive changes. 

Does the focus on incremental improvement eliminate the need for the big goal? I don’t think so. I think these larger than life goals give us energy to strive for something bigger than we ever thought possible. But sometimes the destination of where we end up, is different than the goal itself, and that is ok. That is good enough. That is still a success. 

I have some adorable shoelace charms given to me by a dear friend that I wear on a pair of running shoes. 

Run as far as you can, then take one more step. 

And really, it’s that simple. That’s all I have to do. 

Celebration and Gratitude

My intention this morning was for some quick hill repeats after I dropped the kids off to school. I was feeling a bit tired, so I wanted to get my 35 min of fasted cardio in and call it a day for exercise. There is a peaceful regional park near the school with miles of meandering trails and one very robust hill leading down into the campground that offers a challenging workout for those brave enough to run up it.  My intention was to get in 4 or 5 hill repeats as a HIIT workout, but changed plans as my legs seemed to yearn for more mileage once they got moving. 

I ran to the bottom of the hill and veered left, past the campground, onto the dirt trails. I ran 5 miles yesterday then did a heavy leg workout, so my fatigue was palpable. With my music on, I ran about 1.5 miles out, then turned around to conquer the hill on my way back. My heart rate soared as I increased my pace up the hill and pushed through to the top.  Out of breath, I lumbered toward my car. As I approached my vehicle, something in me told me to pass it and just keep going. So, I continued on the trail paralleling the street for another mile, then looped back into the park. By this time, my breathing had regulated, and my body was warm despite the frosty 42 degrees outside. The last mile back was slight downhill, and I was gliding easily under the canopy of trees, rhythmically moving my feet to the cadence of my music, when the word celebrate popped into my mind. 

I turned this word over, curious as to why it came into my consciousness. 

Celebrate this moment, celebrate your achievements, celebrate your life, my inner voice said. 

When I shattered my ankle in 2019, this was the same trail I ran on my very first run, 5 months post-surgery. I remember limping through the adventure, both frightened of the pain and ecstatic that I was pushing through it. Every step was an uncomfortable, but joyful, effort. 

Today, two years past my surgery, two half marathons accomplished, and hundreds of miles walked and run, with two metal plates and 14 screws still holding me together, I am filled with gratitude, humility, and celebration. 

If I hadn’t broken my ankle, I wouldn’t have been determined to exceed the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist and run a half marathon within a year of injury. If I hadn’t run that half marathon, I would never have set the goal to run a 50-mile race before I turn 50. If I didn’t set that goal, I wouldn’t have my blog and I wouldn’t have pursued improving my fitness and health with such determination. 

 My injury changed my life. It changed my perspective on life. 

Setbacks are gifts. They are opportunities for change and adaptation. 

Through these setbacks, whether in or out of our control, we learn. We have the fortunate opportunity to adapt, change and move forward. Or we can see our impediments as roadblocks, resist the hidden lessons, and stay stagnant. 

This week has been SUPER frustrating on my weight loss journey. I really just want to grumble and growl and stamp my feet like a toddler. 

The scale has gone up a couple pounds since last week and despite my best efforts, I really haven’t dropped much in the last few weeks. 

I ask myself, what am I doing wrong? I enjoyed a “cheat meal”/date night with my husband last weekend, did that throw everything off? Aside from that, my diet has been consistent. Worried about the lack of downward movement in the scale, I have increased both my cardio and my weight training. But the numbers haven’t really budged. I am focused. I am diligent. I am determined. 

Intellectually, I know I am fine. My progress pics continue to show significant change, even if the scale doesn’t. Maybe I’ve hit a plateau. Maybe my body just needs to adapt at a weight it hasn’t been for 25 years. Maybe my muscle gain is increasing faster than my fat loss in this period of time. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s a million things. Rationally, I KNOW:  Don’t make any changes. Stay consistent. Be relentless. Be resilient. Be outcome independent. Just focus on the long-term goal and everything will eventually align. 

Yet, yet….

I am human. 

I want the instant gratification of the scale showing the evidence of all my efforts. 

I want to see measurable progress, spelled out for me in crisp, clear, digital LED numbers on the little white plate situated prominently in the middle of my closet. 

But alas, that is not to be right now. 

So, what do I do? How do I approach this setback? Give up? Rebel against myself and go off the program? Say screw it, it’s not worth all this effort with no measurable progress? Eat those chocolate chip muffins I made for the kids this morning? Trust me, that has gone through my mind many times. But that would be disappointing. I would be abandoning the lesson that I am supposed to be learning right now. That would be giving up on myself.

What should I do instead? 

There is that word again: celebrate. 

Celebrate my glorious date night with my husband. An evening for reconnection, laughter and deep discussion, while enjoying a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants. 

Celebrate the feeling of my clothes getting looser and looser on my body. 

Celebrate the strength in my arms and shoulders and back. (I can almost do a pull up!) 

Celebrate my health – that I am able to invest myself into this process wholeheartedly without physical limitations or pain. 

Celebrate my husband – that he is on this journey with me and a tremendous support system. I couldn’t do it without him.

Celebrate my kids – with their ever-ready smiles, words of encouragement and playful teasing that brighten even the gloomiest (and hungriest) of days. 

Celebrate my friends and family – amazing people who have followed my progress and encouraged me and motivated me on this journey. 

Celebrate my trainers and coaches – whose belief in me, has helped me to believe in myself. 

With all of this celebration comes tremendous amount of gratitude. 

I am so lucky. I am so incredibly blessed and fortunate. I am grateful to God for all of these gifts and ask Him to help me give back to this world more than I have received, and be a conduit of love and motivation to others. 

While celebrating all of these amazing gifts and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, it is impossible to be weighted down by the output of the scale. I can almost laugh at my despondency over the frivolous numbers. 

My life, my body, my health, my journey – is all to be celebrated.  The ups and downs. The progress and setbacks. The peaks and valleys. Good days, bad days. Every single part of it. 

 And for that awareness, for the opportunity to experience all of this, I am humbly grateful. 

Simplicity

 My weight loss journey has taught me many life lessons in the last 7 months. I have learned about resiliency and relentlessness. I have learned about sacrifice and perseverance. I have learned to give myself grace while holding myself accountable. I am 28 pounds down and still losing. I am redefining my mental image of myself and reimagining my fitness goals and possibilities. I am reenergized, reinvigorated, and highly motivated. 

However, the most surprising lesson I have learned is profound enough to stop me in my tracks every day to marvel and consider its implications. 

Here it is. I’m going to spell it out in all caps so you can feel the “weight of it” (pun intended). 

WEIGHT LOSS IS SIMPLE

Boom! 

Let that soak in for just a moment. 

Every day, I am bombarded with ads for fad diets, fancy weight loss plans, magic pills, workout regimens and supplements. The “easy solution” is offered by doctors, nutritionists, celebrities, home-grown athletes and fitness junkies. From the moment I turn on my phone and computer in the morning I am inundated with product ideas. The checkout line at the grocery store is the worst offender with endless magazine covers lined up with competing weight loss story headlines and images promoting the latest person to lose 20, 50, 100+ pounds. I fall prey to these sexy headlines all the time. 

Here is the other surprising thing I’m going to tell you – most of these diet plans work. Most of them have merit. Most of them will really help you to lose weight. 

Paleo, Whole 30, Keto, WW (Weight Watchers), juicing – you name it. They all work. 

So, if they work, why do people still struggle? And if they work, is it necessary to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in a weight loss system, to ensure you meet your goal? 

Maybe. That’s up to you. 

Ok – I’m sure you’re thinking, this is confusingThis isn’t making any sense. She’s telling me everything works. But I’m still not losing weight. And if everything works, what do I choose? She just said weight loss is simple, but this seems complicated and I’m left with more questions than answers. 

The breakdown in the simplicity of weight loss is our expectations. 

WEIGHT LOSS IS SIMPLE. 

But….

SIMPLE DOES NOT MEAN EASY. 

Oftentimes, the simplest things are the most difficult to maintain. As humans, it seems we thrive on complexity and process. We overthink, over analyze and over work, in pursuit of our goals. We indulge in excess and crave more, more, more. Our collective appetites for food, material possessions, social media, headline drama, seem to grow exponentially. 

Simple is mundane, monotonous, BORING. Simple isn’t sexy. It isn’t thrilling. It just is. 

It takes mental toughness and self-discipline to thrive on simple. 

Weight loss means – burning more calories than you consume, over time. Simple. 

There are three parts to that equation. 

Consuming. 

Burning. 

Time. 

If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less and burn more. Simple. 

Whether you do this through juicing, eating a cave man diet, eating only whole foods, cutting out sugar, running more miles, doing more cardio, working out in the gym – those choices are up to you. That is why all those plans work, and you can choose whichever one works best for you and whichever one best fits your lifestyle. 

The variable that is unknown, that depends on every unique body, that no doctor, trainer, or weight loss system can “promise” or define for you – is time. 

Some people respond quickly and drop weight fast. Some people take longer to get results. What takes one person a week, could take another person a month. We get into dangerous thinking when we compare our results to someone else. Our bodies are all gloriously, beautifully, unique. We can all achieve our goals – albeit, at different rates. 

I know with absolute certainty – if you pick a program, stick to it, remain consistent and disciplined, overcome temptation, and give it time – you will succeed. 

If we can push through our instant gratification culture and expectations, celebrate our small goals and steady progress, be resilient through the plateaus, and relentless in pursuit of our goals, in time, we will accomplish the objectives. 

That’s why simple is so darn hard.   

Simple allows space for over thinking and over complicating.

We get impatient. We want faster results. We think if we don’t see the impact of our sacrifice quickly, we must be doing something wrong. So, we adjust, we change, we try something new. But switching things up over and over again only sabotages our goals. 

We have to be focused, not let the noise distract from our mission, and get through the ups and downs. 

Yes, simple is not easy. Sometimes it sucks. 

But simple works. 

You got this. 

Relentless

 

Relentless is a word my tennis instructor says on the court a lot, along with the concept of outcome independence

For someone who is extremely outcome dependent in all facets of life, this new philosophy being drilled into me while hitting hundreds of fuzzy yellow balls one hour a week, is beginning to shift the way I view my world. 

The idea is simple. Pure. Uncomplicated. 

It is another way of saying, “be present in the moment”. What just happened, is irrelevant to what is happening.

Be relentless in your effort and the outcome will eventually align. Don’t get hung up on a “miss” or a failure, and let that failure determine the outcome of your next opportunity. Let it go, move on to the next.

Sound advice. 

But in practice, does it really make sense? For an outcome dependent individual like myself, I am dripping with skepticism. 

Of course what happened matters! I silently scream. What happened, gives us information. We can calibrate our current efforts based on previous results. We can use that information to fine tune, adjust, and make constructive changes. If we don’t pay attention to what happened we can’t improve for next time. 

Yes, this is all inarguably true. 

But what emotion do we often unintentionally attach to the failure? How do we subconsciously view ourselves through the lens of a “miss”? 

Every single time I view a bad shot as a miss, there is a negative self-talk that perpetuates a sense of inadequacy. And inevitably I carry that inadequacy with me to the next shot. And if I think I am not good enough, if I get down on myself, what is the probability that the next shot will be great? 

Conversely, if I view my amazing shot as the barometer with which I measure myself, and I get puffed up with bravado and self-importance, what happens when the next ball goes out? 

The rollercoaster ride of emotions tied to outcome is dizzying. A one hour tennis lesson can become very stressful if I consume myself with the outcome of where all these tiny balls land on the court. 

But untangling my sense of self-judgement from the outcome, is uncomfortable. Removing the measuring stick of judgement feels vulnerable. 

I need a tool with which to measure myself. I need a reference point. I need some way of telling myself that I succeeded or failed. 

I am currently on a weight loss journey. The tool with which success is measured is the scale. 

The number on the scale is a very conniving, devious, manipulative creature that can take on dramatic self-importance if you give it that power. 

I consciously say “weight loss” journey, as opposed to “fitness” journey because I have always been in pursuit of fitness. But when I stepped on the scale at the end of June this year, it didn’t matter how “fit” I was, the extra pounds I was carrying were impacting my ability to be in shape. As a female in her 40’s, with a metabolism that has always chugged along with the efficiency of a tugboat, compounded now by changing hormones and age, I knew I had to reign it in before it got worse. 

After an emotional acceptance of my reality (aka “meltdown”), a switch flipped. 

I cut out sugar, refined carbohydrates, and wine. 

This, my friends, was no easy feat. I’m a cookie, cake, cabernet kind of a gal. 

I switched to vodka soda if I was indulging in a cocktail. I ate spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles. I baked a sweet potato instead of regular potato. No bread. No sweets. 

And I gave myself time. I told myself that no matter if I lost 1 pound or 10 pounds, I would persevere until the end of summer. 

We went on a COVID-inspired road trip for our summer vacation – I packed almonds, vegetables, and grapes while the kids indulged on pretzels, chocolate, and a plethora of high carb – but super fun – road trip snacks. 

I went to Nashville to visit a girl friend and I declined delicious homemade desserts, hush puppies (oye vay!) and corn bread.  

I was steadfast, I continued my pursuit, and surprisingly, almost miraculously, I began dropping weight. By the end of the summer I was 18 pounds down from my June weight. 

I was astonished. I hadn’t seen these numbers on the scale since before my babies, maybe even since high school. I didn’t know it was a possibility that I could be this lean at this age. I didn’t know it was a possibility I could actually be “lean”! My body fat registered at 23% at the doctor’s office. For someone that has always viewed herself as a “big girl” or a “curvy girl”, this was undeniable proof that I was no longer “fat”. 

I began receiving compliments on my weight loss. I started seeing definition in my arms. I comfortably dropped a size. 

Then things stalled. The scale stopped moving down. But interestingly, nor did it really move up. We went on vacation in Cabo and indulged in food and drink. The scale didn’t budge. 

Slowly, I began to take more liberties. Out to dinner with my husband or friends, I allowed myself to have some bread, have a glass of wine, maybe eat dessert. Surprisingly, the scale didn’t change much. 

However, from indulging in Halloween candy at the end of October, up through my last bite of pie during Thanksgiving dinner, my weight loss had officially stalled, my motivation had waned, and the numbers on the scale ticked up a few pounds. 

Until Sam walked into my life. 

Sam is a bodybuilder and personal trainer. Referred by a family member, my husband and I decided to give him a try. A new spin on our fitness routine. Why not? 

Our first meeting, he said to me – “You could do a fitness show.” 

“Huh?” I replied, disbelieving and dumbfounded. 

“You’d be surprised” he said. “I train a lot of women over 40 and a lot of moms. Moms are the most organized and they do great. You could do it.” 

“Ummmm….what is involved?” I asked with reluctant suspicion.

“Follow my plan. It’s not complicated. You’ll drop 10 pounds in about 3 weeks. We’ll go on maintenance mode over the holidays, get back at it in January, be ready for a show in spring.” 

Is he serious? Me, in a bikini, on a stage, with a spray tan, flexing my currently non-existent muscles? 

The thought of wearing a bikini on the beach or by the pool gives me anxiety, why would I subject myself to that torture? 

On the other hand, why not? 

Why not pursue something that I would have thought was impossible? Why not embark on the journey to finally squash my perception of myself as “curvy” “chubby” and “thick”? Why not add an experience to my life that is fairly unique and completely dependent on my own hard work, consistency, and dedication. Why not try? We get presented with these opportunities in life that often catch us by surprise. Opportunities that are often so far off our radar or out of our comfort zone that we discount them as being unattainable. But we have options. We can either seize the moment, push through the fear, put in the work and make a change, or make excuses and let the possibilities pass us by. 

And so, I have begun. 

I am making progress. But slowly. My running is suffering. My times have slowed way down. My long runs have gotten very short, 6 miles has been my max. 

I’m in a calorie deficit and my carbs are intentionally low.

The food plan he has us on is drastically different than what I did to lose the first 18 pounds. Egg whites, chicken, white rice, a green apple, almonds, vegetables, berries and oat bran. Everything measured and weighed.

I am always hungry. Before the holidays, I ate the same thing every day for three weeks. I did fasted cardio for 26 days straight. I cried. A lot. I doubted. I have been grumpy with the kids. I have been irritated with my husband. The scale has gone up. The scale has gone down. One of the early weeks was an extreme exercise of self-control as my monthly hormones were raging and begging for refined carbohydrates. Ladies, you get me! But I stayed strong and focused.

When it gets really hard, I ask myself the question, why? Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this emotional rollercoaster? 

And then I realize. 

I’m viewing this through the lens of outcome dependence. I stand on the scale every morning and judge myself based on what the numbers show. Every morning is either a build-up, or a let-down. Either confidence or shame. Yet my actions every day have been exactly the same.  I have followed the program, the diet, the workouts, the cardio plan. I drink at least a gallon of water. For three straight weeks, I did not deviate from the plan. 

Now that we’ve moved to “maintenance” mode over the holidays, our intention is to be a little more flexible and enjoy the season. And let me tell you, I have enjoyed! I have appreciated food and drink like I never have before. I have sat and savored every morsel of a holiday cookie. I have enjoyed every bite of chocolate. I have delighted in every fizz of champagne. The scale has definitely responded by creeping up a bit. 

But guess what – and I’m writing this with a smile on my face – I’m ok with that. 

Here is the thing that I’m beginning to realize. This is a process. This is a journey. It is not perfection. I will stick to the plan. I will be consistent. I will be RELENTLESS. I will not focus on the scale every single day. Eventually – slowly – the OUTCOME will align with my efforts. 

I don’t usually post pics of myself on my blog. But give me until spring, my friends. I’ll post the “before” and “after” pics. I don’t know if I will actually be strutting my stuff on a competition stage – but I know I will be ready to. I will have given myself a life experience that I wouldn’t have ever dreamed was possible.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what life is all about? 

Cultivating Certainty

Have you ever had a goal that just nags at you? A target that you try to reach, but it always seems to be just a hair out of your grasp?

I’ve had this goal that has been nagging at me for months. One that I have repeatedly attempted, with unsuccessful results. 

Now, as I have previously explained, I am not a “real” runner. I don’t have long running legs. I’m not lean or gazelle-like. I’m more like a densely packed, muscular mule. I run as slow as molasses. But if you know anything about me by now after reading my blog posts, you know I’m a goal-oriented person. Last April, when I completed my usual, hilly, 3.5 mile loop, my unexpected 10:17/mile pace astounded me. For me, this was a pretty swift time. This was pretty gazelle-like. I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of achievement. 

Holy shit! I thought, when I finished. So close to a 10-min mile. With all these hills, that’s fantastic.

See where I am going with this? Goal-setting time.  

Beat a 10-min mile pace on this route now Shannon. Get it done. I told myself.

And so, I tried. 

My next attempt clocked a 10:55/mile. Hmmm…not the direction I need to be going.

Try again. 

10:49

Ok – time for a different approach

I purchased a weighted vest. Only six pounds. I thought if I trained wearing weights, then ran without, my time would miraculously drop. 

My pace slowed to a sluggish 12:10 wearing the vest for the first time, ultimately settling in the high 11’s after some time adjusting to it.

Every once in a while, I would try the run without the vest. My pace was disappointingly in the low 11’s. What the heck? What am I not doing right?

Undeterred from my mission, I began sprinting drills and interval training. I wanted to increase my VO2 max, which would theoretically translate to improved speed on my loop. 

Something started to click and I got as close as 10:02. But despite repeated attempts over the next several months, I could not break the 10:00/mile mark. 

One morning, I went out of the gates with everything I had. I felt the fire in my legs pushing me up the hills. My heart rate was over 180 on the last ascent home. Bile rose in my throat as I sprinted the final corner to my house. I collapsed in my driveway with exhaustion, eager to see my pace, certain that I had finally done it. 

The ugly numbers 10:10 glared at me from my watch. 

I felt utterly defeated.  

There was nothing more I could do. 

Other than…keep trying. 

And so, I continued. 

I ran fasted, I ran full. I ran after eating protein, I ran after eating carbs. I ran with the vest, I ran without the vest. I continued my sprinting workouts. I ran endless hill repeats. I ran long runs. I completed a half marathon for goodness’ sakes. I worked out faithfully in the gym. I lost about 18 pounds in the process. Yet my times were all over the place. 

11:22 

10:04

10:28

10:33

10:44

10:46

Then it happened. 

The first time I broke the 10 min/mile pace was a brisk fall morning. I stretched briefly in my driveway to get the blood flowing in my muscles and felt energized despite the cold.

My intention was for an easy, no pressure run, as a warm-up to my gym workout. I started out loose and relaxed and enjoying the feel of autumn around me.

As I continued, I slowly gained confidence and pushed harder. I felt my legs boldly striking the ground beneath me. I knew every inch of the trail. I knew when to anticipate the intensity up the hills and when to relish the recovery in the declines. I kept telling myself not to panic. I breathed deeply in through my nose and out through my mouth. I was centered. I was focused. I was confident. I had a “knowing” that I carried with me the entire time.

My tennis coach speaks often about “cultivating confidence”. He repeats that I know how to hit a forehand or an overhead, I just have to move out of my own way, stop over thinking and shift from uncertainty to confidence. 

That’s what I had on my run. Confidence. 

I got out of my own way. I stopped thinking. I stopped panicking when it got hard. I started trusting in my body, my mind, my ability. I believed in myself. 

When I returned into my driveway, I just knew that I had done it. 

Sure enough, 9:56. 

Boom! 

After trying for almost 8 months, I finally beat my goal by 4 seconds. 

Elation! Excitement! Accomplishment! 

But there is more. Some would say the lesson of this story is “never give up”. To keep striving to reach your goals and by putting in the effort and work, eventually you will achieve them.  

True. 

But funny enough, the next time I ran the same exact route the following week, my time was 9:36. After months of fighting for just a few seconds, I decreased my time by almost 20 seconds in just 7 days. 

How is that possible? I didn’t magically increase my fitness ability in one week. I didn’t learn a new running technique. I didn’t become lighter, leaner, and faster overnight. 

What happened in one week?

There was only one thing that changed. One difference. And it had nothing to do with my physical abilities. 

Confidence.

I now possessed a “knowing” that I was capable and a complete trust in myself that I could do it again. 

There was no uncertainty. There was nothing holding me back. I was free. 

Every time I have run that route since, I have easily been under 10. Even when I’m not feeling well. Even when I’m tired. Even when I feel slow. 

The question I’ve been asking myself now is, how many times do I get in my own way?  How many times does my subconscious doubt handicap my abilities? How many times do I unintentionally let myself down by not believing in my very own potential? 

Whether it is on the tennis courts, the running trails, trying a new recipe, playing a new piece of music, doing an unassisted pull up, writing this blog, working through personal or interpersonal conflict, trying something new, making a new friend, starting a new volunteer opportunity, or eventually when I cross the finish line of my 50-mile race – whenever something is hard – I’m going to try to intentionally shift my perception – from doubt to trust. From disbelief to belief. From fear to conviction. 

I’m going to follow my coach’s advice: cultivate certainty. I already feel the excitement of possibility. 

Don’t Give Up on Yourself…

I did it. I got in my 8-miler last week, which was surprisingly easy! Today I tackled the 10. I finished it, but based on how good I felt last week, I anticipated this 10 to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t. It was drudgery. Every last step. I wanted to give up multiple times. 

First, I thought I would try a new trail that would give me an opportunity for a nice, flat (easy) out-and-back. Explore 5 miles one way, then turn around, and less than two hours later, I would be dusting off my shoes, eating a snack, going to the gym and moving on with my day – grocery shopping, picking up the kids and shuttling them to their activities. Normal Life. This fantasy did not materialize as I sit on the couch in my pajamas writing this and looking like the angel of death may claim me in the next 30 minutes. 

Mistake #1 – Leg workout the day before long run day

I should not have done an intense lower body workout in the gym yesterday. When I got out of bed this morning, I felt every single muscle from my calves through my lower back screaming at me. Normally this pain would be good news, a sign that muscle is repairing itself and getting stronger. Today however, this exhaustion in my legs was a bad sign. 

Mistake #2 – Not looking up a new trail

I should have checked that the trail would go 5 miles in one direction. I entered O’Neil park, walked down the steep hill to the bottom where the campgrounds are located, and started my Garmin watch. I thought the trail eventually connected to the bike path in Lake Forest, near Saddleback Church. The run started off well – albeit slow, because of the aforementioned leg situation. The path was beautiful and heavily shaded with large oak trees and several quaint stream crossings. I passed a beautiful and heavily pregnant runner (no less than 7 months along) rocking a fast pace wearing nothing but a sports bra and her running shorts. It was one of the most inspiring sights I have ever seen.  It made me tuck my irritation about my sore legs way down deep and push a little harder. About 2 miles in, the trail became very uneven, heavily laden with rocks and stones. And just stopped. It just came to a dead end. 

Shit. My 10-mile out and back just got reduced to 4. What do I do? The only thing I could do. Turn around. 

Not a minute later I stumble on a rock. One of those great big rocks that any normal person would avoid and go AROUND, not try to be cute and go OVER. And I twist my ankle. The one that shattered last year. 

Now what do I do? Say screw this? Claim my exhaustion only 25 minutes in and walk back to the car? 

I walked a couple of paces. I stretched. I rotated my ankle clockwise a few times, then counter-clockwise. No swelling. I checked in with my pain level and determined it wasn’t bad, maybe a 2 out of a 10. 

Assessment – soldier on. 

Ugh. That is literally what I said to myself as I made the decision to push forward. 

So now what? Remember the big hill I walked down? I purposefully didn’t start my watch until I was at the bottom of the big hill because I didn’t want to include it in my distance today. I run this hill often. I do hill repeats on this hill. I love this hill. But not today. Today, I did NOT want to run this hill.  

But now, if I wanted to continue to get the mileage, I had no choice. Today this hill was my nemesis to be conquered. And conquer it, I did (insert evil laugh here). 

Once I reached the top of the hill, I had to make a choice. My car was right on the other side of the gate. I could see it. A gleaming white beacon of refreshment. I knew there was a bottle of water sitting in the cup holder, still cold. There was a banana and a delicious protein bar. There was air conditioning. There was a place to sit and rest my aching legs. 

But the momentary comfort would not provide me with a lasting sense of pride or accomplishment. As tantalizing as my car was, I knew I could not return to it for another hour or more. 

Instead of turning right, out the gate and into the car, I turned left, and trudged the next 2 miles uphill through O’Neil park. In my mind I said, I’m at 4 miles, I’ll do 2 miles out of O’Neil, another mile added on when I get out of the park, and the last 3 miles back to the car will be relatively downhill. Awesome. 

Mistake #3 – Putting hope in a plan that has not been thoroughly vetted

I ran the miles out O’Neil park. But…the two miles I had anticipated, were based on a different starting point from previous runs. By the time I ran out of trail I had added only 1.5 miles. Any long-distance runner knows that those smaller distances – quarter mile, half mile, mile, – they matter in the whole. I still needed to add another 1.5 before I could turn around. Now I was getting annoyed at myself. Irritated at my lack of planning. Questioning if I should just turn around now and call it a day at what would be maybe 6ish. 

Ugh. Again. I said it louder this time. Ugh. 

Soldier on. 

Keep going. 

One foot in front of the other. 

So, I just kept moving. And singing. I started singing to my music, out loud, even when I was passing other people on the sidewalk. The singing got me out of my own head. I focused on something other than my pain, and it also kept my heart rate even. If I could sing, I wasn’t out of breath and I knew I could make it the last 4.5 miles. 

Now that I was out of the nature park, I was on the city street. Every stop light became a decision. Right, left, straight? I just kept going. And going and going. 

Mistake #4 – Adding too much distance because you’re a poor planner

There was a point when I was at 8 miles and I thought it was only about a mile back to my car. I could just go to the car. If I went about 9, I was already going further than I had gone last week. 

Or….I could stop making excuses and add the distance to make SURE I would complete 10.  I took a detour and did a quick lap (well, let me rephrase that…a slow, laborious lap) around the reservoir in our community then popped back out onto the street for the home stretch. 

I hit the 10-mile mark. I did it. I could barely move when I stopped my watch, at exactly 10 miles. The run was a completely different beast than I had expected. All mistakes that I could have personally avoided. But I persevered through the discomfort, through the pain, through the disappointment. I didn’t give up on myself. I continued to put one foot in front of the other. Step after step. I didn’t give myself an easy way out. 

That bottle of water was still waiting for me. My stomach was rumbling with hunger because I had been running for almost 2 hours. I was eager for my banana, which had probably now turned brown sitting in the heat of my car for that length of time. No matter, it was going to be delicious. I could taste it.  

I was almost there. 

I just had to walk the last mile to the car. 

Glorious!

Hello everyone!!! It has been a while since my last post! The world has been crazy for the last few months. It has been difficult to justify writing about running, with all that has been going on. But I decided I just have to get this blog going again. For my own sanity. The writing is an outlet for me that nourishes my soul. The longer I wait after such a long break, the harder it gets. I have to get this post out and free myself to write.

So here it goes! Enjoy and see you back here more often (I hope!)  

Glorious!

Although my miles have been consistent, I have not started increasing my distances past my typical 5-6 mile long-run range. This is definitely behind schedule for my, now virtual, half marathon scheduled in October. I need to start picking up the mileage, and fast. For my planning, I need to get in an 8 and 10 miler before the big day on October 5th. Definitely doable. I just need to get it done. It will take focus and discipline and I will need to push through some discomfort – but I will do it. Procrastination is my own worst enemy. 

So what have I been doing, if not running? And without the running, I haven’t been writing. Is this a runner’s slump? A writer’s block? What’s going on? The keys feel unwieldy under my fingertips. The tapping and click clacking seem empty and arbitrary. How can I write about running when everything else going on in the world seems so…so…incredibly heavy?

Whether it is the pandemic, the political arena, Black Lives Matter movement, or a barrage of other socio-economic issues – everything is emotional, triggered, sensitive, debated, contested, argued, and rallied for or against. 

I have strong opinions and try my best to openly listen and understand others’ perspectives, yet everything feels polarized. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. 

It is exhausting. It is overwhelming. It is, at times, paralyzing. 

Despite the broader global issues, we all still have individual lives to live. Regardless of what is happening outside the walls of my house, inside, the daily minutia continues. I still have four kids to manage, three of whom are scattered about the downstairs with various schooling stations complete with laptops, printers, cell phones, headphones, charging stations that rival the circuitry at NASA space center, stacks of 3-ring binders, post-it notes, about 10,000 pens, empty water bottles, snack containers, crumpled papers, and dirty socks layered in piles next to their workstations. One of our 10-lb Shih-Tzus is recovering from her second back surgery of the summer and is now curiously shaped like a crescent moon. My husband is still working from home with no plans to return to the office, and my house is a revolving door for service people coming to deliver or fix things. It is endless. 

With the complexity of our individual lives colliding with the uncertainty of the global environment, how do we claim our own individuality? How do we keep it all straight? Where do we find our own center? 

That’s where I have to have the self-awareness and self-discipline, to return to my running. Something happens to my energy when I put on my visor and headphones, tie my shoes and head out the door. When my shoes are crunching along the trail, all the chaos slips away. 

It is just me, my breath, my music, the burn in my legs, the dirt under my feet, and the will inside my soul. 

When I am running, I can let go of all the negativity of the outside world. I can release the “to do’s” piling up inside the house. I can be alone with myself. I can pray, I can think, I can not think. Those minutes on the trail are the most empowering of my day, because they are mine. Some days I push hard, repeating a steep hill over and over again until my lungs are on fire and my limbs are jelly. Some days I strap on my weighted vest and try to increase my heart rate on a routine path. Some days, I add distance because I don’t want the run to end. The opportunities are diverse. With so much that is out of my control, it feels so good to have something within my power to create. Like the words on this page. These are mine. 

Even when we pour our lives into the people and causes around us, we all need outlets. In finding the balance of our physical, emotional, and creative outlets, we will have the energy to dive deeply into the world around us. 

I’ve decided, there is no shame in running, writing, or writing about running. No matter what is going on in the world. I’m going to write about my next half marathon. I’m going to write about my weight loss (yes! It’s been amazing). I’m going to write about the days I want to stay on the couch, but somehow put one foot in front of the other and make it happen.

We can all relate to these human experiences. Struggles, goals, triumphs.

I feel much better. I’m back. And to share how I feel with you in music, I invite you to listen to “Glorious” by Macklemore.

“Glorious” – Macklemore

You know I’m back, like I never left

Another sprint, another step

Another day, another breath

Been chasing dreams, but I never slept 

Chorus: 

I feel glorious, glorious

Got a chance to start again

I was born for this, born for this, 

It’s who I am, how could I forget? 

I made it through the darkest part of the night

And now I see the sunrise

Now I feel glorious, glorious

I feel glorious, glorious 

Beyond The Finish Line

As I held the last puzzle piece in my hand, the final 1,000th, I expected to feel triumphant. I had spent hours in COVID-19 quarantine, concentrating and sorting with my neck bent over the Sweet Paris Bakeshop. The perplexing plethora of polka dots, swirls of pink frosting and countless fluffs of merengue, had dominated my mind and kitchen counter over the last week. But where was my sense of accomplishment? My exuberance of completion? Unceremoniously, I added the piece, completed the scene, and moved on with my day.

This is not a new sensation for me. The expectation of elation or pride when a goal has been accomplished, followed by a hollowness – an overwhelming sense of ordinary.  

My first half marathon after my injury I was anticipating a dramatic emotional finish. I had exceeded the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist. I was running a race that nobody thought would be possible one year before. I had committed to months of training. I pushed through the pain and discomfort in my right ankle. I gritted through the throbbing ache that was now a constant companion in my left hip, a result of subconsciously compensating for my injury.

My four kids and husband waited for me at the finish line. I imagined their smiling faces and supportive cheers energizing my final strides. But at mile 4, I was caught off-guard with intense emotion. I was overcome with happiness and gratitude that I was able to run again and reclaim my pre-injury lifestyle. The metal plates and hardware in my ankle were not going to limit me. A sense of pride swelled inside me that I was showing my kids what it means to persevere. I wanted them to know that if they put their hearts and minds to something, they too could accomplish the unexpected. I choked back the tears and told myself to just make it to the end. I gave myself permission to fall apart when the race was done. When the goal was completed. When I had finished.

So, I soldiered on. Through the ebbs and flows of any long-distance race. Some miles feel like they pass in a blink and others feel like every step is agony. Miles 8-10 were my best. My feet were light and airy. I was energized and confident. I felt like I could run forever. 

Then mile 11 turned into mile 12 and doubt crept in. My legs turned heavy and I felt like I was moving through jello. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I walked a few yards, then restarted. I walked a few more yards. And restarted. I proceeded in this disjointed fashion for about a half mile. As I got closer and closer to the finish I thought of my family. I wanted to make them proud. I found a way to focus, to pick up my legs and start moving again. When they saw me, I didn’t want to be walking, I wanted to be running. 

The crowd lining the streets cheering the runners became more concentrated, and the runners’ path narrowed.  The energy from the crowd was invigorating. Finally, I heard my name and saw my family. Their enthusiastic shouts were exactly as I had imagined. I waved and gave them a thumbs up as I pushed through to the finish line, willing myself to finish strong. 

I made it. I completed the race. I powered through to the end. My ankle did not fail me. I did it.  As I accepted my medal, I anticipated a tightening in my chest and tears to well up in my eyes. 

But, surprisingly, nothing. 

As I continued walking through the post-race mayhem, I was doing everything in my power to conjure up the passioned response I had suppressed at mile 4. Here is your chance, Shannon. Let it flow. 

Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. 

I met up with my family and received their congratulatory hugs and words of praise. I was exhausted and happy, but overall, the moment was pretty, I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for?  Uh, ordinary. 

Then we walked to the car and took my daughter to her soccer practice. 

Pretty anticlimactic.   

It begs the question in my mind, how important is the finish line? 

Prior to my race my therapist was congratulating me on my training effort and said “Shannon, you’ve already won by just showing up. Whatever happens after you make it to the start line is a bonus.” I looked at him as if he grew a third eyeball in the middle of his head. 

“Uh, no” I scoffed. “Absolutely not. If I don’t finish, it’s like I didn’t race. I have a goal, and if I don’t meet my goal, I have failed.”

“But you’ve put in all the work. You’ve done the training. That is what matters. You show up, you’ve already won.” he challenged.

Incredulous and unwavering in my position, I redirected the conversation to another topic. I would not be deterred. I had a job to do. Period. I had decided I would run this race, and that meant finishing the race.

When running or hiking hills, I have always promised myself the reward of looking at the view when I get to the top. I push through, blinders on, until I reach the peak. Only then, do I allow myself a moment to stop and take in what is around me.  

My world, my entire existence, has been centered on the goal. On the finish line. On getting to the peak. On that moment. 

But lately I have begun to ask myself, what have I missed on the journey to get there?

I have a friend who recently celebrated one year of sobriety. After some heartbreaking moments with her family over the years as she struggled to get her addiction under control, this anniversary was an amazing accomplishment fueled by love for her family and her desire to reclaim herself.  But when I asked her how she felt on that significant milestone, she said “it was just like any ordinary day.”

Ordinary. The months and days leading up to that anniversary were certainly not ordinary. They were filled with struggle, and longing, and celebration, and anger, and loss, and relief. The day might have been ordinary, but the journey was monumental. 

Begrudgingly, I may have to acknowledge the wisdom of my therapist. It’s not about the finish line. The finish line is merely a catalyst to the experience.

The moment of completion is just any other moment. It is here, then it is gone. It comes, then it goes. These moments are certainly important, celebratory, and oftentimes defining. But I’m learning that the millions of moments that lead up to that point are just as significant. The 999 pieces lay the foundation for the 1,000th. Transformation occurs through 364 days of sacrifice and bargaining and ultimately triumph to achieve 1 year of sobriety. Strength and stamina is built through the hundreds of thousands of pounding steps taken to prepare for the finish line. The emotions at mile 4 are no less powerful than what they may be at mile 13. 

For fun, a friend and I have decided to walk to San Clemente pier this weekend. That is about 20 miles. Will we make it? I certainly hope so! But more importantly, I am super excited for the journey itself and how much fun we are going to have along the way.