Running through Elvis Country

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I am an athlete. Sometimes I pretend that this is a relatively new development, but the truth is that some type of regular athletic activity has been a constant in my life. It keeps me sane. I have a lot of anxious energy, and exercise helps take the edge off. I have also suffered from chronic depression, and exercise is a necessity in keeping it at bay. Besides, all the things I love to do, hiking, kayaking, camping require that I stay in shape.

A guy on Match.com rejected me because he said he’d just broken up with a runner, and “you runner types are strange.” That’s what he said….as if all runners are the same…haha. I know all kinds of athletes – lazy ones, skinny ones, overweight ones, serious ones, socially motivated ones, ones that “dress up” for runs, those that haven’t washed their gym clothes in months. I know runners that approach running very scientifically and keep all kinds of data and charts to predict and track their progress. I also know runners that refuse to run in the heat and runners that refuse to run in the cold. I know one runner that dresses up as a hot dog. We are as diverse as the non-athletic population.

Memphis is a very active running city. Its known to be one of the fattest cities in the country, and, it definitely has its challenges in the health department. The Memphis Runners Track Club is the fifth largest running club in the country. It has over 3,000 members. It’s summer running program for women attracts some 1500 plus runners year after year. In fact, they’ve had to cap it at 1500 because it is just too difficult to handle more than that safely. There are numerous races every weekend in this town. Its definitely a great place to be a runner.

But, I’m not hard core. This is how my athleticism looks for me. It’s really self-care. I don’t run fast, but I do run far – that’s where the endorphins kick in, and I run to feel good. I don’t push myself when I’m tired, sick or am busy having fun. I balance my running with strength training and yoga because it keeps me healthy and injury-free. I’ve run three full marathons and a host of half marathons, and I’ve never even had a blister. I also get regular massage and acupuncture. It’s all really very sane, and it probably takes up about 8-10 hours a week on a “perfect” workout week.

I love my long runs. My favorite hometown course is what I call my tourist route in downtown Memphis. I get up really early so that I can run the 3 miles downtown before dawn. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll take a short detour down Marshall and run by Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis among other greats spent a great deal of their time. At dawn, I’m usually running down the Main Street trolley line, waving at the street sweepers and cops. I run from there down Beale Street where I encounter some late night/early morning partiers still enjoying themselves. They usually look pretty rough, and they always have to yell at me and my dog. Some of them have even called me their hero. Through all of this is the overshadowing aroma of BBQ cooking already in the wee morning hours. It seems so odd to be smelling BBQ before breakfast, but the smoke is billowing out of all the restaurants I pass.

After I get through the short stretch of Beale Street, I like to take a break and hit the Starbucks across from the FedEx Forum. A small friendly crowd from the Westin is usually gathered there for their morning lattes, and they love to chat me up about running with my dog. We take off past the Gibson Guitar Factory where legends buy their custom guitars and we run down Main Street, paying our respects at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed. There’s a fire station on Main Street, and I can usually catch a smile from a cute fireman out drinking his morning coffee. We run past the oldest restaurant in Memphis, the Arcade Diner, Ernestine and Hazel’s and the Amtrak station. If we’ve timed it right, the train dubbed the City of New Orleans will be in the station taking a midway stop between Chicago and The Big Easy.

My favorite part of the route is running around the corner onto Riverside Drive in the morning sun. I can literally feel the energy of the mightiest river in the world dragging me to her. There is so much history on that river, and every time I’m near it, I can just imagine the lives and heartbeats of all who have seen her before me. It’s really powerful. And…dang it, it’s just a beautiful sight with the Pyramid and the Mississippi River bridge laid out before me. I just love it. When I pass through that stretch, I thank God for bringing me to Memphis with all its quirky, soulful charm. Despite its problems, Memphis is a cool place to live.

The final stretch takes me back to the Garden District in Midtown Memphis where I live. Beautiful old homes and perfectly manicured yards greet me at a time when I’m getting pretty fatigued and am ready to stop. I get home, take a hot shower or a cold one if its really hot outside, gulp down a chocolate milk and maybe a light breakfast. A mid-morning nap revives me and helps me recover. At noon I’m up again and ready to start a regular day, with my long run done and the weekend stretching before me. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

The Gift

Me at 19 years old

I was a blackout drinker. I gave up alcohol in my mid-20s because I was smart enough to realize that my drinking was not normal. But, I had my fill before then. I really can’t recall drinking being fun for me. And, the reality is that I can’t recall most of it. The times I drank are largely blocks of “lost” time. I just don’t remember a thing. Nothing…nada…black hole.

I know other blackout drinkers, but not all drinkers experience blackouts. And, not all blackout drinkers experienced blackouts like I did. I’m a small woman, and I don’t metabolize alcohol very well. I would blackout early, sometimes within just a few strong drinks. But, I would continue to function for hours. I know this because other people would tell me what I did. And, some of it would be pretty scary. Some of it would be funny, and we would all laugh about it. But it wasn’t funny for me…really. I was terrified.

I was in my late teens to early 20s, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t remember long stretches of time and why I was seemingly functioning, walking around, driving, eating, and I couldn’t remember any of it. I didn’t know how to stop it from happening. More than anything I was afraid of seeing anyone who I had spent time with because I couldn’t remember what happened. I didn’t know if we argued, if we had a good time, if we shared any great conversations. I just didn’t know, and to “save face” I just avoided people. Inside, I was a scared little girl. And, I didn’t know what to do. So, I kept my secret and lived that story over and over again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a blackout. For a long time, I managed to keep the people I knew back then in the past. Then, Facebook came along. All of a sudden, my past and the people from my past started to show up on my computer. The first college friend that showed up threw me into a tailspin. I just didn’t know if I could face it. What on earth did people think of me back then? I was a lush? I was easy? I was nuts? I just had no idea how much they knew. And, I had no idea who knew what.

But, I sucked it up, and I decided to reconnect with those people and let the past be the past. Maybe they didn’t remember either. Maybe they were so focused on their shortcomings that they didn’t really notice mine or remember them. Then, one day, a man whose name and face I remember started “liking” my photos. I remembered him, and, of course, there was always the possibility that I may have spent time with him. But, I certainly didn’t remember it. And, I didn’t remember much interaction with him when I wasn’t drinking. We started to have conversations over text. As we discussed more, he finally said we had spent some time together and hung out in college. “Oh God,” I said. He laughed. My heart sank. I did not want to hear about this. I wanted the past buried. I wasn’t the same girl I was back then, and I was disgusted with her.

For some reason, he wanted to tell me about the night we were together. At first, I wanted to text back and tell him to stop…that I didn’t want to know these details. I mean, hell, this was 30 years ago!! But, I sensed there was a reason that this conversation was happening. I didn’t know if it was for me or for him, but it was happening for a REASON. I believe in a God who holds my hand through the pain. So, I read on as he texted me the events of that evening…”we had fun dancing.. and after dancing…you were a really sweet girl back then”. I asked him if he liked me, and he said, ” yes….I still do.” There were other details that don’t really mean that much to the story, but what began to happen inside of me was that I started to see that I might have been a “sweet girl”. Even though I didn’t remember, a man might have had fun dancing with me and actually liked me. I began to see a different possibility of who I was, of how others saw me, and of what may have happened on all of those invisible nights. The reality doesn’t really matter as much as what I began to feel inside.

I don’t know why this man showed up at this time to say these kind things to me, but I know that it has changed my vision of myself at an age where I really needed to love myself. I hated looking into that darkness and wondering what happened; and, now, I can look into those blank spaces and truthfully say that I wish I had that memory. It just might have been something really nice. It might have been a night worth remembering. I just might have been a girl worth remembering…..even 30 years later. What a gift….thank you..

What “gifts” have been given to you that have changed your life? What have you given others? Are there things you need to say or hear even 30 years later?

My Girl Ashok

Ashok on the beach in Waveland MS…she ran for hours…

Ashok means “without sadness” in Sanskrit, the language of yoga. I wanted a dog for companionship. Now, I’m a cat person. I have always been and always will be. I just love snuggling up with a cat purring in my ear. But, I couldn’t take my cats camping. They definitely wouldn’t go kayaking. And, I find it really hilarious to imagine me running, dragging my siamese cat Bella behind me- her hissing and howling the whole way. So, I decided to get a dog.

I love PetFinder.com. It’s sort of like Match.com for people looking for pets except you don’t have to worry about being rejected. So, I looked for exactly what I wanted, a running buddy..no puppies for me. I’m also petite, so I wanted a medium sized dog that I could handle.

When I met Ashok, she was being fostered by an individual. So, I went to the woman’s home. Ashok came out, walked over and laid her nose across my knee. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes, and I was gone. I just hoped she liked to run!

Ashok and my Dad…Pilot and co-Pilot

My acupuncturist chose the name Ashok for me because I wanted her to be a part of the whole experience. She (Marlene) had helped me so much and was as excited about my getting my life back on track as I was. It was fun getting a new dog. For awhile, every single day was an adventure just figuring out who she was.

In the kayak, she sits in front of me and will sit for hours while I paddle. She absolutely loves camping and will wear herself out from daylight to dark. It’s the one time she goes to bed before me. She ‘ll stand by the door of the tent until I let her in to sleep. She wants no part of chilling by a campfire. Now, when I start packing up, she runs to the center of the tent and won’t move until I drag her out. She knows we’re leaving! She’s run long runs with me, especially in the winter when it’s cool. The longest was a 20 miler. She absolutely freaks when I put on my running shoes. It’s so sad when I go to a race, and she can’t go. She sits by the door and looks totally confused when I make her stay.

Enjoy the pics of my girl….I’m taking her camping this weekend as long as the weather holds.

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Let’s get physical…

Fitness is a priority for me. Now…don’t stop reading…haha. Let me tell you my spin on it. Yes, there are all the advantages of weight loss and maintenance and good health, etc. – but, we all know that. I move because it opened up my world.

After the Chicago Marathon, October 2009

When I was in college, I started running. In fact, I had the first pair of “running” shoes ever sold by Nike to the public. I LOVED it! I ran all the time which wasn’t exactly healthy, but I was 19. I was abusing my body in all kinds of ways. I ran, drank copious amounts of alcohol, smoked, went to school full time and had 2 part time jobs. Eventually, I burned myself out on all those fronts, but the running would come back to me because of what it gave me.

I started seeing an acupuncturist when I was in the depression stage of the grieving process after my 2007 divorce, and I started to get my energy back. I’ve learned this about acupuncture. When I have treatments, my body starts to tell me what it needs. And I started to get this urge to run. But, running can be lonely, and I so needed to be with people, women especially. I found Mark Higginbotham and his Memphis in Motion group.

Mark trains new runners to complete marathons and half marathons with a walk/run program. Those Saturday morning long runs became my life preserver! The rare times I woke up and didn’t want to go, I would think about how I was going to miss Madelene, Stephanie, Ellen, Billie and all the other gals I ran with. Now, mind you, we ran together for hours on those long runs. There is a lot that women can talk about during that time. And we laughed our asses off–literally.

But, what began to happen is I got me back. My soul started to wake up and connect. I started wanting to eat right so I would feel better for those runs. I developed a routine for my life which gave me some structure and a focus. I couldn’t even begin to think of rebuilding my life as a single -heaven forbid- woman, but I was doing it in the context of rebuilding it with the goal of running a marathon. During that time, my depression subsided, largely from the exercise and eating better and just moving through the grieving process. And I had fun!! The running was social, and I discovered that people did like me–imagine that!!

I ran my first marathon in October 2009 in Chicago. I ran it with one of my new friends, Ashley Echols. Two friends of mine, Staci Trekles and Irene Martin went with me and volunteered at the 13 mile aid station. It was so fabulous to get hugs from them halfway!

Ashley, my Chicago Marathon running buddy…..
Irene and Staci – The Day Before

I don’t really have a desire to do full marathons anymore, but I do know that running opens up a world for me naturally that I don’t always know how to create without it. And, maybe running isn’t for you..but SOMETHING is. What is it that your body or your soul keeps saying…DO….?? There’s a reason, and you have a wisdom within that makes no sense from the outside. Trust it and move on it. What can it hurt?

Discussion: What is it that you think speaks to you as something to help you move forward? What’s stopping you? What’s motivating you?

You can create something different…

Twelve years ago I was in a very dark place in my life. I was at a point where I just didn’t see any future or any hope of a better future. I was isolated, had just ended an engagement to a man who turned out to be crazy, I lived in a Midwestern town in the middle of winter, and I was scared to death. A psychic (which I didn’t believe in at the time), told me words that have become a mantra for my life. She said, “You are a powerful woman. You created this. You can create something different.”

Me on the beach in Kona in March 2012

I began a journey in that moment that has come in fits and starts, but its inevitable outcome was creating a life that I love. Its elements may not be the ones you want for yourself, but the journey toward the vision and the somewhat rocky trip to the land of hope can be a motivation for you to create the life you love. You do have the power within you. And, I’m not talking about “The Secret.” I minimally believe in that concept. What I am talking about is a journey of surrender to what is, of loving yourself the way you are, of taking the best parts of yourself and building something that resonates with your soul even if you are 40, 50, 60 or even older. It’s mainly about learning to listen to yourself and taking some risks with your life.

For me, the past 10 years or so has been about learning to pray, learning to surrender to God’s plan for me, learning to ask for help and connecting to that little curly haired girl who was ignored and silenced by my own and others vision of what a “successful” life looked like. I want to share the work I’ve done. I also want to share with you the day to day struggles that I still battle in order to stay grounded in this life that changes every moment. I want to share resources that were helpful to me as I’ve gone through divorce, addiction recovery, financial upheaval and various other life struggles. I hope that you will find it helpful. If not, I hope you will find it funny and hopeful. If nothing else, I have learned to laugh as I move through this.

I went through a divorce in 2007 which was very painful. I’ll talk about it in future posts because it’s a huge part of my story and who I am today. But, suffice it to say that it was one of the most terrifying events of my life. I loved that man even though he was not good for me…and, YES, you can love someone that is not good for you. It tore my heart in half to let go of that dream. But, one of the most terrifying things I faced was the prospect of being single at 48. I HATED the idea. It was the one thing I could not accept and I couldn’t face, because, you see, in my mind…being single was being unlovable….yes, unlovable. It was the kiss of death.

An acquaintance recommended a book to me that I read and read and re-read and re-read again. It was by Judy Ford, and it was called Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled and Independent. If you are facing the unthinkable…being Single again….read this book. You are not ready to read this if you are still grieving your divorce. That’s a different issue. This is about moving forward, about imagining some hope of happiness when you are in that “in between” place at the end of a relationship or if you’ve just always felt second class because you were not able to maintain a relationship.

For now, know that a life beyond your wildest dreams is possible. I’m 51, and I know it to be true. More to come….

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