Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

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That Time I Almost Ran a Marathon (aka: New Moon Bella)

So I almost ran a marathon this December. I was dangerously close. After months of saying that marathon runners must be insane (my daughter and ex-boyfriend included), I found myself training for one. By the time I managed to run 16 miles, I had made up my mind. This was it. I was totally going to go for it. So when I got home, still exhausted and sweaty from my run, I navigated to the website of the California International Marathon — the same one my daughter finished last year.

Sold out.

Disappointment and relief flooded me at the same time. Disappointment, because I really, really wanted to run that marathon! Relief, because I don’t trust my reasons for wanting to run that marathon.

running-a-marathon

There are a million great reasons for someone to want to run an entire marathon. For the bragging rights. Because they’re competitive runners. Because it’s a bucket list goal. Because they’re masochists and crave the pain. I don’t know. I suppose there are as many good reasons as there are types of people who enter to run these things. But I have no desire to brag about my accomplishments. I don’t really keep a bucket list. And god knows I’m not a competitive runner, with my typical middle-age pace.

I do it for him.

Yes, I’m talking about my ex-boyfriend, Mr. Right-for-Me, the wonderful guy I dated last year and will never get over. Let’s call him Z. The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever love.

Don’t take me wrong. I don’t want to run a marathon because I believe that finishing one will impress him so much that he will come back. (Okay, maybe I kind of hope that a teensy bit). It’s not about that. I’m marathon training because I am New Moon Bella.

All right, stop pretending that you don’t know who I’m talking about. I know that you guys all read or watched the Twilight series about Bella and her sparkly perfect vampire lover, Edward. Now remember what happened when Edward suddenly left Bella’s life? He disappeared. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. Didn’t appear. The seasons passed by, and Bella was a sad wreck without him. Then one day, she discovered that by doing insane things, by pushing herself far beyond her limits, she could make Edward appear. She began riding motorcycles, cliff jumping, putting herself in dangerous situations, because when she did, a vivid vision of Edward would materialize, and he would talk to her in the voice of reason. His voice, his appearance, became her drug, her reason to keep going.

bella-and-edward

So that’s me. I can run a wimpy little 5K, and nothing. But if I keep pushing myself far beyond my limits, run to the point that my lungs are burning, and my legs are ready to collapse, and there he is. Z. On the trail with me, as vivid as life. I hear his voice, his wonderful, distinct, gentle voice, encouraging me to just keep going, keep pushing, just one more mile. And when I make it to the end, I hear his words of pride, filling me with so much warmth I could almost turn around and run some more. Almost.

running path one more mile

So there it is. I am disappointed that the marathon is sold out, because I wanted to run it with him. Even though he has disappeared from my life, and I am here without him. Even though he would not really be there with me (and knowing that still hurts so sharply that I can barely breathe). But it is like knowing that if you fall asleep just the right way, then someone you love, someone whose presence you crave deeply will appear with you in a dream. If I run just one more mile, just one more mile, just one more mile, then he will appear before me on the running trail, his voice leading me toward him.

I think I’ll keep running.

Meanwhile, Somewhere in California… (aka: Bay to Breakers)

Last Sunday, my 16yo daughter and I went to a huge party. Well, actually, it was a party disguised as one of the world’s largest footraces. Bay to Breakers is held every spring in my favorite city, San Francisco. With tens of thousands of participants dressed in zany costumes and ready for fun, it is a race like no other. The goal? To run 8 miles, from San Francisco Bay, through the heart of the city, all the way to Ocean Beach.

My daughter and me Bay to Breakers

My daughter and I joined the throngs in our corral, as we have done in other races. Only this time, we were all decked out as the Sun and the Moon (or Night and Day, I still haven’t decided).  To have time for our costumes and makeup, then to commute to the city by car and by BART train, we had to wake up at 4:00am, and then do a little shivering until the real sun showed up to warm things up a little.

It was crazy how many people there were in the streets! We were surrounded by bananas, flamingos, superheroes of every kind, cowboys, pirates, and then some. We found Waldo again and again. We spotted a school of Salmon running upstream. There were too many furries to count. And, in true San Francisco fashion, there were also way too many naked runners to count. That made us giggle at the start of the race, but after a mile or two, we were like, “Eh. Just another costume.”

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Before the race began, we joined in the time-honored tradition of throwing tortillas in the air. Why? I have no idea! But it was super fun (except for that one my daughter accidentally threw at the back of someone’s head. Whoops). We also threw beach balls around the crowd, and cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then, it was Go time.

Bay to Breakers salmon swimming upstream

I was a little nervous at the start, because this was my first time ever running beside another person. I’m pretty used to running alone, with music in my ears, and didn’t think I could make it very far without that. I also didn’t think I could keep up with my daughter, who runs cross-country and has far better stamina. But she slowed down, or I sped up, and we managed to carry on conversations and laugh our heads off the whole way. We weaved in and out of a group of people dressed like In ‘N’ Out Burger staff. We chased a dozen giant doughnuts. We orbited around an Earth, ducked under a limbo stick, and sang along to music playing from my iPhone and the numerous speakers blasting around the city. And yes, that was us doing gran jetés and piqué turns through Golden Gate Park. We couldn’t help it. Blame the gymnast / dancer in both of us.

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What was just as much fun as running in Bay to Breakers dressed as the sun? Giving sunshine to the other runners. I was having so much fun, that I couldn’t help but reflect it back to those around me.

“Eh-oh!” I called out as I passed a Teletubby.

“Vive la France!” I called out to a runner wearing a beret and waving a French flag.

“The emperor has no clothes!” I called out to a naked guy wearing only a crown and short cape.

“Imposters!” I accused an entire running group dressed like suns.

We were having such a blast, that both my daughter and I were surprised when we reached the finish line at the beach. So soon? That felt more like a five or six mile run than eight miles. But lucky for us, that meant we still had energy to enjoy the huge finish line area extension of the party, with a live band, free swag, and all kinds of great free food. We even took home an entire case of vanilla flax milk (so yum).

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I am not much of a party person, but I would run Bay to Breakers again in a heartbeat. Next year, I may dress as a superhero. Or a flamenco dancer. Or a soccer mom. But no matter what I choose to wear, I will always bring the sunshine.

Donut Holes (aka: Running at a Walk Pace)

CIM Start Line

Yesterday, I participated in a marathon for the first time ever. No, not a Netflix marathon. It was the California International Marathon  , a popular race where runners from around the globe came to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the US Marathon Championship, or the Olympic trials, or the $20,000 first place prize (I wish). The race begins in Folsom (think gold country, Sierra Nevada foothills). Then it heads downhill, winds through my suburban neighborhood, and ends in front of the California State Capitol. 26.2 very long, exhausting miles.

Okay, fine, fine…I did not participate as a runner. I participated as a volunteer, handing out thousands of water bottles at the finish line. My thirteen year-old son was a volunteer, too. My sixteen year-old daughter was also a volunteer. But she was a volunteer runner. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. She and some friends from her high school cross-country team signed up to be sag runners, who purposely run at the slowest possible pace in order to encourage the marathoners who are lagging at the rear.

Their plan was to run the first half of the marathon, then head home. But get this — halfway through the race, my daughter sends me a text: Hey mom, we’ve decided to run the whole thing!

That’s right. Those little girls ran the entire California International Marathon — on a whim.

marathon runners

Okay, well, they sort of ran it. Mostly, they ran so slowly, it was practically a walking pace. And occasionally, they walked at a walking pace, too. They also sang songs, talked, and called out words of encouragement to the many runners they came across. Runners who had trained hard to meet their goal of finishing a marathon. Runners who were exhausted and discouraged, but were perked up by the little group of slow-running cheerleaders with their huge grins and a bag of donut holes.

I kid you not. Donut holes. Which they munched every few miles or so, and even passed out to fellow runners to lift their spirits. Like marathon Christmas elves.

Meanwhile, back at the finish line, my son and I got to be among the first faces to greet the thousands of marathon runners as they staggered zombie-like past the finish line, hugging their medals and temporary hoodie jackets.

“Thanks so much,” they often said as they took a water bottle from our table. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“We’re happy to help,” I responded back. And it’s true. I was seeing the end result of people who had just accomplished what, for them, was a dream. Maybe it was to become an Olympic athlete or national champion. Maybe it was to run ten marathons in ten years, or to race side by side with a loved one, or a best friend. Or maybe, their huge goal, the one they’d worked so hard and so long for, was simply to finish. Nothing made me happier than to be in a role where I could see and help those people to achieve their dream.

CIM 35th Sacramento Capitol

My son felt the same way. And so did my daughter. She and her friends, the courageous little group of shepherds, finally brought their flock home to the finish line, where I was waiting with huge hugs…and water bottles. I was so proud of both my kids! For being such enthusiastic people helpers, for finishing an actual marathon (in two very different ways), and for literally going the extra mile.

 

Pink Cleats and Salt (aka: Still a Soccer Mom)

I am still a soccer mom.

I know; that’s kind of a weird thing to say when none of your three kids even play soccer anymore. My oldest, who played soccer since preschool, quit after not making the high school team. My daughter, the former competitive gymnast, tried soccer for one year, then decided she was more into track and cross-country. The youngest kid detests sports of any kind. Go figure.

But I am still a soccer mom. I am as passionate as ever about the sport, and will happily spend an entire weekend shouting at the television, rooting for my favorite teams from around the world and here in the USA (while doing homework, of course). And though my kids no longer play the sport, I am currently on two indoor soccer teams and one outdoor team.

Yes, outdoor soccer. That’s my newest adventure, running around in the wet, muddy grass on a field that seems as large as three football fields by the end of the game. Here’s a picture of my favorite ball and my pretty pink cleats, which are now muddy and not-so-pretty:

Tiare Soccer Ball and Pink Shoes 2015 (2)

Am I any good at it? Well, if you judge the skill of a forward by her ability to score goals, then I’m not very good yet. And maybe I’ll never be quite as good as the other women I play with, many of whom have been playing outdoor soccer for years and have far more skill. But it’s fun. Mostly.

Here’s the part that’s not fun: all the running. I am just not that into running. I love to run fast, but only for like, ten seconds. After that, I’m ready for a nap. That’s why I’m not a midfielder (unless I have to be).

Here’s the other part that’s not fun: the salt.

Yes, you read that right. Apparently, whenever I play outdoor soccer, I sweat salt. Great salty beads that drip into my eyes and sting like soap. Salty sweat that crusts on my skin and clothes when it dries, so I look like I rolled in chalk after each game.

Yeah, I know it’s just salt, but IT’S SO GRODY!! Ew!

Apparently, salty sweat is a perfectly natural, healthy thing. It tends to happen to athletes who eat a low-sodium diet, which I guess I do (unless I’m eating my favorite food, popcorn). So I just have to wipe the salt from my brow, drink a lot of Gatorade, and suck it up until I can get home and hop in the shower (not a bath, unless I want to turn the tub into a mini-ocean).

More on this salty sweat thing: http://www.training-conditioning.com/2007/08/09/salt_in_their_sweat/index.php

Yesterday, I did something really crazy. I played in a women’s soccer tournament. That meant three games in one day. That also meant two small bottles of water, two large bottles of Gatorade, and a very, very long shower afterward. And then what did this soccer fanatic do? No, sadly, I missed the USA vs. Mexico soccer match (which we lost, thanks to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez). Instead, I baked sugar cookies with my kids, then snuggled with them on the couch, watching Pitch Perfect 2. Because I’m a soccer mom. And the Mom part always comes first.

C Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

Girl on Fire (aka Allergic to Exercise)

Run interrupted It happened again this morning. Like I do so often, I pulled on my sneakers and went for a run. It started out beautifully – cool, sunny weather, an empty park, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting through my earbuds. But less than ten minutes later, it all went wrong.

First, a flush of warmth spread throughout my midsection. Within seconds, this turned into a hot flush, and my skin began to itch. As I continued to jog around the park, the sensation intensified, until I was overwhelmed with discomfort. It felt as though my body was on fire, yet excruciatingly itchy at the same time. (Cue Music: Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys).

Girl on fire

By the time I made it back to my car, I was in tears, covered with hives, feeling as though I was being attacked by a swarm of flaming mosquitoes. I sank into the driver’s seat and sat there, unmoving, for several minutes, until the symptoms gradually subsided and I could relax.

I know what you are wondering. What the heck happened during that run? Obviously, that was not normal. Well, it is something that began when I was in my early twenties. When the weird symptoms first began, I described them to my doctor. “Huh,” he said. “That’s weird.”

Gee. Thanks, doc.

Over time, I sought the opinions of three more physicians, including a dermatologist. One doctor even sent me to the hospital for a treadmill test in order to induce the reaction. No one had any idea how to diagnose me. No one had any recommendations for treatment, other than Benadryl and avoidance of exercise. Since Benadryl made me feel like I was swimming in syrup throughout the day, I began to avoid exercise. This was so hard to do! I was so athletic. I have always loved to play sports, ride my bike, and dance around my living room. Suddenly, I was forced to do nothing more than occasional slow walks around the block. Medical Mystery

And then, thanks to the amazing powers of Google, I began to come across accounts of other people suffering from similar symptoms. And behold! Suddenly my weird condition had a name: Cholinergic Urticaria. An allergic reaction to exercise. Seriously. Apparently, whenever my body core begins to heat up, I suffer a hypersensitive response that does not stop until I stop moving. For some people, this response can even lead to anaphylactic shock. Luckily, I have never experienced that reaction. And luckily, I finally found a doctor who was familiar with the problem and directed me toward THE wonder drug for people with cholinergic urticaria: Zyrtec. Hooray for Zyrtec! God bless the makers of Zyrtec!

No one knows for sure what causes cholinergic urticaria. Doctors and medical researchers have various theories – genetics, environment, food allergies, auto-immune reactions. No one knows exactly how to treat it, either, since not everyone responds well to antihistamines or steroids. “Avoid activities that may lead to a reaction,” the medical community recommends. In other words, avoid sports, avoid hot showers, avoid sex, and avoid exercise of any kind, especially in cold weather. Ha! Thankfully, I do respond well to antihistamines, and so long as I take my wonder pill every day, I do not have to limit my exercise. I can run, play soccer, and ride my bike as much as I want. But if I slip up and do not take my pill (like today), then the consequences are severe.

Many sufferers of cholinergic urticaria are told to avoid exercise

Many sufferers of cholinergic urticaria are told to avoid exercise

Well, now that I once again have Zyrtec coursing through my veins, battling histamines like a well-trained army, I can now move once again. Perhaps I will go and finish that run, or turn up the Red Hot Chili Peppers and dance around my living room.

Additional Reading on Cholinergic Urticaria:

http://www.cigna.com/individualandfamilies/health-and-well-being/hw/medical-topics/urticaria-cholinergic-nord249.html

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/1015/p1367.html

http://www.cholinergicurticaria.net/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20086478

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6169753

http://running.about.com/od/illnessesandrunning/ss/embarrassing_6.htm