Cherry Blossom 5k in Wilmington, Delaware

9:30am on a Saturday.

This was a blah race. Not because anything bad happened but because nothing happened. I didn’t run faster or harder or grow stronger. I didn’t make friends or enemies or intentionally trip the sorority girl running in a hot pink tutu and “i run for rum” tshirt. Nothing happened.

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This is Easter weekend. On the Christian calendar, today is just a “blah” day – the day nothing happened –  after Good Friday but before the Resurrection. No easter bunnies or candy baskets or empty tombs. Just… nothing. It feels vacant. Hapless. Hopeless.

We all know the feeling of hopelessness. Athletes know it when injury strikes. Pulled muscles, broken bones, broken spirits – wondering if we can get back to where we were or if this is it. I remember when my father was diagnosed with Parkinsons. The first year, he won the gold medal in the masters track and field race for the 70+ year old sprinters. The next year he came in second. Then we called him the “fastest white man” then the “fastest minister” then the “fastest white minister”……  As an athlete, hope is necessary to get better, stronger, faster. When our bodies don’t respond, it feels hopeless.

Greg Gadson was a star football player and co captain of the team at West Point in the late 1980’s. He served as a Field Artillery Officer in the Army for more than 20 years.  In 2007 he lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Bagdad. Col. Gadson used the spiritual muscle he developed as a cadet and in the years to follow to turn his hopelessness into heroics. He has since become a motivational speaker and continues to be a great athlete, competing in races and inspiring others to run to win.

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As Christians, we have hope because the day after, the Son rose. Whatever you believe, you can have hope knowing the sun will rise. Like the daffodils emerging after months of grey and snow, we can come back from rest or injury and blossom.  Tomorrow is a new day – fresh – with no mistakes in it.

Don’t screw it up.

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This week, my last week at my little flop house in Florida, I took a much needed break to rest my body and my mind (heavy emphasis on the mind.) But not running a USATF road race doesn’t mean I can watch the Bridget Jones trilogy eating Ben & Bernie & Jerrys. I had crap to do.

I decided to plant a garden. A few important facts about this:

  1. I kill silk plants.
  2. I do not know how to plant, what to plant or have the spacial awareness to know where to plant.
  3. Gardening is hard work. Hauling 30 bags of mulch from greenhouse to car, car to garage, garage to garden isn’t for wimps.

Exercise isn’t just running miles on the track or treadmill. Its being fit enough for every day life. I’m not a crossfitter, but I do see the need for functional fitness – having a core strength that enables you to do pretty much anything you need to do safely and quickly. Crossfitters are a rare breed. They train you to be able to run through the African jungle in 110 heat carrying a wounded rhino being chased by rabid hyenas. While a noble goal, I think functional fitness means having a core strength that allows you to lift your child often and easily, run up 3 flights of stairs with groceries (and not have to stop for a nap) and haul some mulch.

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A few notable things happened while I was knee deep in dirt, sand and fire ants:

  1. I met some neighbors. Turns out, gardening is quite communal.
  2. I felt the incredible satisfaction that gardeners must feel when their first tomato or turnip appears – though mine was just about laying mulch.
  3. The sexiest Rabbi in NYC was right

In 2003, New York Magazine named Rabbi Brickner the “Sexiest Rabbi in New York.” He was the long time love of my “spiritual well” Marcia Lawrence Soltes. He wrote a book called Finding God in the Garden. It is a wonderful book about God, love, life and coneflowers. I thought of him, of her, of their wonderful retreat in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where I have stayed many, many times since childhood. The property is lined with mature trees, flowering bushes and magnificent rhododendron.

Our relationship with Marcia started before I was born. Her first husband, Rabbi Soltes, was a handsome, talented and tender man from New York City who would volunteer to come up to West Point to lead the handful of Jewish cadets in services in the 1960’s and 70’s. When my father became Chaplain, they became fast friends. It was that friendship that laid the foundation for our life long relationship with Marcia and for building the Jewish Chapel at the Academy  (a project my father spearheaded but rarely gets enough credit for). After Rabbi Soltes died, our relationship with Marcia deepened.

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The seeds were planted, the soil was fertilized through shared experiences, the roots took hold and the flowers grew.

Gardening is a natural illustration of friendship. Planted, watered, fertilized, weeded out – all things we have to do to our “friends list.” Sometimes we have to weed out the bad seeds, the ones with shallow roots, the ones that attract bugs and disease. All our friends need fertilizing – phone calls, emails, text messages of “thinking of you…”, running a road race together or running out for coffee. Gardens and relationships (and our bodies!) take work. If we neglect them, they wither and die or get lost to the forrest.

Erma Bombeck, my favorite author of all time said,

“Friends are ‘annuals’ that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a ‘perennial’ that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. There’s a place in the garden for both of them.”

I’m not sure i’ll be winning any Biggest Pumpkin awards or producing my own autumnal harvest. But I know I can do it. I know I can tackle the physical challenge of hoeing, churning yards and yards of earth, hauling, digging, and squatting. (Tabata squats anyone?)

I know, as Brickner’s book reminds us, God is in the garden. He put in place the life cycle – birth, growth and death. I know my friends, my fitness, my faith and my flowers need work to produce something. They all need regular care, time and attention to bloom.

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3 races, 3 states, 40 hours. MS/AL/LA

Louisiana — 8:30am on a Sunday

My flight left New Orleans Sunday at 10:45 AM. The race was 20 minutes away and started at 8:30am. I knew three things. First, I needed to RUN LIKE THE WIND. Second, a photograph was going to be the only proof I would have since my New Orleans tour lasted 7 seconds and third I was confident i’d make it since my weekend partner in crime said,

“I’ll keep the car running. You can launch yourself in.”

While trying to figure out the perfect proof-of-life err race photograph, I was captivated by two boys warming up for the run. They were laughing. Playing. Skipping. They were buds.

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The highlights of the race for me was experiencing – albeit briefly – the magnificent blending of cultures that makes New Orleans unique. French architecture adorned with graceful southern porches, the smell of cajun cooking wafting from cuban cafes, bodegas selling fried catfish and African masks. And these kids. During a disconcerting time when we’re hearing so much hate and negativity being spewed from pundits as well as pulpits, my time in the deep south defied stereotypes and provided a nice reprieve from the man-made discontent in the news.

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On the plane home I sat next to my new bud Raj. (he took the amazing photos above and below this weekend in New Orleans. @4cefed). We come from different backgrounds and have taken different paths that crossed on this day in this city adding to the uniqueness of the New Orleans experience. I loved my deep south adventure. I managed to avoid injury and alligators. I met really interesting people and heard incredible stories of triumph through adversity. And I ran some races.

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Revive. Rebuild. Renew. Run to win.

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3 races, 3 states, 40 hours. Folks, don’t try this at home. I’m propelled to run and raise awareness about Parkinsons disease. I’m a little narcissistic, a little masochistic and now I’m a professional insomniac with an addiction to aspercreme and 80s theme runs. But I’m running to win.

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12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14

3 races, 3 states, 40 hours. MS/AL/LA

Alabama — 6pm on a Saturday

Holly and I left Mississippi and drove a few hours to Orange Beach, Alabama. A few hours in the car after a road race running OVER A BRIDGE means sore, aching hips. (I was equipped with sturdy birthing hips which feel neither particularly sturdy nor benefitted me much during childbirth – an experience I will never blog about because there are some mental images you can’t unsee.) Anyway, running/driving/running/driving is not a good combo.

I needed a night race to fit 3 races in my tight schedule so it was a theme race – a party race – a glow-in-the-dark-80’s-themed race. The kind of race where they give prizes for the best vintage Bananarama t-shirt and hose you down with hot pink fabric softener. gag.

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But it was fun. Everyone had fun. EXERCISE CAN BE FUN! And even when it isn’t, it helps you feel better about yourself and that’s fun.

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I recently had the incredible privilege of speaking to a group of women about the need and benefits of self care. Self care isn’t just taking time to read and reflect or taking a girls trip to Vegas. (though those things are important.) Self care is making time every day to break a sweat – to better your physical self so you can be better for those around you. It’s especially important for moms with school aged kids. Moms are so busy taking care of everyone else we forget to care for ourselves. Breaking a sweat every single day is crucial to self care and do you know what the byproduct of self care is? SELF WORTH. And we can all use a little more of that. So go for a walk. Do some squats. I challenged my ladies to do 10 sit ups, 10 push ups and 10 squats every day for 90 days. You don’t need equipment or much time but the benefits are more than physical because you’re investing in your physical well being.

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Find things you enjoy doing. Break out that old Jane Fonda tape. Or do my favorite Carmen Electra Fit to Strip. Walk the dog twice. Grab a friend who makes you laugh and go for a hike with them.

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Life is meant to be FUN! It’s too short to be perpetually pissed off all the time. So go ahead and have the second bottle err glass of wine. (as I will after Lent. by the way – i think i’m still in detox…) Eat the second or third square of dark chocolate.  Dance in your underwear. Laugh. And run to win.  Tomorrow – New Orleans.

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3 races across 3 states in 40 hours. MS/AL/LA. The DEEP south.(check back for. Alabama and Louisiana.)

Mississippi — 8am on a Saturday

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My alarm went off at 5am. My dear hostess Holly PONIED UP and drove me 20 miles along the Gulf Coast to my first race in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It was a beautiful drive along the ocean. The landscape is flat so you can see miles and miles of shoreline, waterfront and ocean. But the view is tainted by the profusion of vacant lots and for sale signs – leftover plots where grand houses stood before hurricane Katrina.

I completely forgot about the storm.

I was living in California at the time, far from the devastation and destruction. But now I’m face to face with the aftermath over 10 years later. Once I realized what I was looking at, you see it everywhere. Shells of former resorts, fire stations that resemble fall out shelters. Cement slab after cement slab after cement slab where homes were built and families were raised. We walked down a peninsula along the water where only weeds reside. It was haunting.

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The race itself  – Bring it to the Bay 5k and half marathon – was out and back over a bridge that has been rebuilt since the storm. Rebuilding is still in its infancy in parts of the coast. There are beautiful and jarring reminders everywhere. A chainsaw artist carved trees damaged by the storm – carved from the strongest trees that survived.

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We all have to rebuild at some point in our lives. Divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of identity, altered purpose or perspective – major changes that we didn’t see coming or we resisted out of fear. We need to have strong, toned spiritual muscle to help us weather the changes – to stay strong when the storms come and to rebuild. Just last week I was presented with a major change that will alter the entire course of my next few years which I will share in the coming weeks.

“Circumstances that weigh you down and obstacles that block your path are God’s way of building spiritual muscle. Shortcuts and escape routes won’t build the stamina you’ll need to complete the course.” -D. Brammer

Do you know what muscles do when they’re torn? They grow back stronger.

Athletes know the importance of building muscle. I hate lifting but I have added it to my weekly routine. Light weight with many reps or a few lifts of a heavy weight, good form, rest, creatine, whey protein, lean meats, nuts, seeds, healthy fats. Everyone has their recipe for building muscle. Building spiritual muscle is no different. A quick prayer before meals or bed, quite moments of meditation and reflection, conversations with nature, with our Creator, practicing thankfulness are all methods of building spiritual muscle. Or do some heavy lifting – read scripture. Study theology. Join a small group or a church that builds you up. Start now. Don’t wait. When the storms come – AND THEY WILL COME – you won’t get swept out to sea. And when the waters recede, you’ll have the inner strength to rebuild.

24 “Whoever hears these words of Mine and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain came down. The water came up. The wind blew and hit the house. The house did not fall because it was built on rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

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Valdosta, Georgia.

8am on a Saturday.

I drove 5 hours into the night so I didn’t get to fully appreciate the Florida to Georgia highway. In the morning I was able to view it in all its glory. Here’s the highlight:

Billboards. So many billboards. In a 5 mile stretch you can buy a gun, sell a gun, buy another gun, buy a rack for your gun, a holster for your gun and a gun for your gun. You can buy a bible, borrow a bible, share a bible or read a bible with someone who will also sell you a gun. And you can do it all over brunch at the Cracker Barrel – home to a manufactured nostalgia of a South that none of us ever knew.

The race itself was held at Valdosta State University. A few notes about the race: It was one of the first races where there was free coffee BEFORE the race when you’re standing around cold and anxious wondering if you’ve left enough time to flush it all out. Brilliant.

The course meandered down neighborhood streets lined with magnificent, towering pine trees and graceful ranch homes with large porches for sipping iced tea on a cool southern evening. Or shoot a gun. Toss up.

Around mile 2 a woman came up next to me and just stayed by my side. I’m not sure if she saw me change pace a little in the warming southern sun or if she just needed someone to run with. We ran together the last mile, matching each others pace until we sprinted through the finish line. I was thankful for her camaraderie. I welcomed her companionship. It made me wonder if I was doing enough to be welcoming to those around me.

On the ride home I went 9 miles out of the way to go to the Georgia Welcome Center. (I wanted a picture with a peach.)

It was closed. The Welcome Center was CLOSED.

It made me think about my actions during this season of Lent. Am I welcoming or am I closed? Do I come along people and be an encourager like my running partner? Am I leading a life thats all about me or includes service to others, open 24 hours a day? How can I encourage YOU to run to win?

Back on highway 75 I started seeing huge billboards advertising Florida:images-1.jpg

This is Florida.

ALL ARE WELCOME!

Open 24 hours a day.

Free Orange Juice!

Everybody is included. Always welcome, always open. 

Be like Florida.

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Sarasota, Florida.

10am on a Saturday.

I wasn’t suppose to run in Sarasota. I was supposed to run in Melbourne. But life happens. I was supposed drive my parents across the state. We had a lunch date with one of our favorite cadets from the class of ’89, spend the night with one of our favorite Army Chaplains, brunch with one of my high school heroines… But life happens. Dad wasn’t well enough to travel, my toddler had the flu, yada yada yada.

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I had to adjust.

I went immediately to my go-to race websites and started my search for a local race. I have a schedule to run all 50 states and every deviation poses a domino threat of epic proportions.

As luck would have it, theres a new state park a mile from my little house down here that was hosting a race. I put on my new Run 50 tshirt and headed out. As soon as I pulled up I realized I was in trouble.

It was an ultra marathon 50k race.

50k. Once again for the cheap seats – 50k.

There are 3 reasons I won’t run a 50k:

  1. I am not a masochist.
  2. I have not trained nor do I have the time to train for that distance.
  3. See #1.

I walked up to the race table and they immediately bibbed me up and sent me on the trail. About 2 miles into the run I realized the irony:   I was wearing a Run 50 tshirt.

WHAT DO I DO NOW? I CAN’T RUN ALL DAY! THERES A SALE AT MACYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I ran another 2 miles to the water station that crossed the main road, ripped off my bib number, waved a “thank you!” to the volunteers and hauled ass in the other direction.

Classy.

Change is hard but necessary. There have been plenty of times I’ve had to make major life changes. I’ve changed colleges, majors, jobs, marriages, parts of the country. I wear more sunscreen and eat less meat. I play harder with my kid and less with my phone. I canceled the cable and bought more books. Change is hard. My dad developed Parkinsons and everything changed. It can take a while to adjust to your new circumstances. It can lead to depression, anxiety and fear. I see the fear most in my friends transitioning out of the military. Don’t lose hope! With a few turns of the wheel the boat rights itself. And if it doesn’t, there are people out there who can help you sail in the right direction. Ask for help. Reach out to people around you. I’ve found incredible support during these past years of running for my Dad through our giant West Point family. (stay tuned for my blog post about me and my Long Gray Line.) Churches provide supportive communities as well as Veterans groups like IAVA and my favorite running group, Team RWB.

Life happens. Change sucks. Get up and Run to Win.

Just make sure you’re not wearing the band’s tshirt to the concert. (or the ultra marathon.)         Wear THIS shirt instead!

Up next – New Orleans.

Stay classy, Florida.

 

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