Chasing Joy

Photo on 12-21-18 at 2.02 PM

This week, the iTunes app on my Mac at work decided to stop working. Since it’s the week before Christmas, I’d say this is unfortunate timing. All my Christmas music is either on iTunes or on CD. Desperate for some classic Smitty Christmas, I went to Walmart and found a cheap personal CD player, which only has two volume settings–“Amoeba Burp” and “Rocket Launch.” Two days later, I conceded and now I’m listening to dcTalk’s Jesus Freak.

It’s funny how much music can have an impact on your memory. Jesus Freak brings me back to 1995, which was a very difficult year for me. My best friend had just told me she no longer wanted to be friends, I was on heavy doses of Prednisone, and I was extremely depressed. The Prednisone gave me terrible heartburn, and made me gain a lot of weight very quickly.

But something good happened in all of that heartache. That year, I discovered my favorite artistic medium: colored pencils. I still remember the project I was working on, and how I learned to do shading. I finally felt that I was progressing as a young artist.

Then came Christmas. What I really wanted was a Yamaha keyboard with my favorite voice “bell strings”. Instead, my parents completely blew my brother and I out of the water with a brand new Mac Performa computer. These were the days before the Internet was widely available, but we didn’t care. I loved playing with the creative software, making these wonderful new things called “gradients.” I had no clue what graphic design was back then, and I had no idea that I was setting myself up for a productive career.

Amidst all of that sorrow, art had given me joy. It still does! And even though I’m not famous or wealthy, I can say I’m a published colored pencil illustrator and you’ll see one of my advertising graphic designs this month in Rolling Stone.

Although I love my job as a graphic designer, it’s not always easy. In fact it can be very stressful. The past two months, I’ve been watching my joy and my energy slowly slip away. A cold-turned-sinus-infection knocked me out of my routine in October. I stopped going to the gym every day. I started binge eating again. I lost my creative desire. Somehow, Jackie Joy lost her joy.

It’s four days until Christmas and pouring down rain. My family is mourning the sudden passing of my Aunt this past Tuesday. Instead of a Christmas party this weekend, we’re going to a funeral. At this point, I don’t really wish to be around anyone, since I physically feel miserable from gaining a lot of weight. Nothing fits, and I’m not fit at the moment. I have cookies to bake, Chex mix to make, cards to send and presents to wrap. Not to mention the things I wanted to make for people but just didn’t have the enthusiasm I normally have this time of year.

It would be easy at this point to stay in bed…to hide my remining light under a bushel. Or fuzzy blanket. Bushels aren’t very comfortable to sleep under.

It is hard to be a testimony when you’re tested. It is hard to be a beacon of light when your lightbulbs are fading and the rains of life are eroding your hope. What do you do when you can’t find joy in the places it once resided?

So sitting here listening to Jesus Freak, I’m thinking about how far I’ve come since the 15-year-old me sat coloring while playing said album on cassette tape. I should be grateful…

I am healthy! Not only that, but a marathoner and triathlete!

I have a 16-year career in graphic design.

I have amazing family and friends!

I did finally get that keyboard. And a stage piano. And a synthesizer.

I’ve recorded two albums, and written a lot of songs, even though I never “made it big”

And the more you realize the blessings in your life, and are grateful for them, it’s easy to find joy in the little things…

Painting cats and dogs with my best friend at her kitchen table.

The laughter of my nephew, Andy, as I spin him on his dad’s desk chair.

The 60º air and sunshine that briefly followed today’s pouring rain.

A complement from a former coworker who’s inspired by my endeavors.

A fond Christmas memory from my childhood.

Everyone has blessings in their life to be grateful for, even in the midst of pain and sorrow. If you’re going through a hard time, I pray that you’ll find a renewed sense of joy this Christmas.

I Dare Me To Move

My Fitbit buzzes at 4:45 am. Still asleep, I wonder why my arm is vibrating.

Oh yeah…that’s right. It’s Monday.

Yay.

Sniffle.

Let’s just say I was a lot more enthusiastic about my morning treadmill time two weeks ago when September started. I figured the only way my finish times were going to improve was if I started running daily instead of two or three days a week. This meant getting to the Y before work every weekday…which didn’t bother me. I actually enjoy working out first thing in the morning, since my body is tuned to race early anyway.

However, as the month progressed, and the weather remained crappy, my excitement waned. Fall is normally prime racing season, but races are being postponed and cancelled due to flooding. Dry weekends are very few, and it’s still really humid. It does make me glad I have no long-distance races scheduled, because the heat and humidity can be draining.

By Wednesday of the second week of my treadmill streak, I needed a change of scenery. It wasn’t raining yet, so I ran around the Y parking lot and did a couple fartleks. I felt pretty good…until that afternoon.

Despite my daily vitamin regimen, my immune system decided to let a rhinovirus breach the perimeter. By lunchtime, my sinuses were aching and my throat was sore. After a quick Target run for tissues, Zicam and cough drops, I went home to sleep it off.

Thursday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to run. Or walk. But I got up, slogged through my work, then returned to bed. I also learned that the 5K I had been looking forward to next weekend, which had been postponed from August, was now cancelled due to flooding. Ugh. That was the only race I had signed up for all month!

After a full, busy day on Friday, I was grateful for a rest on Saturday. I popped in some frozen French bread pizza and watched a marathon of Star Wars prequels…

Yes, I had a fever…why do you ask?

C’mon…those movies aren’t THAT bad…

Anyway…

Sunday, I felt much better, so I decided that I could safely return to the treadmill Monday morning. I could walk a few miles even if I wasn’t feeling well enough to run. Either way, I was determined to return to my pre-cold fitness!

Which brings us to 4:45 am, Monday morning. My Lazy Side wants to argue that I didn’t really sleep well, which is a rarity for me. I think the caffeinated lemonade had something to do with that. I could sleep in for an hour and a half and continue recovering from my cold. Not a bad idea…

Me: But then there’s that goal I have to run a 5K in under 30 minutes…this year…

Lazy Me: But then again, this weekend’s race is cancelled and I don’t have anything scheduled until October.

Me: You’re already awake. And there’s burnt leftover pancakes and turkey bacon for breakfast!

Lazy Me: Trail mix.

Me: Deal!

I pack my lunch and work clothes, dress for the gym, grab some trail mix and head out around 6 am. As I stop to fill my water jug at the grocery store across the street, a pickup truck obnoxiously peels out of the parking lot. I’m not a big fan of rude truck drivers. I drive off as the sky shows just a faint glimmer of sunrise, and as I pray for the day ahead, my agitation ceases.

I turn on the radio. My local Christian radio station, which plays a Switchfoot song about once a year, was in the middle of Dare You To Move. I pull up to the YMCA with the feeling that it’s going to be a good day.

I walked and jogged 3 and a half miles on the treadmill.

Tomorrow, I should be able to run faster and further.

 

Reflections from a Snow Puddle on the Isle of Que

Bad Decision Number One was when I opted to try new “running” gel insoles in my ASICS on race day. I thought to myself, “It’s ONLY two and a half miles…what’s the WORST that could happen?”

Bad Decisions Two through Four? A sub-par warmup, an off-kilter diet, and an entire week free of training thanks to Mother Nature’s wintry fury. I guess that last one is still my fault anyway.

Oh, and starting out too fast. That’s Number Five.

All those bad choices added up to a perfect storm of misery and regret on this foggy February Sunday afternoon. Humidity aside, it was a good day for a race along the river in Selinsgrove. Turns out the Isle of Que is a nice spot for a run. I, however, was not enjoying myself as much as usual during this race. The aforementioned insoles which were supposed to prevent injuries were actually giving me shin splints in my left leg. Plus, the darned things were cramping my toes, leading to even more pain. I struggled to keep a decent pace as I dodged the snow puddles…until I failed to sidestep a deeper puddle and drenched my shoe.

Thus ended my quest for a good finish time.

I slowed to a walk, internally scolding myself for such a lousy performance. My dejected soul reflected in the puddles of melted snow. If I couldn’t run a pitiful two point five, how was I going to complete my second marathon in three weeks? I was actually supposed to run this course twice, to make a five miler, just for training purposes. At this point, I really didn’t feel like doing it again.

The others made sure I did it again.

During the second lap, I relaxed and my leg started to feel better. I completed the five miles, despite my less-than-stellar performance, and drove home satisfied.

The next day, I started my morning on the treadmill at the Y, pounding out another three miles. I have a favorite treadmill across from a window, where I can pretend I’m trying to reach the mountain ahead of me. It’s still dark outside, so I can see my reflection in the window–and the reflection of the girl on the treadmill behind me. The latter reminds me of where I started, and my own reflection reminds me of how far I’ve come. I can’t go back to the 240-pound, depressed, lethargic person I was before.

Every day, I decide whether I’d rather be more like the old me, or the new me. Would I rather sleep until 6:30, or be at the gym at 6:30? Would I rather eat whatever I wanted, or eat what benefits my body? The new me takes effort. It takes planning. Is it worth the work to feel great? Sure…but it isn’t always easy. Some days, it’s just easier to hit the snooze button and grab a cookie. Or ten.

Other days, it takes a puddle to get you back on track.

IsleofQue

Photo by Mary Beth Pace looking out at the Susquehanna River from the Isle of Que.

My first marathon

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It was somewhere between mile 25 and 26. The Third Street sidewalk decided that my body needed a break…or at least a few scratches and bruises. Before I knew what hit me, I was face-down and slightly stunned.

As I lay there, my mind drifted back to a dreary day in June 1994. My mom and I had pulled up to my grandparents’ house, where she and my Pop were attempting to pull my paralyzed body out of our car. Pop didn’t realize how heavy my dead weight was, and I fell to the gravel, badly skinning my knees. I could barely walk, and I definitely couldn’t get up from the ground on my own. Later that day, I was admitted to the hospital by my neurologist to begin treatment for what was being diagnosed as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

My 14-year-old self probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told me my 37-year-old self would be running my first marathon. Actually, I’m not sure my present self could believe it either. A few months back, I blogged about The M Word, where I told you all that I intended on running the first Williamsport Marathon. Then, summer happened, and even though I was running frequently, my training was more triathlon-focused than long-distance running. Maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if I chickened out, or maybe just did the half marathon instead.

Therefore, I waited to register. I also didn’t do any long-distance runs to prepare myself in case I decided to go for it.

As September rolled around, I was finally persuaded to train, with what little time I had left, to run the full 26.2 miles. I knew I could at least make it 13.1 of those miles, so I stood a chance at finishing the race. Even if I was walking, limping or crawling, I was determined to finish.

October 8th dawned with heat, humidity and rain. Fortunately, by race time, the rain had stopped, and I was comfortable in my tank and shorts. I was excited, but nervous, of course, because this would be the longest distance I’d ever attempted.

In the first ten miles or so, I learned that the water stations were few and far between. They were also not well-stocked–even with water. There was a total of one porta-potty on the entire course. I also discovered that there were no mile markers, which would have helped greatly while running such a long distance. Not to mention that the volunteers abandoned their posts after a certain point. At least they couldn’t yell at us for drinking right out of the gallon water jugs because the small bottles and cups were all gone. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

After a few hours had passed, there were no bystanders cheering us on. Traffic was open, which meant traversing some less-than-well-maintained sidewalks in South Side. As I lagged behind at my 13-minute mile pace, I started to get disheartened. What if they had torn down the finish line before I could get there? What if nobody was there at the finish at all?

My body was actually holding up very well, aside from my left instep, which made me take walk breaks more frequently. I don’t remember if I was walking or running when I tripped and fell.

There I lay on the sidewalk, bruises appearing on my knee, shoulder, arm and hands. I brushed the fine gravel from the scratches on my hand, knee and shoulder. At this point, I considered giving up. Nobody would probably be at the finish anyway. I could just lay there and admit defeat.

Then, I remembered why I was doing this–for the 14-year-old who couldn’t get up.

I rose to my feet, got my bearings, and with the help of a nearby crossing guard, made it to the intersection, and on to the final half mile of the course.

When I saw the finish line, it was hard to hold back the tears. It wasn’t the fanfare finish I’d dreamed of, with only two people, both volunteers, there to welcome me. I wasn’t choked up for the lack of people…it was the fact that there WERE people at all, waiting for me. I was overwhelmed at what I had just accomplished.

I am a marathoner.

Dark Horses

“I made my mistakes

I’ve seen my heart cave in

I got my scars

I’ve been to hell and back again

Born for the blue skies

We’ll survive the rain

Born for the sunrise

We’ll survive the pain”

I’m fighting back tears as I round one of the final corners of the run segment. Today, the words to one of my favorite Switchfoot songs seem especially poignant. After making a costly mistake on the bike, I was frustrated, and almost angry with myself…but I wasn’t giving up.

It’s not hard to jump out of bed at 5 am on the day of my favorite race of the year…the Lewisburg Sprint Triathlon. In fact, I think I anticipate it more than Christmas. After months of training and attempting to lose more weight, I am ready to put my body to the ultimate test. Or am I?

A little over a week ago, I was wading out into the Atlantic with a $5 piece of foam, hoping to catch a wave back to shore. The anticipation of the tri was on my mind, but I was confident that I could do better than ever this year. If I could conquer my fear of waves, I could beat the endless sea of hilly roads outside Lewisburg. Maybe I could even run the 5K distance without the dreaded “Tri Leg” that seems to seize my quads every time I do a tri.

Or, maybe I’d come home from vacation with a cold.

When I awoke with a sore throat on Monday, I knew I was in trouble. I started taking zinc tablets with the hope that they’d banish the virus from my system within a day or two. How can I possibly have a cold on the eve of my big race? It just wasn’t fair.

Tuesday was awful. I took the day off work, and couldn’t really sleep because I couldn’t breathe.

Wednesday, I returned to work, armed with tissues and cough drops. By the end of the day, my voice was almost gone. My prospects for Saturday were not looking promising.

Wednesday night, I was finally able to sleep, and I felt quite a bit better by Thursday.

By Saturday, my energy had returned, my symptoms were almost cleared up, and I was prepared to race. My body wasn’t at 100%, but I had to give it my best tri (pun intended).

As I set up my transition area, I noticed several mountain bikes on the rack next to me. There were also in the field of competitors, a handful of women that looked heavier than I was when I did my first tri in 2015. I knew that those who had to carry extra bike weight or body weight were in for a challenge, but I was glad to see them. If I could do it, so could they.

But today, I was no longer the novice. I had done this race twice before, and now looked better-equipped with a road bike, tri suit, and lighter body. Granted, I still felt slightly intimidated looking at the pros with their tri bikes and Ironman stickers in their cars. “We all have to start somewhere,” I reminded myself.

Finally, the race started. I had to wait quite a while to get in the water, and once I did, I felt like my strength wasn’t where it should be. I told the girls behind me to go ahead and pass, because I just couldn’t hold my pace.

The bike got off to a less-than-perfect start. I had to chuck my gloves to the side of the course because I didn’t put them on before mounting my bike. Oh well…my hands would be fine.

Then, the bite valve on my CamelBak took an early leave of absence, spilling water down my legs into my socks and bike shoes. Wet feet. No water. Not cool.

All the while, I’m psyching myself up for “The Hill From Hell,” which I know is coming up toward the end of the course. Last year, I was unable to climb it with my Cannondale hybrid. Would this be the year I crushed the hill?

The hill never came.

I thought the guy told me to go straight, when I should have turned. There were two men at that intersection, and neither one yelled after me to turn around. I pedaled for quite a while before I realized I was lost. The road markings were nowhere to be found, and the intersections weren’t manned.

Trying to keep my composure, I called the race director’s number, and told her where I was. I then tried to backtrack, and got lost yet again when I followed another cyclist who, as it turned out, was not in the race. Flustered, I called the race director back and told her my new location. This time, she sent a volunteer for me to follow back to town.

Somehow, my wrong turns had avoided “The Hill From Hell” altogether.

I was very happy to return to the transition area, where I quickly changed shoes for the run. My time would be lousy, but I had to finish the race…even if I was last.

When I did my first tri, my goal was to finish. I thought of myself as the “dark horse” that wasn’t expected to complete all three events. Ever since, my goal has been to beat my previous time…to get better each year. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a pretty crushing feeling.

Those last couple blocks, I had to play that song again…

“We’re singing 

Hey, you can’t count us out

We’ve been running up against the crowd

Yeah, we are the dark horses

We’re singing

Hey, it’s not over now

We’ve been down but we’ve never been out

Yeah, we are the dark horses”

And as I sprinted toward the finish line, with my parents there cheering me on, I felt as if I had beaten the odds once again.

And I will continue to do so, as long as God gives me strength.

Tens Moments

Ahh… summer in central Pennsylvania! Every weekend, you can find a short-distance race somewhere in the area. It’s a great way to explore new territory, meet new people, and test your (and your friends’) direction-following skills. There are a variety of 5K races (3.1 miles) around, but if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon a 10K, which is 6.2 miles.

When you attend a 5K, you see people of all shapes and sizes. At a 10K, however, the amount of runners with a reasonable amount of weight to lose (like me) declines rapidly. My competitors are generally at a healthy weight, which makes my challenge of placing in my age bracket even harder. They don’t have to carry around the equivalent of my two-year-old nephew for six miles. Er…six point two.

Something possessed me to run 10K races two weeks in a row. The first was planned. The second was not. Placeholder ImageAfter a fairly decent race last week, I decided to push my luck today, and go out a little faster than I had last week. My nutrition had been on point all week, and I was feeling pretty good overall. I started at a low-quick shuffle, and had few side stitch issues (which seem to plague me often).

We ran on the Lock Haven river walk, adjoining the Susquehanna. It was a beautiful day for a race, with a nice breeze, and an overcast sky. I love running beside the river, looking out at the mountains, and hoping to spot an eagle. However, these river levees have a drawback…ramps. Because this is Pennsylvania, and there’s hardly EVER a flat race.

Before my paralysis, I used to enjoy climbing hills as a kid. During CIDP, I could barely do stairs. As I dealt with residual weakness, I just learned to run up the stairs to keep my quads from hurting. Nowadays, I run up and down the hills around the circle where I work. Sometimes, it’s even fun!

But today, I learned that running full-speed up a hill around mile 4 of a 6.2 mile race is a bad idea. Don’t do that.

I had run up and down the ramps the entire first half of the race. Now, my legs were heavy and I could barely catch my breath. I had hit the wall, and my body wasn’t going to recover to finish as strongly as I wanted.

As the others passed me, the frustration hit in, and my emotions pounced on my failing resolve.

“Why do you keep doing this?”

“You’re slower and fatter than everybody else!”

“You don’t belong out here with actual athletes.”

I knew at that point that I wasn’t going to finish under an hour, like I’d hoped. In fact, I thought I might have to walk the rest of the way.

I turned toward the river and saw the shadow of a large bird. Just the shadow. It was probably a crow, but I imagined it to be an eagle. Suddenly, I remembered WHY I was doing this! I was out here because I was confirming my victory over CIDP. I was out here for those who are too weak to walk, let alone run. I was out here for my friends who still have to live with debilitating autoimmune diseases and the awful treatments they have to endure. I was out here to give others hope!

I could have given up and walked, but I slowed my pace and pressed on. And somehow, placed first in my age group! My time was a few seconds more than last week’s 10K, but I was satisfied with that. I had once again learned that it’s better to be the tortoise than the hare. Especially on hills!

The “M” Word

DSC_0055-XL“There are a lot of crazy people here today,” I thought as I ran past the Danville mental hospital. What sane person gets up at the crack of dawn on a cold, rainy May Saturday to run thirteen miles to the middle of nowhere and back? Well, at least I was in good company, with couple hundred other runners in the 2017 River Towns Half Marathon.

The day didn’t exactly get off to a great start. First, I misplaced my Philippians 4:13 dog tag that I wear when I race. Then, when I arrived in Danville, I discovered the contact solution had drained out of my left contact as it was soaking. After trying to rehydrate the crispy disk, I decided I’d have to wear my glasses, or go as One Eyed Jack. As if that weren’t enough, I lost the cover to my earbud as I stood at the starting line! Fortunately, my friend just happened to have an extra pair of earbuds, which saved my day.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling very confident as I started the race. I went out much faster than I should have, causing ankle pain in the first mile. The sky was an ominous black, and the air was a little chilly, but humid. I started to question why I was doing this race in the first place–or even running at all.

A few miles in, the sun came out, my leg muscles warmed up, and my outlook brightened. I thought, “ A smooth, easy road never makes an interesting story.” Even this well-maintained rural road wasn’t the easiest to run on, given the sloping pavement. Every couple minutes, I’d have to change my position on the road to find the most even spot. Otherwise, as I learned last year, my hips would be out of whack when I reached the finish line.

Thanks to a moderate pace and frequent walk breaks, I was able to hobble over the finish line a good half hour before last year’s finish time. My third half marathon was in the books. Now what? Do I even consider the “M” word?

Thirteen (point one, to be exact) miles is a long distance. Double that, and you have the “M” word. Do I dare to even THINK about training to run 26.2 miles? If my muscles can barely do a HALF, how would I survive a FULL?

This is the mental battle I’ve been waging for the past year.

When I trained for the Danville race last year, I’ll admit I was scared, but felt pretty confident that I could at least finish. I felt the same way at my first triathlon. But as I lose weight and get stronger, my athletic performance improves. I feel like, although I never may see a podium, I am a champion because of all that I’ve conquered. So what if I try and fail? Failure is inevitable in each of our lives. What is important is that we have the courage to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and make the attempt.

This year will be the first Williamsport Marathon in October. Lord willing, (and legs willing) I will be ready!