Saturday, November 22, 2014

Marathon Eve - Ready to Rock Philadelphia

I never expect the week before a race to be easy.

For those uninitiated to racing, the final "taper week" is always rough as you cut back on mileage and intensity. Appetite. Anxiety. Aches and pains. Amnesia.

Simply refer to this post for a full explanation of what happens to me when I am "not running".

This week was all of that times a million. Add to all of the usual taper madness getting stuck in that "historic" Buffalo snowstorm, one work crisis after another, and, for my grand finale....leaving my race shoes behind in New Jersey.

Nothing seemed to fall into place for me in any area of my life this week and it was a real test. At least that's how I'm looking at it as I stare down the last few hours between me and my biggest race to date.

I have a healthy respect for the marathon. I know that in spite of all my work and training race day can be unpredictable. The weather looks promising, but there are 1,001 things that can and may go wrong at any point over 26.2 miles. I am trying to not let those things rule my thoughts.

In some ways I am thankful that this week was rough. It made me realize how much I have been through during this training cycle and in the two years since I started training for my first half marathon. I have come a long way and I know that wouldn't have been possible without the support of family, friends, babysitters, and the countless people who cheer me on from so many different locations (worldwide, in fact!)

This week I have had people in my life drop everything to do the things I needed to be ready for tomorrow. Drop off race shoes. Drive from Buffalo to Philly to watch Domani. Talk ad nauseam about race strategy. Just be there at the exact time and place that I needed it. And over the last 16 weeks I have had support like a single mom could only dream of as I have stuck to a 6 day-a-week training schedule while maintaining a more than full time work week.

I know how blessed I am to be surrounded by such amazing people.

Today, I saw a post on Instagram that stuck with me because it captured what I felt the last 5 years or so have been doing in my life. I felt it was fitting going into this marathon and it inspired me.
A photo posted by Dolvett Quince (@dolvett) on

This training cycle and especially this past week has felt very much like an "undoing" for me - in the best kind of way. I can't wait to see what comes of it.

Tonight I will look back through my running journal (thanks Ken!) and the more than 825 miles I have logged there and lay out my racing clothes (complete with my correct shoes - thanks Mom & Dad!) and know that I have done everything possible for my best performance in the morning.

I will leave it all on the streets of Philadelphia and whether I'm screaming "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" from the rooftops at the end or simply huffing and puffing "Till I Collapse" I will know that this training cycle and this race pushed me to my extremes. I have already achieved more over the past 4 months than I dreamed was possible and that gives me so much confidence for tomorrow and for whatever lies beyond.

Final training run complete - time for 26.2 in the morning!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Countdown to Philly

16 weeks of training are done.
More than 750 miles run.
My first ever 200+ mile month is complete. And my second and my third.
Personal records have fallen in grand fashion as I've gotten stronger and faster.

I have trained in Florida, Maryland, New York, Idaho, Virginia, Illinois, and, of course, New Jersey. I have trained in the summer heat and once or twice already in the freezing cold. I have jumped over snakes, turtles, and frogs and have dodged spiders in their webs. I have eaten more than my share of bugs.

Covered in bugs from an evening towpath run.
I have grown to love track workouts as I got reacquainted with my days as a high school athlete. I bought my first ever headlamp so I can run at night and early in the morning. I have explored the depths of some really crappy hotel gyms and I have run with some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine.

Towpath between Kingston and Princeton on late summer evening run.

I have just over 1 week of training left until I take to the streets of Philly in my quest for a Boston qualifying time. One more tempo run and then it's nothing but easy mileage between me and my biggest start line yet.

As the kids say, sh*t is getting real. The worst case scenarios are starting to play out in my head. There are creaks and tweaks making their way through my body as only the marathon taper can yield. My friend Malinda who is also chasing a BQ in Philly has been checking the weather forecast for almost a week already.

But I'm ready and my final confidence boost was a kick ass performance in the Trenton Half Marathon this past Saturday. I was careful not to race full out, but even my measured effort brought me in with a 7 minute personal record and a 3rd place finish for my age group.

Crossing back into NJ during the Trenton Half Marathon
on my way to a 7 minute half marathon personal record
This was a final test for me leading up to the Philly Marathon. I wanted to hit a 1:43:00 (7:51/mile) half marathon time because if I did that I would know my training had me on pace to achieve my BQ goal in Philly. But what I achieved in Trenton was a big deal for me for reasons way beyond the implications it has for Philly. It all goes something like this...

I was the "bigger" girl on our high school track distance contingent. My BEST 2-mile time then was pretty much dead on pace per mile for what I just held over 13.1 miles on Saturday.

When I first started running again 2 1/2 years ago, it was a struggle to get through 3 miles and I was doing it at a pace somewhere between 10-11 minutes. I have the Nike Plus app to prove it.

My first half marathon which I ran in March 2013 took me 2 hours 11 minutes and 39 seconds (10:02/mile) and that, to me, was AWESOME.

I started running after my husband Joe died from colon cancer and at that time I looked roughly like this (I'm the one on the left):
With my sister Naomi on Thanksgiving 2011. Joe took the photo.
I have since lost 45 pounds and traded in all my size 14 clothes for size 4s.

This journey has been one of body, mind, and soul.

So when I ran the Trenton Half Marathon on Saturday to test my speed for Philly and I completed it in 1:39:19 (7:35/mile) I felt all of the accomplishment well up inside of me. When I found out from my friend several hours later that I had placed 3rd in my age group and 12th overall, I was on top of the world. And completely shocked. The finish line in Trenton was sweet, but the best part was the energy I still had left. It made me realize that a BQ is truly within my grasp and has me counting the days until I toe my most important starting line to date.

Finishing the Trenton Half Marathon
I first knew I was on to something during this training cycle when I was finally able to break through on my 5k time in August. The 5k had been my nemesis going back to September 2013 when I ran my best time of 23:29 in Philly on a perfect fall morning. I had been training on this cycle using the Hansons Marathon Method for 3 weeks when I finally ran a fabulous 5k on a warm, sunny day at the beach in Asbury Park. I beat my previous best 5k time by 8 seconds and swore that no matter what this was the training plan for me. I broke that time once again by almost a minute just one month later in Long Branch and I knew that big things were happening.

Asbury Park 5k - Finally beating my nemesis...the 5k!
This training cycle has taken me way beyond what I thought was physically possible which means there have been plenty of times when I would have rather curled up in a ball on my couch than go for a run. But I haven't missed a single one with the exception of those that changed to properly recover from the 3 races I ran (2 5ks and the half marathon). On occasion I have shuffled the days and a few times I have scaled back mileage, but I have kept the integrity of my training program fully intact and I owe that entirely to 1) the amazing people who every day help take care of my son while I run and 2) the fire inside that won't let me step away from this journey to BQ.

Just when I think I can't possibly get through another run there always seems to be something to push me on. Someone who tells me she started running because of me. A friend to join me for a track workout. The adoring eyes of my 4 year old asking me if I am going to "run fast" today. A text or a call or a friendly "get your ass in gear". They have all kept me moving and when I cross the finish line in Philly I will think of all the people who have driven me there and the places that have inspired me.

I have been tracking my runs in a running journal given to me by Joe's dad and it has been fun to look back over all the places I have run since I began training at the end of July: my trusty neighborhood route that includes Thompson Park, my parents' neighborhood, the Towpath (everywhere from Lawrenceville to New Brunswick), many hotel treadmills including in Syracuse, Atlantic City, Disney World, and Ithaca, all along the Jersey Shore, Kendall Park, Franklin Memorial Park Cemetery, Chicago, Utica NY, Disney World, Mercer County Park, Veterans Park, Johnson Park, Monroe HS Track, Sandbridge VA, Highland Park HS Track, Buffalo, Maritime Institute (BWI Bike Trail), and Pocatello, Idaho.

It's been 750 amazing miles and looking back I know that I have done all that I needed to do to be able to shout from the rooftops "I'M SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON" once I cross that finish line in Philly. Nine days and it can all be mine.

Sandbridge, Virginia
More Sandbridge, Virginia

September 21, Sunset in Thompson Park

October 8th, Thompson Park sunrise

My Halloween Half - hilly and beautiful in Pocatello, Idaho

Final speed workout - 11/11/14

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Afghan Whigs Do It Again

It's been over two weeks. My ears have stopped ringing. The stress of everyday life has long ago interfered with the permanent grin that had taken up residence on my face and there are only 6 days to my next (and last) show on October 28. But I can't imagine ever having a more perfect concert bender than the 4 Afghan Whigs shows in 5 days which started in DC on Wednesday, October 1st and ended in Brooklyn that following Sunday night.

It's got me listening to the Usher songs on my playlist in a completely new way and jamming to No Diggity while I run. It's got me believing in love thanks to Charles Bradley and whispering a daily quiet thanks to Joe for sending me towards the amazing people of The Congregation. It left me tired and with a distinctly raspy voice, but those 5 days come with stories to tell for life.

I had never been to the 9:30 Club in DC and the show there during the 2012 tour was much talked about among my circle of friends so I made buying a ticket for that one this go around a priority. I was not disappointed. It was the first time I heard Step Into The Light live and it was followed by Now You Know, another first for me to hear live. I felt a little bad for my friend who came with me. I was so excited by the end of Now You Know that I'm pretty sure I punched him in the arm. I don't think it was hard, but it WAS the Afghan Whigs playing NOW YOU KNOW, so anything is possible.

A few songs later came the fun surprise of a "No Diggity" intro to Neglekted and then wrapping up the set was the not surprising, but incredibly moving "Getting Better" ending to Lost In the Woods. No matter how many times I have heard it live now (about 4 in person and many more times on the live CD) I can't get through it without there being a little mist in my eyes. There's just something about that full package that cuts deep into me and at a live show I make sure to relish every minute of it. It is, after all, the one thing I tell "newbies" when bringing them to an Afghan Whigs show - pay attention to the way they integrate covers throughout because it's impressive.

There were friends from The Congo to hang out with afterwards and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better night in DC. Little did I know that the shows would only get better from there.

Friday night it was on to Philly with my friend Cindy who had joined me for part of the 2012 "epic" Afghan Whigs weekend and for the "no encore" 2012 Philly show at the Electric Factory. It was time once again for some Afghan Whigs fun and our night in Philly exceeded expectations. We braved a little bit of rain while waiting on line and managed to track down the fabulous people of The Congo once we were inside. Up at the front of the stage there was plenty of time to catch up with each other on life's happenings while waiting for the show to start. We talked about how they played "Now You Know" in Boston and DC. We talked about the "No Diggity" intro and wondered if we would get to hear it again. We talked about whether we would get a damn encore in Philly this time around. We also talked about plenty of non-Afghan Whigs stuff because, well, life.

Then, we were off and running. Joseph Arthur delivered with yet another excellent set. The venue filled up and, unlike two years ago at The Electric Factory, the crowd really seemed ready for an Afghan Whigs show. I always try to get myself up front for at least one show and this was the one. I couldn't have been happier - surrounded by friends with a perfect view of the band. My vantage point also allowed me to watch the band's monitor tech, Ryan, as he rocked out to EVERY song, which was a blast. 

All was perfect until a drunk man decided to push his way towards the stage during Neglekted. Since it can't be properly described, I call this one: Why I love Greg Dulli from No Diggity to kicking out obnoxious drunks in one video.

It features great Dulli quotes such as:
"I know you ain't gonna make me babysit you, motherfucker."
"This is not a negotiation, brother."
"Where was I? I think I know..." And right in to my favorite part of the have to watch it to appreciate it. The video quality is fantastic. And yes, that's me next to the drunk along with the rest of the fabulous ladies of The Congregation. Greg Dulli definitely knows how to keep a party going in spite of the most ridiculous jerks.

Philly was a fun party. We didn't get Now You Know, but when Lost in the Woods rolled around this time we had a great view of Ryan, the monitor tech, joining the band on guitar and we also had his mom standing right next to us who didn't know he would be playing. It was a cool moment. She was sweet and proud and obviously anxious to catch up with him after the show. Someone from among our group told her that Ryan was clearly getting his own little fan club.

When Lost in The Woods was over we cheered our brains out to make sure that the "no encore" fiasco from 2012 was not repeated. Thankfully, our enthusiasm was rewarded and we were not forced to leave encore-less this time around. Cindy and I had rumbling stomachs from not eating dinner before the show and got soaked by the rain walking back to our car, but it was all worth it. Another successful night with the Whigs.

After Philly there were 2 shows left. On Saturday night it was off to the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan to take in The Afghan Whigs from the first row of the lower level balcony. Members of The Congo have been talking for months about what it would be like to see the band in a seated venue - all of us sharing where we would be sitting and hoping that the energy would be strong and that people would stand to enjoy the show. I had only ever seen Greg Dulli in a seated venue once before - at Royal Festival Hall in London in July 2009 when he was touring with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins. I saw that show with Joe since he was traveling there on business and I was able to coordinate a vacation at the same time. We were newly married and cancer was something that happened to other people. It would stay that way for another 6 months.

He took this photo of me as we waited for the show to start, mostly because he wanted me to get off my phone.
He always told me that I paid too much attention to my phone.
He was right.
Then, we staged this photo to remember the moment. HE was the one using his phone by this point (and for the rest of the night since I decided that I was done being harassed about it).

The Gutter Twins, The London Eye, and our beers.
While I admit that it was a bit odd to see Greg Dulli play a seated venue, it wasn't assigned seating (like The Beacon) and it was The Gutter Twins, not The Afghan Whigs. I will always remember that show as one of the best ones for me and Joe so I went in to the night at The Beacon with no qualms about it being a great time. It was NYC, a whole gathering of Congo members, and The Afghan Whigs - a perfect combination. I knew that there would be plenty of friendly faces including my friend Elissa who was making it out to her one and only show that night.

With Elissa outside The Beacon Theatre
So glad she made it to the show!
I have to admit that the real reason I was excited for the show at the Beacon, though, was Charles Bradley. This was the one show on the tour where we would get to see him open for The Whigs. I really like Joseph Arthur who is the regular opener, but I LOVE Charles Bradley. I have dance parties while driving to Charles Bradley. I cry about my past while listening to Charles Bradley. I dream about my future while singing along to Charles Bradley. It's all there. And, hands down, the best part of Saturday night at The Beacon Theatre for me was Charles Bradley.
I haven't been able to find the setlist for Charles Bradley anywhere but it was fantastic. Full of my favorites and while I was in a bit of a daze I'm pretty sure it ended with Lovin' You, Baby which is what finally caused me to send off that tweet once it was all over and I was in a complete state of music euphoria. (By the way, that outfit he is wearing was a COSTUME CHANGE. For the OPENING ACT. And he EARNED IT.) 

I suppose the tweet deserves some explanation. I'm in a bit of a place these days. I realized during this set that dating has left me pretty guarded so that even when I come across someone who could be maybe be real I hesitate and I fall back on that which is more safe. I was grabbed especially by Lovin' You Baby and one line in particular - "no more afraid to open the door and let you in". When I said that I dream about my future while singing along to Charles Bradley, I meant it and Saturday, October 4, 2014 was no different. There was some dreaming and a little opening of the mental door. We'll see where it takes me - and that's all I'm going to say about that.

The long-awaited answer to the "will people stand for The Afghan Whigs at The Beacon" question...YES!
At least on the floor, they will.
After the show there was delicious grilled cheese and tomato and onion rings with awesome people at a diner a few blocks away where we dished about the show and who saw what from which seats. I loved every minute of it, but hated that it had to end. Thankfully, most of us would be back together again in Brooklyn for another round of our favorite band the very next night. Little did we know it would be quite so epic. We would need some sleep.

It was late Sunday afternoon and I found myself running at a much faster pace than I should have been in order to finish my 16 miles in enough time to shower, change, and drive up to Brooklyn. And then, the traffic. Oh, the traffic. I drive this way ALL THE TIME. It's NEVER this bad. Except tonight. ON AFGHAN WHIGS NIGHT. Every muscle in my body was tight and it wasn't from the run. I envisioned abandoning my car in the middle of the BQE and running to the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I actually started doing the calculations in my head. How many miles do I have left to go? What pace do I think I could manage? How much time is left until Joseph Arthur takes the stage? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? 

I will spare you the gory NYC traffic details and just let this be known.... In case you didn't know, God is an Afghan Whigs fan and She made sure that things cleared up just in time for me to catch the 2nd song of Joseph Arthur's set that night. I found my rightful place among my family in The Congregation and we enjoyed what was by far my favorite collection of concert moments to date (I'm beginning to think there is something about October 5th and concerts for me).

There were some surprises thrown in to the setlist including Turn On the Water and We Two Parted - both favorites of mine - as well as a repeat of Now You Know, which was even more exciting to hear in such an intimate venue. Then, as it came around to the end of the show, we were treated to the Whigs' cover of The Police song Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. I have loved this cover since I first heard it and had lost hope of hearing it live. Not only did we hear it, but Greg shuffled his way across the front of the stage while singing it and then came out into the crowd and ended up right smack in the middle of our little group.
If you're up for a little game of "Where's Waldo" it shouldn't be too hard to pick me out. If you can't spot the glow from my huge grin, then look for the black tank top near that bald Jimmy guy :-)

We had no problem getting the guys to come back out for an encore because the crowd at MHOW was energetic to say the least. This encore started out in much the same way the others had up to that point....Going to Town.....Somethin' Hot.....and then, Greg starts talking about the 2012 New Years Eve show in Cincinnati and the SXSW appearance the following year. And then, Climax. With Usher.

It all took just a few extra seconds to register, but there was Mr. Raymond in front of us on stage with The Afghan Whigs at MHOW doing up Climax like it was Austin 2013 all over again. I am realizing now that thankfully I have come much more unglued from my phone during moments like these and snapped only 1 quick photo during the song. (Luckily, it was a good one.) I attribute much of that to "lessons from Joe". So, I soaked up every minute of that performance including the moment when Usher bowed down to the band and I'll be the first to admit that I've already happily watched the video many times over.

By the time they were done, the energy at MHOW was palpable. The road crew started taking down the stage, but we kept pressing forward and went bananas. Could we get them to come back out again? As it turned out, we could. Just when I thought the night couldn't possibly get any better, there was a second encore. It started with Blame, Etc. and we were about to get Faded except for the fight that broke out and made Greg change his mind and do Step Into The Light instead. Honestly, at that point, I would have listened to the band play their take on Mary Had a Little Lamb and left happy. It was the perfect conclusion to 4 shows in 5 days and I know how lucky I am to have shared those shows with people who have come to mean so much to me.
Four shows in five days and as I finish this post two weeks later I STILL have a huge grin plastered across my face. I love this music, this band, and the amazing friends I have made through them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Canceling 7434

Almost 3 years later I thought this would be just another mundane administrative task. Call up customer service and cancel the number no longer being used on my cell plan. Except that it's not just any number. It's his number. 

I told Laura, the lovely Customer Service Rep at AT&T Wireless that I needed to cancel one of the lines on my service and I knew that I would be asked why. I was prepared. 

"It was my husband's line and he passed away."

She of course was so sweet and said she was sorry for my loss and told me that she would take care of it right away for me and that I was on a very old plan and she would also find the best new plan for me.

There must be a requirement that the CSR say out loud what she is doing and that she say it more than once.

Canceling 7434...

"feeling reckless"...his last text to me. He meant to say "restless" but the drugs were interfering. 

Canceling 7434...

"Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." The voicemail recording my friend Erin went to painstaking ends to help me record and save.

Canceling 7434...

The tears were falling down my cheeks now as Laura moved on to talking about the changing fall weather and did her best to get through the steps of the line cancellation as quickly as she could. 

Laura was great. She helped me order the new iPhone I have been meaning to get but never seem to have the energy to follow through on. She adjusted things on my plan that needed fixing and she ended up saving me $90 a month. I have no idea why I didn't call sooner. Except that I do. Grief is a funny thing. You can be ready for your "different" life in so many ways and not yet ready in so many others. 

It was just a cell phone number. But it was a part of my Joe that was still here. It was the number I called when I first got back in touch with him and we started dating again after years apart. I had left him a message after that "Hey, it's Joe. I can't get to the phone. Leave a message." And he had called me back. And after talking briefly, he called me right back again because he forgot to tell me about his encounter with Greg Dulli. It was that phone number. And I didn't realize it when I picked up the phone to call customer service today, but I know it now. There was a lot packed in to canceling 7434. Grief is a funny thing and I'm glad that CSR Laura from AT&T understood it. She was wonderful.

After I hung up with Laura, I closed my office door and put Lost In The Woods by The Afghan Whigs on repeat for a bit. And I cried. It felt like the thing I needed to do. 

Getting a new iPhone still feels a little empty without him here and canceling his phone line sure felt like shit. But like my friend Erin texted to me right after I did it, "joe probably would have told you to cancel it right away." And she is right - totally, 100% right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reading the Riot Act to Sad and Frantic

As I sit here trying to put this past weekend into words I feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes. They aren't "sad" tears. They aren't quite "happy" tears either. More like "dammit this life I have is pretty freaking amazing even though sometimes it feels awful crappy" tears. And no matter how many times I've tried to write a less sappy blog post it just isn't going to happen.

Music and the people who enjoy it with me have that sort of deep effect on my psyche so it should be no surprise that a weekend of music in one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people would inspire the type of perspective shift I needed.

I reunited with old friends. I met new ones. I officially retired my old Mizuno running shoes by getting them muddied up at Riot Fest and then plugging away 10 more miles the next morning along the gorgeous Lakefront Trail. I ate funnel cake for dinner and had many, many drinks with friends (and even some strangers). I shared a brunch for the ages with 3 of the coolest people you could assemble in one place. And we all listened to kick ass music until we passed out in our respective beds.

The retirement of my old Mizunos. RF muddy and still did 10 miles.
I was frantic going into this weekend. Frantic and sad. Work has been devouring me from the inside out. The weight of Joe's death has been starting to emerge again in the questions and heartache of my increasingly vocal, soon-to-be 4 year old. The shortening daylight hours were already taking a toll on my emotional well being and, against my better judgment, in many ways I was letting my circumstances define my self worth. The recipe was so bad that I almost canceled the trip which I was all of a sudden going to be making solo.

Thankfully, a wise friend convinced me that it made much more sense to go than it did to cancel and from my first run along Lake Michigan to the final Riot Fest after show I didn't regret the decision for a second.

There was the moment when The Dropkick Murphys broke in to I'm Shipping Up to Boston, a song that I run to during my training runs as I keep my eyes set on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't have been happier to sing along with the crowd under the gorgeous early evening sun and dream of crossing the finish line in Philly in November with my qualifying time.

Just a demonstration of the random fun of RF. I found Waldo. He goes by Rooster.
He had a flask of whiskey. Don't ask.
There was the conversation with another member of the Congo (if that makes no sense to you then check this out) just before the Afghan Whigs began their set on Saturday. I found myself answering her question about how I was doing with the conclusion that my marathon training was the one thing that was consistent, mostly within my control, and keeping my sanity in check in the midst of everything else - work, dating, parenting, you know, LIFE. It was something of a realization for me. She had some kind words to say about this blog and my journey and it was one of the sweetest moments of the weekend for me. The bonds I have formed with my fellow AW fans and the music we share together are deeper than anything I could explain here. Many of the people I have met through the Congo have become like my second family and our passion for music is not only fun but transforming. When the band began their set at Riot Fest I was so happy to be among friends who understood that flying to Chicago for music wasn't really THAT crazy. In a lot of ways it was NECESSARY.

My view of The Afghan Whigs rocking my face off at Riot Fest.
There was also the moment "Domani" came on at the bar where we were having brunch (with some help from a fellow Congo member of course). And a little later it was "Live With Me". And a little later "Bulletproof" and "Faded". All with their own special place and meaning. All making the music weekend something to remember (or not remember depending on the number of Dark & Stormy drinks and Congo Bombs I ended up consuming before we finally left thanks to same Congo member!) We sang along and laughed together and enjoyed Sunday like I hadn't in a long time. It was perfect.

Over the weekend, I even had music moments while I was running. The most powerful was on my Saturday run, when the random shuffle hit me once again with "On Top of the World" at the exact same spot as it did last time I was in Chicago. What a spectacular feeling...and how wholly impossible to keep my pace easy with the view and the music and the beautiful weather. No matter what comes I am blessed and I was reminded of that again and again this weekend.

From my Sunday run, but still, same amazing view both days.
Aside from the Afghan Whigs performance, my favorite overall set of the weekend was the one by Social Distortion. A few of us had found ourselves some space right behind the sound booth so we didn't have the problem of crowds and no one cared when another fellow Congo member and I started dancing around. I couldn't help but sing along loudly to Ball and Chain, Story of My Life, and Ring of Fire. The dancing and the singing, combined with the fact that while Story of My Life was going strong I was transported back to Guitar Hero days with Joe, left me on a high for the rest of the weekend. I've been listening to those songs since and even paid a visit to the cemetery on my way home to have a listen and collect my thoughts.

Visiting the cemetery.
With fellow Congo member Lisa at our spot for Social D & Patti.
Patti Smith's set at Riot Fest was a turning point for me in how overwhelmed I have been at work. Her performance of "We Have the Power" and her impassioned plea at its conclusion reminded me of why I started working as an organizer in the first place and that even when it seems most hopeless, there are more of us than there are of them.

"We do have the power! Our governments, our corporations, would like us to feel defeated. But, we have it with our numbers - if we use it. Don't forget it!" She might as well have come down off the stage, crossed over the field to the soundbooth behind the Roots stage, and spoke those words while pointing her finger in my face. It felt that direct to my being.

Patti continued on and as she spoke I thought of how beaten down I have felt about the people's fights, but also about THE reason why I keep doing what I do. My faith compels me and my son inspires me. It's about hope in extreme darkness buttressed by proof that people DO have the power if we only decide to band together and use it. This afternoon, two days after "the Patti experience", we received word that the final vote count in the American Airlines Union election was 9,640 Yes to 1,547 No. Workers at AA (before the company merged with US Airways) had been trying to organize with my Union, CWA, for more than 20 years. I worked on the effort just before this one and was heartbroken when we lost by just 150 votes. When people decide to band together eventually they can win.

There were so many great things about my weekend in Chicago - so many things that I needed. Inspiration to fight on. A reminder to get up and get out even when things don't go the way I expect. Hugs and drinks and music with friends. Running in the sunshine with a beautiful change of scenery. Some good old fashioned fun. And I almost didn't even go.

Yesterday, I watched my son giggle and grin and jump around Disney as he saw his favorite characters and heard his favorite songs. This was his own soon-to-be-4-years-old version of Riot Fest and I loved being able to give it to him. And then, when we got in the car on our way to dinner and our cousin Tony popped in Do To The Beast by The Afghan Whigs and Domani's first words were, "Mommy, it's Greg Dulli!" I just knew that all was right in the world. No matter how sad and frantic, I will have Riot Fest and the music and relationships that come with it. No matter how depressing and chaotic, my son and I will have Disney World and the hugs and laughter of these days. These moments are way bigger than the feeble things of my imagination, larger than what I think a "happy" version of my life should look like - and when I picture a life full of love, the moments of the last 5 days are actually what remain.
View while eating my funnel cake dinner and listening to Weezer.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today was a rough one.

There have not been many days over the course of the past year that have brought me to the edge of losing it completely but this was one of them.

It started last night when my little guy went through the most heart wrenching 45 minutes of grief I have witnessed since those of us closest to Joe walked through the first days following his death. 

I had made the mistake of tripping over Domani's foot while getting him ready for bed. He was tired so it triggered him to be way more upset than usual. He said that he wanted his "whole family" to be there with him. Knowing he was tired, I brought him in to his bedroom and sat with him on his bed, talking with him. He caught a glimpse of the picture on the wall of Joe and me with him as a baby and the grief flowed. 

He wailed. He threw his arms in the air and then fell down on the bed covering his face. He said that he wanted to be a baby again because that is when he was happy and he was with his daddy and now he is only sad. He said he would never be able to stop crying because he missed his daddy. So much sadness in such a little guy. It broke my heart into a million pieces.

But I hugged him and rubbed his back and told him that I understood how sad he was and that it was really unfair he couldn't have his daddy here with him. I told him how much his daddy loved him and all the things he did to take care of him. And I texted my mom for advice. And then, when Domani finally was able to get some words out in between the tears he asked for a Doc McStuffins episode and we were on our way to calmer times.

The immensity of it all didn't really hit me until this morning. After I dropped Domani off before going to work I felt his sadness all over again and I couldn't shake it all day. So many times I caught myself wiping away the tears in the middle of writing work reports or while on conference calls because, well, it's just f*@ked up that a 3 year old has to grieve his father like that.

This was Day 2 for me of coming back to work after vacation and there was still a barrage of assignments coming in needing attention. Yesterday was hectic, but I always expect that on my first day back after time off. Perhaps it was the added emotional stress, but today made me seriously question if there was any human way to tend to the work in front of me. More than once I wanted to crawl under my desk and stay there.

But just as my mind would begin to entertain the fantasy, inevitably the phone would ring or a new email would pop through or a text message would ding - the never-ending stream of things that need attention would make its demand.

Six days out of the week I would have a simple way to work through all of this since a good run always works wonders for my body, mind, and soul. Today was my weekly rest day on my training calendar though so there was no run during which I could work out all of the thoughts mulling around in my brain. No endorphins to take over the sadness that was settling in. No opportunity to stretch and challenge my tired body to the point of exhausted satisfaction. And that made me even more sad.

It truly became my own version of my favorite children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". 

But then...

Almost as if the universe knows what we need when we need it.

There was dinner with 3 lovely women at a familiar restaurant, arranged weeks ago, but now falling at just the perfect moment.  Dinner with three amazing women who instantly understand the complexities of my day because they have had days like this too. Dinner with three inspiring women who are also living after losing their spouses. Dinner with three special women who took my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and ended it with good food, laughter, and friendship.

And for this I am so thankful.

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Holy Shit Training Moment

"Holy shit, I get it!"

I admit those words came sputtering out of my mouth just after mile 7 of my 10 mile long run today. I repeated them several times too. I have just finished week 3 of my training for the Philadelphia Marathon and it is finally sinking in just how serious of a plan I have chosen. The concept is cumulative fatigue - designed to prepare you fully for the rigors of the marathon - and today for the first time in the training program I really really got it.

Yesterday, after just two weeks of following the Hansons Marathon Method I finally managed to defeat my nemesis and knock 8 seconds off my 5k time. I've been chasing a PR in that distance ever since I ran my 23:29 in Philly last September. I've watched as the minutes have fallen off all of my other distances, but in the 5k I had remained stuck. Until yesterday morning in Asbury Park. I didn't shatter my time, but 8 seconds was enough to make me feel like I had done something substantial. On a much hotter day and in certainly more humid conditions, I mailed in a 23:21 and kissed that Philly time goodbye. It felt so good.

After completing the Asbury Park 5k on Saturday, 8/9/14
Official Time: 23:21, 7:31/mile
Being stuck at 23:29 was part mental - I had some emotional ties to that race and I think for awhile I was having difficulty dealing with those. But it was also physical. I just needed to get faster and stronger. I can already feel that happening and it's amazing.

Today my plan called for a 10 mile long run. From reading the strategy behind the plan I know that it is designed so that the long runs begin to simulate the final miles of the marathon. You are running on tired legs from all the work done during the week. For some unknown, God-forsaken reason today I decided to run at 4pm along a hilly route with not so much shade. Yes, in August. It sounded much better in my head.

I felt great for the first 3 miles. See, life has been good these last few weeks and these last few days especially. Running is my thinking time and right about now thinking is good. I have a lot to look forward to over the coming weeks and months. Songs like "On Top of the World" and "Happy" which are currently on my running playlist don't seem to do it justice. Perhaps soon there will be a blog post about some of these things, but for right now they will just remain nebulous. Let's just say that vacation is coming up, dating is great, preseason football is on, and the Afghan Whigs are about to be back in the States. (And did I mention that I finally got a new PR in the 5k?)

So, I had a lot of good things to think about for the first few miles of this long run. And then I started to realize that my hip hurt a little. And my legs felt like lead. And I really would just rather be taking a nap. And who picked such a hilly freaking route to run on for 10 miles?! The internal debate began. I'll just do the one loop and then the second time I will take the shorter loop and then run around close to my car until I hit 10. As I debated, I slowed down.

Then, I said...really? You are going to run past your car again and just keep running around randomly until you hit 10 miles? Dumbest. Idea. Ever. Do the full second loop (with all the hills included) and do a cool down walk back to the car when you hit 10. Full 10 miles. Full challenge. No cop out. So, that's what I did.

And as I came up on mile 7 and my "holy shit" moment I realized that not only was this run training my body for the marathon, it was also training my mind. Here I was coming up to the end. What was I going to do?

By the time I got to mile 8 1/2, I remember thinking, here you are. It's the last mile and a half of the marathon. Are you going to treat it the same way you have treated your first two and survive through it? Plod across the finish line and feel like you barely made it.

Or are you going to dig deep and run so you leave it all on the road? Force those tired legs to perform like you know they can. Get your BQ or pass out at the finish line trying. From somewhere I found it. And those tired legs worked because I willed them to work. And I learned two important lessons today: 1) what I do in training is what I will do on race day, and 2) when I think I can't, I can.

Perhaps good for life too, but that's probably another blog post.

After my 10 mile Long Run on Sunday, 8/10/14