It doesn't always have to be fun

Pacing Lizzy Hawker into Tennessee Valley, TNF 50 2012.

I have always firmly held a philosophy in my running (and now that I think about it, in life as well): "if it is not fun, I shouldn't be doing it". That is not to say I am suffering averse, avoid challenges or stop when its hard. It just means my primary pursuit has been having fun. I have wanted to foster and protect my love for running. I never wanted running to become like basketball, I never wanted to become a way I defined myself. The pursuit of enjoyment therefore has always been paramount. Make no mistake about it plenty of things to me that are 'fun' are also incredibly hard and challenging. Fun in no way indicates ease. If that were the case, I would probably pursue running 5km instead of 50miles.

This philosophy has worked for me in my running (and in life). The races and goals I was excited and passionate about were fun to pursue. I love the feeling of nerves before a hard track workout, I love trying to find another gear after the last has been exhausted when powering up a long trail. I love the satisfaction of making it to the finish line after doing battle with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, pain and weightlessness. 

Lizzy crossing the finishline at TNF 50 after a tough day.

Recently, people have been asking us on a nearly constant basis how things are going with the bakery. I have been using the analogy of running 100 miles to describe where we are in the process. In 100 milers, there inevitably comes a point where it just sucks. It's getting dark, you are tired, you've run say 60 or 65 miles and you just really want to quit.  Its just not fun any more, you wonder why the hell you started this in the first place. But the thing is, there is no real good reason to quit. So you just keep going.

I have described the process this way numerous times and currently, it does suck. It is hard. I often recently felt consumed by the desire to quit and sit down by the side of the metaphorical trail and not move another inch. I have wonder why the hell we started this in the first place. 

In describing the process this way to others however, I had a realization. Yes, the inevitably sucky part comes and it may last and last and last for every freaking mile of that race, but eventually you do reach the finish line. (And obviously, sometimes there is another end to a race vis-a-vi a DNF, but I am not using legitimate reasons for a DNF as part of my metaphor....) But, I realized, It doesn't always have to be fun. Sometimes things worth doing aren't going to be fun, sometimes they are going to be seemingly soul crushing at times. Sometimes they are going to be maddening, defeating and just plain incredibly hard.  

I am an emotional creature and I realize that one thing I do as an emotional creature is I am always working through my experiences in my head, trying to find a bright spot, trying to find a foot hold of understanding, trying to digest them in a way that makes for a happier life or personal growth. I search for deeper meaning. But like the 100 mile race, sometimes there are just those lows. Its not because something is wrong, its not because you've err'd in someway, there is nothing more meaningful about it than "it just sucks right now". Sometimes, there is no deeper meaning. I needed to realize that. I needed to find a way to take another step, another step, another step. Realizing it doesn't always have to be fun, means I can shut up, put my head down and just keep going.

Me and Lizzy just after the finish. It wasn't the most fun she's ever had, but she did it.

Redefining self

Photo credit: John Medinger

I was at the track on Tuesday to take on my first really hard workout since coming back from my injury. The last great (and just plain last) workout I had at the track was in August, so I was feeling pretty intimidated about the 5x1600m at 10k pace with 2 min recovery. I didn't think I could do it, frankly and tried to emotionally prepare myself for it to suck. Nevertheless, I laced up my flats, braved the horrible windy, rainy weather and started running. 

The first lap I was thinking "wow, this is great! I love this! I can do this."
Second lap: "I can't imagine doing this 4.5 more times. How am I going to through this?!?!"
Third lap: "Ok, just make it through this one and I can modify the next one, if I have to. Just hold on."
Fourth lap: "Wheeeeeee, I'm almost done. I can do this, I can do this! Look at me fly."

And so went all 5 intervals. I rocked it. I hit my paces even in the face of a harsh headwind. But even still I had to talk myself through each and every lap. Struggle, fear failure, triumph. When it was over, pure satisfaction. I love these kind of workouts because they scare me, challenge me and push me to knew heights. There is always the possibility of failure in them, but success is always within reach if I really push myself.

This year has been one filled with change. Often times, it has felt like a perpetual track workout where everything involved felt challenging, scared me or ran the risk of complete failure. This year's changes, like these track workouts, is something I have chosen to undertake. I have faced these things knowing that it would be hard, I would fail, I would triumph, I would doubt and would rise.

My life, my path and who I am is being redefined through these changes.  I got married, moved to a different town and together with my husband, started working on opening our own cafe. My life a year ago had such a different set of priorities, a much lesser sense of complication. Running and training was my highest priority. We lived a simpler life: where shall we go run this weekend, who can join us, what shall we eat after we run? These were the things that fundamentally mattered to us. And the fact of the matter is: they still do.  Running, food and friendship remain the driving forces in our life. But now, our priorities are different.

For me the priority shift does mean redefining how I see myself. Going in to the new year, I have no idea how the opening of our cafe will affect my ability to run and race. Running is a huge part of who both Nathan and I are, but so is opening the cafe, we are passionate about the food we are bringing to our community  and we are all in on making that be a huge success. Just like getting married, just like moving to a new place, it changes things and I am now working to discover what it all means to me, how I see the world and who I am. I don't have the answers yet as to how these challenges and changes affect my life, my priorities and my sense of self. I know that, no matter what, I am pursuing the things that I am passionate about and going after them with vigor. Who I am and who I become through process are exciting to discover.

Challenge of Balance

 Photo by Sherry LaVars

Looking back on this awesome article from a few weeks ago, I kind of chuckle to myself and long to be that busy. What I mean by that, is that day was leisurely and relaxed comparative to the days since. 

I knew that the SF Marathon would be the kick off to a very busy time in my life. Not only did it commence another training/racing season, it also was the start of wedding season (for me and many close friends/family), the busiest part of opening our cafe MH Bread and Butter, moving to Marin and still running my own business at the same time. It is a lot to manage and I tried to prepare myself for the big life changes.

Managing the day to day stresses has been a great learning experience. I have found myself to be able to handle a lot more than I ever thought I could and also buckled into a giant heap on the floor (before picking myself up and carrying on, of course) more times than I can count. 

 Photo by Sherry LaVars

One of the hardest things for me has been redefining myself as a runner. For the better part of the last two years, my running goals have been the primary motivator for how I schedule and navigate my life. While I am not and have never been a professional runner, running was my priority from how I ran my own business to how I structured my days. 

Now my days are much more demanding between the cafe and personal cheffing. Our cafe is becoming a reality (thanks in part to all of my awesome friends, family and supporters through our Kickstarter campaign) and the new onslaught of activities surrounding that endeavor get squeezed into every nook and cranny of my day (Nathan and I have had more productive "meetings" on runs than I can count). I am still working full time as a personal chef and have focused intently on maintaining awesome service for my clients, even as I am building another business.

I am still running and training hard. I have an insane racing schedule through the rest of the year which includes a marathon every month (Kauai, Chicago, NYC) until December, when I will be racing the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler. I want to do more than just participate in these races, I want to do big things. But the new paradigm of my life also means that I have been forced to redefine what I am capable of.

It is a hard thing to reprioritize.  Part of my struggle is that I am still doing the workouts and putting in miles, I am just not able to lead a running lead lifestyle anymore. Having different priorities means gone are the strategically timed meals, the luxurious naps, bi-weekly personal training sessions and weekly massage appointments. My energy is also eroded away (or should I say, otherwise utilized) so often times I am unable to get in a desired second run. My weekly mileage is less than it was, even though I cling to the idea of squeezing in a 100 mile week, somehow. 

Photo by Sherry LaVars

All of this has reminded me of what I can and can't do. I can shoulder a lot and have multiple chain saws in the air all at once. I can't drive myself into such exhaustion that I spontaneously fall asleep at my computer at 2 o'clock in the afternoon (not that that ever happened today). I can't expect too much of myself and I can't ignore my limits. I can remember to be kind and supportive of myself. I can remember that falling into pieces doesn't mean I've failed, it means I just needed to release a bit of the stress. It is a challenge to find the balance of all of these things.

I know for many people, I am just preaching to the choir about managing stress and balancing everything we have going on in life. It is a challenge, but I truly believe that I will find a way to fit everything I need to onto my plate. I know I will get through all of the challenges ahead. I know I will not navigate it perfectly. But I also know that everything we are undertaking is so important and worthwhile to us that there is nothing that will stand in our way from achieving our dreams.