The best offense is a good defense

The best offense is a good defense

This post isn't going to talk about running but I hope you'll stick around anyways. I've heard and been asked all kinds of things since Mark died. The two most common are: 
"How can you (insert task here)?" And then follow it up with:
"If I were you I would be (insert commonly assumed coping mechanism)."

First, there is no right way to grieve. There is no calendar. There are no milestones to meet or boxes to check off. Don't even get me started on the stages. I honestly don't care about stages or phases or cycles. They don't matter to the grieving person but they do seem to provide a straw for family and friends to grasp at. 

People will say that they can't imagine how hard it must be, or what they would do if it happened to them. And they are correct. But that does not seem to stop people from suggesting/telling/expecting/assuming how you are feeling, how "healed" you should be, and when you should be "over it." With that in mind, I think it is time to let you in on something: my experience living with mental illness.

I never planned to talk about on this blog. Why have I chosen not to talk about it until now? Because I'm not obligated to share that with anyone I don't want to. Because I worry about how such disclosures will impact my current and future employment. Because I don't want to embarass my family. Because the stigma around mental illness is real and I am in no place to pick up that flag and fight yet.  I have lived with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. Over the course of the past twenty years (oh Lord, has it been that long?), I've learned quite a bit about therapy, psychopharmacology, coping skills (good and bad), and basic human survival. 

Ok, that's all well and good Pam but what does this have to do with grief? I'm getting there. I never thought I'd get to a place in life where I could say that I appreciate having a mental illness (notice I did not said that I was glad I have it). Surprisingly to me, my experience with depression and anxiety has prepared me for enduring grief. This is not to say that grieving has been a cake walk. Far from it. However, the darkest hours of my mental illness helped me differentiate between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. I learned to know when it was bad enough to ask for help and then actually ask for it. My support system had their trial by fire already so I knew exactly who I could turn to. I also had a fairly decent idea of how resilient I was and proof of it to point to.

By no means am I saying that I was ready to face a life after death. I don't see how anyone could be unless you've done it before (I have not). What I am saying is that I was able to get into the driver's seat, rather than the passenger's. I knew that Mark's death had the potential to take my own life. Full disclosure, right there. But my life shaped by mental illness meant that I knew what steps to take to prevent that from happening.  Schedule emergency appointment with psychiatrist? Check. Secure two months of EAP-sponsored grief counseling? Check. Find a support group for young widows? Check. Encourage friends to reach out to me and make myself reach out to them? Check. 

Was any of that easy? Fuck no. Did I want to stop going into the office, live in my pajamas, force-cuddle the cat and walk around our house weeping? Hell yes. But that is not what Mark would want. He took such good care of me during our time together.  He knew what living with mental illness looked like, intimately. My failure to do everything possible to take care of myself would be slap in the face to him, our life, and how much we meant to and loved each other. Relying on what I know about myself and using that information to honor Mark is how I get out of bed, go to work, eat healthy food, and run regularly. It never felt like a conscious choice. Or that I had a choice at all. It just happened. 

There are two things that do not exist in life after death: Normal and New Life. Normal also does not exist in life with mental illness, so at least I have that in common. As far as my new life goes, there is before and after. There is no new. I don't make plans more than a day or two in advance. I have no interest in thinking about where I'll be 3, 6, or 9 months from now. That is an unproductive thing to do both with mental illness and with grief because those thoughts can overwhelm you before you know it. Feeling overwhelmed when you are already vulnerable is a recipe for disaster. Knowing that, owning that, and doing something with that knowledge is critical.  As much as a minute, hour, or day with mental illness or grief can be intolerable, it is survivable. When thriving isn't an option, you focus on surviving. If nothing else, I've got that part down. 

On being "strong"

On being "strong"

I don't generally get feedback from others during or after a run. I don't expect it either. We talk about how good or bad it went, insist we do it again soon, and go our separate ways. I was surprised to find myself on the receiving end of some lovely feedback after a recent run. My friend Jenn, her friend Kristen, and I had an adventure on a snowy Saturday afternoon, exploring a trail we hadn't run before. There were a few decent hills sprinkled in there. As much as they hurt, I might kinda sorta maybe love hills. They are hard as hell but they are so good for your running. 

So pretty and peaceful.

So pretty and peaceful.

Once we wrapped up our 5 mile trek, we thawed out in Jenn's car and debriefed. I was completely caught off guard when I was told that I "looked so strong" when I was climbing the hills. That she wished she had my legs. Wow. I've been injured for so long that the idea of looking or feeling strong seems impossible. I had no idea how to accept that compliment, other than to deflect a bit and downplay the hard work I've put in these past months to get to where I am. This moment has stuck with me for the past couple of weeks now.

After further thought on this, I realized that I've gotten that same feedback in other places lately. My office, for example. While grief impacts everyone differently (and you will not know how you will react until it happens, trust me), one of the ways I've coped is by sticking to my routine as much as possible. I work when I normally work, where I normally work, and do not deviate. It is familiar, but it is also distracting and a way for me to switch off all non-essential emotional functions. In the weeks since Mark died, I have lost count of the number I've times someone has told me how strong I am. How if they were me they would be XYZ right now instead of my ABC. A similar deflection happens here as well, especially if you are not personally close with said co-worker. 

With my brain constantly spinning its wheels, I started to ask myself how/if it is ok to acknowledge/accept the physical strength feedback. Sometimes you try to qualify it with all the things you did and do to get there (as I did). Sometimes you smile, say thank you, and mentally high five yourself for proof that whatever you've been doing is paying off. For me (and I'm speaking only for me), it is not the same with emotional strength. I find myself disagreeing, downplaying, bringing up what people don't see as proof that I am, in fact, weak. Why? I don't want to acknowledge weakness. But...I also don't want people to think I'm doing better than I am. That something no longer hurts the same because you can't see it tattooed on my face anymore. Am I not properly performing the part of newly widowed?

The fact is, most of the places you're displaying emotional strength are public. Professional. Where you need to look as together as possible. Where you might be expected to look as together as possible, if for no other reason than to make sure other people aren't uncomfortable. God forbid, right? There is a lot of pressure to "be ok" so that others don't have to worry about what to do or say or think. This sends the message that emotional pain is a shortcoming or weakness that is capable of being controlled and corrected entirely by the self. And sooner rather than later, k? Physical pain, on the other hand, is less icky for others. Easier to ask about, easier to offer unsolicited advice about. Easier. It doesn't invite others to project their own fears and expectations of how you should look/feel/act onto you.  

It is also a lot harder and less acceptable to talk about what you are doing to emotionally cope, heal, manage. So much of what is seen (or not seen) is not close to representative of what went into getting to that publicly "strong" place. My Legs: hours of spinning, foam rolling, yoga, strengthening and activation exercises. My Heart: hours of crying, writing, glasses of wine, hot baths, prayer. The latter is not polite conversation. Similar to the unwritten rule of not telling someone how you actually are when they ask "how are you?" 

We as humans are who we are. Flawed. Loving. I suppose all I want to communicate right now is that this is an experience I am having. I'm surrounded by people who care and want to provide support and none of us knows how this works. I'll continue to attack the hills (and soak in my tub) because that is what I know. It is what works for me right now. I just ask that if you feel so inclined as to tell me how strong you think I am, just pause for a moment. Wonder about what you might not be seeing. Or what I am choosing to be seen. Thanks.

 

Where do I go from here?

Where do I go from here?

I don't know what is going to happen to this blog. Since I last posted, my life took a terrible and irreversible turn. On November 15, 2016, Mark died. I spent the first couple of weeks running through some of the anger and sadness. Whether my legs wanted to or not, I laced up and went out. If nothing else, it made me too tired to feel much of anything. I can't say that my body is pleased with this sudden change in activity level, but I don't care. 

It has been...7 weeks now. I am still running as much (maybe a little bit more) as my body will let me. Of the many other coping mechanisms available to me, good and bad, I gravitate toward this one most often. Running is suddenly much more complicated. It was something we shared and a huge part of our relationship. Our medal and bib racks hang next to each other downstairs. I run with his Road ID on me. It is impossible not to think of Mark when I'm running, whether I want to or not. 

I've done a few 5ks since he died. One we were registered to do together, and was just a week after his service in Mississippi. I would not have been able to show up, much less finish, without my PRFX friends there for every step.  I am nowhere near racing shape, but the consistent mileage and the company of close friends is comforting. 

I find myself wanting to process more of this experience, and writing is a common way for me to get my thoughts out. Running has never functioned independently from the rest of my life, and I think that is the case for many runners. What I can't work out on the road or trail, I will likely start working out here. For once, my lack of readership might work in my favor. I doubt I will need to worry about losing followers. I hope that anyone else who has or is experiencing any kind of grief may find, if nothing else, common experience here. 

What is next? I can't say for sure. I hope to develop a solid base and then choose some races this year to honor Mark. Races he would enjoy. Races we likely would have done together. I am registered for two, but I'll share more details as they approach. Given my track record for injury, I'd like to be more certain of making the start line. For now, I'll leave you with the following picture. I found this magnet a week or two after Mark died, in a bookstore while looking for a journal. It just fits. I see it every day. And I keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

Quick Hit - #CurrentStatus

Quick Hit - #CurrentStatus

Due in large part to your overwhelming (read: nonexistent) response to my Would You Rather post last week, I am bringing you another survey of sorts. You're welcome. Actually, you can thank Sam again over at Mobile Bay Runner.   

Current books: Sam listed this as Book singular, but I am never reading just one so I'm sharing the active reading list. In no particular order: The New Interpreter's Study Bible (I went way out of my comfort zone and joined a 32 week long small group bible study at my church. So we're working our way through the workbook with this study bible. It's a lot of reading); Leviathan Wakes by James A. Corey (sci-fi space stuff, which I don't normally read but came highly recommended from a friend whose opinion I trust); The Journey Home by Jorge Posada (my favorite Yankee); and It Is Well by James D. Shipman (I haven't actually started it yet, but it was free from Prime and sounded interesting, so I snagged it). 

Current podcast: This was originally called Current Music, but I changed it to podcast since I find myself listening to podcasts in the car more often than music these days. My top three are: Outside Podcast (from Outside magazine), The West Wing Weekly, and Ultrarunner Podcast. I listen to a few others, but these three are consistently awesome and I am always excited to see a new episode show up on my phone. 

Current guilty pleasure: I honestly can't think of anything. The idea of a guilty pleasure reminds me of reading bad romance novels or trashy magazines, chick lit (or shit lit, as I prefer to call it), watching reality tv (hard pass), or eating some kind of junk food in secret. I do none of those things. Not to say that I don't indulge in something that I'm supposed to feel bad about (because that is what a guilty pleasure is, right?), but I can't think of something that I'm not already open about or that I just don't consider a guilty pleasure. 

Current drink: Sparkling water. I cut out diet soda about a year ago and haven't looked back. It didn't take long for me to adjust to the lack of sweetness and I love all the fun flavors out there. Adding a Nuun tab now and then is also a great way to perk up your post work-out beverage. Feeling super fancy? Drink it over ice out of a big wine glass. 

Current food: I'm gazing longingly to my right where a small Reese's peanut butter pumpkin sits. Staring at me. Waiting to fulfill its destiny. I don't buy stuff like this and keep it in the house, but they were in a meeting yesterday and I might have snagged one to snack on later. Later being now. 

Hello, gorgeous.

Hello, gorgeous.

Current obsession: The word obsession makes me twitchy. Blame my occupational field, but I am not a big fan of its use in most contexts. I digress. I currently fuss excessively over the ridiculous costume that my cat will be wearing on Halloween. Yes, I put clothes on cats. I am not sorry.

Current craving:  I feel like I should mention a food here, but I'm not craving anything. What I'd really love right now is a few days away from work and home and second work and training to sit down and get my head straight. I feel like I'm approaching some kind of crossroads or turning point or fork (or whatever metaphor for change) that needs more attention than I can give it right now. Every day I say I'll sit down later tonight and take a few minutes to really think/write/talk/whatever. And then I get home and hit the couch/floor/bed/bathtub and decide I'm too tired for things like this that deserve my energy more than anything else. Culture of busy, much?

Current need: A period of time longer than 5 minutes wherein I do not cough. Seriously. I'm over this coughing/sore throat business. I feel bad for my co-workers who have to suffer through it. Coughers and nose blowers and snifflers grate on my last nerve, so I can only imagine how much I'm annoying others. My physical presence was required in the office for the first three days of the week, otherwise I would have continued to work from home. I'm not germy contagious (that is another level of office rudeness), I just have a cough that WON'T DIE. 

Current indulgence: I am slowly working on not considering this an indulgence and making it a necessity, but for now it feels extravagant (or selfish). I am in bed before 10 pm most nights. Sleep is one of those things we all say we need more of, is an easy thing to fix (no really, it is), and is often the first thing we sacrifice on the altar of Busy. 

Current bane of my existence: This election cycle.

Current procrastination: Just one? An overdue reformatting of a document that I need to turn in but have not because I cannot stand formatting Word documents. Especially when I'll never use the document, formatted in that way, ever again. 

Current confession: I'm capitalizing on my sore throat situation to eat as much ice cream as possible. Sorry not sorry. 

My favorite flavor!

My favorite flavor!

Current quote: "Laugh, smile, and keep moving forward." - David Roche

Current excitement: I'm heading to NC the first weekend of November to meet my bestie's adorable baby and run with some of my favorite Oiselle ladies! SO PUMPED.

Current mood: A consistent blend of tired, overwhelmed, and distracted.

Your turn. Tell me one thing about your #CurrentStatus!

 

Quick Hit - Would You Rather and Other Questions

Thanks to the awesome Sam over at Mobile Bay Runner for this. Another easy post, especially for a Monday! Please let me know any or all of your answers in the comments! Seriously, I know someone out there reads this and getting one comment will make my day. 

  1. Would you rather run along a beach path or on a mountain trail? If you know me at all, you know there is only one option here. Trail. Always trail. It is hard for me to put into words how much I love trails and why. But I do. 
  2. If you could choose the flavor of Gatorade at your next race’s aid stations, what would it be? Assuming I have to chose Gatorade for this (ick), I would choose grape. It was the only flavor I ever liked. When Nuun grape came into my life I dropped Gatorade like third period French and never looked back. 
  3. If I gave you a $100 gift card to a running store, what would be the first thing that you would purchase with it? Ooh, that's tough. I'll assume for now that the store carries the brand of shoes I love and grab a fresh pair of Pearls. 
  4. Do you prefer to follow a training plan or wake up and decide then how far and how fast you want to run? If I have a race on the calendar, I absolutely need a training plan. And...I usually need a race on the calendar to get my butt out the door on the regular anyways. 
  5. Would you rather start your run with the uphill and end on the downhill or start your run with the downhill and end with the uphill? I would rather start on the downhill and end with the uphill. When I start with an uphill I always feel spectacularly out of shape and that mindset isn't the tone I want to set for a run. Starting with a downhill of any kind lets me ease into a run, and finishing on an uphill gives me an opportunity to finish strong and with a sense of accomplishment.
  6. When you can’t run, what type of cross-training do you choose to do? Oh Lord, help me. I've done my fair share (and several other people's fair share) of cross-training these past couple of years. Although I haven't had it available to me in a while, I really enjoyed swimming. Tied with swimming would be spinning. It has to be, for how much time I spend on the dang bike. Both swimming and biking workouts leave me feeling like I actually did some work, and that's the idea, right?
  7. Do you prefer out and back, point to point or loop runs? I'm not sure that I've done a point to point before, not for a race or a training run. Most days I prefer loops, as you don't see the same thing twice on a loop. Loops also make it harder to tell how much time you have left. With an out and back I always know exactly how much farther it is because I knew where I was on the way out. On a good day that might not be a big deal but when your run is a struggle, that does not help. 
  8. If you could recommend ANY running related item to a new runner, what would it be? I interact with new runners frequently through my job at the running store. Cost is usually a big concern for new runners, as they see all the gear and gadgets and quickly get overwhelmed. Since most runners, new or otherwise, don't actually NEED much of anything to run, I'll stick with the most important thing a runner can have. GOOD SHOES. Get to a run shop, talk to a professional, SHOP LOCAL. You will never regret. 
  9. Do you ever see any wild animals while out on your runs? I saw them on the regular when I was still living in Arlington and Fairfax. Usually rabbits, foxes, and deer. When spring arrived, I referred to my runs as 4 bunny runs, 2 bunny runs, etc. depending on how many I'd seen. It's the little things, people. 
  10. Ever gotten lost while out on a run? HA! Hey, Mark! Have we ever gotten lost on a run?! Does not being able to find the trailhead you want to run on count as getting lost? If so, yes. We don't have the best luck when checking a trail out for the first time. But, once we find the trailhead, we're usually golden. 
  11. If you could have one meal waiting and ready for you each time you got home from a run for the next 30 days, what would that meal be? Hmmm...tough call. I do love food, a lot. Mark is a great cook, but I think I'll have to go with my favorite sushi from a place in Fairfax (along with the vegetable gyoza). I think I could happily eat avocado and vegetable tempura rolls for 30 days. 
  12. Capris or shorts: what do you run in most often? Shorts. I am usually in shorts until the temperature dips under 40F. And then capris, especially if the wind is bad. I do not like being too warm, and would much rather be cold than smother. 
  13. At what mile (or how many minutes) into your run does your body start to feel like it is warming up and ready to go? At least a mile, but usually 2. Granted, I haven't had the experience in a while, but when I was healthy I never felt like I hit a groove until after mile 2. Knowing and reminding myself of that fact is the main reason why I don't bag a run right away when it feels like crap. 99% of the time, it turns around. 
  14. What do you do with your key when you run? It is always on my person. Always. The size and number of keys I have to carry means the location varies, but it usually in my handheld or in my Spibelt. 
  15. If you could relive any race that you have done in the past, which one what it be? That is a tough question. I miss the joy of the good races but I also value the lessons learned from the hard ones. Maybe my PR 5k back in late 2011? It hurt like hell and was the closest I came to throwing up after a race, but it was the first time I thought I might have some potential as a runner. 
  16. What type of run is your least favorite type of run? I'm the sicko that loves track workouts and hill repeats. What I cannot stand are tempo runs. CANNOT. Track workouts and hill repeats have a hurt factor, but they also involve recovery. Tempo runs are just a long period of being uncomfortable with no break in site. Hard pass. 
  17. What has been your biggest motivation lately to get out the door to get your run on? This is an easy one for me. The fact that I'm cleared to run, even just a quarter mile at a time, is all the motivation I need. That and the incredible arrival of fall!
  18. When you go for a run, do you leave right from your front door or do you drive somewhere to start? A little of column A and a little of column B. If I have a trail run, I need to drive. If the distance is longer than 4 or 5 miles, I might drive to a local paved path. Otherwise, I leave from the front door. 
  19. When running in daylight are sunglasses a must or an annoyance? A must. Including the rainy and cloudy days. I'm super sensitive to light, even driving to work without sunglasses can give me a wicked headache. Luckily, I've got about 4 pairs that I love and none of them annoy me at all. 
  20. When you get tired, what keeps you from quitting? Combination of factors. One is knowing that I have a coach who sees everything I do (or don't do). Another is that I run for my girl, Annie and I want to tell her all about it. Lastly, I know how much I'll regret it if I do quit. And I hate regrets. 

YOUR TURN!!!

Quick Hit - Run for the Badge 5k

Quick Hit - Run for the Badge 5k

Hi there! Before my latest running hiatus, I signed up to participate in the Run for the Badge 5k. While there is no fundraising requirement, I am hoping to raise $200

Part of me hesitates to post this, as the law enforcement community is struggling with some terrible issues. I do not wish to alienate or offend anyone who has been impacted by the senseless brutality inflicted upon members of the public. I do want to honor those who serve with integrity, especially those who died in the line of duty. 

I did include this on the fundraising page, but in case you aren't sure you want to click over I will share this here as well. I grew up in a small community, one where we kept a police scanner on because we could hear sirens from surrounding departments and wanted to make sure friends' homes, businesses, and churches were safe. I remember the night that a local officer was shot and killed while searching for a suspect that escaped a work release program. I was 15 years old, and twenty years later I still remember. I've raced a local 5k in his memory for several years, and unfortunately his loss was not the last that my community suffered in the years since.

My educational and professional career have brought some incredible law enforcement professionals into my life. Those in small localities in Texas, near Mexico, combatting a corrupt department while trying to protect their communities from drug warfare. An incredible homicide detective in Orlando, writing grants for every dime possible to support advanced forensic science for his cases and responding to cases I cannot even imagine (including the massacre at Pulse). A team of feds that are the exact opposite of every stereotype out there, providing expertise to departments across the country, and responding to major crimes at a moments notice. 

These are the officers and agents that I hold in my mind and my heart. These and others like them are who I will run/walk/crawl 5k for in a few weeks. Please consider supporting those who sacrificed all by going to my page, linked below. Your donation supports the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The Memorial Fund is a principal organizer of the National Police Week observances and hosts the Candlelight Vigil at the Memorial each may 13 to dedicate the newly-engraved names of the fallen, as well as honor all fallen law enforcement officers. In addition, the Memorial Fund maintains the largest, most comprehensive database of line-of-duty officer deaths, conducts research to identify emerging trends and findings of officer fatalities, and serves as an information clearinghouse to improve officer safety. 

I am happy to answer any questions you have. Thank you so much for considering my request. http://support.nleomf.org/goto/pamchamplain

 

Quick Hit - Get Excited

Quick Hit - Get Excited

It is no secret that non-running workouts are my least favorite thing. I'm not talking about the strength and crosstraining that we all work in a day or two a week. I'm talking about the "shit I'm banged up again and can't run" workouts that you do to maintain some semblance of fitness but really wish you were running instead. 

Since there is nothing I can do about it, and because moping makes things worse, I'm trying this thing where I find ways to get myself excited to spend a lot of time on my spin bike. This bike is hands down the best investment we've ever made. I have used it so much more than I thought I would and it has saved my sanity on a regular basis. Still, seeing a spin on my schedule doesn't get me fired up the way a run does. So, what did I do? I GOT EXCITED. 

It was surprisingly easy to find ways to get excited about sitting in my dark-ish home gym space with no more Olympics to watch (aside from football season being upon us). First, I asked for my spins to be longer. I wanted to feel like I was accomplishing something other than improving my bum's tolerance for the saddle. I wanted to work. Since I was going to have quality workouts on the bike, I decided to upgrade a few key pieces of gear accordingly. First off, big girl cycling shoes (aka clipping in). 

Looks like a running shoe, clips in like a bike shoe. Yay!

Looks like a running shoe, clips in like a bike shoe. Yay!

I can't very well clip in without the pedals, so I hit up the REI Labor Day sale and got some great Shimano SPD pedals. Added bonus that I can take the cage from the old pedals and put it on these so MS can still use the bike (or I can should I need to spin in other shoes). I've done a handful of rides already and it is so different. I wish I had done this sooner. I'm also pretty darn impressed with myself for installing the clips on the shoes, mounting the pedals to the bike, and clipping in with relative ease. For someone who has considered herself a strictly runner (not a cyclist, not a triathlete), it feels like a big deal. 

SPD compatible pedals for my new shoes!

SPD compatible pedals for my new shoes!

Rounding out the bike goodness, I upped my data nerdness. Garmin was kind enough to provide me with a bike speed and cadence sensor. My 230 has an indoor bike option so these sensors will provide me with some concrete feedback on the various workouts I'll be doing. The cadence sensor was really easy to install on the bike and paired quickly with my watch. I haven't installed the speed sensor yet since I have a true spin bike with flywheel, rather than a bike on a trainer (aka the structure I should attach the sensor to doesn't exist). I think I've come up with a way to hook it up, but haven't tried yet. 

While all the bike love is great, I've also started looking into running shoes for my post-Pearl Izumi existence. There is a tentative test run on my calendar for September 27, so getting back out there on a regular basis might not be too far away. After some poking around online, I ordered the Salomon Sense Propulse. It shares some physical similarities to my current shoes (shape of the last, etc.) that I am hopeful about. The drop is similar, as is the level of cushioning. Added bonus, it can handle some easy trail running as well as the road. 

The first post-Pearl shoe I'll be trying...

The first post-Pearl shoe I'll be trying...

If you've tried this shoe, or the Salomon brand, I would love to hear your thoughts. When you've had to adjust your training significantly, did you have any strategies to stay motivated? What were they?