My weekday job is a sit-all-day gig. I dig the paid holidays and health insurance, but I’ve never been one of those sit-all-day gals. For years I used my lunch hour to walk, the highlight of my workday. In 1 hour you can get a good 3 or 4 miles, a few seasonally-stolen fruits (figs, blackberries, mulberries, apples, pomegranates - I’ve got the neighborhood mapped out tree by tree), and a catch-up call with friends and family around the country.
Walking brings out the details that you never get in a drive-by. In a car there’s the traffic, and the curb, and that 4-way stop that the north-south traffic always rolls through.
When you’re walking, there are the two mulberry trees whose branches have been grafted together in someone’s corner yard - two trees become one - with a little bird house hanging between them. You pass those grafted trees everyday and note the seasons with their pruning and growing. You notice a bird cage with cockatiels that was hung from the branches last spring, and you whistle a melody you still remember from the cockatiels your parents got after you went off to college. You start to think about the trees, and how they are now linked, growing separately but together, and how the love you share with your favorite person in the world is like that, how you two grow independently even as you stay intricately connected.
As you walk by you think also about how much you like that little bird house, and how it looks so much like Dorothy’s house in Kansas when it spun around in the black and white dust of the tornado. And then you move on to the next interesting thing.
It was years of that, walking by the mulberry trees growing full of leaves through summer, and then pruned back in the winter, until one day last October. This is where the question of beginnings comes up. Where does a story begin?
Last spring I got my foot X-rayed. For years I had been managing some pain in my big toe joint, but by the spring of 2011 it was so inflamed that I was concerned for my daily walks, and I finally limped down to the doctor. The joint was red and swollen, and hurt to the touch. Date night heels? Forget them. Even my combat boots were hurting. Well, the x-rays showed why. Turns out there’s a lovely bone spur that’s been scraping against another bone. The more it scrapes, the bigger it gets. Ouchie.
The doctor’s fix was to give me custom inserts for my shoes. My fix was yoga. I shifted the focus of my practice to my feet. I lifted my arches. I spread my toes. I noticed my tendency to roll inward and strengthened my stance. Every practice, which was almost every day, was about my feet.
And, defiantly shunning physical limitations, I kept walking. I refused to baby my foot. No bone spur would keep me down. I’d show my big toe joint who was boss of me. Take that, toe. BAM!
Then I heard about this friend-of-a-friend, Milton Miller. In the fall of 2010, Milton was a 235 pound 40-something-year-old couch potato. In the spring of 2011, a mutual friend invited me to celebrate Milton’s arrival in Los Angeles. He’d run into town from Miami. On his feet. From Florida. Across the country. To California. An out-of-shape regular non-athletic dude. All the way to the Santa Monica Pier. By himself. R-U-N-N-I-N-G.
Here I was, a fairly active 30-something yoga teacher who walked every day and loved to hike, about to be taken down by her stupid big toe. And then there was this couch potato named Milton who up and ran across the country. I’ve driven across the good ol’ U.S. of A. three times, and in case you didn’t already know, I’ll tell you: This country is large around the middle. Hell, forget about the country, we could just talk about Florida. His starting point of Miami is a helluva long run to the panhandle turn into Alabama. Anyway, you can check out his blog, 100 Days Of Madness, if you like.
But let’s be honest here. If we’re trying to find the beginning, it’s a childhood kind of thing. Between 3rd and 11th grade I lived in a little mountain lake community in north Jersey. At the crack of dawn across all seasons my mom met up with a friend to run the equivalent of a 5k around the lakeside curvy mountain roads. Back when I was young and knew everything, I could not imagine why anyone would wake up so early, nor why anyone would ever want to run, but there you have it. The root of it all.
This brings us to last October. One day during my usual lunch time walk I had an urge to run. I resisted, of course, because it was a ridiculous notion. There was no reason I — or any sane person, I thought — would want to run. I kept walking and finished back at the office where I settled into my chair, happily looking forward to my yoga practice that night.
The next day, however, it happened again. I wanted to run. Was it the intersection of varied lifelong influences? Was it the cooler autumn air? I have no idea why the urge came upon me — and this immediately spoke to some sort of baffling duality. One “I” wanted to run. Another “I” wanted to know why. The idea of running ignited a bizarre internal struggle, and a third — the mediator voice — finally suggested a bargain. I could run, it said, for as long as I wanted, within these parameters:
- no distance goal
- no reason except pleasure
- no fitness pursuit
- no disciplined schedule.
Running for pleasure. What a concept.
It was with those guidelines intact that I finally ran. I ran two or three times that week, and eventually checked Google maps to see, just out of curiosity, how far I’d gone. I kept the mediator’s rules in check and stopped whenever I wanted, but it was a few miles each time. I ran through Fall and into the holiday season of 2011.
I kept those parameters in mind, too, in creating The List. That New Year’s Eve journalling was the softening of my recent years’ resistance to goals. I’d been goal-driven for as long as I can remember. I was raised that way. Or maybe it’s my nature. Either way, five years ago I burned out like a big firework display. I was the morning after a lifetime of plans. I was a rocket ship pummeling back to the ocean. Who cared if mission was accomplished, I was spent. When I moved to Cali, it was less of a life decision and more like an exhausted crawl to floaties. I’d been sinking under my life goals. I needed the gift of the present. I came to southern California for the ride, and when we stopped the car I pitched camp.
It’s been five years since I got to Cali. The List’s emergence this past New Year’s Eve was a tiny voice inside me saying, grow. Show up. Now that you know how to enjoy the present, it’s time to stretch. Reach beyond your base camp. In the five years since I crawled to California’s arms, something inside had finally healed. I was ready to think ahead. I numbered down the moleskin page.
#28 - Get new running shoes
The shoes I’d been wearing to run were the same shoes I’d been walking in for years. This is not a metaphor, but maybe it could be. The back edge of the soles were worn and likely not helping my big toe issue. Showing up for ourselves means having the support and tools we need to be healthy and happy. I checked off #28 the first week of January.
When I went to get the shoes, I saw the face of a gal I know on the cover of LAS&F magazine. Michelle was often in my yoga classes. The next time I saw her, I asked her what she liked about running. It was her answer that opened up the real beauty of running to me. Her reason was exactly the same reason I love yoga. To be present with whatever comes up. To notice the mind-chatter. To hear the wind and the birdsong. To feel the belly cramp, the shortened breath, the strength, the weakness. To experience everything life had to offer at the moment, without reaction, without judgment. To be aware, and alive, and joyful.
Once I started setting goals, I met them pretty quickly. January surprised me. I was intrigued by my strength and stamina. Each week I ran a little longer. I downloaded the Sportypal app and started tracking my miles and time. I did not set distance goals, only time. I wanted to find my base - what was my natural pace? It was faster than I’d expected. What was my natural exhaustion point? It was further than I’d assumed.
#29 - Run for 25 minutes straight
#30 - Run for 30 minutes straight
#31 - Run for 35 minutes straight
#32 - Run for 40 minutes straight
Through the months of writing and revising The List, I also checked things off. I finished #29-#32 in January and challenged myself to my first 8-mile run in February. Inspired by that, I added:
#33 - Run a race
I didn’t commit to what kind of race. I figured time would tell me what I was capable of doing. A marathon seemed extreme, but I knew for sure I could easily run a 5k or 10k. By April or May I was running 3-6 miles, 4-5 times a week, during my lunch hour.
Just as the weather was getting hot, I found a running partner to keep me going. I met Brandi one day in June when we were both out running. Her office is 1.25 miles from mine, and she runs five miles every day during her lunch hour. We started meeting up, and even as the summer heat beat down, my weekly mileage increased. I added longer runs on Saturday to get some hills into my routine.
At the end of July I took an unplanned non-List epic 20-years-in-coming journey back to my old mountain lake hometown in New Jersey. I brought my running shoes. Everyday I ran that old 5k lake run that my mom used to do, past my old house and the houses of my childhood classmates. I saw deer, and smelled the trees, and felt the air. I cried and grieved losses I’d needed to mourn for 20 years. I also spent some time in NYC, and logged my first ever 9+ mile run one morning in Central Park.
As I neared the end of writing The List, a final goal for the year came to me. I knew it was not something I could do anytime soon, but the year was only half over. More than a race, I thought, I would like to GET somewhere. Somewhere to celebrate. Somewhere significant. Somewhere spiritual. Somewhere like the edge of the continent. Somewhere like the Pacific Ocean.
#100 - Run from our house to the Santa Monica Pier
So this is what I am working towards. I plan to do it in the days between Christmas and New Years Eve. We live in the San Fernando valley, so the ocean is 18 miles away by local roads. I’ll have to run through Studio City, over the Santa Monica Mountains, taking the Coldwater route which is a beautifully winding road, past Fryman Canyon, over Mulholland Drive, across Sunset Boulevard, down Santa Monica Boulevard, turn on Ocean Ave, over the bridge, to the bike path, to the pier. There on the sand, at the edge of the country, at the end of the year, I will meet my Love and celebrate my year of The List of 100 Things.