The Next Step

Two things I never dreamed I would say, especially the second part – I am now running 6 miles without walking, and I’m training to run the Hershey Half Marathon in October. There – I’ve said it. Please keep your giggles, raised eyebrows & shocked expressions to yourself, or get them all over now so I don’t have to endure them later. As an absolute non-runner and non-athlete for the majority of my life, I’m not exactly sure how this happened, except that my marathon-running and once nationally-ranked-tennis-player neighbor, Mrs. T, recently had a baby. I’ll explain a little more…

Mrs. T has been asking me for years to go running with her, but my treadmill workouts have always left me feeling slower than molasses, working pretty hard to walk/run a 13min mile. No one wants to run a 13 minute mile alongside a seasoned marathon runner! However, when people hear that you workout on the treadmill, they assume you’re an amazing runner – at least that has been my experience. I’m not amazing; I’m just relatively consistent. Anyway, Mrs. T had a baby a few months ago and has recently started running again. One day in May she called me up and said “Are you doing the ½ marathon or the triathlon with me this fall?” Hahahaha – oh, and hahaha I thought. Mrs. T claimed up and down that she was as slow as molasses too and wouldn’t I please go running with her? Even though I was still chugging away at a 12-13min mile, I had been wondering if my treadmill might be off a little. Since it is quite old and likes to spontaneously stop, I was starting to have less confidence that what the screen was telling me was actually correct. So I decided to take the plunge.

This leap of faith – to look like a total running failure in front of my friend – was a great decision! I not only realized that I love running outside (imagine that!), but found out I’m running 10-11min miles at an easy pace. I know in the running world 10 min miles aren’t that great. But please realize my reputation – I’m not an athlete by any means! The cross country/track coach in high school never tried to sign me up except maybe to tie the shoelaces and fill the water bottles of the real stars. I was always the cheerleader for my sister and my friends, never once considered doing it myself. After the confidence boost of running with Mrs. T, it didn’t take long to figure out that I wanted to commence training for the ½ marathon.

And yet, it wasn’t my newfound confidence that brought me to this point because I have been thinking about doing something like this for about a year, although I was thinking something smaller scale like a 5k. There has been something inside me yearning for order. Training for the ½ marathon provides the order and goal that I long for right now. You see, the normal rhythm of my life has pretty much disintegrated over the past 18 months. My husband changed jobs twice. He and I stood on the brink of marital failure last spring (OK let’s be honest – many, if not most, marriages go there at some point. Some make it and others don’t. Mine, by whatever fluke of fate, is stronger for having gone there). My sister was diagnosed with LAM, leaving huge questions about the longevity of her future. My sister-in-law took her own life

Life has become intensely chaotic, to the point that I can no longer make sense of almost anything or plan what to do from day-to-day. I look at my house filled with things that need attention, and I’m so overwhelmed I can’t even begin. Things like writing emails and going to the grocery store which were once so natural leave me longing to go back to bed or putting it off for another day. My husband will tell you I’m a planner to the nth degree – drives him nuts sometimes and for good reason. The fact that I’m currently incapable of planning leaves me feeling like a fish out of water. The plan for training for the ½ marathon is already completed for me by Hal Higdon. Thank you Mr. Higdon! Finally something I can do without actually doing the planning. Please God, may this be the first step on the road to recovery or I may lose my mind. By the way, I’m not trying to throw myself a pity-party. I am keenly aware that there are many, many individuals whose life circumstances are way worse than mine. If anything because of my experiences, you have my utmost compassion.

One thing I did have to plan was how to tell my family about my recent determination to run a ½ marathon. I’m sure they think I’ve rocked off my rocker, although maybe that is a possibility I should consider more. Remember my reputation? I was the bookworm, piano playing, cross-stitching, happy-not-to-be-sweating daughter. It’s not that I was a total couch-potato. I worked (physical labor) on our poultry farm until I got married. But for most of my days at home with my family, running was akin to torture. During a recent conversation with my sister, I mentioned I was going to run with Mrs. T that evening. My sister’s raised eyebrows and questioning eyes said it all. When I finally got up enough nerve to tell my parents I had registered for the ½ marathon, my mom said “so how long is that – a ½ mile or something?” Yeah – give or take a few, I guess. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they aren’t supportive; it’s just totally foreign for them to think of me trying to attain this goal. I guess I should have told my family that I’m running the Hershey 1/2 marathon because there is a chocolate refueling station somewhere along the route. If you know my serious chocolate addiction, that’s probably more believable than me wanting to run because I’m hoping this is the next step in healing. (Actually I don’t envision myself scarfing down a chocolate bar at mile 9 or 10, but I’m sure someone will.)

Finally, even though I’m 15 weeks away from making any victory speeches, I would thank my husband especially who had faith in me from the beginning of my even entertaining the notion and for putting up with my “should I or shouldn’t I?” wavering until I finally decided I should. And I would be remiss not to thank him for his excellent cross training coaching too – still pushing me hard on those bike rides, even though those rides are supposed to be an “easy” training day.

The next step – 7 miles!


Chirstmas Eve Gathering 2010

Dear Alicia,

I have a confession to make – I lied to Laura yesterday. We had just spent an almost perfect day together as a family. I had been enjoying Eldon’s presence during the past week while he was here from Boston on “work-cation.” Laura and Shelly came up from VA to celebrate Mom’s birthday. Everyone was together, except you. Our family has actually grown to include Steve and Marie, a fun addition. I’ve found strength to get through the days when we’re together like this. But I always dread the day after – the day when I’m alone with my thoughts at home with the kids. I get to reflect on the day before and your absence feels like a hole, a bottomless pit.

Alicia & Shlly
Christmas Eve Gathering - 2010

The “good-byes” at the end of yesterday were harder than some. There’s something so difficult about saying good-bye to Eldon, Laura and Shelly recently. It’s like the hole gets bigger, if that’s even possible, as I begin to miss the qualities and added dimensions they bring to the family. I love our family – so thankful they’ve made me one of their own. I celebrate our differences and the different directions life has taken each of us. But I also celebrate the times we’re together, our laughter and debating, reminiscing and experiencing new things together.

Eldon & Alice
Christmas Eve Gathering - 2010

So when Laura asked me if I was alright after she hugged me good-bye while I was trying to blink back the tears I knew would come today that were arriving prematurely, I told her I was ok. But I wasn’t – am not. Sometimes it feels like life stands still for me. Everybody moving forward and going onto the next thing, while I remain constant – hanging up wash, emptying the dishwasher, paying the bills and wiping noses – maybe it feels that way for others too. I bet it does. Sometimes I just want to run away, pretend this has never happened, and I don’t need to feel the pain of missing you so. But you are part of our family – always will be, never forgotten; and just as I enjoy all the great things about being in this family, I will bare all the heartaches of being part of such a beautiful family. I love them all so much, just as you did. Once again – you were missed by all of us, as you forever will be.

Missing you so much today, Natalie

Christmas 2010 - Shrimp Festival
Annual Christmas Eve Shrimp Feast

First Tomorrows

Fountain StrollDear Alicia,

We’re heading to Longwood Gardens tomorrow. I’m so excited! Our plans to visit Eldon in Boston this weekend fell through due to Alice being sick and being worried that Ian would come down with it too which of course he did, so this is our consolation trip. Last time we were there, it was June of 2008; and it was hot. Alice was almost 2yrs old, and Ian was a secret – only known to Daniel and myself at that point. Last time we were there, you were there too.

We knew these days would come. The first time you’re not here for… well, for everything. I actually thought about the first time I cleaned my house without you – not that you were a huge part of cleaning my house on a regular basis. Just the fact that I couldn’t call you if I wanted to. The first Friendship Fest/KMS auction when we didn’t get to talk about the finds of the day. Memorial Day came and went without you at the cookout. And tomorrow – this first seems especially hard.

I remember so much about that day 3 years ago – everything from splashing in the fountains to exploring the tree houses and greenhouse. How you doted over Alice like nobody’s business. You and Cody holding her hands as you walked under the trees. You taking a nap on the “elephant ear” leaf. I can remember your smile and how you made the trip so much fun. I can hear your laugh – and let’s face it, sometimes your whine about the heat or being hungry. You smiling at Cody and your light-hearted way of being with him. You smiling.

I will enjoy tomorrow – I will. I promise. Because I know you would want me too. But if you look closely from heaven, you’ll notice the glisten in my eyes hidden behind my smile. If we get to splash in the fountains, you’ll see the drops of water on my cheeks mingling with my tears. If we see an “elephant ear plant,” I may need to sit and be near it while my heart breaks and tries to begin to heal all over again. While I’ve wanted to say all along that you should be there with us tomorrow, I guess you will be there. But it’s not the same, and sadly never will be. I will miss you tomorrow, another grain of sand on the beach of first tomorrows.

Love you & please keep singing for us,

tree walk