I didn’t know I was stressed until my husband tactfully encouraged me to go for a run.

The day was sunny, and the countryside was relatively quiet, but running wasn’t on the LIST for the day.

The dreaded LIST.

Dirty windows, dirty laundry, dirty floors…most things on the LIST needed soap and water, in one form or another. I HAD to get it done.

Why?

Because I thought it should all be done.

In reality, nobody else cared about the LIST. Sure windows are supposed to be clear, and not tinted with farm dust and kid-smudges.

But the children had clean clothes to wear, and as for the floor, well, nobody is crawling around on it anymore except for the dog, and he LIKES it dirty.

The stress of the LIST must’ve crept out over coffee somehow. Maybe it was the way I helpfully advised my husband as he made omelets for the six of us.

“Don’t use that pan.”

“You have the heat too high.”

“Can you use real eggs?”

“The heat is too high!”

“They’re not as fluffy as I make them.”

“You need more patience.”

“I told you the heat was too high.”

I don’t think I said “Thank you,” even once.

No wonder he suggested I go for a run.

Okay, so maybe he was just trying to get rid of me, but then he said something really nice.

He told the kids that when their mother goes for a run, all her stress bubbles just float away.

And I could just picture it: me running through the lovely Franconian countryside, a trail of muddy stress bubbles rising up from my head, or my heart, or wherever they hide, and dissipating far above in the atmosphere, where they couldn’t hurt anybody.

As for the LIST, it still has three items on it, but those things will be crossed off, one at a time, just after I go for a run.

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I wonder how many of you have lost someone to cancer.

I used to hear the word and think abstractly of the tragedy of it, but real feelings and emotions never surfaced from the deep.

That changed with the loss of my Aunt Kathy, who was one of my best friends.

Now, when I hear the word, my heart is pained in a way it never was before. It aches for the families who have a vacancy at the dinner table; a birthday to honor but no more candles to light; or a Christmas stocking, hanging empty from the mantle.

My heart breaks for the friend who can never again pick up the phone and hear the voice of that one person who can lift her spirits, or just allow her to vent until they laugh or cry or both. Emails float unanswered into cyberspace, and Facebook turns into a memorial wall. Deep conversations become soliloquies and long walks solo events.

Behind every pink (or blue or teal or white…) ribbon is a wounded heart. Every 5k or race for awareness is filled not with participants, but with battle-scarred people, doing what they can to bring about a cure.

The worst adjectives in the English language cannot begin to describe cancer. And words cannot do justice to my hatred for it, nor can they scratch the surface of my sorrow over it.

Even in this world, where absolutes are frowned upon, I think I can safely say that cancer is an evil thing.

And until war is waged upon that most virulent, most capricious killer, there will continue to be too many empty places at our tables and in our hearts.

**For Francie…

and Kathy…

and Richard Wellman…

and…


What exactly does a Supermom look like?

Does she get up at 5:30 to run every day, keep her house tidy, drive various kids to their various activities, and always have a home-cooked dinner waiting for Superdad when he gets home from thwarting evil-doers? Does she keep the house running like clockwork with chore charts and schedules and happy-face stickers?

Does Supermom ever have a runny nose or groan at the current state of the household toilets? Can a Supermom have big feet or gray hair? Does she ever lose her patience?

I thought about Supermom a lot as I was lying on the couch this weekend.

Normally, I’d rather pluck out my eyelashes than passively watch the kids play video games. But in this instance, I was sick—so sick I couldn’t even follow the weak plot. Who was Mario trying to save? And why did he keep turning into Bowser, when they were mortal enemies?

I drifted in and out of my catatonic state, feeling very much like I’d been run over by a truck.

Where was Supermom? Last week, she was here, running with the stars and cooking pot roasts. And now, she was lethargic, on the couch, and letting the kids zombify their brains via Nintendo.

I did no laundry, accomplished no chores, laughed at the thought of washing windows, failed to tick a single box on my ‘to-do’ list. All I managed to do was sleep and self-medicate.

I drifted off as Mario was trying not to get impaled on a spiked floor. When I woke up, two stuffed animals were cuddling next to me.

Out of their tender, loving hearts, two different children had each left something for my comfort.

It occurred to me that maybe being a Supermom has nothing to do with my valiant actions, but everything to do with my day-to-day, humdrum interactions.

I hate being sick. But because of it, I witnessed such an outpouring of affection from my kids, it was almost worth it. Katie made me pudding; Noah drew a picture; William gave me concerned, sympathetic hugs; and Libby scampered about with her doctor kit, periodically taking my temperature (after I sterilized the thermometer, recalling it had been in multiple armpits).

So, where was Supermom this weekend?

She wasn’t scrubbing floors or organizing closets or even playing in the sunshine with the kids.

She was lying on the couch, being loved.

And sometimes, that’s exactly where a Supermom can truly find herself.


Contrary to popular belief, there are enough hours in the day; you just have to know where to find them.

A while back, a friend of mine encouraged me to get up before the sunrise, chickens and children to run. The theory is that you can have glorious alone time before anyone needs anything from you.

This is also the same friend who got me into long-distance running, so I know her advice (while it usually sounds outrageous to most people) pretty much always helps me in my metamorphosis into SuperMom a decent sort of woman.

Thus, when my electronic birds gently began chirping last week at 5 am, I got up and immediately made the decision to crawl back under my cozy down comforter ASAP.

But when I actually stumbled into the bathroom, I looked through the window on our slanted ceiling/wall and noticed the moon illuminating my running trail and billions of stars all around.

The Franconian countryside had become a strange, new world.

I quietly laced up my shoes and snuck out the door.

The trail was the same (the same tractor ruts, chunky rocks, looming trees, and fields in various stages of growth and harvest), but the entire experience was exhilarating.

Everything looks different; and every scary story you’ve ever heard comes flitting through your mind as you run in the dark (especially past corn fields).

Sounds are amplified and sometimes terrifying (such as the lone car that came barreling over the hill or the hawks that swooped over my head as I ran down the lane of plum trees).

There are creatures slinking around in the fields at night, and they all sound BIG and FAST—at least, bigger and faster than you. Those could be deer, or dinosaurs, or bunny rabbits out there—you have no way of telling!

The good thing about running in the dark: scary sounds make you run faster.

One problem with running with the stars is that you tend to look skyward a lot, which isn’t actually that safe to do on a darkened path.

And instead of hill repeats, you find yourself stopping at the top of the hill, tipping your head back as far as it will go.

In fact, you may consider lying down in the grass to soak in the view, until you remember how wet and muddy it is.

Though running in the dark is seductive, it’s also a hard habit to establish.

The October issue of “Runner’s World” has a good article on becoming an early morning runner. So, armed with sure-fire strategies and inspiration to run before sunrise, I set my alarm for 6:00 am.

The problem with this noble act was that I knew it was not enough time for a good run. I ignored this tidbit of knowledge and justified my action by reminding myself that I need 7 hours of sleep a night.

However, at 5 am, I felt three distinct taps on my shoulder.

I started awake, sputtering, “What is it, Libby?” before my eyes even opened. I expected to see the dark little shadow hovering over me, explaining about hypothetical mosquitos or phantom spiders, but there was no one. My husband appeared to be sleeping, and even the dog was silent in his kennel.

It must’ve been some kind of muscle spasm, but I could not get back to sleep. I tried to ignore the clock, but by 5:15, I knew I had to get up and at least look out the window.

There were stars.

Billions of them.

I added a headlamp and a blinky tail light to my ensemble.

It was another glorious pre-dawn morning. The countryside belonged to me (and to one other person, again barreling over the hill, who must drive to work AWFULLY early every day).

I made my way off the main road and turned off my lamp to let my eyes take in the ambient light that transforms the familiar landscape into a mysterious new place.

As I turned down the final trail to home, the sliver of a moon was hanging on the horizon in a pale strip of coral sky.

I finished my run and had a cup of coffee as dawn broke the spell over lovely, magical Franconia.

I ran eight-minute miles today. And not just one, but two–in a row!

That may not be impressive to my sportier readers, but for a woman who is content with one mile every ten minutes (including stops for tractor dodging or wildlife viewing), this is an achievement. And the funny thing was that I wasn’t even trying.

Before you think my favorite Superman t-shirt has imprinted itself upon my subliminal mind, let me clarify: today’s run was purposely going to be s_l_o_w__…

For many weeks, I’ve been wearing Newton running shoes, which train you in the minimalist style. This means that instead of using my heel to break the full force of my significantly jiggling self, my body glides along, with feet pitter-pattering on their forefronts. I envision the graceful lope of a deer, only with a ponytail.

Instead of fighting gravity, this particular stance uses gravity to propel you foreward, which historically is what running is supposed to do.

Anyone with a simple knowledge of the human body knows that an unused muscle atrophies. And I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly sure bones need some type of weight bearing exercise in order to grow stronger, at least, that’s what I read once in “Better Homes and Gardens.”

So what happens to bones and muscles when feet (like mine) have been luxuriously ensconced in Nike or Mizuno for twenty years?

Can it actually create or exasperate problems such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, shin splints or plantar fasciitis?

You may think I’ve gone granola, but I am betting that many of my usual problems (achy arches & old lady knees) will benefit from proper training in the barefoot style.

Enter the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves: these are like the Vibram 5 Fingers, only without the creepy toes. And yes, my feet are SO long (and Merrels are SO short) I had to order from the men’s department (please, Merrell, for the love of long, gorgeous feet everywhere, make a woman’s size 12!!!).

Running with the trail gloves was a new, interesting challenge, and I kept wishing I could watch myself run, as I had this fear of not doing it right and breaking all the bones in my feet.

But I think part of barefoot running is that you learn to ‘feel’ when you’re running–that your body (eventually) just knows it’s in the groove.

After the initial feeling I was doing something terribly wrong and unnatural (I mean, ditching my watch AND my high-tech, arch-enabling running shoes) my body fell into a of rhythm of its own.

As I finished my run, I heard the church bells ring 3/4 past the hour. Since I am currently watchless, I dug my phone out of my back pocket to double check the time. I had stepped out of the house at half past.

I mean, there’s no way that could be right.

But the church bells and the iPhone do not lie. I had run my two miles in 16 minutes.

An unintentional personal best.

I wonder what other things I can accomplish when I stop trying so hard?

A few miles into the marathon, my Garmin winked at me before closing its sleepy digital eye for the duration of the race.

If my hands hadn’t been so uncoordinated from the finger-numbing drizzle, I would’ve tossed the watch into the lake.

It reminded me of when I’d forgotten to charge it the night before a long run. It was that day, without the constraints of time or minutes-per-mile, that I discovered a new system of trails—a runner’s paradise with green rolling hills, fields of flowers, forests, and even medieval ruins. I was like a kid in an amusement park—running cheerfully from one attraction to the next.

After that day, I did many of my runs without being henpecked by my digital training partner. I could concentrate on how my body felt—how it felt to go slow; how it felt to go fast.

Since I couldn’t precisely track my mileage (which, honestly, was annoying at first), I would just run for a certain amount of time, paying attention to form and function, while also allowing my thoughts to roam.

So, I wasn’t at a complete loss without my gadget during the marathon, though I did spend significant brain power trying to convert kilometers into miles.

The watch is a seductive tyrant. Success or failure is easily calculated in its cold gray numbers, and when you wear it, you can completely ignore your own self.

Why not just walk a mile until you can run it? And when you can run it, go a little farther? Success should be based on how your body feels, or how your jeans fit, rather than what the heartless gadget tells you.

It is so like life. We push ourselves to fit into a perfect, pre-packaged category.

That’s not to say we can be lazy—it means we need to be honest. If you learn to listen to your body, then you will know when you are working hard and when you are just wimping out. Achieving honesty in training is one of the hardest things to do. It means overcoming your worst enemy—yourself.

Because marathon training is a program that requires a certain number of miles and minutes if you want to finish alive, the gadgets come in handy. And for professional athletes, a split second determines whether you win or lose.

But for most of us, there is a tendency to become too focused on the watch.

We find ourselves measuring a good workout not by how good we feel afterwards, but by a few random numbers.

But the numbers can’t calculate how late you were up the night before, tending to a crying baby. They can’t calculate the stress from work or school or home that has built up, or that feeling of utter freedom when you release it. Garmin or Timex or Salomon can’t calculate if your finger is broken; nor can it fit into its equation the sunrise or the deer on the hill that makes you pause for a moment to absorb the sheer tranquility of an early morning run.

For now, my Garmin is history: a deposed dictator banished to the bottom of my electronics basket, where it will keep company with a variety of rechargers, stray batteries and camera attachments.

But who knows? It may stage a daring coup d’état for the next marathon.

Time will tell.

I now know why mobsters break a person’s knuckles as punishment.

It really

really hurts.

Really.

Life has been challenging lately. Try buttoning jeans or putting your hair in a ponytail with one hand. I can still type (though it takes forever), drive (though tight corners are scary), and I am mastering the art of one-hand washing itself, but daily tasks are considerably more difficult.

It is humiliating and humbling and will probably turn out to be one of those events that helps me grow into a better human being.

The Story:

Not wanting to admit I’d been reduced to uncontrollable tears by a football game where most of the players were half my height and a quarter my age, I waited a week to see if the injury would miraculously heal itself. On day seven, I lightly bumped my finger on the car door and began crying in the middle of a parking lot.

Public tears!?

Time for an X-Ray.

The American clinic squeezed me in the next day. They were overworked and severely understaffed. The radiologist ended up telling the nurse to wrap my hand with the only bandage they could scrounge up, which looked like something the ancient Egyptians would use in the mummification process of cats.

The nurse sandwiched my finger in a padded aluminum splint then wrapped it until my finger was roughly the size and shape of a beehive.

The nuse told me I should leave it on for 4 weeks, and then darted out the door.

My family laughed when they saw the ridiculous bandage, and I would’ve laughed too if not for the white hot surges of pain that occurred whenever I lunged to strangle them.

That was a Friday. On Saturday I was biting off the heads of people who loved me. By Sunday the pain was so intolerable, I decided to see a German doctor.

German doctors, for the most part, are excellent. The only reason I don’t seek them out first is because stepping into a German clinic requires stepping out of my comfort zone. I don’t know all the words–especially medical words–and babel fish does NOT accurately translate in all situations.

After a couple recommendations from friends, I decided not to go to the village veterinarian, but to Doctor F., who had done Mike’s foot surgery. Mike said he was really good, knowledgeable, professional, and spoke perfect English.

Great.

I did really well explaining my situation in German to the receptionist and the nurse. I didn’t get completely bewildered finding the X-Ray room. And I even made it back to the doctor’s office with my X-Rays without the help of the hospital map the receptionist gave me (I think she was worried about me, since I speak like a preschooler).

As I waited to meet Dr. F., I held my X-Ray pictures up to the window. It’s really quite cool to see pictures of your bones and particularly fascinating when they’re broken.

Soon, in walked Dr. F., who was older than I’d imagined. He was very pleasant, kind of a grandfatherly character, but his eyes looked weary, and I couldn’t imagine him even winning a game of “Operation,” let alone slicing open joints for orthopedic surgery. He only spoke German, which was fine, since I’m the foreigner here (I should speak the language), and I assumed he was trying to help further my language skills.

He placed the X-Rays on the lighted board and studied them. After a few moments he said to me: “The pictures look good! There is no break! Your hands will last a hundred years!”

I stared at him with what must’ve been an expression of shock mingled with horrified, bemused confusion. After a moment he asked, “Did you understand what I said?”

“No!” I blurted out, trying to formulate a response, while also thinking my husband was crazy to recommend this guy.

The doctor asked how old I was and when I replied, he said, “You are 38, and your hands will last until you are a hundred. You have strong hands.”

At this point, I slid down from the table and pointed to the broken bone on the X-Ray.

“But it IS broken. Here.”

I glanced at the nurse, who was covering a smile with her hand. He quickly said something to her, and she ran out of the room. She ran back in a few moments later with his GLASSES.

He put them on and stuck his nose six inches away from the picture. He consulted with the nurse, and she pointed to the broken bone.

He turned to me and said, “I am sorry. You were right. But it IS a very small break.”

As the doctor tried fixing my broken knuckle with fingertip splints, a man wearing blue scrubs whisked into the room. He glanced at my X-Rays, showed the nurse which splint to use, and in perfect English, discussed the fracture and therapy needed for my knuckle.

The old man, who had cast aside the box of splints and stood watching, said, “Do you know who this man is? This doctor?”

“No,” I said, as the nurse wrapped my finger with a pink bandage, “I do not know him.”

The old man smiled broadly and exclaimed with a tremendous amount of pride, “This is my son, Doctor F!”

Alles Klar.

And I couldn’t help but laugh.

Funny, quirky, wonderful Germany.

I can’t imagine living any place else.

 

Eight days ago, I was climbing the final hill into Füssen.

It was so quiet, I could hear nothing but my footsteps and my own raspy breathing. I wondered how long I had been running in need of my inhaler. On the steep cobblestone, I slowed to a walk and swung my pack around so I could grab the inhaler. Two quick puffs, and I was packed up and running the final 200 meters.

Flashback…

It was at that same spot a year prior, an angel in guise of an old man on a bicycle called to me, “Nur Zwei Hundert Meters!”

Only 200 meters?

By that point on my first marathon, the pain in my knee was so excruciating, I trudged along, barely getting my feet off the ground until the end of the marathon, where upon finishing, I leaned on the shoulder of my oldest child because I couldn’t really walk. I finished my first marathon, but it wasn’t exactly glorious.

This year was entirely different.

To begin with the end…

I felt a surge of adrenaline as I crested the hill. Before I knew it, I was running through the tunnel, which isn’t a tunnel, but high rocky cliffs that swallow up the road and lead to the final decent into Füssen—and to the finish line. I felt so good, so strong in contrast with the year prior, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

A smile spread over my face. And when I smiled, the bystanders smiled too—it was contagious. Then I started “woo-hooing” and pumping my fist and crying out “Yes!”

I was bursting. I could feel the goodwill of the people watching, and when I saw my kids at the bottom of the hill, waiting to bring me to the finish, I ran with an energy and emotion I can hardly describe.

Joy is uncontainable when it is layered over recent sorrow.

Running through my head…

I thought about a lot of things as I ran this year. And one of those things was the loss of my aunt to cancer. Last year, I wrote her a long, rambling email telling her about my first marathon. This year, all I could do was take comfort that she was with God, and that maybe He would give her a glimpse of one of the little victories in my life.

I miss her at the strangest times. And I will never watch the end of Mary Poppins again without sobbing. When Jane and Michael beg her to stay, but she gently tells them “spit-spot,” because her job was accomplished; or when she raises her umbrella and floats up into the clouds, away from the mortals, I have to find a place where I can cry without the kids hearing.

If God did pull back the veil on the 24th, so Aunt Kathy could watch the race, I’m sure she was smiling—knowing that while her job was done, her influence was still felt here on earth.

The beginning in the middle…

It was in the upper 40s and raining at 6:00 am when Mike dropped me off at the event tent. A few runners were jogging around the parking lot, the side streets, and through the downtown. Even the bright colors of the jerseys couldn’t overpower the immense grayness outside. My thoughts were completely focused on the first portion of the marathon, which I KNEW was going to be a pain.

I was filled with dread, which was not remedied by the weather.

The first seven miles or so of the marathon consists of running around a very flat, dull lake and through some pasture. You make a loop around the lake, so at the very beginning of the loop, you can see where you end up an hour later, which makes it seem like you’re making all this effort for nothing—literally going nowhere.

Now, if I’d had a better attitude, I could have breezed through the initial part. But in my mind, I didn’t LIKE starting off in the cold rain with runners at each elbow. I didn’t LIKE seeing the end of the trail right at the beginning. And BLAST IT! My Garmin went completely BLANK at mile three–how could I keep track of the miles when everything is posted in KILOMETERS? Was I supposed to do MATH now?  I didn’t even have my watch to stare at, and the lake was SO BORING!

Halt!

I always tell the kids “Boring is in your mind. It means you aren’t using your imagination.”

No matter how much I scolded myself for being unimaginative, I STILL thought the lake was boring.

The path consisted of small wet rocks punctuated with puddles you had to jump over. Fortunately this year, there weren’t any places where you were up to your ankles in lake water. Still, all I could think about was getting through it so the ‘fun’ could begin.

If I could have broken through the dullness in my mind, I am convinced I would have made better time. In my first marathon, the excitement of it carried me through the first half in two hours. When I reached the mid-way point this year, I was bummed to discover I was at 2:06. My mind had cost me six entire minutes.

I had some catching up to do.

The middle at the end…

Once I was through the Slough of Despond, my running really took off. I was relaxed, not in any pain at all, and my muscles didn’t tighten up (as they had during some of my training runs). I felt so good, I could hardly believe it.

Soon, I was picking off runners one by one. Sure, they were mostly old guys. And one guy I felt badly for. I would pass him, and he would pass me at the water stations (where I walked through). We went like this until the last 5 miles, when I zipped by him, and left him breathing hard along the River Lech. I wanted to call to him “Auf Gehts!” or “You can do it!” but I didn’t—I regret it, and hope I get another chance.

What is the point of running if I don’t encourage other people along the way?

My biggest ‘victory’ happened along one of the lakes (not the ‘boring’ lake…but the one we didn’t have to circumnavigate). I had just downed my first Mountain Dew (which I had sent ahead) and was running along when I caught up to a guy with dark curly hair.

I followed for a while, reading the back of his shirt—Münchener Fussballer, something or other. After following him for a little while, he began to slow down. Shoulder to shoulder with him, he looked over, smiled and said something. I’m not exactly sure what it was because it’s hard for me to translate while running (and after 15 miles or so, my thinking isn’t quite sharp), but I think he was complaining about the drizzle, which I no longer noticed because I was drenched with sweat anyway.

I smiled and then ran ahead of him. He tried keeping up for a while, which made me go faster, until soon, I was around the next bend. I didn’t see him again during the race.

Marathons…

I’ve said this before, but marathoning is a strange business. A 38 year-old housewife who only began running 3 years ago can outrun a 20 something Fussballer out of München, and a 60 something lady with jello triceps can leave us both in the dust.

It is an incredible sport. You don’t have to be agile, or particularly fast, but you MUST have physical and mental endurance, which is what levels the playing field for amateurs.

Yes, I love it. And I want to be the 60 or 80 or 99 year-old lady (with slightly firmer triceps) breezing by the young kids someday.

Eat…

Last year I was sucking down goo packs every 30 minutes, which I discovered actually made my knee condition worse. The sodium makes me swell up like a balloon, and so this year, I wanted to do things a little more ‘naturally.’ (Go ahead and laugh about the Mt. Dew…I said ‘a little’ more naturally, and admittedly, Mt. Dew is NOT a natural substance).

I had made some gluten free energy brownies, but during the marathon, I felt like I couldn’t eat anything other than apple slices or bananas—and that was okay.

The biggest breakthrough is thanks to my brother and the Tarahumara runners depicted in the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.

My brother is a big proponent of the benefits of chia, and the Tarahumara…well…you have to read the book.

Make fun if you will and sing that horrible As-Seen-On-TV jingle, but ch-ch-ch-chia is absolutely the best if you can’t have the goo.

I added a heaping tablespoon of ground chia with a quarter cup (or less) of multi-fit juice, put it in a snack-pack ziplock baggie, and voila! I had my own goo pack.

While chia may not give you the instant high of the goo packs (hence the Dew), it does give you energy and helps your endurance. I brought 5 chia packs with me for the marathon and only used 4 (mainly because I couldn’t find the other one, as it had hidden itself in the bottom of the backpack).

Drink…

Once again, I brought along my Nathan Hydration pack. I can’t say enough good things about it. This year, I was wise and only filled it about halfway because the Konigschlosser Romantik Marathon does a great job of keeping you fed and hydrated. Last year I finished with nearly a full water pack.

I mainly carried the hydration pack so I could keep my inhaler and chia goo in it. I hate having a marathon ‘belt’ or fanny pack, because they tend to flop around. For me, the backpack is much better. The Nathan is great because it is made of a soft mesh fabric and is very lightweight compared to the camelbak. This year it came in handy because I could stuff my rain jacket in it when I got too hot, as I was sopping wet from the inside out, so the jacket became slightly ridiculous.

I know I said I wanted to do things more naturally this year, and yet I imbibed cans of Mountain Dew along the trail. At first, I felt like I was putting poison into my body (as I detest high fructose corn syrup). But during the marathon, the jolt of caffeine and even the sickeningly sweet taste was good for instant refreshment. Sports drinks just aren’t good for my system, so some old-fashioned, American motivation in a can was helpful.

I’ll experiment and see what alternatives are out there, but it worked this time. And for the record—Mountain Dew and chia is disgusting (I tried).

Be Merry…

The biggest lesson…attitude is everything.

When my mind thinks I am trudging along, then my time suffers. When I pretend I’m flying, my feet lift off the ground.

The people who ran the best (aside from the elite athletes) were the people in pairs or groups. While running, at its core, is a solitary sport, it seems like having a team makes it more enjoyable. Hopefully I will have the chance to run with friends more in the future!

Run with style…

‘Minimalist’ or ‘barefoot’ or ‘chi’ running has been on my mind a lot. During the race, I actually did run with a forefoot style, and it is a much more economical—you can go faster while conserving energy. I’m determined to really give this new style a go and see if it makes a difference in my running and how I feel afterwards. My new trainers are already in the mail.

During this marathon, I wore straps under my knees to keep my kneecaps aligned. Last year, I couldn’t go three miles without my knees hurting. This year, I can go longer without them, but I wasn’t quite ready to go without the bands for the race. 26.2 miles is a long way.

Someday, my goal is to be able to run without the bands. It will require a lot of hard work, but that’s okay. Worthy goals often take a long time to reach.

Finally…

“Number Funf, Ein und Neunzig…Keri Wellman…die Mama!”

That’s how I was announced, crossing the finish line, hand in hand with my kids.

That’s me. I’m the mama—the Marathon Mama—and I am SO happy both things can joyfully coexist.

I truly believe that running makes me a better Mama.

Post-Marathon…

With a medal dangling from my neck, I changed my clothes while Mike ordered a steak and a carafe of red wine for me. I kept my medal on over my civilian duds, because I couldn’t quite part with it just yet. Not only were Mike & the kids there to celebrate with me, but some friends had come down to join us. The best compliment was when my friend Carolin said, “You don’t look like you just ran a marathon!”

Last year, I was hobbling to the massage table. This year, I was dining on steak. I walked stiffly around town afterwards, but overall, I felt incredible.

As we strolled through town, I would occasionally glimpse another person with a medal, and whenever we made eye contact, we exchanged a nod and a smile. There are feelings & emotions & words that are so intertwined, they can’t be pulled apart and articulated.

I think only the other people with medals dangling from their necks could really rekindle and recall that feeling inside. Words scarcely do it justice: It is pride and humility and joy and pain and love and dread all rolled up into one package.

My two goals had been met in this second marathon: #1 to run faster and #2 to have no injuries. Going into this marathon, I was ten pounds lighter, had MUCH better muscle tone, and had done 95 percent of my training on the actual road (as opposed to the treadmill, which is no real substitute).

After the marathon and the eating binge, we drove back to our hotel in Austria, where I spent over an hour in the hotel whirlpool. Later, after putting the kids to bed, Mike & I went out for yet another steak dinner, and we clinked our glasses of the local Blaue Zwiegelt and talked about marathons and kids and life at a candlelit table as the sun set behind the Tirolean Alps (one of my favorite places in the world).

When we got home to Franconia the next day, I didn’t have to walk down the stairs backwards (because of trashed quads) like I did last year; and I actually went running a few days after the race. I’ve been running this week, and I want to keep up with it, so I don’t lose any progress I’ve made.

I have many aspirations, and while not all of them have to do with running, running has everything to do with them.

It is only because of marathon running and the strength and imagination God gives me that I have the desire to dream big and the determination to see things through.

God willing, I’ll overtake these dreams along the trail, and pluck them off one by one, until I reach that final finish line, where I will finally hear my aunt’s voice again and feel her arms around me.

But for now, I’m only 38.

There are many races ahead of me.

It is a strange thing to be sitting on a balcony, surrounded by the steep green peaks of the Tirolean Alps, listening to the clang of belled cows, using faster internet than I have in my little writing room in Franconia, and writing (once again) about running.

It is almost the Eve of Battle, and my emotional roller coaster has not come to a complete stop since we loaded up the car this morning.

There are moments when I question what I’m doing–what on earth makes me think that a simple housewife, homeschool mom with four kids and a fluffy white dog can join the same race with all these ATHLETES? People from Kenya, for goodness sakes! Have you seen how they FLY? I don’t think their feet touch the GROUND!

At those moments, I want to pack up and head for home and console myself with vigorous mopping and closet-cleaning.

Then there are times when I listen to the kids. I hear the joy and excitement in their voices and I begin to realize that maybe running marathons isn’t just about me…maybe it impacts them too. If nothing else, it gives us a fun family time, away from the routine we get so blinded by.

Then my imagination fast-forwards: How will it be for Katie when she’s 38 to tell her Kaffee Schwestern that her mom is a marathon runner? Or will Noah still be my (only) running buddy? Will he be waiting for me across the finish line someday with his own muddy running shoes, wrapped in a solar blanket, a medal dangling from his neck, and downing a good German beer? Will he come back and run the last mile with me (or five) so we can finish together? Will I even be here to cross the finish line 30 years from now?

Then there are those glorious Present-Tense moments when I am a runner–and not just a frightened, nervous runner, but a veteran marathoner.

As I walked alone to the event arena this afternoon, I became so excited about the race, I could hardly keep myself from breaking into a trot.

I proudly entered the tent, and this year, I knew exactly what to do.

I bypassed the “half-marathon” table and marched to the chart posted at the far end of the room, which listed not Kenyans or Retirees or Sports Stars or Hausefraus–but marathon runners.

Number 591.

That’s me.

And the only reason they put my name up there is because I’m an athlete too.

I can’t wait to hear that starting gun!

There is the possibility that my feet won’t touch the ground this year.

When 2011 began, I made a commitment to write a weekly blog, no matter how short, poorly worded or insignificant, for the sheer practice of writing. But in recent weeks I’ve failed.

Sure, I’ve been busy (like everyone else on the planet) but the real reason I haven’t blogged is because I felt that anything I wrote following my last post would seem trivial.

How could I write goofy little stories about my life when something so tragic had happened?

And besides, some of my thoughts and feelings are better inked on the worn leather journal on my nightstand.

For all the honesty I strive for on this blog, there are a handful of things that belong to me alone or can only be shared when there is someone to embrace while sobbing.

But I couldn’t abandon my sweet little blog entirely.

Over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me that while matters of death trump most things, matters of life are equally important. We have to continue in these roles the Author has sketched out for us. And I do hold to the belief that the things we do here on earth, every seemingly insignificant thing we do, matters in the long run.

So forgive this somewhat inelegant segue from matters of dying, to matters of living. While tears are still shed here in Germany for my aunt, it’s time to get back to the important little things that make up this incredible big thing called life.

As Aunt Kathy wrote to me in an email once:  Go, Keri! Go! Go! Go!

Matters of running

Believe it or not, I HAVE continued with my marathon training during the past couple of months. I’ve been very faithful to it, mostly out of necessity. Without it, I’m a big, unusable ball of stress. With it, life seems like something I can work with.

If I looked through my archives, I think I would only find a time or maybe two over the past six months where I had to work out on the treadmill or elliptical. I’ve been outside rain or shine for the majority of my runs—and I’m stronger for it.

I did take a week off while traveling across the pond because it seemed more important to linger over coffee with Grandma, or even to sit and watch Grandpa fall asleep at the kitchen table, than to run off on my own.  It was time well spent.

I came back from my trip re-energized, re-focused, and determined to do my best. When I arrived back, I did a run of 18 miles, which made me feel the American food and all that Starbucks didn’t do much harm.

Last week we had a spontaneous road trip to Italy, where I managed to stick with my training schedule.

It’s easy to get up early when the sun is shining, the streets are lined with flower bushes taller than you, and your path takes you around a sky-colored lake.

If Dorothy had landed in Italia instead of Munchkinland, she never would have sought Kansas again.

Once we left the lake and went to the city, I didn’t run, but during those three days, the kids and I logged over 30 miles of walking. It exhausted me for two whole days when we got back. And yet, I still did my last long run—20 miles.

The Italian food and cappuccino hadn’t done any harm either!

The 20-miler was the best run I’ve had thus far. Though I had some knee pain the last 3 miles (because of not properly warming up), I still beat my goal time.

I have some issues to work out with food. Because I can’t have gluten (which often comes in the form of modified food starch) and because artificial sweeteners give me stomach cramps, many of the brand name energy goodies are off limits.

For now, apple slices and chia jelled with juice seems to be good enough. Last year, the marathon had cokes available along the way, so that might suffice for a little caffeine kick.

I know I am physically ready for the marathon, but when I recall there are only 9 days left, my stomach lurches. I am re-reading the book Born to Run for inspiration, but still…

I seriously, seriously ask myself: What am I doing?

The only answer to float across my brain is:

Living life, I guess.