my love/hate affair with Peter Sagal
what a difference a day makes
Several months ago, dismayed by my recent slow marathon times, I figured I ought to ramp it up a bit and really commit to a training regimen instead of just slogging through the miles at my usual (10 min/mi) pace. My 55th birthday provided the perfect opportunity — this would be my best shot at a Boston qualifying time. Of course they lowered the qualifying times by 5 minutes this year, so getting older doesn’t do me any good — unless I can hold on til I’m 90 or so and can still walk at a fairly brisk pace.
Relatively undaunted, however, I sought out a
torture training schedule, found the perfect qualifying race (the Bay State marathon in October), and started training — in secret. The secrecy is the most clever and critical part of the plan: If I don’t tell anybody the plan, then I can’t fail. The problem with this, however, is that it goes against all the principles of recovery and Doing Life that I know and endorse — mainly honesty and accountability.
So on June 14, 16 weeks from Bay State, I started. I encountered the first obstacle almost immediately — the training guide calls for almost all runs to be at a “comfortable, conversational, easy” pace: 8:48/mi. This is not, for me, comfortable or conversational or easy; it’s grueling and takes my breath away. In fact, I really don’t know how it is, because I can’t do it. Or at least I can’t do it regularly.
And then I read Peter Sagal’s article in Runner’s World. I love him as the host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, but I
hate envy him as a runner. He plays the part of self-deprecating, aged runner while knocking out like 6 minute miles on the way to shattering his marathon PR. Cocky, balding, whippersnapper. Worst of all, he does it in plain sight of the whole running world, laying waste to my belief in keeping our difficult goals secret lest we fail.
One thing I’ve learned in recovery — I don’t have to do all of this at once. I don’t have to go out and run my 3:40 marathon tomorrow. All I have to do is what the training plan lays out for today. And that was 4 miles at an 8:48 pace.
Which I did. But only because I couldn’t find an invisibility cloak on EBay.
The whole new Do Life family out for a morning run in the sun.
Ben and I took a bunch of rocks with us on the first leg of the summer tour and sold them all, so I whipped up another batch (flock? gaggle? litter??) to take on the western swing. The little ones are a new addition — they’re about 4” tall and very cute. Meet up with us in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Lincoln, etc. to meet up/run/eat and see the rock collection.
Stephen King says writing is sort of an archaeological dig. A story, he reasons, already exists beneath the surface, and it is our job as writers to unearth it, to scrape the dirt from the bones to see what’s there. I guess I’ve known there’s some truth I’m supposed to find in helping my mother move, but until now I haven’t dug into it. As so often happens in the writing process - at least for me - I won’t be able to uncover all the pieces or assemble the bones in just the right way, but I’m willing to dig down and flail around a bit. It’s too important not to try.
I spent most of the month of May in Massachusetts, helping my mother move from her home of 30 years in South Hadley to a new, easier-to-manage house in Northampton. Physically, I pretty much knew what to expect; there would be a few heavy pieces of furniture - an oak roll-top desk, cherry dining room table, a couple of large chests of drawers, a huge slab of marble that once did duty as a lab table, and a hundred boxes of books. There would be many other pieces of furniture and boxes, a few of them unwieldy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Most of the stuff was old and familiar — stuff that’s surrounded me for much of my life.
I wasn’t so sure how I would handle the internal aspects of the move. Even though I didn’t grow up there, the house on the Knolls has become my home. There’s a lot of me in that house. I built the front deck, designed the upstairs bathroom addition, tiled the downstairs bath, laid one of the stone walls, planted many of the shrubs, and did a lot of the seasonal maintenance.Memories of my kids and their deep love for their grandmother are thick and warm and wonderful.
Nor did I know (how could anyone?) how it would be for Meemaw to make this transition. I guess I knew she’d buck up well, as any Minnesotan/New Englander would, at least on the outside, but what emotional toll would it take? How much of her spirit was ingrained in the house itself? Don’t we actually become part of the polished woods, the worn steps and stone paths, the woodpiles and flower gardens that are our longtime homes? How does one handle leaving decades of oneself in a particular place when it’s time to move on?
The physical move went remarkably smoothly. Ben was there to help with the heavy stuff and we moved a little at time without being overwhelmed at either end. The old house slowly emptied, the new one gradually filled. Meemaw was a calming influence on me as I tended to try to do too much too fast. Caught up in the physical move, I sometimes ignored the more important emotional one, and she would slow me down by showing me old clippings and photos and books, the essential nostalgia of a long life. I might not have realized it at the time, but I think it was her way of slowly letting go of her home on her own terms, something she needed and richly deserved. In the comfort of her familiar living room with its soft yellow pine floors, wood stove, and huge mullioned window, she readied herself for the next step. And in doing so, she helped ease my transition, as I struggled to come to terms with her not being in that house. I like to think of her in those comfortable surroundings, truly at home.
As the house emptied it began to echo and light fell differently in the absence of furniture and rugs. It smelled less and less of wood fires and books and home cooked meals. I worried that the energy that had once filled that house would vanish like wisps of smoke. I didn’t understand at that point that the essential energy that is my mother would move with her. But it did, and it inhabited the new place almost seamlessly and completely as she busied herself with the business of moving in. She knew where things should go and how the kitchen would work, and she dived in without hesitation. I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was looking forward rather than back. If the move was emotionally draining, it wasn’t showing.
She’s the same as ever - sits in the same chair while doing the crossword puzzles every morning, walks the same dog at the same times every day, cooks out in the same charcoal grill and the same wonderful smells emanate from her kitchen. That it all takes place in a different locale doesn’t matter that much. I’ll miss that old house as I’m sure she and my kids will, but I found that her home is our home.
As I said, I didn’t know what to expect as I mined the events of the past month. I should have suspected, though, that Meemaw would help me far more than I helped her, showing me strength and steadfast resolve, the ability to grow older with grace and dignity, to keep moving, with open eyes and open mind.
The clear sky, low humidity, and 70 degree temperature were like a birthday gift on this 14th anniversary of my clean date.
It’s often said in the rooms of 12-step recovery programs that we only have today, that each 24 hours is a reprieve from all the pain and problems of active addiction, and that’s true. There’s a lot of freedom and satisfaction in chalking up our recovery one day at a time, and only very rarely do I forget to be grateful for every single day.
But as I celebrated this morning with a run around the lake I was thinking more of the cumulative growth of many years in recovery — how each day is not only a separate entity but a building block to the completely new person I’ve become. How time has enabled evolution.
Yes, we do it one day at a time. But we don’t regain our health overnight. Or advance our education and careers, or build new, healthy relationships. Or lose weight or run marathons. We build (or lose) in tiny increments to become richer, more compassionate, better people — the sum being far greater than its individual parts.
Lest anyone think I’m taking any personal credit for my own transformation, for stringing together a few thousand days clean, I’m not. If I could have done it alone, I would have. Like so many others, I tried and failed epically. Since giving up and asking for help, I’ve been coddled, cajoled, wheedled, cussed, humiliated, pushed, pulled, dragged kicking and screaming, loved, taught, encouraged and forgiven by so many people I lost count years ago. My life clean has been wholly dependent on the kindness and experience of others.
I love short runs around the lake on perfect summer days and I try to take pleasure in each one. But I also don’t lose sight of how, when strung together over a period of time, we get to revel in a larger moment — pressing a 26.2 or 140.6 sticker on the rear bumper, hanging a new medal on the wall, seeing the scale register 50 pounds down…
Ben and I take to the highways and by-ways on the Do Life Tour’s 2012 reprise. Join us in person — we’d love to see you, run and eat with you — in St. Louis tomorrow and KC Sunday. Check BDL for dates, times, locations.
See you out there!
This is like the coolest thing ever. Even though I’ve fallen down on the tumblr-posting job, it’s awesome that people like Cat (cat-like people?) are there to pick up the slack. Thanks, Cat - and James - you guys rock.
Ben taught me about life
Recently ‘Ben Does Life’ came to London town. Oh you could feel the excitement of the British Internets! I had written, out of the blue, some months ago to suggest that Ben and Brooke could stay with me and my husband if they were looking for somewhere to stay. As it was, they were set, however ‘Pa’ and his girlfriend were short of a place and so were booked ‘Chez Cat’. I had no idea what to expect. My husband definitely didn’t know what to expect, partly because I hadn’t initially asked him if it was okay that two strangers, who I only knew about through reading blogs on the internet, came to stay, and also because he barely knows what a ‘blog’ actually is. Luckily, he is a very accommodating friendly sort of chap (you kind of have to be if you’ve committed to live with me for the rest of your life); all was good.
And so, in came Pa and Terry. Being thrown into the situation of getting to know someone around your dinner table when they are staying with you for a week is quite intense and, I am sure, just a little but scary for everyone involved. But I had seen the Do Life tour in action on Ben Does Life so I kinda knew what was coming.
We started off with all the polite-ities, did the compulsory ‘this is where you should visit’ and thought ‘well, this is going to be okay, they seem nice, it will be a nice few days, we’ll do the 5k planned on the Saturday, meet Ben tra la la’. Then there was some debate on what was going to happen with the half marathon/ marathon they were due to do on the Sunday in Sussex (about 2 hours away) but I was working full days so at this point was only 50% focused on the Do Life world.
Oh how that changed.
Ben started this world some years ago and I had watched Ben’s story, which of course includes his family, but nonetheless I had watched Ben’s journey and read Ben’s wonderful words; the ups and the downs; the motivation and the hilarity. But. There is so much more. Pa and Terry are a brilliant world of their own; a fabulous whirlwind of fun and enthusiasm. You cannot help being infected by the excitement of their thoughts and ideas. They made both James and myself more excited about London than we have been in a long time simply because of how much they enjoyed visiting. These people look at things like you did when you were 7 years old. Not with immaturity but with a brilliant curiosity which we too often lose as adults. And it doesn’t stop there. In coming: Jed (Ben’s brother) and his wife, Sarah Catherine… take the fun we were having before – and DOUBLE IT. It is like Ben is the lead singer of a band and, if you listen, you find the backing vocals are also AMAZING!
Having thought I would advise a train which they could take to the Sussex marathon, I ended up driving the band to Heathfield. It was SO much fun! These guys, alongside Ben, have been doing races on and off for the last 4 years, they have so many brilliant stories, so many experiences and this, it suddenly became clear, is what life is about: ALL the different experiences, the good one AND the bad.
2011 was an awful year for me. Just dreadful. I lost something I had put my heart and soul (quite literally) into, I felt betrayed and I felt I had, in turn, helplessly let others down. On so many days it was a challenge simply to get up in the morning, and for someone who is a highly excitable and motivated person my self-belief and confidence had fallen through the floor. But spending time with these guys it was like a light switch being turned back ON: It’s about the ups AND the downs.
I had got stuck in believing it was just about the ups, and that the downs were something to be ashamed about. But the downs are equally important. Going through a down teaches you how to deal with it so next time, and there will be a next time, you can deal with it again, better (or avoid it completely of course!). But most importantly, you realise who the people are that you need around you.
As I watched all those competing in the Sussex marathon I saw people striding ahead and others really struggling, but keeping going. You cheered them on from the side of the road, willing them to keep going; to even get a PB if they could. When running a marathon you go through ups and downs, and when you are in a rut with pain-filled legs and 13 miles still to go, if someone pats you on the shoulder and says ‘you can do it’, it helps. It really helps. A marathon may last only between 3 and 6 hours, life’s challenges last much longer. However, if you keep in your life those people that will pat you on the back and tell you, you can do it, you will be able to keep going. The effect might not be immediate, but with unwavering support you will be back on the up in no time.
The life around Ben Does Life gave me the pat on the back that I needed, and I LAUGHED more than I have in ages.
Thank you all for coming to visit London. You made a big difference to my life as you have done to so many others.
-survived a couple of brief but fierce bouts of attack-eating. I still don’t what know sets these off. I can never pinpoint a specific cause — no anxiety, depression, excessive hunger. Could it be that some of us are simply “wired-up” this way? I think back to finally getting honest during a counseling session at the treatment center I went to when I couldn’t stop using drugs. ”Now, John, when is it that you find yourself most likely to use?” I quickly mined the litany of lies and excuses I’d used to delude myself for years, and finally settled on the truth: “When I’m awake.” Could that be it?
-run many miles. Almost every day. Typically 3-6 miles, with a couple of longer ones every week. I’m hoping this will serve as adequate training to run a 4:15-4:30 pace in England on April 1. If not, just finishing would be fine.
-watched a fairly non-existent winter morph into full-fledged spring.
-done a 21-day diet cleanse, eating ONLY fruits, vegetables, and grains other than wheat. No coffee, dairy, meat, sugar, or any food with any unnatural ingredients or additives. It provided an amazing insight into how what I normally eat is so different from what I should be eating. What was totally unexpected was how the cleanse was as much a spiritual adventure as a physical one. It was as if both body and mind were freed from the bonds of weighty foods to explore new territory. It also allowed (forced?) me to experiment with interesting new recipes — Thanks, Meemaw, for the tagine book.
-stayed active in other areas as well, climbing and rappelling with #1 son Jed in the wilds of Arkansas, and dusting off the old mountain bike and hitting the trails.
-visited Kansas with young Benjamin on a Do Life Tour event. Always an adventure.
-Provided Ben almost daily with incredible amounts of emotional support and startling insight during the writing of his book. He’ll no doubt feel so indebted that he’ll decide to dedicate the entire effort to his loving and ever-supportive dear old dad. Especially in light of the fact that he dropped the preface I wrote in favor of one penned by Kara Goucher. Who is she, anyway?? I mean, other than a world class runner and fitness icon with millions of followers…
-made the monthly pilgrimage to Meemaw’s in Massachusetts. She’s now off to explore Portugal and Spain for several weeks, taking in old sights and new taste thrills.
-switched the green DO LIFE tag (sniff) for a shiny new Natural State license plate (thanks to Mark in Harrisburg for reserving that plate for me). It’s a blessing and a curse to have more than one home.
-fought mightily against procrastination — a good thing for me, because normally I’d put this off.
-watched with admiration y’all’s exploits with the Do Life challenge. Congratulations on all the successes. What an incredible journey we’ve embarked on.
First race of 2012 in the books — a 25K trail race complete with gore and minor abrasions. As the boys will attest, I can’t usually run far without taking a tumble (or 3). As I was unable to get a picture of the body in situ - a la Ben’s incident with the broken bicycle - I had to settle for one after the race.
Aside from a headache and sore legs, I’ve got to feel good about the morning. The race directors said it was probably a little shy of 25K, but I did it in 2:29:00 and beat a whole lot of people (many of whom were far younger than I) and 1 dog. I’ve just got to remember to pick my feet up higher on the trails, especially toward the end of long runs.
Do Life Movement founder Ben Davis, speaking in Mediapolis Wednesday evening, left his audience at once refreshed and slightly confused. Davis was in town to talk about his weight loss and fitness journey, but the majority of those turning out for the event thought they were attending a political rally.
"When my friend invited me to go, she said we were going to see someone talk about running, so naturally I thought he meant running for president, said Des Moines resident Sarah Phelan. "And the funny thing was, we were all on board. I mean, you don’t often hear a candidate run on the ‘eat right and exercise’ platform. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the family values stuff and mudslinging we’re used to."
Much of the audience shared Phelan’s opinion. ”I think he’d be awesome,” gushed another undecided voter who attended the event. ”He’s young and funny and energetic, and he’s got a great message. Plus, I thought he was kinda cute.”
Do Life Movement headquarters in Jonesboro, Arkansas reported a huge rise in internet and phone traffic following Davis’s Iowa speaking engagement, most of it offering support for the campaign or requesting information on his stance on current political issues. Iowa polls showed Davis running a close second to republican Mitt Romney and well ahead of former congressman Newt Gingrich.
Despite his universal popularity and recent Iowa appeal, Davis denied having any political aspirations. ”I’m incredibly gratified by by my reception here,” he said. ”I appreciate everyone’s friendliness and support, but my visit here isn’t political. For one thing, I’m not a republican. Also, I live in Canada — there’s probably some rule against that. And most importantly, I really don’t want people digging into my past - there’s old stuff about my dad I’m not real proud of. It could get ugly.”
We talk about it all the time: how doing life together—friends, family, Internet people we meet at assorted illegal-5Ks—makes life better.
A couple weeks ago we launched the Do Life website and I was very curious to see how it was going to go. Now 14 days later and we have nearly 1,000 members all looking for the same thing: health and happiness. We have many different shapes and different goals, but we’re all in it because of the community. Because of that feeling that we’re not alone.
And then yesterday, The CEO “announced” a New Year challenge that “we” had “planned.” He’s always sneaking around doing things without consulting us (I suspect that, like he’s done all his life, it’s because he just came up with it and wanted to make it sound official).
But here’s the thing… like usual, he’s on to something.
This is, after all, what it’s all about. I can’t tell you how the challenges are going to play out (and I’m not being secretive; he just hasn’t told us.) but I’m in and I hope you join too.
We’re all in this together.