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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Almost March = Almost Spring

I suffer annually from February blahs. Blah health, blah weather, blah motivation, blah runs. The good news: March arrives in two day's time.

My Saturday morning run was canceled this week because temps were "low" (still an Illinoisan at heart, 20 degrees does not a low temperature make) so I succumbed to a lazy day of sipping chai, playing cards, eating macaroni and cheese and then lying in bed wide awake until 1:30 a.m. while the caffeine from the chai I drank at 11 a.m. continued to course through my veins.

When my alarm clock went off at 6:15 this morning I found myself ill prepared for the 14 mile run I resigned myself to the evening before. And this week's run was to be just 12, but I missed a training run on Thursday when I finally took a long overdue sick day to try to kick a stubborn head cold I've had for a couple weeks. Incrementally this week, I want to make up the 9-10 miles I missed that day. So I made up two today. But it involved me running up and down the Springwater Corridor Trail two times. Turns out covering the same ground four times in one run is a little boring, even when on the otherwise beautiful stretch of the Willamette.

And I realized this afternoon, while I lazed in bed finishing Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge, I've lost some focus recently. My internal dialogue while training has really turned into "How fast am I or am I not running," and "How realistic is finishing in under four hours," and "I'm moving TOO SLOW! Move faster, Kristina! Why am I so fucking slow?" Running against the wind this morning, miles 7-10, I felt particularly discouraged. The wind was fierce, so I tried to not be too irritated by my 10 minute pace. Until I got lapped by a pair of runners who were both older and fatter than me. And my first thought was, "I will never finish in under four unless I can move like that against a headwind."

When did this turn into a personal quest for physical achievement and glory? Not that there is fault in wanting a good time, but I don't remember thinking about TNT's mission or my own family's recent experience with blood cancer a single time on my run this morning. That's why I am running this marathon on May 1st. Not because I have something to prove to anyone, or even to myself, but because I believe that there is the capacity for a cure in the minds and laboratories of this world, and funding for research is the key to unlocking that cure.

I determined this afternoon to refocus my attentions. When I find myself dwelling on feeling slow I can divert my attention to being thankful for my health. Regardless of how long it takes me, I am capable of running 26.2 miles.

What I've learned about running from an athletic standpoint recently is this: some people are slowed down by injury, some by boredom, some by physical limitations. I am a person slowed down by my mind. Maybe some truth exists in the myriad times I've been told I think too much. I get stuck in my own head and I begin to feel like I'm running through ankle-deep mud. The way I feel in dreams when trying to escape disaster. In my dreams I have developed the ability to rationalize with myself. "There is no mud, you're just letting your head get the better of you. Pick up your feet. Move faster. You'll be safe." I hope that skill is transferable to my waking life.

I also find myself incredulous that slowing down my pace on a long run to 10+ minutes will translate to 8:47 miles in a marathon. So then I add incredulity to the feelings of inadequacy and finish a 14 miler in almost 3 hours. Ouch.

But March is a new month. And the Shamrock happens on the 13th. And spring arrives on the 21st. And the daffodils are already blooming. And the temperatures will eventually rise and the wind will eventually die down. I'll refocus.

I find it interesting that I picked up Refuge when I did. My first introduction to Terry Tempest Williams was through Ken Burn's National Parks series. She is one of the interviewees throughout that documentary series and I found myself drawn to her. So I googled her. She's an author. A nature writer. I missed my calling in life, clearly. On break from jury duty a few weeks back I picked up Refuge at Powells. Nothing recommended that book to me more than any other by her, it just had the lowest price tag, so I snagged it. It chronicles the rise of Great Salt Lake between 1985 and 1989 and the ensuing devastation to critical wetland and marsh habitat for millions of migratory birds alongside her mother's fight with cancer and subsequent death. The parallels drawn between her devastation at witnessing the ravaged habitat for some of her favorite birds and that of watching her mother die a horrible and painful death left me crying and hugging an annoyed Sunny for comfort.

Snowy Egrets - lake level 4204.05'

"Cancer. The word has infinite power. It kills us with its name first, because we have allowed it to become synonymous with death.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines cancer as 'anything that frets, corrodes, corrupts or consumes slowly and secretly.'

A person who is told she has cancer faces a hideous recognition that something monstrous is happening within her own body.

Cancer becomes a disease of shame, one that encourages secrets and lies, to protect as well as to conceal.

And then suddenly, within the rooms of secrecy, patient, doctor and family find themselves engaged in war. Once again, medical language is loaded, this time with military metaphors: the fight, the battle, enemy infiltration and defense strategies. I wonder if this kind of aggression waged against our own bodies is counterproductive to healing? Can we be at war with ourselves and still find peace?

How can we rethink cancer?

It begins slowly and is largely hidden. One cell divides into two; two cells divide into four; four cells divide into sixteen . . . normal cells are consumed by abnormal ones. Over time they congeal, consolidate, make themselves known. Call it a mass, call it a tumor. It surfaces and demands our attention. We can surgically remove it. We can shrink it with radiation. We can poison it with drugs. Whatever we choose though, we view the tumor as foreign, something outside ourselves. It is however, our own creation. The creation we fear.

The cancer process is not unlike the creative process. Ideas emerge slowly, quietly, invisibly at first. They are most often abnormal thoughts, thoughts that disrupt the quotidian, the accustomed. They divide and multiply, become invasive. With time, they congeal, consolidate and make themselves conscious. An idea surfaces and demands total attention. I take it from my body and give it away."

She records all this while visiting the refuge and is so excited by the metaphor that she rushes home to share it with her mother, certain the symbolic relevance will be enough to guide her to curing herself. She feels betrayed when it fails to work.

I wish Uncle Jeff could've reached inside himself and grabbed hold of his cancer like a bad idea, tossing it aside. I'm glad I didn't think of this - it sounds like something I would've pinned a lot of hope on. I just have to remind myself that he had so many years added onto his life because of how far cancer research did come during his lifetime. Twenty years! Really, that is a success story. Not that I expect my aunt and cousins to look at it as such, but I know they too are grateful he lived as long as he did.

Two short months from now, I will be running the Eugene Marathon in his honor. Yikes.

1 comment:

  1. Surely your best blog yet my friend. Also, I once took a course during my studies in NY titled, "Literature of the Environment." I think we spent almost three weeks on, "Refuge." Powerful stuff indeed, it still sticks with me.