5 Ways to Embrace Gratitude This Holiday Season

We have cycled around to another holiday season.  Thanksgiving is upon us and we are pausing to take stock in our blessings.  An “Attitude of Gratitude” is the motto of the day.

It is easy in the day to day to focus on negativity.  Sometimes in between rushing to soccer practice, and traveling for work, and paying bills, we lose sight all that we are grateful for in our lives.  Being grateful take practice.

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Getting my stretches in while chalking up the sidewalks

Today I was able to start my day by combining two of my biggest blessings…running with my Moms RUN This Town (MRTT) community and spending time with my family.  Our MRTT chapter organized a Turkey Trot 5K run.  It wasn’t formal – no race bibs, no registration, no timing.  Just show up and run, with love and laughter.

Prior to the race, a few of us got together and exercised our stealth “chalking” skills.  We  loaded up the neighborhood sidewalks with sayings of thanks and positivity.  Several people were out walking and asked what we were doing.  I was thrilled to tell them we were setting up for a community run.  It felt so good to be a part of something that would bring joy to others.

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Ahwatukee MRTT represents before we head out for our 5K family run

I did the “run” with Quinlan and my dad, who is visiting from Louisiana.  We mostly walked which gave us a perfect opportunity to have Quinlan read each of the sayings.   One of the sayings read, “What are you thankful for?”.  When I posed this question to Quinlan he said, “That’s a tough one, there are so many things!”  From the mouths of babes.  It warmed my heart.

Starting our day celebrating our blessings and being with our loved one set the stage for a day of gratitude.  It continued on with more love, thanksgiving, good food, and better company.  Gratitude is contagious and the more we are grateful, the more those around us see the blessings in their lives too.

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So how do we cultivate this same level of gratitude in our each and every day and not just limited to the Day of Thanks?  Here’s 5 ideas you can give a try to build gratitude into your daily life:

  • Gratitude Journal
    • Either begin or finish each day by writing in a journal, electronic or pen and paper, makes no difference.  Write down a minimum of three things you are grateful that day.  Big or small.  Gratitude for you were able to make your bed or gratitude that you survived a car accident – both build the habit of gratitude every day.
  • Set an Alarm
    • Use your smartphone to set 5 or more alarms throughout the day.  Each time the alarm goes off, pause for a minute to think of something you are grateful for in your life.  Again, big or small, gratitude is gratitude.
  • Post-It in Bathroom
    • On your bathroom mirror, steering wheel, or any common place, post a sticky note with the question, “What are you grateful for today?”  If you want to get fancy, you could stencil it or create some beautiful plaque, but be careful that it doesn’t become so decorative that it fades into the background.  You want this note to be noticeable so you look at it every day and answer the question.
  • Ritual
    • Create a ritual around a certain event in the day in which you give thanks.  For example, pausing before a meal to reflect on your blessings.  Our family regularly does a round-robin at the dinner table sharing our gratitude.
  • Gratitude Box
    • Buy a beautiful box or decorate a plain one.  Leave a stack of small pieces of paper and once a day write down a item of gratitude.  At a regular interval, weekly or monthly or so on, open the box and read what you have written down.

Incorporate one or more of these into each day and gratitude will begin to become habitual in your life.  And then that habit will influence those around you and bring more joy and blessing into your life.

Call to Action: Share in the comments what other ways you bring gratitude into your daily life?

 

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HR Monitor Training Requires Focus

Running according to my heart rate requires an intense amount of focus. Throughout the summer, I did every single run within an aerobic heart rate zone. This means that at the beginning of each run, I had to focus on starting slowly and building up my heart rate to the max level over about 10-15 minutes. Then, I had to focus on keeping my pace slow enough that I was able to keep my heart rate under the max limit but also fast enough that I didn’t drop more than 10 beats below my max.

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The Beginning of My Running Story

In college, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep the freshman 15 off.  It worked for the most part.

Leading up to my wedding, I ran a mile here and a mile there to fit into my dress.  It definitely worked that time.

After getting married, I ran a mile here and a mile there in order to complete my first 5K.  I remember how it hurt and thought it would never end.

When Kenny got deployed 5 short months after we got married, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep away the loneliness and the demons of my depression.  It didn’t really work but was better than nothing.

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9 month old Keegan helping me celebrate my third marathon finish! (May 2009)

After he got home, I tried to run a mile here and a mile there to keep up the routine.  Usually, I was less than successful.  My depression got worse.

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What is “Delicate” and Why You Should Embrace it

A friend posted a brainstorming question on Facebook: “What do you think of when you hear the word “delicate”?  Answers came in along these lines:

  • Handle with care
  • Do not touch
  • Lace and doilies
  • Be gentle or you might break it

The general theme was one of avoidance, fragility, and protection.  This outcome gave me pause and got me thinking.  While nothing posted is untrue, I believe it leaves out an important nuance of the word “delicate”.   Maybe this nuance however isn’t so much about the word “delicate” itself, but rather how we choose to interact with those items we have labeled as “delicate”.

Let me tell you a story.

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26.2 Mile Training Run Retrospective

Last week was a really rough week resulting in a significant flair up of my depression.   Washing my face or my hair, making the bed, getting dressed….these simple tasks were all a challenge let alone going to work and taking care of my family.  Normally, the best medicine for my depression is a good run.  This often helps me pull out of the cycle of despair and get back on my feet enough that I can move forward.  Not so last week.  My runs were making me more depressed as I slogged through one slow, hot mile after another.

My Saturday long run was looming ahead over my head like a dark cloud all week.  It was to be my last long run before McKenzie River 50K in two weeks so I knew it was a critical run but had no idea how I was going to get through it.  I texted a friend with my woes and she responded with the enlightened comment, “Frustration is wasted energy.  Put that effort into your goals and positive thinking”.  A life preserver as I drowned in my sorrows.

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Arizona sunrises never get old

This same dear friend also agreed to meet me in the middle of my long run for a few miles giving me the gift of accountability.  I got up at 3:30 am, got dressed and grabbed Amira to head out the door.  Her and I ran a couple miles together then  I dropped her off at home and headed to my friend’s house.  These first seven miles I ran comfortably within my heart rate zone.  It wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t a slog either.  I felt good, better than I have in a while.  And five more miles in the company of a friend after many solo runs recently was quite the blessing.

After going our separate ways, I had another 14 miles on my own and lots of time to spend in my head.  As the sun rose higher on the horizon, the temperature began to rise quickly.  Listening to books is my favorite pastime while running and on this occasion I was listening to a wonderful book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy.  He writes of applying the insights learned from endurance sports to the endurance of life.  Being the second time I have listened to it, I took away different messages and indeed I was struck by a particular message.  He wrote that elite athletes don’t expect conditions to be ideal on race or game day.   I let this sink in.

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Pausing mid-run to stretch allowed me to also pause and remember why I love this sport

I started deliberating on my own life and asked myself how often do I go about my day expecting things to go my way? And the moment it doesn’t, do I crumble?  I reluctantly admitted to myself that I do in fact do this more often than I like at home and on my runs though ironically not at work which is the most stressful of the three.

When the boys don’t cooperate over dinner, I get frustrated and angry.  When bed time doesn’t go as planned and it looks like I might not get my full night’s rest, I get panicky and waste a lot of energy.  If a run doesn’t feel good, I beat myself up.  I discovered that these are areas I need to let go of wanting everything to be ideal.

So then I began asking myself if it would be better to expect things to wrong and be prepared?  I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t a wise approach either.  It would be equally unhealthy to be paranoid about life.  Forever walking around asking “what if?” would create paralysis when what I am seeking freedom.  Entirely counterproductive.

During these long miles I decided that balance comes from putting in the work to be ready and then trusting that I will be able to figure it out as I go.  Having faith in my parenting, my training, my mental strength.  Simply put, faith in myself.

As my run continued and I was having these deep thoughts and revelations, I got to put my new found resolution into practice.  The heat was really cranking up and shade was nowhere to be found on my selected route.  I found my excitement and love of running wane as the sun began to roast me and my brain.

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Found the one shade tree on my route and paused to cool down a bit

 

Conditions were definitely not ideal on this hot Phoenix morning.  Action was needed to keep me from sinking into the “Pit of Despair”.  I decided that a moving meditation was in order to help refocus.  I put on my Headspace App and did a ten minute meditation.  Andy Puddicombe’s voice described a visualization of allowing the body to fill up with liquid sunlight.  I was able to use it to turn my perspective on the sun from “I hate you sun, go away” to “Thank you Sun for filling me up with your energy and light”.  Perfect!

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Soaking up the Liquid Sun as it fills me with energy and light

The rest of my run went pretty seamlessly and while I was grateful to finish, it didn’t take me long to wish I was still out there.  I learned a lot from this long run and only need to remember to carry it through with me on all the many miles ahead.  I might need to relearn it a few times more, but the roots are there for it to grow.

What is something you have learned on a run or in life that resonates through you?  Post in comments below!

Will I Be Ready or Will Heart Rate Training Fail Me?

In a little less than three weeks, I will be running the McKenzie River Trail Run, a 50K in Oregon along the McKenzie River.  The McKenzie River is one of the most pristine rivers in Oregon.  The upper reaches are designated as a Scenic and Wild River meaning there are no dams, no human manipulation and is a crystal clear, gorgeous salmon river.

Originating in the Cascade Mountain range, it is a tributary to  the Willamette River, which snakes through the Willamette Valley from Eugene to Portland, creating the lush and fruitful croplands that grace Oregon.  On the west side of the Cascades, the mountain is covered with Douglas Fir trees towering over those who travel beneath.  The trail winds through this forest and we are among the lucky few who will get to traverse down this trail.

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Piggyback rides are the best way to experience the McKenzie River Trail

This trail is one of my favorites and one the trails that gave me my start as a trail runner.  I feel honored to have the opportunity to do this race.  Even better, it is a celebration of Kenny’s and my 15th wedding anniversary.  Our 15 years of marriage have ups and downs, highs and lows, and only our vow to each other has kept us together through it all.

If you have read my earlier post you will know that I started training with a heart rate monitor earlier this summer in my training for this race.  It has been an interesting journey.  I have ridden this roller coaster with a lot of faith.

In fact, I have seen some benefits which I talked about in an earlier post.   These are valuable no doubt, but the main objective is certainly to gain speed while still running at a lower heart rate.  So the big question is…After two and a half months, have I seen any progress?

The honest truth is – not yet.

I have a route that I have been using as my reference route and tracking my times for this route.  I have been shooting for running this route at least once a month though I have run it more than that.  So far no real improvements in pace.

I was scheduled to do another reference run last week however I ended up getting sick.  Interestingly, when I look back on my runs, I did see a decline in my pace and an increase in my heart rate in the days leading up to being sick.   A good lesson.  Had I paid closer attention to this change, I may have been able to back off or take a rest day before getting sick.

So the improvements haven’t been impressive and but in endurance running, patience is a key aspect that I struggle to embrace completely.   Patience has never been my strongest attribute.  My mother would routinely recite, “Patience is a virtue” at me.  I think she may have even bought me a book with that title….though of course I never read it!

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This girl has been the best running companion a girl could have.  She has kept me company on many “slogs”.

I am also not feeling like much of a runner.  The miles have been slow and slower.  I know I am being a smart runner by building a solid foundation but everyone’s ego needs stroked once in a while.  A good tempo run or a fast track workout or a hard hilly trail run feels amazing and leaves a person feeling like Superwoman.

I have asked myself on many occasions whether I will be ready and I really don’t know.   While I do not feel prepared at all for this 50K, I have to trust that I have done something right and just go for it.

After the race, I want to continue with this form of training as I know it is a smart strategy.  I do however plan to incorporate more social runs and tough runs for my mental happiness.  I will strive to find a little more diversity in my running while still honoring my goal to build my aerobic base.

What do you do to find balance within your passions?  How do you incorporate diversity in your running?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Celebration of Love: Dear Kenny….

My dearest Kenny,

Fifteen years ago, I stood in front of friends and family and committed myself to you for all time.  I remember the day in technicolor.  I woke that morning before everyone else and went for a short run.  When I got home, I sat with Paddington for a while talking to him about our future.  He purred contentedly while my heart beat with eager anticipation.  

Between basic training and reporting to your duty station, our time together since we met had been intermittent at best and so much change was on the horizon.  Not only were we about to marry, I was leaving Ohio, leaving family and friends, joining you in the Army life in Tennessee.  Yet I didn’t feel any fear or anxiety, only happiness and delight.

As I got ready, the world around me seemed frazzled, but for me it was like being in the eye of the storm.  All was calm, cool, and collected in my sphere.  My dear Maid of Honor and beautiful bridesmaids helped me with makeup and dress.  We laughed about how difficult it would be to use the restroom with a giant wedding dress on.  I saw how radiant I looked.  I saw the joy in their faces. And I knew this would be one of the most wonderful days of my life.

Walking down the aisle and keeping my dad from crying, my view of you was obscured.  Then, it was if the sea parted and I saw you for the first time that day.  So handsome in your dress greens, I could not take my eyes off you.  The world around me disappeared and it was only you and I.  The ceremony seemed endless while I desired to take your hand and run away so we could bask in each others love.  Our kiss declaring us husband and wife was nothing short of magical.

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“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That’s what I hope to give you forever.” – The Notebook

We left the church to a flurry of love and laughter given freely by our friends and family and finally got to be alone together in the back of the Rolls Royce.  On our way to the reception we drank champagne and did our best to stay upright as our driver, who must have thought he was Mario Andretti, whipped around every corner.  Do you remember that?  He was a crazy man and gods how we laughed.

The rest of the day was just as beautiful and surreal.  Dancing, laughing, loving….endless amounts of each.  As the night drew to a close and we left as husband and wife, I felt a contentedness that I cannot put into words.

The next 15 years would be an unparalleled adventure.  So many ups and some really deep downs, we have been at each others side through it all.  Before we got married, I remember us saying all the time that if we could survive being apart as much as we were then we could survive anything.  We have proven this to be truer than true time and again.

You got deployed and came back.  I graduated school.  You left the Army so we wouldn’t move our family all over the place.  Then we moved across the country countless times anyways pursuing my career.  We lived in Tennessee and Oregon, New York and Wyoming, landing as we are now in Arizona.  We lost one baby.  We gained two beautiful boys.  Such sorrow and such joy.  

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National Historic Trails Center Christmas celebration during our 9 months living in Casper, WY (December 2013)

 

Our passion for running has grown together.  We have run races in so many places, some successful and some failures, some together and some apart.  All of them priceless in their way.  Our running in many ways echoes our life with its ups and downs and relentless call to keep us coming back for more.

Life has stressed us and blessed us but together we never stop flourishing.

Through it all you have been my rock, my light, my love.  I have accomplished so much in the last 15 years and none of it could have been possible without your support and encouragement.  How could I be so lucky to have you as my life long partner?  You and I have grown so much together as individuals and as a couple.  The husband and father you are is the best role model our little men could have.  I am better mother, wife and woman because of you.

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Family getting amped up to run a Foam Glow 5K (May 2017)

Our future holds some known:

The upcoming goal you have set to earn a second degree is admirable and I deeply believe in your ability to be successful.  Our boys continue to grow and mature.  We both have epic running goals – you running your second 100 miler later this year and me planning to run my first 50 miler next spring.  This in addition to a couple of 50Ks and other smaller races in between.  Our family will continue to love and cherish each other.

And so much unknown:

Where we will be in the future, how long we will be in Arizona, where will our careers take us, who our boys will become, and who we will become. 

Much of this scares me but it also excites me.  What I do know, with the utmost confidence, is we will be together no matter what comes our way.

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Getting ready to run Ragnar del Sol….It is impossible not to have fun with this man. (March 2017)

Once again before family and friends, I declare my love for you with my whole heart, body, mind, and soul.  You are the light of my life and I am excited to see what our next 15 years hold.  The journey is the adventure and the adventure continues.

Happy Anniversary my Darling.  I love you and am forever and always:

Your Emm