STOP & Bask in the Completion of Any Miles

I kept going. I told myself that was enough downtime. I told myself this was less training, much less at thirty miles per week. After all, I had run over 100km in twenty-seven hours on a mountain, a feat that I never thought this short human could achieve. I was stunned, probably. Nothing sank or stopped. I told myself, “what’s next is…” There was no question of “what’s next?” I told myself to stick with the plan. The month after the ultra, I published a book, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (November 2019) and planned a book launch. Friends, family, strangers, dogs…we laughed and played trivia about health, dogs, yoga, and books. I made up the game. There were prizes.


And then, I drafted a chunk of another book, about 40,000 words in the month of November. And, carried on with my life—family, school pick up and drop off, sports, teaching yoga, teaching Religious Exploration, other projects, accepting submissions for volume three of the yoga book, attending awards ceremonies….


Around this time, I went outside by the vitex plants for meditation. I had become increasingly infatuated with vitex after writing a short and strange fairytale, “Where Bees Sleep”, in which the plants offer a portal to another world. It’s in a bonus section, “The Changeling Stories”, in the back of The Adventures to Pawnassus. I was mesmerized by the peacefulness under the plants where hundreds of bees hung upside down while sleeping on the purple flower blooms. Dew covered the plants and the bees. Even if I blew a breath into the eyes of the bees, they slept on, as if they were bats, dangling from each stalk’s tiny blossoms and facing the rising sun. I tried to go out early in the morning before daybreak truly warmed them. The ripe moments enthralled me, and I was convinced that I was increasingly onto them. The frost crystals and sunrise invited me outside to continue.


So, of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready to teach yoga at the Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra and run the 50km. About seven weeks had passed since the Cloudsplitter. I felt great teaching yoga the night before the race. I stayed close by at my parents’ house. The next morning gave us perfect early winter conditions. Not too cold, no snow, a little mud and fog. I was exuberant. I ran with pure joy and waved to my parents through checkpoints. I felt alive and happy, and I tripped. No problem. I trip often. Something felt tingling, almost burning through my body, as I carried on and focused on each step forward. I tried to shake it off. I snagged my toes on a few places but managed to stay off the ground, lurching suddenly forward sometimes. I walked for a few minutes and grounded until everything felt steady and ready to go again. Slowly, I trotted, faster, a little pickup, until it was alright. I settled into my stride, then I tripped and fell. I fell hard. My chest barreled into a tree branch. I was up and going, but I couldn’t seem to breathe any life into my legs with momentum. I tripped again and the pulse sent a shock of heat and fear through my face. My feet kept tripping on everything. I walked. I walked, trying not to ask too many questions, staving off the, “Why so many falls?” concern of my inner wisdom. I trotted again, passed a Santa Claus in the forest, and that made me laugh. High five, running. I regained my confidence, knowing I was headed out of this section soon. I made it to an aid station, distance from the mountain bike trails, and I was refocused.


Okay, I was going to be fine. I refueled, talked to some people at the aid station, saw my parents, and headed out, taking my time. I was going through the motions but instead of recovering as I usually could while going slowly through the process, I felt more and more depleted. I stumbled and fell a few more times, just while walking and once while taking a picture. I tried all of the checklist–I was hydrated, I was fueled, I had electrolytes, and I tried my usual program in a pinch–gum, music, that tree up there, lucky to be in motion, gratitude list, counting breaths, taking pictures. Usually, one in that list will fix everything and the bliss of running can resume for a while. This time, the unexpected happened: Chills. Shaking. “No!” That’s the worst anytime, but nothing worked to make them stop. I ran to get warm and fell again, sprawled out around by the lake. “It doesn’t make sense when it isn’t even that cold, and I haven’t even gone very far compared,” I told myself these things, teeth rattling. By this time, my frustration was at a high, but beyond that, I also knew that I was mostly frustrated because I knew that I needed to stop. I knew that I shouldn’t have run this far in a race without more time between ultras. I knew this truth suddenly was within me, and I was giving in to it. The chills and shakes made it harder for me to focus, challenging for me to keep good footing even while walking. As soon as I saw my parents at a road crossing, I got in the SUV. I called it and let the race director know that I was dropping out and going quickly to warmth. I couldn’t stop shaking and told my dad to pull over so I could throw up.


I slept for a few days and weeks, really. I mourned the loss of the second half of the Bell Ringer and my love of the trails that I wanted to run so much. I yelled at myself, but went back to sleep. I was bruised, hobbling, and sore from falling so often. I completely paused my running and writing. I slept until 1 pm. My husband picked up the pieces that I had to sit down for a while.
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I allowed the exhaustion to take over, but it made me sad. Sweating is inspiration for me, and running influences my mind and that determines how and when I write. “I have an addiction,” I told my husband. “I need to sweat and I’m an endorphin junkie for it, and I don’t know how to get through this. I feel so much happier after I’ve been active.” I didn’t enjoy the plunge of rest, the deep ravine that came after the mountain. I had expected the Cloudsplitter 100km (actually 69 miles) to crush me while I was there, but it was like a hungry ghost in waiting, pausing, lingering, and unexpectedly, I was hit with the weight and depth of it. I suppose that you can’t go into places like that without coming out of them a little torn for the wear, but I thought maybe I’d made it, been given a lucky pass that had allowed me to do just that.

This assumption wasn’t correct. I learned an important lesson in my own training, and that’s the length of total rest and relaxation that I need between big moments of exertion. My body’s chemistry was all mixed up, and I hadn’t recognized that the moment was ripe for rest. My hormones, my vitamin and mineral levels, everything needed time to replenish. Finishing a book and drafting a new one are mentally draining and that also depletes the resources of the body as well as feelings of vitality and peak performance. I didn’t feel typical feelings of failure because I know better than that. Yet, I still felt plagued by my lack of discernment to realize what I was asking from my body, but I also felt satisfied at allowing myself to go through the process naturally, with the plan that I thought was good for me, especially since it was my first ultra of this caliber at the same time as the growth of my writing practice.

Without trying the other ultra so close to the previous finish, I wouldn’t have known what I needed regarding a deeper level of rest. I would have wondered “what if?” had I not pushed myself with all of the activities at that time.

The process led me here, to the decision that I don’t want to repeat that learning experience, and I will give myself adequate rest between action. After over a month of rest and relaxation, which included walks and mild core exercises, I am finally recharged inside. I picked up my cross training, something recommended to help my running by G who I met during the Cloudsplitter. I started biking about ten hours a week, and I love it. I’m back running on the trails, too, but with less mileage right now. I took my running to the treadmill so that I can evaluate it. It works like sensory deprivation therapy for me–running inside on a treadmill facing a block wall, but when I turn the treadmill, there’s a window where I can see the vitex, a reminder to rest. I can focus on my body without any of the distractions of the trail for some of my training.

Before this happened, I continued to increase my trail running mileage and writing output in order to achieve more goals. I would make it to a milestone and plan for the next one, then keep moving. I didn’t stop to truly celebrate. I didn’t stop to soak in the rewards on a deeper level, one that’s rejuvenating for the whole body. In my evaluations, I also realized that happened around the time when I stopped drinking alcohol. While not drinking is wonderful for my training and focus, I didn’t realize how much celebratory events truly are intertwined with alcohol. When the drinks got pitched from my experience, my celebrations no longer included the rest that often came with time off for drinks.

So, I started going through the list of what provided me with rest and inspiration, as well as what made me feel celebratory—-being in the presence of my family and strolling along without a task, laughing with my husband, watching and experiencing dance, music, and art performances, simply observing in nature for no reason, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating cake, building bonfires, dancing, and playing on playgrounds. I’ve been enjoying all of those, and the awareness that it is satisfying to stop and bask in completion without looking forward, simply being tired and happy at the end of rewarding work.

Note: The Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra 50km is a beautiful and fun race that I have completed in the past. Here’s a blog about that experience.

Giving the Writer’s Elbow: A Weekly Nudge

Writing prompts have always compelled me to simply write, especially if they push me into a creative thought that I wouldn’t have considered as a starting point for a story and/or a new surprising slant that I can use within a working story. Sometimes, a writing prompt isn’t packed full of profound information, but it’s more about the timing being in sync with your story dilemma. A writing prompt can create one of those sudden moments of knowing after being blank.

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Week 5, January 2017. Theme: NERVOUS HABIT. Create a nervous habit for one of your characters. If not the main character, choose a minor character who needs more description in order to come alive in the story. This habit could add an element of humor and/or realism to your story. The habit could be a sound they make, an action toward themselves or others, or an inability to act. The habit could create a central conflict for the character (consider habits such as cutting, binge eating, and other forms of serious, repetitive self-harming). Likewise, the habit could be more of a side-note, something endearing and entertaining without being central to the conflict. Adding a habit could show more depth to a character or to the overall story.

I give the writing nudge to those who need an extra elbow or two, and I’m sharing one of my prompt journals throughout this year on the Thorncraft website. You’ll find a new writing prompt every week, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning for all the midnight writers out there.

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Writers, Week 11 of The Nudge is here, and we’re thinking about the foundations of mobility. Write On…Theme: BASIC MOBILITY. How do your characters stand? How do they walk? Are they incapable of walking/running/jumping for some reason? What does their stride look like if they run? Do they have a particular stance and is it altered when they are nervous or lack confidence? What kind of shoes do they wear? Experiment with basic mobility in your story. Find more suggestions related to creative nonfiction and poetry about this prompt on our home page. All photos & prompts by Shana Thornton.

The current Nudge is on the Home page http://www.thorncraftpublishing.com and we’re up to Week 16 this week.

Check out some of the prompts from past weeks here (Weeks 1-9): http://www.thorncraftpublishing.com/the-nudge.html
On the website, prompts include suggestions for fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.

Throughout this blog, I’ve given a few examples and the photos that accompany them. Some weeks, taking the photos inspires me as much as the ideas behind the prompts.

I started writing the writing prompts themselves when I wanted to encourage my students to write and so I developed prompts beyond the ordinary journal topics given in most composition courses. I wanted to stimulate style and storytelling, and simultaneously I started to manage an online weekly writing prompt with another author/editor. Suddenly, a series of writing prompts would sweep over me while I was making dinner and running in the forest, or whatever else I might be doing. The prompt process became part of my own inspiration for my novels and short stories. Each prompt became a nudge that shouted, “Go! Write about this if you can’t think of anything else. Go on, do it!”

I Marvel at Mockingbirds

The book proof for Thorncraft’s 7th title arrived in the mail during a late summer rainstorm while the sun was shining. As I opened the book, I suddenly heard bird songs and chatter, and I looked up expecting to see starlings or a similar flock.

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Cover designed by etcetera… Cover image by SaltH2Ophotography

 

I realize that they are mockingbirds. I’ve never seen this many mockingbirds in one yard. I count over 20 of them playing around the dying garden, in the field, flapping from cedar tree to fence to persimmon branches to vitex bushes. Around 30, I give up the count and watch as the birds swoop and the white of their wings flashes against the green of the field. They whistle, chip, tweet, chirpity chirpity chirpity, st-weeet with a little trilling laugh on the end of the call. The calls and songs are so varied that I grasp for ways to describe them. It’s better to listen and enjoy. I marvel at the similarity in this first volume of the BreatheYourOMBalance book, thoughtfully selected and introduced by S. Teague.

As I read through the stories and poems, I am taken aback by the number of voices moving through Thorncraft. I’m always grateful for each book. Each one has represented a different stage in the publishing process for me, new awareness, and growth into another form. Every book has been unique to the author and my relationship with that person, as I care for all of the books that we make throughout the process.

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The Breathe book includes work from 28 women who have enriched my experience as a publisher by sharing their voices, and some of them by opening themselves to working through the editing process. I’m humbled that they trusted me to share their ideas, and I’m proud of their courage and dedication, both of which shine in these stories about the transformative practice of yoga.

This is Thorncraft’s 7th book. Five books of fiction. One book of collaborative nonfiction. One series book about yoga by women. 4 book authors. 28 contributing authors. I marvel that this creative endeavor continues to grow and include women who make me proud to share their work.

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Now, the book proof goes into the trusted hands and under the “red pen” (she actually uses blue or black most of the time) of senior editor, Kitty Madden. In the meantime, we’re excited to share some blurbs about the book from authors as well as fitness and yoga instructors. Book Forthcoming, Fall 2016. Visit http://www.thorncraftpublishing.com for more details about all of our books and authors

1,000 Miles = Listen & Run

imageHappy dance today at 1,000 miles for my 2016 annual running mileage! This was my total for last year, & I wasn’t expecting to surpass it by Aug. 31. I did it without the expectation. I haven’t been focused on running away from something or running toward a goal like a race or a pace in the future. I am running in the present–looking, listening, observing, being free in nature, and feeling free to discover. I observe so much in the natural world, but my inner world during the run reveals just as much about how I see and experience time and life.

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As I’m chased by a hornet and then a horsefly, I am reminded to always show all sides to the trail. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t confronted my fears out here on the trails–fear of falling, getting hurt, being victimized, losing the path in unfamiliar territory, and more, but every day is an act of listening while taking one step at a time, knowing I will hear my body’s signals about placement and speed and breath and water if I listen, hoping that I can trust my fellow humans on the trail to offer kindness and help if needed, but mainly to respect one another’s space to experience nature in positive ways, and believing that I can be aware of the trail and its inhabitants to teach me how to run–the trees, their roots, the mud, rocks, the animals, reptiles, amphibians, the insects and arachnids, the birds and their songs of greeting and warnings to one another, the wind and the leaves it carries, the storm’s flickering messages and the rain’s cool relief.

I am in a constant state of wonder at all of it, and then deer run out into the rain and play chase with one another, and then my thoughts go beyond, to other worlds, and a wondering happens–what are the other trails and trees like in another universe? To imagine the expanse offers a buoyancy to the run and to life–a tiny glimpse into what is in the wide wide abyss. Flight & tethering, and then time to head for home. I am so grateful to experience the run without running away from anything and without wishing to reach some place.

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All photos are views from recent trail runs.