The New Normal

As mask mandates and restrictions ease, the question on my mind is what is the new normal going to look like as the pandemic lingers? Do we want to go back to life as it was before the pandemic? Do we want to appreciate the way life seemingly halted and forced us to just breathe?

As I listen to the news and read about each state’s changes in the next phase of this pandemic, I am still leery of throwing all caution to the wind. I have family with sensitive immune systems, friends who still haven’t had their vaccine yet, and concerns of my own about the use of continued cleanliness procedures that require chemicals that are so strong. I personally don’t want to be breathing in the fumes of the chemicals that are capable of eating the nail polish off my fingers while I scrub the table tops in my art room. Would you? My mask is required to be on at work, and I am more than happy to comply as things start to wind down. I certainly don’t want to catch a cold during the last few weeks.

My biggest fear with the new normal is that society as a whole will hit the ground running at a faster speed than ever before to compensate for the so called slow-down of life since March 2020. My worry is that those who have dealt with trauma, have social-emotional needs, and loss during this time won’t have the time or opportunity to process what has happened before the world picks up and carries on at record-breaking speeds. You can’t just forget that a pandemic has happened. It’s not an every few decades kind of occurrence.

I know for me, I want to continue with some of the routines I have established during this pandemic because I have felt fulfilled. My family, near and far, all participate in a zoom call once a month to check on each other and cheer each other on in our next endeavors. I relish the time with them and look forward to the zoom call each month. I make myself go to bed and get up around the same time each day. Prior to the pandemic, as much as I tried to stick to this, it did not always happen. It’s become so routine now that even when I don’t set my alarm, I still wake up around the same time. My body clearly needed the rest. I also continued to feed my need to be creative, and have felt my cup filling up from the satisfaction of creating. I purposely make time for this on a weekly basis now.

Last, and most certainly not least, I have truly enjoyed the time with my dogs. The chance to walk with them more often, to play tug and chase, to be silly, and to snuggle with them has been absolutely priceless.

As this next chapter begins, consider what you want to continue and what you want to leave behind. What will your new normal be?

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Losing Focus

I’m guilty of being so focused, so often, that sometimes I forget to stop and breathe until my head hits the pillow at night. It’s summer time, and as an educator, I should be slowing down, and recharging, but I find my to do lists are still lengthy. I rarely sit and watch tv, and a nap, while wonderful, cuts into my productive day. See what I did there? I justified not slowing down. I stood up for my busy-ness. It’s really not necessary. There’s a time and a place to get things done, and I am learning the hard way to just lose focus.

Losing focus isn’t about disaster, or causing problems, or being distracted. It’s about purposely taking the time to not focus so hard on goals or dreams or the work at hand. It’s about taking the time to be still, to rest, to relax in whatever form that may be. It’s snuggling with your dogs without a time limit. It’s going for a walk without a set distance in mind. It’s about losing yourself in thought. It’s about reading, and not worrying how late it is.

Lose focus, and recharge. The rejuvenation will come without guidelines, deadlines, and the end result in mind. Let your mind be still, let your body relax, and just be.

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Mindful Moments

As the effects of this pandemic continue to rock the world, I think about all the things that have changed and have stayed the same since March 13th.

These things have stayed the same (for me):

  • Waking early to walk and feed the dogs
  • Creating art lessons and giving feedback on the projects I have received
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Running regularly
  • Using my planner religiously

These things have changed drastically (for me):

  • Not being able to go anywhere
  • Ordering groceries online to be picked up curbside
  • Working from home
  • Sleeping way more than I have in years
  • Working out 6 out of 7 days a week, sometimes twice a day
  • Reading more
  • Listening to twice as many podcasts as I used to
  • Actively creating art on a day-to-day basis
  • Not seeing my friends regularly
  • An increase in Zoom conference calls, phone calls, text messages, emails
  • Not being able to hug anyone

And then I think about how lucky I am to still have a job, and how my heart aches for the rest of the world right now who is not so fortunate. My heart aches for some of the normalcies we had before this pandemic made itself known worldwide. I say some because of the things that have changed, I want to continue only some of those when the world goes back to being fully functional. I don’t even know that functional is the right word.

As I consider all that has happened, I am cognizant of the mindfulness messages circulating on social media, in my work emails, and in podcasts and radio messages I am hearing daily. This made me create my own list of mindful moments that have truly brought me joy amidst the chaos of what is happening. In times when my anxiety is rivaling the peaks of the roof on my home, I reference this list to feel grounded again.

  • Take a Deep Breath. My Calm app reminds me of this every time I open it; it doesn’t seem to care if I want calming music, earth sounds, a message of meditation, or a bedtime story.
  • Splash in all the puddles. Each rainy run I have done with friends recently has resulted in being soaked, often from jumping in the biggest puddles we can find. If this doesn’t make you smile and laugh, you need to try it for yourself!
  • Rest. I can’t tell you how many people have told me to rest. Oddly, a lot of them don’t know each other. I have slept more in the past two months than I have in a long time. Clearly, my body needs it.
  • Hug your pets. Seriously! Murphy is all about the snuggles, but let me tell you, he loves it even more that I am home so much!
Murphy boy
  • Drink enough fluids. My go to besides water has been a hot cup of Earl Grey tea. I just can’t get enough. It’s soothing, it smells great, it tastes amazing, and it makes me happy!
  • If you can hug someone, do it. Hugs are proven to relieve stress, and they honestly just make you feel better! I can’t wait to hug everyone when we are allowed to!
  • Be creative. Even if you don’t think you have an artistic bone in your body, try it. Get some sidewalk chalk and leave a kind message on a sidewalk that’s frequented in your neighborhood.
  • Smile. I promise, as silly as it sounds, it will make you feel better.

What moments of mindfulness are you practicing? Share them with me in the comments below!

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Seeking Joy

As each day goes by, I feel like they all run into each other, and I forget where I am and what’s going on. Of course, I have obligations and responsibilities to take care of, but I have to constantly look at my phone to make sure I am on the right day, at the right time for any given online appointment… mostly Zoom calls these days!

On my run this morning, I considered the most recent video blog that I listened to from Rachel Hollis. I have been following “The Next 90 Days Challenge,” and she talks about joy. It’s interesting to see everyone’s perspectives on how they are taking everything that is happening, but this post stuck to me. Rachel’s focus was on finding things that make us feel good all over, thus inspiring joy from within. She encouraged all participants to create a list of things that bring us absolute joy. As I listened, I started to jot down some of my own things that just make me feel good from the inside out.

  • a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea in the quiet hours of the morning
  • the first nudge from Murphy’s nose in the morning to wake me
  • the feeling of just finishing a run
  • driving in the car, windows down, music turned up, breeze blowing
  • having the windows open, curtains blowing, listening to the rain
  • working on a new art idea/being creative
  • hugs from family and friends
  • and the list goes on…

What I realized is that all of these things are things that can happen naturally. They aren’t necessarily forced. I just have to pause to soak in the moments, and feel the joy from the top of my head to the tips of my fingers and toes.

As we continue to navigate the ways of the world during this pandemic, try writing your own list, and seeking joy. Joy comes from within, and now is the time to embrace it!

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Gratitude and Grace in the Middle of a Pandemic

As I work from home for the 4th day in a row, I am blown away by the kindness I am witnessing in the world. For a lot of us, it was a decision that was instant to go home and stay home until we were told to come back to the physical buildings where we work. Each day I am doing the required office hour, which has lead to multiple office hours and production of work on a variety of platforms for me. I appreciate this time to increase productivity, and to simultaneously be taking care of things at home, but I miss my co-workers, the students I teach, and my friends and family near and far.

As connected of a world as we are via technology, we thrive just as much on face-to-face interactions. I see emails or messages pop up from people I know in varying facets of my life, and I smile because it’s interaction that I need and miss. During this time of confusion, scariness, and concern, I have taken several moments to pause for gratitude. I am grateful that I can work from home during this timeframe, and that my freelance and commissioned artwork continues. I am grateful that technology exists enough for me to interact with my students on a daily basis. I am grateful for the open communication from all over the world about what is happening so that I know what’s going on without leaving the safety of my home.

I am also grateful for the continued kindness I am seeing from people all around the world. There are authors sharing their stories live, artists doing live demonstrations, zoologists and vets feeding and taking care of animals, teachers sharing lesson plans via social media, parents asking for help and getting it, and so on, just to help students keep on learning and have some normalcy in these not so normal times. I am grateful for these displays of selflessness, and hope that any time I can share what I know through a random act of kindness, that I can give back too.

The other things that has stood out to me is the outpouring of grace to those who are working long hours, who have to physically go into work, to the small businesses who are offering front door pick-up, and to those families that are struggling to hang onto any semblance of structure. We are literally in uncharted waters with everything that is happening surrounding COVID-19. I really think the world is doing the best we can with what we know, and moving forward as we can with what we have on hand. As frustrating as things seem with businesses closing, schools closed until who knows when, and stores running out of supplies, remember to offer a little gratitude and a little grace. We are all in this together.

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Finding Peace in the Chaos

Handwritten illustration of chaos over tangled handwritten mess scribble or doodle

In every day life, there are so many decisions to be made, choices to select from, and whispers of regret when the right one isn’t chosen. In the moments when I feel like my head is spinning, and I can’t seem to get grounded or focused enough to see the next step, I seek the peace in the chaos.

Peace can be a multitude of things. Peace for me on days where work has me at my wits end is simply a few moments of uninterrupted, absolute quiet. Those moments of solitude and silence recharge my soul, and help me refocus my worrisome mind to one of growth instead of grumpiness.

The days where I find myself dragging from making decision after decision, and my brain is exhausted, are the days where I seek a dark room and a fuzzy blanket for an hour of sleep. The nap often recharges me, literally and figuratively, and I feel better suited to tackle the rest of my day.

In the moments where I truly cannot grasp my life, organize what’s going on, or see the light on the other side, are the moments when I lace up my running sneakers and head out the door. My peace on those days is the way I feel when I push my body to exert that crazy energy its harboring, and make it work hard. The feeling of cleansing from the inside out when I am done with a good run is rewarding and refreshing. It’s an inner peace I often seek when nothing else is falling into place.

Where do you seek your peace?

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The Importance of Rest

After running the Seashore Nature Trail 50k in December, my body clearly needed lots of rest. I waited 17 days before I ran again. I slept in on Saturdays and Sundays. I went for lots of walks with my dogs. I stretched as I needed to. I drank a ton of water and my appetite finally returned. After a long distance race of any kind, I have found that it is best to listen to my body about what it needs. Most often, the answer is inevitably the same: rest.

This rest can be different for each person. I watched other long distance runner friends run a few days following the race, and doing just fine. I was curious, jealous, and feeling a bit angsty about it. My body clearly wasn’t ready since it took me several days to just walk down the stairs the correct way instead of going down them backwards. Each person recovers in a different way, but one thing I noted is that even those who ran a few days later mentioned they were sleeping a lot more.

Running long distance has so many benefits, but requires a lot more rest. Our bodies need a chance to recover, and all the internal healing happens frequently while we sleep. Rest is important for healing, recovery, and to prevent illness and injury. I always used to think that if I missed a run, my endurance would suffer, I would put on excess weight, and I would feel miserable at my next run. None of this is true! A little extra recovery when your body is craving it can always help in the long run.

As I ease back into running for fun now, I still listen to my body. If there are muscle groups that are tight, I stretch, roll them out with a foam roller, and make sure to properly hydrate with plenty of water and electrolytes. If I am feeling particularly run down, I sleep. I keep my thirst at bay by drinking plenty of water. I also am continuing to fuel my body with healthy food choices to satiate my cravings before and after runs. The key to a great recovery is listening to your body, and resting as you need it. What’s your favorite way to rest?

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2019 Seashore Nature Trail 50K Race Recap

I don’t even know where to begin. This race means so many things to me for so many different reasons. I ran the Seashore Nature Trail 50k for the first time in 2012, and I honestly could not have asked for better race weather that day. It was cold, clear, and sunny. I ran way faster than I ever dreamed of completing it, and was in really good shape. I knew going into the race this year, 7 years later, that many factors have changed, and I wanted to be as smart as I could about preparing for the race. This race was my comeback race after taking a hiatus from long distance since June 2017.

I started slow with easing into ramping up my miles in July. I added in more yoga stretches for runners. I started actually going to a gym to get in core, back, arm, and glut workouts to strengthen all the muscles that would keep me upright running longer and longer distances. I started eating cleaner than I ever had before. Did I have the occasional cookie or ice cream? You bet. You know what was different about it though? The amount changed because my tolerance for sweets dwindled, and a bite or two would suffice. I wasn’t focused on weight loss, but rather on building endurance physically and mentally.

As the miles increased, I started to add in trail runs into my training. My legs reminded me how much I love hills, but my calves constantly screamed how much they hated me. I challenged my body with hills in many different cities, on different terrains, and in all kinds of crazy weather. I ran as little as 4 miles, and as much as 21 miles at a time. I ran tempo runs and I ran slow, slower, and more slow long runs. I ran with friends. I ran solo. I listened to several books, and hours of music. I felt the grasp of a hand on my ankle on one of the trails on the battlefields in Spotsylvania. I ran at all times of day and night.

And then it was one sleep away from race day. I had my bib in my hand, my running bag packed, and my hydration vest prepared. My running gear was set out for two different kinds of weather. I slept hard the night before the race, which could have been a combination of stress from work (so close to the holiday break!) and or the remnants of my body fighting off the strep throat I had managed to get the Saturday before.

I woke up race day calmer than I have ever been. My alarm went off, and I popped up, readying myself for the race based on the weather prediction on my phone at 5:30am. I braided my hair, brushed my teeth, let the dogs out, made my protein shake, and shook awake my other half. I was ready, and now getting anxious for the race to begin. Driving to the race in the fog did little to ease my anxiety. I kept hoping the clouds would lift and the rainy forecast would dissipate.

We arrived at First Landing State Park a full hour before the race was to begin, and the anxiety I held onto from earlier was disappearing. I walked around a bit, stopped at the restroom, chatted with some other runners, and stretched. As the clock inched closer to 8:30am, I got out of my jacket and into my hydration vest. I looped my headphones under my straps, and set my Spotify playlist to the one I wanted (or so I thought!). I walked towards the start line, and looked for my coach.

There’s plenty of benefits of having a running coach, but one of my favorites is that mine has worked with me for so long, he’s more like another dad to me than my coach. A hug from him, and well wishes on race morning were just the pick me up I needed as I got ready to start the race. My other half gave me a big hug and wished me luck as well. And then we were off. The temperature was warm at 55 degrees, as the weather had predicted, but it was also humid. While I had opted for a super thin, lightweight long sleeve top to fend off the rain, it was instantly hot, and my sleeves got shoved up above my elbows for the entirety of the race.

As I joined the other runners for the first 1.5 miles on the road that leaves the boat ramp and then returns to the Narrows Trail, I hung towards the back of the pack. I didn’t want to get squeezed into a tight space heading into the Narrows Trail. It ended up being a smart move as I watched many of us run around each other like a slinky until we got out of the trail. I was smiling as I got to the 1st aid station at the 64th Street entrance, and was happy to see many familiar faces.

As I headed down Cape Henry Trail, I started to notice something funny about my music. It was playing some songs I knew, and some I didn’t. Knowing that my iPhone is finicky in this cooler weather, I didn’t dare change the playlist and risk my phone completely shutting off, but was mad at myself for not noticing sooner that it was on a country channel that I only occasionally listen to instead of the running playlist I had carefully curated. I tried to distract myself by talking to some of the runners who seemed to be about the same pace. This helped some until I managed to roll my left ankle on Osmanthus Trail about 8 miles into the race. That stupid tree root jumped out and got me! I walked it off, and was back to running until I hit the bridges. Every single bridge on that trail was incredibly slippery, and impossible to run across. I slowly half-slid, half tip-toed across each of the 9 bridges on the trail.

Osmanthus is a trail I love to hate. I have rolled my ankle back there so many times, and yet I continue to run it. It’s also where the nagging ache in my knee (likely some tendonitis from overuse… who’s gonna tell a runner to stop running??) started to talk. BAD. It was enough to make me walk for the 2nd time in nearly 9 miles. I walk/ran myself through the 2nd aid station, and then backwards through the trails to the 1st aid station where I found my coach. I wanted to be happy that I was near completion of the 1st loop of the course, but the nagging pain in my knee was making me leery of continuing. We looked for athletic tape to give it some support, but there was none to be found. I decided to continue on, and pull myself out of the race if got to be unbearable. Truth be told, this same pain has been appearing on and off throughout my training runs. Some days it was non-existent; some days it was the instant I took my first running steps. It’s a head-shaker to say the least, and it will get much needed rest after this race until it fully heals.

As I walked my way onto the Narrows trail for the 2nd time, I burst into tears. I found myself quickly surrounded by hugs from one of my running buddies. If you’ve never cried during a race, I don’t think you’d understand. 6 months of training, of doing all the right cross-training, sleeping as much as I could to get proper rest, eating clean and enough to sustain my miles, and getting myself focused mentally were flashing before my eyes as I realized there was a chance I might not finish. The tears just came. I wanted this finish so badly, and I was determined to do it, if my body let me.

As I got further down the trail, runners who had already checked in at the first turnaround point were coming back and sharing how there were several places where high tide had flooded the trail. The Narrows is only about a mile and a half long, but there were enough places flooded that my shoes were soaked, and I splashed water up my capris and shirt along the way. The most incredible thing about these areas of flooding were that the water was ice cold and high enough to just touch under my knees. As I waded through each section, I paused long enough to squat and let the water run past my knees. The freezing cold was exactly what my knee and my calves needed for a jumpstart to the 2nd lap of the course. I cannot explain it other than the pain was instantly gone, and my fear of having to pull out of the race quickly was a last resort thought.

I was conscious the rest of the 2nd lap about making sure to walk all the downhills since that was what had triggered the pain the first time around. I ran everything else. Honestly, I ran more than I ran in my training runs, and this goes to show how truly ready I was for this race. My endurance had surpassed my expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with what my body is capable of completing. What I haven’t shared up to this point is that it had poured rain the entire day before the race, and it left everything wet, goopy, and muddy. This surely slowed down most every body on race day, myself included. I am used to splashing through puddles and mud, but the slipping that comes along with it is always intense on the body when you are running 31+ miles in one go. It attempted to rain for a short stint during the race, but thankfully it too let up.

The aid stations and volunteers at this race were incredible the ENTIRE time. Running an ultra teaches you the importance of eating real food instead of gels or shot bloks on the course. Did I use my shot bloks? Of course, but I also ate a PB&J sandwich, a few pretzels, some M&M’s, orange slices, several half cups of chicken broth, Pepsi, and pickle juice. I had several volunteers ask how I was doing, and often my response was that I was hungry. It was almost like a hiccup that escapes your lips without you realizing it til after it happens. I realized quickly that I needed food food, and at each station, I made sure to get what I needed. Oddly enough, after the race, I wasn’t hungry. I had to make myself eat a half a sub, and even then was trying not to gag. Today, a full day later, my appetite still hasn’t picked up, and I have eaten out of necessity instead of hunger. My desire for fluids has been insatiable. I can’t seem to get enough to drink.

Back to the race recap… As I reached the 1st aid station for the 4th time, I truly smiled when I saw my coach. I knew I was only 1.5 miles from completing my 2nd 50k. My coach gave me a fist bump, told me he was proud of me, and sent me on my way. Let me tell you, that last mile and a half felt like it dragged on for forever. I am super thankful the tide had gone back down, and I didn’t have to wade through the water again. My ears perked up as I could hear people cheering for other runners closing in on the finish line, and my pace picked up as much as I could muster. I knew it was my turn next, and I could not be happier to be running out of the Narrows Trail, across the finish line mats, and into the arms of my running buddies and other half waiting for me.

My goal for this race was to finish strong. It was not about time; not even once. I was determined to finish, and finish strong. I ran so much more than I dreamed I would, and in conditions that were challenging. I have missed running races with my local running community, and felt amazing being back out there. I am recharged, renewed, and ready for what lies ahead. I am officially an ultramarathoner times 2!

I cannot thank everyone enough for the support, words of advice, encouragement, the hugs, the cheering, the food, the hugs, the company, the camaraderie on race day. Thank you to all of my running buddies who have run many, many miles with me to prepare for this race. Seriously, this race is one of the best!

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Rolling with the Changes

Each time I have run in the last few weeks I have taken note of how the outdoors has changed as the weather has shifted from our late days of summer to early signs of the winter to come. Our Falls tend to be short-lived here at the beach, but I can honestly say I was wrong in thinking it would be the same this year. The leaves went from green to brilliant reds, bright yellows, and blazing oranges almost overnight as the temperatures took a quick turn south. I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled to see the changes.

Cape Henry Trail

Each time I watched a leaf fall, I thought about it’s journey from a tiny bud to a strong, growing leaflet, and eventually, to a leaf that proudly soaked in the sunshine and made the trees look full and lush. It struck me how after only two seasons, the leaf would fall to the ground, having completed its journey on this Earth. The tree will produce new leaves once Spring comes again, and this part is what stood out to me most.

As I navigate the seasons in life, should I stand still and be beaten by the changes around me, or do I roll with the changes, and see what comes my way? As the countdown begins to my race day, I think about my own “seasons” and the changes that have happened during this training cycle. I think I too am ready to shed my leaves and start anew in the Spring. I think the Seashore Nature Trail 50K will be the perfect pivot point for the next season in my life. How do you roll with the changes?

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Seeking the Calm

It may be my ears tuning into the constant conversations, or the articles that catch my eye, but I am seeing more and more conversation about self-care. Self-care looks different for each person, and sometimes can be an action, a moment of silence, or rest. As I inch closer and closer to the start date of my 50k, I am constantly seeking moments of calm. In a world where I cannot control what happens around me, I have learned I can control how I react to it. I seek the calm. My body craves the calm. My mind wants to be calm.

Many ways to be calm are things that are so simple, yet so easily neglected. How often do we get in the car, have the radio turned on, and lately the heat cranked up making all that noise coming from the vents? As soon as my car warms up, I have turned the radio off, turned the heat down, and just sit with the silence. Just breathing without thoughts. Just breathing. Sometimes a little quiet and a little time to just breathe is all you need to reset. Another easy way to seek the calm is to choose your mindset. Choose to be positive in every setting. Choose to walk away instead of being absorbed into the chaos. Another way I seek the calm is simply taking an afternoon nap. I know this is a luxury not many are afforded, but if given the chance, take a nap! My last and most recent version of seeking the calm is an app that is called “Calm.” It is multi-faceted in what it offers, but the soothing nature sounds and music it plays is enough to calm my nerves, and even help my students focus while they are working.

Making self-care a priority is not a selfish act. You cannot possibly nourish others unless you nourish yourself first. How are you seeking the calm?

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