Tag Archives: running

In Which I Ran for a Really Long Time and then Wrote for a Really Long Time

When I first sat down to write this, it had been about 33 hours since I finished my first (and last) marathon, and I still couldn’t quite believe it. If it weren’t for my body screaming at me with every movement, I wouldn’t have believed it at all, the feeling was so surreal. But the arrested sleep, and the desire to sleep more than normal, as well as the fact that, for the following two days, it took triple the usual time to ascend and descend the stairs due to all the pain – all of those things assured me that I had, in fact, run 26.2 miles. In giving you the race recap, I’ll be as concise and as interesting as possible, but bear with me. I RAN these dang miles; the least you can do is read about them.

The morning of race day was very cold, which was an abrupt switch from the temperate weather Kansas City had been enjoying, and I was underprepared. I knew what I wanted to wear, but what I wanted to wear did not match what the outdoor elements required. I’ve always trained and run races in warm or hot weather, so I don’t actually own any cold-weather-running clothes. And I like it that way. It gives me an excuse to take a six-month break from running.

I took no pre-race pictures, but I solved the unequal clothing-to-weather ratio problem by wearing tights under my running skirt and a thermal-underwear long-sleeve shirt under my favorite running tank. The long-sleeved shirt was the only thing I owned that I could stand the thought of getting rid of if I got too hot along the course. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of it for months.

Once at the starting line, I stood in the crowd alone. I had a friend running the half, and we had driven down to the start together, but we split up when he had an issue with gear check and I didn’t trust him to be finished in time for the gun to go off. Plus, we wanted to start near different pace groups anyway, so it worked better to split up. But that meant I was all by myself for about 15 minutes waiting for the race to start. I stood there looking around me at all sorts of people, some with other people, and some alone. I – perhaps for the first time, perhaps not – experienced that awful sensation of “alone in a crowd.” I felt pretty invisible.

I was so far back – because of my estimated pace – that I never even heard any announcements or the gun going off. All I knew was that one minute we were standing there, and the next we were shuffling forward. It was pretty crowded for a while, and I had trouble finding a comfortable pace because I had to dodge all those who immediately started walking. I also had to rein in my urge to fall in step with some who came from behind me and took up a faster pace than I wanted to do. In the beginning of a very long run, it’s always hard to find the exact perfect pace. Too much, and you will run out of gas long before the finish. Too little, and it’s difficult to convince yourself a) that you even can go that slow, or b) that you’re actually doing something more strenuous than speed-walking.

Eventually, though, I found what worked for me, and I cruised around people who started walking even before the first hill, and I relaxed and let people who wanted to pass me, pass me. I kept to the inside corners as much as I could to maximize foot-on-pavement time, and overall I was feeling pretty good. Somewhere around mile 2 I ditched my shirt. I did it right after the first aid station so I could just extend my walk break a little while I adjusted. I did remove both layers of my clothing and was down to just my sports bra in 30-something-degree weather for a few short seconds. It was cold, and putting on just a tank top after removing my long sleeves didn’t do much to alleviate the cold, but overall I thought I felt better, and I assumed I’d warm up, especially since the ascent up to mile 3 was the Liberty Memorial Hill (a.k.a. the worst hill of the entire race; yes, nice that we get it out of the way early).

I was still feeling good on that hill. I had to dodge even more people who began walking, and not only was I still going; I hadn’t slowed my pace down yet at all. I got to the top and felt a little wheezy but kept moving. Shortly after that hill is another steep one that goes up the road that passes behind the dog park and beside the Federal Reserve building, behind the museum and Liberty Memorial. That one is extremely steep but not long, so I managed it fine too. The only hiccup came when one of the traffic cops shouted a dumb question to the runners: “Is this the marathon course?”, and one runner behind me shouted back an even dumber answer: “No, it’s just the half marathon.” I turned and yelled, “It’s both until mile 7 or so,” and then kept going.

When I crested the top of that hill, I felt really good zipping down the other side, and was totally confused by the fact that people were still walking on the downhill (um, hello, that’s the easy part). I continued on, keeping to my strategy of staying as much on the inside corners as possible, which is actually a really difficult strategy that requires you crossing the street a lot. While I was busy focusing on zigging and zagging, I missed the mile 4 marker, and my shoe came untied. We were heading south on Main Street by this time, so the crowd was able to widen up considerably, but overall most runners kept to the right side of the two lanes of the road, leaving the other two lanes totally empty. When I noticed my loose shoelace, I was in about the middle of the pack laterally. Heading over to the empty part of the road as opposed to the sidewalk (trafficked with bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, and other types of onlookers) seemed like the least crowded, most convenient option.

I glanced behind me once to see how far over I needed to go then slipped to the outer edge of the crowd and bent down to tie my shoe. Shortly after I bent down, a guy running all by himself in that outside lane, at least three tall-man’s arms’-lengths’ worth away from the nearest pack member, shouted at me, “Well, I guess I could jump over you” in a sarcastic tone as he ran by. My instinct was to apologize, and I did, but as I watched him gain distance in front of me, I realized he was the one being rude, and I got a little indignant about the whole thing. I mean, I specifically pulled a significant distance away from the pack so I could tie my shoe, and you’re going to get mad at me because you’re not running within race parameters? Yeah. Okay, buddy. 

Coming up on mile 6, I was still feeling good physically, although a little forlorn emotionally, considering none of the sideline cheerers or signs thus far had been specifically for me. I knew going into it that this would be the case, but it was still hard not to get a little resentful about the fact that I’d done all this work, trained for so many months, and everybody but me had friends and supporters on the side cheering for them, and I had no one. I, again, felt invisible. As we rounded a corner in Westport to head down to the plaza, I suddenly heard “AUDRA” from the sidewalk. I looked over, and there was a familiar face! A smiling friend! He wasn’t there to see me specifically; I knew that. He possibly didn’t even know I was running that day, but he was there, and he saw me. And that felt good. That fueled me into another burst of downhill energy, and I realized I was still feeling pretty good.

Down on the plaza, on 47th Street, I crossed the street to give a spectator a high-five. She was bundled up in a coat and gloves, and as I reached out to slap her hand, she said to me, “Wow. You’re making me cold just looking at you!” I smiled and kept going but looked down at my goosebump-covered arms and realized that I couldn’t actually feel my fingers. I could move them, but I could not feel them moving. And I thought that yeah, it actually was kinda cold, come to think of it, and maybe I shouldn’t have ditched my shirt so early. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept going.

Between miles 7 and 8, we split from the half marathoners, and I cried. Not for the first time. Off and on over those first few miles, I teared up a lot. When I crested the first – and nastiest – hill; when I saw the face of my friend on the corner; when I reached the checkpoint for 6.2 miles (10k); when I wondered if my fingers were going to get any more frozen than they already were, and if my limited dexterity would impede my taking water and Gatorade from the volunteers’ hands at the aid stations. But crying when the half marathoners split off was rather more significant. I felt like I was losing a huge group of friends I would never see again. Even though I hadn’t spoken to a single one of them. Silly as it sounds, though, it was a loss because, after that, the crowd thinned out a lot, and not only was I now running this race by myself, I was doing it literally alone. Even the sideline cheerers had disappeared.

On my way to mile 9, the first, second, third, and fourth place runners passed us going back the other way. They were on mile 20 already. Although, now that I think about it, I realize that the only reason I call them the first, second, third, and fourth place runners is that they were the first and last way-ahead-of-me-on-the-course runners I saw. But I suppose there could’ve been runners in front of them even, who had passed that marker while I was still doing even earlier miles. That seems preposterous, but I guess I don’t know. I was hovering at that time around the 5:15 pace group, and the pace leader, when those runners passed us going the other way, said, “They are on about a 6:20” pace, and everyone huddled around him in his group oohed and aahed like we were on a safari or one of those city bus tours and he was the tour guide. It was a little bizarre, and I was happy when they pulled away from me.

I knew they were a group I couldn’t stay with anyway. If I kept to my half-marathon pace for the entire marathon, I would’ve finished around 5:20 at the earliest, so 5:15 was a pipe dream, and I had never intended to be in front of them or finish with them or anything. My running strategy during races is to ignore all pace groups except to take them in when I pass them or they pass me as purely informational. So the information I took in here was that I had stayed ahead of the 5:15 pace group through 9 miles. That meant two things to me: 1) I was doing well; 2) I was slowing down. I didn’t let it faze me. I just kept moving.

Around this time was when I began to realize that I had no real concept of where the course was supposed to go. I have done the half portion of the Kansas City Marathon twice, so I know that course well. I had looked at the marathon course map enough to know generally where it went. I knew which road I’d be on for most of the going-south part, and I knew which road I’d be on that would bring me back north. But there were several twisty-turnies that I didn’t look at closely. Between miles 10 and 11, I noticed that the runners were much sparser. There were much fewer in front of me than there had been. There were still several behind me, but they were way back.

I dutifully followed the two girls and guy who were most closely in front of me, and keeping my eye on them helped me navigate several turns I wasn’t sure about. After a particularly confusing turn, I started to wonder what I would do if I lost sight of the people in front of me. I was between miles 11 and 12 by this time, and I was afraid to slow down at the aid station in case the runners in front of me pulled ahead too much. I reached deep down, found some unused energy, and kept what felt like a rigorous and grueling pace in order to keep them in sight. Before I reached mile 12, however, I happened to glance down at one of the intersections where I needed to turn, and I noticed for the first time that the pavement I was pounding had white spray-paint arrows that pointed the way at each turn. AHA! What a discovery! Had these been there the entire time? I had no idea. But they were there now, and that was what mattered. Direction. Guidance. Assurance that I wouldn’t get lost. I could relax my pace. So I did, and I soon lost the runners I’d been keeping tabs on.

I spent all of miles 12 and 13 in the rich neighborhood. One house I passed had a full-on carnival going in their enormous front yard. There were games, food and drink, people milling about, having a great time. There was even – I kid you not – a bouncy house. Most people who were out on their lawns while the runners went by cheered for us and encouraged us. Not the people at this party. They barely even acknowledged that we were there. As I ran by, I imagined the tweet I would compose if I were able. I would’ve attached a picture of the scene accompanied by the following hashtag: #RichPeopleBeingRichPeople. I kept going.

By the time I reached mile 13, the course had taken so many turns that I was legitimately lost, despite the fact that I was no more than two miles from my own house, and only a few blocks from some of my own training routes. One thing I knew, though. The numbered street I looked up at said 54th Street, which was confusing because I knew I had already gone as far as 58th, and I knew I had to get to 75th before I could turn back north again. So how had I gotten all the way back to 54th? I must have looked fatigued as I passed a particular course volunteer because he called out to me, “There are 4 miles of downhill coming up!” I replied, “That sounds wonderful because all I can see in front of me is uphill.” Then he backpedaled: “Well, yes. You have to make it to 75th before the downhills will start.” Thanks, dude. Thanks for letting me know I still had to go twenty more blocks before I could have a glimmer of a downhill. If I could’ve spared the energy, I would’ve smacked him.

Once I reached mile 14, I was squarely on one of my regular training routes and feeling tired but pretty good overall. Except for the nagging feeling of how close to my own house I was, and how much closer I would get before this was all over, and how far away from my house the finish line was. At one point I crossed my street, and some race volunteers called out to encourage me. I yelled, “THIS IS THE STREET I LIVE ON! I WANT TO GO HOME!” They laughed. They thought I was joking. I guess I was, a little bit. Shortly after that I saw one of my favorite signs from the day: YOU ROCK. YOU TRAINED LONGER THAN KIM KARDASHIAN’S MARRIAGE.

That’s right, I DID train longer than her marriage, I told myself, even though I have no idea how long her marriage lasted. At mile 15, I began to touch the mile markers as I passed them because my head was feeling swimmy, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust that they were real. Things were starting to feel difficult at that point. I tried to console myself with the assurance that the number of miles I had left to go was fewer than the number I’d already gone, but the only thing that kept flashing in my head, without permission, was, ELEVEN MORE MILES. ELEVEN. ELEVEN. YOU HAVE TO RUN ELEVEN MORE. They sure aren’t kidding when they say running is as much a mental sport as physical. Mile 16 brought an important turn. I didn’t have to go any farther south. Any movement past that point would be movement toward the finish line rather than away from it. It also brought a long stretch of sunshine, which I welcomed, but there was surprisingly little warmth.

And then. There was an another aid station. And then: Mile 17. I have no idea where mile 17 began, but it never ended. I have no clue what happened to me during mile 17, but I wanted to die. I did not feel like my body could take one more step. My hamstrings were screaming at me, and burning – the same way they did right after I crossed the finish line of my first-ever half marathon. Except when it happened then, I was able to sit down and stretch. When it happened on mile 17, I had to tell myself – and my hamstrings – to keep it together for another 9 miles. My entire body protested, and I finally realized that I hadn’t yet allowed myself any walk breaks. During the summer I had trained in intervals of 7 minutes. I ran for 7 minutes, and I walked for 1. Over and over and over until the last mile was complete. It was the only bearable way to go past what had previously been my absolute distance limit of 13 miles. The only way I could conceive of getting in 15-, 17-, and 20-mile training runs was to do them in intervals. So when I realized during mile 17 that, except for the brief and brisk breaks at aid stations, I hadn’t walked yet at all, I decided I could damn well take a break. I slowed down to a walk and breathed deeply. I looked around me. Still plenty of runners back there, although now I was about to be passed by quite a few of them, including the 5:30 pace group, which I never saw again. I told myself it was okay. I took in my surroundings. I saw a guy in front of me take a picture of himself and realized I too could do that now. I took my phone out of its running sleeve, ignored all the text, Twitter, and Facebook notifications, and opened up the camera. I tried to look happy, but I felt miserable, and I think the picture shows it. It was the only mid-race picture I took. I put my phone away and sat down to stretch. I contemplated the meaning of life and the point of running and came up with no meaning or point for either. I asked Jesus where the hell he’d been all day and reminded him that he had an open invitation to join me on this run any time he felt like he could spare a minute or two. I thought about the guy who had promised the “4 miles of downhill” and looked ahead, realizing I was past the 75th Street mark where he said it would all change, but all I could see was the road sloping upward yet again. I said out loud, “I feel like I’ve been lied to.” At some point during mile 17 – I have no idea when – I found the courage to discard all the despair and start running again. That was most certainly the longest mile of the course. I would not at all be surprised to learn they made a mistake and crammed two miles into mile 17.

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At mile 18, there was another aid station, and I realized I could feel my fingers again. The dexterity was back! I used the restroom for the first time. I had been avoiding the restrooms up to that point because they all had lines in front of them, and I know myself. I knew I would not be able to make up any lost time I used in the restroom, so I wanted to minimize that loss as much as possible. After that, I had a long stretch down Brookside that led me to mile 20, and I have no idea what happened from mile 18 to mile 20. I was totally in autopilot, just-keep-going mode. But, at mile 20, there were some spectators along the side of the road who cheered for me – the only runner in sight when I passed by them. They said I was doing great, and one of them suggested I do some jumping jacks. I glared at them, and they laughed, and I laughed, and I kept going.

After that, mile 21 appeared very quickly, and then I knew I was close to seeing my friends. They stood in the middle of mile 21, and one of them started jumping up and down as soon as she saw me, which gave me a small burst of energy. The other one held up a sign that said #TeamAudra and had the Royals crown logo on the top with my initials scripted inside instead of the KC. My hamstrings were burning again by the time I reached them, so I took the opportunity to sit on the curb and stretch some more while they lavished me with praise and encouragement. One of them decided to run to the end of the block with me, and when I looked up at the end, I was astounded to be at mile 22.

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After I was alone again, I let myself have another walk break. Things were starting to feel a little hopeless. I was so beaten down and weary, and I still had to manage four more miles. It seemed impossible. I got going again and went up the last two hills, both of which were gradual slopes but long. I rounded a corner and hit mile 23 and was offered FOOD for the first time during the race. It was just pretzels – not at all an ideal race-running food – but I shoved them in my mouth anyway, and washed them down with Gatorade, chased by water. After I finished the pretzels, I had the thought, Hey. I’m gonna make this. I’m gonna finish this damn race. I only have three more miles to go! I CAN DO THREE MORE MILES! I must’ve said the last part out loud because a race volunteer shouted at me, “YEAH you can! You got this!”

A girl who had been trading places with me ahead and behind for the last few miles appeared alongside me and said, “Hey, you’re really doing great. I’ve enjoyed following your bright-orange shirt. Good luck to the finish!” And then she fell behind me again, and I used her encouragement to take a few more steps and keep going.

Then, in the middle of mile 23, my friend who had done the half appeared out of nowhere on the course, which gave me a burst of happiness and excitement to see someone I knew. He started running alongside me, and I asked if he was going to go all the way to the finish with me, and he said yes, if that was okay. I said of course it was okay, and picked up my pace a little (of course, that could’ve been due to the downhill).

I don’t remember much of mile 24 or mile 25. I was so incredibly tired. I kept asking which mile we were on, and if we’d already passed such-and-such a mile marker. I was too weary to think much beyond telling myself to keep going.

And then I saw the mile 26 marker. And, shortly after that, the finish line. I sped up a little and started to cry. Once I reached the corrals, my dad was right there taking pictures and cheering me on. And then my mom was a little ways beyond him, waving a bunch of balloons and some flowers. I started to sprint, at the same time marveling at the fact that I had energy enough left to sprint. Of course, what felt like sprinting to me probably looked like slow-mo running to everyone on the sidelines, but I didn’t care. Tons of strangers were cheering for me and shouting, “Finish strong! Good job! You did it!” and I realized that I had done it. Just before I officially crossed the line, the PA announcer said, “AUDRA MARVIN,” and I threw my arms up in the air in triumph as I stomped down on the finish mat.

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It was over. I had actually done it. And I couldn’t think of a time in my life before that moment when I had felt so proud or so happy. I let them cut the chip off my shoe and hang the heavy medal around my neck, and I let my parents hug me and fawn over me, and I sat down and stretched and ate and drank and breathed deeply, and let the pride and the verbal accolades wash over me.

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And that’s the story of how I officially became a marathoner.

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The 2013 Royalcoaster* Has Come to a Complete Stop

The 2013 Royals season has been described on Twitter, in the papers, and by word of mouth as a roller coaster of a season. For a team that has spent the better part of almost three decades languishing in irrelevance and embarrassment, I picked an interesting time to become a fan (summer 2012) because of all the attention the 2013 team got. The 2012 team performed below fan expectations but right about at the expectations of the rest of the country, and aside from the long and embarrassing 12-game losing streak in April 2012, nothing happened to the team that year that was really worth noting. (Side note: If you google “Royals losing streak” without tagging on a year, the number of results that come up is horrifying.) So in other words, it was the perfect time for a gal to become a fan. No fanfare, no relevance, no bandwagon accusations could have possibly been leveled at me in 2012.

The 2013 season, however, has been entirely different. In my opinion, the season itself can be summed up with a series of capital-letter terms that mark key events and turning points throughout the year.

And, despite being the 2013 season, it all truly began in 2012, on December 10, with The Trade. I remember this clearly because on December 11, I was tasked with the purchase of a newspaper for my brother, whose firstborn daughter had arrived that day, and I was pleased to see that my niece’s front-page day-of-birth story was none other than a full-page devotion to discussion of the blockbuster trade that sent Wil Myers (and other young prospects) to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields (and Wade Davis and a PTBNL, who turned out to be Elliot Johnson). The Trade sparked a flurry of discussion, speculation, outrage, and delight, all surrounding the Royals, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Kansas City since at least the previous summer with the All-Star Game hullabaloo. And before that? Who knows. It was intense, and whether one loved or hated it, everyone – even casual fans, even my Boston Red Sox fan, new-daddy brother – had an opinion about The Trade. And we still had to wait three whole months for spring training to begin to even see a glimpse of what Shields would bring to our team. So we waited. And we discussed. And we speculated. And we feared.

And then spring training came. And the Royals breezed through spring training without a hitch, playing some of the best – and most meaningless – baseball the city had ever seen. Hopefuls like myself took it as a good sign that the team had figured things out, that Eric Hosmer would return to his fabled 2011 form (fabled because I never saw it, not being a fan back then), that Mike Moustakas would also break out as the star he had once been projected to be. Casual fans were mildly interested in the spring training success, and skeptics were, well, skeptic, of course. And the rest of MLB and its fans looked on and laughed. “Look at the Royals; they’re doing so well in spring training, and it’s making their fans hopeful. Isn’t that cute?”

And then April came, and the Royals came out of the gate hot, marching their way to a winning first month, and causing local sports radio to spend hours on end each day discussing them. Even the non-sports stations threw in mentions every now and then. The general notion was surprise with a hint of, “But it’s only April; can it last?” And, of course, the rest of MLB and its fans looked on and laughed. “Look at the Royals; they’re doing so well in April, and it’s making their fans hopeful. Isn’t that cute?” Even so, the Royals weren’t without their struggles in April. They battled through every kind of delay possible in both April and May. There were rain delays, snow delays, manhunt delays, you name it. (Yes, a Royals game scheduled in Boston was actually postponed because the city was on lockdown while the police hunted for the Boston Marathon terrorist – whom they found that same day, just about an hour before it would’ve been game time.) The number of off days – both scheduled and unscheduled – that the Royals had in April and early May had many wondering if baseball season had actually begun. We were deprived of everyday baseball for so long that it was painful, torturous.

And then, the month of May happened. There was an 11-game home losing streak as well as a straight-up 8-game losing streak. The Royals only won 8 games in the month of May, compared to 20 losses. The month of May contained such capital-letter incidents as The Pull, The New Hitting Coach, and The Rain Delay Win. May is the month that everyone points back to now that the Royals have lost out on the postseason. “If only it hadn’t been for May…” It’s always something with the Royals, it seems. Each year, though, there are so many “if onlys” that listing them becomes ludicrous. But this year, with the Royals having a winning month in every single month except May, that terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad month of baseball really is the one culprit keeping us out of playing October baseball this year.

May started out just fine. The Royals won their first three games of the month. And then they began to lose, starting with The Pull. I’m not about to get into the details of whether Ned Yost should’ve pulled Shields from that game. It was a surprise to me, and the loss that resulted was certainly heartbreaking. Did Yost make the wrong call? Probably. Is hindsight 20/20, and am I great at pretending I know something about baseball from my couch? Absolutely. The superstitious (and even the little stitious) among us will point to that date as the reason the horrendous month of May happened. It’s true that there’s a correlation, but I don’t think it’s true that there’s a cause and effect relationship there.

Something else that manifested in the month of May was the fact that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas sucked. Of course, that was true in 2012 too, but for some reason it just became extremely noticeable and embarrassing in May. And nobody knew what to do about it. Nobody had any explanation for it. So, in an act of desperation that also served as a PR stunt, the Royals fired their hitting coaches and named George Brett to be the interim hitting coach. This appeased and excited fans and made it look like the organization was doing something. There was so much buzz around George Brett wearing a uniform and being in the dugout again. Even though I wasn’t a Royals fan as a kid, I did grow up in the metro area, so I’ve long known and understood the reverence with which Kansas City views George Brett. So even I got excited about what it might mean for him to be part of the team staff.

And then, of course, to cap off the month and end the losing streak, the Royals ended up powering through The Rain Delay to beat the Cardinals in what will for sure be one of the most remembered games from 2013. So many crazy things happened that night, including a clutch home run from Jeff Francoeur that kept the Royals in the game before the four-hour delay began; Jeremy Guthrie and other Royals players helping prepare the field for play after the long delay; and Mike Moustakas handing out snacks to the few fans remaining in the stands, to name a couple.

The brave, the committed, the few stayed awake in Kansas City to see the Royals hang on to get that win against the hated Cardinals. Except for the fact that the umpires knew the Royals had already had a lot of games canceled due to weather, I can’t imagine why Joe West insisted the game be played that night. Waiting out long rain delays seems like something you would do at the end of the season, in a postseason push, or in the postseason. It must have been abnormal for the crew to decide to wait out the delay, but that’s what they decided, so that’s what we did. And things felt especially emotional that night. We had just lost three in a row to St. Louis, and two of the losses had been at home, in front of near-sellout crowds that contained more Cardinal red in the stands than Royal blue. Jeremy Guthrie had been out-dueled that night by rookie Michael Wacha making his MLB debut. We were still trying to shake off the irregularities in our schedule, the insane number of scheduled off days and unscheduled postponements we’d already had on the year. Our hearts were breaking from a month of bad baseball after two months of hope and promise. That win meant so much to so many, and those of us who stayed up together on Twitter to await the final result will be forever bonded by the memory of that game.

Following the craziness of May, June was relatively quiet, except for the fact that it seemed George Brett had magically fixed Eric Hosmer, and there were hopeful signs with Moustakas too. The Royals started winning again, finished June with a winning record, and headed toward the All-Star Break having renewed fans’ hope. And then, on July 3, The Collision happened, and Kauffman was quiet and fearful for what seemed like an eternity as Alex Gordon – toughest of the tough – lay on the ground in left field after colliding with the bullpen wall, and didn’t get up. I’ve seen other players get hurt and take awhile to get up. I was there when Jose Reyes messed up his ankle at second base and had to be carried off the field. I’ve seen both Cain and Lough take outfield spills and take some time to get up. But this was Alex. Alex, who, when he collides with a wall, you hear the wall complain. Alex, who dives and rolls and slams then pops right back up immediately. Alex, who hits things twice as hard as Cain and gets up twice as fast. Alex, who never even shakes off a rough collision, just comes up smiling and blowing bubbles with his gum. That same Alex lay, hardly moving, in left field, and my heart was in my throat. I was sitting in the upper deck along the first-base line, so I couldn’t see much of anything. All I knew for sure was that the minutes were passing, and Alex wasn’t getting up. Eventually, of course, he did get up, and he walked off the field on his own, which was a relief. But he looked more shaken than I’ve ever seen him, and I’ve never been more scared about a possible DL stint. If this team needs anybody to stay healthy, it’s Alex. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the outfield would look like without Alex standing out there every day (or most days). Relying on Jeff Francoeur even more heavily? I didn’t even want to consider it.

Luckily, Alex didn’t go on the DL and was only out a couple of games (fewer than he later took off for paternity leave), so it was a moot point, and then Frenchy himself was released just two days after The Collision. The Release was a day of mixed emotions for almost everyone. We were all happy for the indication that management recognized that Francoeur wasn’t a solution for right field. But everybody likes Francoeur (me most of all, as you doubtless recall). So, while we were happy to be losing a huge liability in RF, I do think most of us were also pretty sad to be losing the personality and congeniality that came with RF. And, of course, we all miss his throwing arm. But we’ve survived.

The Royals dashed fans’ hopes again by going on a skid right before the All-Star Break. Luckily, however, the disappointment that should’ve pervaded through the break was dissipated by the news that three Royals players – yes, three – had made the All-Star team. Fans who are smarter than I am (or like spending time searching for that stuff more than I do) would be able to tell you when the last time was that three Royals players were named to the All-Star Game, but just know that it’s been many years. It came down to the wire too. We knew immediately there were two (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez both got voted in as reserves), and we were excited enough about that, since it had been years and years since the Royals had had more than the token player required from each team. And then, shortly before the game, we found out that Greg Holland had been named to the team as well, and we all got drunk on the excitement. And the game itself was special. My eyes teared up when I watched Alex jog out to left field, when I watched Sal stalk out in his gear to the plate. And then they brought Holland in to pitch during the same inning that Perez and Gordon played, which meant that, for a moment in baseball history, Royals players comprised one-third of the on-field American League All-Star Team. It was an emotional and proud moment in Kansas City.

And then, of course, after the All-Star Break, all hell broke loose when the Royals embarked on The Streak. The nine-game winning streak was the first time that I noticed people begin to say “If only…” about the month of May. For me, the most exciting part of The Streak was the fact that, post-ASB, national media and other fanbases were still talking about the Royals. And they weren’t laughing anymore. Yes, they were all surprised, and the discussion wasn’t without its sarcastic jabs, but that comes with the territory of a losing legacy like the one the Royals have created, and everyone had begun to recognize that the Royals were doing something that might be worth watching.

The Royals cruised to a winning July, and then things got really exciting. We had reached August 1, and the Royals were above .500. Twitter was abuzz, radio was abuzz, the Kansas City Star was abuzz. Everyone was so excited that we were about to play some relevant baseball in August. Historic! Hasn’t been done in a decade! Chiefs training camp had begun by this time, and people were happy to have the problem of wanting to discuss both the Royals and the Chiefs on August 1. And, on August 1, Lorenzo Cain amped up that excitement by making The Catch. The Catch is arguably my personal favorite moment from 2013, although what I’m about to describe from September certainly competes. But someone from the Star (probably John Sleezer, but I’m not sure) took the picture that made the front page the day after The Catch. It is a picture that shows the pure delight of the Royals bullpen pitchers, in front of which Cain happened to make the Game-Saving, Trevor-Plouffe-Home-Run-Robbing Catch, and no fan can look at that picture and not smile. August was another winning month for the Royals, and in great ways. (My birthday also occurred in August, and brought a 13-0 win against the Twins, as well as the Fountain Mom excitement.)

And then we rolled into September, above .500, playing relevant baseball, and with an outside shot at a wildcard spot. By that time, the fanbase was out of control. A commonly trending hashtag on Twitter was #TheHuntForBlueOctober, and people started discussing how they would finance postseason tickets. I never got that crazy because I know I’ll never in a million years be able to afford postseason baseball tickets for any team in any city, but especially since the Royals themselves, once things got into mid-September and it became clear we were still in the race, invoiced season ticketholders with one of the highest postseason markups in the history of baseball. Of course, if the Royals didn’t make the postseason, then that money could be applied toward 2014 season ticket costs. But to hear some of the numbers season ticketholders quoted, it sounded to me like it would finance 2015 and 2016 season ticket costs as well! (They denied that it was that bad, but I’m still unsure.)

The Royals, hesitant to disappoint an ecstatic fanbase, certainly made September an exciting ride. Our proximity to the wildcard made every win exhilarating, but the number of teams we had to overcome to achieve a wildcard spot made every loss heartbreaking. In the span of a few short days, we experienced the extreme high that accompanied The Throw, the extreme low that accompanied The Mismanagement, and then another high from The Double Steal. Alcides Escobar has been the target of some vitriol from fans this year, based on his poor batting average, and also the fact that it has become clear that 2012 was a career year for him defensively, and he has showed some regression in range, skill, and basic baseball smarts this year. But, as the middle man in The Throw that Alex got in from the outfield that Alcides then relayed from third base to Sal to get Prince Fielder at the plate and save a very important game against the Tigers, Escobar vaulted himself into esteem with the fans. And then he increased it a few short days later against the Indians, when he and Alex executed The Double Steal, which put them both in pickle situations that they both miraculously got out of, allowing Escobar to score and Alex to take second base. I’m not sure how many times a steal of home plate has been attempted this year, but the only other success I know of is the rookie from the Astros who did it earlier in the summer. I was at the game where Escobar did it, and I was screaming my head off at Alex because, since Bonifacio (who was at the plate) missed the sign and didn’t swing at the pitch, the play looked unplanned and bone-headed. I only found out later, listening to Ned on the post-game show, that the play had been called for, and Bonifacio had screwed up his part. If you haven’t clicked on any other links in this post thus far, The Throw and The Double Steal are worth a watch. I promise.

Between those two highs was the game where Yost so obviously mismanaged Jeremy Guthrie that even I, listening on the radio during a 17-mile run, knew that Yost was making a bad call. To sum up, Guthrie had been getting knocked around all game long by the Tigers. He spent the entire game working himself out of jams. He should’ve come out around the 6th inning or so, and many were surprised that he was left in for 7, but everyone knew he wouldn’t come out in the 8th. After all, the game was tied, 2-2. The Royals actually had a chance to win, and Guthrie had been getting lucky. The game was relevant and important. No manager in his right mind would bring out his starter for yet another inning in that situation, especially with Avila, the guy who had already hit a home run off that same pitcher earlier in the game, coming to the plate; especially when his team is armed with the best bullpen in the American League; especially when there are just six outs to go, assuming the Royals could rough up the Detroit bullpen and take the lead (which they’ve proven all year they can certainly do). I was running downhill, heading north on State Line Road, near 47th St, when I heard Denny say that Guthrie was coming back out to the mound for the top of the 8th inning. I screamed, “What?!” And then the next thing I said was, “Please, Jeremy, do NOT give up a home run.” And, well, the rest is history. Guthrie gave up that home run, to Alex Avila, and the Tigers won that game. I had to spend the final two miles of my run listening to Josh Vernier yell angrily in my ears on the post-game show. I wanted to cry. I was already beat from the 14-15 miles I’d run up to that point. That loss made me want to crawl the rest of the way home.

Lots of people will arbitrarily assign a number of games that Ned Yost is responsible for us losing this year. I do not pretend to know how to manage a bullpen or any other aspect of a major-league ballgame. I will confidently blame Ned for The [Shields] Pull and The [Guthrie] Mismanagement, and that is all. Of course, we have no way of knowing how it would’ve turned out. Maybe Shields wouldn’t have been able to finish out his game with a win. Maybe the bullpen wouldn’t have bailed Guthrie out, and maybe the offense wouldn’t have stepped up to break the tie in the Tigers game. But, with the knowledge he had at the time of each decision, Ned Yost made the wrong call both times. And that is certainly infuriating. Would two games make a difference today? Maybe. We might still be fighting for the wild card. I don’t know (mainly because I’m not good at math). But, even with the right call made, there’s still no guarantee we would’ve won those two games. So we just have to let it go, heartbreaking as it is.

Finally, last week, the Mariners showed us no sympathy at all, and spoiled our playoff hopes for good by handing us two losses at Safeco Field. We kept things alive for a short while by winning our first game against them in 12 long innings (I was on the west coast and dealing with jet lag, in a bar I’d never been in before that had generously agreed to put the Royals game on – since the Giants had an off day – and let me sit there drinking water in excess and almost falling off my stool from weariness). By the time the Royals won in the 12th inning, I was too tired to even cheer. And then, the following night, because I’m ridiculous, I chose not to go out and see the city I was visiting but rather to sit in my hotel room and watch the Royals lose. Although, tired as I was, I didn’t do much watching, because I fell asleep in my bed, with the game playing in my lap. By Wednesday last week, my hope for the Royals was gone, and it was a good thing, since I wasn’t going to be able to watch Wednesday night’s loss anyway (occupied as I was by a different game, at AT&T Park).

And so the roller coaster ride has come to an end. Yes, there are two games left in the season, and yes, the Royals may make some spectacular plays such as Alex’s last night at U.S. Cellular Field. But the journey, the hunt, the ride, and the excitement are over, and we’re now looking at 2014 possibilities and potential off-season moves. As heartbreaking as it has been to ultimately lose out, we knew it was more likely than not to happen sometime. After all, it does happen to 29 of 30 teams every single year. The Royals took us on a wilder, longer ride than many expected this year, and I hope they do it again next year. It’s been fun to be a Royals fan in 2013. And now, as the season winds down and we choose our postseason alliances, I say with all sincerity, in solidarity with the fanbase that is closest to feeling our pain, “Go Pirates.”

*Acknowledgment to my friend David Lesky (@DBLesky) for coining the word Royalcoaster.

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Wherein I Confess That I’m Marathon Training

Yes, let’s get the spoiler out of the way right up front: I’m training for my first full marathon.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know that the half marathon is my “thing.” And you also know that I sort of hate running but do it to practice discipline as well as community as well as general health.

If you’re new here, then you may not realize just how big of a bomb I dropped in that first sentence.

But it’s the truth. In January of this year, I signed up to run the Kansas City Marathon, which will be taking place on October 19. I intentionally kept the news a secret from all but a very few people. I know it seems like an absurd thing to keep secret, but I had my reasons.

First, I’ve never run anything close to 26.2 miles. The farthest I’d gone, as of January when I signed up, was 13.1 miles, and I’ve always been proud of myself beyond measure for doing that distance. And, every time I’ve finished a half marathon, I’ve felt totally spent, incapable of moving another half step, let alone another mile, let alone another thirteen miles. I’ve many times considered signing up for a full and have always chickened out, sticking to what I “know” my body can do.

But over this past winter, the idea started weighing really heavily on me. Should I try? If I don’t try, will I regret it? I’ll never know if I can do it unless I just go do it. I turn 29 this year. I don’t have any “I want to do this before I’m 30” bucket list items, so maybe now’s a good time to make one.

So I decided to sign up, but a primary reason I kept it a secret was that I decided I’d switch to the half marathon if I got into my training and realized my body just couldn’t handle it. And I didn’t want to have the humiliation of having announced that I had signed up for the full and then have to let everyone know that no, it was too much, and I was going to do the half instead.

I had one more reason for keeping it a secret, and this one had to do with some conversations I’d been having with God during that time about humility. As I’ve already mentioned, I am extremely proud of myself for the distances I’ve accomplished since my running career began a little more than three years ago. But I had let my pride become boastful. I spent a lot of time bragging about how far I’d run, and how many half marathons I’ve finished, etc. Truthfully, I did this not because I’m think I’m amazing but because I’m amazed at myself that I could do it, if that even makes sense. Running doesn’t come easily to me, and it’s not something I enjoy, and my pace is not one that will have people getting whiplash as they watch me go by. Using these and other reasons, I found myself easily able to justify all my boasting as “not really boasting.”

But it is, and it was. And God pointed that out to me in our conversations, and I felt disgusted by it. So when I signed up for the full marathon, I decided that I would show Boasting who’s Boss. I would keep it a secret, and not brag about my training distances at all, and nobody would have any idea that I was doing anything more than my routine 13.1 until the week before the full marathon. Then I’d announce it.

I decided it would be lots of fun to lie to people about my training, and I decided it would be okay to lie because, even though lying was wrong, it was simply a means to an end that was ultimately for my own good. And I’d explain it all eventually, and everyone would understand, so it wouldn’t really be lying. Lying’s okay if you have a legitimate reason, right? And what reason is more legitimate than spiritual formation? At least, that is the logic that made sense to me in January.

Here in August, with the last few weeks of training coming up, it seems absurd and totally nonsensical, and I realize now that maybe I didn’t finish listening to God’s side of those conversations we had about humility. Perhaps God had something in mind like that I would train, like normal, and talk about it when asked but not go out of my way to brag about it by posting my distances all over social media like I always do. Or maybe there was a different, even more intelligent plan that I never heard because I received the message “You need to practice humility” and then totally ran away with it, shouting, “I’M GOING TO TRAIN FOR A FULL MARATHON, AND THEY’LL NEVER KNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW.”

I can see God now, shaking his head and chuckling at me, maybe even leaning over to Jesus on his right and saying, “Welp. This should be interesting. Let’s watch and see what happens.” (I kinda think that exchange may happen between them more often than not when it comes to discussing me.)

Besides the common-sense fact that lying is rarely a smart or healthy or wise way to go about doing anything, it hasn’t taken me long to learn just how difficult it is to lie creatively, whether by misleading someone or by omission. As my runs have gotten longer, it’s gotten harder to evade questions about where I was, why my run lasted so long, and – the most difficult one to dodge – how far I went.

Furthermore, I had forgotten how much I relied on people’s encouragement when I trained for my first half marathon. I soaked that stuff up like a heroin addict. I needed it because I didn’t believe in myself. I’m not sure if I believe in myself yet this time around, and so all the more, I will need encouragement in these last few weeks as I hit some of the farthest distances I’ve ever done (I’ve reached 15; 16 is up next). And what better place to seek encouragement than my communities? My friends? My family? People who appreciate me and want me to succeed. I’ve not only been robbing myself of that joy; I’ve been robbing all of those who would want to participate in the encouragement festivities of the joy of doing so, and if any of you feel hurt by the fact that you’ve been left out of the loop, know two things: 1) I’m sorry; I’m a foolish and silly person; 2) You’re in good company, since I left almost everyone out.

So, there it is. It’s all out there now. I’m training my body to run a total distance of 26.2 miles, which is exciting and terrifying and daunting and slowly becoming manageable all at once.

am still trying to work on my humility, but in healthier ways. I’ll do my best not to brag all the time if you’ll do your best to send me an encouraging word now and then in the stretch of these last few weeks that are going to be increasingly difficult for me. All boasting bets are off if you enter my house, though. I proudly display my medals on the fireplace mantel.

Finally, if you live in Kansas City, I would love to see you at the finish line on race day. I’ll be wearing orange. And I’ll definitely be crying. And probably limping. Or maybe crawling.

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2012: Baseball, Home Decor, Solitude

These year-in-review posts might just be the most consistent thing I’ve ever done on this blog, or any of my blogs, for that matter. This will be my third one!

There are certain parts of my life that are starting to seem a little broken recordy, especially when it comes to the impressive number of ex-boyfriends I’m collecting, as if they’re vintage vinyls (cue wah-wah sound). However, it’s less fun to focus on my hardships, and since I beat myself up about those all the time in private anyway, I’d rather use public settings to focus on the positive parts of my life and personal achievements. Oh, and guess what? This edition – for the first time ever – has pictures!

So, even though 2012 included some pretty icky stuff, these are, in chronological order, the ten things I want to remember about last year:

1) Brad Paisley Concert
In January last year, I went with a friend to my first Brad Paisley concert. Brad Paisley is probably in my top five favorite country music artists. His songs are either really touching or really hilarious. He’s a fantastic songwriter, and his guitar skills are legendary, and I’ve heard he’s an even more quality guy. So Toni and I went down to Kansas City’s Sprint Center (which I always accidentally call the Ford Center first, which is Oklahoma City’s event hall) and saw him perform live. The show was everything I would’ve expected and more from BP. It was truly incredible watching him play guitar, and I don’t even know the half of it, I’m sure, not being a guitarist myself. The other reason this makes the list is that live music isn’t really my thing, unless I’m very familiar with the artist. So the mere fact that I express interest in going to live shows is memorable in and of itself, even if I never actually make it to the show. But I did make it to this show, and it was great.

2) Lady Antebellum Concert
So, of course it follows that my next fond memory is another country music show. Lady Antebellum is not just in my top five favorite country artists. They are the favorite. They came to Kansas City in the summer of 2010, and I hinted strongly to the boyfriend I had at the time that I’d love to be surprised with tickets to their show, but he didn’t pick up on that. (Never mind that I went all the way to Nebraska with him to see Dave Matthews – whom I hate. I guess that just proves who was the better partner in that relationship! Okay, kidding. Kinda.) Anyway, this time I decided that I would just go see Lady A myself, boyfriend or no boyfriend. And that’s what I did. Another of my favorites, Thompson Square, opened for them, although they are still pretty new to stage performing, and they didn’t do that great a job. But Lady Antebellum did not disappoint in the least. I opened 2012 with a whirlwind of live shows (yes, all two of them) and then didn’t go to any others all year long!

3) Individual Counseling
In May last year, I started going to some individual counseling sessions at the recommendation of a trusted friend. The whole endeavor made things tighter-than-tight for my budget, but I managed to fund it all the way into October, and when I told my counselor I needed to quit, she said I had achieved all the goals I set at the beginning anyway, so she felt comfortable releasing me. This was the first time I had ever gone to counseling as an individual (I have had some limited experience with couples’ counseling), and I was not prepared for how helpful and insightful it would turn out to be. I learned quite a lot about myself in those sessions with Vanessa, and if I could afford to keep up the weekly meetings, I definitely would still be going. I hope that sometime in the future my finances will allow me to start going again.

For the last 2+ years now, I’ve been a huge proponent of couples’ counseling for everyone, whether married, engaged, or seriously dating, but especially for married couples. I think it’s a mistake for couples to go to premarital counseling for eight weeks before the wedding and then quit, like that fixes everything. I think couples who find their first year of marriage difficult would discover it to be much, much easier if they went to counseling together. However, let me trade that soapbox for a different one: individual counseling. I am now a huge advocate of individual counseling in addition to couples’ counseling. I’m so glad the stigma around therapy and counseling has dissolved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making every effort you possibly can to grow and become the best person you can be. You will discover things about yourself, your emotions, and your worldview that you had no idea were in there, and it will be so worth it. I promise.

4) Road Trip to Mississippi
Over Memorial Day weekend, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, famed literary town, to visit a friend and see all the literary sights. This was the longest I had ever been in a car by myself, and I thought I was going to be so bored on the drives to and from. But what I discovered was that I quite like my own company! I also discovered I quite like Oxford, and it was fun seeing my old college friend Amy again after several years. There were a couple of things that put a damper on the trip itself, the main one being my severe lack of knowledge about the copious number of authors who make or have made their homes there, William Faulkner, of course, being the most notable. I did listen to a collection of John Grisham stories on the drive down to prepare myself for the mood and southern culture. Amy was sure to take me to all the good places, including the Square (which holds the famed Square Books), Rowan Oak (Faulkner’s home), The University of Mississippi, and Faulkner’s grave, where we paid midnight homage to the author via the reading of a pericope from Absalom, Absalom! and the pouring of some Jack Daniels on his grave (to pacify the known alcoholic for intruding upon his peace at such a late hour, I guess; who knows). If only the moon had been full. It would’ve been so gothic and creepy.

See the liquor? That wasn't what we brought; they were there already.

See the liquor? That wasn’t what we brought; those were there already.

5) ROYALS BASEBALL
The only reason this one is all the way down at number 5 is that I made myself order the list chronologically. Otherwise it would be #1. It would also be #2-10 if I weren’t constrained by my other rule, which is: List different things. Seriously, though. Most of you know I got super into baseball last year for the first time ever, and since I live in Kansas City, the team I became a super fan of was the Royals. My transition to baseball obsession happened almost overnight and surprised pretty much everyone I know, including myself. But I went with it and spent the months from April to October attending somewhere between 20 and 22 games (I can’t seem to get an accurate count from my calendar) and learning more about the sport itself than I’ve ever learned from six months of consecutive study of grammar. But of course, that’s because I was born knowing everything I know about grammar. But, sudden or not, everyone I know accepts me as a baseball fan now, and I’m counting down the days until the season starts again (literally: 4 days until Royals FanFest; 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training; 30 days until the full squad reports to spring training; 76 days until the first game of the season; 83 days until the home opener at Kauffman Stadium). How excited am I? THIS excited:

That's right. I'm Jeff-Francoeur's-crazy-eyes amounts of excited.

That’s right. I’m Jeff-Francoeur’s-crazy-eyes level of excited.

6) Custom Fireplace Bookcase
The number of DIY home projects I did when I bought and moved into my house in 2010 was exactly: 1. I painted my white fireplace a very bright orange. And I was quite proud of it too, and content for it to be the only thing I did to improve – or at least personalize – my living space. But, if I weren’t already calling 2012 The Year of Baseball Infatuation, I would probably call it The Year of Homeowner’s Projects – starting with the custom bookcase I made in July. I don’t really remember how or why the idea came to me to craft these shelves, but I had some wood scraps lying around, and I enlisted my friend Adrianne’s power tools along with my friend Kevin’s carpentry expertise, and what followed was approximately six hours’ worth of man (and woman) hours constructing these two shelves that now fit inside my fireplace. (Don’t worry, the fireplace itself is nonfunctional, so there will be no accidental Fahrenheit 451 reenactments occurring in there.)

The only problem with having such a bookcase was that I didn’t own enough books to fill it. Given that my 28th birthday was coming up a couple of weeks after I finished the project, I decided to throw a party and request that the guests bring books to help fill the shelves. The only stipulation was that the books had to have something to do with fire. The result turned out to be more successful than I anticipated, and the two shelves are now occupied by no fewer than 18 books that feature fire either in their contents, cover designs, or titles (and only three are copies of F451!). There is such a variety too: memoir, fiction, self-help, children’s, trashy romance, religious, family, classic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading them all (so far I’ve only read one: Stephen King’s Firestarter, though I have previously read Fahrenheit 451 twice, even if not from one of those copies), but I love how the project turned out nonetheless. Below are a few pictures of the construction process, finished product, and final display.

001 014 015 021 026

7) #SoloVacation
In October, I took five days off work – the first vacation I had taken all year from my job – and spent six days on a mini-vacation, visiting a series of small towns just north and west of Kansas City. I went all by myself and Tweeted about some of my experiences using the above hashtag. I was sure I took my camera, but either I didn’t actually take any pictures, or the ghosts erased them all. It’s anybody’s guess.

I spent two days in Atchison, Kansas, which touts itself as the most haunted town in Kansas (and it’s totally true, thus the ghost reference). I took a haunted bus tour, bought and read a book about all the haunted buildings and stories associated with them, visited a couple of haunted houses/museums, and scared the living daylights out of myself spending an hour in a pitch-black park said to be haunted by the ghost of Molly, a girl who committed suicide there. I was there after the moon came out (because that’s the only time Molly screams), and there were no streetlamps or anything. I never did hear Molly scream, but a couple of feral cats walked up behind me and meowed in the dark, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin. (Oh yeah, did I mention I was there alone?) Other noted stops in Atchison included an afternoon visit to the lovely International Forest of Friendship, where I sat on a bench and read for two hours; a tour of the monks’ abbey at Benedictine College; a lunch at the locally famous Jerry’s cafe; a tour of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home; and a riverwalk stroll along the Lewis & Clark Trail that featured historical markers and placards about the explorers.

I left Atchison after two days (which was more than enough time to see everything, trust me) and went east a short way to Weston, Missouri, which was one of Missouri’s first settled towns along the river, and has a quaint little downtown area that has been restored to look pretty much like it did when the town first sprang up. I only spent a few hours in Weston, touring the downtown, eating lunch in their locally famous brewery, and perusing a small graveyard. Then it was off to a remote Catholic retreat center outside Leavenworth, Kansas, to spend four days in wooded Thoreauian fashion.

I stayed in a cabin the entire size of which was smaller than my bedroom at home and which had no air conditioning, no plumbing, no cell service, and no internet access. Since it was October, the weather was actually perfect, and there was no need for AC or heat. The lack of plumbing and running water was an interesting complication. I had a bucket for a bathroom and a gallon-size jug to fill twice a day with water I got from a pump a quarter-mile’s walk away. If ever you want to simplify, unplug, and retreat from the whole world, this is the place to do it. I spent four whole days doing nothing but sleeping, taking walks in the woods, sitting by a pond, and reading, reading, reading. This ended up being the perfect way to spend the week leading up to my half marathon, and as it happened, it also served to remind me (because I’d forgotten since my Mississippi trip) that I genuinely enjoy spending time by myself. (One of my favorite memories from the driving on this trip was making a joke out loud – to myself, of course – that made me laugh really hard.)

8) Running My Fourth Half Marathon
I know I say this every time, but: I can’t believe it myself, but it’s true. I have now earned four medals from running and finishing half marathons. This 13.1 stuff is getting to be no big deal. (Okay, not really. It’s a big deal every time!) Finding a place to put all my medals became part of another of my home-decor projects, and I ended up getting some adhesive hooks from Home Depot and hanging them from my fireplace mantel (much in the manner of Christmas stockings). (As long as we’re discussing home maintenance, this decor decision happened on the same night that I self-caulked my tub and replaced my furnace filter, which was a much bigger deal than it sounds…only because the filter I replaced was going on 2 1/2 years in the furnace, and apparently that’s a no-no.) Anyway, back to the half marathon. I convinced my good friend J.R. to run this one with me, and it was his first ever, so that was a fun achievement of his to be a part of. I also broke a PR for myself, finishing a minute or two ahead of my previous best time, so that was exciting too.

Kansas City Half 4 Kansas City Half 5

9) Becoming an Aunt
As with baseball, the only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it didn’t happen until December. But on the 11th of that now sacred month, my brother and his wife welcomed the family’s first grandchild into the world. Her name is Avery, and she was a delicate 4(!!) pounds, 10 ounces, at first weigh-in. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt the first time I met and held her, when she was a mere four hours new. It was a pretty magical day for our whole family, and she totally changed the dynamic of our Christmas celebration this year. Talk about bringing new meaning to the words anticipation and arrival on earth. Avery is nearly perfect, and I can’t wait to watch her grow up. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her on my computer, since none have been taken with my own camera, but she’s plastered all over Facebook if you care to go digging into tagged pictures of me (she’s also featured prominently in my profile picture).

10) Painting My House
This was definitely the magnum opus of the homeowner’s projects for the year (although it bears mentioning that this was a week-long job that alternated with my final homeowner’s task of the year, which was winterizing 21 of my 27 or so windows; see what I mean about it being the year of projects?). I call it the magnum opus because it’s the only project (except for hanging the medals, which is pretty weak) that I did entirely by myself, with no help from anyone. For Christmas, I got some money to buy paint and supplies, and then my remaining vacation days combined with the way our holiday schedule was set up allowed me two full weeks off from Christmas until the end of the year, so I vigorously attacked the vision I had for my paint. In the end, I added three new colors to various rooms of my house, and I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. The colors are called Cranberry Whip, Garden Glow, and Amazon Stone, and they appear respectively in the bedroom, the living room, and the room I have started calling the library, although it doubles as the front room.

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That’s it for me on 2012. I haven’t made any specific resolutions for 2013, but I’m gonna follow in Ross’s footsteps, go out on a limb, and say, “No breakups in 2013!” So far I’ve made it 15 days. I’m off to a good start.

Oh, and bonus picture showing the orange fireplace, the new gray paint, and the half-marathon medals on the mantel. (Just ignore the dog kennel, if you can; Soren and I had an extended-stay house guest during that time):

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I’m not schizophrenic. I’m “well rounded.”

I am a runner.

I am a baseball fan.

My goal, by the end of this post, is to be able to say those things (or write them, rather) without cringing or feeling like I’m lying to everyone.

I’ve been running on a pretty regular schedule for about two and a half years now. I have eight bib numbers pinned to the wall on either side of the mirror in my bathroom, and three of them are from half marathons – that I actually finished! I am registered for my fourth half marathon. I have running-quality clothes, two pairs of running shoes, moleskin for my blisters, a wristwatch, and several water bottles. I’ve memorized various loops from my front porch for 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10-mile routes. Yet, despite these telltale signs, I have refused for the last two years to identify myself as “a runner.”

It’s similar with baseball. Before the 2012 season, I never cared about baseball. Three years ago, I wrote a post that detailed just how much I did not care about baseball. I claimed, in fact, to be “an active hater of baseball.” I proved that even what I thought I knew, I still didn’t know. The best line from that post is, “I know that K stands for strike.” Whoops.

Two years after that, I wrote yet another post describing how little I knew about baseball. In the two years between those posts, without any logical flow whatsoever, I went from being a self-proclaimed active hater to being “indifferent toward the idea of baseball as a sport.” I think these two posts indicate that I didn’t know myself (or my position on baseball) as well as I thought.

So this year, I’ve been itching to write a third baseball post, from a very different angle, but I’ve mostly ignored that itch because I don’t want to be viewed as a phony. And yet, the simple truth is, I’ve faithfully followed the Kansas City Royals for the entirety of this season so far. I have listened to the radio broadcasts of the majority of the games they’ve played. I’ve caught a few on TV, when I’ve been lucky enough to be out in public establishments that are showing the games. And I read a Royals blog every day. But I hesitate to call myself a fan.

I don’t know why. I can tell you what number each position on the field is (which I mentioned being unable to do in that post from three years ago). I can correctly tell you now what a actually means, along with OPS, OBP, and BB. I can also tell you what a walk-off win is (that was an issue in last year’s post as well), what hitting for the cycle is, what a ground-rule double is and how it’s different from an inside-the-park home run, and what the difference is between a pitcher throwing a shutout and a pitcher throwing a perfect game. I can tell you what a wild pitch is and how a player can still get on first base after having struck out. I can tell you the difference between an at-bat and a plate appearance and how batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage are calculated.

I can rattle off the 9 positions, their main Royals players, and the fill-in players they’ve used this season. I can list a decent chunk of the Royals starting pitchers and most of the bullpen. I can tell you our top minor league prospects. I can tell you how many home runs Billy Butler has this season (23 at the time of this writing, and I swear I didn’t look that up). I can tell you who leads the American League in doubles (Alex Gordon). I can tell you which Royals players have gotten a raw deal being sent back and forth from the minors and not enough big-league playing time (Falu, Dyson, Giavotella). I can tell you the ages and many of the hometowns of my favorite players as well as which teams they previously played for (if any). I can also tell you our players’ nicknames (Moose, Hos, AG, Low-Cay [so far I’m the only one who calls Lorenzo Cain that, as far as I know], Salvy, Frenchy). I can even tell you which players have extended contracts or are not eligible for free agency yet.

There is plenty I can’t tell you too, of course. I don’t know what WHIP stands for, though I suspect it’s something per innings pitched. I know that WAR stands for wins above replacement, but I can’t tell you what that actually means, even though I’ve been told. I don’t know the difference between a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball. Or even the difference between a fastball and a breaking ball. I’m not sure what an off-speed pitch is, and I don’t know if I’d recognize a balk if I saw one, or if I could explain why something was a balk if I heard it called. I get confused about batter contact with the ball and which field is the opposite field when a batter hits there. I couldn’t tell you why Francoeur misses so many fielding opportunities or why the Royals management can’t seem to make key decisions that seem clear cut to the entire fan base and the rest of the professional baseball community. (But to be fair, I don’t think even the most seasoned all-around baseball fans could explain those last two either.)

So, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s time to claim and fully live into these identities of mine, new though they may be. The lesson I’ve had to learn about these new interests is that, just because I haven’t been interested in them my entire life, doesn’t mean their acquisition now is not genuine or that I shouldn’t be proud of them. For the last two years, I have gone running on my birthday (if you know how much of a birthday brat I am, and how committed I am to doing only things I very much want to do on my birthday, then you know what a big deal this is). And in 2012, I’ve been to eleven Royals home games, and a twelfth is already on the schedule.

So I think I can say, without fearing it’s a lie, that I am a runner, and I am a baseball fan (with a specific and rather loyal bent toward the Royals). And I will say those things from now on, and I will own them as much as I own my identities as writer, extrovert, flirt, reader, blood donor, and editor. Welcome to my personality. Apparently it’s fluid and there’s room for change.

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Token Year-End Recap: 2011

Last year I wrote a list of 10 things I wanted to remember about 2010, which fit nicely because of the whole parallelism thing. So this year I was going to do 11 things I want to remember about 2011, but I don’t know how many years I’m planning to do this annual post, and it seemed like I could easily get myself into a pickle once we got up to the year 2050 (and possibly before that). So I think I’m going to stick with 10 because 10 is a nice, round number.

And so, I give you: 10 Things I Want to Remember about 2011 (in chronological order):

1) Getting my First Housemate
Before January 2011, the only time I lived with someone outside my parents’ house was in college, when I had the same roommate for four years. That relationship had its complications and faults, as any roommate situation will, but overall, the fact that we were able to live together for four years, especially in the midst of some of our friends changing roommates every semester, indicated that we had figured out something pretty good. When she decided to have a husband instead of a roommate, I decided to live alone, and I did so from May 2006 until January 2011 – almost five full years – in four different places (two apartments and two houses, the last [and current] house being the one I bought). After about eight months of solo home ownership, some different factors combined to make me wonder whether a co-habitation situation might be more cost efficient and might do a service to someone needing a place to live. Acting on these inklings, I set out to find someone to share my living space and pay me rent, and through the connection of a mutual friend, I was introduced by email to Jordan, who now occupies the master bedroom in my house.

The first time I met Jordan in person was the afternoon he pulled up to my curb with his Jeep and an attached trailer full of all his stuff that I helped him move in. I didn’t know yet how things would pan out, and a wiser person than I would probably have been apprehensive about the fact that all I had was an email exchange agreeing on the rent rate to serve as the guidelines that would govern our living situation. But, without a lease or contract, without setting any rules, and without really discussing our habits with each other, we embarked on the adventure of co-ed, non-domestic-partnership occupation of a two-bedroom house, and I have to say, I don’t know if it could have worked out better if I’d handpicked someone myself (say, my old college roommate, for instance). Perhaps I got lucky, or perhaps the mutual friend who suggested the arrangement knew us better than we thought, or perhaps God has blessed the situation. Whatever it is, Jordan and I are just a few days away from one full year of living in the same house, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has turned out. I don’t know when he plans to move out, and I have no plans to ask him to move out, so I think things are still going well.

2) Cross-Country Road Trip with Grandpa
Hands down, this is probably my favorite memory from 2011. The last time I went on a vacation with my grandpa, I was 10 years old, and my grandma was with us too. So a two-week road trip without my grandma and as an adult was, to say the least, a recipe for a memorable adventure. We spent 14 days driving as far north as Madison, Wisconsin, and as far east as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then back home to Kansas City. We did and saw a lot and had only a few hiccups along the way. I would for sure do something like this again, but I think I will urge Grandpa to get his car’s air conditioning double checked before we leave next time. It broke halfway through the trip, and we spent the next seven days without cool air. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible until the day we drove from West Virginia to Indianapolis. That day was long, hot, and sticky. The air conditioning debacle was the only major thing that went wrong. We had a good time and got some great pictures, and I kept the Twitter world up to date as we went, tweeting such gems as these along the way:

Road trip rule #1: driver controls radio. We`re listening to jazz across iowa.

Unscheduled stop #1: National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, IA.
I was wrong. Driver does NOT control radio. In grandpa`s car, grandpa controls radio. Gospel choir across ohio.
Me: goodnight, see you in the morning! Gpa: Thanks for the warning!
A 2 1/2-mile hike with a swim in the middle fork river in the middle. All at Audra State Park. Now that`s a good day!
Eating at “the most visited restaurant” in this town. They fail to mention that`s bc it`s the ONLY one.
My alarm went off at 5 this am. Gpa wasn’t awake yet. His groggy response: “You play music in the middle of the night?”

3) Running my 2nd Half Marathon
I think we all remember how excited and proud I was when I ran my first half marathon. In April 2011 I surprised myself again by completing my second one. My time was slower, and my training hadn’t been as rigorous, and I was admittedly less ecstatic about this one (due to other extenuating factors surrounding and leading up to the event itself), but in the end, I had another medal and another proud notch on the bedpost of my athletic accomplishments. And a hankering to train again for another…

4) Celebrating a Friendship’s 10-Year Anniversary
That college roommate I mentioned in #1 plays a key role in the significance of this one. We met in the summer of 2001, a year and a half before we would live together for four consecutive years (excluding one semester that she spent in Russia). Since then, we have been through a lot, both together and separately. The friendship itself even went through a tough period that required an emotional reconciliation, which happened, coincidentally, last summer – just in time to acknowledge the fact that we had been friends for 10 years. We have had a few rough patches, but we’ve mostly had laughter and joy, and we’ve racked up an impressive list of inside jokes (half of which one of us can’t even remember). There are people in my life I’ve known longer than Adrianne, and there are people I’ve known the same amount of time. But there is no one else unrelated by blood whom I’ve kept in such consistent contact with for 10 full years. Here’s to another ten years of inside jokes we can’t properly explain. 

5) Becoming a Church Board Member
I have been part of my church in Kansas City now for just over two years, which I don’t consider a long time. So it surprised me when my pastor informed me last June that I had been nominated to serve on our church board, and it was with humble hesitation that I eventually accepted the nomination. I had no idea what it would be like, but after six months of service, I have learned to see the church (local and global) in a whole new light. Serving on the church board has helped me see how the body of Christ really does need to be a body, with many different parts. I have truly found a family in my church, and my service on the board, though occasionally time consuming and sometimes even inconvenient, has been rewarding beyond expectation. I have seen fellow members of my church family in new ways and have learned to feel compassion and empathy in ways I didn’t know were possible. And, above all, I have been reminded, time and again, that nothing in this life is about us.

6) Riding my First Motorcycle
Everyone who gets to have this experience considers it a memorable one, right? Well, if they don’t, they’re a lump of lard. However, I have extra reasons not to forget my first motorcycle experience because it coincides with my first large-scale, full-blown tick infestation. Last summer I made a new friend, and he owns a motorcycle and offered to give me a ride when he found out I’d never been on one. Obviously, I took him up on the offer, and one beautiful Saturday morning in August, he came and picked me up, and we rode all over Kansas City. We rode on interstates, on surface roads, on two-lane roads, on gravel roads, and on country highways. We went everywhere.

At one point, we stopped for an intermission and tromped through some very high grass on an exploration mission of some kind. Unfortunately, that high grass was where I apparently picked up a small colony of ticks. I felt kind of itchy several minutes after we left the wooded and high-grass area, and later, when I got home and peeled off my pants, shoes, and socks, I discovered that my legs, ankles, and feet were completely covered in ticks (and therefore tick bites). I scraped them all off, did a thorough inspection of the rest of my body (having horrible flashbacks of the scrubbings I used to get after coming home from romps in my grandparents’ wooded farm property), and took a scalding-hot shower just to be safe. And then I spent the next three weeks with red, splotchy legs and feet and dark surface scars I was sure would never disappear. Six months later, there is no trace of the markings, and I don’t have Lyme disease, thank goodness. But, even though we have no pictures from the legendary three-hour motorcycle ride, I don’t think I will ever forget it, thanks to the nice insects that decided to host their family reunion on my body.

7) My 27th Birthday
I have had a lot of memorable birthdays in my life (mainly because birthdays are very important to me, and my friends and family know that and do a good job of making them memorable), and 27 was no exception. My wonderful friends J.R. and Jenny Caines (who also happen to be the parents of two of my favorite boys in the whole world, Jack and Cason) hospitably opened their home to me (even though Jenny was 8 months pregnant and it was the hottest week of the year) on the momentous occasion of August 5, 2011, and I threw a party and celebrated turning 27 with 20 of my closest friends in Kansas City. We talked, laughed, ate, drank (cream soda only, no alochol, I promise – even though there are some pictures up on Facebook that make it look like I’m drinking alcohol), played games, and generally just celebrated me. Which, coincidentally, is pretty much my favorite thing to do on my birthday. And then, the next day, LF came back in town, and I got to celebrate all over again with him. We had been dating all of two weeks by then, but we had a blast having a book-burning party on my porch. And so 27 became a birthday milestone I hope I don’t forget.

8) Running my 3rd Half Marathon
Would you believe it, I ran yet another half marathon. That makes three overall. It was quite a year for me athletically. Not to mention the 5, 10, and 15k races I did in June, August, and September leading up to the half. I still sometimes have trouble believing that I have done three half marathons. It’s just such an absurd thought. But the third one was the Kansas City Half, and my dear friend Reese came up from Oklahoma City to run it with me. Half marathons are so much more enjoyable (even if, like me, you hate running) when you run them with friends, and so far I have been lucky enough to run all three of mine with very good friends. This half was my favorite. The course was delightful, and (as I discovered at the half I did in April), I very much enjoy running through my own city. Of course, I haven’t put on my running attire since October, but oh well. I trust I’ll get back to it soon enough.

9) Learning to Love Scrabble
One of the biggest things I am ashamed of in my life is how bad I am at word games, Scrabble especially. As an editor, a writer, a wordsmith, and a general lover of language, linguistics, and all things word related, people assume I am an expert at word games. It has been a point of embarrassment when people have chosen me to be on their teams for word game challenges and then been disappointed to find that I am actually their least valuable player. They say, “But how can you not be good at word games?” and all I can do is shrug my shameful shoulders. Because of this, my attempts at Scrabble have been limited, and I have mostly avoided the game. It depresses me to play it because of how horrible I am at it.

For my birthday this year, some wonderful friends (who weren’t aware of my hate-hate relationship with this game) gave me Scrabble, thinking (sensibly) that I would love it. I smiled and said thank you, knowing I should love it and understanding the reasoning behind their thinking. But I went home and put the game away and did not expect to play it, except maybe once, just to be able to tell them I had. But then LF found out that I had received it, and he urged me to play with him. To humor him (because the relationship was still quite new at that point), I relented, and we played. On our first game, I lost by a humiliating margin. I didn’t really enjoy myself, and I didn’t want to play again. But LF kept asking me to play periodically, again and again, and I began to notice that my technique was improving and that the difference in our scores at the end wasn’t nearly as vast.

I realized that Scrabble is not all about being really good with words. It’s also about strategizing your tile placement for maximum point scoring. Besides that, LF took pity on me in my despair and has been an encouraging, kind, helpful, and – most importantly – lenient Scrabble opponent. He has helped me learn to enjoy Scrabble, and he has even been open to rule modifications so that, twice now, we have played Themed Scrabble, where we only put down words that fit an established theme. And now, I am usually the one who suggests a game of Scrabble, and except for that first game, I cannot think of a time that I have not enjoyed playing.

10) Officially Deciding to Pursue a Master’s Degree
This is arguably the most significant event that occurred in 2011, at least with regard to my future, even though technically a decision isn’t really an event. It felt big for me, though. After I finished undergrad, I declared that graduate school was not in the cards for me. I claimed I was sick of school and was ready to experience a part of life that didn’t center around studying, writing papers, and sitting in classrooms. And I was, and I think that was fair. I had spent my whole life in school. But lately I have been missing the classroom. I have been itching to be challenged and pushed and evaluated.

I haven’t thought a lot about the degree I would pursue because I thought I didn’t have much of a choice. I’m not interested in a literature degree, but English is the only thing I can do, so the only other option seemed to be writing. Having a master’s degree in writing sounds impressive, I thought. And besides that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt my editorial career. And then one day, as I thought about how much I love language – the study of all languages, not just English – I realized that linguistics might be a wiser choice for a degree.

I have been stewing about all of this for a year now, and for a year I’ve been waffling and dragging my feet about committing. But near the end of 2011, I made a firm decision, and I am now enrolled in back-to-back GRE prep courses for the duration of the spring semester, after which I hope to take the general GRE and then enroll in a graduate program. I still don’t have all the details worked out, but these are my goals.

***

I don’t have a lot of complaints about 2011. It was a good year. There are things I am happy to leave behind, though – emotions I’m relieved to have finally shed and unhealthy mindsets I’ve made a conscious effort to change. Just like everyone else, I don’t know what 2012 will hold, but I am looking forward to finding out.

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Why I Run 2.0

Coming up on a year ago, I wrote here about why I run. (If we are not Facebook friends, you won’t be able to get to that page.) At that time, I was barely two months into running. I was for sure not a “runner.” (Of course, if anybody asks today, I would adamantly say that I am still not a runner.)

I did two 5Ks last year and a half marathon. And yesterday I completed my second half marathon (or, as my friend J.R. says, “the rest of the marathon;” yeah, he’s a punk).

This time around, the training was a lot tougher. I discovered that I am not a train-through-the-winter type of person. And I discovered that running is a much more emotional sport for me than I ever realized. I found out that when I already felt emotionally down or drained, going on a run was not necessarily the best decision. Running – especially a long run – takes every ounce of emotional (not to mention physical) strength that I have. So if I set out to do a run and am already feeling emotionally poopy? Odds are, I’m going to feel that way and worse for most of the run.

The only time I really get a high from running is when I’m nearing the end. I want to be done so badly that it excites me to push myself harder just to get to the finish more quickly. But like I said, that’s the only time. The rest of the time, at least if I’m alone, I’m fighting a constant battle not to quit or give up or walk or (sometimes) cry.

Running is healthy. Running can be invigorating. Running can be a very positive experience, in the end. Once I finish a run, I never regret that I went out to do it.

But here is a truth that has liberated me since I allowed myself to admit it: Running is never going to be something that I love to do. I enjoy having gone on a run. I enjoy telling people that I do run. And I enjoy the progress I make – which is minuscule and not noticeable on every run. But I do not love to run.

So why do I do it? Most of the reasons I outlined last year are still true. It’s meditative; it’s metaphorical and symbolic; it’s a good chance to pray; it helps me battle insecurities.

But in the last three months I’ve discovered a new reason: Running is fellowship. Running is community. Last summer, I spent six months running mostly alone. Occasionally I was joined by friends but not often – definitely not as often as I would have liked.

But since December, I have  been joined on various runs by several different people, and I have discovered something about the running world. Runners have embraced the idea of community and inclusiveness far more than most churches. Running with all these different people has allowed my friendships with each of them to blossom in new ways. For one thing, you can learn a lot about someone just from spending an hour running together. But more than just learning about someone – you’re creating a bond, a solidarity, a pact of mutual encouragement and endurance that is really difficult to get in any other situation.

I thought this half marathon was going to be all about running alone and learning how to motivate myself for 13.1 miles. But it wasn’t. I had a friend run with me – a friend who is far more athletic than I am and could have finished probably at least half an hour ahead of me. But she didn’t. She ran at my pace, and we did the entire 13.1 miles together.

Something else I learned from this race was how much more fun it is to run in your own city. I ran my first half marathon in Wichita and, as a result, had no one there to cheer specifically for me on the sidelines. But yesterday there were people at the start and finish lines and at various points along the course, all of them shouting my name and telling me I could do it. It was so empowering. I also recognized landmarks because I was running through my own city, and I crossed my own street. Running in Wichita and seeing new things was definitely fun, but it was rewarding in a different way to run at home, on streets I have trained on, hills I am familiar with, parks I have jogged through before.

I came away from yesterday’s half marathon knowing that I have to do another one. I love being this healthy and this in shape. But I know that unless there is some tangible motivation, something concrete I’m working toward, I will not be able to make myself run on a regular basis because it is not something I love to do. So I’m going to explore further this new-ish idea of running to build community – running with friends and strengthening relationships via physical exercise. And this time around, I’m going to train with the purpose of improving my time.

Wish me luck. No doubt you’ll hear about it along the way!

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Memories from 2010

Since I haven’t exactly figured out what I’m going to be doing here on a regular basis, I thought a good way to kick things off would be to recap 2010. I’m usually pretty bored by these posts, so I promise I won’t hold it against you if you find this too mundane to read all the way through. It’s more for my personal record and introspection than for your entertainment anyway.

It would be melodramatic (a word that always makes me think of my friend Reese) to say that 2010 was a difficult year. I also think it would be a prematurely selfish statement to make. The truth is, 2010 was really just another year. It brought some emotional struggles, some professional struggles, some relational struggles, some spiritual struggles, some financial struggles, and some family struggles. And there were days that I cried pretty hard in 2010. But, as they say, time heals all wounds, and when I look back at the previous year, even though I’m glad to have it under my belt and have welcomed 2011 with open arms, I can also honestly say that it was a good year filled with good memories.

And thus, I give you:

10 Things I Want to Remember about 2010:

1) Joining a book club.
For a couple months at the end of 2009 and something like the first half of 2010, I was part of a book club at the library near the house I was renting. It met once a month and was a mystery book club, which meant that we read a lot of books I never would’ve picked up otherwise. I didn’t enjoy all of the books, but I always enjoyed the discussion sessions. I was the youngest participant there; it was otherwise full of retired old ladies, and they were a hoot. I had never been part of a book club before, and I was proud of myself for getting out and doing something new after just moving to the area. I stopped going when I moved across town and didn’t want to drive 20 minutes to get there, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a comparable gathering at any of the libraries that are close to me now. But Georgia, Hazel, Dorothy, and all the others are people I’ll never forget.

2) Buying my own home.
If this isn’t an accomplishment, then I gotta tell ya – I don’t know what is. On March 26 of last year, I was handed the keys to a house, along with the words, “Congratulations. You are now a homeowner.” There are no words to describe how I felt as I drove away from the bank that day, knowing I had not only found my dream house but had actually purchased it. And you know what? I was swindled out of $40 the first night I spent in my new house (I let some guy convince me to pay him to pick up some sticks in my yard), and even that is a fond memory. (Especially since I’ve heard the retelling multiple times from my coworkers, who have probably ranked that story in their top 5 of ridiculously amusing things that have happened to me over the past year.) And no, the house isn’t perfect or without frustrations and flaws, but the simple fact that it belongs to me is enough to make me forgive (most of) its other shortcomings.

3) Painting my fireplace orange.
It’s no secret that I love the color orange. And the first thing I did as far as putting my mark on my new home was to paint the fireplace orange. And not just any orange but a very intense orange that is sometimes a little much, even for me. (Why don’t paint colors ever come out the way they look on the samples?) Not everybody likes the shade of orange I chose for my fireplace or even the fact that it is orange at all, but it’s one characteristic of my house that, when people see it, they say, “Yep. That’s Audra, all right.” And I love that.

4) Watching my brother walk down the aisle.
I didn’t think this would be an emotional event for me. After all, it seemed like just a formality for my brother to marry the girl he’d been dating for ten years. But on the day of the wedding, when I realized that I finally had the sister I’d been wishing for my entire life, I felt an unexpected swell of joy. My brother and I had a running joke about which of us could avoid marriage the longest, and I told him that he forfeited, but I don’t think he was too disappointed about it. My mom made the comment recently, “I think Cary was surprised by how much he enjoyed his own wedding day,” and I was surprised by the amount of beauty, profundity, and insight into my brother’s personality and character that simple statement gave me. My brother and his wife (my sister-in-law!) have maybe been in a relationship for more than ten years now, but he has grown up a lot since they first started dating, and I’m so proud of him, and I have so much respect for him.

5) Visiting my relatives Uncle Phil and Aunt June in Ohio.
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, so they say. Well, this summer, I got handed the professional lemon of spending nine days in SmallTown, Ohio, my task being to represent my company and sell its products at a youth event. Sitting in a booth and being surrounded by rowdy teenagers was not my idea of a fun summer vacation. But as it turned out, my grandmother’s sister June and her husband, Phil, live in the same town where I was exiled this summer, and not only did they express an interest in wanting to spend some time with me while I was there – they opened their home to me and let me stay with them for the full nine days, which was an extraordinary act of hospitality that saved me from having to sleep in a college dorm (ick). They gave me my own bedroom and bathroom; they cooked for me; they took me out for dinner; they pointed me to an idyllic running path that I spent my early mornings on; they played games with me; and they served me dessert every single night. That week in Ohio ended up being the best week of my summer. In the wake of my grandma’s death in November of 2009, spending time in the presence of her sister – who looks like my grandma, talks like my grandma, and, in many ways, acts just like my grandma – was a salve to a part of my soul I hadn’t realized still needed healing. I ended that trip not wanting to leave Ohio, not wanting to leave Phil and June, and wondering when I would have the privilege of seeing them again. I still hope it’s soon.

6) Visiting Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world.
I don’t even know how long Cedar Point had been #1 on my list of amusement parks I must visit. At least ten years. At least. I finally got to go this summer, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. My only regret was that the sheer number of roller coasters at the park prevented me from ride-repeating, but that day may just have been the highlight of my year. Screaming and flying across the tracks, standing in line with my cousins and aunt and uncle, laughing all day long, and getting soaking wet on the most ridiculous water ride ever invented – these are memories I will cherish for a long time.

7) Flying to Connecticut to meet and support Estevan Vega at his book release party.
Estevan was a dream author for me as an editor at Tate Publishing. Not only was he a joy to work with; his book was a fantastic read and so much fun to edit. Getting to attend his release party and see the fruits of all his intense labor – a very small portion of it having been my effort too – gave me a job-satisfaction high the likes of which I had never experienced. Besides that, it was worth it just to hear him call me out from onstage and publicly thank me for coming all the way from Kansas City to support him.

8) Running a half marathon.
I still can’t entirely believe that I actually did this. Nor can I entirely believe that I’ve signed up and am training for another one! Me. Audra Claire Marvin. I ran a half marathon. The reality of it is so absurd that I often have to look back through the pictures just to remind myself that I really did do it. This is perhaps my proudest accomplishment of the year. I tackled a feat I did not think I could do, and then I dominated it, shattering the goal I had set for myself to finish in 3 hours by finishing in 2 hours and 40 minutes. I think I’m going to be bragging about this accomplishment for a long time to come.

9) Writing a novel.
Okay, so I didn’t finish the novel in 2010, but I wrote 30,000 words of it, and if anything could compete with the half marathon for proudest accomplishment of the year, this would be it. Writing is my passion, and to tackle that passion with the fervor of creating two characters that have emerged with such depth as to make me feel like they are real – well, suffice it to say that it has been a lot of fun. I didn’t know I had it in me, and I’m proud of myself for having discovered it.

10) Adding Puppy Fagan to my furry family.
Acquiring a second dog (and a puppy, nonetheless) was not on my to-do list in 2010. But he swiftly melted my heart, and I’m glad I was incapable of saying no to little Fagan. He has brought such joy into my life, my parents’ lives, and all the lives of everyone who has so far had the privilege of meeting him. I’ve only had him 2 weeks so far, but already I can’t imagine life without him.

As you can see, 2010 was actually a pretty good year, and as I look back through these 10 descriptions, one word jumps out at me more often than any other: joy. It is clear that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I’m convinced 2011 will be even better.

Happy new year.

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