Running with Meaning

I run because:

1) It is a way to exercise my democratic rights.

2) It allows me to tackle the day with a positive attitude.

3) It is a reminder that no matter how challenging a situation may be, I have to keep moving forward to cross the finish line.

4) It allows me to burn off steam when feeling stressed.

5) It empowers me to set and reach goals I don’t think I’m capable of conquering.

The above reasons are some of the top five reasons why I enjoy running. However, running has morphed into a healing antidote from the feelings and thoughts of helplessness I experience from the cruelty and injustice happening all over the world.

I don’t doubt the world has always been a cruel planet. I’m completely aware of the villains of History that date back to the beginning of civilization.

I cried when I read the Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night in high school. I cried on the morning of August 21st when I learned of the viscious beheading of James Foley. There was so much sorrow within me, the only thing I knew to do was run. The six miles were so short and so meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I felt so insignificant for even attempting to try to put any symbolism into my run. But it was all I could think of doing. I made every single breath count. My heavy breathing was to represent all the breathing days that were stripped from James spirit. It was a consolation for my aching spirit and a gesture to make it known that his mortality was forever immortalized in my heart.

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During those six miles, the sky, the wind, the trees, and everything around me were alive, and I didn’t take their existence for granted for a split second. Any concern at the forefront of my list of stressors evaporated because they were so inconsequential.

I cried this morning when I learned again about another beheading. And once again, I ran.

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I will continue to cry every time I learn about an injustice that occurs in the world. In fact, I don’t ever want to stop crying each time I learn about the unjust death of an innocent human being. I don’t ever want to become desensitized to the atrocities of mankind. I want for my heart to break to a thousand pieces each and every single instance as if it were the death of my own blood relative. And I shall find healing and meaning in every single one of my runs. Because it’s in my runs that I find hope. It is there where I believe that for every evil-doer that exists in the world, there are ten times more good-doers. It is in my runs that I believe that a passionate beating heart can create a ripple in the ocean so big, its magnitude can cause the entire Earth to shake off its axis. It is during my runs that my feelings of helplessness dissipate into the skies and are replaced with cells of empowerment. It is during my runs that I recognize the fortunes of my life and the minuscule stature of my problems.

I run because it helps me heal.

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Why do you run?

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Never Too Old for S’mores

Una vacacion es un concepto extranjero para una familia Latinoamericana de bajos recursos. Pero un concepto aun mas raro es una vacacion de acampamento.

If you did not understand the preceding sentences, then you will understand what going on a vacation, more specifically a camping vacation, sounded like in our household. While we enjoyed an occasional excursion to the beaches of South Florida, the weekend family gathering of aunt/uncles/cousins, or a day at the park, we never went on a single vacation. Not in Summer, not during Spring Break, or Christmas, or any time whatsoever. Yes, the fact that my mother worked in a chicken factory earning minimum wage to feed the mouths of six hungry children played a significant role in our not having a vacation. However, camping, which may have been perceived as a rather inexpensive family excursion to a low-income family like ours was such a foreign concept, we found it mind-boggling “Americans” defined sleeping outside as a way of vacationing.

I had been introduced to “camping” in the Marine Corps, and I found nothing peaceful or fascinating about freezing my butt off while sleeping under the stars and pulling guard duty as part of war training. We had to carry our rifles everywhere and guard it with our life. Then there was the dirt, the digging of holes to bury bodily functions, the pounding of heavy combat boots through uneven terrain, and the MRE’s (meals ready to eat) loaded with ridiculous amount of calories. There were no s’mores, or campfires, or the occasional consumption of adult beverages.

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There were no s’mores in the Marine Corps, but that’s what makes them The FEW, the PROUD.

To be honest with you, it took some time to embrace camping, and it became much more enjoyable with the introduction of children. The night accompanied with a crisp camp fire is so primitive, so simple, yet powerful enough to convert any adult into a joyful child. Witnessing a little girl dancing around heat radiating flames, and grown-ups gathering around the warmth of burning wood under a blanket full of stars can make one forget the existence of an unjust world. The simple shelter of a tent and a sleeping bag is a way to recognize the beauty of nature in its truest form like the way our ancestors once did.

Camping with my husband and daugthers was my introduction to nature. It was an introduction to a life that was far more grand than any mansion or building erected by mankind. So when my sisters told me they were coming for a very short 5 day visit to Eastern Oregon from Miami, FL, I knew that camping was a must. I wanted to share with them the majesty of the mountains, lakes, and the “natural” amenities the state of Oregon offered. Camping was something my sisters had never done, and I knew it was something they would never pursue on their own. As the oldest sister, it was my duty to share with my sisters an experience that all human beings should do at least once in their life – camping.

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Our eight man tent. Except only women slept here. My hubby and the dog slept in a sleeping bag in the back of his SUV. He is such a trooper.

We decided to go to Wallowa Lake State Park. It is not the kind of backpacking-and-find-your-camping-spot camping experience, but it was far beyond outside the comfort zone of my “city-girls-at-heart” sisters. Plus, we also had a two-year-old and ten-year-old joining us, so that factor was taken into consideration as part of our camping location. I knew my sisters weren’t completely thrilled with the idea they’d be missing out on social media and the warmth of a comfortable bed under a sturdy roof, but they were good sports and went with the flow. However, I knew deep down inside they found the novelty of sleeping under the stars intriguing. We were only staying for two nights, but when you live in the big city, two nights outside with the elements can feel like a survival experience.

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Wallow Lake is a family friendly camping site with bathrooms, showers, and many more recreational activities that make is a fun family place to visit. While not pictured here, the State Park is a haven for deer. They are by no means shy and should you leave any crumbs around your campsite, they will make sure to pay your area a nightly visit.

We arrived to our campsite close to 6:30 pm, so we had very little daylight left to set up the tent. Once darkness fell and our tent was up, it was time for a fire and time to make everlasting memories. Most importantly, it was time for s’mores! I crashed early with my two-year-old, and my husband, sisters, and ten-year-old gathered around the fire and told scary stories. Scary stories are not my cup of tea, so I was a bit relieved I did not have to sit and pretend not to be scared.

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My sister Beth’s first S’more! This was my daughter’s third camping experience and she insisted this time around in roasting her own marshmallows.

The next day, we took a tram up to Mt. Howard and hiked the perimeter of the mountain, which was 8100 feet above sea level. Since Florida is flat as a pancake, I knew my sisters would enjoy the views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Our hike was a very slow hike because the pace was set by a 42″ toddler, but it helped us take our time and take in all of the views. There’s actually a restaurant at the top of the mountain, so we treated ourselves to a delicious late lunch after hiking for almost two hours!

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The best things in Life are Free! Breathtaking views and experiencing them with my sisters and my daughters.

Prior to nightfall on our second night, I managed to squeeze in a five-mile run, which was immediately followed by delicious hot dogs and bakes beans. I’d like to add the campsite has showers, so I did not go to bed with sweaty pores. I know, I know, there’s no shower in camping, but we were doing the quasi roughing-it version of camping.

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The Hills are Alive with my sister Angela.

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Taking it all in 8110 feet above the sea with my sister Beth.

More s’mores around the campfire followed, and I went to sleep that second night with my cup of happiness filled to the brim. My sisters were with me under a starry sky where there was only a nylon of fabric separating us and whatever it was the night would bring. As a little girl, I laid next to bed with my sisters for years, and not once did we ever fathom we’d share the experience of campfires and s’mores together. As and adult, we made memories that were not possible as children, but I felt like I was a little girl playing with my younger sisters once again during those two short but very memorable camping days. I’m not sure if my sisters will ever try camping on their own, but I am hoping my daughters will one day take their children like the way we will continue to take them.

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Making memories around the fire with my sisters and my ten-year-old.

Have you been camping? What is your favorite camping experience? Can you recall your first camping experience?

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My amazing husband following our very energetic two-year old.

Bridge of the Goddess Half-Marathon Race Recap

The 5:30 am wake-up call was rough, but despite the ordeal I went through Friday night, I was filled with excitement on the fact I was getting the opportunity to run this half! This was my “just for fun” half-marathon. Not only was I not worried about my time or overall pace, I would have a running companion for 13.1 miles. This was a race my friends and I had planned running together months in advance.

I jumped into the shower to help my sleepy eyes wake faster. I put on my funky yellow and black patterned knickers accompanied by a solid black shirt and slipped on a pair of socks and Mizuno running shoes. My sleeping daughters received a peck from their mamma on their warm cheeks and I waved my sisters goodbye.

I made it out of the hotel room at 5:50 am and proceeded to a Starbucks store right across from the hotel to purchase a scone in order to have some food in my belly (hotel didn’t start serving breakfast until 7 am). Conveniently enough, a gas station was also in the vicinity – as in right across –  of Starbucks and I filled up my tank to get on my merry way. If you are not familiar with the state of Oregon, you don’t have to get out of your car to fill up your tank. There is also ZERO sales tax.

It was a clear but cool morning (low 50’s) and there was very little traffic, which made the 30 minute commute very pleasurable. I arrived to the race at 6:32 am and went looking for the portable bathrooms and for my friends. I found the bathrooms first, and my friends yelled out my name as I made my way out.

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All smiles despite very little sleep at the starting line on the Bridge of the Gods overlooking the Columbia River Gorge in Cascade Locks, Oregon.

Around 7:15 am, the Bridge of the Gods was closed off and we all made our way to the top where the race would start. It was really windy, and because the sun had not made its way over the mountains facing the bridge, we were all shivering. Even though I knew I’d warm-up after the first mile and would regret my decision into the second mile, I decided to wear my jacket at the beginning of the race.

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My friend Amanda on the left walked the 10k, my friend Kim in the middle ran the half marathon with me.

The Bridge of the Goddess was an inaugural race, so this was the first time I had been on the Bridge of the Gods, the first time I’d been to the city of Cascade Locks, and the first time I would be on the Pacific Crest Trail (which was part of the race course). I did not know what to expect, which made it all more exciting for me. We would run the first 5k of the course with the 10kers, and just right before a flight of stairs, the 10kers would turn around and us half-marathoners would continue for another three miles until it was our turnaround point (our finish line was not at the Bridge, but at the Marina instead).

 

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The first two miles were really crowded. As a courtesy, I’ve learned to allow the fast paced runners to congregate at the front of the starting line and corral myself somewhere in the middle of the pack. I figured some runners either expected to be faster, were not aware of where they were in the pack, or were scared to make their way into the bridge, because my friend and I were passing walkers and runners whose pace were much slower than ours. We both accelerated past many more runners as we climbed up a long hill. Unbeknownst to me, there was actually an elevation gain of 2671 very hilly feet!

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My friend Kim excited for the race and wearing an awesomely cute running skirt.

My friend had to use the restroom around the third mile, and I figured I might as well too. I also decided this was the time to take off my jacket and wrap it around my waist line. I knew I would find it irritating, but this strategy would come in handy later on down the road.

Even though I was not worried about time, I was putting forth my best effort when climbing the hills because 1) I didn’t want to slow down my friend (who is faster than me) and 2) I also enjoy what hills do to my skinny legs (it makes them stronger). I glanced at my Garmin on a few occasions and loved the fact that some of the hardest miles were run in under ten minutes and closer to 9 minute miles. The presence of my friend made time go by faster as we chatted and it also helped me to push myself as a runner.

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Sunshine and views. This was a picture taken by one of the many female runners on the course. This was sometime after our bathroom break and between miles 4 and 6.

There was plenty of water, Nuun Hydration and heed along the course. I stopped at every single station because as usual, I hadn’t properly hydrated prior to the race. It’s always tough to hydrate the day before a race that requires traveling because I’m always terrified of having to use the restroom while on the road.

I felt really strong throughout the race, but around the tenth mile, fatigue from lack of sleep started setting into my body. I could feel my legs feeling the exhaustion of the hills and my stomach was severely cramping. I think the pasta and bread from the night before was in full digestion mode. However, I was more than a third of the way done and I didn’t want to stop. My friend continued with her stronger than mine pace and I tried to keep up with her as much as I could.

The last 3 miles of my race were filled with so much gratitude, and the gratitude helped me focus on finishing strong despite the fact my body was slowing down. I was grateful my sisters made it to Oregon the night before, allowing me the opportunity to run. I was grateful I was running with friends. I was grateful for experiencing a new and beautiful part of Oregon. I was grateful for my daughters. I was grateful for running with thousands of other women, a sight that would be forbidden in other parts of the world.

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A gorgeous view of the Columbia River Gorge in Cascade Locks, Oregon

With 2 hours and 11 minutes, I crossed the finish line. I was so relieved, and so happy with my effort. This was perhaps the strongest I’d ever run a half-marathon in a challenging course. It was my sixth half-marathon of the year, and the fifth half-marathon to fulfill my 12 halves in 12 months goal.

Overall, I really enjoyed the race. It was well-organized, the aid stations were well-spaced and equipped with enough hydration. The course was absolutely stunning and challenging. And at the end of the race, there was a serving of warm pancakes, bananas, chocolate milk, water, and pretzels.  There were prizes for top overall finishers and age groups as well as random prizes. The tech shirts were of very high quality, so it’s a shirt I would definitely wear regularly. The medals were also very nice. Oh, and remember those stomach cramps I was having? Well, let’s just put it this way. I was extremely happy this was an all women event, and ever so grateful that jacket was tied around my waist to hide the arrival of an unexpected visit.

Do you participate in gender specific races? Have you ever walked/hiked the Pacific Crest Trail? Does running with friends help you run faster and stronger?

 

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A view from the bottom up of the Bridge of the Gods with a sliver of the moon adjacent to it.

 

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For the Love of Running

I set out to complete my sixth half marathon of the year on Saturday September 13, 2014. The starting line for the Bridge of the Goddess half marathon was scheduled to begin on a bridge named Bridge of the Gods, but it seemed like the dark forces were against me hours before the race was scheduled to start.

It all began on Friday afternoon around 1:18 p.m. It was a text from my less-than-a-year-younger sister informing me she was still in Ft. Lauderdale and would not make it to Portland, Oregon at her scheduled time of 8:20 pm. Since she had a connecting flight in Houston, it was uncertain she’d make it in time to her connecting flight and it was therefore a possibility she’d not be able to make it to Portland at all. My little sister (who is more than a decade younger), was also scheduled to come to Portland @ 11:39 pm on a different connecting flight out of Houston. Not only was their delayed flight bad news for the sake of stress and lost time, but they were supposed to stay with my daughters on Saturday morning while I was running the race (my husband had military duty, so he could not stay with them). Thus, a delayed flight that should have arrived 11 hours and 40 minutes prior to my race was like taking a sharpie to a masterpiece you worked so hard on. If my sisters did not land at the airport at least an hour prior to my race, I would not be racing after all.

I pondered whether I should make the three hour trip to the hotel in Hood River I had reserved two months before the race so as to avoid waking up at 4 am the morning of the race (the half-marathon was 3 hours and 45 minutes from the city I live in). I tried to remain calm and I kept a positive outlook, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a heavy weight of disappointment rudely resting on my shoulders – non-refundable race fees, non-refundable hotel, a dent to my 12 halves in 12 months goal, and no sisters on Friday night.

I decided to stick to the plans I made two months and just hoped for the best. It was a gamble I was ready to take not only for the love of running, but because I really had nothing to lose by remaining positive. En route to our hotel, my youngest daughter (two-year-old) got car sick and threw up all over her seat. Because I was in a VERY busy highway with no shoulder to pull-over, we had to suffer the rancid smell for 30 excruciating minutes until we could pull-over to our hotel. Except, the map on my phone sent me to the wrong hotel! I had no choice but to park at the wrong hotel where I changed my daughter’s clothes, wiped down her seat, and tried as hard as I could to take away the stench lingering all her over seat (and right under our noses).

Immediately following clean up and recalculating to find the right hotel, I still had no clue whether my sisters would arrive to Portland Friday night or Saturday morning. I decided to kill time by taking my daughters out to dinner. I ordered pasta to load on the carbs just in case I’d get the chance to race. It was at dinner, while chewing on some bread, that I found out my sisters were going to make it to Portland after all!! The excitement of their arrival was short-lived when I felt the burning gaze of eyes staring my way in a room that fell to complete silence immediately after the sound of shattering glass. My two-year-old had gotten her little hands on a lamp placed right behind our booth and she somehow managed to drop it so that it broke to tiny pieces! I wanted to crawl under a rock and not come out until she was 21.

After apologizing profusely to the diners seated next our booth, the young man who helped pick up the shattered pieces, and our waitress, I headed up to the room with an angry toddler who hadn’t taken a nap and a an angry ten-year-old who wanted to go to the pool. It was only 7:30 pm, and I had to pick up my sisters at midnight! Knowing full well my toddler would wake at 11:00 pm, the time I had to leave to make the hour drive from our hotel to the airport, I had to put her to sleep right away so that she could get some rest.

An hour after wrestling with my toddler to finally fall sleep, I turned on the television to kill some time. I also served myself a VERY strong cup of coffee to help me stay awake until 11:00 pm. 19 Kids and Counting was on The Learning Channel, and the thought of giving birth to 19 babies was enough to keep my mind awake. It definitely takes an individual with an extreme amount of patience to have that many kids! My patience is tested to the nth degree with just two!

It was finally 11 pm! With a ten and two-year-old in tow, I drove from Hood River to PDX. As expected, both of my daughters were wide awake. When we pulled in to the arrivals lane, I spotted both my sisters! We had very little time to exchange hugs, so it was a quick hello and on the road again to head back to the hotel that was an hour away. At this point, I was dreading the wake-up call. The race was starting at 8 am, but we were advised to arrive early because parking would be limited and I was still a 1/2 hour away from the city of Cascade Locks. I figured a 7:00 am arrival was safe, so I’d have to set my alarm clock to 6 am in order to make it out of the hotel by 6:30. Well, just as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the “Empty” light came on. Because I knew my sisters had already had an extremely long day, I wanted to get them and my daughters to bed. Filling up my tank would have to wait until the morning. My wake-up call was now going to be at 5:30 am!!

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My sisters Angela and Beth in Eastern Oregon!!

That crazy Friday afternoon, where I was supposed to have a smooth drive to the hotel room, a nice dinner, and pick up one of my sisters at 8:20 pm turned into an unplanned obstacle course. And finally, at 2 am, six hours before race day and three and a half hours before my alarm was set to go off, I called it a day!

Why did I go through all of this? Because I love running! Because life could be worse. Because so many people who are in much worse unfortunate situations would trade spots with me in a heartbeat if what I went through was all they had to go through.

Have you ever had to overcome multiple obstacles to get to the starting line of your race?

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Mea Culpa

The “Motherly Moments” category has been empty. I’ve been hesitant to post because I’m the I’m failing my children as a mother kind of mother. No, I’m not saying this because I want sympathy. I’m saying this because every time I go to bed, I realize I failed my duties as a mother in one way or another:

  1. I lost my patience and raised my voice – more than once.
  2. I sent my ten-year-old to school with disheveled hair.
  3. My almost two-year-old once again got into my iPhone and watched nursery rhymes videos on YouTube.
  4. The dinner that was supposed to include vegetables ended up being loaded with carbohydrates.
  5. The pile of laundry did not get folded on time, so my daughter sported wrinkles to school.
  6. I did not enroll my daughter in gymnastics or dance young enough for her to ever consider said talents as a career. I speak Spanish, but failed to teach my oldest daughter Spanish.
  7. I allowed them to watch back-to-back episodes of SpongeBob, and Icarly.
  8. This weekend, both girls ate more than their fair share of sugar.
  9. I was so tired, I send them to bed without brushing their teeth, or flossing.
  10. I gave them cereal for dinner because I did not feel like cooking.
  11. They asked me to play a board game, and I’ve said no because I was not in the mood for playing.
  12. They watched the movie Coraline first thing when they woke, in the middle of the day, and just before bed time.
  13. I’m lousy at arts and crafts, so we rarely utilize glue, beads, stickers, construction paper, or scissors.
  14. I’m constantly nagging my daughter about her messy room.
  15. I’m hounding my older daughter about her homework.

The list is never-ending. And every night, I tell myself that tomorrow will be different. I will not lose my patience. I will be more organized. Dinner will look good, taste good, and be healthy. I will not send my daughter off to school with messy hair, or wrinkled clothes. I shall read to my toddler all day long, followed by arts and crafts, and the mess that transpires in between that time will only be symbolic of our creativity. But the day passes, and every night, my failings flash before my eyes like flickering neon lights in a questionable bar. I go to bed wondering if my daughters will hate me. If they will blame me for all of their shortcomings. If they will approach motherhood with the hope they will not be the mother to their children like the mother I was to them.

I’m turning this post around. I don’t want for this first post to be filled with self-imposed expectations of what my role as a mother should be. Yes, I am impatient, but I apologize to my daughters, and they forgive me every time, and am granted another opportunity to show them how much I love them. I’ve sent my daughter to school disheveled on several occasions, but she’s always been clothes, her belly has been filled with food (or have access to food at school) in a house where she was able to sleep comfortably in her own bed. I don’t do arts and crafts, but I will enroll my daughter in school plays, and drive six hours one way to ensure she participates in an event that is less than an hour-long because I know it will be a wonderful memory she can place in her treasure box. I kiss both of them good night every night. Yes, I nag my daughter about her homework, but it’s because I care about her and want her to be successful in school. My toddler can use an iPhone, but she can also sing Twinkle Twinkle, the Alphabet, and over twenty different nursery rhymes. Despite her ability to turn an immaculate room into a Picasso masterpiece, If I ask her to help me pick-up, she happily obliges. And when I don’t want to cook dinner, they are not only forgiving, but enjoy having breakfast for dinner (I thank the movie Coraline for that one).

My daughters love me and I know they know I love them. I’m not perfect. I never will be. I will never be good at arts and crafts, but there is no rule in this galaxy that indicates I have to be Martha Stewart in order for my daughters to think highly of me. The ratio of carbohydrates to protein will never be perfect, but my daughters are not starving, or malnourished. Two out of five days, my daughter will go to school with nicely braided hair. And if the measurement of a good mother is dependent on braids, then I’m sure I am sharing the Titanic with a plethora of parents. Each day is a learning day for both my daughters and me. It is learning to love each other unconditionally, to learn about each other and strive to be a better us the next day. And if at night,  I don’t get to check-off a single one of the  self-expectation measuring my value as a mother, I will wake up the next day and try, try again. There will be times where my daughters might be embarrassed of me, perhaps blame me for something I failed to do, or did. But there is one thing they will never doubt – how much I LOVE THEM!

Goofing around with my favorite peeps.

Goofing around with my favorite peeps.