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The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done: Running the LA Marathon

It’s official. Running is a mental illness. I’m counting down the days until marathon running is entered into the DSM. It’s only a matter of time. Four days ago I finished the LA Marathon—however reluctantly. Nothing in my life has challenged me physically and mentally like those 26.2 miles. The experience was leaps and bounds more difficult than my first marathon.

Let me get the bummer stuff out of the way. The LA Marathon just isn’t for me. As much as I love Los Angeles (and I do, deeply), running across it did nothing for me. I thought the experience of bipedally moving from the east side to the west, unencumbered by traffic and a vehicle, would instill a great deal of civic pride in my heart. It did not. The first six miles were great. Brad was still running with me. We trotted through the streets of downtown Los Angeles discovering little gazebos and walkways that you just don’t notice when you’re in a car. I felt fresh and strong, and the city looked great. Once the race got really hard (which I’ll get to in a minute) the city lost its luster and no amount of drag performers in WeHo or palm trees on Rodeo Drive could cheer me up.

I wanted to run the Walt Disney World Marathon because I knew that no matter how hard the running got or how bad I felt physically, I would be in my happy place. I thought the environment would act as a stimulant when my legs wanted to give out, and I was right. My old pal Mickey got me through. I loved running through the world of Disney because the whole place made me happy. I love Los Angeles but my associations with the city are not that pure. There are certain neighborhoods and streets that feel like happy places and others that feel like haunts. I’d pass down a street near where I used to live years ago and think, “Oh that was a tough time in my life.” Who wants to be reminded of such chapters of one’s life when doing the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted to do? Total bummer. No, LA has way too many complex emotional associations to make for a good marathon environment.

Another benefit to Walt Disney World was that I did not know the geography. I had no idea how far it was from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios so I couldn’t think about the many miles from point A to point B. Not knowing the terrain forced me into the moment and the mile at hand. Very beneficial. In Los Angeles, however, I am all too acutely aware of how far it is from Hollywood to Brentwood and so when running down Sunset Blvd I felt completely crushed by the thought of making it allllll the way to Wilshire. Are you kidding me? I have to run to Crescent Heights? I’m only at Sunset Junction! Not possible! When it comes to running those kinds of distances, ignorance is bliss.

I live in Venice and I work in Glassell Park. For those of you who don’t know LA geography, Venice is as far west as you can go, and Glassell Park is about as far east as you can go and still say you’re in Los Angeles. In short, I traverse the entire city from west to east and back again—every—single—day. Why did I think going from the “Stadium to the Sea” would hold any novelty for me? It felt like my commute.

My last beef with the LA Marathon is logistical. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO ORDER ENOUGH BATHROOMS TO ACCOMMODATE 26,000 PEOPLE? I swear. It seems that every race I do skimps on the port-0-potties and I seriously don’t understand it. There’s no way to irritate a runner faster than a) run out of water or b) not provide enough bathrooms thus causing said runner to have to wait in line when she should be running. This is exactly what happened. I may have had one too many garlic knots the night before at C&O Trattoria but I had to make two bathroom stops during the marathon. Guess how long I waited in line? Go ahead. Guess.

20 minutes.

What?! That is unacceptable. I was already having a painfully slow race but to add an extra 20 minutes to my time, and then another 10 minutes for the second bathroom stop, that is heartrendingly significant. We all paid a lot of money to run this thing. Can’t we go to the bathroom in a timely manner? Oh and the first john I used ran out of toilet paper. Not cool. I mean there just aren’t a lot of options in that scenario.

So those are the reasons both personal and logistical that I won’t be running the LA Marathon, specifically, again anytime soon. I’m glad I did it. I was curious. But now I know.

More bummer stuff—I’m ashamed of my time. Listen, I never ever judge anyone else’s running pace. I don’t believe there is a certain speed at which you become a real runner. It’s personal. A 10 minute mile may be slow to one runner and unattainably fast for another. To Meb, an 8 minute mile is a very gentle jog. I can’t even imagine. We run to discover our capabilities and ranges, and learn to perform within them. Me? At my best, I’m a 10 minute mile runner on a 5k, an 11 on 10k, and an 11:00-11:30 on a half marathon. Knowing that range I believe in my heart of hearts that I should be able to do a marathon between a 12:00-13:00 minute mile. I believe I can do that.

This marathon clocked in at a 15:00. Part of that was due to the half hour I wasted using the loo, but even taking that out of consideration I generally clocked about a 14:00 on my Garmin. Here’s the thing. I’m not a 15 minute mile runner. I’m not a 14 minute mile runner. I’m just not. So even though I finished the race and got my medal, I feel beat. I feel like the course and the day got the best of me. Even though my mom keeps telling me I should feel proud, I don’t feel proud. Two in and I’ve yet to perform a marathon at my potential.

There was a litany of reasons specific to where I’m at right now as a runner that made this race so slow and painful. The greatest challenge I faced going in was that I was injured for about 50% of my training. By the time I hit the double digit training runs I was almost crippled by shin splints. Even on 3 mile runs I could barely get my time below a 12:30 minute mile. Brutal. I was this close to skipping the marathon after I barely finished a 16 mile run. It was an “oh what the hell” attitude that got me to sign up, not any kind of belief in my strength.

I was injured, and I was overweight. Look, I like myself. I like my body. Maybe if I were a bit more dissatisfied on an emotional level it would be easier to lay off the calories that have put this extra weight on my frame. But alas, I’m fairly confident in my skin and didn’t feel all that motivated to slim down for this race that I wasn’t even that enthusiastic about running in the first place. To be overweight as a runner is tough stuff. It makes your job ten times harder. It is precisely the same thing as a fit person with no body fat trying to run 26.2 miles wearing a forty pound lead suit. It would slow anyone down. I don’t need to lose forty pounds but I could stand to lose twenty-five. I think if I did that, that might be the only missing link to my elusive 5:30 marathon.

So what was it like to run a marathon with all of those things working against me? As I said on Instagram, I can’t imagine anything in the world—short of torture and maybe childbirth—harder than running that race. (I’ve actually heard several women tell me that giving birth was easier for them than running a marathon, so there you go). I hit a wall at mile thirteen. THIRTEEN. It’s normal and expected to hit a wall at some point but usually it’s around 18. Then you work through it until about mile 21, and you’ve got the last 5 miles on adrenaline. I hit it with HALF OF THE RACE LEFT TO RUN. Besides a few brief and fleeting runner’s high moments, I pushed against that wall for the entire rest of the race.

What does it mean to hit a wall? I think the best way to imagine it is literally. Imagine running in place, now push up against a wall. Now don’t stop. Now keep doing that for five hours. Now imagine there are thousands of people around you running right through the wall but you still have to push against it. Now imagine the feeling like you’re not getting anywhere even though your feet are moving in a manner that would suggest forward motion. Now imagine that this is your fate for all time. Like Sisyphus, you are to push against this wall for eternity. Now imagine you feel more alone than you’ve ever felt in your life. Now imagine the time you felt like the biggest failure in the entire universe. Now feel like that. Now magnify that feeling by ten. Keep pushing against that wall. Now imagine you’re nauseous. Now imagine your mouth is on fire but no matter how much water you drink your mouth is still thirsty, but you can’t drink more because then your stomach will be even more nauseous. Now imagine a car just rolled over your feet.

It’s kind of like that.

It is so difficult to put the struggle into words because I don’t actually remember any of it. I remember it intellectually, but I don’t remember the pain. Nature does this as a defense mechanism so we’ll repeat painful things like childbirth without hesitation, but I’m not sure Mother Nature anticipated the effect on marathon runners. I imagine her looking down on us from some celestial treehouse shouting “You guys! Stop it! I wiped the pain memory for making babies! Not for this! This is ridiculous!” Runners don’t listen though. I don’t remember the pain. Which is what has led me to my next question…

Which marathon should I run next?

At mile 20 I promised myself I would draft a document and have it notarized stating that I was not allowed to run another marathon. Ever. Three hours after I’d finished I started doing the math in my head to figure out how much I’d have to save to do Walt Disney World in 2018. I’m telling you. It’s a certifiable mental disorder. Despite the tears running down my face (there were many), despite the pain, the doubt, the struggle—I want to do it again. I understand masochism now. Something about pain and struggle brings us closer to our potential and a divine truth.

Can you tell I’m Catholic?

In all honesty, this race was a spiritual experience. Perhaps it’s the season of Lent that has me meditating deeply on the concept of struggle. When I ran up against that wall I wasn’t running on strength. I had none. I wasn’t running on willpower. I had none. I wasn’t running on grit. I had none. I had nothing. Nothing left. I had to pull from something higher than myself. And whether or not you believe that’s a real thing or just a mind trick, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t really care. It only mattered that it worked. And that higher power—that pull on a force of energy beyond myself—was absolutely the only thing that got me across that finish line. Oh and this song by The Killers.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” You see this quote a lot in the running world. You’ll see it written on people’s bibs, printed on people’s shirts. Meb has it listed as the only thing on his Twitter bio. The first time I saw a runner with this passage printed on her running shirt I scoffed. Pfft. I’m a Catholic but I’m not really on board with the whole divinity of Jesus thing. It’s confusing. I’m a bad Catholic. I just don’t believe all the magic miracle stuff, but I do believe that Jesus was an amazing figure with an absolutely incredible story. I love all the rituals, and I love good stories. So what does that passage really mean? It doesn’t have to mean that the magic of Jesus helps win races. It can mean that if you want it to. If you need it to. If it does to you. To me it is the story of the universe—that there is a force which unites all of us. This thing—this energy—is there for us to call on when we need to endure. It is pure goodness and grit. It is mystery and it is power. It is outside us and within us. It never runs out. It never hits a wall. Whether you call it Christ or God or The Force or the Universe, I think the important point is that it is something eternally strong that exists outside of you, but flies like a kite with its string tethered directly to your own heart. And to the heart of every human walking the earth. I accessed that magic on Sunday. I let myself fly that kite, and it is the only reason I finished.

So what were the upsides to running the LA Marathon? Oh of course there were many. That divine revelation thing was pretty cool. Seeing so many friends on course made my heart explode. (Seriously guys, you have no idea how much you helped). I learned a ton. You can’t go halfway on something that hard and expect satisfying results. I didn’t— couldn’t—go all in on my training and I should have adjusted my expectations accordingly for finishing the race. Manage your expectations. Always a good life lesson.

I’m fired up for next time. I may have thrown out the contract prohibiting me from running again, but I left a few provisions. I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve dropped 20 pounds. And I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve found one that I’m really excited about. I may only have one marathon left in me and if that’s the case I have to see what I’m capable of. Where I run is just as important as how I run. Unfortunately I have top shelf taste. I’d love to run Rome more than anything. Hmm.

It was a true treat to run this race with my husband and Neiman. Even though we didn’t run it together, we were together, you know? Neiman finally broke his 4 hour marathon goal (see what I mean about relativity with pace? that is crazy fast), and Brad made his goal of running the entire race without any walk breaks and he made a great time too. Good job boys.

I learned about struggle. I’m a very laid back and casual person. I’m not Type A. I don’t like things to be hard. This serves me in that I’m a very happy person most of the time. What I learned about myself in this race is that I associate struggle with failure. When things got hard running this race the negative thoughts FLOODED in. I couldn’t keep them out. A true athlete encounters physical struggle, but they win the race by winning the game between their ears. I didn’t lose this marathon with my shin splinty legs. I lost it with my mind.

If running marathons were easy everyone would do it. Everyone doesn’t do it so the struggle makes the difference. If getting a book published were easy everyone would do it. Getting my book published is, as it turns out, very much in the not easy category, so I have to embrace the struggle as a sign pointing me toward success. Insert any dream or goal and the same is true. Struggle is the stuff. It’s the troll guarding the bridge that you either have to fight, escape, or trick into letting you pass. Rejoice when you encounter the struggle troll. Then kick his ass.

Oh and my skirt was really cute.

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There’s more to share but I think it’s time to move on. On to the next race. I’ll take a break from marathon running for a couple of years, but marathon—I’m coming for you. We don’t get to break up like that.

Some photos.

 

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Lovers getting married at Mile 11.

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Completely unappreciative.

Happy running friends!

The Gift of Falling Flat on Your Face

Not too long ago I was having a great day. Like a really great day. A great week actually. Felt like I could conquer the world. Then I did something stupid. I won’t provide specifics surrounding the series of awesomeness followed by humiliation. Sorry, I know you’re dying to know but the truth is I’m not interested in reliving it in perpetuity on my blog. Let’s just boil it down to feelings, which is what matters here. I was devastated. Then I was pissed. What the hell! How can the universe be so kind and in the blink of an eye so incredibly cruel? I felt like this:

fall

This is a still from a video I posted on Facebook yesterday. As you might have guessed, this runner falls down. It’s rather devastating, as you may also have guessed. This is not what’s appealing about the video. It is, in fact, one of the most incredible visual metaphors I’ve ever come across. Watch the whole thing:

What is incredible about this event is not that the runner fell down and got back up and won the race (which is kind of mind-blowing btw). What is really incredible about the message here is that she won BECAUSE she fell down. Now, before you draft an argumentative comment, of course I don’t know that for sure. Would she have won without falling down? Maybe. But probably not. You can see it happen. Falling down gave her the jolt of adrenaline, of anger, of determination to win, that she otherwise would not have felt had she kept with the pack. The girl that clipped her in the foot probably felt so thrown off and embarrassed that it threw off HER game and allowed fallen girl to get up and gain a lead. The other runners probably assumed she was out when she went down, and didn’t in a million years see her coming to dominate at the last minute. This chain of events that started with her falling flat on her face provided a series of gifts that allowed her to win. It’s incredible. She had to fall down to win.

That’s the narrative I see in this video. You might take away something different but isn’t that the incredible thing about a story? Good stories contain layers of meaning that we get to peel off, try on, and see what fits best on our souls and minds. This video arrived on my Facebook feed with the utmost synchronicity. I had metaphorically fallen flat on my face a mere 48 hours prior, and I needed to see this. Failure will come to all of us and we must recognize it as a gift — an opportunity to reap just the exact emotions and motivation we need to win.

After I “fell” I sat in my car and cried. I didn’t want my wonderful week to end this way. It wasn’t fair. Someone! Somewhere! Change this! Much to my chagrin, no deus ex machina came down from above to change my circumstances. I was on my own. So I turned on my voice recorder app on my phone. I talked it out. I purged everything I was feeling. I needed to record it because talking to myself wouldn’t get it out fully. There has to be someone listening, even if that someone is an electronic chip in my smartphone. It makes a difference.  My fall gave me humility, determination, anger, and empowerment. Invaluable gifts made worthless if I remain face down on the ground. I stand up, and I keep running. I want to use these gifts. I know that life isn’t really a competition, but I still hope that I win.

What Running Taught Me About Body Positivity… It’s All In the Mind

The prompt for National Running Day was “I run to _____.” I actually just had a little wave of anxiety as I typed, thinking about sharing the reasons that I run. The reasons are deeply personal, however publicly I talk about running. Personal, and innumerable, so maybe I’ll try to distill it all down to one basic idea. I run to connect my body to my soul.

I grew up an incredibly confident girl on the inside, with incredible self-loathing for her outsides. I hated my body. Hate is a strong word. Not strong enough. I developed at a young age in all the wrong ways according to a hormonal pre-teen. Big butt, thick thighs, flat chest. Boys didn’t like me, girls didn’t relate to me. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t necessarily fat either. I was the word I’ve come to hate more than almost any in the English language – chubby. I was chubby. And it’s not cool to be chubby as a kid.

So I grew up hating my outsides and wishing for new ones, while simultaneously loving life, being social, feeling creative and insightful, and in general enjoying the human soul that was developing as Becky Sigl. I was very conscious of this strange dichotomy. How could I be so confident and so insecure at the same time? Mind-body disconnect. You’ve all felt it.

Along came running. I began running as early as 6th grade but didn’t stick with it in earnest until my college years. During that time I felt more pressure than ever to somehow achieve the body that I THOUGHT would match my awesome inside self (don’t believe everything you think). Safe in my college incubation bubble, I knew that once thrust into the “real world” the clock began. It’s tough for women in Hollywood and if you don’t jump in the Hollywood Double Dutch game when you’re a kid, then you better be ready again when you’re a young twenty-something still young enough to play high school and college. If you miss THAT turnoff and you’re not “smokin’ hot” or super charactery then you may as well wait around until you’re old enough to play the Mom. I realize I sound very cynical and no one is obligated to subscribe to these silly rules. You can pave your own way and you should! But the pressure. It’s brutal.

So there I was, 21, getting ready for the real world, and I thought to myself constantly “I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight.” The only time I didn’t think these thoughts was on the running trail. Interesting. I didn’t all of a sudden feel satisfied with my body. I just didn’t give a crap. I was running.

Along comes the real world and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t magically transform into a 5’10” lithe supermodel or a cute little pixie girl in a size zero. Huh. Go figure. The real world arrived nonetheless and I started to realize how much I truly disliked this game of Hollywood Double Dutch. But I thought I’d still play anyway. I’d still attempt to achieve a body that would match my awesome, spunky, confident, inner self – still repeating the mantra “I have to lose weight” – I started running more consistently.

A funny and unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with my body. The body that in the past 10 years has run 13 half marathons, one marathon, and 2,000 miles to Tahiti. That body. The body that is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than it was 10 years ago when I started running to lose weight! I love that body. I love it so fiercely. Sure I get a little itchy when I feel a few pounds of new jiggle after the holidays or if I haven’t run for awhile, but I still love the jiggle, however unwelcome. I love it deeply because I’m grateful for it. I know what it can do.

In college I took a philosophy course that focused heavily on the ideas of Iris Murdoch. One of our textbooks was “The Sovereignty of Good.” (I highly recommend it). It is the act of focusing on the Good – art, service, love – that effectuates transcendence. This focusing and taking action lures us outside ourselves. You can’t simply try to be grateful as effectively as when you focus on giving to others which results in a sense of gratitude. You can’t try to understand humanity as well as seeing a great play – the pathos of which evokes an understanding of humanity as a result. A focus on good things brings about Good. The actions make us Good. It’s not so easy to be good for Goodness’ sake. Someone alert Santa.

I couldn’t try to love my body in a vacuum. I just couldn’t. I did try. Hard! I simply did not love it. 10 years of running consistently – focusing my mind on something healthy and active instead of the outcome on my appearance – changed me. It works this way in acting. You want to get out of your own head? Focus on your scene partner. What are you doing to him? Do it. Voila! No more in your head. So too with body positivity as it turns out. You want to love your body? Focus on doing things with it. Be active. Put your body to work. You’ll discover that it’s Good, EXACTLY as it is.

I started running because my 6th grade teacher told me to. I stuck with it in high school and college to try and lose weight, when I suddenly realized it had this potent by-product of making me feel sane. I keep running today not to love my body, but because I love my body. Running, as it turns out, is the bridge between my sparkly, glitter-spackled, spunky, soulful, introspective, confident, awesome, self and the physical vessel I was given to get through life – my body. You get one boat to sail the ocean. Don’t scuttle it. Name it. Take care of it. Decorate it. Love it. Have fun sailing.
I run to connect my soul to my body. I run because it’s spiritual. I run because it’s physical. I run to get out of my head. I run to focus on the Good.

Why do you run?

sparkly self

What Running a Marathon Taught Me About Coping

Yesterday I had a panic attack. My heart raced. I broke into a sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The attack hit me out of nowhere. Pretty sure I actually muttered to myself “Oh my, what’s this? What’s happening to me?”

It’s not that I’ve never had a panic attack before. I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon. It’s just that for me they are almost always preceded by some direct and identifiable psychological turmoil, but lately I’ve been y’know, happy. I suppose I could connect the dots. Stressful week at work? An unfamiliar feeling of optimistic ambition relating to my writing career? (I’ve never been so pro-active about a personal goal and while it’s all very exciting, there’s a scared little girl inside me no doubt trying to shake me up out of fear of failure.) Ongoing family crisis? (Which is currently a sleeping dragon but I’m waiting for it to wake up again.) Maybe I just let my blood sugar get too low. There are truly any number of things that could trigger an anxiety attack but none of them have been front line lately so it surprised me to experience a physical manifestation of the fears. Whatever the reason, panic took hold.

I’ve never been great about dealing with these pesky attacks. I suppose that by definition they encroach your senses beyond reason, so an inability to deal sensibly is kind of the point. This has always been inconvenient as it’s forced me to rely on the support of others to get by. I’d call my mom or my step-dad and they’d talk me off the edge. These days my husband fills the role nicely, holding me and loving me until even the panic feels cozy and at home. While it’s crucial  to have people in your life who can save you in a crisis, self-reliance is something for which I always strive.

And that’s where the marathon enters the picture.

Running the Walt Disney World Marathon left me with innumerable life lessons, but perhaps the lesson that surprised me the most was a deepening of the phrase “it gets better.” Sometime around mile 14 things got really hard, and I thought to myself “Oh crap, if it’s this hard now how am I going to survive 12 more miles?” The logic being that an increase in distance should correlate to an increase in fatigue and thus difficulty. Logically speaking running a marathon would look something like this:

Marathon HillIt makes sense right? The longer you run the harder it gets? See, though, here’s the thing about endurance running. It doesn’t really make sense. Does it make sense to train for four straight months at the expense of a clean house, social life, and free time? Not really. Does it make sense to pay $200 to do something you could theoretically do on your own for free? Not really. Does it make sense to voluntarily put yourself in pain or at the very least extreme discomfort for 4-6 hours straight? Definitely not. Nothing about marathon running makes sense, including the experience of running it.

So there I am at mile 14, incredibly concerned that if it’s this hard now I simply won’t be able to finish. A funny thing happened. I just kept running, and it got better. It gets better.

Then it got hard again, and better, and really hard, then easy, then impossible, then doable, then great, then transcendent, then I finished. So running a marathon actually looks more like this:

Marathon realnessHow can mile 20 be easier than mile 14? And what kind of sense does it make for mile 5 to be harder than mile 25? No sense at all. That’s long-distance running for you. Reason #673 why running is a giant metaphor for life. It does get better. But then it gets hard again.

The It Gets Better campaign is beautiful, and important. In the darkest hour we all need someone to look in our eyes and promise that it DOES get better. It does. But let’s talk realness for a sec. It will probably get hard again. Really hard. And then it will get better. Undoubtedly. Life is not a long walk up hill. It’s a marathon. It’s the high school mile being harder than the college mile. It’s the quarter-life mile being harder than the thirty-something mile. It’s the family mile being easier than the work mile and oh, wait a minute, now the family mile is the hardest yet. Each challenge paid off with a nice stretch of joy. The joy inevitably followed by a new challenge. Somewhere there is a finish line that makes it all worth it.

Even once we’ve finished the marathon, we’ll probably do another one. We’ll get right back on the course of ups and downs. Extreme highs and lows. We’ll cope. Because it doesn’t make sense, a marathon or life. The one thing you can count on is that it will change, and for better or worse you’ll be wiser once you’ve endured.

I highly recommend running a marathon to exercise this radical unpredictability of life. It’s cathartic. Years of emotional ups and downs will be condensed for you into a 5 hour physical metaphor that you can take with you into the big, bad, beautiful, chaotic world. You will know in your muscles and bones what it feels like to cope, to endure, and to be rewarded with a strange sort of peace. (Which you will forever project onto the medal they hand you at the finish line. You will cherish that cheaply made trinket endlessly. God help the poor soul who ever tries to take my bling away!)

Last night I’m lying in bed, my husband sleeping peacefully next to me. I’m fitful, fighting the remains of this pesky panic attack. My insides feel dark blue, my thoughts are glum, my breath is shallow. I read. I watch TV. I try to breathe in calm and exhale chaos. It’s not really working. I’m in it, a tough mile. But I think back to the marathon. I think about how mile 25 was easier than mile 5. Suddenly I feel, not calm, but confident. It will get better. I will also have another panic attack someday. I will cope.

Now it’s tomorrow. You know what? This mile feels great. It’s a beautiful day with no panic in sight. It got better. For now. And that’s enough to keep me running.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Patience, not-so-young Grasshopper

I’m too impatient to think of a clever way to begin this post. Gah! So impatient! The cat is out of the bag. I’m impatient. It’s a toxic state of mind. The overwhelming desire to have something extraordinary happen overnight often thwarts the possibility of that extraordinary something happening over time. This is why it’s essential to enjoy and take meaning from the journey. Not because it’s so wise, because it’s 95% of the process. You may as well enjoy it. You can’t drive from California to New York overnight, so if you don’t find pleasure in staring out your window at the Oklahoma prairie or Missouri’s rolling hills, it’s going to be a long and painful drive. Learn to savor the journey; something I’m discovering about my endeavors as a children’s book author.

Earlier this year I actually, truly, really, actively, once-and-for-all began taking steps toward becoming a published children’s picture book author. I’d dreamed of such a thing since I was 6 years old, but other than a library of ideas messily cataloged in my brain I’d never pursued it. All that changed with the new year. Knowing NOTHING about the publishing industry I began with as rudimentary a step as possible. I bought Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Hello, dummy. *Proudly points to self*

Not even knowing how to format a manuscript properly, I needed the basics. It’s actually quite a good book. I recommend it for publishing preschoolers like me.

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I read this book. I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I launched a personal website. I finished my first manuscript. I researched publishing houses accepting unsolicited material. I wrote a cover letter. I signed up for my first conference. I’m ready now! Do you hear me universe! I’m ready, so can this happen now? Oh universe, I know YOU waited patiently for 30 years for me to accept this as my life’s calling, but now that I’m ready let’s do this thing.

I don’t know if writing for children has led me to think like a child, but I am impatient with a capital I. Impatient. IMpatient.

So what has led to this impatience? Well I’ll tell you. Obstacles. There are numerous itchy realities that have put a little bee in my bonnet since I started actively writing. Here are the discouraging things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten myself in the game.

On average it takes 3-6 months for a publisher to respond to your manuscript submission. Most responses will be a rejection.

Many publishers require an exclusive submission so while you’re waiting SIX MONTHS for them to read your three page manuscript you can’t really even submit it to anyone else. This isn’t always the case but SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES!

If and when a publisher wants to buy your manuscript, which you can almost guarantee won’t happen with the first submission, it will then take 18+ months (at least) for your book to be paired with an illustrator, art directed, produced, and published. It can and does take years.

Once your beautiful book baby is born and there you are on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, unless you’re among the incredibly rare breed of New York Times bestselling picture book authors, your book will probably go out of print in 2 years and you’ll net maybe $5,000 of royalties once you make back your advance. It will most likely be 10-15 years before you’ve published enough books to quit your day job and write full time.

So here I am, eager as a little beaver for my life to begin, and all I see are obstacles and “Turn Back Now” signs. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. I’m considering children in a few years. I’d like to start saving for a home, and for kid’s education, and for retirement. I want my life to begin NOW. Now, do you hear me universe? I’m ready! Do I really have to wait years for my three-page manuscript to make it to bookshelves, if it ever makes it at all? There are no guarantees. This could all be for naught. I could be a hack. I could be delusional. I can’t wait years to find that out.

I’m realizing I’m at this point in the story:

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There are many things I don’t know but I’m fairly certain of one thing. For the first time in my life I feel that I’m on the right path. I’ve started my journey down that path feeling prepared and enthused, only to now come across a chasm of unknowns, of long periods of waiting, of inconveniences and obstacles. There are signs that say “Wait here for 6 months, then proceed… maybe,” and others that read “Please pay $500 to advance,” while still others read “Congrats, you’ve earned $5,000! Now make that last for three years!”

A famous actor can indeed make millions. As can a famous author. However the majority of actors are not famous. They work. They struggle. They hustle to make $2,000 for one week on a show they don’t even really like that much and pray they’ll make enough money in their careers for health insurance and maybe a pension. It’s hard. For most, it’s very hard, so if you don’t love it, if Jiminy Cricket isn’t whispering in your ear, “Yes, this is right,” then maybe don’t do it.

Who knew writing would be just as challenging? Well, probably everyone who ever tried to be a writer, but hey I’m new at this. The difference now is Jiminy Cricket is talking to me. I’m starting to sound a little crazy but you know what I mean. It’s there! Some sort of warm omniscient speaking heart telling me that it will all be worth it somehow. This is my story. This is my path.

Okay. I accept. I will wait. I will make the leap. I will stay on the path no matter how hairy it gets. I will employ patience by enjoying the view from the window of this moving train. And while I wait, I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what I see out the window and it will inspire me and I’ll write it down. Even if I’m never published and they line my coffin with rejection letters from Random House, someone will one day clean out my desk and they’ll find what I wrote and they’ll say “Hey, look what she did.”

Hey, look what I did. Look what I’m doing. All you need is patience, young grasshopper.

Or should I say… cricket.

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Walt Disney World Marathon Review, as told by Piglet and Eeyore.

Walt Disney World Marathon 2016 registration goes on sale next week. While I would absolutely love to go the distance at the World again I’m afraid my pocketbook does not allow. The trek to this event will have to remain a rare occurrence until I’m stinking rich, or some other stroke of fate lands me in Florida in early January. In honor of this fantastic marathon it’s time to share our official yet incredibly casual review of the 2015 race.

Brad interviewed Neiman and I the day after the race to capture our thoughts, good and not-so-good. I got super smiley sitting here at my desk re-watching this video. That day in Epcot, the day after the race, had to be one of my favorite days I’ve ever had on this earth. Fresh off the victory of finishing my first marathon, glowing with accomplishment, and spending the entire day in Walt Disney World with two of my favorite people. That was a good day.

Without further ado, here is our review!

What Running to Tahiti Taught Me About Money

I’m not bad with money, per se. Not horrible. I pay my bills on time, always, and keep a very organized record of my accounts. My problem is that I have bills in the first place. My problem is that I enjoy spending money and usually on things. I love things. Aren’t things awesome? I love shoe things and clothes things and book things. Yay things! Then I run to Tahiti, and I realize that things are not actually purchased with money. They are purchased with units of my life. Yikes. My life is made up of a lot of running shoes.

Money is just an invention, right? It’s a placeholder, but for what? For time. So when I spend $80 on a pair of discount Asics that I don’t reeeeally need I’m not giving away $80. I’m giving away approximately 4 hours of my life. You may be willing to trade cold heartless cash for cool stuff, but are you willing to trade your time?

Five days a week I trade in my time, eight hours a day, for money. Why? The marketing machine that is commercial capitalism wants you to believe that you trade your time in for money so that you can go out and buy things. Things will give you meaning (false). Things will fulfill you (false.) Things will make you happy (ok SOMEtimes). Then the rush of those things wears off and you have to go out and buy more things to feel that false sense of fulfillment. You have to work harder to get more money to buy more things, but you’re working so hard to buy those things you barely have time to enjoy them so their meaning diminishes even more but the quest for happiness does not and so you do it. You work harder, you take on another job, you trade in more of your lifetime, (Think about that word. Life. Time.) to acquire more things that continue to fail to give your life meaning. You’ve given away the precious time of your life for the acquisition of ultimately meaningless things.

Is that what I want my life to be? Running shoes and book bags? (Dammit if I don’t LOVE a good book bag). Not if I don’t have time to go running or to read the books I’ve put in my bag. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country and a time that afford me the ability to work for a decent income; one that gives me a roof over my head, a steady stream of food on the table, a car to get around, cat food for the furry babies, and a little extra for a new hat. Good lord I’m practically royalty. Grateful grateful, I’m very grateful. I have just what I need to be comfortable, and then some. The trick is to not spend the “then some” but earmark it for an investment in a meaningful life.

This all seems rather logical but we’re brainwashed in the western world from such an early age to value things. Toys, video games, treats, presents. These are the epicenters of many an American child’s world. I don’t necessarily believe in complete deprivation of material goods to combat this. I truly loved my Teddy Ruxpin doll and Little Mermaid sleeping bag. At some point it’s an important lesson to learn however that these things did not make me who I am. What made me who I am are the friendships I cultivated at the slumber parties where I used my Little Mermaid sleeping bag, and the imagination sparked in my mind by talking to a teddy bear who could talk back. Friendship, imagination, kindness, play. These are the elements of my childhood that made me who I am, despite the fact that Disney and Toys R Us would have me believe it was the things themselves.

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And so no, I do not completely discredit the value of things. I am more likely to write a better story in a beautiful journal with a fancy pen than I am on a boring black and white composition notebook. I will walk with more confidence in an outfit that makes me feel beautiful than an ill-fitting dress I’ve had for 10 years. Just remember it’s the story that matters. It’s the confidence. The things are just tools.

A light bulb goes off as soon as we start planning our trip to Tahiti. This four-year endeavor has been its own form of internal currency trade, but I never realize the weight of that until I begin to think about giving the currency away. Each dollar we put into savings represents a hard-earned mile. So a couple of months ago as I research the cost of a diving expedition in Bora Bora, I feel this overwhelming resistance to lay down the $200 to pay for it because it’s not two hundred dollars I’m giving away. It’s two hundred miles! It takes us a lot of time, sweat, and energy to run two hundred miles and come time to give it away I have to make absolutely certain that it’s worth it. And that’s when it hits me. ALL of my money should be this precious. Why is it so easy to justify a quick afternoon blowing $50 on Zappos when it is so difficult to put down $200 for a once-in-a-lifetime experience we’ve been saving for years to have? Damn, my perspective is OFF. In that moment my paradigm did that shifting thing it sometimes does, and I no longer saw the numbers in my bank account as just numbers. I saw them as units of time; of my life. Very precious.

So what IS the point of money? Can’t we just get rid of it and all live in a utopia where money is obsolete and we help each other do what needs to get done? Then we don’t have to worry about all of this trading of time and money thing and we’ll just get straight to the happiness and meaning part. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not the way our world is set up and frankly I’m not interested in changing the structure of society. What I am interested in is a meaningful life. Stripping away things for only a moment brings quickly into focus what gives my life meaning: My family. My friends. Art. Connection. Travel. Animals. Books. Sunsets. Spirituality. Great stories. Adventures. My husband. My cats. Service. So what do I need money for? I need it for the security it affords me to spend time with my family. To see the rainforest before I die. To be with my community. To make art. To insure that the last 20 years of my life won’t be spent stressed out and panicked about debt but relaxed, and enjoying the people I love and cherish. Just the right amount of money can give me the security to infuse my life with an abundance of meaning. Too much (or too little) can make me mistake the money for meaning itself.

So thank you, whatever inspiration visited my brain and gave me the idea of Running to Tahiti. Not only has it been an incredibly fulfilling journey unto itself, it’s given me perhaps the most important life lesson I’ve encountered. Money can buy you happiness… if you spend it on a hard-earned plane ticket to Tahiti where you’re sure to have a truly meaningful adventure.

But only if you don’t blow it on running shoes first.