26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
MILE 1- I Can’t Believe I Live Here, an Ode to New York City
I arrived in the Big Apple in January of 2010, somewhat reluctantly. Having grown up in the Midwest and gone to school in Chicago, I always figured my forever home would be the Windy City. Having visited NY only a few times before, my quick but fervent opinion was that it was crowded and dirty; I desired to return but only to visit my sister who at that point had been living here for almost 10 years. My decision to eventually follow her was born not from any idea of my own, but from a universal shift that aligned everything towards a move. Somehow, I managed to put one foot in front of the other and trust that everything would work out; I followed my gut and slowly but surely, discovered my life.
My first race in New York City, or ever, for that matter, was in June of that year. It was the NYRR Mini 10k, an all women’s race in Central Park. Holy inspiration! If you are a woman and you’ve never done an all women’s race before–get here and do the Mini 10k, I swear there is nothing like it. There were at least ten things bringing me to tears that morning. Making my way over to the race on the subway I had no idea how many women would be participating; I was so nervous and self conscious, I couldn’t imagine anything but a tough, solitary journey. As I walked into the park my eyes swelled, I could not believe how many women were there. As I joined them in my assigned corral my self consciousness melted away. As I glanced around at women of all different ages and races and sizes I started to understand how much bigger the world was than me; I felt so lucky to be a part of it. It also became clear that if I kept pushing through my fears, there was an endless possibility of gifts on the other side; I had no idea how big my life could get or where I could go, the thought of it was thrilling. The profound loneliness I had felt much of that first six months in New York was abated as I jogged across the starting line. I was not alone. The city and it’s people were in front of me, and around me, and behind me, and…I was one of them. It was the first time I really felt a part of the city, I knew that I belonged. As I ran down Central Park West I lost complete control of my emotions, I was sobbing. The park was beaming in all of it’s lush green splendor and the landscape of the city around us literally took my breath away. All I could think was, I cannot believe that this is my home. I simultaneously laughed and cried as I remembered how little I cared for the “busy, dirty streets” before; the Universe’s plan for my life was so obviously superior to my own.
Having now lived in New York City for almost eight years I can say that there is nowhere on earth that I love more. Each time my husband and I return from another place we’ve traveled, no matter how wonderful, I feel a sense of relief and peace and excitement. The diversity of our city is unmatched. My exposure to different cultures and lifestyles on a daily basis feeds my curiosity and my soul; my fellow New Yorkers are my very greatest teachers and they show up every single day. Sure, sometimes it can get crowded, but I’ll challenge anyone who claims that there’s not space here. There’s room for opportunity, advancement, inspiration, hope, laughter, and love. I have found all of that here. Even more important, I have found an unending capacity for growth and a near constant supply of fuel; this city wants me to keep reaching higher, it pushes me to strive for more. New York is just like a run–the more I put in, the more I get out.
I read a lot about athletes who find solitude when they run; there is a sense of peace and clarity to be gained as the distances stretch out. I find that running here. But I also get something else. There’s an energy that lives in the concrete. With every stride, with every strike of my foot on the pavement, that energy reverberates through my body; it fortifies my mind and invigorates my heart. There is power in these streets, left here by millions of people over the years–people who were told they couldn’t, but who did anyways–people who were told “no”, but chose not to accept that as an answer. The magic of New York City is grit; it’s laid out all over the streets, but you can only get it, if you stay. Over the years I’ve walked and run thousands of miles around this city. I run to leave a footprint that is indelibly my own, but that can simultaneously be lifted and siphoned for energy by anyone who needs it. The love this city shows me is uplifting and unstoppable; it is my starting line, every single day. I know I will spend the rest of my life trying to give back all that I have gained here. For now, New York, my beloved home, I give you Mile 1. Though I know from experience you’ll be with me the whole way through.
MILE 2- Finding my Breath, How Yoga Taught Me Discipline and Peace
It felt appropriate to dedicate Mile 2 to the peace and the discipline I have found through the yoga practice I have maintained for the past nine years. After all, it’s at this point in the race where I’m going to have to calm down, settle my jitters, and find my breath.
Finding my breath was not something I ever thought about, it certainly wasn’t anything I thought was necessary. After the first breathing exercise in Bikram, we are directed to close our mouths and breathe in and out through our noses for the rest of class. I can’t tell you how difficult this was for me for the first couple of months. My teachers kept telling me that if I continued to breathe in and out through my mouth, I would tire and dehydrate myself and initiate my fight or flight response. That statement shook the foundation I thought I was standing on; the truth was, those were my only two responses to everything–battle or run. There was very little ease in my life at that time, even the smallest things were a struggle. I cringe when I think of what my co-workers at the restaurant I worked at had to deal with on a daily basis. I would infer judgment or criticism from the slightest remark or most benign question. I took everything personally. I could never just be; I thought every action required a reaction from me.
When I stepped into the yoga room, my big focus was on following direction. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally at all really), I was getting sober at the same time so my whole life revolved around learning to take direction and trusting that there were people who knew better than me. My sponsor used to tell me, “Your decisions up to this point have led to the life you have now, if you are satisfied with that, keep going…if you want something different, follow the advice of people who have the character and a way of life that you admire.” I could not have begun my yoga practice at a better time, it was essential for me to have an almost daily physical manifestation of the results of following another person’s guidance. Learning how to breathe during yoga, running, and in stressful situations was one of the first big light bulb lessons for me; I didn’t have to continue doing something in the same way just because I had always done it that way, especially if it didn’t serve me anymore.
Breathing in and out through my nose keeps me grounded and calm, especially when outside sources are triggering my anxieties within. It seems like a small thing, but for me, it aids everything from staying with a posture or not quitting on a run, to avoiding a panic attack in a sudden and troubling situation. It means finding peace in chaos; it is an authoritative regulator, it is powerful. Finding my breath has also meant not overreacting to situations and conserving my energy so it can be applied where it will be most useful. If I’m maintaining a really easy pace, I can get up to 8 or 9 miles now without breathing through my mouth at all. This means at mile 2, with all the inevitable speed and excitement going on around me, I’m going to be focusing on slowing down, finding my pace, and locating my strong and steady breath. I have no doubt my discipline will serve me well and set me up for the long haul. After all, I’ve got 24.2 more miles to go…
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header image of my beautiful neighb: Redd Angelo