Following a long week at home in Nebraska with the family for Christmas, I got back to Washington, DC to a lifeless studio apartment where everything was exactly how I had left it rushing out the door at 5AM for a 6:25AM flight just a week earlier. The air was cool and stale from lacking any energy and activity for 7 days. It was nice to be back in my own space in DC, but my heart was as heavy as my exactly 50-pound suitcase that hours earlier I’d managed to escape paying Southwest Airline’s $75 overweight fee by tossing my toiletries in an airport bathroom and stuffing my hair dryer in my carry-on (my big, black monstrosity was 4 pounds overweight). Unlike what I had going on in my head and heart, however, I left my baggage at the front door and promptly unloaded it. Dirty laundry here, hanging up my clearance trophies there– a little black dress I know will fit once I lose my food baby belly, blue salt and pepper leggings that make schlepping around the house look like too much effort, some running shirts that I was already mentally planning to wear for upcoming races. I tried to ignore what was bothering me, but it lingered ruthlessly. And there was nothing much I could do about it except deal with it.
When I have a heavy heart or a bad day, the first thing I ask myself is what do I feel like doing? Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except whatever would make you happiest second to actually resolving the issue (which wasn’t an option for me). My first thought was that I wanted to– no, needed to– run. I paused and thought about how I would feel running (probably slowly) to the sound of my own breathing, cars humming by on the George Washington Parkway, the squeaks from my Garmin when I reached a mile, no music. It’s days like today that I wish I had something to train for. But I was also exhausted from being awake since 4AM on 2 hours of sleep and traveling through St. Louis to get back to DC. And I just wanted to be still.
Actually, what I really wanted was the future. Living in the present is a test of patience. I wanted to be on the other side of my goals and the present; to know where everything I’d been through was leading me, to understand and pursue the next big thing in my life– law school, marriage and parenthood, leaving DC on my own terms, a new career, whatever– with the kind of vigor that only wisdom and understanding can give to you. Meaning is something I’ve been lacking in my life for awhile now. I was ready to get that back, but it takes time. I had no choice but to be present and it was making me restless.
I don’t know whether it was the guilt of skipping a run when I knew I needed it, the crowded thoughts of restlessness, or the overwhelming contrast of my quiet studio to my mom’s loud and busy house where I’d spent the past week that led me to sign up for the Fairfax 4-Miler on New Year’s Eve. I was perfectly content treating the last 24 hours of the year like any other Wednesday evening: come home from work, throw on my latest TV series, and crochet until I got tired and crawled into bed around 10:30. I’d wake up at my usual alarm for work, maybe get my run in for the day, and find a simple way to enjoy a day off work by ordering a pizza and watching a movie marathon. That all sounded lovely to me compared to the past two holidays. Two and three years ago, I’d had the best December 31 of my life because I was celebrating with the love of my life. Last year’s December 31 was so awful, if it were a movie, I wouldn’t even watch it on Netflix. I’d had numerous memorable New Year’s Eves while living with my DC roommates from 2008-2012. For once, I was fine with having no plans because ultimately, I had everything I wanted– a great job, my own place in the town I loved, and a bright hope for 2015. In the words of Oh Honey, “What’s the point in dreaming when your life is great?” Can’t complain about much these days. But I figured if I was going to be forced to stay in the present, why not embrace it? Plus, at the race, you get a hoodie instead of a race shirt. I mean, duh. What better way to stay cozy on New Year’s alone?
New Year’s Eve in DC was freezing. Not as cold as some parts of the country, but I was double-layered with gloves, fleece-lined running pants, and head gear and practically froze the entire 45 minutes between the time I left my car and started running. I’ve never really been to Old Town Fairfax (some of us in-the-Beltwayers scoff at the idea of going “all the way to Fairfax”) but it was somehow more cramped and crowded way out in the burbs than it was in even some parts of DC. There were apparently 1,500 runners for this race and all I experienced from start to end were the endless shuffling of people through the crowds. Even as I thought I was standing out of the way, I’d get pushed in all directions from people milling around aimlessly. It was annoying at best, maddening at worst. I was also there on my own. It suddenly became very obvious how single I felt. That wasn’t what I came there for– I came there because I wanted one last hurrah for myself, not to see costumed couples cuddling and taking selfies at the starting line. I wondered why I had bothered coming out there at all– it was easier to stay blissfully ignorant at home.
Once I started running, things got instantly better. The course was a perfect metaphor for 2014: there were a lot of ups and downs, some areas I ran through where I couldn’t see anything in front of me but just relied on putting one foot in front of the other while slowing down slightly to regain control, and the support along the was great. Even for “just” a four mile race, the volunteers were constantly wishing us a Happy New Year and saying encouraging things. I grabbed a cup of icy cold water around mile 2 from a volunteer draped in Christmas lights. And just like that, the race was over and so was the year. Annoyed at the crowds, I quickly grabbed two slices of pizza and got out of there. Too many people moving around– frankly, I’ve never been more irritated at a race. On my way back to my car, I heard some guy’s girlfriend who, at his suggestion that they grab a black and tan at a local pub, snapped at him for cramping their plans for the evening in a “we’re supposed to start having fun in 15 minutes” way. He had a defeated look on his face as she continued to prattle on about where they were due for the last 5 hours of 2014. Maybe, I thought, just maybe I’m the one who’s got it good tonight!
I’m all about finding perspective in unexpected places. I sort of had to for this race.
My personal policy on New Year’s resolutions has been to consider them more as “New Year’s Revolutions.” I don’t want to just stop any bad habits or pick up new things on January 1; rather, I like to list out some goals that I want to accomplish over the next 365 days with an action plan. For example, last year, my goal was to have a new job by December 31, 2014 (check!) and I would accomplish that by applying for at least one job a day. I also had a goal to run a 4:00 marathon and 1:45 half-marathon and I would accomplish that by incorporating more speed work and strength-training. I wanted to learn the guitar by practicing for at least one hour a week. How did I fare in 2014? Well, on those three goals, I met my goal of getting a new job back in DC quite perfectly. I didn’t get my 4:00 marathon or 1:45 half-marathon, but I am proud of my resolve in finishing the Chicago Marathon and running my 9th half-marathon with my 4th fastest time. I realized that pressing guitar strings hurts like holy hell and I couldn’t handle it, so I traded my guitar in for a ukelele. On those three things, I made strides toward meeting the kind of goals I have in place for beyond 365 days.
So, for 2015, my New Year’s Revolutions [that I am willing to make public] are:
- Goal: Learn to play the ukelele.
- Action: Sign up for lessons and practice one hour a week.
- Goal: Travel overseas (I have several destinations in mind).
- Action: Renew my passport and force my own hand by booking the flight.
- Goal: Get my Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic statuses.
- Action: Run 3 marathons in a 90-day time frame (tentative races: Baltimore, New York City, Rehoboth Seashore or Honolulu).
- Action: Run 2 half-marathons in a 16-day time frame (tentative races: New York City Half-Marathon and Shamrock Virginia Beach Half-Marathon).
- Goal: Be the healthy person I visualize in my head.
- Action: Stop overthinking my workouts and just go do them, bearing in mind that I will more than likely not want to stop the moment I start.
- Action: Drink more water. I may take up the gallon-a-day challenge in January.
- Action: Cut out as many packaged and processed foods as possible. I’m already doing this, but I can probably do even better.
- Goal: Read The Economist every week.
- Action: Get a subscription. I feel like this is setting myself up for failure– sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the week or brain cells upstairs. But this publication is outstanding and provides the outside-in perspective I want in my news.
Do I have other goals besides those? Yes. I have five more: a professional goal, a social goal, a financial goal, a spiritual/personal growth goal, and a future goal (something to do now to prepare for the future, like writing up a will). I’m not looking for perfection from myself– admittedly, I will probably not pick up my ukelele on January 1 or even go running until Friday, January 2. I’m look to evolve and grow, to be better at something in 2015 than I was in 2014.
So, really, 2014 exited stage left just as quietly as 2015 entered stage right. The start of a new year doesn’t mean you let go of who you were in 2014. My heart is still in kind of a heavy place right now, but usually I know what I need to do to just keep on moving forward: give myself something to look forward to (like my jam-packed 2015 race schedule!), fill my time with whatever brings the most meaning, do what makes me happiest right then until I won’t need to find what makes me second happiest. Because now, in 364 short days, I’ll be back here reflecting on what I hope will be a truly amazing year in 2015.