Sunday, February 7, 2016

Stefan (and Every Runner)

Stefan is six.  And if you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that endurance activities aren't necessarily his natural forte.  Because he has to wear shoes.  He hates shoes.  And pain and suffering and discomfort.

But, at the San Antonio Road Runners Fun Run (free!!) at McAllister Park recently, he ran a total of FOUR miles.  That's a long way for a person with little legs.

The event is basically three runs- an 800 m., a 1 mile, and a 2.5 mile (sometimes 3- it depends).  Anyone who completes all three gets a little trophy.  Stefan wanted that trophy.

I took all of the kids, and I had figured that I'd be spectating with Stefan and Austin after they ran the 100 m. kids' run.  But being around a bunch of runners is motivating even to tiny tots!  I ended up running the 800 with Austin and then, Stefan was convinced that he was going to run the 2.5 mile race for the trophy.

So I ran with him.  In jeans.  Not my smartest clothing choice ever, but it won't be a mistake that I repeat.  The sacrifices we make for our children!

The race was very hard for him.  He'd already run over 1.5 miles that morning in the other races, and he started out tired (but motivated).  He kept a running commentary (Stefan is a talker!) throughout the race, and everything he said has been said (or thought) by every runner in every race.

At the start: This is great!  I'm going to get a trophy.  I'm chasing the [lead] guy on that bike.  Is that a deer?  It's pretty out here.

A little farther:  This is hard.  I think I should walk.  

I CAN'T do this.  That little girl just passed me.  I am last.  Well, second to last because you're behind me, Mom.

Is that lady behind me?  I'm not last!  I'm going to run.  

She passed me!  I'm not doing this anymore.  Carry me.  [I told him runners don't get carried.]  Then just leave me here.

Did your watch buzz?  How fast am I going?  That's so slow!  I'm terrible and I'm slow!  I am NOT good at running.


Do they have a trophy for second to last?

Is that the end?   No, it's not the end.  Why did I sign up for this one?

It's the finish line.  I can't make it.  It's too far.

I am never doing this again.

Where's my trophy?

This trophy is cool.  I did it!  When I do this next time, will they give me another trophy?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Year Reflection

The start of a new year always puts me in a reflective mood.  I like to look back on the past year and think about the changes and evaluate what went well and what didn't.  I like to look forward and set goals for the next year.  And I didn't want to let the year slip away without sharing at least a few of those reflections here.

2015 was a year of change for our family.  Change has, of course, defined our family for many years, and the 3 1/2 years since Bryan died have brought massive transformation.  I think, though, that the change of 2015 was unique in that it represents our family getting settled into what will be our new normal.

The Lord has been gracious in allowing us to make our changes somewhat slowly: first a move, then mom working part-time, then the kids going to public school, and, now, mom working full-time.  Each step has been challenging at first and then more manageable as time went on.  (The only step, ironically, that ended up being extremely easy was the kids transitioning from homeschooling to public school.  They did great from day one.  They love it and they're thriving.  This was the step that I was most concerned about, but I suppose I had forgotten that children are far more resilient and open to change than we adults are.)

Now that I'm working full-time, my children are growing in independence and maturity in some beautiful ways.  It's not always easy- in fact, it's extraordinarily difficult.  Raising seven children alone is a full-time job all by itself.  I really do have two full-time jobs at this season in my life.  But now, I don't just tell my kids that they're an indispensable part of our family team- they really are.  If anyone fails to pull his weight, everything crashes.  They are beginning to see that life takes work and that leisure is a welcome reward for that work.

We still have a long way to go.  There are a lot of areas in which we can, and indeed, must, improve in the coming years.  But life has taken on a new dimension, a new direction.  The Bain family isn't living in  a state of transition anymore.  We are, believe it or not, settled into our new life.  The years to come will bring many more changes, I know, and I look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for us in the future.  But for now, we're where we ought to be, and although life is exhausting, it's good.

As we feel more established as a family, I hope to share more here about grief, loss, suffering, and moving on; about single parenting; about family identity; about approaching life as a mission and a calling.

Thank you for your faithfulness in reading my scribblings, however sporadic they might be.  May your lives see many blessings and much growth in the coming year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shiner Half Marathon!

Reasons to Race:

1.  Racing gives you a goal- something to aim for.

2.  Racing encourages you to train consistently.

3.  Racing helps you see what kind of progress you're making in training.

4.  You already paid for the race.

Reasons I Ran This Race:

1.  Racing gives me a goal- something to aim for.

2.  Racing encourages me to train consistently.

3.  Racing helps me see what kind of progress I'm making in training.

4.  I had already paid for the race.

Yep, I signed up for the Shiner Half Marathon this summer when triathlon training was going well, and I couldn't wait to see how that would translate into my half marathon time.  Then, I started working full time and, though I tried to stay active, my "training" was more like a few little runs a week.

I considered bailing, but I had already PAID FOR IT.  I just couldn't waste the money.  So, for four weeks before the race, I ran pretty consistently.  Yes, an entire four weeks.  And during that time, I even skipped one of the long runs.  Not exactly a stellar training plan, but Coach Mark gave me a little guidance, and he was pretty confident that I'd survive, so I decided to trust his judgment and charge ahead.

The little town of Shiner, Texas, is known for its scenic hills, picturesque downtown, and famous half marathon.  And maybe beer.  This race is capped at the population of Shiner- something like 2046 this year- and it sells out REALLY quickly.  (Another reason not to let the opportunity to run pass me by even though I was unprepared for it!) The smaller group appealed to me.  The huge crowd at my first half marathon made for a tough and unpleasant race for me.  Fewer racers sounded good!

I had very little time to prepare for the race.  I didn't even manage to leave work on time the evening before!  But I had a babysitter lined up, I picked up some Clif Gels, and called myself ready.  Saturday morning, the two hour drive went by quickly and I felt happy and relaxed.  I figured that I couldn't really be disappointed with my performance.  After all, I knew I was out of shape, so I had no expectations.

The sun came up when I was just a little bit away from Shiner, and I tried to judge the terrain and the weather.  It definitely looked like rain.  Or maybe not.  But maybe so.  And was that a hill?  No, it's not that hilly.  Wait.  Yes, it's definitely going to be hilly.

I had already been warned about the hills.  Shiner is a hilly race.  I knew I hadn't physically prepared myself for hills.  I did precisely zero hill repeats, unless you count the endless flights of stairs I climb at work.  So I told myself that hills were part physical, but a lot more mental.  I planned to be as mentally tough as I could be and hope that would be enough keep me from walking.  And I wasn't going to worry about the rain or the 100% humidity.

As it turns out, the rain should have been the least of my concerns.

Guys, the wind!!!  I haven't ever run in wind like that.  At least not uphill, and not for that long.  But I turned up my music, leaned into it, and kept going.

For the first two miles, I ignored everyone and everything, passed as many people as I could, and tried to find a group running around my pace.  I did seem to manage that, and although I didn't stay with the exact same group by any means, I did stay surrounded by steady runners, and that helped me in my "Don't Walk!" goal.

I'm to the right of the picture.  Messing with my phone.  
Great way to start.

After two miles, I felt focused enough to start looking around and enjoying the course and the other runners.  And the backs of the other runners' shirts especially.  "If you can read this, you didn't train either." "Don't let this 56 year old open-heart surgery survivor beat you."  Mine said, "Are my kids still chasing me?"

Random people running. 
I am apparently really good at avoiding race photographers.

Around mile six, a guy running next to me said, "We have been climbing for six straight miles."  And we pretty much had.  Just a gradual, unrelenting uphill with a couple of actual hills thrown in.  I thought I had heard that it started to gradually descend around the halfway point, and I told him so.   But right about this point, we started climbing a real, actual, serious hill.

And the wind!  It was a solid headwind.  About halfway up, I started to feel like Frodo and his Fellowship buddies, trying to head up Mt. Caradhras with the mountain fighting them every step of the way.  (#geekreference) All the forces of nature were telling us, "Go back!!!  Go back!!!"  Someone later said it felt like running on a treadmill.  But I kept running- not fast, but still not walking.

"Just think!" I told myself.  "This means the entire way back will be downhill with tailwind!"

Except that it wasn't an out and back.  It curved around and the headwind turned into a crosswind.  And that was tough too!  Some of the gusts caused the whole group to take a few steps sideways.

At the seven mile point, I could see the gradual descent beginning, and I pointed that out to the "We're still climbing" guy.  And it was...gravel!  A mile and a half of gravel.  Climbing guy dropped back, but, thanks to my many Cibolo Nature Trail runs, I passed about a dozen runners on that stretch.

Around mile 10, I did a caffeinated gel to help me get through the last three miles.  I was amazed at how great I still felt.  I knew I was working hard- my heart rate certainly told me that.  The hills and the wind were taking everything I had, but I WAS DOING IT!  The scenery was great- fields and hill country- and that made me glad to be out there running, plus the people running around me seemed happy to be there too.

At mile 11, the biggest difference from Shiner and Rock n' Roll became apparent.  At this point at RnR, the course goes through what might as well be the armpit of San Antonio- industrial buildings and parking lots.  But the Shiner course went through a gorgeous park with wide paved paths, and the sun (which had finally decided to come out) sparkling on the river.  It was the kind of place any runner would want to be on a Saturday morning.

And then there was this crazy steep hill at mile 12.  Truly.  Everyone started hiking up it, but at this point, I was so determined to tell Nathan (a true runner) that I hadn't walked, that I forced myself to run up it.

Then it was time to create a completely irrelevant mini race with an unsuspecting runner.  A lady in a blue shirt had been switching places with me for awhile, so I decided she needed to be vanquished.  Yep.  That's what happens at the end of a race.

And I beat her!  Woo hoo!  Success.  Petty?  Yes.  Effective?  Also yes.  Did she have any idea what was happening?  Nope.  Someone else probably defeated me.  (Neon Orange Dude at mile 13.05- I'm looking at you.)

At the finish line!  With hat in hand.  It blew off and nearly took out a runner behind me,
 so I carried it the rest of the way.

I finished in 2 hours and 10 minutes!  Because of my sporadic training, I was very surprised, especially given the wind and hills.  (This was, ironically, my goal time for Rock n Roll a year ago.  That was a far easier course with absolutely no weather issues, but I was mentally unprepared and therefore spent a lot of time walking.)  That put me 28th out of 112 in my age group.  Better than mid-pack!

Two seconds after finishing.  Selfie time!

I stuck around for about an hour of the after party- the best by far of any of my races.  Must have been the live music.  All in all, this race was the BEST I have done so far.  Well-organized and happy.  Everyone was happy.  And I am SO glad that I went ahead and raced it.

When I got home, the kids patiently listened to my race report, and then Austin took some time to admire my medal.  He does not understand the concept of finisher medals.  "You winned?" "I finished!"  "You winned?"  "I finished."  "No, you winned."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Stony Paths

“If God sends us on strong paths,
we are provided strong shoes.”
-Corrie Ten Boom

                I love this quote.  It is a comforting reminder of God’s provision when the times get tough.  But the more I walk the strong and stony paths, the more I think there might be something a little lacking in the metaphor.

                If we are provided strong shoes, then we can walk the strong paths confidently from the beginning.  Our feet are protected, and we march into the future knowing that the Lord is giving us the strength and comfort to carry on.

                At the beginning of any difficult path, though, most of us are beset with doubt, fear, and pain.  We walk, but it hurts.  Then, gradually, with time, we find that it hurts a little less.  The stones seem less sharp, and the obstacles seem less daunting.  If we stop and think about it, though, the path hasn’t gotten easier, we’ve just gotten stronger.

                I don’t think it’s because the Lord has given us strong shoes, I think it’s because our bare feet, once tender and unaccustomed to the roughness, have become Hobbit-like, leathery enough to handle the terrain.  God strengthens us gradually in our circumstances.

                Have you ever noticed that two people can react completely differently to very similar situations?  Or that one person will be overwhelmed by a small inconvenience while another can endure great hardship and keep moving?  I’m convinced that it’s largely a result of the toughening process of life.  To those who haven’t encountered many setbacks in life, something small like, say, car trouble, seems like a disaster of epic proportions.  For someone who is accustomed to difficulty, the car trouble is an annoyance, nothing more.

                Life takes practice, and each trial can, if we view it as a lesson, strengthen us and enable us to conquer great challenges, to walk stony paths with tough feet.

“He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places…
You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.”

-Psalm 18:33,36

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Laugh

Mom's full time job has shaken up the Bain household a little bit.

That is, of course, a dramatic understatement.  It's been crazy.  Any life change will be accompanied by a period of adjustment.  Birth, death, moving, sickness...any major event will usually put our family into survival mode until we learn to resettle.

But in the past, I've always been at home at least part-time to oversee the transition.  I've spent my days figuring out how to "get things back on track," how to "get things under control."  And for the most part, I've managed to get the household running smoothly again pretty quickly.

Now, there's not much control- just lots of broken things and chaos.

Things do, in spite of all that, seem to be moving along and getting into a routine.  We may be adjusting.  Either that, or I've just dramatically lowered my standards.  If you could see the state of my children's bedrooms, you'd assume the latter.

This evening, we watched Cheaper by the Dozen together, and Steve Martin reminded me of something very important: sometimes you need to just laugh.  After all, it's kind of funny.  It would be funnier if I were in the audience instead of one of the main characters, but it's still funny.

When I drive up after 11 hours away and see one of my children chasing down our dog who is in the process of escaping...again, and then, before I can get out of the car, the neighbor boy comes up to me and says, "Mrs. Bain, I'm terribly sorry, but I kicked the soccer ball and it broke the window" - that's funny.

When Austin, after sleeping way too long at the babysitter's, tries to "sneak" downstairs into the pantry at night, thinking no one can see him because he's covered head to toe by his blanket- that's funny.

When Megan suddenly realizes at 9 PM that she is guilty of parental negligence (she has left her home ec "sugar baby" in a cubby at the gym)- that's funny.  (Though not to her- trust me.)

When I go to haul my sleeping four year old out of bed before 6 to get him to the babysitter's, and I find that he has emptied all of his clothes and shoes that were packed for the day out of his backpack, packed it with toys and fallen asleep with it on his back- that's funny.

So I'm trying, in spite of the exhaustion, to just laugh.  One day, this will all be really funny.  I might as well try to enjoy it now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Circumstantial Contentment

I went to visit my grandmother yesterday.  My Grandmommy is very dear to me, both as a grandmother (and the best cookie baker in the world) and a spiritual mentor.  In the "Share about someone who has influenced you" Sunday school icebreaker, I always have an answer, thanks to Grandmommy. 

A week ago, she broke her hip.  She’s had surgery and she’s moved to rehab and I stopped by after work to see her.

And she was smiling.  She encouraged me.  She wanted to know how all of the kids were doing.  Grandmommy was a ray of sunshine, a joy.

Visiting Grandaddy and Grandmommy
Thanks, Aunt Becky, for the picture!
I was so relieved to see her doing well.  I was happy to see her in high spirits.  But you know what?  I wasn’t surprised.

You see, Grandmommy practices a life of contentment.  Anyone who knows her will tell you that.  She is a contented person.  Contentment isn’t something that comes and goes depending on one’s circumstances.  It’s deeper than that.  Practicing contentment enables people to be content in the midst of their circumstances, in spite of their circumstances.

And we don’t have to pretend that our lives are easy when they’re not.

It is very important to understand that being content does not mean denying reality.  Does Grandmommy’s hip hurt?  Yep.  Is getting up and around difficult?  Absolutely.  Life is challenging, and hardships are… well, hard.  No one wants to fall and break a hip!  We don’t have to act like life is easy and wonderful all the time in order to practice contentment.  It’s not a play; it’s not a mind trick.

I’ve been reading NT Wright’s devotional Reflecting the Glory, and as he shares his thoughts on 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, he points out the contrast between Paul’s outward circumstances- tumults, imprisonments, sleeplessness, labor, sorrows- with his inward serenity- patience, purity, knowledge, kindness, and sincere love.  Paul doesn’t deny the difficulty of his life.  He knows it’s hard, but he doesn’t complain about it.  Instead, he focuses on the inward character the Lord is building, the work the Lord is doing through him.

In our lives, when we encounter suffering, our commitment to contentment is tested.  Are we going to ask the Lord for the strength to persevere despite the hardship?  We don’t have to pass the test.  Suffering doesn’t automatically make us patient.  We have to determine to be content.  We have to look for joy and express gratitude.  Little by little, we will get stronger and we will grow more patient.  We will learn the secret of being content, and so demonstrate our faith to others.

“In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God;
in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses…
by purity, by knowledge…by kindness,
by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love…
by the power of God…
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
 From 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fitness Friday- Tri for Old Glory!

I have to admit, I spent most of our Fourth of July fireworks celebration freaking out about the next day.  I was scheduled to race.  And not just to race, but to race the longest race I have ever done.

Yep, I went Olympic.

Spoiler Alert...I finished.
Thanks, Coach Travis!

 I've done four or five Sprint distance tris in the past, but this year, I really want to do an Olympic distance.  It's a big leap- it's double the distance.  And I was determined.

But nervous, really nervous.

The fact that our Fourth of July festivities meant I would be racing after four (4!) hours of sleep didn't help calm my nerves any.

When I woke up at the unearthly hour of 3:45, I decided that I, first of all, would not think again about how little sleep I had gotten.  Adrenaline would carry me through.  Second, my theme for the day would be, "Race happy."

It's cheesy, I know, but, hey, four hours of sleep!  One should not expect deep philosophical mantras after four hours of sleep.  And there was a reason for the theme.  Racing for me takes more of a mental toll than it does a physical one.  I'm not trying to win, but I still get soooo very nervous!  On the one hand, racing is a lot of fun, but on the other hand, there just seems to be so much riding on one event.  All that training.  All that prep work.  All the hopes for a good day.  I realized that if I focused more on being happy- not comfortable, by any means, but happy- I would do a lot better and give myself a reasonable shot at being the best I could be.

So "Race Happy" it was.  1500 m. swim, 23.5 mile bike, and 10K run- all happy.

As I set up in transition, I made instant Best Friends with several people (no idea of their names- that's how it goes in transition).  The guy next to me- #99- was also doing his first Olympic and he was having similar, "What on earth was I thinking signing up for this?" thoughts.  We assured ourselves that as long as we didn't drown, we'd be fine.

Coach Travis was there with me and several other Paragon Training athletes.  (The rest of the group wisely chose the Sprint option.)  He cautiously recommended a warm up run.  Ummmm, no.  Not today.  I nibbled on my banana and eyed the endless line at the Porta Potties.  So many athletes, so few toilets.

We all herded over to the swim start, and I listened intently to the directions.  Sprinters: 3 orange buoys, then turn around.  Olympics: Orange, orange, orange, green, green, green, then turn.  Okay.  I could do this.  We were told to line up according to swim speed, slower swimmers toward the back.  Another one of my instant best friends- Pink Cap Best Friend- said she swam a 2:30 100 and I said, "Great!  I'll get right behind you."  And at that very instant, I saw Coach Travis descending.  Shoot.  He'd spotted me.  "Get up there and get in the water!  You are not going to stay back here."  So I did.

And into the water I went.  The swim was actually a lot easier than I had imagined, particularly for the first half.  I didn't push it too much, but I tried not to take it too easy.  Orange, orange, orange, then green, (I started trying to do math to figure how many meters I'd covered...didn't work), green, green, and then I swam around the corner and started to head back.  At this point, two things happened: I felt completely disoriented AND I got a cramp in my side.  But I kept going, and I managed to stay on course.  After passing green, green, green again, I saw the orange- I was almost there!  I realized I had quite a bit of juice left, so I set my sights on a group of swimmers ahead of me and caught them and passed them.  Then, I did that once more.  Aaaaannnnddddd... the swim was over!  I didn't drown!  I didn't panic and back stroke!  Coach Travis said it took me 35 minutes.  A tiny bit better than I'd expected.

Orange Cap Best Friend came alongside me and said she was the one who kept hitting me on the swim.  Good to know.  She passed the entrance for transition and I hollered after her, "Wrong way!"  She didn't hear, so I had a random person grab her.  "Thanks!" she said, as we scrambled through transition.  We both got on our bikes and headed out, but she dropped her sunglasses (or something) and I didn't see her again.  The ride was beautiful: farmland and rolling hills (not flat- never believe the race flyer).  Best Friend #99 passed me on the bike and we exchanged encouraging words.  ("We didn't drown!  We haven't fallen!  Woohoo!") We rode up around Martindale, Texas, and I reached back several times to grab my phone out of my pocket to take a picture.  Each time I remembered that I didn't HAVE my phone because I was RACING, not joy-riding, and I would tell myself to get my head in the game.  The bike is my weakest event, but I'm getting stronger!  Slowly but surely.  I averaged 16.4 mph, definitely not fast by cycling standards, but a huge improvement for me.

When I got back from the bike, Travis was nowhere to be seen.  I figured he was busy with the Sprinters.  I pulled on my shoes and headed out on the run.  Apart from melting down and panicking on the swim or flatting out on the bike course, falling apart on the run was my chief fear for this race.  "Run happy, run happy," I told myself as I started running on my wobbly, lead-filled legs.  THEN, I saw Travis.  "I can't believe you're already done with the bike!  You surprised me by at least 10 minutes!"

Great confidence boost to start off the run!  Within about 1/4 of a mile, the side cramp was back with vengeance and I had a matching cramp on the other side.  Lovely.  But, "Run happy!"  I took deep breaths and waited for the cramps to pass.  Or the run to be over.  Either one.

Fortunately, the cramps did pass and I began to find a pace- not too fast, but still running.  I have to say that the weather couldn't have been better.  I had been prepared for 90 plus temps with sun, but it was 10 degrees cooler and overcast.  Not what anyone expected from Texas in July.  I started to count the miles down every time my watch buzzed.

5 more miles.  4 more miles.  3 more miles.  I only walked through the aid stations, and then I tried to walk quickly.  I was doing pretty well, but I knew if stopped at all, I'd be in trouble.  "Run happy."  The run was a loop, so I circled back around for my second 5K.  Coach Travis asked me how I was feeling.  "Happy!" And I really was, even though I was working sooo hard.

I had thought that the 2 loop run might throw me off, but it actually proved helpful.  I knew what was coming and where the aid stations were, so it kept me going for the last few miles.  I kept counting down, and I told myself, as my feet started to both go numb and burn like fire, that the pavement was NOT in fact burning through the soles of my shoes, and that stopping wouldn't make it better.  After mile 4, I realized my pace was dropping ever so slightly, so I determined to push harder.  After another 1/2 mile, I asked myself if I could push any harder.  Nope.  I wasn't collapsing, but I was working about as hard as I could.

One mile left.  I saw Best Friend #99 just ahead of me and he was walking.  "Come on, only a mile left!  Let's go!"  "You go ahead.  I'm done," he said.  "Start running.  I'll let you beat me," I told him.  "Oh, I'm way past that working.  I left my ego at home," he said, but he started running, a little ahead of me.  (No guy is ever past that working, and no triathlete leaves ego at home.)

Me...and #99

We ran toward Travis, who had a camera, and toward the FINISH.  It was a crazy trail scramble for the last little bit, and the finish line was straight up a gravelly hill.  I really was scrambling up it, but I crossed the finish line!  My Garmin had me with a 9:47 pace on the (slightly short) 10K.  (Official race time had me at a 9:07, but I think they listed the distance incorrectly.  The course wasn't quite a full 10K.)

So much steeper than it looks!

I had wanted to finish the race in 3 hours and 20 minutes, but my final time was actually 3 hours, 43 seconds!  20 minutes faster than my goal.  I'm really pleased with the result.  I felt like all of my training and all of the coaching had paid off and I got to see the improvement on race day.  So exciting, and looking forward to the next one.