2015: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Initially, I wasn’t going to write the obligatory end of the year summary.  As the year winds to a close, however, I naturally started thinking about where the year had taken me, and I wanted to document it – if only just for me.  It’s been A year!  I have had some heart-stopping, stellar moments.  I’ve also had some heart-stopping, heartbreaking moments.

2015 Word of the Year

Last year, I chose a word of the year: Balance.  I felt everything in my life was OUT of balance and I desperately needed to get control of things.  My running was clearly out of control – I was prone to over-training and terrible at supplementing my fitness with cross-training and strength.  I was over-scheduled in almost every area of my life – there were some things over which I had control of scheduling and many things that I did not.  I’m not going to lie….I still struggle with balancing all of life’s demands.  But, I am better at the balancing act now than I was 365 days ago.  Truth be told, this is an ongoing challenge, but I’m up for it!

The Bad and The Ugly

I’m lumping “The Bad” and “The Ugly” together because I simply want to be DONE with all this negativity! LOL

  • Started the year with an ITB injury that stole the first 4 weeks of the year from me.  I was finally able to s-l-o-w-l-y return to running the last week of January.
  • Battled another injury – stress fracture in my heel – in July.  This hiccup took another month of running away from me and in the setback I wondered if I would be fit enough to run the full at Dallas.IMG_4598
  • The entire year felt like a battle.  I was battling to beat my ITB.  Then I was battling to recover from my heel.  Recovering from injury takes a lot of time, patience that I don’t have, and mental fortitude.
  • My biggest battle was in my mind.  It isn’t a secret (or at least I don’t think it is a secret) that I don’t have a lot of faith in my abilities – unless you count my ability to injure myself, in which case I have full faith in that!  Spending basically an entire year injured caused me to doubt myself.  I didn’t believe that my body could recover enough to ever run long distances again.  I didn’t believe that I could run smart enough to stay uninjured.  I just didn’t believe in me at all.  This was, hands down, the biggest tragedy of the year.

The Transformation

When I looked back at some of my earlier blog posts, I realize how much I had to learn….and how much I have learned!  I can’t believe how much I have matured as a runner.  I know there are still many lessons to be learned, but I have been able to find a peace with running that I never had before.  Some things I learned on my own.  Some lessons were taught to me by John, my partner for part of the year until he moved, and others I learned from my current coach, Brent.

  • I started the year with the intent to train by heart rate, but that change didn’t happen fully until I started working with my current coach in October.  The beauty of this is that all things prepare us for what will happen in the future.  Since I had been monitoring my heart rate all year, I knew how my heart would react in certain situations. Since my training with Brent is set up almost exclusively by heart rate, I was ahead of the curve, in a sense, because I already “knew” my heart.  This type of training has been very good for my running!
  • My partner, John, taught me the importance of running slower (which, ties right into the heart rate training).  With his guidance, I learned how to pace myself (which is something that I COULD NOT do before running with him).  Developing this discipline in my running certainly laid the groundwork for great things to come and made it much more easy for me to execute workouts properly.
  • I finally learned to listen to my body, even though I didn’t always act upon it.  I hope that will come as I continue maturing as a runner.  The fact that I now notice those little things is a huge victory.
  • I gave up running with music.  BEST.  DECISION.  EVER.  Taking away the distraction of the music opened up so many amazing things.  First, I can listen to my footsteps to see if there are any imbalances.  I am more aware of my breathing.  I don’t get lost in songs and beats, which formerly meant I would end up running too fast.  In addition, during those tough spots in a run, I had to rely on myself to get through it rather than finding a song to distract me though it.  BIG difference.  I think that helped my confidence A LOT.
  • The most beautiful thing happened when I started believing in myself.  By the time Dallas rolled around, I began to have a quiet confidence and somehow learned to have peace with what would come – good or bad.  I honestly didn’t fret over that race, which, if you know me, is a MIRACLE.  I am carrying that peace and confidence with me into 2016!

Cycling helped me through the rough patches

I love to bike….outdoors.  I dislike riding on the trainer, but I did a lot of that early in the year because I knew how much the cross-training would help my recovery.  Cycling also saved me during my heel fracture, because I was given the green light to ride as much as I wanted as long as I didn’t suffer discomfort.  I biked A LOT in July!

This year, I transitioned from a hybrid to a road bike, and with that came clip-ins.  Most people know how clumsy I am, and so you can imagine the number of falls I had because I would forget to twist my foot out….all of them happened in my drive-way!  I still laugh about it.

I do love any time that I get on the bike, however, and who knows – there may be a tri in my future.

The Good, Running-wise

Despite the setbacks, I had lots of victories on the roads this year.

  • Ran Skyline HM in May, even though it might have been too close to rehab and recovery.  I was 8 minutes off my PR, but the important thing is that I was able to run a fairly strong race, and it felt like a HUGE victory.Medal
  • I ran Rock the Block 10k at the end of May because I wanted to focus on some shorter distances to help bring down my HM time.  I was able to PR this race by about a minute @ 57:46.

    Start line selfie with my favorite oldest daughter :)
    Start line selfie with my favorite oldest daughter 🙂
  • Even though Plano Balloon HM was the WORST race of the year for me, it was a victory.  I ran this race after being back from my heel injury only 7 weeks.  I realize (now) that I was being to aggressive, but thankfully it all worked out in the end.

    Maybe my favorite race sign ever :)
    Maybe my favorite race sign ever 🙂
  • I joined Renegade Endurance and love having the support of the athletes in the club.  It is so much fun to hear about their successes and lift them up, and racing is much more fun when your teammates are there racing as well!

    My RE team members are the BEST!
    My RE team members are the BEST!
  • Rock n Roll St. Louis was one of the highlights of my year.  I went into this race just wanting to finish strong, plus the main reason I went was to socialize with my group of Twitter friends.  At this point, I had run Plano Balloon just a month earlier and missed an entire week of workouts afterward because my body wasn’t ready to run that race.  I had just started working with Brent and the main goal was Dallas Marathon.  I was completely shocked and surprised when I ended up with a PR 2:13:17 (by 43 seconds! LOL).
    Pood paced me to an awesome finish!
    Pood paced me to an awesome finish!

    My Sole Sister Jenn
    My Sole Sister Jenn
  • Believe 10k was the first 10k I ever ran.  Every year, I want to get down to McKinney to run it again but it never seems to work out.  When I asked my coach if I could run it instead of the 8 mile training run, he gave the green light and I immediately signed up.  But then, the monsoons of Thanksgiving  nearly washed away my hopes of running the race.  The race went on as scheduled, and I went, prepared for a wet, cold race.  I ended up with another PR 56:15 (1:30 better than May) and first in my age group!
  • I knew that I would have to run a TERRIBLE race to not PR at Dallas Marathon this year.  2014 was the race of the bum ITB and it took me wayyyyyyy too long.  This race was to be the highlight of my year, plus I felt I had something to prove on that course.  I was somehow able to run the most perfect race ever…for me anyway…and ended up with 4:15:12, considerably faster than the 2014 bum ITB marathon. Plus, I beat my time goal by 15 minutes!  My biggest fear is that I have now peaked.  Even so, I’ll take it, because so many runners never have a race experience as good as the one I had!  This is the race that made me feel like a real runner; like a real marathoner.

Here are just a few of the well wishes I got from my friends, near and far during and after Dallas:img_6754


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This one had to call me at the finish line ;)
This one had to call me at the finish line 😉

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The Non-Running Stories

So many non-running things happened in 2015.  As I look back, it probably seems that I am going through a mid-life crisis, but I think I decided that I am too old to care what anyone thinks, plus I’m running out of time to do all the fun stuff!

  • I lost my tattoo virginity.  By the end of the year, I had already gotten my second tattoo!  Be looking for a 3rd after Ragnar….I’m forcing myself to wait until then!BraceletIMG_6173
  • I jumped out of a plane.  SO.  MUCH.  FUN.  I will go again in 2016, to take Logan when he turns 18 years old!Jennifer_Kirkpatrick 034
  • Taylor went to Thailand, lost her passport in Tokyo and lived to tell the tale.
  • Taylor graduated Magna Cum Laude from Texas Woman’s University.147
  • Alli’s team, Madfrog 10 National, was the highest placing American team at AAU Nationals, placing 7th in the nation.  The top 6 teams were Puerto Rican.rainforest
  • While in Orlando for AAUs, I rode in a helicopter!Takeoff
  • Logan made a 34 on his ACT, which was supposed to be “just a practice”.

Looking back, 2015 was a very good year!  I look forward to continuing this progress in 2016!

Happy 2016!!

Jen

 

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Off Balance

My word of the year is Balance, which I blogged about around the first of the year.  There are soooo many areas in which I constantly fight imbalance.  I realize this struggle isn’t unique to me:  I think everyone in our society wrestles with it – especially moms!

Actually, I have been doing better with my balancing act than I thought was possible.  I was maintaining a regular strength training schedule and things were rocking and rolling as I got stronger and stronger with my running.  But in April, I practically derailed and I didn’t even realize how much until yesterday.

The running has been going GREAT!!  My volume has increased almost to what I was running before my injury….last month I ran 83 miles!  I ran all this without experiencing any major issues so life is good on that front.  However, almost all of my midweek runs have been at 5 AM, which is the time I had allotted for strength work, yoga and foam rolling.  What has slipped?? You guessed it: strength work, yoga and foam rolling.  (ALL the things I SWORE wouldn’t slip!)  The other side of this coin is that I am a piddler, and during my morning strength sessions I take coffee breaks…..LOTS of coffee breaks :).  Those mornings really are as relaxing for me as they are beneficial for strengthening my body and a great way to start the day, which makes the impact of all this two-fold.  I am slacking on things I need to do to keep me running healthy and I am slacking on things I need to do to keep me mentally grounded.  I haven’t quite gotten a handle on how to offset this, as most of my evenings are packed full with volleyball and softball.  My biggest problem: I am rarely at home.

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that I feel tired ALL.  THE.  TIME.  That is SO NOT me.  In the back of my mind, I have known that I was burning the candle at both ends and that eventually it would catch up to me – and yesterday it did.  I got up at  the usual 4:20 to get ready for our 5AM run but something happened when I went to make my coffee.  I was stretching and afterward….my back wasn’t right.  It just felt tight and was hard to take a deep breath.  I got ready regardless and was about to walk out the door when I saw lightening.  I’m not going to lie: I was glad that we had to cancel the run.  All-in-all, I just didn’t feel myself.  I felt sluggish, exhausted and now I had this back thing to worry about.  I went to work and realized throughout the morning that I wasn’t only NOT feeling better….I was feeling worse!  So I decided to take the afternoon off and that turned out to be the smartest decision I’ve made in a while.  I went home and fell asleep almost immediately.  I took three 1-hour naps.  THREE!  (And when I say naps, I really mean slipped into an unconscious state, because I was effectively dead to the world!  It might be important to note that I NEVER take naps nor am I able to fall asleep when I do try one.)  By the time I woke up from the last one, I felt human again.  I had literally nearly run myself ragged.

We were planning to run this morning.  When my alarm went off at 4:20, I heard thunder almost immediately and checked my weather app.  Sure enough, we were covered up in a thunderstorm.  So what did I do?  I set my alarm for 5:30 and enjoyed another hour of sleep.  I should have gotten up to do strength work, but as a good friend reminded me yesterday: sleep is an important component of recovery (and I have not been getting my rest!).  So after a pre-9PM bedtime and some extra zzzzz’s this morning, I feel like Jen again – spunky and energetic!  And I think the rest was much more important that an AM strength session.  Hopefully I can get that in this evening 🙂

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and we have the BEST Parent Teacher Organization around!  They provided sub sandwiches on Monday, breakfast on Tuesday, and lunch yesterday from a local Italian restaurant (YES, I ate before I went home!).  This morning, the school board provided breakfast and even though I had already eaten breakfast at home, I pigged out on this breakfast burrito.

breakfast burritio

Oh man, was it ever delicious!  I am Texan – of course I LOVE breakfast tacos!

This morning I also drank coffee from my new coffee cup for the first time.  I love it! Another special addition to my collection. 🙂runner mug

Happy Thursday everyone!  I’m feeling fairly balanced…..for now! 🙂

Jen

Life is fair and balanced (for now)

Last month, I wrote about choosing balance as my one word of focus for the year.  I had been yearning for a change in my life and knew that I needed to bring balance to all areas of my life, so it seemed the perfect fit.  I figured that since we are almost 2 full months into the year, it was time to give a “Dr. Phil” update on “how it’s working for me”.

Truth be told, it is working fairly well…..better than I EVER expected.  Of course, there are still obligations that are out of my control, such as games and practices (and work! LOL), but I have been pleased with the choices I have made in the areas that are a little more flexible.

For one thing, I haven’t worked as many tournaments.  (I still harbor a bit of guilt over blocking off so many weekends.)  I didn’t work this past weekend and it was WONDERFUL!  I enjoyed the entire weekend with not much at all to do (OK, I had LOTS of housework to do, but I only got around to a little bit of it.)  And as I enjoyed the Spring-like weather, I was reminded that this is what balance feels like and I felt pure contentment in just being present in the moment.  (Well…..some of that could have had something to do with the fact that I had the house all to myself Saturday afternoon!)

My approach to fitness has been more balanced.  Snicker if you must, but I DO realize that, in part, this is due to my current stage in rehab and recovery.  Having said that, I AM developing a more rounded approach to my running.  Notice I even said “fitness” rather than “running”….because running is a means to being fit.  And fit can be achieved through many ways.  I am still strength training regularly and I ride my bike at least once per week.  Nature is helping me out as well.  Since the sun is setting later, I have time to get a run in on Tuesdays while Alli is at practice.  That frees up Monday evening AND I don’t feel like that practice time (for me) has been wasted.  And it’s only a matter of days until I will be able to get a run in on the Thursday practices as well! #doublebonus

I started doing yoga!!!  So my hamstrings, ankles and calves scream inflexibility, but I can bend the front side of my body like a pretzel!  Seriously, though, yoga is proving a nice tool to help me work out the kinks that I just can’t seem to get with the foam roller and therapy ball, and it is soooooo relaxing!

I still have piles of clothes that need folding (hey…at least they are clean!) and my floors aren’t clean enough for us to eat off of.  Even though I’ve never lost sleep over housework to be done, I do sleep better when it is complete!  But at the end of the day (or my life), I would rather be remembered for the way I treated people than whether or not my house was spotless every time someone came to the door.  I suspect that regardless of the amount of free time I have, housework is still going to be an area in which I’m a slacker! LOL

 

It occurred to me the other day that, even though I mention cupcakes in my blog name, I haven’t been blogging about cupcakes very often.  Today that is going to change!

Last week,  I was asked to make cupcakes for the high school staff.  I ended up settling on vanilla and snickerdoodle, although (and this is the truth), right before bed last night I realized that I used buttercream frosting instead of cream cheese for the snickerdoodle!  Oh, the HORROR!!!

My delicious vanilla batter, which I have tweaked and perfected to make my palette happy :)
My delicious vanilla batter, which I have tweaked and perfected to make my palette happy 🙂

The great thing about snickerdoodle is that you just add some cinnamon to vanilla batter.  Makes it sooooo easy to bake 2 flavors of cupcakes!  By the way, Alli noticed immediately when she came home that I had baked without her, because the mixing bowl was missing (in the dishwasher)!  Can’t get anything by that kid!

And, the finished product!

Still a little upset with myself for not making cream cheese snickerdoodle frosting!
Still a little upset with myself for not making cream cheese snickerdoodle frosting!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Jen

Philosophical Friday

A few weeks ago I attempted (and failed) to write this post.  I finally scrapped it because I just wasn’t able to get my thoughts onto the page in a way that made sense without rambling on for days.  Here’s to never giving up!

Originally, I began thinking about myself as a runner while I was attempting to come to terms with my less-than-stellar marathon performance. (By the way, I  HAVE achieved peace in regards to the race, accepted it and can genuinely say that I am content.)  It was during this time that I had a little epiphany about perception.

So how does perception tie into all this?  Back to marathon…..I was upset with myself because I wasn’t able to embrace the results and appreciate what I had accomplished.  WHY did I feel that way and WHY did I feel like such a failure?  When I say that I don’t compare myself to others, I mean it.  I am pretty content living in Jen’s little life bubble.  However, most of my online interactions are with other runners and that is where the perception comes into play.  Even though I don’t compare myself to them, I do think this has kept me from fully appreciating MY accomplishments because my “norm” has become what I see my online friends doing.

Gaining understanding of this has helped me in many ways.  Like I said, I now embrace my marathon for what it was.  But, it also helped shape my running goals for the coming year.  I recently shared with someone that often, in regards to running, I feel like a poser.  For one, I feel I don’t run enough, cross train enough, stretch enough or foam roll enough!  And as much as I hate to admit it, don’t always consider myself a “runner”, even though I KNOW I am!  However, my new-found perspective has allowed me to cast away some of these self-imposed standards.

So all this got me thinking about running and how I can create a balanced fitness regime and why do I LOVE running SOOOO much?  I mean, my whole focus this year is to do all the cross training so I can stay healthy….in order to become a better runner.  (I know my focus should be on being fit vs run, but still debating myself on that one.)  Initially, I started running as a way to improve my fitness and lose weight.  I wanted to be healthy by the time I turned 40. But along the way, I discovered the Jen that had been lost for a while (and I may have developed a little addiction to endorphins).Buddy

And the reason Jen was lost?? Ten years ago, my best friend, Allison, died suddenly.  Actually, our families were best friends.  My husband and her husband did almost everything together.  Our children did everything together.  I can’t describe how close we were and how much I treasured her friendship.  She was a soul mate.  That loss changed the lives of everyone in my family, and I had a VERY difficult time dealing with it.  In fact, getting pregnant with Alli just a month after Allison passed away was the best thing that could have happened to me.  But I’m saving that story for Alli’s birthday.

Honestly, I spent the next 7 years in a fog, just going through the motions of life.  I doubt most people realized how deep the grief was for me, but another of my good friends told me once that my sparkle was gone.  I did find enjoyment in my family and in my kids’ activities, but other than that, I was simply existing – going through the motions.

But then one day, I started running.  Surprisingly, I REALLY enjoyed it. The challenge of making it to the next milestone ignited a passion in me that had been dormant for so long.  I still remember the first time I ran a mile.  Then two miles.  Five miles were HUGE!  I said I would never run a half marathon, but I did.  I also said I would never run a marathon….BUT I DID!!

Oh, and did I mention that Allison was a runner?  She always tried to talk me into running with her and I would just laugh!  I know she is so proud and I can feel her with me every time I get out there on the road.

My Allison!
My Allison!

Running has given me so much: it has helped me to find my happiness and self-confidence again (happy Mama means happy family!); it has forged a connection with my kids – I’ve been able to run 5ks with Alli as well as 5ks and a half marathon with Taylor; it has connected me with many wonderful people I would have never met otherwise; and it has shown me that I truly can do anything I put my mind to.  So it’s more than running.  It’s about living.

This little exercise in self-discovery has at least helped me identify some of the forces that drive me to run.  And by doing that, I think that I can control my approach to running more intelligently than I did in 2014.  Plus, it is always good to reconnect with your roots.

So how does all this relate (in my head, anyway)?  As I said before, my word of the year is: Balance.  I personally think that nothing can be achieved without awareness of the goal in mind and what is pushing you toward that goal, or away from that goal.  All these little epiphanies are (hopefully) pushing me toward my goal of living a balanced 2015 (not only in fitness, but in my life)!

Happy Weekend, everyone!!!

Jen

Fighting the imbalance (no snickering allowed!)

First, I highly encourage you to read @RunningLonely‘s recap of his 24-hour race here.  I’m still amazed at how he pushed through, and in awe of his accomplishment!!  (Read my blog first, though, because my post will pale in comparison with his! 😉

At the beginning of 2014, the members of my Sunday school class were challenged to pick one word as their focus for the year.  I never could settle on a word, although I pondered it many times throughout the year.  Over and over, one word, or theme, kept coming up: balance.Balance

I’ve always struggled with balancing work/family/extracurricular activities.  I think it is something that moms just do in our society.  This past year, though, I found myself yearning for a change.  I realized during marathon training that SOMETHING had to give, and the only way to describe it is that visceral feeling that I get when something HAS to be done.  (Well, usually that visceral feeling is the one that gets me injured, but it’s a feeling that is hard for me to shake.)  My schedule was incredibly over-booked yet some how I managed to get most of my scheduled runs in AND wash clothes.  Having clean clothes was the real victory.  One thing (among many) that suffered was my strength training, and boy, did I suffer because of it.  I am quite certain that I would have run Dallas healthy and happy, had I kept up proper strength and cross training.

So this idea of balance had been on my mind, almost constantly during the last quarter of 2014. In rolled 2015 and I STILL couldn’t settle on a word.  Until last Thursday.  It hit me like a brick in a moment of beautiful clarity while Alli and I were driving home from practice.  My one word: balance.  WHY did it take so long for the light bulb to turn on?  I need balance across my life: in work/family and in my fitness between running/strength and cross training.  Balancing my training was even one of my goals for 2015.  What can I say?  The universe usually has to knock on my brain several times for the message to sink in.  (And, OK, we ALL know that I am imbalanced.)

I think one reason that my brain has been hesitant to settle on this word is because committing to it means I have to make some hard decisions and then execute those decisions.  This will push me outside my comfort zone, but we all need to live outside our comfort zones, right?  Still, this will be one of the biggest challenges of this exercise.

Yesterday was a special day in the life of our church, and for my family!  My son, Logan, was ordained and installed as the youth elder on session for the upcoming year.  (The session is the governing body for our local church.) From this point on, Logan will always be a fully ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA.  It is indeed an honor, and I hope he understands just how much so.  The most special part of the morning was the actual ordination, when all ordained elders, deacons and clergy were invited to come lay hands on the person being ordained.  Since I am also an elder in PCUSA, I was standing right next to Logan with my hand on his shoulder.  What an honor to be able to share that moment with him!

Logan, just before the ordination ceremony.
Logan with Pastor Brad, just before the ordination ceremony.

It was another fun weekend as far as sports were concerned!  Bonham High School soccer tied 2 games and lost 1 in their season-opening tournament, a HUGE improvement over last year.  Last year at this same tournament, we got our rear ends handed to us over and over, and we were not able to maintain possession of the ball.  This year, however, we were able to maintain possession of the ball roughly half the time, if not more, and we out-shot our opponents in the games we tied.  Eventually the ball WILL find the back of the net!

Alli played in her first basketball game of the season in our local rec league.  She scored 11 of our 13 points, including a buzzer-beater that put us ahead 1 point, for the win!  I mustered as much excitement as is possible for me to muster for a basketball game.  All I could think about was what a ball hog she seemed to be, although I wonder if it was the coach’s strategy?  (I know NOTHING about basketball.)  In any case, my biggest concern is that throwing the basketball doesn’t cause her to start throwing her elbows out when she attempts to set a volleyball….because elbows out won’t work for a setter.  #obsessivevolleyballmom

Our sweet young ladies after their thrilling 1-point win!
Our sweet young ladies after their thrilling 1-point win!

BIG congrats to my daughter, Taylor, as her team finished VERY well in this weekend’s ranking tournament.  There are 3 BIG tournaments in our region and this was the first, which is used for the initial team rankings that will be released later this week.  Her finish should put her team in the top 30, which is PHENOMENAL!!  I know she was proud of the effort from her girls.  Taylor is a great volleyball player, but I think her true calling is as a coach!  She is disciplined but fun and could motivate a fence post to greatness, if she wanted!

Taylor's team from last year.  YES, these 14 year-olds were all taller than her ;) (She is back row on the right)
Taylor’s team from last year. YES, these 14 year-olds were all taller than her 😉 (She is back row on the right)

I’ll leave you with an update on my personal quest to get back out on the roads.  For more reasons that you care to read, I decided to move ahead to the next phase of rehab and started Sunday.  In this phase, I add weights to the strength exercises (3x/week), bike for 60 min every other day and walk for 30 min on the days I don’t bike.  So yesterday morning I did my strength exercises and hopped on the bike trainer for an hour in the afternoon.  I’m NOT complaining, but riding for an hour and going nowhere is difficult mentally.  I looked at my watch, literally, almost every 2 minutes.  Today, I have a little tightness in my ITB, but I halfway expected this, since this is the longest sustained exercise I have done since running the marathon on December 14.  Even so, I don’t have any discomfort and the tightness isn’t severe, by any standards.  I am so encouraged by the way my body has responded this last week and am allowing myself to be cautiously excited about my return to running in two weeks!!

It’s Monday….all day!  Make the best of it and drink coffee when needed!

Jen