Expectations vs. Gratitude

Last week was an extremely challenging week. In addition to a frightening family medical situation, I helped a close friend handle some very tenuous family drama. Looming throughout was my 4th half marathon, for which I’d trained hard but for which I still did not feel “ready.” I now realize that I left myself get caught in a trap I’ve set for myself before –> UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS! The way it works is that I am going along and things seem to be going just great so I start to take for granted how well things are going and decide things should be EVEN BETTER. There is probably nothing wrong with pushing the envelope, but it becomes a real issue when the unrealistic expectations cloud the present awesomeness for which I could be expressing GRATITUDE.

All the family events and the race had me staying with my family in Sacramento twice this week. And because I have a long history with disordered eating, I don’t keep a scale in my house. I save weighing myself for visits to my mom’s house. That means that I generally walk through the door, set down my purse and make a beeline for the back bathroom…undressing on the way down the hall. Every fiber of my soul knows this is the WRONG thing to do, but I never visit without stepping on that scale at least once. I used to say that if the scale ever registered 140, I’d throw a party.

In the past several months, it’s been a very pleasurable experience to watch the numbers register on the scale. I’ve been training like mad, hitting the Pilates Reformer and carefully eating. I’ve been feeling strong in every way. I ran 2 half marathons this summer. I finished the first one in 2:40 and the second one in 2:17 – a HUGE improvement by anyone’s standards. I hadn’t raised my voice at home in as long as I could remember. My children seemed to glow with sweetness, even when my near 2-year old was tantruming and my little guy was expressing his 5-ness with surliness, I handled it all delicately. I actually saw 139 during that time but I did not throw a party. Instead I asked myself, “What would 135 look like?”

Then this week descended on me like an anvil. Last month, my step-dad was bitten on the left hand by my parent’s kitten. The bite area quickly got infected and surgery was required to remove the infection. Serious concern about the infection spreading throughout his body necessitated IV drugs and a PICC line in his arm (at HOME!). Worrying about his recovery was in the back of my mind but I was keeping it there…until the infection became more serious and a second surgery was required. Knowing my friend and I were going to face some seriously unpleasant family demons was out there but I kept thinking of it as her thing – I would only be there to support her. Some friends had been getting sick but my immune system had fended off plenty without any illness coming my way. I thought I was coasting along fine.

Fast forward. I stepped on the scale and it said 142.4. I told myself not to freak out.

During the second surgery, my step-dad lost use of one of his fingers as collateral damage to save his hand…and his life. I can’t describe the experience of watching someone whom you’ve loved, respected and looked up to for almost 20 years learn the news of such a loss. He was so confident the surgeon would patch him up and send him home to fully recover. Upon hearing about his finger, he was devastated and it was extremely painful to witness.

Facing the family demons didn’t turn out well at all either. Suffice to say, I saw the inside of 2 hospitals that day and met people from walks of life I had previously only rarely acknowledged existed. Social Workers and Police Officers are not part of my usual routine.

Drinking several glasses of wine, eating dinner at 10pm and going to sleep after midnight were necessary evils. Yelling at my kids because they were yelling at each other was par for the course. Sneaking chocolate snacks, eating pasta followed by ice cream seemed completely acceptable. I was stressed, sad and worried so I told myself, “I’ve been through so much.” I will not diminish the experience – it was a very hard week, but I gave in to vices and excesses that I  work hard to avoid.

Sunday morning, I did my 3rd half marathon of the year (4th ever). Considering how the mild sore throat had shown up Friday morning, I arrived at the start line hoping simply to finish the race. My PR expectations were unlikely. But then something happened as I walked to the starting chute – I instinctively lined up behind the pace runner holding the 2:10 sign. I did not even let it register that 2:10 is 7 whole minutes (and 38 seconds!) faster than I’d ever run the distance before. Nope, damn the torpedoes, I was going to stay with the 2:10 guy. And I did. For a while. The course went through some of my favorite Sacramento neighborhoods. I past the 2:10 guy just before the State Capitol. It was a beautiful morning and I was killing it.

Then I got to Downtown Plaza, around mile 6. My left knee was hurting. I stopped to stretch my quads. 2:10 guy was way behind me – I had time. I stopped to stretch 2 more times before mile 7. The 2:10 guy (and his line of followers) past me. I could still see him. Just before mile 8, my phone acted wonky so I turned to look at it and ran RIGHT into a pole marking the end of the running trail. Ouch (you should see the bruises on my hand and inner knee – ugh).

Miles 9-13 were pretty brutal. I stopped several times to stretch various sore spots. I was running alone and my family wasn’t there so I didn’t have any supportive voices to cheer me along. The pity party in my head was going stronger.

I crossed the finish line and noticed the race clock said 2:17: 50. Ugh. Whatever. 12 seconds longer than my race and with a cold and tons of stops. At least I finished the damn thing…that’s what I was thinking as I headed for the smorgas bord of foods awaiting me (seriously, the Urban Cow Half Marathon is an AWESOME race – it’s extremely well organized, flat and super fun!). I was super disappointed by my time but at least it was over. I really thought I could keep up with that 2:10 guy for the finish.

I headed back to the finish chute to take a photo of my sister as she finished.

And then my phone buzzed with a text. It was an automated text from the race timer. It said I finished in 2:11:56 with an average min/mile of 10:05min/mile. OMG! I did it! I KILLED my previous PR!

And yet, not so deep-down, I still felt disappointed that I hadn’t stayed with the 2:10 guy.

Then my sister finished. She was SO excited…and disappointed. The race clock said 2:35 when she finished and she really wanted to break 2:30. I told her we should check the website because my time seemed to have been off my about 5 minutes.

Well, it turns out she finished in 2:29:55. She busted her goal time by 5 seconds and she was near tears with joy. It was a beautiful sight to be in the room with her when she saw her time. She literally jumped up and down. I smile just thinking of how happy she was.

When I was in college working at “Falafel of Santa Cruz,” Samir, my crazy Syrian boss (there are CHAPTERS I could write about Sam – what a character!) used to listen to his gang of young female college students complain on and on about our hair, our nails and mostly our bodies. One day, in frustration with hearing the same complaints again and again, he yelled, “Do you know what your problem is? ALL OF YOU? YOU ARE NEVER FUCKING SATISFIED!”  Like usual, Sam was right. I am never satisfied.

I’ve been forgetting something very important for the past week or so. I forgot to be grateful. So here goes…I AM grateful:

1) for my step-dad and my mom.

2) for their health, youth, vitality and love.

3) for his left hand being (mostly) in tact. (Hers, too, for that matter – she’s had a series of broken bones in the past 2 years…including the same one he’s struggling with right now).

4) for my friends (and particularly the one I supported through something painful last week).

5) for my family. They are ALL amazing. My husband (who had to SERIOUSLY step up to single fatherhood while I was gone all that time) and our 2 sweet kiddos. My mom, who is my best friend and one of my favorite people ever. My sister, who is in many ways responsible for my return to running this year and for my returns to sanity many times over. My brother, who is a force of nature. My brother-in-law, niece and nephew, who bring so much joy and craziness to every minute!

5) for MY health. I have healthy legs, lungs, arms, hands, fingers, toes. I’m healthy by any description and my body is a work of art and I’m so grateful!

6) for discretionary income, that allows me the indulgence of running 13.1 miles just for the joy of receiving a medal at the finish line. How many people couldn’t imagine spending money on something like that?

7…) for hot water. for enough food that I can eat whatever, whenever and however much I want. for heat, for air conditioning, for a car that works, for a safe environment in which to live.

I’ll quit at 7 because I think you get the idea. The bills are paid, the fridge is full and the love is abundant.

I’m grateful for my incredible body that can fight off an illness while allowing me to force my own limits. Someday, I’ll write more about my complex relationship with food. Lastly, I’m grateful to YOU for having just read this post. Life is amazing and I’m grateful for all of it!

Here’s to perspective! (…which reminds me of a great article I read from Taryn at Body Image Movement yesterday – I hope you’ll find it as awesome as I did!)



3 thoughts on “Expectations vs. Gratitude

  1. Luisa says:

    That’s what I love about running. The course is a mirror of all the different paths we navigate through our lives. We can take on the attitude of quitting after the first mile, or take it one mile at a time and cross the finish line. Congratulations on crossing the finish line.


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