March 14, 2010

wings

I SO TOTALLY ROCKED the Shamrock 15K this morning. My main points of anxiety were a) I haven't run more than 8 miles at a time since TWO SUMMERS AGO (geez) and b) I haven't trained hills at all and this course had a doozy of a hill, a long 2.5 mile calf buster. But: calves intact! No muscles busted!

I flew through the course. I ended up finishing in roughly 1:22 (according to my Garmin; official results are still pending). That's an 8:41/mi average, which is astonishing to me considering the hill and the first mile, when I was running at best a 9:15. 8:41!!! That's only about 10 seconds slower than my ordinary pace on my mid-week 3.5 milers. That is awesome. I regret not hitting the lap button for each mile -- I'd love to know how fast I ran the last three miles, in order to compensate for how much I surely slowed running up the hill. Maybe faster than 8:00/mi?!

Out of curiosity this afternoon I went back and looked up my race results from the only other 15K race I've ever run, the 2004 Utica Boilermaker. I had been training that year too, albeit in a much more lackadaisical way. I had never had a distance running coach and I was still figuring out whether or not I could even convince myself to be a distance runner. I had not yet run a marathon. My time? 1:47:17 -- an 11:31/mi average. WHOA!

So basically I feel like a freaking rockstar right now. I'm actually in BETTER shape than I realized. When does that happen?? It made me begin to wonder if there could ever be a BQ in my future. The Boston qualifying time for women ages 18-34 is a 3:40, or roughly an 8:24/mi. I can sustain that over 4 miles but it would obviously take a lot more work to maintain it for a whole marathon. And of course that would mean, uh, running a qualifying marathon. I don't have a marathon planned in my future, and in fact I had decided to focus on smaller distances this year. But I'm perfectly on track right now to run a strong marathon in the fall...

We'll see.

I should say, though, that I'm not as much of a rockstar as the two people (there might have been more) who ran the entire race barefoot.

March 7, 2010

show day

Our first show of the season was yesterday, a schooling show that's held by the Thoroughbred Exhibitors' Association every year down at the local fairgrounds. It was not a very nice day for it -- chilly and windy and threatening to rain -- but last year, when it stormed and hailed and snowed, was much, much worse.

I got up at 4:30 and put on my breeches and boots and three sweatshirts, heated up the oatmeal I'd pre-made the night before, and hauled my bag of show stuff to my car. I was at the barn by 5:45, but ended up waiting around for awhile, because, as it turns out, one of the trucks meant to haul our 4-horse trailer had broken down. We ended up leaving the barn at 6:45 instead of 6:15 but still squeaked in to the fairgrounds in time to (barely) make the first class, which I happened to be competing in. (There were a harrowing few minutes where I was hurriedly stuffing Cookie's face into a halter while a friend was helping brush her mane and my trainer had her hand up my jacket, pinning on my number.)

Halter classes at horse shows are the equine equivalent to the dog shows you see on TV: a handler on the ground walks a horse into the arena, "sets" them (squares their feet, as is done with dogs, in different positions depending on the breed), and then trots away from the judge so the judge can see if they have good leg conformation. Then you line up next to the other competitors and (hopefully) make your horse stand still and look pretty and alert for the remainder of the class. Cookie does very well in halter classes, and would do better if we ever practiced setting up, which we don't. We compete with her as though she were an Arabian (she's a half-Arab), which means she should stand like this:

how an arab should look

but occasionally we end up like this instead:
June 6, 2009 horse show: Halter

We entered three halter classes and took third, third, and fourth respectively, earning three ribbons but not passing through high enough to move on to the championship round. She was very, very well behaved, stood quietly, did not shuffle her back feet, and wanted to love on me a little but didn't try to be in my pocket (which, incidentally, was her problem in the photo of us above).

After halter was through we tacked up for our English classes -- we weren't even bothering with Western -- and I walked her back and forth across the grounds about four times so we could both settle down. She was a little tense and anxious in the warm-up ring, and I was thankful that the footing was very deep, so she had to work harder to trot and canter. Eventually she settled down, only to go through the same scary thing again in the show arena warm up. Our first two classes were messy but not bad; she still has problems riding in a straight line and I am still constantly asking for her head carriage, but she didn't run off or spook, which is a tremendous improvement from just a few weeks ago.

We rode in three classes and then had a long break, so we walked up and down the gravel path outside the arena, then stood at the door. I was really wanting to place in at least one riding class, so that I felt like Cookie wasn't the only one winning the ribbons, but I was simultaneously really proud of her for being significantly better behaved than at our last show, when she literally could not stand still the entire day. Outside the gate before our third class, I leaned forward and gave her a long scratch on the neck and face; everybody chuckled at us as Cookie craned her neck back so I could reach her face better from the saddle. I told her I was proud of her, that she was being such a good girl.

Our fourth class was an 18 & over class, typically the hardest for me because I'm riding with all adult competitors who have been riding as long or longer than I have and who are typically WAY more skilled at showing (and often at riding). All the riding classes of the day had been very long, with extended trots and canters, so we were already tired. But we were just on. Cookie had settled into an equilibrium where she was still pretty pumped up but relaxed enough to settle in and listen, and she'd become familiar enough with the arena that I could convince her to ride closer to the rail (which she'd been afraid of in the beginning). My riding felt tight, Cookie was holding her head well, and I'd found a sort of .. I don't know, lightness? in my seat that finally allowed me to ride her into the corners without having her head ganked in one position while her body was in another.

When we passed my barnmates at the lower end of the arena they were so encouraging! They are always encouraging but they're also there to murmur "wrong lead" or "drop your hands!" or whatever else you need to fix. Every time I passed they just said, "Beautiful, Jess!" "You look great!" "Go Cookie!" I was also happy to notice that the dad of one of our lesson kids was there, a former Arab trainer himself who almost always sees me in lessons where Cookie is bucking or steering badly or generally being an ass.

The class took forever, and after walking, trotting, and cantering beautifully in one direction we had to reverse and do the same in our bad direction. At the canter, we'd been going and going FOR A THOUSAND YEARS when Cookie broke into a clippy, bouncy trot; I frantically asked her to pick up the canter again, but again she broke into a trot. I knew she was not being "bad" -- she was just plain exhausted. But we were nearing where the judge was standing, and we had been going SO WELL for the entire class, and I knew if she caught us trotting it would dash any dim hope we had of ribboning in that huge class. "Come on, sweet stuff," I said, "Please? Do it for me, please do it for me." I cued and she picked it up one last time; we turned into the corner and around past the judge, and then they called for us to walk and line up.

It had been a great class, and I felt it was our best chance to place; I also felt that it should be our last class, because Cookie and I were both exhausted and I really wanted to reward her for her awesome work. In the line-up, waiting for the results, I try so hard never to get my hopes up, because in a large group we rarely ever ribbon -- we just have too many issues right now. So I was truly thrilled and surprised when they announced my number for third place! I think I even did a victory fist pump.

We ended up entering the class directly after that one, despite my initial misgivings, because it was a colored horse class and there were only 6 horses in it. And we finished sixth :) Getting Cookie to keep trotting in that class was like an act of god. I had to pull my outside foot (the one out of sight of the judge) completely out of the stirrup and lay it into her side to even keep her moving. But I didn't care at all. At the end of the class, I walked Cookie over and thanked the judge, who had clearly liked my horse in halter classes. "You're welcome," she said. "You need to put a headset on that horse." Don't I know it.

When I came out of the ring, my trainer handed me our yellow ribbon. "BEAUTIFUL JOB, you two," she said. "This is a blue ribbon in my book." What can I say about this? I teared up a little. There's this great scene towards the end of National Velvet when Velvet and the Pie have won the Grand National; they come back home, and Velvet is so exhausted and emotional she's in a swoon. She explains that towards the end of the race she knew that the Pie was totally done and had nothing left, but that she asked him for just a little more and he put his whole heart into it for her. She is full of wonder and gratitude. It sounds completely cheesy but that's how it felt yesterday: like Cookie was absolutely exhausted but gave it one more burst for me because I asked her for it. I truly could not love that third place ribbon more.

I stayed for the rest of the day, although I was done riding, to watch all my friends and barn-mates compete in the Western classes, which they rocked. All 7 of us walked off with ribbons. After we were through we all pitched in, cleaning stalls, blanketing horses, emptying water buckets, and then loaded up the horses and drove back to the barn. I love the post-show flurry of returning everything to tack rooms and stalls; everybody's tired and glad to be done. There's a great sense of community. Usually a group goes out for dinner at the cafe down the street, but not tonight! We all trudged to our cars, cranked up the heat, and went home. I can hardly keep my eyes open.

March 6, 2010

preparation

it turns out that a day of riding, bathing coats, clipping muzzles, braiding tails, stuffing hay bags, loading trailers, and finding hunt clothes will really take it out of you, especially if you didn't bring a lunch. and you've had a headache all day, and the medicine for it makes you starving and sleepy. and it is (thankfully, gloriously) sunny and 60 outside, and your face gets lightly sunburned.

especially when you have to think about leaving the house at 5 tomorrow. 5. in the morning. so that you can go buy a few snacks for yourself for the long day ahead. because you're too tired to go right now, and you're in your pajamas, and you might go to sleep at 9.

you can only hope your horse will stay sane at the horse show, and maybe win a ribbon or two.

bareback day

March 5, 2010

big fish, small pond

Places you can spot me lately:

-- On OregonLive's running blog back in February, where I was featured in a series they did on single runners for Valentine's Day. I run with Kelly, the girl who runs the blog, which is how I ended up there. (No dates have emerged from it -- yet).

-- On a local talk-news show called Keep It Local, where Cristina and I, along with two friends from work, learned the bend & snap from Legally Blonde. C & I did this in exchange for tickets to opening night. It's probably for the best that the video for that day is no longer on their site ;).

-- On Social Workout's front page today, where I'm the featured community member of the day. One of their founders contacted me about doing it a few days ago.

In other news, today I was going to bail on my group run with my lady friends, but about 4 seconds after I sent the email saying I wasn't coming, fellow runner Kelly (the blogger, above, from OregonLive) wrote to me and said, "Jessica, you can't be out. A friend is coming (a boy friend) specifically to hang out with you. I wasn't going to tell you because I didn't want to put you on the spot, but Scott that ran with us last night thinks you're super cute. I mentioned we were running today and he asked if he could join. :)"

So, of course I did what any sane single runner would do: put on my running shoes and hit the trail. But he didn't make it! Kelly was more bummed than I was (I was very tired from last night and felt, quite frankly, like a sack of cold potatoes) so we're going to try and reschedule for next week. Cute! And I got my run in today in spite of myself.

March 4, 2010

going feral

Over the past months Cristina and I have participated in several fitness challenges over at Social Workout. We did one in October: in addition to a bunch of small challenges, like brown-bagging it for a course of days, we also did a one day juice fast, went vegetarian for a month, forswore fast food (this was harder for me than for her -- guilty pleasure), went soda-free, and upped our workout ante. In January we took a 30-day break from alcohol, which we discovered to be considerably easier than we'd anticipated, even at events like the opening night cast party when there is free wine in spades.

Their current March challenge is called FERALICIOUS, and its main stated aim is to get its participants closer to wildness. SW is based in NYC (although it's grown in popularity and now folks are more spread out) and so the people it's dealing with are primarily urban office-dwellers. The feats are nothing as huge as being vegetarian for a month, but they include things like eating a number of meals where nothing is processed and everything is as wild as you can get it. On the flip side, though, a number of the feats are about doing a billion reps of things: crunches, pull-ups, squats, dips. At first it felt counterintuitive to me, a person who doesn't do much of that sort of strength training (preferring, as I do, to get my strength training by actually doing work, i.e. shoveling poo).

But here's the thing: In order to get some of these feats accomplished, I am doing crazy stuff like dropping and doing push-ups in my office in the middle of the day. Even though the feats seem very rooted in ordinary gym work, the result of reaching for such giant numbers has temporarily rerouted my life into something profoundly physical and rooted in my body. Which does seem feral, actually.

So I'm in another phase of throwing my body into everything. A couple years back I went through this: I took trapeze and played softball, I ran sprint intervals, I rode horses, I ran around the park. This week I had a day where I went straight from a 4 mile run to the barn; I was in a hurry and slipped my riding boots over my running tights to save time.

Tonight I participated in the First Thursday urban adventure run at Fit Right NW, which I was no longer in the mood for by the end of the day but which was SO! MUCH! FUN! I used to always have this fantasy of being a messenger, and running through the streets as fast as I could with a satchel, running from place to place. There's something really thrilling about hurling yourself down a busy urban street. We had eleven locations to potentially hit, with one raffle ticket to pick up at each location. Although I went alone, I managed to follow a couple different groups and eventually ended up with a girl I know from my Friday running ladies. We got every ticket and were back with fifteen minutes to spare. In the beer garden, I stood around waiting, alone in a pack of people who were mostly with friends, and ended up striking up a conversation with the guy next to me, who was also by himself. So now I have an invitation to run with his group on Sunday. I think this is how you make friends!

Also, I didn't win anything but the guy in front of us was really good at grabbing the stuff that was being tossed/given out to the crowd (rather than drawn for in the raffle). He didn't want any of it, though, so he gave it to us. The guy next to me (whose name was Grant) ended up with a free race entry, and me? I ended up with four giant cans of Rockstar energy drink. Good lord.

March 3, 2010

on faith

1. Last week, not in the mood to run, I told myself I would still go but I was allowed to go as slow as I wanted. I wore my Garmin but I didn't check it during the run; I ran at a relaxed pace and it felt good. As I ran, I tried to predict my pace. 9 minute mile? 9:30? I got back to the office and glanced at my wrist. 8:25. Faster than I often run when I'm pushing it. I've run a couple times since then and the slowest I've gone is 8:33. It turns out that I can trust my body with pace. When I try to push, I often just up my adrenaline, get anxious, quicken my breathing too much, and (apparently) slow down. Discovering that my body knows how fast to go is amazing. I wonder if it can relax into a sub-8?

2. Cookie has decided she likes me again. The days of rearing and bucking are apparently over for awhile. When I show up, she nuzzles me for treats. She stretches her neck out luxuriously to be brushed. She leans her heavy head up against me. On the longe line she still throws her head around, but is not as badly behaved as she used to be. Under saddle, she canters without threatening to toss me off. I think she's come to trust that I'll come out and be with her; I'm no longer a person who only rides her once in awhile, as I was in December and January. Now I'm a person who sometimes brings treats; who scratches her itchy places; who lets her eat grass in the side pasture.

4. Back in January, I left my favorite raincoat at the barn one night. I didn't mean to have it with me in the first place, but I'd left my barn coat at home and it was cold. That night I took it off and left it on a tack box; I forgot to take it home, and in subsequent trips I wouldn't think of it until I left. When I finally remembered to look for it, it was nowhere to be found. I've left notes in the barn asking if anyone's seen it; I've checked all the barn bins; I've looked in every tack room and in the viewing room, all with no luck. It would seem that someone's walked off with it. I've been so sad about it that I've actually had dreams about finding the coat in obvious places, like my coat rack at work or the hall closet. And yet I have the niggling feeling that the coat isn't gone forever. When Nub went missing, and it seemed for sure that he would never be returned, I never quite believed that he was lost forever. After all, I knew where I'd left him. Surely he was somewhere. It took a lot longer than I expected, but he made his way back. So, as for the coat, I think I just have to have faith.

March 2, 2010

upcoming

upcoming awesomeness:

3/4: the first Urban Adventure run
3/7: horse show, but I'm probably not going to compete (we're not ready)
3/14: Shamrock 15K race
3/20: Santiam Canyon 5-mile scramble
some Tuesday in March: hanging out with Twitter friends for Booze Tues[day]
all of March: a crap-ton of rehearsals interspersed throughout (though not as many as my stage management friends, god help them)
4/9-12: MOLA conference
late April-May: playing a floozy in the last opera (really)
late May: my BIRTHDAY (plans TBA)
early June: a friend is coming out and we're gonna go BACKPACKING and eat our way through PDX

so, spring is good. did I tell you I won the internship to the MOLA conference this year? it's awarded to a librarian in the first five years of his/her career. this was my last year of eligibility so I went for it. I'll be on hand to help the host librarian work the conference in exchange for 2 free nights of lodging (at the $120 a night conference hotel) and a waived $150 conference fee. I'm really proud about it and excited to meet so many LIBRARIANS! performance librarians! exclamation points!

that's all. by June I hope to be a lean, mean, awesome machine.

March 1, 2010

sitting practice

On Saturday, I attended my first zen meditation practice. I first became interested in zen back in college, when I was voraciously reading the memoirs of Natalie Goldberg, whose life (both the writing and non-writing aspects of it) was and is profoundly affected by her zen practice. She talks often in her writing of the discomfort of zazen (sitting meditation), of struggling to quiet her mind while in meditation, and of the things she learned from her zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

At some point not long after I moved here, I searched for nearby zen centers. I was struggling with my writing (and still do) and I was curious to try it out. But I never pursued it; I was daunted by the unfamiliarity of it, and I was often too busy. Or made that excuse, at least.

I have thought of it on and off in the past few months -- enough to add it to my very small but growing list of things I'll do after my next birthday -- and last week I discovered that Dharma Rain was holding a free "Intro to Zen Meditation" workshop on Saturday afternoon. I often put free events on my calendar with good intentions, and then inevitably I talk myself out of them because I'm busy or the weather's too good/bad, or something else comes up. Or I chicken out. I very nearly stayed at the barn on Saturday (Cookie was being such a sweetheart), but I didn't. I showed up to the zendo 20 minutes early, and though I knew the workshop was being held in the nearby Dharma House, I hadn't written down the address. The DH is really a house, so although I walked up and down the street looking for it, I didn't have any luck. I figured I'd try the zendo, hoping to find a person or at least a sign to help me out. I strolled in only to realize I'd walked in on a silent group of Zen monks seated at a table. I froze and slowly retreated toward the door, feeling awkward and a little terrified, frantically reading the flyers on the bulletin board with hopes that something would direct me. A minute or so passed and one of the monks came quietly over and whispered, "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for the intro to meditation workshop?" I whispered back. He nodded and directed me to step outside; he was barefoot and in robes, bald-headed. He had the kindest face. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Once outside, he pointed down the street to a nondescript house on the corner. "It's there, in the brown house," he said. "You can go right on in." He smiled.
I thanked him and apologized for interrupting. "It's really okay," he said, and clearly meant it; I believed him. Later I discovered that the monks were in the middle of a silent retreat. I felt simultaneously mortified and grateful for his kindness.

I walked down the street to the house, which was on the opposite side of the road. I was still 15 minutes early so I strolled to the corner before crossing the street; as I stood looking for traffic a woman with flaming red hair called from the house steps to me.
"Hello!" she said. "Yoo hoo!" She was smiling, so I waved. When I crossed the street she asked me if I was looking for the workshop.
"We got here at about the same time," she said, "so I figured you must be coming here too. Go on upstairs! I'll be in in a bit."

I won't bore you with the details, except to say that I was pleasantly surprised to discover a natural physical affinity for meditation: My de facto seated position, in yoga and elsewhere, is typically half lotus (which I find easier on my knees than normal indian-style). Apparently it's uncommon to find many people who are comfortable seated that way. By the end of our 20-minute meditation session -- with eyes open, did you know that? -- the backs of my legs were asleep but I was otherwise OK. I was fascinated to hear feedback from the other attendees, many of whom were fidgety and uncomfortable; some of them fretted to the teachers afterward. Was I breathing correctly? I was focused too much on my stomach muscles. These are people whose main stated goal was to stop being so anxious, to stop overthinking. I had not considered zen practice for that reason, because I viewed it as a religion rather than as an activity.

I did discover that many of the things I do unthinkingly in my daily life have predisposed me towards meditation; early in the session one of the two zen prefects teaching the class said that even after eight or nine years, she still has to remind herself, convince herself, that going to zazen practice will make her feel better. I understood entirely; I do the same thing with running. Running is so much like meditation for me in many ways, as is riding. Learning to push through discomfort; learning to turn off the nagging voice in your mind. I still need help with writing, though.

I may or may not attend zazen on Wednesday. I might ride my horse instead. Who can say. Have I mentioned I'm also reading the Tao Te Ching?

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-- mary oliver