Monday, October 6, 2014

I Run for Life

Our neighbor across the street, “John,” lost his wife to breast cancer last February. He’s from Pennsylvania, but has owned the home across from ours probably since his two adult boys were children. This was the first summer and early fall that he has been here alone – in an old, modest home that they took care of together.  A home that is filled with everything that is theirs.

I remember seeing her from time to time last year, when she was going through treatments for the second time. The first time was nine years ago after her initial diagnosis. She went into remission, but the cancer came back and had spread to her brain. I never had the chance to get to know her because we are relatively new to the neighborhood. When I talk to John about his wife and her fight with cancer, he referred to the process as “our cancer.” When he mentions the type of cancer, he notes that “they had the Her2 positive cancer cells.  They battled cancer together.

Every morning, at the crack of dawn, I see John head out for his routine bike ride on his old beach cruiser with the cobwebs under the seat.  He wears the same beige cap, t-shirt, khaki shorts, white tube socks and black sneakers.  Every afternoon he treats himself to lunch at the famous “Crab Trap” restaurant just over the bridge.  He claims that he’s getting a belly, but that doesn’t stop him. In the late afternoon he sits on his front porch in a chair that looks worn to perfect comfort and listens to the radio (usually a baseball game, or tunes from the 70’s) with his dog, Muffin at his side.  At 5pm, he walks Muffin to the dog park where she meets her best friend “Tulip” for some playtime.

He’s been traveling the world most of the summer, by himself (Canary Islands, Ireland, England, and is heading to Alaska this fall).  I know that he misses his wife very much. I know that he talks to her, feels her presence and knows the signals (thunder for example) of her voice speaking to him.  He blurted out the sentence, “YOU’VE GOT TO LIVE LIFE,” the other day when we were talking…. And I know he’s doing just that.

I decided a couple of months ago that I wanted to work on my running fitness and hop in some fall 5k and 10k events. The last year I can remember running a string of fall events was in 2009. The biggest driving force behind my recent decision to get out and push again in my run training was gratitude. I’m grateful for my life, for being alive, in good health, and having the ability to push my body. Pushing well beyond the comfort zone is a unique experience, and one that makes me feel totally alive and present.  I’m sweating, my heart is pounding, I can hear my breath and feel my muscles putting out every bit of energy. It is during these times that my body and mind are completely engaged and at a heightened state – totally alive.
“Pushing” is a love hate relationship on both physical and mental levels.  Let’s face it, intervals are hard. Racing a 5k is hard … well at least as hard as you’re willing to make it.  In order to get faster, you must be able to work through paces and efforts that make you sometimes feel like giving up. It’s hard stuff, but stuff that makes you more resilient to the demands of over-reaching in a race. There’s a certain level of confidence and personal growth that comes from getting through events or workouts that push us to the edge. The fitness gains are just as rewarding. Personally, I feel that it’s good to force yourself to work through discomfort from time to time. Training and racing, for me, remind me of what it’s like to “go there.”  It’s a metaphor for life when you think about it.  Let’s be honest and admit that at any moment, we can be blindsided by an event or news that could rock our world. We need to be prepared to push through messiness, feel all of the emotions that come with the mess and experience the discomfort.   I think the curve balls that life throws at us serve as a reminder that we are never allowed to just settle into a comfortable pace for too long.  It would be nice, but life does not work that way….. Ever.
This past weekend, my partner and a friend of mine did a 5k that raised money for health services for women who are fighting breast cancer.  We had a lot of fun, dressed in pink, wore frizzy pink wigs, danced at the post race party and laughed a lot!  I also made some wonderful new connections.
During the 5k, I opted to run without the wig so that I could actually work at a hard effort without pink hair getting in my mouth. We all fought the relentless headwind for the first half of the race on a wet, slippery boardwalk. I set a time goal, but got nowhere near it. I did, however go to that place of discomfort, which was my primary goal. I went there as a reminder of what it feels like to hurt.  I went to that place as reminder that this kind of fight is nothing compared to the fight against cancer.  I went there as my personal message of ‘I’m fighting for you” to those who are dealing with their very personal battle with cancer.  I went there as a reminder that, and as Mellissa Ethridge sings in one of her hit songs, “I run for life!”

Saturday, July 12, 2014



Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve made some crazy decisions in my life.  I’m not afraid to put it out there and say that I’ve taken some leaps that probably caused for some serious local town gossip and questioning as to whether or not I knew what I was doing. The honest truth is that I never really knew what I was doing. I’ve made the majority of my decisions, or chosen my path based on an unexplainable “pull” of energy. I’ve never been one to sit and really calculate or analyze the risks of making a certain decision. I’ve always known, however that all decisions have consequences, both good and/or bad.  My leaps usually come from the heart and not the head.  I chalk it up to being born with a very active right side of the brain and a rather quiet left side. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve put myself in places and situations that have caused long periods of emotional angst.  At one point, I totally lost touch with myself, my core and those things that made me Martha! The flip side of that period is that I was forced to get to know myself on a much deeper level than before I entered that space.  I came out of it with a greater understanding of what was important in my life and have since based many of my choices on the number one importance; CONNECTION.

My intuition has always spoken loud enough to tell me when I was not feeling connected. I finally started listening. I listened as it spoke to me about connections concerning my friendships, partnerships, career path, how I chose to spend my time and who I spent it with.  If I’m not feeling deeply connected to what I am doing or who I am spending time with, I chuck it out the window or make a change in my life to allow for connection.  My life would feel empty without it.

I love my job of being a coach, however there’s more to what I do than just providing a training plan. If someone is looking for “just a plan” with all the whistles and bells of wattage and heart rate zones, they can go somewhere else. That’s not what coaching is to me. Sure, I provide all of that, but what really matters is the CONNECTION between myself and the people that I coach. We develop a relationship and grow together.  We go through the rough spots and the high spots together. We talk things out, often diving into life outside of training and racing, which certainly affects how I create a plan that allows for balance. We work together in building the courage to take leaps outside of the comfort zones. Relationships take work and energy. Many coaches don’t care to get that messy. Creating a black and white plan is easier and perhaps more lucrative.  To each his or her own is what I say to that.

I moved from my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts to Ocean City, NJ a couple of years ago. It’s not the first time. I lived in New Jersey before (for about 4.5 years) and then moved back to Northampton. I needed to get back to my grounding place, my community, my family and all of the smells and sights of New England that I missed so much. I moved to Ocean City because my partner is from here and missed it very, very much (she moved to MA for me).  We took the leap. My heart said to go for it.  We have lovely home here, I can see the bay from my house, walk on the beach or jog on the boardwalk looking out at the ocean every single day. I’m gradually becoming connected to this community although most folks know that I miss Northampton, the Hilltown communities and the Valley like mad. It’s certainly not a secret. I miss the local coffee shops with the fresh baked goods. I miss driving by the community gardens. I miss cycling on the country roads and long ascents that take me along rushing rivers or falls. I miss the eclectic community. The good news is that I can visit often and get my fix.
With all this being said, I know that as long as I am feeling deeply connected to my partner I can live just about anywhere. The leap of moving to Ocean City has forced us to remember to connect with each other. I’ve become a better partner because of the move. I know when the line is slipping and am very sensitive to the signs. We all get busy, distracted and into our own separate routines. It takes some vulnerability to reach out and say “Hey, we need some time. We need to reel in and catch on to what’s most important in our lives.”  Sometimes you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and put your hands in the dirt. It’s called feeling and connecting kids!
Speaking of putting your hands in the dirt – I planted my first garden bed a couple of months ago. I’ve always been slightly overwhelmed by the process but decided to take the leap. I did it all in one day! Now, I get up every morning, pour myself a cup of coffee and stroll out to my tiny garden bed to see how much it’s grown overnight. Today I had my first taste of the arugula that I planted.  My taste buds danced with delight! Sounds like a line out of a food critique article, but it’s the truth. I once read that if you eat the food you’ve grown, you’ll feel more of a connection to that food. This is also the truth.
Listen, if you don’t take leaps, you aren’t living fully.  They don’t have to be huge, life changing leaps. Planting a garden was not something I consider a massive leap, but the act of creating, planting and sustaining a garden was cause for a bit intimidation on my part. I leaped baby! Greater leaps can force us to face our fears and take us through or to difficult spaces in our lives. We are left alone to figure things out and really work hard to see the process through to the other side or to the next path (which can be totally awesome). The more you leap, the less scary change becomes in your life.  Let’s face it, nothing ever stays the same. You should all know this by now.  You have to learn to confront fears and move on.  You must be open to being vulnerable to a multitude of feelings and sitting with them for a period of time. Taking leaps also mean PAYING ATTENTION to the greatest gift that they can provide – THE LESSON. I know people who avoid making difficult choices or taking leaps because they choose to stay in a “safe” but unhappy place. I don’t blame them. I get it and some situations are very complicated. However we really do all move on and get on with life. Sometimes changing your situation forces others around you to discover their true path of happiness.  You create your own happiness or unhappiness, not others. You are the driver. If you know or feel like you are driving down the wrong road, if you feel a "pull," consider take a turn. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2nd Chances

The picture shown above is from a race that I did in Austria in 1998 (at least I think it was that year). The run was a two loop, 5k course which involved a grassy, ski slope hill that was SO steep, most of the pros hiked up it. Heart rates were off the charts even at a fast walk up that monster.  Thanks to my ex-husband as well as my former coach, who got me hooked on cross country skiing, I used an arm pumping technique similar to skiing that got me up the hill at a fast hiking rate. All was going well this day until my soleus seized up in what turned out to be a pretty bad strain. I felt it coming on during the 2nd loop and it halted me in my tracks while hoofing up that hill. I had to pull out.
What most people don’t know about me is that I actually had to walk away from the sport of triathlon from both a mental and physical perspective, for several years. I sold or donated most of my equipment to those just getting started. I wanted nothing to do with the sport and for a time and lived a completely different life away from that identity of a competitive athlete. What people also don’t know about me is how devastated I was when my races went horribly. I was brought to my knees upset because I felt that I had invested so much of my time, other people’s time, and money (I looked at it as a career) into being one of the best triathletes in the country and in the world.  I have only recently been able to reflect on my racing career. I had countless setbacks from either injury or crappy races that would throw me for a mental loop, forcing me to come up with reasons as to why I should keep going in the sport.  You see the scar on my left shoulder in this picture? That scar is from a crash at a world championship event in New Zealand the previous year. It took me out – literally. Another devastating day, miles and miles away from home. Another setback which made for a long flight back to New England. There were a lot of tears to say the least.

Despite all the setbacks (the year+ of insomnia, the injuries, the races where I doubted myself and struggled, or the few where I was forced to pull out), I always got back up. I GOT BACK UP.  I’m not sure how, but I did and kept on fighting. I'm so glad that I did, because I also had many great race experiences! More importantly, I became a strong and resilient PERSON, not just as an athlete.  We’re talking super resilient here.  Look, there is always another chance. You can either grab the hand of chance and pull yourself back up, or you can bury your head in a big dirt hole and stay stuck there forever. The choice is a no brainer in my book.

You know why I really like the picture of me in this blog? I like it because I was working so hard to get up that hill.  Unfortunately, the race did not go my way but hey, I got up the hill once I got over my disappointment. That was a steeper and much harder hill for me.  I also have bad scar on my shoulder. That scar represents the fact that I got up and continued my racing career after being thrown from my tracks in a world championship event. 

All of us are bound to have experiences that devastate us and make us feel like we are not good enough or capable of doing something.  Life is full of those kinds of curve balls! We can flub up a job interview,  not get into the college we had hoped for, screw up on test, have our hearts broken, get into a bad relationship, say something you regret, not say something and wished that you had. The list goes on.  You always have the chance to try again or to make things better for yourself.  You must get up and try again. How lucky we are to have those chances. I see them as part of the path to "getting things right" or leading us to amazing opportunities. I am blessed for all the struggles I've faced ..... and  for taking second chances.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Live for the Goosebumps!

The pictures noted in this blog are from two of my most memorable wins during my pro triathlete career. I didn't rack up a lot of wins, but there were a couple that will always stay in my mind. 

The sheer joy is pretty apparent from my smile.  Now, as a coach, I get tears in my eyes and goose bumps on my skin when I watch an athlete that I work with cross the finish line with a smile. I know about hard work, sacrifice, fighting the head-doubting demons, physical and mental struggles with injury, set-backs and having to take time off. I'm aware of the time and effort (on many levels) it can take just to get to the starting line (which is a victory in itself). I know the question, "why am I doing this" that can go through the heads of some athletes as they nervously and anxiously await the start of a race. I know how hard it can be to push the limits of your body and to talk yourself through to the finish line. I know what it feels like to "be on" in a race - when all systems are firing well, mentally and physically. I know how putting yourself out there and going for something can make you feel vulnerable - especially when people are watching and have been part of your process. I get HOW SWEET IT IS to feel the payoff from hard work and a long stretch of focus.  I'm here to say that it's worth it folks.  It's worth the smile, the joy, the chills, the moment of crossing the line and the inner celebration buzz that makes memories. It's worth the setbacks too - and they are part of any process that matters. 
Whether your goal is to lose weight, change your life, change your relationships, win a race, finish a race, or live out a passion - I SAY GO FOR IT! See the smile on my face? That's what the payoff of sticking to your goals looks like. My goals have long since changed, but I still focus on challenging myself often and in ways that do take me out of my comfort zone and that push me to reach.  It's called living!  Try it! Live out your life without regrets of wishing you had tried something scares you, knowing it could very well result in personal growth and opportunity for positive change.