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“hey, you’ve been used”

8 Apr

Lately I’ve been seized by an all encompassing quiet.  Exhaustion has set in, and only extreme quiet ameliorates my mood.  The mental silence of running has become my haven and training for the Prague Marathon is my foundation in many ways.  Routine has muffled any mental noise or confusion, and it’s calm if not entirely comforting.  My running schedule, diet, and water intake are all regulated closely which, to my surprise, ended up organizing all other parts of my schedule almost entirely.  Being without a computer for roughly two weeks did wonders for calming my nerves and anxiety, and I found myself much happier for my ignorance on world news.

Spring, it seems, is bent on ensuring my life isn’t too quiet.  My quiet morning runs are full of pops and snaps.  The emerging birds drop sticks from the trees with small pops that usually make me jump a little, which I am then forced to play off as if I’m an oddly bouncy walker.  Fires snap and pop thickening the morning fogs as the residents of Drohobych clear their yards of sticks, twigs, and trash.  The edges of the fields are being prepared for the spring plantings, and the black soil is usually rimmed with a thin red outline as the weeds burn wetly.  Sunflower seeds crack in the teeth of local high school boys skipping school as they lean on the sagging metal fences of the local stadium, watching me run.

With two months until the end of the semester I’m close to collapsing.  Seeing Erin was an amazing uplifter which turned into as much if not more of a downer the second I said goodbye to her at the airport.  I experienced first-hand the confusion of hours upon hours of translating until I could no longer tell which language I was speaking.  My working group is preparing for our first summer camp to teach Ukrainian children about healthy lifestyles and all that encompasses – alcohol and smoking awareness, HIV/AIDS awareness, nutrition, sportsmanship and teamwork, and respect for oneself and others.   I’m still working out plans for a very quick trip into Moldova to poke around wine country, will be enjoying historic Ukrainian/Polish sites in Poland around Easter time, and seeing a brand new city May 6-9 when my relay runs the marathon in Prague.  Things have ceased to seem new, making it hard to know what to write to all of you back home.  I’m largely inured to the ups and downs of daily Peace Corps life, but still thoroughly enjoy watching my month countdown dwindle.

*Music: “Expectations” -Belle & Sebastian

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“and it looked like a painting I once knew”

24 Feb

Snowy winters suit Drohobych, if not my Prague Marathon training.  The dirty yellow haze of a sun looked this morning as if painted in abstract.  No warmth comes from it, no rays fall on the cold morning floor, the world has become dove grey, yet the snow seems to dance with the otherwise absent light.  Each object is blanketed, the sidewalks merely compressed, not cleared, snow.  Even the trodden streets look an oddly pleasing shade of cappuccino as if the color was created with purpose, not just an adulteration of the blinding white bordering the roads.  I feel comfortable in this world, nestled in the grey.  The texture of the snow covering the streets resembles creamed butter and sugar, the first step of home-made cookies, and the vision is just as comforting as the cookies of which I’m reminded.  Fresh snow has twirled and spiraled to the ground for a solid four days as if nature had a great blizzard in store for our sleepy town, but decided there was no need to rush.

Although getting myself out the door to run is an endeavor, gratification always accompanies the effort.  I have my own personal lane in the field of white barely recognizable as the sports school track.  The crisscross pattern worn into the snow by my YakTracks after each run is gently blurred in the continuously falling snow, yet somehow detectable when I return.  In a town big enough to grant anonymity, my runs identify me.  The same early morning cross-country skiers share the stadium with me, our breath-clouds looking less forlorn for the company.  Though gawking, familiar faces accompany my runs, I create for myself a duel world.  The daily commuters and I share this time, the worn familiarity, while I simultaneously cut myself off.  In for three, out for two – there’s just my breathing, the falling snow, and the opera I play on my ipod.

*Music: “I Can Feel a Hot One” -Manchester Orchestra

“Wherever it leads, I’m runnin’ down a dream”

31 Aug

Last week’s runs were extremely discouraging.  I don’t know myself as a runner yet.  I was having a difficult time getting past 4.5 miles – a block that was entirely mental.  One of my running friends suggested running on either main or country roads so each block would be a mile, and I could run straight out and back to push myself past this block.  After all, once you turn around, you’re out several miles and have no choice but to run back.  Maybe I could have made this work if I knew how my motivation works with running.  I don’t, and I’m too far removed from those days when I was new to swimming and figuring out how my body and motivation worked within the confines of the sport.  I tried the out-and-back method, but failed to account for the effects of the oh-so classic midwest winds on straight roads.

Lungs burning, gasping against the wind for any air I could get, and cursing every last driver that stared at me as they drove past I only made it through 2.5 miles before I had to alternate walking one block and running four or five.

The truth of the matter is, it was being stubborn that pulled me through several runs last week.  I was discouraged and hating every step, but I hated the idea of stopping before I should.  It effectively sucked all the fun out of running.

 Last week.

Last week I thought, why the hell did I agree to run a marathon?  I can’t bail…I won’t bail…but what was I thinking?  The notion that I liked what I was doing was bludgeoned out of me but none other than…me.

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve encountered throughout this process of learning to run so far is that my best runner friend lives a state away.  Email encouragement only does so much.  How lost will I be in Ukraine, transplanted into a culture that for the most part doesn’t run outside of gym class?  My running inspiration and great friend will be across an ocean rather than a state line.  Sometimes I wonder what I’m missing out on by not having a running partner.  At times, this lack feels like a major sacrifice.  Then again, how much worse would it be to train with a running partner or group, only to be forced to yank my mind away from this support when I leave for Ukraine?  There’s a very real possibility it would be enough to stop me from running altogether.  So on off weeks, I grit my teeth and push through my solitary runs.

This week however, something miraculous happened.  I’m not the kind of person to drop negative energy and start anew, nor am I the kind of person to tell you I did to make the story more interesting.  As far as I was concerned by last Sunday, I was done running.  My running shoes had been condemned to a life of lawn mowing, and that was final.  Come Monday evening, something made me lace up my shoes and step out the door.  I didn’t want to run.  I wasn’t trying to make myself believe I wanted to run.  Without thinking, I just went to the gym and ran

and ran

and ran — five miles.  My longest run to date.  Sure, the Monday night football helped, but I’m still trying to understand where that urge to keep putting one foot in front of the other comes from.

I have a particularly vindictive inner voice.  Runners battle their inner voices; particularly good runners can quiet this inner storm.  Mine doesn’t fight fair.  If I run faster it says, “Just think how much more things are jiggling now!”  If that little voices is a hill runners have to overcome, mine feels like a mountain…with frequent rock slides.  I think it deserves its own diabolical name, it’s that pushy.  Any suggestions?

My first noteworthy chip in this inner rock face came the other day.  All I wanted to do after work was get home and sit on my butt.  I had fought a migraine all day, but I had also looked up inspirational running quotes and half-heartedly written a couple down.  Finding myself in the middle of lacing up my running shoes, utterly clueless how I got there, I managed to keep the momentum going and drive to the gym.  Keep in mind, the gym is literally one measly block from my house.  Ironically, my laziness came in handy.  I had forgotten the gym closed at the horrendously early hour of 8 pm on Friday nights.  Typically being a 9-11 pm gym rat, an entire summer hasn’t been enough to cement in my mind the fact that other people don’t find late gym hours appealing enough to keep a workout facility open that late. 

I could have driven the block home, but I drove to the park; there was a football game and no parking spaces.

I could have given up the hunt, telling myself I had tried, and gone home.  I parked on the street.

And ran.

Four miles is how far I ran, though that little voice suggested stopping at two, then subsequently that three was more than enough for one night.  Four miles with two sprints mixed in and not one block wasted on walking.

Sprinting down the sidewalk, head held high, lungs aching, legs spinning until they started to feel weightless — this must be why people run.  Though only for a minute, my negative inner voice was quiet.  The people staring at me from their cars and yards didn’t matter.  I felt strong, but mostly,

I felt giddy.

It’s Official…

21 Aug
  • A group of soon-to-be PC Ukraine group 37 Volunteers are meeting in the Ukrainian village in Chicago this weekend for the Ukrainian Independence Celebration.  I absolutely cannot wait to meet them! [After which I will be stopping in the Swedish district at the AH-mazing bakery and picking up some goodies for my family.]
  • Summer and I are running a marathon when I get back from the Peace Corps.  I found a training program, and even if I stretch out each of the training steps from one week to three (ie instead of running 15 miles a week, then the next week running 18-19 … I would run 15 mi/week for three weeks to acclimate before bumping up to 18) it would only take me 15 months leaving an entire year to just work on speed.  Maybe she won’t leave me in her dust trail after all :)

One Step At A Time

13 Jul

More to come later, but here’s a brief run down on the ways I’m preparing for Ukraine:

*Currently I’m tutoring four students in English through the IEI ( Intensive English Institute ) of UIUC. I meet with two students at a time for an hour each week. I’ve only had my first meeting at this point and I’m excited as well as nervous for what’s to come.

*Procrastination on the Ukraine is going exceedingly well. I need to kick my butt into gear on this one. Though the consistent answer I have heard from current volunteers and RPCVs is that they knew no Ukrainian/Russian before training, I want to get a head start on this so that it’s not such a shock that…

*I signed up for full immersion language training. Starting at the end of September, no more English for me. Being the type-A person that I am, there are times I worry myself sick about the prospect of struggling in these classes, but this truly will be the most effective way to learn the language.

*Attempting to run outside is my newest obstacle. I want to keep up my running throughout the next two years because of my hopes to eventually run a half and full marathon, and that means being able to train outdoors while I’m in Ukraine. While I can do 4 miles easily on a treadmill, I’m only up to 2.88 miles outside; I’m counting this one as a win nonetheless as I haven’t attempted to run outside in roughly eight months.

*Plans are starting to be made for the going away party!

*I have notified my bosses here at UIUC of the date of my final day of summer work so that I can start the agonizing process of attempting to pack 100 lbs of luggage for a two year trip. This involves evaluating what is safe to ship separately, as the Peace Corps indicated most of our mail will probably be opened ( possibly with items removed ) once it goes through all of the systems required in order to arrive at our posts in Ukraine.