Giving Back.

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I almost didn’t write this post in fear of being a part of a cliche. It is entirely non-running related, but is a huge part of my life. This week always makes me take a step back and appreciate all that I have, all that I am, and each and every wonderful person in my life.

Not only is it Thanksgiving, of which I will touch on in a few, but this week was also the annual Oregon Mission of Mercy event. Each year, more than 1,000 volunteers gather to provide free dental care on a first come, first served basis for up to 2,000 patients in 2 days. These volunteers include dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental lab technicians, as well as community volunteers. They utilize portable dental units in a large public area. Every other year, this takes place at the Oregon Convention Center with alternating years in other locations around the state.

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I have had the privilege of participating in this event for 5 years now. Each year, I spend both mornings, starting at 4am, taking x-rays with a fantastic team. As a dental assistant, I would spend my afternoons assisting chairside with various dentists. Now that I am a dental hygienist, I had the privilege to give back in a way that I’d only dreamed of. I teamed with a fabulous dentist. She removed the decay from the tooth and I would placed the filling. I was able to utilize my dental hygiene license to its fullest and directly provide care to those in need.

Each year, I leave this event with an overflowing heart, a few tears,  and a deep sense of happiness knowing that I’ve worked with like minded individuals to give back to our community. The feeling that comes from being able to utilize skills to provide for those in need is absolutely immeasurable. Not to mention two days of 3 am wakeup times to volunteer from 4am-6pm are entirely exhausting in the best way imaginable.

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This photo was after we’d seen our last patients of the day. Tiredness in our eyes, but happiness in our hearts. I could talk about this event all day. Let me just say that this friend of mine right here is entirely special. Friends from my first days as a dental assistant almost 9 years ago. She has been a wonderful friend, mentor, rock climber, cross country skier, and fellow tooth nerd. The company she works for fabricated 100 removable prosthetics (think: dentures) for patients during Mission of Mercy this year.

Following this event, I fell asleep in my chair at home with my scrubs still on and little Jax the puppy on my lap. Happy hearts need sleep too.

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Speaking of Jax, this photo is how I spent my Thanksgiving day. Brisk air, crunchy leaves, many layers, running in the park with the little guy. And by running, I mean attempting not to roll my ankle in Dansko shoes. Have you tried running in clogs? Not recommended.

Great food was prepared (citrus rubbed turkey, quinoa cranberry stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts with bacon sherry cream sauce, apple blackberry crisp,) family time was enjoyed, and I could not have asked for a better day to relax. Don’t worry, we still got our run in.

Happy Thanksgiving fellow runners, family, and friends!

Take a moment to appreciate the small things.

I Found It.

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It. I found it. My running mojo, my running spirit, that zeal that I’ve been missing. It was out there all along. We can call off the search parties. It was out there in the dark and the rain, hiding. I found it after a 12 hour school day, with a headlamp on, reflective gear, and a flashing red bike light on my backside. My running mojo was outside, only to be found after 5 miles of loops around the neighborhood. Sneaky, sneaky little mojo.

How exactly did I find it? By pushing myself. But not that simply put. All of these things mentioned above are easy excuses not to step outside. The lateness of the hour, the rain, the cold, a long day. It was the realization that, even though I was tired, I had the mental toughness to lace up those running shoes and walk out that door. That was one-third of it. The second portion came from the determination to not look at my Garmin. That little GPS watch is an evil thing. Garmin = gremlin. It does nothing but give me anxiety about how fast, slow or how far I’ve gone. Each mile, the little thing bleeped at me. I resisted the urge to look down at it. I didn’t want to know my pace, my exact distance or how long I’d been running. Not today, anyway. Do you have any idea how much self-control that took? And yet, it brought so much more peace of mind. Ignorance, for once, is bliss. And the third part in this discovery of mojo can be summarized in two words: Albuterol inhaler. My asthmatic lungs were appreciative.

In rediscovering my zeal, I made this realization: Running is what you need it to be. Be it therapy, clarity, sanity, happiness, calm, a way to eat more cupcakes, a center, a challenge, training, a way to better oneself… Sometimes it’s all of these reasons, sometimes it’s only one. The only limitations set are placed there by our own self.

This rekindling has made me realize my training has been slacking. Like, real bad. (Say that last sentence with a drawl.) Structured runs have fallen by the wayside. Many would scoff at such an admission, and I must say that I am a bit ashamed of myself. I’ve 5 more races on the schedule for this year, and being focused on improvement would be the wise course to take. However. Semester 2 of dental hygiene school is underway, and stress management is of utmost importance. Running is my therapy, clarity, catharsis, my fun, and not a stressor. I need to keep it that way. This is what I need running to be right now.

With that being said, I give you my Redding Marathon Relay race recap. With a special focus on fun, cupcakes, and a weekend of nostalgic connections.

The weekend of: Through some grace of both the running gods and the god of social lives, I had 4 days off the weekend of the race. How does this happen? Really, it doesn’t. I decided to take full advantage of my time off and, rather than drive the 7 hours to Redding, Ca, I flew to San Francisco on a Thursday evening. I spent the weekend with a classmate from middle school (nostalgic connections, remember?)

Friday was spent exploring the city in as much of its entirety as can be managed in a 24 hour period of time. We traipsed around by bus and by foot, up and down the hilly streets of San Fran like it was no big deal.

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Armed with the best tour guide ever, I was able to see all that the city had to offer amidst fantastic weather. Ready for the sights covered? Deep inhale… Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill (and the nearly 400 stairs to the top), riding cable cars, Presidio, Embarcadero, the Ferry Building, Union Square, Lombard, Chinatown, Haight, Palace of Fine Arts, Russian Hill and the beautiful views that surrounded, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and a plethora of both delicious coffee, and splendid food. Whew! All of that in one day.

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Saturday held more old connections (and delicious food at Stacks) with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 6 years. It held a beer mile relay and party in Alamo Square for a 40th birthday. It held new connections with amazing running people. Sidenote: you know you’re at a party with kindred spirits when a guy walks in and proudly announces he’s just run a 50k that day. Though, he doesn’t like cupcakes. So, I’m none too sure what to make of that. Speaking of cupcakes, that’s how I ended my Saturday night. At Sift. A delicious cupcake bakery. Nom.

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Onto Sunday. Race day: 3:30 am wakeup time. The roads were empty and the clouded night sky padded almost all of the quiet 3 1/2 hour drive. Bon Iver on the radio, and I had the privilege of sleeping instead of driving. Bleary eyed, this is what I woke up to about 45  minutes before arriving in Redding:

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A lovely sunrise and my usual pre-race food: a honeycrisp apple with almond butter. Such a slow, hazy, calm way to begin my day. Race start was 8 am, with a lovely temp of 30 degrees. My amazing 4th grade teacher, Eva, ran the first leg of the race, with 9.6 miles. I ran the second leg with 9.8 miles. The third and final 6.8 mile leg was run by Eva’s amazing 11-year old daughter. And no, I did not get quizzed on my elementary science knowledge. Phew!

The course itself was beautiful. I could definitely see myself returning there to run the full 26.2. The sun came out, the sky was blue, and the choice to wear shorts wasn’t terribly regretted. Although. The rolling hills were a bit grueling. I mean, how did I get roped into the single hilly leg of the course? About three miles in, I came around a corner just as I was cresting a lovely little climb when the sun bursted through the clouds, the intensity temporarily blinding me. And then it happened. My legs saw direct sunshine for the first time in months. And, let me tell you, they positively glowed. I think I could’ve rivaled what’s-his-name, the glittering vampire. Aside from that, the lungs behaved fairly well, as did the mental toughness. My biggest gripe in the course? A hill over a mile long. As I was running up the hill, I came alongside another runner. She said to me, “Now this is just a silly course. A silly, silly, stupid choice in course,” with a pained smile on her face. I shared her sentiments. Post race was celebrated with cupcakes, silly photos, and happily exhausted conversation. And brunch food.

To those of you who know me, I am not what one would refer to as a morning person. I like to get up earlyish (think 8-9 on weekends), and I force myself out of bed early for long runs. But. Getting up before the sun does really isn’t a choice I would voluntarily make. Surprisingly though, Monday brought another pre-dawn wakeup. And another noteworthy sunrise. 6 am and we went up to Twin Peaks to watch the sun creep its way above the horizon line.

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My California weekend brought with it a lot of amazing memories, ridiculous moments, sleep deprivation, and splendid scenery but it taught me one large thing. I spend so much of my time on the go. School, work, running, always planning, sticking to a schedule and my endless amounts of sticky notes. I’m constantly ‘plugged in.’ To email, my phone, social media. Save for my camera, my SF weekend was entirely different than my norm. I put away my phone. My laptop stayed closed. I focused on the moment. I took deep breaths. And I smiled. I kept thinking to myself, wherever you are, be all there. And I did exactly that. The result, I am happy to say, was content and a peaceful happiness that crept its way onto my face 93.2% of the weekend.

The latter portion of Monday morning brought another check off the ol’ impossible bucket list: running across the Golden Gate bridge. Never mind the fact that I ran across the side of the bridge designated for cyclists only, without knowing prior, or that I was informed of this sad fact no less than 6 times in the 1.7 miles across the bridge.

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It was such the perfect run that day, though. Clear blue skies and warm enough to run in a tank top and shorts. In San Fran. In January. Who does that? Me. While avoiding oncoming cyclists and stopping in the middle of the bridge  to assist a couple failing at taking a selfie.

Speaking of failing at photos. Right after I helped the rather surprised couple in taking their photo (I mean, what kind of sweaty weirdo stops their run to help someone take a photo?), I decided to stop for a photo myself. Not a selfie. But, a photo with a view of the city. However, it was so bright outside that I failed to realize my camera was on front-facing mode. I laughed pretty hard at the result. Top photo: inadvertent selfie. Bottom photo: The view I was aiming for. Whoops. What shall I caption this face? ‘Intense concentration’?
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And with that, my San Francisco vacation came to a close, Angus and Julia Stone’s song “Big Jet Plane” on repeat in my mind, and a content smile on my face.

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I finish this post after a Sunday run with a wonderful friend, delicious brunch, and avoidance of all things school related. As I was driving home from food, still smelly from my run, I decided to stop at the grocery store. Grimacing at the smell emanating from my running shoes (and the rest of me, really), I got out of the car. As I walked in the store, a not unattractive gentleman in his motorcycle leathers strides up to me, smiles, hands me his business card and says, “I am quite certain you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life.” He then turned around and walked away, while I stood there awkwardly dumbfounded with my cheeks becoming increasingly reddened and a dopey smile on my face.

You guys, I hadn’t showered yet. I had salt crystals on my face, no makeup, and my hair looked like an afro. I was wearing awkward layers of clothing that made me akin to the abominable snowman in running tights. And that’s not even getting to the smell. I envision myself like this Peanuts character.

My day was absolutely made. But, it begs a few points here. One, even when we feel we are at our worst, there’s going to be someone out there who still thinks we’re wonderful. Whether it’s just the fact that they think you’re attractive, have a brilliant mind, or just appreciate you for something that goes unseen by yourself.  And two, it never ceases to amaze me how far one small compliment goes. Seriously. I finished my weekly shopping venture walking just a smidge taller than normal.

So you, dear readers, do something for me. Go out of your way once in a while and make someone’s day. Ideally, today. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but you’d be amazed at how far small words will go. Just be honest about it. That man didn’t walk up to me and say, “My, you smell lovely!”

 I’ll never see you again, stranger, but thank you. I’m still smiling.

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The take away today is this: Wherever you are, be all there. Live in the moment. Breathe. Find balance. Smile, even when others think you’re absurd for doing so.

And don’t forget to find a silly little song to put on repeat (and dance around to in your underoos):