Winning the Race

If you’ve seen me in the last two weeks, you’ve probably heard me tell you the story of my “first race.” I laugh at myself every time I think about it (in that deep, pleasurable, generous way). Those of you who have seen my competitive spirit will appreciate this! Two weeks ago I reluctantly entered my first running race. It was a fundraiser for Alopecia Areata, the autoimmune disease I have that has caused me to lose most of my hair “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.”

When the flyer came in the mail, I saved it but didn’t sign up right away. I guess I wasn’t ready to start alerting my friends and get them to “fundraise” for my cause. Maybe it still felt too personal. Plus I had the excuse of having a soccer game later that day so I couldn’t likely run without tiring myself out.

Then the week of the race approached, and my soccer game was canceled. No more excuses!

Plus it was a 3 mile race. Me and the Tuesday/Thursday ladies had been doing that, and then some. I was ready.

It was starting to drizzle on Saturday, and I showed early to register. I kept my hat on, but I kept looking for others who had no hair. Where were they? In this crew, I didn’t want to stand out but I was also looking for solidarity. No baldies in sight on this blustery day. I saw a woman a few years older than me (full of hair, no less) doing some serious stretches.

This immediately got my ears pricked up a little. If you don’t know this about me yet, I’m a bit competitive. Well, a lot competitive.

You see, this was the first year of this fundraiser, and there didn’t appear to be many people running. Most of the crew had strollers and big jackets and seemed to be doing the walking distance.

Plus it was only three miles.

I started near the front, and I decided I wanted to keep the younger, fast woman in the lead within my sights. A half mile in, I stripped off my warm cap and passed the serious stretching lady.

A mile in, I decided I was going to win this thing. Someone with Alopecia should win this race, to show that this disease doesn’t hold us back from some serious athletic achievement. And of course that someone was me.

Two miles in, I realized we weren’t even close to 2/3 of the way around the small lake. It hit me with a sledgehammer that this was a 5 mile race and not a 5k.

I kept running.

I got passed by two lean, fast men. I tried to keep up with a couple other younger runners.

In a burst of inspiration, nearing what I thought was the final parking lot, I passed ahead of them and enthusiastically called that we were almost there!

We weren’t.

They passed me again.

I didn’t win. That would have been nice right? But I finished pretty darn fast if I do say so myself.

Anyone want to practice all year with me on the lake course? I’ve got a victory in my future. 🙂

Start where you Are

Eight years ago, when I was floundering in my faith and just my sense of self and grounding, I felt a distinct message bubble up to the surface: “Start where you Are.”

At that time, that meant start literally where I was – within a few blocks’ radius to my apartment in urban San Francisco.

I went to a yoga studio a block away, moved my body, and heard the teacher retell the story of the prodigal son before class.

I worked up the courage to step into a church two blocks away, where people looked engaged and happy coming out the door after Sunday services.

Start where you are. Every journey begins with a small step.

“Start Where You Are” is the title of a book I read many years ago, and that I’m re-reading now. It’s written by a well-known female Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron.

I’m slowly working my way through the many nuggets of wisdom here, and I am deeply moved. My library copy is underlined in parts, and for me that makes it all the more sweet.

She starts with self-compassion.

Compassion for others begins with compassion for ourselves. – Pema Chodron

Actually she starts with an even greater truth: that “we already have everything we need” and that our basic wealth and brilliance is there no matter to what bad behaviors and thoughts we cling. As a Christian I translate it like this: we are wonderfully made in God’s image – profoundly loved – and secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from God and God’s grace.

I was sitting at the bus stop and started talking to a man in his 30s, after he remarked on how much he liked my hair. After I told him “this is how God made me” (my new standard answer when someone asks me about my Alopecia) and no, it’s not cancer, he took off his hat and showed me his head full of gray. He shyly admitted that his friends had suggested he start dying it but he was hesitant to do so.

He asked if I worried about what other people thought, including my friends and family.

“No”, I answered immediately. It was hard at first, I went on, but it’s just the way I am, and since I have no control over this, I can’t care that much what other people think.

The truth of my struggle only came to me later. I wish I had the insight and vulnerability to share with him then. But now there is this:

I don’t care about the looks of strangers. I walk around proudly with my bald(ing) head, without being ashamed or covering up with a hat. Yet when I come home at the end of the day, and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I am still surprised. And I struggle, not with what other people think of me, but what I think of myself. Am I beautiful, just the way I am?

Start with self-compassion.