Training Grounds

SenegalSince receiving my invitation to serve with the Peace Corps in Senegal, it seems as if my life as becoming training grounds for the 27 months I’ll spend in Africa. Starting a new job, moving to a new city, staying with a host family, making new friends, living in a foreign country, and learning a new language are among the lessons I’ve learned so far. As with many lessons, these weren’t always easy to learn, and some were downright difficult. But, in the end, they all lead to good things and strengthened the skills I hope to use as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).

Months turn to weeks and weeks turn to days as the countdown to March 3 winds down. As I anticipate arriving in Thiès, Senegal for Pre-Service Training (PST), the anxiousness I felt in my stomach is being replaced by pure excitement. Not that I’m not scared, but the strength that is only present in the face of fear is empowering me.

Empowering me to touch up on my French skills. Empowering me to say goodbye to friends and family. And empowering me to invest in the lives of those around me, even if only for a short period of time. Because, although my remaining time in America may be short, the two years I spend in Africa will seem even shorter.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in the last year is to learn from the people around you. Though someone may only appear in your life for a summer, a month, or even just a moment, each human has a life lesson to share.

To listen, to love, to hope, to dream. A few of these have been shared with me.

When I look back on my African experience in two years, I hope I remember the lessons I learned from the people around me. Maybe I’ll change Africa for the better, but I know that Africa will change me for the best. The men and women I live, work, and travel with will share with me just as much as I share with them.

And, I have no doubt, Africa will be training grounds for something even greater. Because life has a way of always preparing us for the challenges we will face, of using our fears to make us stronger.

So, enjoy today for today, but always look forward to something far greater. Although you may not think you have what it takes, take what you have and face your fears. Share what you learn, because, after all, we’re all training.

The Morning After

Marathon I

As a child, every December 1 was an exciting day. Not because it’s National Eat a Red Apple Day, but because it meant only twenty-four more days until Christmas. We hung up the advent calendar and excitedly marked off each day as December 25 approached. The anticipation peaked on Christmas Eve when, after looking at lights and placing the presents under the tree, we were shooed off to bed by our parents.

Not allowed to get out of bed until 7:00 AM (an ungodly hour for a small child on all other 364 days of the year), I would toss and turn as I dreamt of Foosball tables, Lincoln logs, and all other happiness only brought about by ripping open crisply-wrapped boxes and bags.

When all was finally said and done on Christmas Day, presents unwrapped, ham dinner eaten, and off to bed again, a not-so-small sadness would always settle in my little heart. I’d been anticipating this day for so long, but now, the morning after Christmas, I had to wait another 364 days for the next Christmas. A real bummer for a kid.

Now, after finishing my first marathon, I feel like a kid on December 26. For the past five months, I’ve been training for this one day. Waking up early, logging miles, and monitoring my eating has consumed my time. Running became my constant companion.

Taking a week off to recover will allow my body to rebuild itself after such a grueling physical test. But anything longer than a week will begin to take a toll on my mind.

As a runner, I get to choose when “Christmas” happens. And it’s not something that only happens once a year. After taking a week off, you’ll find me pounding the pavement again.

Just anticipating the next present I’ll unwrap.

Getting My Toes Wet

Rain

When I first started running as a beginner, waking up to the sound of rain pattering on my window was a good excuse to turn off the alarm, roll over, and fall back asleep in my warm, cozy bed. Somehow, the fear of getting wet, sloshing through puddles, and the potential for chafing deterred me from lacing up and heading out the door. Unless you’re from Seattle, you probably sympathize with me.

It wasn’t until recently that this policy changed. When looking at the weather forecast for this week, I noticed that today’s forecast (long-run Saturday) included an 80% chance of rain. There goes my long run, I thought. But as the day approached, I began to reconsider.

After doing some research, mostly through Runner’s World, I decided that getting soaked was probably the worst that could happen. And, since I usually get soaked when I take a shower and I haven’t experienced any unhealthy side effects, I decided to risk the odds.

One mile into the run, it began to sprinkle. Immediately, I freaked out. What happens if i ruin my running shoes? What happens if I catch a cold? Or worse, get a blister? Resisting the urge to turn around and head home, I continued to run. And then something weird happened.

I felt like I was flying.

The rain cooled my skin, all the drivers that passed me honked their horns (as encouragement, I’m assuming), and the world seemed at peace. Although my ponytail was a tangled mess, my clothes were sopping wet, and my shoes had a distinguished squish with each step, I was happy.

Not because I had run faster or farther than ever before, but because, as a runner, I had fulfilled the ultimate purpose of running. To push my body to its physical limits, and then continue running. Because I have something to prove. Maybe not to the world, but to myself. I am capable of so much more than I think I am. Including running in the rain.

And I didn’t even melt.