Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My 50 miles a day

These days, an empty calendar makes me very, very happy. Whereas I used to get excited by a busy, multifaceted day, now, when I know that my time is not going to be split up between meetings, appointments, commitments, or chores, I feel lucky and blessed. Thus blissfully uninterrupted, I will have time to work on my schoolwork. And by schoolwork I mean thesis, thesis, thesis.

A couple of weeks ago I was interested to read this article on Aspiring Mormon Women. Then, even more interested, I found this one, from the NY Times.

As a synopsis: there is a girl named Keila Merino who teaches elementary school in New York and runs ultramarathons in her spare time.* Her training miles add up to over a hundred every week, even when she's not training for something big. But these days, she is.

In 1978, a beautiful, lanky South African grandma named Mavis Hutchinson ran across the United States from Los Angeles to New York in seventy days. She averaged around forty miles a day that whole time.
That is the distance between Salt Lake City and Provo peeps.
On foot.
For more than two months.

This year, under the auspice of raising money for a children's running group in New York, Keila set a goal to beat Hutchinson's record and do it in sixty-eight days. Math= she would need to average almost fifty miles every day for the length of time between Independence Day in July and Labour Day in September.

I happen to love ultra-sports--particularly endurance running--and I discovered all of this on the very day that a new leg of my own race was starting.

It is my goal to submit my thesis in 58 days. Those who have written a PhD dissertation know that it is no mean feat. It has taken me almost three years just to do the research (and I still feel like I could fill up another year!) Writing is a different beast altogether. As in an ultramarathon, where a twisted ankle, dehydration, nutrient-deficiency, inclement weather, or any number of a score of unexpected setbacks could derail your whole plan (as it did Keila's in the end-- #spoileralert), lack of discipline, material, quality, or confidence, personal problems, sickness, writers block, or any number of other issues can derail even the best, most dedicated of students. And I don't even claim to be one of them.

But reading about Keila and Mavis, and thinking of the ultramarathoners I know in my life (speaking metaphorically rather than literally), I found a new identity:

I Am An Ultrarunner, and My Race Is Not Yet Over. 

With that identity comes determination: if Mavis Hutchison and Keila Merino can run twelve hours every day for two months, I can most certainly work on my thesis the same (taking Sundays off). If they can give up personal comfort and put their bodies under that kind of wear and tear, not to mention the mental stamina required, I can resist my warm bed and embrace the cold, pre-sunrise mornings while I get up and get going. If they can keep putting one foot in front of the other through heat and rain and cold and wind, I can walk to school happily, forego social activities, eat the same lunch four days in a row, and set aside any time-consuming habit or tendency that is not helping me move closer to my goals.

Keila's beautiful sunrise shot
Doing something like running across the US or earning a PhD has a tendency to zoom-in your life to only include those things that matter most. For the past three years, I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been the same person I was before. As I've worked to get through this race, I've had to adjust my priorities and cut back on activities and relationships that I might have put a lot more time and effort into before. Yet I've also learned that there are some things that must always be priorities. For me, these are:

1) my Heavenly Father and my responsibilities to Him
2) my family and my responsibilities to them

So, this is my plan: Keep running. Take each day as it comes. Don't worry about the future but just do your best today. And, take time to enjoy the scenery as it goes by--to appreciate the views you get from the road. I know when this race is over, I'll be better and stronger for having run it. I love it.

See you at the finish line!


*Ultramarathons are any races longer than a traditional marathon. The most common distances for ultramarathons are 70 kilometres, 100 miles, or longer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A day in the life: Pangai, Ha'apai, Tonga

The first thing you do when you wake up on a beautiful morning in Ha'apai is to fold and put away the bedding you used for sleeping.

Pictured: beautiful fala (mat), handwoven by my wonderful mum Palolo, plus the pillows and blankets we use to sleep at night.

Then, if it's still before 7, you stretch, walk outside, and climb up to sit on the fence while you admire the beautiful sunrise. You smile with gratitude to be there, listening to the village wake up, seeing the kids getting ready for school, and hearing village boys calling the pigs to feed.

From there, if you want to start your day with a shower, grab a bucket and start filling it. 

Rainwater, as long as you have it, is cool, refreshing, and versatile. It works as bath, cooking, drinking, watering, and washing water. 

It might seem a bit cold at first, but you'll wake up quickly. Here's your shower. You might be surprised how easy it is to bathe from a basin.

Just remember to close the bathroom door. :)

After your shower, you should probably eat breakfast. If you have a sore throat, try squeezing some kola (a type of lime) from the bush into hot water. Drink that with your biscuits and butter--lovely and tart. 

But be warned, you'll have an audience while you eat. 

When you're ready to do something, there are lots of things to occupy yourself with during the day. 

(But there is no mirror, so if you need to look nice when you go out, just check your reflection in a window pane. Or a picture frame will do. Makeup is wholly unnecessary.) 

You might decide to go on a walk. You're lucky if you get walking buddies like mine. 

cousin, brother, cousin. love them so much. 

You could pick oranges (dodge the spiders), 

A monkey we found in the bush... :)

You can't see them in this picture, but I promise there are oranges up there.

practice braiding with Lusi, 

she said we looked like Elsa :)

visit a friend, 

(there was a funeral going on, hence the mourning clothes)

stay home and watch the boys work out, 

or go to the beach.

Playing with cousins is always fun. 

But tiring. What with the heat and the pace of life, you're probably going to need a nap at some point.  

our communal sleeping 

(even supermom takes a rest sometimes)

If you're lucky enough to be in the Kingdom on a Sunday, going to church is a must. 

The ringing bells and singing choirs can't be missed. 

And when you get home, if there was any lu sent from Vava'u on the boat and you were lucky enough to get some at the market on Saturday, you can look forward to some special food for lunch. 

Lu is a special and typical Tongan feast/Sunday afternoon food. It's made by wrapping meat and usually onion in Lu leaves (something sort of-kind of-but not really-like spinach) with coconut milk, then cooked in an 'umu (underground oven). This is the first step laid out on the kitchen table on a Sunday morning. 

fish the brothers caught the night before. 

Manioke (tapioca root). A staple.
The 'umu the brothers made out of the top of an old drum, buried  in the dirt and filled with burning coconuts.

Other days, if there is gas, you usually cook on this stove. 

When there's not, you cook on a fire outside. 

The finished Sunday meal. Lu (in the aluminum foil), manioke, kumala (sweet potato) and ufi (yam).

If you're lucky to have a brother who loves you as much as mine loves me, you might even get some coconuts to drink.

Your flavour essentials. Masima (salt) and vai polo--a spicy salt water seasoning made with hot peppers, fresh coconut, and sea water.

In the off chance that you get sick while on the island, rest assured, there is a hospital there, and depending on how sick you are, they might actually even have the resources to help you. Plus, the hospital itself has a great view. 

And, again, if you're extra lucky like me, you'll have some great company to stay with. 

(don't worry, I just had tonsillitis. I was released after four days) 
In the evening, you'll probably spend some time playing cards with family and friends, watching movies on a laptop, or just sitting on the road or on the fence in the dark or laying on a table or the ground outside, looking at the stars, singing songs, laughing, and talking. Remember to bring a flashlight/torch, because the electricity only works in two rooms. Some nights, you might even drag a fala outside and sleep on the grass. The best part of the day will be kneeling with your loved ones at the end, looking at them with bowed heads, while someone offers a prayer of thanks for the food you had to eat, the protection from storms, and the health and energy you had to work and live that day. Blessings will be asked for family members far away, and thanks will be given for the time you have together. 

When you have to say goodbye, you'll cry, as you always do, to leave some of the people you love most in life. I'm so grateful for this family--my family--in Ha'apai. They make my life so rich. 

Life is a great reason to rejoice!
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