Being in training feels like this. I put on my no-sweat socks, my wicking underwear, my easy-dry shirt, my breast-cancer-3-day-walk visor, and my $90 walking shoes. I strap my double-bottled fanny pack around my waist, filling one bottle with plain water, the other, water and an electrolyte pill fizzing happily away inside. In the front pocket of my pack, I carry a Lara bar with chocolate and peanuts, moleskin in case of blisters, chap stick, a tube of Glide to prevent chafing injuries, and a bright red cotton bandana to wipe snot and sweat. My iPhone is clipped on the front of my fanny pack, headphones wrap around my ears. A pedometer is clipped on to my waistband. Sunscreen shines on my arms and chest. I open the front door and walk out into the day.
Being in training feels like this. It’s mile two and I have hit my stride. My steps are steady, my arms swing easily in synch with my gait. I remember how hard the first few days were,. My body feels strong and fit and hungry for the miles. I feel like I could keep walking forever. Two hours later, it’s mile twelve and my feet are heavy. My calves ache. My legs are shaking, but determined. I have walked 25 miles already this week.
Being in training feels like this. On foot, I explore the very neighborhoods I have lived in for almost three decades. I see new colors, new doorways, lush gardens and wind chimes. I notice stores and stained glass windows and surfers; alleyways and shortcuts, tide pools and terraces that I have never seen before. I see my little town with new eyes. I am falling in love with Santa Cruz in a whole new way.
Being in training feels like this. I am working my way through all the state and county parks within a twenty-mile radius. Today, I climb high in Nicene Marks Park. Walking, I am aware of the beauty all around and am reminded of the Navajo chant: Beauty in front of me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty behind me, beauty above me, beauty below me. Beauty inside of me. Quietness radiates out from my chest. A deep happiness. “Why haven’t I done this before?” I wonder, and “Will I keep walking when the Walk is over?” Thoughts that evaporate into the morning air. “I’m doing it now. That’s all that matters. I’m doing it now and there is no place I’d rather be.”
Being in training feels like this. Returning home, I proudly write my mileage in the tattered pink booklet given to me the day I registered for the Breast Cancer walk. Consistently, I meet or exceed each day’s suggested mileage. Evenings, I sink into a deep hot bath with green bath powder from Staff of Life and a generous handful of Epsom salts. I read, I sit, I soak. Give my muscles a chance to relax.
Being in training feels like this. For the first time since cancer came into my life, I have an appetite. I am eating twice what I was eating two months ago and I am eating with relish. When I step on the scale, the numbers go up instead of down. I didn’t think it would be that way, but I am reminded that muscles weigh more than fat. My belly bulges, but I don’t care. I stop getting on the scale.
Being in training feels like this. I am six miles into a seven-mile hike at Wilder Ranch. I can feel yesterday’s food forming into a solid ball somewhere deep in my colon. Pressure starts bearing down on my rectum. I curse and realize it is another mile before I will reach a bathroom. I am carrying toilet paper and a small plastic bag for just such emergencies, but there are people on the trail and poison oak in the woods. I don’t want to squat and end up with poison oak sores on my vagina. But the little brown mouse is at the door. I squeeze my sphincter muscles closed and try to hold them tight. The pressure on my anus increases. My gait is affected. I walk awkwardly and uncomfortably down the trail. Every step is painful and determined. I will myself not to shit in my pants, but I don’t know if I’ll make it. This isn’t something they talk about in the training manual.
Being in training feels like this. It is eleven at night. Lizzy asks me to play a board game. I am exhausted. All I want to do is go in my room, close the door and go to sleep. My muscles are aching, my knee is tired, my feet feel worn down and used up.
“No Lizzy, I don’t want to play a board game. I’m tired!” I put her off with more of an edge than is necessary. She glares back at me, her evil eye fixed on me with an intensity that is usually reserved for major betrayals. While I consider how I might defend myself (“Why are you bringing this up at 11 at night?”) I see tears welling up in her eyes. “Lizzy, what’s going on?” I ask.
“This isn’t about the board game. All you ever do is work and walk and sleep!” she spits at me. “You never cook for me anymore. You’re never here. You’re always too tired to do anything with me.” Her eyes accuse me. Clearly, my little girl is not as grown up or independent as she seems. I sink into the bad mommy pit and realize how much my family is paying for my commitment to walk. I think of how many hours it takes to walk 12 miles and of the naps I inevitably take when I come in, spent and depleted. Tears push at the edges of my eyes, too. Why haven’t I noticed her pain and loneliness? She’s only twelve years old! I reach out to Lizzy, but her eyes warn me to stay away. It is only when I let my tears flow freely that we can hold each other, connected once again.
Being in training feels like this. I have done my longest walk so far, 15 miles in one stretch. I walk the first five miles with a dear friend, the next 10 miles alone. I listen to dharma talks and music as I make my way to Wilder Ranch and around the backcountry trails. I forget my refilled water bottles at the car, but manage to make the distance, dry mouthed and thirsty. After the walk, I go home, eat something, shower and go to a party. I dance, a little. They say dancing is the best way to stay limber after a big walk. I bow out early and come home to a (blessedly) empty house, my first night home alone in years. Eli is at a friend’s house, Lizzy is at sleepaway camp, and Karyn is en route home from India. I look forward to the solitude. I take a bath, return phone calls to old friends, sit. As the evening goes on, my legs tighten and my feet ache. I have one small blister, but beyond that, my feet are screaming! The soles hurt, the toes hurt, the dozens of small bones in my feet hurt. I don’t know if I should stick my feet in ice or rub them with cream or what. Basically, I’m training in a vacuum according to a schedule in the little pink book they sent me. I have no one to talk to about my feet. In the morning, when I go to get out of bed, my calf muscles buckle and my feet still hurt. I feel like an alcoholic who wakes up with the shakes and needs a drink to steady her nerves. I need a walk to settle my feet and lengthen out tight muscles. Being in training feels like this.