Mission Accomplished

I know you have all been waiting on the edges of your seats with baited breath to see if I finished my half marathon. And I’ll let you know as soon as I get to that part. In order for you to get the whole experience, I thought I would start at the beginning.

I’m thankful that my flight to Buffalo wasn’t an indication of how my trip would be. On my flight from Orlando to Atlanta, some heffa sat her behind in my window seat, and had the gall to act as though she couldn’t speak English when I let her know. I sucked it up and flopped down next to her, opening my Kindle to read. You know, since I couldn’t look out the window. Apparently her English wasn’t too poor, because she read right along with me. During my short layover in Atlanta, a young girl sat on the floor with a Chihuahua in her lap, stroking its head as she scrolled through her phone. An elderly woman took advantage of her inattentiveness, sneaking bits of her sandwich to the dog. I chuckled to myself, thinking about the mess that the dog owner would likely have on her hands (literally) as a result of her forbidden snack.

When boarding the plane to Buffalo, I was quite dismayed to find that the aforementioned dog was on my flight, only a few rows ahead of me. After about 30 minutes, I found myself very perturbed with the dog, its owner, and the supplier of the forbidden snack. Dog farts make for a seriously unpleasant flight.

Since I arrived in Buffalo on Thursday and the race wasn’t until Sunday, I thought I would spend some time visiting friends and family, as well as carb loading. For those of you who don’t know, carb loading is the practice of increasing carb intake prior to a race in order to store energy in the form of glycogen. Ideally, carb loading would involve the consumption of starchy vegetables and maybe pasta. I like to take a nonconformist approach, so my carbs included Bocce’s pizza and carrot cake at Ammeh Donia’s house. When all was said and done, my muscles were stiff and I felt as though I had gained 70 pounds.

The morning of the race was wet and dreary. I didn’t mind the rain, so long as it stopped before the race got started. My sister, BFF, and I arrived at the Erie Basin Marina at about a quarter to seven. Anyone who knows me personally knows that punctuality is not my strong point. It was an absolute miracle that I arrived not only on time, but early. After posing for pictures, taking trips down memory lane, and receiving a whole lot of unsolicited advice from a woman we’ll call Angel, we headed to the start line. Have I told you all how nervous I was about this race? As always though, I got swept up in the excitement of the experience and looked forward to getting started.

The first few miles were fairly easy. I had invested in some SuperFeet insoles for my sneakers the day before, so my arches (or lack thereof) didn’t burn the way they normally do by mile 2. We entered Delaware Park shortly after mile 6. When I was younger, I loved Delaware Park. At least that’s the false memory that my brain forced on me. “Remember how awesome it was to make two laps around this park?” said my liar brain. “I don’t recall good feelings about this place,” my legs replied. It turns out that my legs had a better memory than my brain. The majority of the path around the park was uphill, and it was the longest 1.78 miles I ever walked in my life. Something about steep hills just brings out the worst in me, and I had to fight to keep myself from growling at people on the sidelines giving me thumbs up. Shortly after leaving the path at the park, I hit mile 8. And leg cramps hit me. I had mentally prepared myself for fatigue and thirst, but the possibility of leg cramps never even crossed my mind. Needless to say, my calves are still tight even four days later.

Once the fast runners finished up (those who complete half marathons in 2 hours), the volunteers started removing the traffic cones and taking down the water tables. You can imagine our dismay when we slowpokes reached mile 10 and had no clue where to go. After wandering around for a bit (and stopping at Walgreens to buy Gatorade), a police officer who noticed our race bibs was kind enough to point us in the right direction. The 10 mile marker was the last one I saw, because all the other ones had been taken down.

I could barely contain my excitement when I spotted the finish line. Do you remember that scene in The Shining where the lady is running down the hotel hallway trying to escape her would-be murderer, but the hallway just kept getting longer? That’s what the finish line felt like for me. The closer I got to it, the further away it moved. One of the former Biggest Loser contestants (sadly, I can’t remember her name because I didn’t watch the season that she was on) yelled encouraging words to me and gave me the extra push I needed to keep going.

I can’t explain the euphoria I felt when crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. During the weeks leading up to the race, I had some serious doubts about whether I would be able to do it. I had very little confidence in myself. I had even begun telling myself that it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t finish, as long as I tried my hardest. For the first time in a really long time, I started something and stuck around long enough to see it through to the end. Despite my tight calves and general fatigue, I’m ready to sign up for the next one. I’ve been bitten by the bug, y’all. I do believe I’ve found my calling.

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Not Ready

Have you ever noticed that the closer you get to an event that you are deathly afraid of, the faster time passes? That’s my predicament right now. My first half marathon is less than a week away, and I am nowhere near ready for it. I put in some time on the pavement this past weekend but with temps supposedly at 91 degrees (I’m pretty sure the heat index was 191 degrees) and humidity at 2,000%, I almost died. I was fine for a while but all of a sudden, I couldn’t move another step. My legs didn’t hurt. My feet were fine. But my body was just generally exhausted. I’m talking “falling out on someone’s front lawn” exhausted. And it didn’t creep up on me. If I’d had a little warning, I could have made my way to a shady bench or something. Nope, this feeling of being sucked into a vortex of fatigue came from out of nowhere.

I might not have been so bad off if I had eaten. Since I had been fasting for blood work since the night before, my stomach was just about empty. Why did I think a workout on one of the hottest days ever (that’s an exaggeration, but it sure felt like the hottest) on an empty stomach immediately after having blood drawn would work? Oh, that’s right. Because I was trying to get my workout out of the way early in the day, since we were scheduled for a high of 97 degrees. The problem with my logic is that I didn’t get blood drawn until 10:30, which means I was trotting/walking/dragging myself down the sidewalk when the sun was at its zenith. The whole time I was sweating out every drop of fluid inside my body, I was thinking of how much easier doing this in Buffalo, NY was going to be. At least I hope so.

I might have lied when I said I hadn’t eaten. I knew I would need some fuel, so I stopped at the store after my appointment and grabbed a bottle of water and a package of turkey nuggets. Those would be little pieces of dried turkey resembling chunks of Slim Jims. Hey, I needed something. Only that something was the wrong thing to eat after having an empty stomach for over 12 hours and prior to hitting the pavement in Hades-like weather. After mile 2, my stomach started bubbling something fierce. I should remind you that I wasn’t on a race course. There were no portable toilets, just me and my britches. It was a miserable time, let me tell you. The only relief I had came when Sir Flatulence decided to exit my body regardless of my intention. Thank goodness I didn’t have a running buddy. That would have made for a pretty awkward situation. And with my entire body sweating, I never would have known if Sir Shart decided to leave as well. Thank goodness for small miracles, because that would have been terribly chafing.

Anywho, I managed to burn a few calories and avoid dying this weekend. But I still don’t feel ready. What if I don’t finish this half marathon? I have to finish. I mean, I paid my registration fee. I bought a plane ticket. So I spent some time Googling “completing a half marathon when you have undertrained”. It was inspiring to see so many blog posts and articles written by people in my situation. Then my inspiration flew out the window as I started reading the posts and scrolling through pictures of people who probably weigh a hundred pounds less than I do. *sigh*

This is the time in my training schedule that I should be tapering down to prepare my legs for the big day. No sense in going all out now, only to possibly injure myself and not be able to participate at all. All I can do is ask you all to say a prayer for me. Pray that I don’t pass out before reaching the finish line. Pray that I don’t get picked up by the fat cart for not being able to maintain the minimum speed. Pray that I don’t gain seven pounds before the race by overindulging in delectable food Buffalo has to offer. And most importantly, pray that Sir Shart doesn’t make an appearance. But I’ll be wearing black pants, just in case.

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A Painful Truth

As African Americans, we do an outstanding job of banding together when we believe an injustice has been committed against one of us. We organize marches across the country, wear ribbons to silently make our opinions known, and some of less scrupulous of us go on looting sprees. Why shouldn’t we benefit from tragedies with big screen televisions? After all, “the man” owes us that much. Don’t even get me started on that mentality.

Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and organized protests go together like peanut butter and jelly. We can always count on these self-appointed spokespeople of the black community to speak out against the injustices that plague us as a people. And you won’t hear me dispute the fact that we often get the short end of the stick. There are two different standards of justice working in our country, and I don’t believe we’ll ever see that change in any of our lifetimes. But how long will it take us to organize marches protesting the atrocities we commit against each other?

It’s disheartening to see articles each day about black people who have shot, stabbed, raped, and robbed other black people and not see one related article mentioning residents of any given community speaking out against these heinous acts. Our children are killing each other in droves, yet we haven’t managed to organize a march for them. We haven’t designated a ribbon color to tie onto our lapels. Instead, we bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t notice, or shake our heads while listening to the news describe crimes committed by people who we subconsciously consider to be beneath us.

When the rest of the country takes notice of these offenses and our lack of a response as a community, what message do you think they get from it? Blacks only get upset about blacks dying when someone else is doing the killing. That’s what you are telling America when you tweet your feelings of anger over the most recent officer-involved shooting of a young black man while turning a blind eye to the teen that killed another teen over a pair of expensive running shoes. It may not seem fair to put it that way, but perception is reality. Getting riled up over what we perceive to be racial injustice while ignoring the ongoing turmoil within our communities is akin to throwing bricks around in a greenhouse. No one will ever take us seriously while we accuse others of the very transgressions we commit against ourselves.

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Breaking Bread, Pita, and Challah

When I took my shahada (declaration of faith) and became Muslim at the tender age of fifteen, I knew some people would be opposed to my decision. I also knew others would respect it. My friends, family and classmates surprised me more often than not when showing me which side of the fence they fell on. People I expected understanding from went out of their way to make life difficult, while I found support in some very surprising places.

When I explained to my grandpa why I wouldn’t be attending church with him anymore, he stopped eating and looked at me thoughtfully. I braced myself for the wrath of a man who had been a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church for more years than I had been alive. “Do you still love the Lord?” he asked in his thick Alabama accent. “Yes, Grandpa,” I responded, “I still love the Lord.” He nodded his head several times. “Well alright, then.” He went back to eating his biscuits and syrup, and that was that. As a man who loved his religion, I never imagined that he could be open to his beloved granddaughter choosing a different path.

With all the conflicts in the world today, it’s easy to lump all the followers of any religion into one category and hate them equally. At an Annual Interfaith Iftaar I attended a few days ago, it was refreshing to be able to sit down with Jews from the synagogue across the street and Christians from the church up the road and share a meal. Rather than argue about the differences between us, we chose to embrace our similarities. Instead of seeing one another as outsiders, we realized we are all ultimately members of the same club – humanity.

Over a meal of fried rice, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour chicken, we got to know one another on a more personal level. Some of the non-Muslims present had opted to fast for the day in order to fully experience Ramadan. They shared their experiences with us, and let us know that we would always be able to count on them for friendship. They have no idea how much their kind words meant to us, considering that the general consensus when it comes to Muslims. In a world where religion serves as the basis of most conflicts, it was nice to take a moment to be human beings.

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Bubble Guts

In an effort to combat vitiligo holistically, my husband decided to go gluten free. That means that I have also gone gluten free by default. We didn’t make this decision lightly; we did a fair amount of research. I am really embarrassed to admit that at one time, I didn’t care where my food came from. As long as it was pleasing to my taste buds, I was happy. I never gave much thought to the impact this approach would have on my health.

After watching the documentary “Food Inc”, I knew I needed to be more mindful of where my meat came from. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to watch it. It will change the way you look at food forever. Even after watching the documentary, I didn’t give much thought to something as simple as grains. As long as I stick to whole grains and avoid highly processed foods, I should be good to go, right? Not necessarily. Thanks to scientists fiddling around with the properties of wheat for the sake of increasing yield and durability, we are left with a product that our body isn’t quite able to translate.

I can’t speak for everyone when I mention the benefits of going wheat-free; I can only share my own experiences. Now if you have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a hypochondriac. I’ve successfully diagnosed myself without needing any input from medical professionals. You can laugh if you want, but I know my own body. One of the disorders I believe I have is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. I should warn you that I am about to take a left turn into the land of TMI, so you may want to leave this page if you are squeamish about that sort of thing. If not, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you all about my bathroom habits.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with gallstones. Yes, actually diagnosed by a medical professional after a bout of biliary colic put me in the hospital. Gallstones are calcified or hardened bile. I have so many of these stones that my gallbladder is pretty much nonfunctioning. You may wonder why that’s such a big deal. That’s where the TMI comes in. Bile is necessary for digesting fat. If your gallbladder can’t release bile to digest all the fat in that monster grilled cheese sandwich you had at lunch, guess what happens to the fat? It leaves the body indigested. And its exit is not a pleasant one. The fat is apparently disgruntled at having been told to leave the club after having just arrived not long ago, so it decides to wreak havoc on its way out. This means the unsuspecting consumer of a monster grilled cheese sandwich is going to experience some really nasty gastro intestinal effects. Diarrhea is the most prevalent. And of course, Diarrhea is a coward who can’t show up without his posse. His homeboys Gas, Cramps, Cold Sweat, and Goosebumps act as emcees announcing his arrival. And they don’t wait until for a convenient opening. Whether you are in the checkout line at the grocery store or in a meeting with a group of executives, Diarrhea and his crew are coming through with live entertainment at your expense.

You may wonder what one issue has to do with the other. Well, one of the symptoms of gluten intolerance just so happens to be the body’s inability to absorb fat. I usually keep tablets of Pepto Bismol in my purse to avoid public humiliation when I am eating away from home. Now I am not going to tell you that eliminating wheat will change your life, but it changed mine. At a potluck recently, I indulged in some foods containing moderate amounts of fat. And I had no side effects. Guacamole was tolerated without as much as a whimper from my lower half. Considering the amount of fat in avocadoes, I never would have expected to eat guacamole without the accompaniment of pink bismuth. I also managed to eat sautéed veggies without embarrassment. Clearly, fat is not the culprit here.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to diagnose myself with Celiac Disease, but I am claiming gluten intolerance for now. I miss bread, but more for its convenience than flavor. Avoiding gluten seems to have reduced my cravings for carbs, which leads me to believe that crack is a real component of gluten. I’m not kidding; there is something suspiciously addictive about the food we are eating.

Since giving gluten the boot, I’ve actually dropped a little more weight. As of today, I am down a total of 43 pounds. I put my hands on my waist today and it dawned on me that I actually have a waist again.

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Gratitude

I think it’s in our nature as human beings to be vocal about the things that displease us, while keeping silent on incidents that bring us happiness. I have written many posts about my pet peeves and random idiosyncrasies, but I have yet to talk about the things that I am grateful for. When I gave real thought to everyone and everything I appreciate, I figured I could do a whole series on gratitude alone. We very easily disregard the importance of gratefulness.

Healthy Children

I know no one is ever ungrateful for healthy children, but do we really take the time to think about how fortunate they makes us? I read a blog post recently and was bawling my eyes out by the time I reached the end of it. A mother watches her daughter’s daily decline mentally and physically as the result of a rare birth defect. She knows that her time with her little girl is limited, so she makes it her business to be present in every moment she has left with her. She takes joy in the time they share, and records her memories on her blog where she can access them easily when her daughter is no longer available to hug. God, that gets me choked up even writing a paragraph about it. As a mom, I can’t imagine planning a child’s funeral. I can’t say for sure what I would do in her situation, but I don’t know that I could accept the inevitability with the amount of grace this woman has. Although I don’t know her, I wish I could embrace her through the computer.

Thank goodness that my children are pretty healthy. Little Linebacker suffers from Asthma, but is still able to live a pretty normal life. When I lose patience, when I feel like running away from the sibling rivalry and rough-housing, when I want to beat someone with a fly swatter for using my walls as dinner napkins, I remember the woman who already has her daughter’s casket picked out. And I pray that I never know the pain of outliving my babies.

My Husband

Bring thankful for my husband seems like a no-brainer, as does being grateful for the health of my children. Having been in a really bad marriage my first time around, I have a level of appreciation for my current marriage that someone who never had it rough might not be able to relate to. I really believe that my husband was made just for me. We have disagreements like any other couple, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about him. Every aspect of his character is something I need in my life. I won’t say that he completes me, because I believe that a person should be complete before entering into a relationship. Another human being doesn’t have the ability to make you whole. They do have the ability to balance you, though. His strengths complement my weaknesses and my softness smoothes his edges. I had an idea of what I wanted in a spouse prior to marrying him, but didn’t take the time to think about what I needed. He is both my dinner and dessert wrapped up in one handy dish.

My Imam

I don’t consider myself a overly religious person, but I like to think I have a good relationship with God. After doing some soul-searching, I converted to Islam at the tender age of 15. It just spoke to something deep inside of me. I’m thankful that I took the time to learn about the religion for myself instead of observing it in practice by others, because some of the experiences I’ve had with other people who call themselves Muslims would have seriously derailed my faith. I’ve been to masjids where I felt unwelcome because I didn’t fit in ethnically, or because I didn’t dress a certain way. When I first moved to Orlando, I spent a good amount of time around people who taught their children to memorize Qur’an for the sake of boasting about it to others. They were brash in the manner in which they interacted with one another, and were heavily critical. Every week, I learned about how deficient I was as a human being, and especially as a woman. Classes I attended focused so much on the perfecting of rituals that it all began to feel very mechanical to me. I got to a point where I prayed solely out of obligation. It was really a somber point in my life.

After meeting a pretty awesome group of people at an Eid (holiday) celebration, I began attending a class that a local imam gave on Sundays. The moment I walked into the classroom, I noticed that the vibe was different from anything I had encountered before. People from all walks of life were embraced and made to feel as though they belonged. We became a family, despite differences in skin color and background. The imam stressed the importance of love and kindness, something that had been hugely absent from masjids I had gone to in the past. He not only expounded on the basics that most of us were already familiar with, but helped us figure out how to apply those fundamental principles to our lives to become better people. He doesn’t realize it, but he reminded me of why I fell in love with Islam in the first place. I will be forever in his debt because of that.

Good Friends

I’ve learned to stop regretting the toxic relationships I have had with people. Regardless of the pain or inconvenience they may have caused, they each served as a learning experience. Whether positive or negative, they have helped define my character in some way. I had friends who have stolen from me, engaged in wanton acts with my ex husband while I was still married to him, and sought to besmirch my reputation in my absence. Believe it or not, I am thankful for all of it. I honestly believe that you need to feel pain and sorrow in order to fully appreciate joy. I have formed bonds with people that I don’t think I would value as much as I do, had I not witnessed such callousness and animosity in people. I have a pretty awesome family that means the world to me, and friends who have become an extension of that family.

I may not communicate with the people I love as often as I should (and I promise to work on that), but I think about them every day and I treasure the impact they have had on my life.

It probably seems redundant to write a blog post about such obvious things, but I think we all need a reminder. Not a single one of us can affirm that there isn’t anything we take for granted. I encourage you to think about the people who are essential to your emotional well-being, and take the time to thank them for giving you the opportunity to love them.

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I Am Barely Breathing, I Can’t Find the Air

I have the ugliest toenails on the face of the Earth. Well, maybe not the absolute ugliest (because I have seen some really nasty pics of toenail fungus), but they are pretty close to the top of the list. Thanks to my new love of running, the toenails on both of my second toes have turned black. One of them has fallen about halfway off. It’s like a badge of honor that I force my husband to admire every day. The other is still holding on strong in all of its thick, black glory. I’m hoping that when they eventually fall of completely, they grow back as unblemished as they were the day I came into this world.

I really didn’t come here to talk to you guys about my talons, though. As you know, I’m a runner now. Go on; get all your laughter out of the way. I’ll wait.

As I said, I’m a runner. I can call myself that because, well, I run. Not as often as I need to for a chick who’s about two months away from a half marathon, but I do run. I got on the treadmill at work yesterday, and cranked it up. At least it was cranked up in my opinion. But then the running guru in my department hopped (quite literally) onto the treadmill right next to mine and scoffed at my speed. “Dude,” he said loud enough for me to hear him over the music blasting through my Skull Candy ear buds, “you need to pick that up. Seriously. How are you going to finish your half marathon in 2.5 hours?” That’s an ongoing debate with us. I have no desire to finish this race in 2.5 hours. My goal is to finish before the streets are reopened to traffic. I don’t care if it takes 5 hours. Despite our differences in goals, I increased my speed from 4 miles per hour to 6. Then I immediately started to drop the speed back down because I’d just remembered I had the incline up high, and only a crazy person would combine that speed with that incline. Running guru made me leave it though, telling me that I wasn’t pushing myself to do what I was capable of. So I left the speed at 6 miles per hour for a full minute. At the highest incline I’ve ever attempted. If I hadn’t been so hesitant to part with my music for a few precious seconds, I would have snatched my ear buds out of my phone and whipped the cord at him relentlessly. But then I saw the “proud papa” grin he was sporting and decided to let go of the rage I’d been holding in.

I really do a sorry job of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I know I talked about that in my last post a couple of weeks ago and promised I would work at it. And I have been working at it. I just have these limitations in my mind based on my weight prior to losing 37 pounds (yes, I finally got the ball rolling again and lost two pounds this week!). I remember how tough it was at my starting weight to walk up a flight of stairs, let alone run on a treadmill. But yesterday, I drifted between speeds of 3.3 and 6 miles per hour at a ridiculous incline (at least by my standards), and I’m still alive to tell about it. Never mind the fact that I was huffing and puffing like an old woman trying to blow out 90 candles on a birthday cake. The worst part is that I forgot to bring my Polar FT4 along, which means I didn’t get to see how many calories I burned. I need to see that. It is absolutely essential that I have visual proof of my workout in the form of numbers on my little pink watch. Otherwise, it may or may not have happened in real life.

Although my hijab was soaked with sweat and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to wash the stink out of my tech tee, I’m heading back to the gym again today. Running Guru won’t be there to encourage me, but I still plan to give this run everything I have in me. I have a major craving for that endorphin rush.

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