Category Archives: Exercise

Today’s gratitude goes out to my high school tennis coach

It’s funny where your mind will wander when you’re running by yourself.

Amy and I tend to be attached at the hip when it comes to running, so it’s not often that I’m out in the park solo on a Sunday.  But this morning found me zipping somewhat speedily through endless loops and circles near the local high school.  And the feeling I always get during a really great run is GRATITUDE.  I am so incredibly thankful to have this healthy body and mind that craves running and doesn’t give out on me (very often, anyway).  Grateful always turns quickly to thoughts on who got me here: to this park, early on an overcast Sunday morning, busting out 9ish minute miles while music blares in my ears.

The list is long, of course.

But today?  It was all about Carole Scanes.

Coach Scanes took a group of gangly, goofy high school girls in the late 1990’s and created Ferndale High School’s tennis team.  We were terrible.  For real.  The Bellingham Herald printed high school athletic scores in the newspaper each day; pages of my high school scrapbook are filled with them, simply because my name was in print.  Somebody should have told me to stop doing this, as you will find (if you’re ever craving a trip down memory lane via my scrapbook) page after page of cut-and-paste losing tennis scores.  Schools with better tennis programs could barely muster the enthusiasm to trounce us, BUT.  We had Coach Scanes, this little slip of a gal, who–at what couldn’t have been more than 4’11”–threw her heart and soul in to training us.  Many of us had never picked up a tennis racket, let alone understood the rules of the game, but this was no matter to her.

Girls Tennis was a Spring sport, so somewhere around the end of February, she would gather all of us on the windy, often rainy, tennis courts after school, and practice endless drills with us.  We ran lines.  We learned scoring and serving techniques and took endless shots from the ball machine.  One notable afternoon, immediately after taking a shot from the machine at the baseline, I was sprinting forward to (in my mind) effortlessly slam the next shot right at the net, when I ended up taking a tennis ball right smack between the eyes.

I regained consciousness just as my best friend Rikki was about to dump the contents of the Gatorade cooler over my face.

These were the girls she had to work with.

We were small in number and incredibly low on the sports totem pole at FHS, so when we traveled away to let other schools cream us on their own courts, we didn’t warrant a school bus.  We piled in to two awful, smelly, boat-like Chevy Suburbans.  They were pale blue, printed with ‘Property of Ferndale School District’ (in case you were thinking of stealing them?) and to say that they were old is a gross understatement.  We’d climb in and, once she knew everyone was situated, Coach crawled up in to the driver’s seat…how did she drive that beast without sitting on a phone book?  I’ll never know.  Being one of the older and (in my mind) cooler members of the team, I traveled in the van driven by Coach and containing all of my dear friends, each of us with our own particular scent of Bath and Body Works lotion tucked in our duffel bag.  We turned that adolescent-musty-boy smell lingering in the van in to what had to be the most sickeningly sweet version of fruit salad EVER, and yet, Coach was always smiling.  Like it was her privilege to drive us to Lynden or Burlington or Bellingham and watch us get killed on the tennis courts.

Yes, before going anywhere, she’d turn to grin at all of us.  We were like her kids.  We were loud, smart-mouthed, nervous, and, as mentioned above, we smelled cloyingly sweet.  We were anxious about playing singles or doubles or exactly how bad that score would look in the newspaper tomorrow, but there was Coach, grinning at us.  “Ready to roll?” she’d ask.  She believed we could do it.

Or, as I reflect on this now in adulthood, it’s more likely that she knew we couldn’t possibly win.  She just didn’t care.  She wanted us to have the experience of getting out there on the court, sprinting and scrambling for serves we would never return, lobs we would smash beyond the fence, and–every once in awhile–that stunning shot that actually came from OUR SIDE OF THE NET.  It was those moments, really, that Coach got us ready for.  Doing something amazing when we didn’t think we could.  No matter how many games she was monitoring from outside the chain link fence, she rarely missed our (admittedly few) moments of glory.  She had her sunglasses and her clipboard and her tennis skirt (none of us had heard of tennis skirts prior to meeting Coach, and we were all appropriately awed by them) and she would give us that smile that was full of pride.

We were her girls.

She let us stop at McDonalds on the way back from our matches because why not add the smell of french fries to the permanent stench coming from the back seat?  She talked about the highlights of our matches from behind what looked like a gigantic steering wheel, while we ate cheeseburgers and giggled and groaned about losing again.

She led us in strength training in the gym on days that were too rainy to practice outside.  It rained every single day in April of my junior year.  Coach, desperate for something to keep us busy, and no doubt sick of entertaining 16 squirrely high school girls in a muggy gym for the 12th day in a row, decided one day to teach us some hybrid sequence of yoga and Pilates stretches.  Bridge pose was ultimately her undoing.  Imagine, if you will, 16 hormonal and slightly bored high school girls raising their hips up and down in unison, led by a spunky and slightly clueless blessing of a Coach shouting out verbal cues such as ‘up and down ladies!’ and ‘squeeze those rear ends!’.  She completely lost us.  Just…wheels off the bus.  I don’t remember who called out the most inappropriate comment (my money is on Rikki) but we were no longer bridging, we were shaking with laughter.  Red faces, giggles turned to howls, and Coach.

“Girls.”  (Very stern.)

“Girls!  LADIES.”  (Losing the stern.)

“Oh for…”  (She couldn’t help it.  She was totally blushing and losing her cool.  She laughed right along with us.  Then we went to find something else to do.)

I don’t remember any yoga/Pilates exercises after that day.

I have nothing but fond memories of Coach Scanes.  She invited all of us tennis stars (looking back, I realize we were all just a big bunch of nerds) to her yearly summer BBQ at her house.  It was very hip to be invited to a teacher’s house.  I still have the awful, tacky, gold plate I won at some competition at her summer party.  She took pictures of us out on the courts and even hired me to help teach the Summer Enrichment tennis class for elementary schoolers.  (No doubt she was thinking it would be nice to start grooming some potential winners from a young age.)  She brought us snacks and made us sit out when the sun got to us and turned our faces in to glowing red tomatoes and monitored our grades to make sure our academics weren’t slipping.  She tried really hard to admonish us when the talk in the van got especially raunchy.  And one time?  Because she likely had a screw loose somewhere?  She took us to a tennis tournament on a Saturday at Whidbey Island High School.  Yes.  16 girls.  2 dilapidated vans.  A ferry ride and all that lotion smell.  One kid who got seasick.  (Me.)  An entire weekend day she would never get back.

It was epic and one of my very favorite, fun days from high school.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.  We ate too many cupcakes and pretzels in the back seat of the van and talked about sex.  It was the stuff of teenagerdom.

And it was all orchestrated by this tiny little force field we called Coach.  I’m quite certain she never got paid what she deserved and she devoted far more time to our ragged little team than she probably should have.  She was our mother hen and the person we wanted most to please while out on the tennis court.  She gave us something constructive to work towards in the days of adolescence when it would have been all to easy to fall off the map or find other, far more unhealthy ways to spend our time.

So thank you, Coach.  I want to find you and tell you that, in some ways, I am a runner today because you proved that if you want to do something, you CAN.  Doesn’t mean you’ll do it well, but you can still try.  It won’t be pretty and it sure as hell won’t be easy and some days it will feel worse than getting car sick in the back of a school district SUV, but in the end it will be WORTH IT.

Rikki and I are running a 250 mile relay this summer.  Because why not?  You taught us that piling in to a large van with most of your friends and setting off for adventure can be the very best way to spend your time.

Bless you.


A Valentine’s Day Tribute to My Running Shoes

Dear Running Shoes,

On the eve of the most overrated holiday on the planet, I’ve been giving some thought to romantic love, and it’s place (or lack thereof) in my life.  And I came to the conclusion that I have nothing to despair over, for I have you, my friends!  My relationship with you is far better than any boyfriend I could ever hope to find right now.

I found you shortly after everything in my life came apart in huge, gaping chunks.  Divorce.  Single parent status.  That dream of working part time and devoting my creative soul to writing?  Gone.  Co-parenting with a drug addict?  Total joke.  Father suddenly, although not unexpectedly, dead?  Check.  It took less than a year for everything to crumble, and while I didn’t know it at the time, you were waiting patiently for me to find you.

And to think I had scorned your presence in other people’s lives for so long!  It took me 32 years to get to you, but it was love at first painful, wheezy mile.

We started slowly, as all strong relationships do.  A two-mile out-and-back from my apartment, a couple times a week, with a lot of walking thrown in to the mix.  How I longed for those stoplights to linger on red, so I could catch my breath but still look as though I belonged with you.  Keep on driving, you!  Nothing to see here.  Just waiting for the light to change!  Out for a run!  I only appear to be dying of an asthma attack, and I’m sure I’ll be able to get upright again very shortly!  Long runs on the weekends were maybe 3-5 miles and you carried me, limping, back to my door step.  I ached from shin splints and just knew I would never master the whole synchronized breathing/running technique (who knew this was an art?), and yet…I kept coming back to you, again and again.

You were never pretty but I don’t want you to worry about that.  I’ve fallen in love with good looks before and it’s gotten me, frankly, nowhere.  Your wide base and sturdy arch support and ability to accommodate my left peg leg are all attributes laughed at by friends but secretly loved by me.  You are strong and steady and dependable, so dependable in fact, your colors rarely change.  Every six months, a new pair; every six months, the exact. same. blue.  Once, about a year ago, you tried out purple.  I swooned.  But, purple or blue, you are the same shoes every time.  You are exactly my type of boring monotony.

If Brooks ever goes bankrupt or stops producing its line of running shoes geared toward large flat feet, I will mourn as though I have lost a family member.  That’s how dear you are to me.

Like any long-term relationship, we’ve had good times and bad.  You’ve ushered me through races that came off so perfectly, it can only be described as elation.  Every Rainier to Ruston relay we’ve run has been perfection, even if immediately after last year’s event, I crashed in a glorious burning fury of neck injury.  And that 4th of July 5 miler last year in Sedro Woolley?  Remember how we paced ourselves just perfectly, lagging behind in the beginning, only to kick it in to high gear in the last mile as we picked off runner after runner before cruising across the finish line?  Those events where it’s just you and me and a paved path somewhere in rural Washington state have been our best bonding moments. It is those moments that remind me I have everything I need.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, I think it’s important to remember those super shitty times we’ve had together.  Remember that godforsaken race we ran with Rikki down in Oregon, the one that took us through wine country and ended with wine sampling, which was so sad, because by the time I finished climbing all those billy goat hills, I was so sick and tired I couldn’t even stomach the thought of wine?  That was my first official bonk and it was not pretty.  Not pretty at all.  But you were still there for me, never judging me in my moments of cursing and climbing and sweating and nearly barfing.  And then, of course, there was every single race we did in our first year together.  Oh, the wheezing and the peeing of pants!  I like to imagine that you could have quietly carried yourself out of my closet and out of my life in that first year if you wanted to, as it must have been embarrassing to be associated with such an un-pretty runner.  But you didn’t.  You stayed with me and, while I’m still rather uncoordinated, I like to think I’ve got my act together more than I did in that first year.

I apologize for all those wayward snot rockets and for kicking you off without untying my laces first.

Running Shoes, I have so much to thank you for.  Thank you for bearing witness to my dehydration, my uncertainty on the downhill, and the tears that always seem to surprise me when I hear a song that reminds me of my dad.  Thank you for showing me strength I never knew I had.  But mostly?  Thank you for giving me back a sense of peace and faith I thought I had lost forever.  Turns out, it was waiting for me all along, in a shoebox, in a running store, in a place in my life I never would have guessed I could find.

Let your anger fuel your run

So hey, work sucks lately!  But you know what’s great about that?  You run much faster when you’re good and pissed off.  Amy and I have tapped in to Kara Goucher reserves we never knew we had, just for this reason.

Oh sure, it’s not just work.  It’s taking your kid to the pediatrician only to find that a) they are not contracted with your new insurance (translation: hope you brought your checkbook!), and b) the lump behind your child’s ear lobe that she has been complaining of for weeks is actually cellulitis (translation: in the words of my charming sister, “ew, dirty people get cellulitis!”), AND THEN c) the 10 day course of antibiotics doesn’t work and….well, you get the point.  It’s been an expensive week in my house, complicated by the sheer volume of first grade homework and the bottomless depths of first grader attitude.  Work has just been the bullshit icing on the cake, really.

But I’m writing this to force myself to look on the bright side.  The lump on the child’s ear lobe isn’t cancer.  I am healthy enough to pour myself in to my running shoes and pound out my frustration on the pavement.  I have many things to be thankful for, and I’ve listed them out for you here:

1.  I wear Danskos to work.  Nurses aren’t allowed to wear shoelaces, the risk of suicide by hanging is too high.  Bonus:  sprayed bodily fluids wipe nicely from the Dansko surface.

2.  A good hot shower will likely scour all the sprayed poop off your body even if you feel like your soul will never be clean again.

3.  This is the best one!  Say you normally run a 10 minute mile by yourself, closer to an 11 minute mile with your BRF on a particularly chatty day.  (Side note:  all days are particularly chatty.  We never shut up.)  Lingering anger from a shitty day at work will allow you to shave 1-2 minutes off your time!  Last Thursday we did 3 miles at a 9:20 pace.  Ditto for today, except Paul came along because I’m pretty sure he was craving a nice leisurely jog through the park with his two slow friends.  Poor guy.

4.  Wait.  No, this one is way better.  Today is the only day I have ever out run Paul.  It will likely never happen again.  So I’m taking it.

I’m considering breaking up with my gym

I have been a loyal, devoted fan of the YMCA for nearly five years and I’m sad to report I think our relationship is headed for the toilet.

I remember when my daughter was young(er) and the weather seemed perpetually crappy and the Y offered us needed solace on Wednesday afternoons.  I threw her in any class I could find, regardless of her skill or enthusiasm.  Gymnastics?  Sure!  Ballet?  You have no talent whatsoever, but you look so cute in those wee little shoes!  And…a 30 minute guaranteed time suck?  SIGN US UP.  Swim lessons were a must.  We bumbled our way through Family Zumba and vowed never to return, no matter how many tambourines they let us dance with.  Several weeks later we wandered in to a late Friday evening Family Circuit class and both loved it.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken here often of my love/hate relationship with the indoor track.

My point?  I’ve always loved the Y.  Until this past Monday morning at approximately 10:42 a.m.

Oh, but trust me, it’s been brewing longer than that.  I think Pierce County’s population exploded somewhere back in 2011.  Suddenly everyone and their mother joined the Y and decided Tuesday evenings were a perfect time to work out on the equipment that, duh, is totally mine at that time.  At first, I blew them off with a judgmental little self talk, all ‘pfffft, look at these New Years Resolution people…I can’t wait for February when they’ll inevitably go back to their Doritos and get off my track’.  Except they didn’t go away.  In fact, they multiplied like irritating little rabbits, making it impossible to do a circuit in the weight room.  Or get my child in to the fast-filling swim lesson time slot I needed.  Hell, I couldn’t even find parking.  Sorry, child, you can kiss that coveted gymnastics class goodbye!

These minor irritations remained only that–minor–for quite some time.  I was cool skipping a swim session every now and then.  Whatever, we need a break.  But wait, what?  Swim lessons are now only 25 minutes?  Yes, I’m sure all these preschoolers can completely absorb all the skills they need to save themselves from drowning while they elbow the other four children in the class out of the way for their five minutes of actual pool time.  Not to mention, how does one squeeze in a workout in 25 minutes while their child is “swimming”?  It’s entirely possible to wait that amount of time trying to use one machine in the weight room.  These triceps aren’t going to exercise themselves, people!

And don’t even get me started on the locker room situation AFTER swim lessons are over.  Let’s just say you want me to have more than 25 minutes of exercise to put myself in the zen state needed to do battle with the prepubescent shower hogs who occupy more than their fair share of real estate in the shower line while 40 shivering toddlers wait for what will surely be a cold shower.

Again, I dealt well with all these nuisances.  I never killed a preteen and I only once or twice cut off a walker in the jogging lane of the track.  Price you pay for one family fitness center serving way too large a population, am I right?

And then.

They changed the Family Circuit class from 6 pm to 4:30 pm.  Hey, thanks there, you considerate staff members!  Way to support your worker bee families who pay your salaries!  Those of us with real jobs can totally make it to an exercise class that starts before 5 pm!

And then.

They changed the swim lesson registration process from a lottery system that I had only just now, after five years, begun to understand and navigate relatively well, to a first-come-first-served system.  This new system required you to set up online accounts and passwords and to log on to their website at a certain date and time to register for your classes.  10 am on a Monday morning.  Again, totally cool with this, you YMCA assholes!  Let me just simultaneously start this patient’s IV and get their colonoscopy off to a smooth start while I also log on to your website and find the Wednesday evening Minnow class.

Let’s just say the registration process didn’t go so smoothly this past Monday.  I was ready at 10 am.  The colonoscopy was, in fact, off to a smooth start.  The YMCA website, however, would not let me log on and by 10:45 all the classes were full and me and my little Minnow were shit out of luck.

I am now essentially paying this organization $72.50 per month for no parking spaces, cold showers, crowded weight rooms, class times that cater to people who clearly don’t work, and no swim lessons.

Oh.  Wait.  There is an opening!  I can get her in to a Monday-Wednesday class from 3:15-3:40!


Sorry, YMCA.  I just don’t see our relationship going anywhere.  Not when there’s a perfectly nice high school minutes from my house that offers evening swim lessons to children with parents who have jobs.  You served my little family so well for so long, it’s hard to say goodbye…I’ll always look back fondly to the Wednesday afternoons that didn’t require I sell my soul to the devil to get my preschooler in to a tumbling class.  Maybe someday when you aren’t spreading your love quite so thin, we’ll come back.  Until then, I’ll be braving the dark, cold streets to run outside year ’round and my daughter will be at the high school learning to swim.

I hope they have hot showers.