Welcoming the Light Back

You guys, we DID IT! 5:44am EST  this morning was the winter solstice, which means that we’ve all made it through the darkest, shortest day of this impossibly dark and improbably long year. It only gets better from here! (Yes, solstice also heralds the official start of winter but we are a GLOGG-GLASS HALF-FULL kind of crowd so we’re going to focus on the positive.)

 

My family has been officially pre-gaming the return of light with our annual solstice bonfire for 19 years now and it is by far my favorite holiday. None of the uncomfortable genocidal legacies of Thanksgiving (I knowwwwww I am a buzzkill, blame it on the liberal arts education), none of the panicked 2am Amazon purchases of Christmas – just 6 pallets of wood, a whole mess of crockpots, and everyone I love gleefully setting things on fire.

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You see, while solstice is a celebration of the earth’s inevitable tilt back toward the sun, we Deschenes-Desmonds are not ones to sit around waiting passively for the light to return. No, we let it know EXACTLY where to find us.

 

Right here, by the 20-foot flame

 

My family has spent YEARS perfecting their methods – Conor’s got his woodchopping stance down (“Pretend like you’re doing the worm standing up, Cait”), Dad knows all the best spots to collect last year’s discarded Christmas trees for maximum incendiary effect, and Mom’s horrified gasps have a nice bellows effect on the flames. And of course, on top of that enormous wall of fire you have the light emanating from the hearts of people who have known and loved each other for anywhere from 6 minutes to 6 decades.

 

Which brings us, naturally, to Team in Training. The world can seem very dark at times for my teammates and their loved ones. We have to put our faith in the belief that it’s only temporary, that a medicine or a transplant or a chemo regimen will work and our worlds will tilt back into the sun again. But unlike solstice, that’s not a guarantee – so it’s even more important that we don’t just wait. We huddle together in the dark with the people we love and show the light where to find us.

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Right here, by the 20-person brunch table

You’ve been showing up the sun for 12 years now, but if you want to throw another Christmas tree on the fire, you know what to do. Thank you, dear hearts, for bringing the light to my life and the lives of so many others. Enjoy that extra ~90 seconds of sun tomorrow!

 

Love and lighter fluid,

Cait

Muscle-ing Through Another Marathon Metaphor

Yes indeed, it’s that time of year! But before we get started let’s just…c’mere.

PHEW. I needed that. Guys I don’t have to tell you that it has been a YEAR. We lost Bowie, we lost Prince, we lost our collective minds over this presidential election. I know no matter where you fall on the spectrum, politically or musically, it has been a difficult 12 months. It’s seemed increasingly hard for us to find the good in the world and each other.

As a professional marathon metaphor-maker and scrounger of silver linings I think I’ve found a way to look at this all that might help. It won’t bring Bowie back from that spaceship he’s jamming on somewhere out in the far reaches of the universe, or help you navigate conversations with the nation’s uncles this Thanksgiving, but I hope you’ll find it comforting. I sure have.

You know how muscles grow? (Because I’m making a point here, I’ll assume you don’t and have been sprinkling your biceps with whey powder, please bear with me). In order get your muscles to do something they are not naturally inclined to do, you have to break them down. There’s no way around it. It’s painful. But when you do, the injured muscle fibers send out an SOS and satellite cells rush in to repair them, making them stronger in the process.

Marathon training requires that you dedicate several hours a day to breaking your muscles down, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about how this applies to the rest of my life – how I’ve grown by doing difficult things, sure, but also WHY I’ve chosen to do them. Like pretty much everything else, it comes down to love. Love is what challenges us to do difficult things, and also what makes us capable of doing them. My teammates are doing a very hard thing because it will help the people they love, and they’re able to do it because of the love that buoys them along the way, the human satellite cells that rush in to support them and help them grow to meet the challenge. And that I think is the other important lesson we can learn from our muscle fibers. You don’t grow if you’re only ever breaking yourself down, and you don’t do it alone.

The TEAM has always been a place that’s helped repair the tears in my life, even as my actual hamstrings are being ground to dust. It’s always where I’ve gone to find the good in the world, and myself, and I am so glad to be a part of it for one last year. Yep, after over a decade it’s time for these fundraising muscles to take a break! But before they do, I’m trying one last difficult thing. My goal is to raise $12,000 this year, $1,000 for each year I’ve run. So, my favorite group of human satellite cells – can you help?

Good luck this weekend, you adorable flock of turduckens. If you find yourself doing difficult things (like, say, discussing immigration policy with Uncle Bob) remember to tackle them with love and plenty of recovery time.

Love and an ice pack on the couch,

Cait

Running Towards

Today is the third anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon. It is also One Boston Day, and if you think I’m not going to give you several paragraphs worth of feelings with some fervent praise of Body Glide sprinkled throughout well then my friend, you haven’t been getting these emails for very long.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings three years ago, I don’t remember being angry or scared (although I’m sure I was at least one of those). I just remember quiet, and in that quiet feeling how acutely connected and impossibly grateful I was to the people around me.

That connection is what makes us humans so beautiful, despite our tendency to use hoverboards in malls. When we are hurt, or scared, we find each other. When the fear fades, and sometimes even before, our instinct is to run the people who need us. That’s why on April 15th, 2013 you saw people – not just first responders but spectators – running towards the explosions instead of away. It’s why One Boston Day exists, why Team in Training exists. They give us a way to run toward the people who need us most.

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It’s been three years and I am still impossibly grateful for the love and support you’ve given me. Your generosity has allowed me (quite literally) to run toward the people who need our help for going on 11 years now. Because of you, I met my fundraising minimum months ago. Because of you, Zac is well on his way to raising $50,000 and honoring his father’s memory by funding research that will help thousands of others. I know I say thank you every one of these emails, but the amount of gratitude I feel honestly makes my heart so full it hurts.

So before I go into cardiac arrest, let’s talk Body Glide! It is projected to be a chafe-friendly 70-degrees out there on Monday, which means that I will be shimmering my way to the finish line under a protective coating of gloop that would make Slimer green(er) with envy. In addition to a three-inch layer of Body Glide, I will also be sporting a purple singlet and the number 18510 – if you’re going to be on the course, give a holler and let me know where to look! If you aren’t, you can always track me online.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go run around this city and tell it I love it.

Cait

#ThrowbackThursday right into #FlashbackFriday

Hey guys, want to know what I love even MORE than a montage?? A FLASHBACK. And the start of my 10th season with Team in Training is JUST the occasion! Join me, friends, as we hypno-twirl, twirl, twirl back in time…

 

 

THE YEAR WAS 2005. Gold Digger was topping the charts (note that this is also FORESHADOWING since I will be asking for your money later. Employing every literary device in the book! Who said my time as an English major was wasted?). Facebook was only a year old, and so was Chris Mario (probably). I had just moved to Boston and experiencing that particular brand of panicked loneliness so common among the recently dorm-evicted. Sure, I knew La Giunta, but only barely and she scared the living daylights out of me. I was desperately in need of friends.

HEY GUYS HEY GUYS HEY
HEY GUYS HEY GUYS HEY
#blessthismess
#blessthismess

 

Then, inspired by one semi-successful 8-mile run in 10th grade, several strong beers, and Anna, I joined Team in Training. Hooooo boy you guys, I was a MESS. I ran in mesh shorts, I didn’t understand the concept of cross-training, and bless my own heart I didn’t bcc a soul on my first fundraising email (a review of artifacts from the era shows I was also referring to “the Facebook” unironically and receiving Friendster notifications on the reg, so let’s just say I didn’t have the most sophisticated grasp of social media).

 

 

IN THE "TO" LINE. I PUT THEM ALL IN THE "TO" LINE.
IN THE “TO” LINE. I PUT THEM ALL IN THE “TO” LINE.

 

I learned a lot about running that first year (the impact the discovery of BodyGlide has had on my life cannot be overstated), but what kept me coming back is what I learned about generosity. I was overwhelmed by it. I saw it in the stories my teammates told of how friends and family had rallied around them after their diagnosis. I saw it in the support I felt as a first-time runner who knew nothing and no one. And I saw it in the donations and emails that poured in from family and friends not yet weary of seasonal puns and paeans to Gu.

 

That generosity has stayed constant over the years, even as nearly everything else has changed. I still regard La Giunta with equal parts admiration and terror, for instance, but she’s now my friend AND roommate. My mesh-to-spandex ratio has COMPLETELY flipped, thank goodness, and I have finally mastered the art of the bcc. What’s changed  the most, though, are my reasons for running. There are still the friends and the miles of course, but there’s also Tarsh and Richard and Larry and Ann, and countless others who need more help and more hope. In the past 9 years you’ve helped me raise over $27,000. This year, can we make it to $30,000?

 

Love and one last contemporary jam to let you know how much I’ve missed you,
Cait

 

One year ago. One week to go.

There’s been a lot written recently about what happened last April 15th. Everyone has their own memories from that day. These are mine:

I remember running down Boylston, blowing kisses to every police officer I saw. 

I remember standing by the buses 10 minutes later, seeing the expression change on the face of the officer in front of me as the second bomb went off. 

I remember stopping breathing when I found out Chris had been on Boylston, and that no one had heard from him yet. 

I remember starting again as one by one, all of my friends and teammates checked in safe.

 

Most of the rest is a blur. If I tried, I might be able to remember more. But what I don’t have to remember, because it has been a part of my life every day since, is what came next.

Tuesday morning I remembered that I’d seen my former teammate Sean Biggins cheering on Boylston just before the finish and texted him from an ice bath. I didn’t know him very well (we didn’t ice-bath text on a regular basis), but he responded right away, saying how worried he’d been about me and how glad he was to hear from me. Wednesday my mentees crowded onto my couch, eating pizza off paper plates and huddling as close to each other as possible. Thursday I met Biggins and some of my other long-time teammates out – we told our stories, we reassured ourselves that yes, we were there, we were okay, everyone had made it. Friday, from inside our locked houses, we did it again.

There was a lot of sadness in our gatherings those first few days. But eventually the sadness faded away, and the love that had been there right alongside it grew. The relationships I leaned on in that first week – the teammates who had been there, the ones who hadn’t, the friends in other cities who called every day to check in on me – have been the source of more comfort, joy, and laughter over the past year than I could have imagined. Biggins has become one of my closest friends. The runners I mentored are absolute anchors in my life, as integral a part of it as if I’d known them for years. And because of you, our amazing, bursting-at-the-seams team has raised over $1 million for charity.

Everyone has their own memories from the marathon last year, and everyone has their own reasons for running this one. For some, it’s to take back a finish line they were kept from crossing. For others, it’s to reclaim the spirit of the Boston Marathon. For me, it’s to celebrate the incredible strength, generosity, and love that flooded through a shattered city on April 16th and hasn’t let up since.

Last year after the marathon, I wrote about the card my friend Anna sent me the day before the race. I still think about it, and what she wrote, nearly every day:

“Run tough. Run strong. Run beautiful.”

On Monday, I know that we will.

Love,

Cait

TNT - FA

Pace Yourself

Well, we made it. As of 11:04 am Saturday morning, I am officially in taper – and you guys, it is GLORIOUS. I ate 7 meals between the hours of noon and 11pm, all while maintaining a position no greater than 45 degrees from horizontal.

Quick refresh for the 3% of you who are not running Boston/have not received any of my previous odes to taper: after our longest run of the season, we cut down our mileage and ramp up our peanut butter intake to make sure our bodies are rested and ready for race day. Taper is both the best and the worst part of training. On the one hand, you no longer have to block out 12 hours for your run/brunch/nap combo. On the other, you suddenly have VAST EXPANSES OF FREE TIME in which to perfect your neuroses.

And your memes, apparently

My personal approach to the inevitable taper freakout is to become convinced that I’ve neglected a critical aspect of marathon preparation and cycle through a series of ill-considered quick fixes. Four weeks to go! I mean, I PROBABLY have time to develop “300” abs, right?

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And if I do, you’d better believe I’m custom ordering one of these bad boys RIGHT quick

And I’ve been meaning to eat more chia seeds maybe I’ll eat nothing but chia seeds and transform into Tarahumara tribesman??? OR POSSIBLY I WILL READ THROUGH AND IMPLEMENT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF RUNNER’S WORLD’S MARATHON TRAINING WORKOUTS…AT ONCE?

Luckily, I have gone through this enough to (eventually) realize that all the chia seeds and pull-ups in the world aren’t going to make a difference at this point (which is good news, because chia seeds look like frog eggs and I cannot do one single pull-up). Marathons aren’t made in the last four weeks; they’re made in the months of training that lead up to it.

I’ve had to remind myself of that a lot, lately. A few weeks ago, a close friend and teammate’s father was diagnosed with lymphoma. For all the years I’ve run with Team in Training, this is one of only a handful of times that someone I love is actively fighting the disease we’re trying to cure – most of the stories we hear on Saturdays, good or bad, are in the past tense. And my first reaction was pretty similar to my taper panic: we have to raise all the money we can to help Zac’s dad RIGHT NOW.

But the truth is, even if we hit our $1.25 million goal (and we will), that money will fund research that takes years to show results. Which is why it’s so important that we hit not only this goal, but every goal, every year, until we find a cure. And hopefully, the money that we raised back when I first started Team in Training in 2006 funded research that CAN help Zac’s dad right now.

One of the reasons I love Zac so dearly is his unrelenting optimism (that and his ability to consume more cheese in one sitting than you’d think humanly possible). I got to hang out with his dad this January, and unsurprisingly, he is exactly as optimistic and lactose-tolerant as his son. Talmadges are tough. Their hearts are even bigger than their stomachs. And I know they’re going to get through this, but I also know that they don’t want anyone else to have to. So eat some cheese. Send some love. And donate.

Love with a wedge of buffalo cheddar,

Cait

(Ahem. Local celebrity and multimedia superstar Cait.)

Sometimes Love Don’t Feel Like It Should

(I know, we’re already one federal holiday beyond Valentine’s Day, but as long as half-price chocolate is still crowding the shelves I feel completely justified in a love-themed email. Besides, I ran out of powdered wig jokes in 2011.)

Looking pretty surly for an 18th century duke, bro
I have not, however, run out of gems from that “powdered wig” Google image search

How about this WEATHER we’re having, huh? It seems like 2014 has just been one long blizzard (do I blame Pete Bouchard? you bet I do). Adding insult to injury, the state of the Wellesley sidewalks – which unlike the Community Center parking lot apparently do NOT fall under the purview of the eagle-eyed preservationists at the Wellesley Historical Society – has forced us into the dreaded hills of Newton.

Most runners know the big three, or at least Heartbreak. But from our launching pad at mile 15, right above the drop into Newton Lower Falls, we get the added bonus of a particularly brutal end-of-run uphill. This hill is so bad that it has entered into TNT lore as Mildred, named after one runner’s elderly (and apparently unpleasant) aunt*.

No filter can pretty that 6% grade up
No filter can pretty that 6% grade up
 

When you’re clawing your way past a perfectly nice Dunkin’ Donuts up an ice-covered slip-n-slide, it can certainly feel like there’s a mean-spirited ghost at work. But Aunt Mildred isn’t the only one running that hill. Whether it’s Zac on my heels or Fulvio in my heart, Mildred is where I’ve always felt the support of my team most strongly.

Anna and I used to do hill karaoke, using the American horsepower of J.C. Mellencamp to get us to the top. Yes, it hurt – maybe not always so good – but hills and heartbreak have never stopped TNT runners. When we’re beat up and broken down, that’s when we pull even closer together. And THAT, my darling Jack and Dianes, is a love that most definitely feels like it should.

But good news for YOU, gentle readers! You don’t have to strap on your crampons to help me up this $4,000 summit. All you have to do is click and donate. And if you happen to do so while eating some Nancy Clark-approved seasonal Reese’s products? Well, all the better.
Roughly a third of Nancy's recommended 12,000 calorie budget
Roughly a third of Nancy’s recommended 12,000 calorie budget

Love locked inside a deeply discounted heart-shaped box ,

Cait

*While there is no conclusive evidence that Mildred the Original was a member of the Wellesley Historical Society, let’s just say I have my suspicions.