Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tender Mercy

All the way my Savior leads me;
  What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
  Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
  Here by faith in Him to dwell!”

The Savior leads with tender mercy.  How often I need that reminder!

I’ve been reading a book by Elisabeth Elliott, God’s Guidance: Finding His Will for Your Life.  In just the first two chapters, I’ve encountered so much to both challenge and encourage me. 

Lately, I’ve felt constantly behind.  Behind on my work.  Behind on my goals.  Behind on making progress toward the future.  I feel like I should be so much farther down the path.  And yet, so often, I’m tired.  I do my best, but the demands of the day often leave me with very little strength to do the extra things that I believe my life requires.

How can I possibly follow God’s path for me when each day rushes past, and I reach the end exhausted, but not discernibly closer to my goal?

When I make decisions, I pray about them.  I know He holds my future in His hands.  I have confidence that the Lord has given me guidance and direction.  But, even still, my progress is glacial.  My strength, it seems, is indeed small.  I want to obey.  I want to forge ahead with alacrity and will.  I want to take the path in leaps and bounds.

My spirit is willing, but my body (and more often, my mind) is weak.  I know what I should do, but I take only the smallest steps each week.  Am I disobeying?  Will my slow progress negate the Lord’s plan?

And then, the words of Elisabeth Elliott helped me hear the Lord’s counsel.  “Following God,” she says, quoting the words of her friend, Eleanor C. Vandevort, “is not like walking a tightrope.”  Mrs. Elliott pointed out, through scripture after scripture, that with God’s leading comes His compassion.

“He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” (Is. 49:10)

“I will lead him and requite him with comfort.” (Is. 57:18)

“My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Ex. 33:14)

Then I realized that God is more in control than my anxious thoughts allow.  He plans, not just knowing the path, but knowing my weakness.  Must I obey?  Yes.  Do I have to do more than He gives me strength to do?  No.  His timetable is perfect, even when my execution of His will is not.  He’s powerful enough to use my frailty for His purpose, and as long as I keep heading in His direction, He’ll take care of the outcome.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Texas State Tri

Texas State Tri

It’s that time of year!  Triathlon season is underway, and I had a great time at the Texas State Tri a couple of weeks ago.
I was lucky enough to be able to catch a ride to San Marcos for this one.  My coach and his girlfriend were heading up, so I didn’t have to drive.  Yay!  (It’s the little things, folks.)

The day started early, as race days do, and I had packed everything the night before. (Packing for a tri is almost as complicated as packing for a week long trip.)  Regular readers will know that I expect disaster in the lead up to races, but I have to say that this time the prep went smoothly.  No car breakdowns, no injuries, no sick babysitters, no harrowing packet pickup.  It was very unnerving.

Cat Photo Bomb
I squeezed my bike into the transition area.  It was a little tight, but the athletes around me were friendly and accommodating.  This was going to be my first race in a wetsuit and I spent a good amount of time deciding when, exactly, I wanted to struggle into the thing.  Putting those rubbery devices on is really no joke.  Think trying to get compression socks up to your neck.  Fortunately, the heater at our city pool has been out, so I’ve been getting lots of wetsuit practice.

I lined up with all of the other similarly wetsuited people (a few were braving the water temperatures without) and listened to the instructions.  I was nervous, of course, and the instructions were lengthy.  They sounded something like, “Welcome to the…something…annual Texas State Tri…which….blah…blah…blah Turn right…blah…blah.  Stay left….blah… and up the gravel…blah…blah… NO DRAFTING…blah…blah Straight ahead… blah…blah… neighborhood….blah…blah… finish line.”

I laughed and commented to a random person standing next to me, “Good thing I can just follow the person in front of me.”  “Ha, ha, me too!” she replied.  This turned out to be very NOT funny later.

I held waaaaayyyyy back to start the swim.  I was nearly dead last.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t plan to try to push my way to the front- I dislike getting run over in the water- but I had sort of thought a mid-packish start would be fine.  Didn’t happen.  I just went with it.  After all, when I start has nothing to do with where I place at the finish.

And into the water.  Oh.My.Goodness.  There was stuff in the water.  Freakish plants growing straight up from the bottom of the Aquarena Springs.  They looked like something that belonged on a Star Wars planet.  The water was really clear, and if open water swimming didn’t terrify me so much, I probably would have thought it was beautiful.  As it was, I just kept trying to dodge the plants.  That was a terrible plan, of course, because I had no idea if swimming to the right or the left would actually get me around the plants.  The dodging was just adding meters to my swim.  Around 300 meters in, I finally realized that swimming straight through no matter what made far more sense, and I finished the 500 meters about two minutes slower than my “pool swim” time.

And onto the bike.  I really wanted to give it my all on the bike for this race.  That’s been my weakest link in other races and I was determined to improve on that.  I figured I would go as hard as I could for the 12 miles and then just do what I could after that on the run.  And I passed people!  A good number of people, actually.  That, my dear friends, is a big deal for me.  We will conveniently overlook the fact that some of those people were 20 years older than I and some were 12 year old kids.  A pass is a pass.  My training has increased both my strength and my confidence.  I started to waver around the 9 mile point, but I pushed through and averaged 16.5 mph.  (No snickering.  That’s fast for me.)

And then the run.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it.  The run leg of a tri feels awful, especially at first.  Every muscle is saying, “Hey, wasn’t that the finish line you just left behind?  Let’s walk this.  Or go get coffee.  Yes, coffee!”  I pushed through and my pace was pretty good.  It was only a 5K and I’ve been running shorter distances faster, especially after all of that half marathon training I did over the winter.  I felt relatively strong and knew I could push myself.

And...for contrast...Here is what a REAL triathlete, in this case my coach, Travis, looks like leaving transition.

I passed a lot of walkers and slower runners.  (Side note: Yes, people walk in triathlon races.  There are all levels and types and athletes of different strengths.)  And then I headed off into the woods. 

Wait, woods?  I didn’t hear anything about woods.  Nice, though.  I like running in the woods. 

Was I on the right path?  I didn’t miss a turn, did I?  Oh, good, I’m coming up to Spiderman Jersey Guy.  I’ll just run with him.

Why did he quit running????  Spiderman should NOT walk.  Web through the trees, maybe, but not walk.  Okay, I’ll just keep going. 

Nobody.  There is nobody around here and now I can’t even see Spiderman behind me.  Shouldn’t I be hitting an aid station? 

And then I stopped.  I wandered around.  I was totally convinced I was lost.  How else had I gotten all by myself? 

By this time, although my muscles still had juice, my brain was getting a little fuzzy.  In a race, I pay very little attention to where I’m going because I figure there will be markers.  My mind was trying to convince me that I had probably missed a turn off.

I finally pulled myself together and just started running.  The sad thing was, I was actually on the right path the whole time!  All those minutes.  Precious minutes.  Sigh.

The woods opened up and I ended up in a neighborhood.  There was one fork in the road with a cone but no arrow, but I ended up managing to stay on the path, and I FINALLY started to see other runners.

Or limpers.  A guy was limping up a hill in front of me.  When I asked if he was okay, he said he had an injured hamstring.  I wished him luck and passed him.

I was running along and I heard someone coming up behind me.  Darn it!  Hamstring Guy is going to pass me.  I cannot let Hamstring Guy pass me.  I ran faster.  Finally, I couldn’t keep ahead anymore and the runner pulled up alongside me.  It wasn’t Hamstring Guy.  What a relief!  It was Dude in All Black- black jersey, black shorts.  

We ran together toward the finish line and he started to pull just a little ahead of me.  I let him go.  Guys hate to be chicked and it’s not like I needed to beat him.  Had I known at that moment that I was going to be beaten out of placing in my age group by FIVE SECONDS, I would have taken him down.  Live and learn.  This is how people become obnoxious.

It was a fun day.  Not my best effort overall (1 hr. 31 min...thank you, lack of directional confidence) but I could really see that my training is paying off.  (Thanks, Coach Travis!)  Looking forward to the next one!   

Oh, and did I mention Coach Travis won the race?  Minor detail.  He’s fast.  And also does not suffer from crazy hair after a race.  (Thanks, Katlyn, for the pictures and the ride.)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fitness Friday! (Running Scared)

Fitness Friday!
It occurred to me recently that fitness is a huge part of my life and yet, other than a few race reports, I rarely share that here on the blog.  I run, I bike, I swim, and I, like thousands of other moms, have to figure out how to fit it all in.  I figure that my fitness adventures might be of interest to others, so I’ll start sharing some of that from time to time. 

And to kick it off…

Things That Scare Me When I Run

1.  Cell Phones

Actually, it’s the drivers who use them that scare me.  If you’re on the phone, looking at your phone, or playing Candy Crush on your phone, you’re not looking out for me.

2.  Other Runners

Guys, never pass a girl without announcing yourself if the area is isolated.  It’s rude, and it could end badly, especially if she happens to be the hyper-vigilant, self-defense type.  It’s bad enough to get passed, being startled and passed just adds to the insult. 

3.  Pedestrians

I do try to announce myself when I pass people (yes, those people are usually walking).  I say, “On your left.”  That only works sometimes.  People do not actually seem to know their left from their right.  Here’s a hint:  Left is that way.  Right is that way.

4.  Rabbits

And deer.  And squirrels.  Because they could be snakes.  Ten miles into a run, you will not convince me that this is irrational.  (And, no, you don’t need to tell me that I wouldn’t hear a snake coming.  That would fall into the “not at all helpful” category.)

5.  Sidewalks

Especially uneven ones.  A particularly vicious one took me out a couple of months back, leaving a lovely mark on my chin (and hands and knees).  My first thought:  “I hope no one saw that.”  Second thought:  “Did my auto-pause kick in?”

6.  Geese

I had some bad geese run-ins as a child.  A neighbor had very aggressive guard-geese that would chase small children that invaded their territory.  I still am extremely wary along the goose-infested section of my runs.  Plus, they leave an awful lot of droppings that take a little fancy footwork to avoid.

7.  Dogs

I have a good reason for this one.  Remember the dog-bite run?  Dogs see runners as either prey or someone up to no good.  At any rate, dogs consider it their sacred duty to subdue runners quickly.  They can accomplish this either with their fangs or- the preferred method of the well-bred dog- charging straight for the runner, sending her flying off the trail into the bushes.  That works too.

8.  Dog Owners

Dog owners do not believe #7.  And they think that they have their itty-witty-pwecious dogs under perfect control.  Let me help you out with a basic equation:

Length of your arm + length of the leash = your dog’s teeth sinking into my leg.  
(Or your dog running straight across my feet with only slightly less painful results.)

8.  And finally, this guy….

Every. Single. Time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Entitlement (Honor, Part 1)

I love books.  Anytime I perceive a problem that needs fixing, I buy a new book.  One of my latest reads has been a parenting book called Say Goodbye to Whining,Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  The title is catchy and cutesy, but it could more appropriately (and probably far less market-ably) be called Honor-Based Parenting.

The authors’ basic premise is that what our homes, lives, and communities need is more of Romans 12:10,
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;
give preference to one another in honor.”

Honor is essentially treating someone as a person of value, giving preference to their needs over one’s own.  It’s a basic Christian principle that can transform our homes.  Parents showing honor to children; children showing honor to parents and siblings; spouses showing honor to one another; the family showing honor to the outside world.  It’s simple, but challenging.  We all want our own way.  Honoring others doesn't come naturally.

As I read this book, I meditated on the concept of honor.  I looked for examples in everyday life.  I sought to evaluate my words and my parenting in light of this one crucial concept.   I realized that, in our society, honor- along with its counterparts, politeness, respect, and self-sacrifice- isn’t valued very highly in our daily lives.  Modern society encourages individuality and self-seeking.  The younger generation focuses on looking out for number one.

And then, one day, I stood in line.  It was a long line.  All of the parents were lining up to check in at the school to see our fourth graders in a musical.  We all had the same goal- getting signed in, finding a seat, and watching our adorable children. 

No one likes waiting.  Deep down, we are all two year olds.  We want what we want when we want it, and we don’t want to take turns.  But we’re adults, so we all stood in line.

At least, that’s what I thought would happen.  After a couple of minutes, I realized that some people believed that they had a greater urgency than all of the other people waiting in line.  THEY CUT!  Apparently, they skipped kindergarten and hadn’t learned that that was rude.  I watched carefully to see which of these very important individuals might have a legitimate reason to skip ahead.  Perhaps they were volunteering to help with the musical.  No, they were parents, just like me, and to compound the rudeness, they, unlike me, did not have little ones in tow.

I continued my observations, wondering if basic politeness had given way to “every man for himself.”  (In fairness to men, the “cutters” were women.)  And with this on my mind, I finally made my way up to the sign-in table.  I was planning to take Evan, my fourth grader, out of school immediately after the musical, so I needed to sign him out.  As I picked up the pen to write his name down, one of the cutters came around to the back of the table.  Her hand shot out toward mine.

“Can I have that pen?”

My first instinct, responding to the authoritative tone, was to hand over the pen.  But, no.  I took a deep breath, and looked up at her and smiled, saying in my sweetest voice,

“I’d be happy to give you the pen.  I’m not quite finished with it yet.”

She looked at me askance, “Oh.” She didn’t look embarrassed, just vaguely shocked.  It was very obvious that the fact that I was using the pen hadn’t even entered her mind.  She needed a pen.  I had one.  Clearly I needed to give the pen to her.

Entitled.  She felt entitled.  She was in a hurry.  She didn’t like waiting. 

Honor would have allowed her to see that everyone else felt exactly as she did.  Honor would have caused her, at the very least, to wait her turn.  At its best, honor would have allowed her to give way to the elderly grandparents who were standing behind her.

Life is better if it’s lived with honor.  That's something I want to practice.  That’s something I need to show my children.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
2014 was quite a whirlwind year for my family.  The most important lesson I learned last year was that I have a limit.  Really, I do.  I ran smack up against that limit early in 2014, and the rest of the year was basically a process of evaluating our life and making sustainable decisions for the future.

So far, so good.  We all seem to be really excited about 2015, and I think that’s largely because we are in a much more settled place.  We’re still extremely busy- I find myself regularly battling our schedule just to carve out time for, well, sleep- but most of what we’re doing is actually possible.  In the past, I’ve fallen prey to believing that anything is possible if I just worked hard enough.  Here’s a beautiful thought to start your new year:

EVERYthing is not possible.

Yes, all you Type-A Positive Thinking People, it’s true.  At some point, especially when you have seven people dependent on you and only you, you find out that there’s an end to possible.  But, there’s hope.  A lot of wonderful things can happen within the realm of possible.  The next year or two will bring more changes for our family, but I’m hoping that my newfound appreciation for limits will make our transitions less disruptive and more peaceful.

We kicked off the new year by trying something new.  My kids had never tried fondue, so I pulled out the skewers and we all had some fun on New Year’s Eve. 

And Austin, for the second year in a row, stayed up till midnight.  I don’t know where that little guy gets so much energy!  He’s the life of the party.

Speaking of new things, I have a new email address: bainsteradventure(at)gmail(dot)com.  Drop me a line. I love to hear from people even though I have an abysmal track record of answering emails (see “extremely busy” above).   

Here's to a blessed 2015!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rock n Roll San Antonio Half- Part 2

So...I did it.  I finished.

Here's the glass-half-empty version:  No one wants to have the absolute worst long run of the entire training cycle take place on race day.  And that's exactly what happened to me.  Glass-half-full version:  I finished the race.  I posted a solid mid-pack time- 60% of the racers finished after I did- and I learned a lot.

And here's the long version:

After all of the chaos leading up to the race, things started to fall in place on Saturday.  My coach said he'd drive me to the race.  My aunt and uncle would get me home.  My sister agreed to babysit.  My neighbor (an all-around wonderful person AND runner) offered back-up for every single one of these things.

I started feeling extremely anxious before bed on Saturday, but I managed to sleep fairly well.  I got up, marveled at how little I needed for a running-only race (no helmet, goggles, bike, 3 pairs of shoes?), got ready, ate, whispered good-bye to my sleepy sister, and got to the carpool place on time.

We got downtown in plenty of time, stretched, and jogged around for about a mile.  (No, I would not have DREAMED of jogging, even at a slow pace, before a race if my coach hadn't been there.)  I felt great.  My legs were fresh, my stomach wasn't revolting against me, and the weather was PERFECT.  This was going to be a beautiful race.  Ah, the naive idealism of a first-timer.

My coach wished me luck, reminded me not to go out too fast and to watch my form at the end when I got tired.  I headed back to my corral to wait for the start.  It was here that I made my first mistake.  I don't remember what I told the Team that my estimated finish time was but I definitely ended up in a slower corral.  As we edged toward the starting line (Corral 16 started about 25 minutes after the first group), I started to get really hungry.  I had eaten about 3 1/2 hours before, so this might indeed have been actual hunger, but I chalked it up to nerves and ignored it.  When our group got close to the announcer, he commented that now he was seeing the corrals where "running knew no body type."  Brilliant.  Thanks for the encouragement.

For the first mile, LOTS of people were walking already.  The walk-run phenomena is firmly entrenched in distance running.  It works well for many people, but I'm not one of them, and I find pacing around walk-runners very difficult.  There were some supporters along the way, and it was interesting to see the different groups.  Some dressed up and had funny signs ("This is a lot of work for a free banana," "You are NOT almost there"), while others shouted encouragement and tried to high-five people, and then there was Team Daphne.  They looked exceptionally displeased to be there.  I imagine when she finally went past that they shouted something like, "It's your fault we had to get up early on a Sunday morning!  Run by yourself next time!"  The pastor of First Baptist had the encouragement thing down and his voice really carried.  I could have used a recorded loop of him for the rest of the race.

We passed the Alamo at mile one.  Mile one.  Why the race is arranged so that the most inspiring view comes at mile one I can't begin to fathom.  For the next couple of miles, I stuck pretty close to a 10 minute pace.  I finally realized that if I didn't kick it into gear and leave the group I was running around behind, I was going to just meander all the way to the finish.  But I found that easier said than done.  I'm not a big group person, and 25,000 runners certainly meets my definition of a big group.  The distraction was killing me, but I did manage to break free and I passed the 4:40 full marathon pacer (no idea if they were on pace or not) and left that group behind.

Miles 5 to 8 were hilly.  Ordinarily, I think I could have managed that without a problem, but, again, the runners around me were wildly inconsistent with their paces.  Some- many- were walking up the hills, and I found myself starting to do the same.  I had to fight the urge constantly.  I started to pick it up again on the downhills around the 7.5 mile mark, but right at the 8 mile point, I started to feel really chilled.  I realized I was shivering and covered in goosebumps.  Those around me were sweating freely, so it wasn't a change in the weather.  I had been drinking along the way, but I started to wonder if I needed electrolytes.  I decided to make a bathroom stop, but after waiting in line for a full minute without the line moving at all, I abandoned that idea and went to go get some Gatorade at the aid station.

Except there was no Gatorade at mile 8.  Or mile 9.  Or mile 10.  I was definitely starting to come apart at that point.  At mile 11, I finally found Gatorade.  It tasted like the absolute best stuff on earth- I think it was mixed double-strength.  My shivering stopped and the numbness I had had went away as well.  I saw a friend and neighbor volunteering and she shouted encouragement.  But speed, unfortunately, didn't return.  The full marathoners split off just after that, and suddenly, everything became deadly silent.  We were running along an ugly stretch of road by the railroad tracks (a lot of the course was actually very un-picturesque) and everyone stopped talking.  There were no bands, no spectators.  (Side note:  There weren't really very many bands along the route.  And some were playing slow music.  A couple were good, others were off-key, but did get points for substituting runner lyrics.)  We all just shuffled along toward the finish.

When we finally got to the finish line, I sprinted and passed about 25 people.  Not because I thought it would make a difference to my time.  Not because I needed to beat those people.  Just because I needed to be DONE.  And Gatorade.  I really needed to find Gatorade.  (I never, ever, ever drink Gatorade.  But I definitely needed it.)  People kept handing me stuff- a medal, water, chips (didn't take those), chocolate milk, containers of peaches (didn't take those either) and all I kept asking was, "Where is the Gatorade?"  I finally located it, couldn't figure out how to get it open- how many seals does one bottle need?- and went in search of a blanket or something because I was shivering in earnest now.  They had mylar blankets further down the chute and since my arms were full of all my "stuff"  (I have no idea why the race coordinators didn't think to offer some sort of bag or trick-or-treat bucket to put all that junk in), the volunteer had to wrap the thing around me.

I shuffled over to the Team in Training tent to wait for my cousin to finish the full marathon.  I had a text from my aunt saying he was exactly on pace.  The Team in Training volunteer offered me a taco- NO, thank you- and even his sweatshirt.  I sipped my Gatorade and tried to figure out what had happened.

I finished in 2:25.  That's...not bad, but not what I trained for, either.  I should have been able to finish in 2:10 to 2:15.  My splits- every single one of them- were slower than anything I had done in training, even on a bad day.

I made my way back over to the finishing chute to watch the other runners shuffle around trying to manage their handfuls of "stuff."  I found it hilarious that, when a runner would drop a bag of chips, he would look down at the ground in despair as if he had just dropped them into a 100 foot ravine instead of right on top of his shoes.  Reaching down that far just wasn't possible for people who had poured all of their effort into racing.  One man- quite the gentleman- reached down to grab a chip bag for an older lady.  He got stuck about halfway back up and sort of swayed back and forth for a moment before sloooooowly rising.  He should have gotten a medal just for that.

My cousin finished in 4:02- crushing his previous PR- and looked great at the end.

I got delivered back to my van and continued to ponder my race as I drove home.  About 5 minutes from my house, it finally hit me:  The Zone.  That was the problem.  I never went into The Zone.

Usually, when I run, the first mile is really tough.  I feel awkward, off-pace, and it takes all of my willpower to keep going.  Then, it gradually starts to feel a little smoother.  Around the 2.5 mile point, I find my pace, and by mile 4, I'm in The Zone.  At mile 6, I feel like I can run forever.  Miles 4 to 10 are where I post my fastest times, and there are times where I forget I'm running.  I was prepared to have to push through the last 5K of the race, but I wasn't prepared to have every...single...mile...feel like the first mile.  I'm a solitary runner and I just couldn't find my pace with all of the people around (I've never done a big race before), and I didn't have the mental toughness to push myself through.  I now know why so many run with headphones. Listening to music is the only way I can even imagine that I could have shut out all of the people around me.

But...I did it!  And, yes, I'll probably be stupid enough to do it again.  Because I have to try the headphone thing.  And bring my own electrolytes.  And start in a faster corral.  And...

Thank you again to all of the people who supported me in this!  You're the best.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rock n Roll San Antonio Half- Part 1

For me, the most difficult part of the race is not the months of training, the miles of running, the refueling, the hydrating, or the racing.  No, it's getting to the start line that's tough.  This time, getting there deserves its own post.

I, of course, signed on with Team in Training for this race.  I'm thankful for all that they do to combat blood cancers and the San Antonio chapter is probably a fun bunch. I say "probably" because I made it to a grand total of...ZERO...practices.  Yep.  Not a single one.  I didn't make it to the get-togethers, the send-off dinner, the team-building-social-let's-have-fun stuff either.  So, I was a little out of the loop.  Not their fault at all- just the product of me having, oh, I don't know, seven kids, perhaps?  They tried, they really did, but my life simply can't accommodate other people's schedules right now, so I trained on my own and tried to keep up with the email communication as much as possible.

At any rate, because the team handled the registration, I was a little unclear on exactly how that impacted the "normal" pre-race stuff, especially packet pick-up.  I got an email saying that, if I couldn't make it to any of the team events, I could pick up my bag of "stuff" at the office.  Great.  Perfect.  On Friday morning, I sent my older kids off to school, packed up my two younger ones, and made the trek to San Antonio to get my "stuff."  Stress level on a 1 to 10 scale: 3.

When I got to the office, I grabbed the bag with my name on it and strapped Stefan and Austin back into their carseats.  And then, I looked at the stuff in the bag.  It became immediately apparent that this bag, while it contained a few snazzy items, did not, in fact, contain a race packet.  That meant a trip to downtown San Antonio.  I was already halfway there, but...packet pickup didn't start for about 3 hours.  Three hours.  Short enough to be tempting, but too much time to kill with two little guys in tow.  Plus, I had a ton of stuff to do at home.  I decided that I would just have to wait till sometime later.  Stress level: 5, edging toward 6

As I sat in the parking lot, processing all of that in my mind, I realized I had gotten a text.  It was my babysitter for race morning.  "I'm so sorry, but I have the flu and I can't babysit on Sunday."  Stress level:  8

I took a deep breath, drove home and focused on being as productive as possible, working on lesson planning and grading, while frantically trying to find another sitter and work out a ride downtown for Sunday morning.  Apparently, lots of runners get hotel rooms near the start line.  Smart.  And not possible for me.

At some point during the day, I decided that it would be better to just take the five younger boys downtown (Megan would be at gymnastics and Nathan still in school) right after school and get packet pickup out of the way.  We could leave just after 3 and be back just before 5.

We actually left at 3:30 and I started to worry about getting caught in rush hour traffic on the way back, but I forged ahead.  We got downtown, and that's when the fun started.  There was a time that I spent a decent amount of time in downtown San Antonio- Bryan actually worked there sometimes- but I had never been to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center where packet pick-up was.  When I read "convention center," I pictured something like the Alamo Dome or Freeman Coliseum- big building, big parking lot.  What I actually found, after inching my way through the terrible downtown traffic, was a sidewalk-locked building with a tiny parking lot.  The sign in front of it said, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."  (It may actually have said, "Parking by permit only," but the words had an identical effect.)  Stress level: 15

And so I began to drive around...and around.  I passed parking garages, most full, all with 3 foot height clearances- or 6 feet or 7 feet- it was all the same to my high top van.  I passed above ground lots that I had parked in in the past, but then I'd been driving a snazzy, maneuverable Acura, not a clunky, full-size Behemoth.  I started to pray and then I saw it- a space!  An open lot with a space that would allow me to back out.  I wasn't entirely sure I could circumnavigate the lot to get back out, but I decided to take a leap (drive) of faith.

I had (naturally) neglected to bring a stroller.  By this time, we were probably a mile from the convention center.  Fortunately, I ALWAYS keep my BabyErgo in the van (my children have been threatened with eternal grounding if they ever remove it), so I popped Austin on my back, grabbed Stefan and Carsten in a vulcan grip ("Mom!  You're squeezing my hand off!"  Yep.  Keep walking.) and started off with five boys through downtown San Antonio during Friday evening rush hour.  Stress level: 18

I managed, after a few loops of the very large convention center, to find the right entrance to the packet pick-up.  I kept the boys on a tight leash.  (Figuratively speaking.  If they had been selling real kid leashes at the expo, I would have been the first in line.)  We powered past all the samples (no, boys, you may not suck down packets of nothing-but-sugar goo) and finally found an exit.

We made it back to the car and out of the parking lot (they took debit card- yay!) and I realized that my phone was almost dead.  Yikes!  I have a terrible sense of direction to begin with, and we had made quite a few twists and turns to find parking.  I sent up a panicked prayer that my phone would last until I got back on I-10.  "Turn left on Commerce."  (My new directions lady is very perky.)  "Turn right on San Saba."  "Take the left lane to merge onto I 10."  And then my phone shut off.  Dead.  God has a sense of humor.  Stress level: 10

So I had my packet.  Now I just needed a babysitter and a ride.  Oh, and did I mention that the very I-10 that I had just driven on to get downtown was going to be closed all weekend?  Minor detail.  All part of the endurance sport known as "Getting to the Starting Line."  And that sport- at least for this mom- is the toughest one.