An Ultra Marathon, A Paint Ball Tournament & A Lesson Remembered

As teenagers, my two sons and their friend entered a paintball tournament hosted by a local business. Their only experience consisted of backyard woods-ball with their friends, a few paintball party events and some random targeting just for fun. They named their ‘team’, paid a fee, wore matching camo and packed their gear in beat up duffle bags and worn out backpacks.

Tournament day arrived and so did we. We walked from the car to the field through an intimidating midway of canopy tents filled with teams dressed in professional, colorful, matching jerseys. They were unloading some of the most expensive air-ball guns the kids had ever seen. Under their canopies were numerous parts, accessories and tools mostly housed in multi-drawer tool carts you’d find in a well-organized garage. Many had coolers and a few had table-top grills. As we walked, we overheard conversations of their past experiences and victories as well as their boastful confidence for the day’s competition.

There were a few realizations that occurred as we observed everything and everyone. For one, the boys had woods-ball not air-ball guns -which have the advantage of firing faster. They were dressed in camo because that’s what you wear where to hide behind trees and bushes. But this field had no trees. Most of the obstacles were inflated and bright colored. The boys had no canopy tent and their tool kit was a simple assortment of Allen wrenches. We hadn’t thought to bring a cooler but they had some granola bars, Gatorade and money for hotdogs at the snack bar.

Though this tournament took place more than 15 years ago, the memory and the feelings associated with it rolled through my mind last weekend as I challenged myself to participate in a 12 hour ultra-marathon event. My boyfriend, Michael and I tent camped at the event the night before. When daylight broke, I walked from our campsite toward the start/finish area. Runners and their family and friends were already arriving and I found myself walking through another midway of intimidating canopies. I overheard conversations and reminiscing of previous, popular and hard-to-qualify-for races among runners. They spoke of ultra’s of one-hundred miles or more, ultra’s with 7000 feet of elevation, ultra’s in other countries, in deserts, up mountains, through flooded trails, in the dark and among wild night-creatures. I had run a few local 50k’s (rather slowly) but experienced nothing like what I had overheard.

My J.C. Penny running shorts happen to match a hand-me-down shirt from a friend and I felt pretty comfortable though I admit I was a little envious of some of the other runner’s clothing. I carried my Publix shopping bag with extra socks, my older trail shoes I planned to rotate with the newer ones I had on, a bag of pretzels, some Swedish fish and a pair of flip- flops for post race. I had rehearsed a few mantras to help me persevere through the day but the only thing I could think of now was “what the %#@! are you doing here, Polly?” And an overwhelming sense of insignificance and inferiority momentarily stole my hope along with whatever confidence I thought I had.


I made it to the aid-station where Michael was volunteering and an enthusiastic friend asked me how I was feeling. I couldn’t stop my bottom lip from quivering but I managed to stifle the tears and making close eye contact with her I admitted my overwhelming sense of insignificance. I don’t think she was expecting that answer. She admitted her own anxiousness and reassured my heart with some kind words I obviously needed at the time and wish I could remember now.

The paintball tournament lasted most of the day. The boys were actually holding their own for much of the competition but eventually the process of elimination caught up with them. They had fun, made some great memories and most importantly, persevered without allowing the trap of comparison hinder their confidence.


It’s interesting how certain experiences, memories and lessons will surface when confronted with similar situations. When the air horn was fired and the race began I deliberately made a choice. Instead of allowing insignificant feelings dominate my thoughts, I decided to be thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to be a participant, thankful for a healthy body, for my best friend, Michael, being there with me, for the beauty of the trail, for the friends I’ve made in the running community and how privileged I was to actually mingle with runners who’ve experienced amazing races all over the world. Twelve hours later I finished what I had started with 43.2 miles behind me.



The boys had dreams of winning the tournament. I had a dream of 50 miles. Neither came true. Though the lesson is simple, it bears repeating. That is, success is not necessarily measured in dreams fulfilled, rather in the journey attempting to reach them.


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Campsite Insight

An organized load doesn’t necessarily mean a lesser load.
Friendly raccoons by day are fear-instilling monsters by night.
Roof racks, straps and kayaks have the power to summon curse words.
Hot Florida nights plus mid-life warmth gives new meaning to  “bare” in the tent.
Nocturnal birds swooping, flapping and catching their squealing prey before daybreak happens. And when it does, it’s right outside your tent ‘door’.
Ants like cough-drops and sweet beverages, especially the ones zipped inside your tent.
The huge dumpster, only giants could reach …has doors.
Identifying raccoon footprints is a cinch, especially when they’re on your tablecloth.
Hiking through a national forest changes perspective and humbles the ego.
Kayak wheels are helpful, except when turning corners.
Informative people work at information booths. Friendly people should work at the welcoming station.
Most swimmers like rafts. Many like tubes. Some like noodles. And a few prefer rainbow-colored unicorns.
Waving at the nosy neighbor may not be as neighborly as it seems.
Bikes still work without chain guards; the best toast requires no toaster and some mosquitoes are immune to citronella.
You can still get kicked out of the ‘kitchen’ even at a campsite.
Conditioning shampoo is also a good body wash.
Yahtzee by candlelight does not diminish a competitive spirit.
Just because you wake up feeling the ground doesn’t mean the air mattress needs patched.
Pans hot off the grill melt the coating on the picnic table and the two become one.
A real friend has your back …and removes the tick you cannot reach.
60 pounds of ice after 3 days creates cooler “pools.” Use Ziplocs.
The creepy feeling you’re being watched may apply to raccoons on the branches above you.
Coffee “tea bags” are possible with filters and plain dental floss …not mint.
Wild imaginations are more debilitating than wildlife.
Jobs are necessary but experiences make the loss of hours well worth it.
The beginning of courage is facing fear. The conquering of it may take repetition.
“Thank-you for not being a wuss” outweighs all other compliments -especially from the one who’s witnessed your history of cowardice.

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A Penny for My Thoughts? Yes, please!

The average person processes between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day (according to the National Science Foundation). That’s 35 to 48 thoughts per minute. Unfortunately, for most, those thoughts may not be focused on what’s truly important. Many of our thoughts involve worry, negativity, doubt, criticism, guilt, pride, complaint, comparison and just plain nonsense.

Thoughts are not isolated to our mind alone. Attached to each of our thoughts are feelings. Anxiety. Anger. Worry. Hopelessness. Judgement. Gratitude. Anticipation. Fear. Resentment. Love. Happiness. Etc. Fifty-thousand positive or negative, productive or useless, creative or logical, exciting or disappointing thoughts are filling your mind, per day, while a tsunami of feelings are flooding your heart right along with them.

You have the ability to choose your thoughts and in doing so, steer your emotions which eventually, lead to decisions that ultimately direct your life’s path. When your thoughts are thankful, you feel blessed. When you feel blessed, you are more likely to bless others. When your outlook is positive you feel hopeful and that hopefulness trickles over to others in the form of encouragement and kindness. When you are willing to release anger, guilt, pride and judgement you feel a sense of freedom and relief. That freedom allows growth, risk, teach-ability and possibility. Your thoughts and feelings guide your decision making. Your decisions determine the direction of your life.

Even the authors of ancient scripture knew the value of positive thinking when they wrote, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. (And to) think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Ephesians 4:8) For mental and emotional peace, we must think on the good stuff because filtering the mind’s thoughts also guards the heart’s emotions which ultimately determine our life’s general direction.

Toxic thoughts, critical judgements, suspicious attitudes, negative outlooks, selfish pity, presumptuous entitlement and vain imaginations poison a pure heart and contaminate the atmosphere of your mind. Rethink your thoughts. Choose what you dwell on. View negativity like a disease trying to infiltrate your life, having the potential to slowly deteriorate the quality of your mental and emotional health. Avoid negativity like you would any cancer causing habit or contagious flu-like germ which holds the power to take your life through undesirable detours.

Change the critical self-talk your inner voice echoes. Recognize your mind’s default pattern. Release the thoughts that make you (or your view of others) feel unworthy, incapable, fearful, angry, inferior or rejected. Replace them with a teachable, humble, open-minded and thankful spirit.

Joyful and gracious living begins with sincere positive thinking, deeply rooted in gratitude, praise and purpose. Pay attention to your mind’s traffic. Bumper to bumper negativity leads to frustration and unhappiness. Always remember that you are in control of the atmosphere of your mind, the direction of your outlook and the measure of lighthearted living you experience, regardless of outer circumstances. Your positive thinking may not have the power to bring about world peace, but your personal peace-of-mind is a valuable treasure in the midst of whatever this world delivers.

Replace your negative thoughts and you’ll rejuvenate your emotions. That positive combination of thoughts and feelings, leads to better decision-making, which ultimately fills your own life, and the lives of those around you, with greater hope and happiness.

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500 Words

It’s just five-hundred words. Write five-hundred words each day consistently. That seems simple enough, especially for someone who usually enjoys writing. Without a doubt I can speak five-hundred words a day. Producing five-hundred words a day beats producing five-hundred dollars per day or five-hundred homemade cookies per day. So, why, then do I sit here not knowing  where to begin?  Why do the backspace and delete buttons win more often than the save and print keys?

Consistently write your daily word quota. This is the advice given to the amateur, to the unpublished, to the aspiring writer, by the knowing, successful, seasoned and published authors who suggest I write when  I feel inspired and more importantly, when I don’t.  Eventually, they claim, when I look back and re-read my work, the difference will be unnoticeable anyway.

So, the disciplined writer persists whether they feel eager or indifferent, optimistic or doubtful, insightful or clueless. I  know how to persist. Persevering is nothing new to me. I persevered in a difficult marriage for decades, raising two boys. I cared for my needy, unhappy, elderly in-laws who lived with me for nine years. Over the past five years, I’ve trained for and completed several long-distance races including ultra-marathons.  I understand what it feels like to continue when you want to quit. But (my) writing has been more of an emotional and inspirational outcome.  It has been a source of relief, clarity, sanity and freedom. The idea of writing something meaningful without feeling hopeless, angry or lonely, challenges me.  Raw desperation defined my best work.  To believe I can successfully write each day when life is (now) good, happy, loving, even fun, is a vast difference from the reflections of my past experiences. It’s a new chapter (pardon the pun) in my real life as well as in my writing life.

If I had a story to tell, a dramatic novel with characters longing to be discovered,  a thickening plot with climactic surprises then, perhaps a consistent, daily word quota would be easier. But this non-fictional writer has only experiences, observations and a little insight to share.  Doubt and dismissal often barge through my door of creativity and plunder my thoughts, scattering them like a thief turning a room of treasured belongings upside down and casting them away as insignificant rubbish.

Regardless of those thieves, I am still compelled to write.  Admittedly, my writing has been inconsistent, which is the reason I’m reading and seeking advice from those who share this passion.  My desire to succeed requires this first step of just doing it.  So whether I believe it is possible for me to produce five-hundred credible words per day,  I shall at least listen to the experts and give it a try.  Like the seasoned runners who helped me cross the finish line with their knowing advice, I will trust this simple (yet challenging) suggestion to write consistently and perhaps in the days ahead, I will not feel the need to click the ‘word count’ tool button as often to see if I’ve met my quota.


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Bad Ass, Hard Core & Beast Mode

Women’s fitness is nothing new. Workout trends have come and gone for decades. But now, more than ever, it seems the popular direction points toward excelling in extremes. Endurance sports, elite fitness and ultra adventures are earning recognition and applause for tough, conquering she-beasts. This is both fascinating and frustrating to me.

Fascinating because of the sheer strength, courage and perseverance shown in their accomplishments. Frustrating because many women will never achieve this she-beast status society exalts. Similar to the exposure of models with perfect bodies and flawless beauty, this hard core, bad-ass mentality drapes a cape of insignificance around those who should otherwise earn the title of Super Woman.

While chasing adventure, improving bodies and exceeding limits is definitely something to be proud of, so are the often overlooked character qualities of other brutally efficient women. Women whose enduring strength enables them to accomplish daily challenges, often with no finish line in sight. Patient and persevering young, sleepless moms earn no bling after an ultra-exhausting night with sick little ones. The hard-core tough-loving firmness of the mom raising her teenager holds no podium recognition behind a slamming door. The continual care of elderly parents, chronically ill or disabled loved ones offers no trophy or bragging rights for the lonely weariness involved. The extra load of maintaining household, family, work and school for the single woman, military wife, and those with absent fathers or spouses with addictions, are all too often unsupported, forgotten and rarely high-fived.

Enduring, elite and ultra events are worthy, exciting and challenging goals. The journey of pushing yourself beyond perceived limits holds great personal reward and growth. It should be celebrated, recognized and applauded. But there is another journey, for many, punctuated with struggles, obstacles and continual heartache. We must be the aid-station in life for these women, the support crew providing relief, cheering them on, refueling their efforts and sharing our life’s lessons with tender advice. At the very least, we should acknowledge their toughness and fortitude with encouragement and praise.

If you are that extreme athlete, congratulations! Be proud. Enjoy the admiration, the recognition, the celebration. But be careful that a self-absorbed ego in the success of your own accomplishment  doesn’t overlook or worse, diminish the equally successful achievements of another type of hard-core, bad ass, she-beast holding a personal record in a field you may know nothing about. Strength isn’t only measured by pace, risk, muscle or miles. Some of the world’s strongest women have never pinned on a race bib.

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Goals, Gifts & Grief

There are three qualities I’ve recognized in those who’ve made life better for themselves and others. They are the heroes (and she-roes) who inspire, overcome and rise above hardship, challenge, loss or monotony.

The first is goal-setting.  Inspiring people wake up with a goal – big or small, challenging or habitual, infrequent or ongoing. The goal does not have to be monumental.  It may cause excitement, personal challenge and sleeplessness or it may simply be something that gives them a reason to crawl out of bed in the morning. Goal oriented individuals look forward to each day with purpose and productiveness. They persevere without hesitation. They plan without procrastination. And they prepare without reservation.  Short term, day to day, week to week goals and long term monthly calendar planning lends direction, motivation and hope for those with intentional goals. (And although leisure, recreation or rest may be a day’s goal, laziness is not).

The second is gifts – as in talent, ability and passion. Everyone has something to offer others. Everyone has been blessed with at least one gift, talent or ability. Those who make a difference in life are givers.  Abundant resources and champion talents are not necessary. Givers with plenty are often generous, humble and quiet about their giving. Their secret outpouring brings delight, relief and hope to others. Givers with little find a way to share, inspire and encourage with simple gestures, often costing nothing but a little time and thoughtfulness.  Knowing your abilities and talents can help you determine how/what you can give to others. What are you good at? What makes you excited? Passionate? Unique? When you share with others the fruit of your specialties both the giver and the receiver enjoy the blessing. Use your unique gifts to meet needs, bring joy, provide relief, encouragement or understanding to those around you. For the giver, giving  is a way of life, a first thought, planned or spontaneous. The unspoken questions they continually ask themselves is, “What can I do?” “Who can I help?” “How will my response improve this situation?” The giver eagerly and often searches for opportunities to bless others.

The third quality I’ve noticed, held by productive, happy people lies in their ability to confront, manage and cope with grief. From small disappointments to major loss, suffering and grief are familiar to everyone.  Though love and music ‘they say’ are universal languages, able to cross all cultures, suffering and grief rank right alongside.  No one has escaped the troubles and heartache of life. Certainly some endure greater loss than others, but the emotion has struck us all. How you handle disappointment, loss and suffering have much to contribute (or detract) from your happiness, your outlook and your worldly view, all of which determine your level of productive, purposeful and positive living. Regret, resentment and self-pity are the greatest enemies that take (and keep) captive those who are unwilling to set themselves free from grief. Emotionally healthy, happy and productive people find the key, use the tool and summon the power in order to relinquish the pity and pride associated with grief. Though to a degree, the pain, the memory, and the loss remain a permanent part of their life, it does not (negatively) dictate their present behavior. Though it defines their past it does not determine the outcome of their future. And although it brings tearful recall, they will somehow muster enough strength to use their loss in order to help others manage their own grief as well.

Setting goals, using gifts and overcoming grief are just three qualities I’ve recognized in others who’ve earned my respect. These individuals have learned to live each day with intention and purpose. They understand and accept who they are and happily share the gifts they possess to uplift others. If offered a choice, they’d rather give than receive. They’ve decided against granting selfish pride one more day of this short life we’ve been given and have chosen to make a difference in the lives of those within their sphere of influence.

Goals, gifts and grief. Few enjoy the freedom of mastering all three. Some (like myself) strive, search and struggle.  Others remain captive with hard, unteachable hearts. Today, set a goal; share your gifts; grieve your losses with forward motion and enjoy the life you’ve been blessed to live.

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We are conditioned to believe that the more choices we have the better quality our lives. Never before in history have we been  faced with such an abundance of variety and resources.  You might think that is a good thing but when confronted with too many options we become susceptible to ‘decision fatigue’. Whether (seemingly) easy, to life changing, our mental decision-making energy is at risk of  overload. When overloaded we are likely to make hasty, unhealthy, unwise and even dangerous decisions with regrettable consequences.  Here are a few ways to avoid decision fatigue:

  1. Don’t overthink the trivial. Too much contemplation is unnecessary, time consuming and tiring. Inconsequential decisions should be effortless and quick.
  2. Know your priorities. When your priorities are firm and clear, the decision making process becomes easier.  If the options do not support your priorities, the choice is simple.
  3. Protect your vulnerability. Poor choices are often made when we’re overly tired, sympathetic, guilt-ridden or pressured.  Learn to say, “I’ll think about it.” And reconsider when emotions are not part of the equation.
  4. Eliminate excess. Too many options simply create more choices to ponder.  If there are thirty outfits in your closet, it will take you longer to figure out what to wear than if there were only ten.
  5. Delegate when possible. Choose to relinquish control over everything. You may be surprised when others rise to the occasion simply because you trusted them enough to share the load.
  6. When in doubt, trust your instincts. Decisions come in three colors: black, white and gray. Follow your gut feeling when facts, figures and futures are unclear.
  7. Learn from experience. Remember your own lessons but seek wisdom from others with even more experience than you.  You don’t have to make every mistake yourself. Learn from theirs as well.
  8. Pray. Find your quiet place. Seek Divine wisdom and learn to listen for that still small voice.
  9. Guard against popular opinion. What’s right for you, for your job, for your family, for your finances, for your future, may not match the majority. In fact, it may not even come close. That’s okay.
  10. Once decided, act quickly.  Making a decision, telling others you’ve made a decision or imagining the outcome of your decision does not complete the decision making process. Action is required.
  11. Forgive yourself. You will make some bad decisions. You will  avoid making important decisions. You will experience the pain of hindsight and regret. Learn from it. Live through it. Leave it where it belongs. Life goes on.
  12. Protect the white space on your calendar. Taking care of business at work or in the home can be all consuming and serious. Take time for lighthearted days where your hardest decision is choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream or which park to enjoy a picnic lunch.


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