Five Weeks Until the TC Marathon

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.

For me, the hardest part of marathon training is often the final weeks of ramp up, before the taper. The mileage is higher, the speed work quicker, and the long runs longer. Here we are, five weeks before I toe the start line, and I am in the toughest part.

Last week’s long run shook my confidence a bit, and I started doubting my ability to not only run this marathon but do so with an effort that I could be proud of. Every time I go out, it feels like my legs are heavier and achier. I am not sure if thats because my stretching and foam rolling aren’t up to par or this mileage is higher than I’ve done in some time. All I know is that running has become a chore.

Not only am I in the hardest part of training, I also started school this week, which means classes, graduate assistantship hours, and homework. In addition to keeping my same hours at my part-time job, my life is fairly full. I actually have to schedule every hour at, including when I wake up and go to sleep, eat, and commute to and from school and work, so that I can make sure to get it all in. With all of this, running and training for the marathon has lost some of its joy, and relatedly, my runs are slower and slugger.

My long run was supposed to be 20 miles this week, but I couldn’t find the time to do it, so I ended up switching my schedule so that it is next week and did 15. My hope was to keep the pace relative to what I did long runs earlier in the training cycle and then pick it up to race pace. The first six miles felt fairly good, but then I hit a mental wall. My mind kept telling me to stop, to call it in, to give up. I stopped a few times for water, and I literally had to scream at myself to get back going. My paces fell, which only discouraged me more. Not only couldn’t I keep up the pace, I was having a hard time just completing the run.

That’s how many of my runs have felt lately, slow and excruciating. At this point, I am getting in my head about whether or not I can do this, and whether or not I want to do this. I just want it over.

Today, I ran with some people in my neighborhood. It was a cool, fall-ish morning, and we had some great conversations. I still kept tabs on my pace, wanting it to be what it isn’t, but this run contained something that wasn’t there at other times this week: joy. I actually had fun, and instead of returning home nearly in tears, there was a big smile on my face.

The truth is, marathon training is hard. It’s meant to be hard. No one trains or runs a marathon and enjoys it 100 percent of the time. You will have off days, even off weeks, but the point is to keep going. It’s about the process, and part of that process is shit. So, you keep running through it, and that makes you stronger for when you inevitably encounter shit on the race. You are prepared for it because of all those crappy, slow, hard workouts. You made it through them, and you can make it through this moment.

This wasn’t the best week of training, but I know that I must endure the tough weeks in order to truly appreciate the good ones. I keep going and going and know that it’s a new week and anything can happen.

Miles: 47

Goals: Keeping steady mileage and working on paces.

Monday: Easy Run – 6.06 – I wasn’t planning to run this day, but really felt good about it.

Tuesday: Track Workout – 5.06 – Fartlecks of one lap on, one lap easy, two/two, three/three, two/two, one/one. Repeat. Really good. Paces got down there and I felt very strong.

Wednesday: Easy Run – 8.15 – Easy and nice through the Sculpture Park.

Thursday: Long Run – 14 + 1 mile cool down – Great for the first six or seven and then mentally fell apart. Couldn’t get the pace down like I had hoped. However, my nutrition was much better.

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Hill Repeats – 5.6 – Not sure these are going to be enough but they feel hard.

Sunday: Easy Run – 7.1 – Beautiful morning with neighborhood running group.

Next week’s goal: Stay mentally present and strong. I want to have fun on my 20-miler this week and soak up all the training as to offer.

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Six Weeks until TC Marathon

Whenever I wake up in the morning, so does my dog Annie. She sleeps on a chair near the foot of our bed, but as soon as she hears me stirring she is up too. Her hope is that I am moving towards her food bowl.

Annie is right behind me, following me out of the bedroom, even on early mornings, like at 4:30 a.m., when I am getting ready for a run. This is hours before her regular breakfast, but she can’t tell time. She just knows she loves food, and I am often the one to give it to her. Annie follows me from the bathroom to the kitchen as I get ready to run, or sometime she sits on the couch and moves her head along with my pacing. She isn’t entirely awake, and she fights to keep her head up and eyes open. Annie is like a little kid who insists she isn’t sleepy but then is out three minutes later.

Rarely do I ever feed Annie at this time. To be honest, I am more concerned with getting a run in than her, but often, as soon as I finish, I feed her and take her for a walk. Annie should know this. It’s what we do most mornings, but still she is up with me, waiting for that treat.

On Sunday, I woke up early to eat before my long run, and there was a bit of bagel I couldn’t finish. I left it on the table, thinking I might eat it, but as I was getting ready to leave the house, decided, I didn’t want it after all. Then I looked at Annie, with her drooping eyes, and threw her the bit slathered in peanut butter.

She was so happy. Annie took three big bites and it was gone. Her persistence had finally paid off.

My dog inspired me, and as I was going out on my daunting run, I thought about how sometimes we just have to keep showing up. We may not always get the reward, but if we are consistent and we put in the effort and work, that tiny bit of bagel will eventually come to us.

My 18-mile long run was awful. I started to beat myself up after two miles, and because I kept saying “this is garbage” enough times, a trashy run manifested itself. My nutrition and sodium intake were askew, and I ended up severely dehydrated. I felt terrible during and after, and nearly quit four different times, but thanks to some of my neighborhood running friends, I finished.

Marathon training isn’t about hitting all the right paces, how many miles you can average, or even hitting that goal. It’s about showing up, for both the good and bad days, and know they are both necessary in growing you as a runner. That 18-miler was far from reassuring, but I still showed up. And, if I keep doing that, I will get my reward.

Miles: 50.5

Goals: Ramp up mileage.

Monday: Easy Run – 10.5 – Ran to the running store where I work (6.5 miles) for a group run with Brooks (4 miles). A few of my friends showed up, and it was a really nice evening of running.

Tuesday: Track Workout – 6 – Mile repeats on .10 track. Do not ever do this. You will die of boredom.

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Tempo – 8 – Four miles at tempo felt amazing. I hit most of my desired paces thanks to some help from the neighborhood running group.

Friday: Run Commute – 4 – Listened to TSwift as I jogged through the city.

Saturday: Easy Run – 4 – Nothing special, just getting in the mileage.

Sunday: Long Run – 18 – This was rough. My nutrition plan isn’t working anymore, so I am going to try a few different things this week. Also, I need more positive self talk. Negative stuff has got to go.

Next week’s goal: The next three weeks are going to be insane not only because I am ramping up before the taper but I also start my second year of graduate school today. I’ve got my life planned out, hour by hour, for most of September, but I’ve had to make some training adjustments. I was hoping to get a 20-miler in this week, but that won’t happen with my schedule. This week’s goal is to stay consistent with mileage, have a shorter long run, and put in some quality workouts

What We Deserve

A year ago, my weekdays followed the fairly same routine.

Get up, sometimes work out, but most often I wouldn’t have the energy. Shower, breakfast, and then on the train for 45 minutes. At the office, I would cautiously check my email to see what fires needed to be put out, and then I would either hop on conference calls or start creating content. Lunch was always left overs or a salad from home, and the rest of the day would be set to survival mode. 4:30 p.m. came and then I was free and trying to make the next few hours last as long as I could before I would have to get up and do it all again.

I was not happy in previous career, and so I decided to make a big change in going back to school. At first, it was exhilarating and exciting, but a year later, the consequences of such a big change have been plaguing me.

As a graduate student, there is much more on my plate. In my career, I juggled projects but I was quite intentional about keeping work in the designated hours. Now, I am using every bit of the day to minimize my to-do list. With school work, two jobs, marathon training, and maintaining a life, it’s hard to fit everything in. This week, I made an hour-by-hour schedule in hopes of feeling somewhat in control of my schedule.

Also, going to school in my mid-30s has put me in a different set of circumstances than many of my friends, who are buying houses, having kids, and climbing the ranks of their respected careers. I am working a part-time retail job (which I enjoy) and living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Being a full-time student is hard, and there are times when I think I must suffer through it. I should be doing homework at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. Or, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to get in a run is just part of the deal. By stepping outside of the normal routine for a woman my age, I was agreeing to be miserable with an unstable finances and uncontrollable schedule. That’s what I get for doing something out of conventional expectations.

Today was my day off, and so I wanted to take sometime to recuperate before another busy weekend. I took a two-hour deep nap, watched some trashy TV, and splurged on a bottle of $6.99 wine. When I say my day off, that’s relative. I still worked my school job (which I can do from home), took a final exam that lasted for two hours, and completed a fairly hard workout. Even so, I felt guilty about the nap and didn’t think I really deserved the wine. I argued that I was so lucky to have Tuesdays like this, that most people are slaving away at jobs, so who am I to enjoy a long nap in the middle of the day?

It’s often easy to think we don’t deserve things, or to be any kind of pleasure at the end of accomplishments. I don’t really need to take that trip to visit my college friend. Or, if only I can lose 10 pounds, I will let myself get that dress that I really want. We often restrict ourselves so much that when we do indulge we overdo it, whether it be food, alcohol, or shopping. We think that if we aren’t working hard, we don’t deserve to relax. We must sweat. We must shed tears. We must endure hardships, and then only then, can we have a reward.

This often happens in running. In May, I ran my first half marathon in eight years, and I had a big goal to break 2 hours (more on this later). However, I went out fast and was eight minutes slower than I had hoped. What I don’t tell people when I share this story is that I also PR’ed by 17 whole minutes. That is incredibly impressive, and yet I wouldn’t let myself bask in that glory because my primary goal wasn’t met.

Often, runners only focus on times, and we forget to look at other accomplishments we may have that don’t involve the clock. Maybe we didn’t get a PR that day, but we were better with nutrition and avoided bonking. Or, we encouraged a fellow runner out on the course and helped her overcome a specifically dark time. We don’t allow ourselves to enjoy successful or indulgent moments outside of our expected goals, because we don’t think we deserve them.

This morning, I dominated a hard workout, and then I spent two hours giving my best on a final exam. Not only did I earn that nap and glass of wine, I deserved it. Graduate school, and the life that comes with it, is hard enough, but I have to make time to enjoy it and take care of it. It doesn’t all need to be a slog fest. Changing my life allows me to spend my Tuesdays in a different way, and that won’t always be the case when I graduate and am building up my career, so I better enjoy it.

Just because we made a choice to live differently, to take a more unique path, doesn’t mean we have to suffer. We deserve to enjoy pleasures and to relax, because if we don’t, we’ll lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish, and we’ll lose ourselves.

I Joined the #SportsBraSquad

Almost every woman I know, runner or not, has had a difficult relationship with their body. They have starved it, overexercised it, shamed it, cried tears over it, and wanted it to be different.

Of course, I am no different. I was first called fat at the age 8, and from there on out, I believed that statement to be true. I started running in middle school because the sport seemed harder than others, but I quickly learned that I didn’t have the typical “runner’s body.” In high school, I was one of the slower runners on the team, but I was also the biggest. At a cross country camp, the head coach said that sometimes big girls win races too, and he looked right at me.

For many years, running was a tool to get to a thinner version of myself. Whether it was running multiple times a day to increase the number of calories out or jogging to deserted alleys to throw up that night’s dinner, I thought that if I just kept moving I would eventually lose the weight and find comfort in my body.

While I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, I trained for and ran the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in Cape Town, South Africa. The race is 56 kilometers (roughly 35 miles), and when I registered for the race, I had not run more than a half marathon. For six months, I got up with the roosters (literally, those damn things woke me up every morning) and ran. Lesotho is extremely hilly and so my legs learned to endure the ups and downs of the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Initially, I wanted to do the race because I had gained a considerable amount of weight in my service, and I couldn’t go home after two years in Africa fatter than when I arrived. (I know that is very shallow, but disordered eating and body image can warp your priorities). I tried to cutback on calories while running 50 miles a week, and soon I realized that it couldn’t be done. If I was going to run this monster of a race—something many people did not think I could do—I was going to have to work with my body, not against it.

While my body and I came together for that race, our years of feuding didn’t exactly end. I came back to the U.S., returned to my normal weight, and ran another marathon, but still resented my body for not being fitter, faster, and smaller. I gave up drinking for an entire year, went on juice cleanses and elimination diets, and joined fancy gyms in hopes of finally shaping my body into something I could be proud of, but it could never get there. I even lost eight pounds the month before my wedding (by eating only black beans and broccoli), and still I wasn’t satisfied. Eventually, I resigned to the fact that I may never like my body.

I am almost didn’t put this picture in because my stomach is rounder, but you know what, that’s just the shape of my stomach.

A few weeks ago, I found the #SportsBraSquad. This movement was started by Kelly Roberts, who is an all-around bad ass. One day, Kelly was running through the sweltering heat of New York and wanted to take off her tank top. Like myself, Kelly thought that only those with typical runner bodies had the privilege of running in their sports bras and that she didn’t belong in that group. She was fearful that if she did take off her shirt, and run only in her bra, that people would judge her and remark that her body shouldn’t be seen in public. However, the heat was too much for her, and she said screw it. Off with the shirt.

Kelly’s defiance against the stereotypical running body started a global movement. Woman of all shapes and sizes are throwing off their shirts and running in their bras because why the heck not. If men can run without shirts and thinner women in their sports bras, all women should be able to embrace the shirtless run. It’s an empowering statement, and I love scrolling through the hashtag to see women loving their bodies and putting it all on display.

“That’s so great of them,” I thought. “But I don’t think that I could ever do that.”

I assumed I wasn’t brave enough, or that people would really judge me. Any time I thought about baring it, I came up with an excuse: my bra is really old, I want to wait for a hotter day, or my route today will take me along a busy road, which may be too much. I wanted to join the #SportsBraSquad in theory, but I had a million reasons why I specifically couldn’t do it.

Yesterday, fartleks were on the schedule, and I planned to do them at the track before joining a few runners for a cool down. It wasn’t specifically hot nor was I going far enough to feel extra toasty. But, when I was getting dressed for my workout, I decided not to put on a tank top. This was not a premeditated act, and I didn’t feel a surge of courage or pride, rather, I simply decided to run in my sports bra. Two weeks ago, the thought of running in my bra was scary and unattainable, but yesterday, I approached my running attire with the same attitude as picking out what flavor of Nuun to drink after my run — it simply didn’t matter.

Outside, insecurities did creep in. I imagined what others must be thinking as they saw me bounce by, “Oh, a woman that size needs to wear a shirt.” Or, when my friends joined me halfway through, I wondered if they were a bit taken back, or appalled, at my unclothed stomach. These worries didn’t last long, though, because they were just thoughts. I was more focused on doing my hard workout and using my body to go harder that what it looked like.

A friend caught a quick video of me pushing through a speed set and posted it to Instagram. “Of all the days,” I thought, and I was nervous to see the video, knowing that my instinct would be to pick apart my shape and find new reasons to hate it. That didn’t happen. When I saw the video, I just saw myself pushing my pace. I didn’t have the same abs or leg muscles as some athletes, but I sure looked like a runner in that video. Maybe that perception of a “real runner’s body” doesn’t exist, or it does and it doesn’t matter.

In less than two months, I will be running my third marathon, and there will be a few points during that 26.2 miles when my body and mind will not agree, and one will likely falter. In order to get me to the finish line, though, they will have to come together and work as one. It’s a major step forward in my training when I can simply decide to run in my sports bra, and it not feel like a monumental thing. It means that I have put more focus on what my body can do and how it feels than what it looks like. Am I now fully in love with my body and an example of body positivity? Probably not, but I do understand that I must appreciate my body and not work so hard against it. To do, for me, is enough.

Rest Day

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. this morning as it does most mornings. Despite not working a full-time job, my days are incredibly full with marathon training, working at the running store, my graduate assistant job, and school, so I need an early start. However, such a packed schedule is leaving me exhausted lately and that 5ish wakeup is getting harder and harder to make.

When the alarm dinged, I went into the routine debate: if I take less time for breakfast, I can sleep an extra 10 minutes, OR, I could do my run between work and meeting a friend this evening. I could feel my tight legs begging for a reprise, but a speed workout was booked for the day. This scheming and planning was wasting time, and I knew I needed to make a decision. Then, I pulled out my phone and looked at training schedule from last week. My last rest day was a week ago. No wonder why everything hurt. I reset my alarm for two hours later and turned over.

During my last marathon training cycle, which was in 2015, I ran four days a week with three off. That was an extra day than I done in the previous training cycle, but I thought more rest suited me. Then, when training for a half marathon this winter, I knocked the off days down to two, most often because I needed a break from Chicago’s unrelenting weather. For this marathon, I am down to one day a week. It wasn’t a big decision, and really one I didn’t notice when I was creating my plan, but I knew I wanted to have a strong training cycle and just one day made sense.

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” – Maya Angelou

So far, one day is working well for me, but because I often have to rearrange workouts in my schedule, the rest days aren’t one consistent day, and sometimes I forget to put them on the calendar.

The expert advice is that we should listen to our bodies, but I don’t think I’ve ever really understood what that means. Like many women, especially female athletes, I’ve long had a complicated relationship with my body and have pushed and abused it for not being what I want it to be. My body and I, we don’t really talk to each other. I’ve gotten better tuning into it’s needs as I’ve aged, but I am still unsure if my body is telling me to take a break or my mind is trying to sabotage me, as it tends to do.

This morning, though, I am fairly certain my body was screaming, “BREAK!” Not just from running, but my crazy schedule. Unfortunately, I am not sure I will have a day completely free of school, work, and running until, I don’t know, graduation, but I can steal back hours for myself, including this morning.

Our society puts a lot of pressure on us to go, go, go, with messages that only those that work hard deserve sweet rewards. However, we aren’t built to push for forever.

Someone I follow on Instagram was saying how the grit and strive of sport is great, and while she has been chasing that for years, she wonders if it is not working for her anymore. I commented on her post that sometimes we need to take an “inhale moment”, in which we pause, breathe in the goodness and forget about producing and accomplishing. Having goals and working towards them is a definitive part of life, but it doesn’t need to be our constant goal. We need those rest days to remember why we are chasing those dreams and allow our bodies and minds to recover and be strong again.

Today, I am taking a full rest day. I still have to work, at both jobs, but I didn’t run this morning and I will probably take the train instead of biking to my job. I’ve got a big weekend of running ahead of me, and I want to work with my body to get there, not against it.

Are you resting today? How many rest days do you have in a training cycle? How do you like to spend your rest days, in running and life?

I Love/Hate Strava

A few months ago, I went on a social media cleanse. After a particularly tough day, I deactivated my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. I needed a break from everyone’s highlight reels and comparing my worsts to their bests. I kept Snapchat for cute videos of my nieces and nephews, LinkedIn account because it’s not as a threat to my mental health like the others, and Strava to track my workouts.

I created a Strava profile a few years ago, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I became more of an active user. If you have never used Strava before, it’s like Instagram for your workouts. You can use the app to record a workout or sync your GPS watch and it captures numbers that describe your run. It’s incredibly satisfying, at the end of a run, to see that freshly published workout with all the data of pace and heart rate as well as the map of your route. Then, you get to sit back and watch the kudos, or likes, come in.

Not many of my friends use the social media platform, so a few months ago, I tried to find as many runners in the Chicago area as I could. I also found people’s whose blogs I’ve read for years and some of my favorite celebrity runners. I didn’t know most of the people I was following, but I loved watching their runs and learning about what kind of workouts they were doing. Strava also keeps tracks of how many miles you do each week, month, and year, and it’s a great confident-booster to see that number climb each day.

One of my favorite parts of Strava is seeing where people are running. In Chicago, the most common place to run is the Lake Shore Path, but I live a few miles from the trail, so I usually only go there when I am doing longer runs. For my daily runs, I do the same out and back along a pretty busy road, and it can get tedious. But, through Strava, I’ve been able to find alternative running paths, including trails and parks that I would have never thought to check out. My go-to place for tempo runs and hills is a park I discovered through someone I follow on Strava.

Through my training group and working part-time at a running store, I’ve started to meet many of the people I follow on Strava in real life in addition to making new friends and then finding them on Strava. The app even knows if you are running with someone and will automatically sync your posts, which is kind of fun when you are in a group run and don’t necessarily know everyone yet. I feel like I have a little community of fellow runners cheering me on after every run.

However, Strava is still a social media, and it comes with some of the same nasty side effects as Instagram and Facebook.

While it was fun to find more of my real friends on Strava, the beauty of following and being followed by mostly strangers is that I didn’t care what they thought of my runs. However, I am now more conscious of what my pace will record on the app and who will see it. Maybe it’s a friend who is a lot faster than me and he’ll think I am quite slow and “not a real runner.” Or, a friend I’ve been running with who is pushing me and she sees that my pace is slower than what we’ve been doing together. Will she be disappointed?

On some runs, when I am not in a good place, I will think mostly about how the numbers will look on the app and completely disregard how I am feeling. I put the post and how it will be perceived ahead of my fitness and health.

Also, while I enjoy seeing distances and paces, Strava was practically built for runners to compare themselves to others. We runners already do that, but it is more accentuated on the app. I am constantly scrolling through friends’ activity logs to see how they did in a specific race, what their typical heart rate is, and how many miles they’ve done this year. And, that’s when I sink into the comparison despair.

I am not fast enough.

My heart rate is too high.

I am not going far enough.

The other day, I had just finished a long run and was feeling fairly good about it. I logged my workout to Strava, and then came back to the app a few hours later to see my kudos and what other people had done that day. One post was from a woman who I have never met but are connected through mutual acquaintances. We are running the same marathon in October and our paces are fairly similar. Her long run that day was several miles more than mine, as was her weekly mileage. I started to panic that I wasn’t doing enough and that my training was maybe too easy. 

This self-doubt lingered for a few hours, and this is why I have a troubled relationship with Strava. If it wasn’t for the app, I wouldn’t know anything about her training, nor would I have any reason to compare it to my own. I have lots of friends who are faster and run further than me, and their harder workouts don’t seem to bother me, but when someone is right at my level I automatically stack her against myself. It’s practically habit.

Training for a marathon by judging yourself next to someone else’s paces and mileage is a really crappy way to train for a marathon. Someone else’s running is not my running, and if I continue to fixate on where I am compared to others, I will burnout or, worse, end up injured. Running will lose its joy, and I will be chasing numbers, which again is a really terrible way to train.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that numbers are just half the story. The other day, I had a great run in which my pace was dropping each mile, but two different times I forgot to pause my watch when I stopped for water and at a red light. My overall pace was slower because of the elapsed time, however it wasn’t reflective of how hard I worked. We can go ahead and publish our run data to Strava or Instagram, but we are the only ones that know what that felt like. And that goes with others. Just because someone ran seven miles at 6:30 pace doesn’t mean it was a great run.

Because I do really like Strava, I am not reading to give up on it. Yes, scrolling through on a Sunday morning can cause me to question my own training and abilities, but that is on me. I can still be on Strava but put up boundaries to not let it define me as a runner. That will take some self-esteem work on my part and a remember that numbers are just numbers and progress can also be felt. In the end, what matters more than the data posted is that I keep showing up day after day.  

I want to hear from you! Do you use Strava? Do you like it? Also, let’s be friends!

The Holiday (red, white and) Blues

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Around the December festive season, there are tons of articles, tips, and resources for those experiencing the holiday depression. It’s a triggering time for people as they recap on the losses from the year, reminisce holidays that were merry-less, and try to maneuver fraught relationships with family. What we forget, though, is that there are other holidays that can cause an onslaught of emotions.

For me, it’s the Fourth of July.

I know that seems weird, like, who doesn’t like the Fourth of July? All you do is eat hotdogs, watch fireworks, and go to the beach. First, I don’t eat hotdogs (unless they are vegetarian), but it’s not that I am not a fan of Independence Day. Rather, I feel the pressure to have such a star spangledly great day that I end up disappointed and discouraged. You know, like the way many people feel about Christmas.

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Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have fireworks. When my dad was a kid, his neighbor’s roof caught fire because of some stray fireworks, and the event scarred him so much that he refused to let us get some, other than a few smoke bombs. We spent most July Fourths watching other kids delight with glee as they shot off bottle rockets and fountains.

As a teenager, most kids in my town celebrated my drinking cheap beer on a sandbar on the Missouri River. I was never invited to these parties, and although I pretended that I didn’t care, I would have certainly got on a boat if someone offered to take me there.

From there, the mid-summer holiday was a measurement to see how my life is measuring up to those portrayed in advertising or Instagram. A successful Fourth of July meant that I was at the beach, surrounded by tons of my best friends, drinking beer, eating charred food, and wearing red, white, and blue. In the last five years, I’ve had just one Independence Day like that, and although it was a really great day, I’ve felt lonely and ashamed every other holiday. Last year, my husband and I spent most of the day indoors packing for a move to another apartment, and I ended up in tears because no one had invited us to a barbeque, which surely meant that all of my friends decided to hang out without me and that they no longer like me.

Riiiiight.

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Social media and other forms of media paint the perfect picture of how we are supposed to live, not just on holidays but basically any day, and it’s quite easy for us to believe that our lives look slightly different than we are doing them wrong. But, that’s just not the truth.

Holidays come and go. Some years will be terrific, and they may look close to what we hoped they would be, but others will not. You may spend them alone, or they’ll have less glitz and glamor, but they have nothing to do with yourself worth. Your life, and all that it contains, can’t be boiled down to one day, so we can’t expect to have the perfect holiday every year.

I know that the Fourth of July is a triggering day for me, and so I can prepare. Some years, I try to make plans with friends, but if it doesn’t come together, I don’t force it. Like this year, I was invited to a barbeque at a friend of a friend’s house, which sends my social anxiety into overdrive, and I have to ask myself: am I going because I want to or because I feel like I need to be at a barbeque? Probably the latter.

Also, I can let go of expectations. I can still have a good Independence Day at home with my husband and our dog (who is terrified of the fireworks, and I am not sure I even feel comfortable leaving her home alone) even if it doesn’t like the Fourth of July’s from TSwift’s Instagram account.

Instead of being disappointed that I am not on a yacht with a bucket of beer, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the day given to me. I am going to run a race, Skype with an old friend, and take a long deserved nap. Maybe I will go to the beach or watch some fireworks, but maybe not. I am in control.

Holidays are a good time to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be perfect nor live up to the shoulds. We are in charge of our lives, not idealized expectations. For me, the Fourth of July, will be good practice for loving the life in front of me and letting go of all comparisons.

How are you celebrating the Fourth? What could you let go of this Fourth?