I didn’t commit to any resolutions this year. I thought about it - quite a bit, actually - and I realized that resolutions made within the typical new year constraints have never really added value for me over the long term. Most often, they’ve instead added expectations, stress, and personal pressure. The thing is, priorities change constantly - impacted by relationships, work, and other everyday demands - so the often grand gesture of the new year resolution feels, to me, precarious at best.
In lieu of the new year’s resolution, I’ve found a solution that is more flexible, thoughtful, and often beautiful - the vision board - essentially, a statement of desires, dreams and sensibilities expressed as a collage of images and words.
I created my first vision board in December 2014 during a tumultuous time that caused me to begin many aspects of my life anew - or, at least continue them differently than I’d originally imagined.
That original vision board says a lot about transformation, exploration, and moving into something different. It lived in my bedroom for over a year, and I saw it everyday - a reminder of who I am and what I believe my life is all about. And, during that time, I lived the vision - I traveled extensively, even taking my first solo (not for work) trips; I became an ultrarunner, completing 2 marathons & 4 ultramarathons; I committed to joy, and became more open to love and friendships as a result; I spent a lot of time outdoors. On the best days, it affirmed my goals and self perception; during low times, it reminded me of who I want to be and the experiences I am seeking.
Recently, I got the urge to create a new vision board. The vision board of 18 months ago, while beloved, had started to feel like a relic. A great thing about creating a new vision board is that you don’t really need a plan - just:
My vision board of May 2016 feels confident, hopeful and grounded. It also feels more focused - I’ve learned a lot about what I do (and don’t) want in my life, and how I most enjoy spending my time. I also know there’s much more to explore, and feel driven to do so, especially when it means coloring outside the lines of what’s standard or expected. I love coffee and naps in equal measure (some things never change). As soon as it was complete, I knew this vision board was exactly the update that had been begging for expression.
Here are a few tips from Huffington Post on the vision boarding process that seem worth consideration:
Located in State College, PA, at the foothills of Rothrock State Forest, the Musser Gap Trail is accessible from Shingletown Road, near its intersection with Pine Grove Road (Route 26). Just 6.5 miles from downtown State College and Penn State University, the trail is easy to reach via car (there’s a small parking lot available), foot or bike via the Musser Gap Greenway (my typical access route).
From Shingletown Road, Musser Gap Trail starts as what looks like a single-lane gravel road, though it’s not open to vehicle traffic. A little over a mile down the trail, you arrive at a stream crossing. There’s a make-shift foot bridge that looks to be under construction (two currently disconnected parallel logs), or you can easily cross the creek on foot, as I did (the safer option right now, in my opinion).
After the stream crossing, you have the option of taking Musser Gap Trail to the left, or Frog Hollow Trail to the right. This past weekend, I did a little bit of both. First, Frog Hollow Trail led me up a fairly steep incline, which included a short length of rock scramble, to a section of trail called Mountain Mist. I followed this for a stretch, then retraced my footsteps back down to Musser Gap Trail, which I followed out for about 1.5 miles before turning around.
Though I had limited knowledge of both trails prior to my run, I now see that my little jaunt only scratched the surface of what is an extensive and fairly intricate trail network in the Rothrock State Forest area of State College.
Both trails are well marked and maintained, and do not appear to be heavily traveled. Always wear bright colors (fluorescent orange, maybe?), and check the current hunting season status before you head out. (I failed to heed this advice and did encounter a few hunters this past early May weekend, which was a surprise to me)
Having started my run/hike from a residence just off the Musser Gap Greenway, my total route encompassed 10.4 miles and 1,482 feet of elevation (almost all of which was gained on the trails) at a pace of 11:55/mile.
“Emily, push harder! You’ve got this - you’ve done it a thousand times! Breathe! Where’s that thrust?! Use it!!” I was mid-workout in a beginners’ CrossFit competition called Festivus Games, the shouting of my teammates and coach sounded as though it was somewhere in the distance, though they were just feet away. My muscles burned, my breath was quick, but I was energized by the crowd and the running clock. That’s the thing about CrossFit - no matter how hard or how heavy your workout, it’s almost always a short burn of intense energy (short, at least, from the perspective of a distance runner). So, stressing over a workout is futile - just focus, give it all you’ve got, and before you know it, you’re done - covered in sweat, with the satisfaction that you’ve worked harder in that 10 or 15 minutes than most people do in an entire day.
I first walked into a CrossFit box over two years ago - at a time when I was moderately active, and generally bored - well before the term “ultrarunning" entered my vocabulary. I’d been inspired to try CrossFit by a friend who’d worked it into his lifestyle, a decision whose success was evidenced by an ongoing transformation that seemed positive, both physically and emotionally.
As hard as it was to shake awkward gym class flashbacks in which middle school-aged me was uncoordinated, uninspired and generally terrified, the positivity and encouragement that abounded in that CrossFit box allowed me to do so. Throughout the first few weeks, my initial feelings of intimidation, nervous energy, inferiority were replaced with motivation, pride and camaraderie.
Over time, as my focus on distance running grows, so does my appreciation of CrossFit and its benefits. Thanks to countless squats in various forms, running hills now requires less effort. Sit-ups, handstands, planking and farmer carries are just a few of the exercises that contribute to a stronger core, which can be key to maintaining posture and form when your body starts to tire during a long run. The mobility exercises, muscle smashing and stretching we spend time on keep me loose and pain-free.
The most valuable aspect of CrossFit, however, are the relationships I’ve developed in the box that have enriched my life in many ways. Not only does this group of friends look past the bedhead, sweat, and loopy pre-coffee, 6AM conversation, they are willing to suggest you’re ready to lift more weight, run faster, to get in your face and shout encouraging words, pushing each other - pushing me - to be present and use my strength.
When I tell other runners that CrossFit is a regular part of my routine, many react with confusion. It’s understandable - I’m the first to admit that the best way to perfect your skill as a runner, is by running - there is simply no other way to prepare your body and mind to run for hours at a time. And though ultrarunning has staked a claim in my life in a very big way, this team of friends - this tribe of enthusiastic, energetic, competitive people - they are why I CrossFit.