Marathon 2014 – My celebration of life (part 2)

I have a mental strategy for every long distance race I run, telling myself easy for the first quarter, steady for the middle half, and burn for the final quarter. So I was very focused on my pacing myself during the first 10k. I knew that the only way to make it through this race in my physical condition was to go much slower than I wanted to. In the beginning, everyone was passing me up and as a male-dominated race, this meant I almost got knocked over a couple of times (I later heard that one woman did get knocked to the ground at the start). But I refused to let the speed of others influence me. The sun was already bright but most of the time there was a gentle breeze. By the 5k point, the 3,000 runners had spread out enough that I had plenty of space and was at times even on my own during the first half. It was a countryside marathon that passed through numerous villages, so a very different experience from a city race. There is so much energy and hype in a city marathon like Chicago (my first), but this time, it was mostly quiet and peaceful, which is what I needed. I passed a small village around 7k and the locals were lining the streets and all cheered for me. At that point I got a little choked up at their kindness. Pull it together. I really enjoyed that first 10k and smiled and waved at everyone who came out to watch and cheer. In fact, I think I was smiling the whole time.

The next goal was to keep a steady pace until the halfway point. It was getting hotter and I started to regret not wearing sunscreen (sure enough, I got burnt). This was the quietest part of the race for me, but I didn’t mind. I knew I would be catching up with some of the others later on. I was feeling good and positive, but knew that the real challenge was still far off. I continued to smile and draw energy from the scattered spectators. Thankfully the water stations were well stocked (as opposed to Paris!) and so every 5 kilometers I picked up a bottle of water which more than lasted me to the next one. I was breezing by the kilometers and all was well.

I was happy to pass the halfway point. And that is when I started to catch up with people who were burning out. It was also just after the half way point that I saw the first “drop-out” vans. I ran past every one of these stations defiantly. No! Not going to drop out. Defiant, but also thankful that my body wasn’t shutting down and forcing me to quit. I just needed to make it to 30k and then the ultimate challenge would begin. Steady. Steady. During this section the pain started to set in. For a while my back was really hurting. Then my left knee. Then my right foot. There is always the possibility of injury and at the frequent medical stations from this point out there were always several people getting treated for one thing or another. But for me the localized pain came and went, or at least I forgot about it. Toward the end of this section, I really started to feel the burn in my legs.

I reached 30k still going strong and braced myself for the final stretch, knowing that it would hurt. But so far, I was feeling ok. Am I really running a marathon? Is this all it is? Yet I was starting to lose speed by this point and had to tell myself to stop thinking about the time. Still, my plan was to get to 35k and then go all out for the final 7. However, I was losing steam and around 35k I went into survival mode. I didn’t have enough left in me to burn so I resorted to just keep going. No more tracking my pace and my time, the goal was to just put one foot in front of the next. A lot of people were walking in these last kilometers, but I decided that no matter how slowly I was running, I wasn’t going to stop now. You knew it would be hard. You knew it would hurt. Just keep going. I let out some groans in those last kilometers, which seemed to stretch on forever. I tried to focus on reaching the next, and then the next. I convinced myself to rejoice in the fact that I was going to finish and not think about how slow I was going. Nausea set in and my last bottle of water fell out of my hand and onto the ground. One man said, “Just 500 meters left!” and I wanted to yell, “LIAR!!!” because we had not even passed the 41k mark yet.

During the final kilometer, there were a lot of people walking by, many of whom had already finished, encouraging us, “You’re going to finish.” “You’re almost there.” “It’s the last stretch.” “You’re doing great.” At this point was impossible to smile and wave and say “merci” to these kindhearted people, who were looking more like blurry movements on the sidelines. I just did my best to not scowl at them and simply keep moving forward. Finally onto the red carpet, slight acceleration and DONE!

I stepped to the side, leaned on a side rail for a few seconds and tried to catch my breath. Then I turned around, wiping away a few tears and started walking. Ouch. A woman placed a medal around my neck and I choked back tears again but still managed to say, “merci.” It’s over. I finally completed my second marathon. Thank you Jesus.

On the bus back to St. Malo, I met a man from Portland and we talked for the entire journey back. He had completed 42 marathons and was having a blast racing all over the world. We talked about many aspects of running, from injuries to adventure marathons. But one thing he said really stuck with me. “You know, whenever you tell another runner that you run marathons, they always ask about your time. They don’t even consider that your goal might not be time-based. I’m happy to run slower marathons as long as I’m enjoying the experience and I think that I’ll automatically get faster as I get stronger and more experienced. I just don’t want to be so focused on time that I no longer enjoy running.” His marathon goal is 7 continents and 50 states. Very cool.

That was inspiring to hear. I just need to keep going. Even though my training was sub-par this time around, I still ran 22 minutes faster than my first marathon in Chicago almost six years ago. I think that this is evidence that all of my training in-between has made me stronger. Experience also makes me stronger. And the process makes me stronger. I’m already registered for the Paris Marathon in April 2015 and I look forward to continuing this journey.

I will always remember my first marathon in Chicago when my dad and sister kept showing up at different points along the route and also at the finish. They really kept me going. So it meant a lot to me that they both followed my progress online for my second marathon as well, my dad in Indiana (6 hours behind) and my sister in Japan (7 hours ahead). So they still kept me going, even from a distance!

I am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate life this past weekend and for the experience of pushing through something that is really hard because I know that it will be worth it in the end. God refreshed my spirit in the process and reminded me that as long as I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, I can endure whatever ups and downs still lie ahead on the roller-coaster of life.

Marathon 2014 – My celebration of life (part 1)

I’ve had my eye on the Marathon de la Baie du Mont St Michel for many years. But when I signed up for it a few months ago, I only allowed myself to do so by reasoning that I simply wouldn’t go “all out” this time. I couldn’t. It was March and I had already lost a month of training due to being sick and was about to head to India. So I told myself I’d resume training upon my return, but would make it my goal for this marathon to simply finish, even if I had to combine running and walking to do so.

Unfortunately, I came back from India very sick and lost over two more weeks of training as I recovered. When I was able to start running again, the marathon was only eight weeks out and every run was grueling as my body was still weak. Yet I pushed through and completed all of my runs. Until five and a half weeks later when I set out for the one and only 20-mile run that I had planned. Not even seven miles into it, I got so dizzy that I had to stop running and started walking home (2 miles away). But when I started losing vision, I knew I couldn’t trust myself to keep walking so I had to take a taxi, which I never do in Paris. The lingering dizziness prevented me from running a 10k race that I had planned to do with my dad who was visiting that weekend. As I stood on the sideline cheering him on, it seemed impossible to consider running a marathon in two weeks. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Maybe I could still do half of it and then drop out.

New strategy? Rest all week and then attempt a 10-mile run the next weekend. If all goes well, try to at least start the marathon. The 10-mile run was a bit sluggish but I felt ok afterwards. Of course, I still wanted to finish the marathon, but I was also keenly aware of my body’s physical limitations and didn’t want to abuse it beyond reason.

7_Plan_parcours_marathon_26_06_2013-300x241I had planned to arrive in Saint Malo two days before the marathon to have some time to relax and visit Mont Saint Michel, where the race would finish. This marathon is unique in that you can see the finish from the start and over the course of 26.2 miles you see Mont Saint Michel getting bigger and bigger.

I had no idea how much I needed to leave Paris until I had left. Leaving gave me time and space to reflect. And I started to recognize how many times I had been “knocked down” during the past five months, and not only physically. I was losing my physical, emotional and spiritual stamina. Most people would probably say I needed rest. But I knew that more than anything I needed a deep renewal and healing that comes only from God. And maybe throw in a marathon, too?

I also reflected upon my life since my first and only other marathon in Chicago in 2008. As soon as I finished, I said I wanted to do another one. And I tried several times. Yet I kept running into physical roadblocks, the most difficult one to swallow was a stress fracture that prevented me from running the Paris marathon last year after 17 weeks of training for it. At the same time, I have experienced many spiritual victories during these years. It really has been a roller-coaster ride; the highs are high and the lows are low, and often I feel whiplashed in the process.

Strategy revised yet again. Running this marathon would be a celebration of life, and a defiance of the Enemy’s constant attacks upon my being. Now I was determined to finish, not because I needed to prove anything, but as a metaphor for spiritual endurance.

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:1-2

The Mont Saint Michel landmark provides a point on which to focus throughout the course. So it brought a visual element to the “keeping our eyes on Jesus” part of this passage.

On Saturday, I spent the day at Mont Saint Michel. 1800+ stairs was perhaps not the best idea the day before a marathon, but I enjoyed my stroll through the abbey and along the ramparts. Then I hid away in a café to carb-load on spaghetti. On the ride back to Saint-Malo, where I was staying, the bus driver mentioned that the marathon was taking place the next day. He pointed out the start (in Cancale) and the finish (Mont Saint Michel) as we were somewhere in-between. It was a daunting sight. That is really far.

From there I went to the Expo to pick up my race bib and packet. And even though it was a full day, I think being out all day helped me to fall asleep that night. I slept for almost seven hours.

2014-05-25 08.15.48Sunday morning I was off by 6:30 a.m., took a shuttle to Cancale and prepared to take on the race. And so here I am at the start line: nervous yet optimistic. I didn’t yet know what was about to hit me.

 

 

Human

This song has a redemptive message for me. It speaks to my tendency to be a workaholic, to the drive that doesn’t know when to stop and the obligation I feel to “be there” for everyone at all times.

But even more specifically, it proclaimed a specific rebuttal to a message that was spoken to me almost a decade ago.

I have never worked myself as hard as I did when I was in college. I regularly worked graveyard shifts at a residence hall desk during which time I completed my homework, and then when I got off, sometimes I would go running or to class. At one point I was taking both sleeping pills and caffeine pills to survive. And then I was starting to prepare for graduate school auditions. So I would lock myself away for hours and get lost in my repertoire.

On one of those days, a friend called and asked me to leave the practice room to go hang out with friends that evening. That was a lot to ask, but after a bit of persuasion I agreed, “just for an hour.” I started to get stressed out when an hour turned into two, and then three. Finally I insisted on resuming my practice. As we walked back to campus together, he asked me how I am able to keep going at the pace that I do. I was annoyed by the challenge, and tried to explain that I was just doing what I needed to do. Maybe he was annoyed with me as well, or just wanted to make a point when he said,

“You’re more like a machine that keeps producing and producing and producing than you are a human being.”

Ouch.

No one wants to be called a machine, no matter how much they act like one.

Those words have echoed through my head ever since.

A few weeks after this scene, I was rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, and then transferred by ambulance to another hospital. The machine had reached its limit.

I’m only human, and I bleed when I fall down.
I’m only human, and I crash and I break down.

I’m not a machine, and in her single hit, Christina Perri voices both sides of this struggle that many of us face. For me, the imagery of a machine in the music video was especially powerful.

Of course, “only human” isn’t the complete picture. I believe that being human is also something to be celebrated. It’s amazing what humans can do. I added this song to my running playlist and when it started playing during an 18-mile marathon training run the other day, I realized what a bad idea that was. I started seeing images of myself tripping over a pebble and crashing to the ground, knees scraped and bleeding. That’s not the way to get through a difficult workout. In some moments, we do well to celebrate the extraordinary capabilities of humanity.

But as humans, we also have limitations, and as someone who constantly struggles to respect my own limits, this is something I need to hear from time to time. Although I hate falling down, I’m thankful for the reminder that I am not a machine.

Serbia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy trip to Serbia in July 2010 is easy to write about because to date, it represents the quickest visit that I’ve made to a country.

However, let me inject here that in order to count a country on my list of countries visited, there are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled. For example, an airport stopover doesn’t count unless I actually leave the airport.

My mother and I have an ongoing country-visiting competition between us. She is ahead, but of course, she also has 30 years on me. But a few years ago she was visiting me in Romania and we spent a day in Oradea with my colleagues. When one of my colleagues mentioned that we were only miles away from the Hungary border, my mom got all giddy about the possibility of adding another country to her list. My colleague was all too happy to drive to the border, get our passports stamped, and continue on for about five minutes on a narrow road in Hungary and then turn around.

For me, that’s pushing the rules a bit. It doesn’t really count. At least one purchase needs to be made, and at least some contact with the locals.

But perhaps I’m hypocritical in this assessment because I felt the same giddiness when staying with a friend in Romania very close to the Serbian border. “Can we go to Serbia?” I asked. “Why?” My friend replied. “There’s nothing to see there.” “Just because,” I replied. “I want to see anyway!”

Thankfully, she was up for a quick adventure. We decided to try to squeeze in a visit before I needed to catch a train back to Cluj. So we set out and thankfully, we got through the border with little drama. We spent about a half hour there before turning around. But, to make the visit authentic, we did two important things: we took a picture at the border and we made a purchase. It was hot at the time, so we bought and ate an ice cream. It wasn’t great ice cream, certainly not something to go back for, but I guess you could say we tasted something of the local cuisine.

The most memorable part of the visit, however, was when we got back to the border. On the Serbian side, there was a long wait to get through customs and back into Romania. I have no idea why. But we had a great conversation while waiting, discussing our futures and faith and big decisions. In the end we waited for about two hours, and, consequently, I missed my train back to Cluj. Oh well, it was worth it!

Stress Fracture

It’s Monday night and I’ve been sitting on my couch most of the day. Back when my life was normal, Mondays meant running early in the morning, working at home for several hours, then biking across Paris to teach, biking to another neighborhood to continue teaching, and then often biking somewhere else for an evening event before biking home. So usually one hour of running and then two hours of biking on a typical Monday.

So it felt really strange to sit on my couch all day. 😦

A week ago I finally had an MRI of my pelvis to see why the “adductor tendonitis” wasn’t going away after 10 weeks of rest and therapy. “Know why you’ve been in pain?” The doctor asked as she looked at my results. “You have a stress fracture.”

Crap. When I first got injured and diagnosed, I said, “well at least it’s not a stress fracture! That would mean crutches…”

Instead I continued to walk, bike and occasionally try to run on it for 10+ weeks, thinking it was tendonitis. I did often wonder if it was a stress fracture, based on my symptoms and internet research. I should have gone back to the doctor sooner than I did. I should have trusted my gut, even though I really didn’t want it to be a stress fracture.

Now I’ve been on crutches for six days. I’ve been forced to slow down my pace of life. I can handle about one outing a day. Today I went to get a blood test, but when I arrived they told me I had to wait three hours after eating to take the test and I had eaten two hours earlier (my doctor should have clarified this). It was too much of a pain to go home and then come back, so I slowly made my way to the post office to buy stamps and then stopped at a cafe for a drink while waiting for the hour to pass.

The first couple of days, my forearms were bruised and my armpits and torso were really sore. Today my wrists are in pain from the crutches. I have to take it easy as I’m getting used to the crutches or I will end up injured elsewhere.

The prognosis? Well, in order for the fracture to heal correctly, I cannot bear weight on it for a while. Pain will be my main indicator, said the doctor and several websites. So I will probably be on crutches for a few weeks, or until I am able to walk without pain. But even then, I will have to limit how much I walk. When I can swim/waterjog and bike without pain, I can resume those activities. Already the pain is lessening, although it is definitely not gone yet. But during the whole ten weeks, walking hurt MORE than biking or swimming, so I am hopeful that I will be able to resume these activities soon. I think I will try to make it to the pool later this week.

My doctor said no running until September. I’m really not happy about that because I’m registered for the Chicago Half Marathon on September 8. I’m hopeful that maybe I can start running a little sooner and at least complete the 5k race that is part of the same event. I’ve never run a 5k before.

Well, even though this diagnosis isn’t pleasant, it is more hopeful than just not getting better for no reason. So, one day at a time and I’m believing that I will come out stronger and smarter in the end. Although at this point, I think it might take a lot longer to heal mentally to the point of re-training for a marathon. This experience may continue to haunt me for a while.

The Marathon I Didn’t Run

In the fall of 2012, I returned to Paris feeling energetic and positive after a much needed time of retreat in the States. I was glad to return home, and feeling better than I had felt in a very long time. I resumed my running schedule and to my pleasant surprise, I found myself logging hundreds of miles migraine-free. That was another first-in-a-long-time.

I registered for the Paris half and full marathons the day registration opened. I was so pumped! My goal and dream was to assemble a team to run in support of As Our Own in India, but alas, the spring enthusiasm of my friends had died away by autumn and I set out on the journey alone.

My 19-week training program started officially in December, but I was building up miles all throughout the fall. I was following a program of running five times plus 4-5 hours of biking every week. For the first 17 weeks, the training went well physically. There were aches and pains here and there, but nothing that really got me down. I did start to get worried when during my two 20-mile runs, my right ankle was in quite a bit of pain. The first run of this distance was hard to finish and I was limping for the rest of the weekend. During the second run, the pain was present but not as severe. There was also the day when, almost two miles into my run, I tripped and fell flat on the ground. I got up quickly and tried to catch my breath and assess my situation. My knees were scraped up and my palms were stinging, but nothing seemed to be broken, so I finished the 5 miles. The last time I had fallen like that was probably ten years ago at a time when I was overly fatigued. I realized that I needed to focus on getting better sleep for the next few days.

There were a lot more mental challenges during this time. For one, it was a daily challenge to wake up and face the cold first thing in the morning. I prefer to run at dawn, but sometimes had to complete my entire run in the dark. I’m not sure if the snow classifies as a mental or physical challenge, perhaps it was some of both. It was also challenging to get up early and run in an unfamiliar place during my travels, when I had to spend a good amount of energy remembering how to get back. Over Christmas, I was in the Loire and thus had to train in the mountains. That was a challenge and made Paris feel flat afterwards. I also traveled to a place where it was not safe to run outside and for a week had to complete all of my training on a treadmill. Five miles was okay, but 12 miles was the ultimate killer. It’s mentally challenging to run for two hours and not go anywhere… I shouldn’t complain though, at least it wasn’t 20 miles!

Then there were all the hard calls along the way, when you have to make a decision regarding your training in light of your physical health. I occasionally took a day off if something was hurting, but usually made up for it another day. Often I asked myself, “should I run on the snow/ice?” Could have been disastrous if I had slipped out there, but I survived about a dozen runs in these conditions, including a 15-mile run on several inches of snow. I definitely need to get the right equipment for such weather by next winter. Then one night I was coming down with a sore throat and I needed to run 17 miles in the morning before catching a train to Nancy. I really didn’t feel up to it, but did it anyway. Interestingly, I felt better afterwards. I guess all that sweating did something for shooing away the virus! The days before the half marathon, I came down with a cold. I had to travel by air twice during that time, which didn’t help me feel better. On Saturday night I was feeling feverish and not sure if I would run on Sunday, nor if I would finish even if I tried. But I decided to give it my best shot and I finished within my goal time (2:14:24). However, I felt even worse afterwards and although I wasn’t terribly sore, my head hurt and I couldn’t stop coughing. I just wanted to curl up in bed for the rest of the day. So running doesn’t always cure a cold. 😦

My last hard decision came two weeks before the marathon. The hard-core training phase was over and my miles were decreasing for the last three weeks. In all that time, I had only missed 1½ runs due to being sick or needing extra rest for my ankle. So I was feeling strong and confident about the marathon in two weeks and was focusing on preparing myself mentally. I was also looking forward to doing a four-mile run the following week after running no less that five miles at a time for over a month. On Wednesday, I had run five miles and had noticed a pain in my inner thigh for the first time. I didn’t run the next day and hoped that it would be better by Friday morning when I needed to put in 12 miles. I woke up early that day because I needed to be somewhere by mid-morning. I remember feeling especially tired and wondered if I could post-pone my run for the afternoon (something I rarely did). I also wondered if it was wise to run with the pain. I paced my apartment for a few seconds debating whether to go or not. Then my inner coach said, “Stop thinking about it. Get out there. Get it done.” This was sound advice on most other days when I was simply lacking motivation, but next time I’m in this situation, I will certainly argue back.

I completed the twelve miles in pain, thinking, “I’ll go a little easier today, and maybe it will loosen things up.” By the end of the run, I was in so much pain that I was losing my stride. It hurt to put weight on it, to stand, to walk. But I thought that like my ankle, a couple of days of rest would make it all go away and I would still be able to do my four easy miles a few days later.

It didn’t go away. It was painful throughout the weekend. And it started to scare me. According to my online research, it could be a stress facture, a pulled muscle, tendonitis or a hernia. On Monday, I called a sports doctor but only got an appointment for Tuesday. When I saw him, he stretched my legs in a lot of different ways and diagnosed me with adductor tendonitis. No running for at least a week, he said, plus anti-inflammatory medication and sessions with a sports physiotherapist. “So what about the marathon,” I asked in a low voice. He shook his head and said… “Well, IF the pain is gone in a week, you can go out and run for an hour. “ If there is no pain during the run, you can compete in the marathon. Otherwise, don’t do it. You’ll be miserable and you’ll damage yourself further. I walked away with Cinderella-type hope, but now I think he may have been as confident in his “IF” as her evil stepmother. 😦

Still, I did everything possible during the following week, holding on to the possibility of “if.” Physiotherapy, medication, rest from running, stretches, ice and heat treatments, pool running, swimming, etc. But no matter how much or how little physical activity I did, the pain did not ease up. I saw my physiotherapist on Tuesday and he said to try to run the next day just to see what happens. I knew it wouldn’t be possible, but I geared up and hit the road anyway. It was even more painful than my 12-mile run and I was sort of half-running and half-limping. I lasted five minutes and then walked back home. And at that moment, it hit me. I’m not running this marathon. I can’t. I think I knew this already by Sunday, but it only hit me then when I realized that my body had shut down on me. And that was hard to swallow.

Not being able to run the 2013 Paris Marathon is a huge disappointment, but I must admit that it isn’t the first time I’ve been hindered from running a race because of injury. In 2007, I had registered and trained for the Chicago Half Marathon. Less than one week out, I walked into a pole and hit my forehead/face so hard that it was bruised and bleeding. A couple of days later, I decided I had better see a doctor about it. He ordered an X-ray. On Friday, I called to get the results and they said they wouldn’t be in until the following Monday. So I asked if it would still be okay to run on Sunday. “You have a head injury that may be serious. It would be very unwise to run a half-marathon before knowing the results.” So I sat it out and learnd on Monday that I was fine. Brilliant. Also, two years ago I was registered for the Paris Marathon but got a bad case of sinus infection early in the year, which lasted over a month. I fell too far behind in my training to be able to compete in the race.

But this one is the biggest disappointment yet because I trained so hard for it! At the same time, this strength was also my weakness and my body maxed out two weeks too early. A couple of months ago, I stopped at a bakery after a 13-mile training run. There was a man there who said he was a running coach. He started asking me questions about my running and when I said I was training five days a week, he said, “It’s too much, you should rest more.” Whatever, I thought, loads of people train this much. Then, ten days ago in the doctor’s office, I received the same verdict: you pushed yourself too hard. Humph. I had given 110% to my training regime, which pushed me over the edge two weeks too soon. I should have done more like 90-100%. I hope that my inner coach has learned a lesson from pushing me too hard all this time.

Well, I’m not going to sit around and mope. I’ve been spending a lot of time biking and swimming since I haven’t been running. These activities are easier on the joints and actually hurt less than walking at this point. I’ve wanted to incorporate more swimming (and even deep water jogging) into my exercise routine, and now is the perfect time to build up my strength and endurance in these cross-training activities. I’ll turn my focus and energy to preparing for my next goal, which I hope will be the Caen Marathon on June 16. I’ve almost reached my goal for As Our Own, but this will give me a little more time to reach, and hopefully surpass it

As for today, a friend and I met up and cheered for the entire crowd of runners as they passed in front of our church in the Marais  – from the wheelchair competitors to the very last ones where were struggling already at three miles. It seemed that there was no one else cheering on the street, so we yelled out names and good wishes until our voices were horse. I’ve never watched a marathon from beginning to end like that, and I found it to be very moving. It’s amazing how encouraged people are by a random high five or a stranger cheering for them by name. It was great to participate even though I wasn’t running.2013-04-07 09.41.43

Life without Coffee

Early this year, I gave up my daily habit of drinking coffee. For a while, I started drinking it only a few times a week. Now I have it about once a week at most.

This was a big deal for me. Even though I had given up coffee for months at a time in the past, it has been ever-present in most of my adult life. I can hardly imagine how I would have survived ten years of college and graduate school without it. Yes, I spent a number of nights at the 24-hour Starbucks in Chicago writing papers and studying for exams. However, in recent years, I have been more moderate, usually consuming only one (large) cup in the morning. I thought it was reasonable.

However, I realized that I was too physically dependent on coffee. How did I know? Well, I guess the best evidence was that I carried little packets of instant coffee and creamer with me whenever I traveled, just incase at some point, coffee would not be available to me. I got headaches and even migraines if I missed my daily dose. So, I realized it was time to break the cycle. At first, it was hard to give it up physically. I suffered an intense migraine in the days following the cold abandonment of my daily drug. But soon I found that physically, I could get by just fine without coffee. In fact, I have noticed definite physical benefits. No more coffee-related headaches. What’s more, I’ve been sleeping better.

Psychologically, the change was more challenging. I felt like I lost a faithful morning friend who greeted me, comforted me and assured me that the day was going to be just fine, without saying a single word. Ok, that’s exaggerated, but I won’t deny that I enjoyed coffee very much. Maybe too much. So I switched to tea for a while, and then I became content waking up to water. Now I’m okay with it. The health benefits are worth letting go of morning coffee comfort.

However, emotionally and socially, this is still difficult. And I think the two go together. “Getting coffee” with someone has always been one of my favorite things ever. The best conversations with friends happen over coffee. Some of the greatest inspiration comes during chats over coffee.  Often new connections are made over coffee. Even when the meetings are sub-par, you can at least count on enjoying a great cup of coffee. And in Paris, you not only get great coffee, you also get to enjoy great cafes.

My closest friends over the years have picked up on how much a coffee and a good chat could lift my spirits. Friends and family would regularly give me Starbucks gift cards while I lived in Chicago. And often when a close friend would recognize that I was down or just in a crappy mood, they would say, “wanna get coffee?” and suddenly my face would light up. So yes, I admit that there was an emotional attachment, too.

So recently, “getting coffee” has just felt so… different. When I walk into a cafe in Paris, usually the person I’m with quickly orders the standard “café,” which is a simple shot of espresso that costs 1-2 Euros. Not bad. Recently, I was out with someone and ordered the same thing. However, I realized that I didn’t really want coffee. So the next time I found myself at a cafe, I uneasily searched the menu. I like tea, but when you “upgrade” to a tea, you upgrade the cost to 3-5€. Same goes for a juice or a hot chocolate. I ordered tea anyway. It was nice, but it just seemed too pricey. A few teas at that price add up very quickly. The next time I found myself in a café by the Bastille, so prices were even more elevated. I couldn’t find a non-coffee item for less than 4.20€. So the server came and I surprised myself (and my friend, and the server) by saying, “I’ll not take anything.” And suddenly I felt misplaced in one of my favorite places and sad that coffee doesn’t inspire me anymore like it once did.

I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate the social aspect of my conversion. I don’t want to lose the fellowship that comes over coffee… even if, for me, there is no more coffee.