The Life of a Runner

How many of these quotes sound familiar?

“Okay- if I get up at 5, I can be running by 5:15, in the shower at 6:05, in my car at 6:40, Starbucks 6:50… to work by 7:10.”

“I’ll work through lunch, then leave at 4:45, hopefully the 3:00 won’t go over. Then, run at 5, pick my kids up at 6.”

“I’ll be gone five days- this means I need at least four shirts, two shorts, socks. I’ll pack my shoes in my carry on; I can buy new clothes if necessary.“

As runners, we are planners. We plan what to eat before and after runs. We plan routes. We investigate bathroom locations on these routes.  And of course, we plan for races- where they will be, how we will train for them, what goals we have for ourselves. Heck, we even plan our next races while we are in the midst of races. Dare I say our minds put in as many miles as our feet.

And this is a good thing- because I really do think that such intense planning helps us be more organized in our lives.  We know that in order to get our runs in, we have to make the other areas of our lives go as smoothly as possible. Our laundry must be done.  Our apparel needs to match the weather conditions.  We require water, Gatorade, and healthy snacks in our desk drawers, gym bags and cars.  We need to monitor the weather and have back up treadmills or tracks lined up just in case.

These are all things we can control, and might I say that many of us take pride in the little systems we establish.  And, we are also pretty darn good at adjusting to the blurps that enter that picture and interfere with our perfectly planned schedules- surprise meetings at work, out of town travel, sick kids, sick selves, family parties (the nerve to schedule a birthday party at 6… really what’s wrong with 7 to allow for a quick run?).  Bottom line, as efficient as we think our mental Runberry’s are… we can’t control everything.  Sometimes we find we need to… skip a run!   Which we all know is not something we like to do.

This leads me to wonder how the other half lives.  What do people who don’t (obsessively) run or work out do with their days? What do they do with those extra hours in the morning? What’s it like to not have loads and loads of smelly laundry in addition to “regular” laundry?  How does it feel to go to bed on a Friday night and not set an alarm? Go ahead and have that second glass of wine at dinner?  Are their workdays less stress-filled, because they are not concerned about adjusting schedules before or after for a run? Do their shoulders hurt less for the lack of a gym back lugged around each day? Seriously!

While considering this way of life, I found myself thinking that not setting an alarm might be nice. Leaving the house with only a laptop case would be kind of a treat too. Less laundry- definitely a plus.

But then I thought about the other side of the story. By sleeping in, I would miss gorgeous sunrises over the lake. I wouldn’t experience the fresh air that wakes me up more than any Venti strong could do justice. I wouldn’t be energized in the afternoon after a lunch workout.  My Saturdays would still begin at 9… but this time I wouldn’t begin with 14 miles under my belt. And, last but not least, if I didn’t run around like a maniac to do what I loved, I would also miss all of the people that I run around with. My 6:30 a.m. running friend, my friends I see on our route, my once weekly run with my childhood friend.

All of these things… are worth getting out of bed for.

There’s a challenge here, though. Could it be possible that as runners we plan too much? Are we too hard on ourselves? When our mothers and husbands and concerned secretaries at work tell us we “need to get more rest”- are they right? I think the answer is an astoundingly clear “yes and no.” Yes, we may plan too much… perhaps it wouldn’t kill us to get off schedule every now and then. Give ourselves a break and go to that party, guilt free, instead of running. Or, God forbid, just go home one night and relax after work. There’s a concept worth considering.

But then again- I have to say that, as long as we do things within reason (the author credits her father here for this well said proclamation), our frenetic schedules aren’t that bad.  I like to think that when I have my runs planned, I pay more attention to planning my life as well. I think I’m a bit more prepared- in all senses of the word. I’m prepared in a day-to-day operations kind of way, keeping my own personal business going. I’m prepared physically- staying in shape, making sure I’m properly nourished and hydrated. And, most importantly, I’m prepared emotionally… because for me, running helps me keep all of the above, and everything else together.  And as we all know, that’s not the easiest thing to do, no matter what your situation is.

So, to all of you who have next week’s run schedule already outlined in your heads, your laundry in the dryer, your trunk full of the water you just stocked up on during your weekend trip to Target… pat yourselves on the back.  You may think you’re just preparing for your runs, but in reality, all of this planning is helping you be ready for the other things in life that come up that you don’t plan for. And we all know there are plenty of those, both bad and good.

Keep making plans for that which you enjoy friends, but always remember to save enough space in your day planners for the unexpected.

Copyright 2010

by abbey algiers

Loosen Up

Winter in Wisconsin is always a treat. A treat in the sense that if you like salty, this is sweet, and if you like sweet, it’s salty. In other words, winter is not a walk in the park.  We’re headed into an even colder spell, where temperatures promise to be 0 at best. ZERO. Adding to the punch are scattered snow showers and a general gloomy cast to the wintry sky. The news calls our predicament a “bitter blast;” I call it a pain in the @$$.  Most people I know agree with this fact.

However, when you live in Wisconsin, you know this comes along with the territory, and somehow you find ways to get through the cold days and bitter nights. Now, as a runner, you can imagine that the cold presents an even more annoying affront. If it’s warm enough (such as a recent 15 degree heat wave) to run outside, one must be concerned with ice patches. The result of this run is a stride in which one’s entire body is hunched forward, and clenched like a 95 year old, fighting the constant threat of falling on one’s behind. If it’s too cold, icy, or snowy to run outside, we runners find ourselves hitting the treadmill or indoor track.  While some are used to these alternate runs, for others it throws routines, muscles, and psyches way off.

Bottom line, all of this alternate running takes a toll on our muscles.  Personally, I find myself feeling tighter than usual after my runs, especially the outdoor ones.  This is probably because I know I run like a 95 year old, with every step tense and labored.  These runs make me as sore as if I had done a 15 miler, and make me feel as if I might indeed be 95. After a long (indoor) run this weekend, I had a whole different kind of soreness, having lapped the indoor track some 47 times.  After, I vowed to stretch more and start my yoga routine again. Seeing that it’s only January, I need to do whatever it takes to loosen up so I don’t injure myself.  This winter business is here to stay for a while.

I thought about loosening up a few days ago as I ran on the treadmill at my gym. I had just gotten out of a meeting.  This was the second of the day, the first having started at 6:45 a.m. Needless to say, it had been a long one.  A few of my friends were also involved in this meeting double header, and I looked at them as we sat around a large table, dutifully ending the day with our boss and colleagues. Most of my double header friends appeared to be paying attention; I hoped I had the same look.  Others seemed to be genuinely into the meeting subject. Despite my Oscar winning nods and expressions, I was not in the game.  I had entered the “just get me the hell out of here” zone. Very professional indeed.  Were others thinking the same thoughts? I mean, how could you not be annoyed at a simple point that was taking 35 minutes to discuss?  (Come on, people!)

I became intrigued, wondering just who was paying attention and who was completely over it like myself.  My second scan of the room showed more glazed over, “deer in the headlight” expressions. This made me feel better.  I glanced at my friend, who out of the corner of my eye had appeared to be taking notes. Studying her legal pad, it looked like she was drawing beakers. (The science teacher was talking about labs and chemicals.)  At least her artwork was on topic; the doodles I was contemplating involved a bottle and corkscrew.  Then, as if on cue, my friend’s beakers became martini glasses. She even drew olives on a toothpick, positioned perfectly in her imaginary drink.  Next, she drew a wine glass, and then filled it with wine. I had to stifle my growing case of 6th grade giggles.

Thank GOD, someone else was thinking about a life outside of this meeting, outside of work.  Now, unlike a year ago, I actually do love my job, my coworkers, and my students. (See last year’s “Running in Place” or “Let’s Get Honest” to see what I’m talking about.) However, I think sometimes we just need to say, “Let’s table this and go home.” I think a lot of bosses and meeting throwers would score big points and have more productive workers if this were said more often.  I bet 10 out of 10 adults, children, or cockroaches would agree that this makes sense.  After all, in addition to the many, many meetings, we all (regardless of profession) are working very hard.

We are going to work early and home late. If we aren’t working late, we’re working late into the night at home.  Or, perhaps office hours are normal, only to give way to conference calls at 10, 11, or 12 at night with international clients. When we’re not technically working, we’re checking up on work via iPhones, Blackberries, or “the old fashioned” voice and email checks. And, if we are not physically working, we are often thinking of work.

Meanwhile, the economy worsens, and we remind ourselves that however stressful our jobs are, we should be thankful we have them. We hear this news every time we read the paper, listen to the radio, or turn on the TV. We are in hard times; there is no arguing this. And, unfortunately, these hard times have left many of us in mini states of panic and uncertainty, where we scramble about doing everything and anything to stay afloat.

All of this bad news, hard work, cold weather, and long days are… just not good. And the problem is, they build upon each other. One person talks about the terrible cold, another agrees, another overhears, and suddenly everyone is cold. Someone talks about how hard they’re working, others feel they’re not measuring up, so they work harder, and soon we have a fleet of workers running around like hamsters in a cage trying to stay ahead. And let’s not even talk about the economy and how bad it is… this could take hours to cover.

So, here’s the deal. Something needs to be done to break through this deep freeze that seems to be building up in our world and minds.  True, we can’t melt the ice on the streets to make way for ideal running paths. We can’t break into our boss’ Blackberry and erase all of the meetings, and we can’t cast a spell over Wall Street to make everything better.  What we can do, however, is loosen up… our minds, bodies and spirits. We can recognize the things that are out of our control and do our best to accept them, and give more energy to the things that are in our control.  What is the #1 thing that we do have control over?   Our personal outlook on the world around us.

It’s been proven that when one focuses on feeling good and seeing good, the bad things in life suddenly aren’t so noticeable. The cold isn’t as cold, because suddenly it’s not the main focus.  Work might still be busy, but when done with a positive spin, new ideas are generated and it just could become more enjoyable.  Positive thoughts about our work and lives can even lead us down a new path that might not have been visible through our old, cloudy glasses. We’re braver when we are positive, because our minds are only full of good thoughts. Who can be down when thinking of fabulous dreams and ideas?

For me, I’m going to say goodbye to the 95-year-old woman who sometimes jumps into my body, making me tense and tentative, instead of cheerful and carefree. Instead, I am going to run upright, breathe freely, swing my arms loosely, and keep my eye on the target-  regardless of whatever may be beneath my feet. I’ll do this, knowing that treasures are often hidden under that ice and snow.  Today that treasure came in the form of a “cold day,” and no school. Winter isn’t that bad after all, folks.

Keep smiling, stay warm, and never forget about the bright side of things.

Copyright 2009

74 Degrees of Separation

Today I dusted off my runnerchica website after what can only be described as a “long winter’s nap.”  It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written an article.  So long, in fact, that the last “press time” was one of the coldest days of the year. I believe that day’s high was ZERO.  One day last week, full of fresh inspiration and bliss, I happily noted that the temperature was SEVENTY FOUR. As in degrees.

Now, in those days between 0 and 74, I have been out there, pounding the pavement through all sorts of punishments from Mother Nature. Snow, ice, sleet, rain, negative wind chills, and just plain chills kept me company during the past five months. So last week, with the sun shining, sidewalks clear, and the temperature feeling more like June than March, running felt… strange. Don’t get me wrong, my run was glorious and toasty. However, it was almost as if my feet didn’t know what to do without ice patches or frigid puddles to dodge.  The skin on my arms and legs were confused as well, being exposed to real air and sunlight after months of coverage by Under Armour and layers.  And my hands- let’s not even go there. To be able to actually feel my fingertips on a run was a miracle.

Best of all, I had lots of company, unlike the past months where it was just me, perhaps a running partner, and “fellow running freaks” with whom I’d share frozen exchanges. Last week, every man, woman, and child was on deck, baby. In fact, if Norman Rockwell were alive, and happened to be running with me, he would have seen the makings of a masterpiece.

Neighbors were reacquainting themselves with each other.  Children on bikes with training wheels were competing with older kids for space on the sidewalk. Mothers were pushing babies perhaps not even yet conceived the last time it was this balmy. Kids on scooters, skateboards, and rollerblades crossed my path more than once. I even saw an Irish dancer practicing barefoot on her driveway.

And of course, I passed other runners. We all had the same triumphant look on our faces. We had been to hell and back (or perhaps better, Antarctica and back) and were finally experiencing the warmth we doubted would ever reappear.  Yes, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration- we knew things would eventually start to warm up. However, teaser days of warmer weather had been followed by snow and cold many a time.  We were tired of hearing, “Well, folks, more frigid temps are headed our way.” Or, “It may be warm today, but it won’t last long. A winter storm is on tap for this weekend.”

Quite frankly, the whole weather business had lambasted us so much that it felt like a sub zero Groundhog Day. Same cold story, day after day…that is, until last week. Last week gave us true hope for flowers, grass, and warmth.

When I think about the “up against a wall feeling” that this winter brought, the only thing that comes remotely close to its brutal intensity is… our economy.  This topic is as bitter and bone chilling as that cold day in January when I was holed up in my house, writing my last runnerchica. The economy is neither encouraging nor hopeful at present time; you’d have to be a blind and deaf gopher in a hole not to have heard this. The media has done a great job of reminding us of just how bad things are.  The problem with this (beside being just plain depressing) is that when we are reminded of this day after day, we start to feel like we did all winter- convinced that things are never going to change. We feel trapped and powerless, wondering when this financial mess will be better.

So, what can we do?  First, let’s revisit that 74 degree day. There was really nothing magical or out of the ordinary about it, if you look at it as simply a day reaching 74 degrees. Plus, pretty much everyone experiencing it knew that this heat wave did not signal the weather anomaly of summer beginning in March.  But what did happen was that we all changed channels for a bit. We smiled. Relaxed. We didn’t talk about how bad things were. We had hope.

Perhaps this could help, just a little, as we consider the economy. What if one day we all decided that in economy degrees… it was 74 versus 0? What if we only talked to people about how great things were?  Let’s say we made a pact to not turn on the news, read the paper, or check our financials?  Imagine an entire day without once ending a sentence with “… because of the economy.” What if we didn’t even use the “e” word?

Maybe, just maybe, if we all did this… we could start to brighten things up a bit, just with our attitudes. True, solving the economic challenges will probably require a slightly more detailed plan than this runnerchica piece. But, in the meantime, could it really hurt to continue spreading the 74 degree day message of hope?

Copyright 2009


I haven’t done scientific research, but I would bet that it’s safe to say that everyone has a list of things they are afraid of in this life.  Mine includes, but is certainly not limited to: snakes, frogs, apples (long story), and being stuck in small places or forced to sit still for an inordinate amount of time (i.e. more than 10 minutes).   Now, here’s the thing about fears; while one person can be deathly afraid of snakes, another person has two boa constrictors in their living room.  One person avoids trips to the Sears Tower or Empire State Building, another spends thousands of dollars per year on things like sky diving or flying lessons. Fears are as personal as they are irrational, and each person does his or her best to get through the things they don’t exactly dig.

For example, my fear of being stuck on a runway is countered by the fact that I love to travel.  Searching the web for fabulous airfare deals is one of my favorite past times. That said, my hotshot bargain hunter prowess falls to the wayside when I board the plane. To adapt, I try to focus on the destination rather than the journey when I’m waiting for take off.  Once in the air, I’m fine- it’s that “will we be stuck here for hours or won’t we?” thought that riles me up.  Not exactly rational- most people worry about crashing… I worry about being stuck.

I had to consider this a few weeks ago when my husband and I were flying to Spain. Now, the idea of a 7 plus hour flight is enough to cause this runnerchica to pack her Tylenol PM’s, ludes, and any other calming remedies just to get through.  But I was okay, because I knew my feet would be on Spanish soil once we landed. I told myself I could handle the long flight…

Boarding the plane, I placed my journal, magazines, and a book in the seat pocket in front of me. I had gum, water, and Tylenol. Soothing music was playing on my iPod and I was buckled in, ready to get going. My husband was next to me performing a similar pre-flight routine. I got so relaxed, in fact, that I fell asleep.  It wasn’t a deep sleep; I heard quite a bit of overhead cabin banging going on, and stewardesses talking.  As I switched from more asleep to more awake, I caught what they were saying.  “The bathroom door won’t close! Roy is coming from the airport to fix it though…”

Wait a minute… from the airport? Hadn’t we taken off? Weren’t we already airborne? I opened my eyes to check the time. Sure enough, a half hour had passed… but we hadn’t even moved towards the runway; we were still at the gate. Just as I started to freak out, I saw “Roy” burst on the scene. He clomped down the aisle to the bathroom, banged around a bit, and then exited in flash, like an airplane superhero.

Thank God… we could now take off, which was good… but then I considered the implications of having already taken my “sleep edge” off and had to face the fabulously long flight.

The pilot’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Well folks, looks like we’re a bit backed up due to weather. We’re actually #15 in line right now. That should get us in the air in about 25-30 minutes…” Okay, #1, he said we were FIFTEEN in line. #2… I didn’t believe his 25- minute estimate for one second. I turned to my husband with an “OH MY GOD, can you believe it?” look on my face. But he was sleeping.  I looked around the cabin… most people were sleeping, or quietly reading and listening to music. I realized then that I was alone, face to face with one of my bigger fears.  I also realized that since it was so quiet, I probably should try not to hyperventilate in the paper bag I had found in my seat pocket. That might be kind of embarrassing.

Well, the 25 minutes turned into 45, just as I had suspected.  Perhaps it was the pre-flight wine kicking in, perhaps divine intervention, but somehow I managed to stay sane during the wait. I read, I slept, I told myself over and over that there was indeed oxygen circulating in the cabin and there’d be plenty left for the flight.  I listened to my iPod and relaxed with my favorite audio books. I did this until the captain’s voice announced that we were now second in line and that all electronic devices should be turned off.  Darn… I was just getting to a good part in the book and didn’t want to shut down. Would the pilot really know if I kept mine on?

The Spanish speaking pilot then came on and asked the same thing… roughly translated it went something like, “As a favor, would you please be certain your devices are turned off?”  Well, as a favor, I guess I could do this. Looking around, I saw that everyone else was complying. Those people who were not sleeping were taking off their earphones, and everyone was sitting quietly, reading or closing their eyes.  No music, phone, email, texting… nothing electronic was going on, and nobody was complaining or showing visible withdrawal symptoms.

This made me think…technology shut downs like this rarely happen with such a large group of people.  They rarely happen in my house for crying out loud.  So, to see such a calm compliance after a lengthy unexpected delay was quite shocking.  It was almost as if it was a relief for someone to say… you have no choice, shut off your technology and just be.

Just be… how often do we add that to our list of to do’s?  With no noise, no possibility of outside world communication, I considered what had just happened.  During that 45 plus minute wait, which for most was just an inconvenience, I had subconsciously “dug deep” and gotten through by “just being.” Granted, I did this with the help of technology, but it was the technology shut down afterwards that forced me to delve into my thoughts and figure out  what went on to prevent me from completely freaking out.

Just as mile 20 in a marathon poses challenges beyond human comprehension, the potential for personal challenges is there for every one of us each day.  They crop up on us, like a 45 minute runway delay, and we are left to muddle our way through.  When faced with things that stop us dead in our tracks, all we need to remember that it is possible to overcome these challenges, fears, and mysteries of life. The key to resolving these issues lies in pausing long enough to acknowledge the challenge, and then in finding our inner power that allows us to overcome whatever is blocking our way.  The big secret to unleashing this power is to simply Just Be.  Sorry, Nike… sometimes Just Doing It is way too much work.

Copyright 2009

by abbey algiers

What’s Your Boston?

“What’s a couple minutes of agony for a lifetime of glory?”

-*Willie, age 12

I’ve been running marathons for almost eight years now, long enough for my family and friends to finally get it that I’m not going to stop anytime soon.  And while my dad, the doctor, continues to tell me that “I’m beating the hell out of my knees” (or something like that), I still have visions of running marathons in all fifty states, and running well into my 70’s and 80’s.   These are among the crazy goals I’ve set since I became hooked on running.

Another of my goals has been to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Now, I thought of this goal right before my first marathon, when I was naïve and green, and didn’t even know what time I needed to get in order to qualify. I didn’t even own a running watch for crying out loud.  Somewhere around mile 12 of that marathon, I set the more realistic goal of just making it to the finish without dying, hurting someone, or having a complete mental and physical breakdown.

Well, I made it through marathon #1 and signed up for another, this time knowing better than to even consider Boston.  I didn’t know jack squat about strategy or speed work, and I still didn’t have a watch. Instead, I just continued to run, happy to be doing marathons. After marathon #5, I had heard enough people talk about Boston, and I did my homework to see what time I’d need to qualify.  It still seemed way “out there,” but not as remote a possibility as it originally did. I decided that someday, come hell or high water, I would run Boston. I’m happy to report that 11 races later… I did it! Yes, last Sunday, on a crisp fall day, I laced up my shoes and knew in that weird psychic kind of way that one really can’t explain, that when I took those shoes off again, it’d be as a qualifier.

Now, while the excitement of this feat has tempted me to tell everyone from the clerk at Walgreen’s to the McDonald’s drive thru gal, I’m not using this column as a way to brag. (Really!) Rather, I want to use “my Boston” as a reminder that those goals we set for ourselves… the “I really would love to do that someday, but I’m not sure if I can but sure would like too…” really CAN happen. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to seal the deal.

For me, reaching my goal occurred when a number of things came together at precisely the right moment; it wasn’t an accident or a fluke. Boston happened for me because I considered the following:

1. Make a goal: It’s one thing to be dreamy and say, “Oh, yeah, it’d be great to quit my job and start up my own business someday.” It’s quite another thing to say, “I’m going to work at my current job for X number of months and then I will make a change.” For me, it took changing my thoughts from “Boston would be a cool place to run” to “I will run in the Boston Marathon before I die.”  I literally changed the synapse pattern in my brain from that of “what if” to “only a matter of time.”  Whatever your goal, make it clear and concise so that your brain and heart can be on the lookout for signs of it coming to fruition.

2. Preparation: It wasn’t an accident that I qualified; not a fluke like getting discovered while walking down Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. I didn’t cross the finish line, look up and gasp saying, “Oh, my, it just so happens that my time will qualify me for Boston…” No, it happened because, quite frankly, I worked my butt off.  I ran my heart out, did Bikram Yoga until the cows came home, and tried to eat relatively well all summer long. The main thing, though, is that I prepared on my own terms.  As I trained, I heard stories of people doing multiple runs of 20 plus miles. Almost all of my friends did a 22 mile training run. My running partner and I had sights on doing this as well, but time (and body) restrictions left us doing probably 2- 19 milers.  I didn’t sweat it. Instead, I felt like I was doing what was right for me and continued about my business.  Whatever your goal is… figure out what you (not everyone else!) need to do to accomplish it, and then comfortably and confidently proceed from there. As they tell me in Bikram when I’m staring at myself in the mirrored wall during class, “Look into the eyes of your teacher.” Your teacher knows best.

3. Signs & Help along the way: I am 100% sure that I would not be writing this column had it not been for the fabulous fans (pre, during, and post race) that I met on my marathon journey last weekend.  From the adorable 90 year old woman who was standing outside her house, clapping her hands saying, “You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.” to my husband with pretzels at mile 20, and my family with their gigantic sign at 22, everyone gave me words of encouragement to carry when the going got tough.  We all have people like this in our lives who say things to us… sometimes directly, “You’re doing a great job, I know you’ll accomplish your goal soon” and sometimes indirectly like the woman in line at the grocery store who talks about a random event that encourages us. There are messages everywhere… learn to recognize them.

4. Self Talk: Fans are great, but they are only there for seconds at a time. Then, you are left with your own thoughts, which can turn dark if you’re not careful. I decided that I was going to be my own best fan, and repeat some of the greatest hits I heard along the way. So, from mile 22-26.2, I repeated the following over and over in my head, “You can do it. You go, girl.  You’re looking good.” I added some of my own material is well, “Boston. Boston. (Then, during a particularly rough spell…) Just don’t die. Just finish this &*#@ing race without dying.” During this particularly bleak moment of pain and perhaps ultimate despair, a spectator interrupted with, “Girl, you’ve GOT this one.”  Now, she had no idea of what my goal was or time was for that matter, but she served as a great reminder (see #3 above) to keep it going. I proceeded on, telling myself over and over that I was going to “get it.”  When it comes down to it… the only person who can make you do something is that person staring back at you in the mirror.  And if the stuff coming out of that person’s mouth isn’t nice or encouraging, then really… how are you ever going to accomplish your goal or anything for that matter?

5. Breathe: I have to again take it back to Bikram Yoga.  The day before my marathon, I was in yoga and noticed the logo on my instructor’s shorts. It said breathe. Coincidentally, this particular instructor did a lot of talking during class about breathing, and the importance of it in everything we do in yoga and life. He said things like, “When you just breathe and trust the process, amazing things can happen.” He also said that by learning how to breathe in yoga, we could learn how to relax our bodies in other situations. I thought that sounded like a good thing to try during the marathon. When my body screamed in protest at mile 12,14, 15, 22 (basically throughout the run, who am I kidding), I kept reminding myself to slow things down internally, and just breathe.  It worked. My final advice to you, in whatever you are trying to accomplish… is to simply breathe and trust that things have a way of falling into place when you are ready for them.

Whether you’re headed for Boston or Timbuktu, friends, may all of your dreams come true.

Copyright 2009

by abbey algiers

*Willie is my running partner Marianne’s son. Marianne told me Willie’s wise words as we were approaching mile 19. Thanks, Willie for keeping us going with your wisdom!

Head Drama

12-noon- lunch time.  Baker’s Dozen (minus one). 12 Days of Christmas.  Jon and Kate (plus Jon’s girlfriend and Kate’s bodyguard) plus eight. These are all relatively harmless ways of thinking about the number 12. Last week, however, I considered 12 in a different way.  As I drove home from school, mentally planning my run route, I checked the temperature on my dash.  12.  That explained why it had been so hard to breathe walking to my car earlier.

12 degrees or not… I really wanted to run that afternoon, having spent the day giving standardized tests to middle schoolers.  I put the freeze out of my mind and focused on getting home quickly so I could run before dark.  Cold is conquered through layers, yet the wintertime 4:30 darkness could be avoided if I used my time well.   If I was going to be cold, I wanted to at least be cold in the light of day.

So… at 3:45… I was clad in a thermal turtleneck; warm running pants, winter run jacket, my specialized runner’s gloves, and a hat. I really thought I was all set.  It turns out, this was similar to my high school math days when I thought I was set for tests because I had a calculator.  Note that I averaged a 70 in algebra.

As I ran past one, two, three houses on my block, I think I was too cold to focus on the fact that I was cold.  Perhaps I was in shock.  Ten blocks later, I started to assess the situation. Yes, I knew it was 12, but I’d run in less than that before and survived in my well-layered clothing.  I expected to be cold, but didn’t think I’d feel hypothermia setting in after four minutes.

I thought back to the Navy Seals documentary I watched a few days earlier. The seal was submerged in a tub of 50-degree ice water for thirty minutes.  Scientists were studying the effects of extreme cold on his body.  I was certain my body was going through the exact same thing.   A sane person would have stopped, but to be honest, I thought if anything, this run would bring some runnerchica revelations.  For this, I continued.

Seven minutes into my run I was officially “freezing my butt off” and unofficially agreeing with my parents who would call me “ridiculous and foolish, needing to get my priorities straight” if they crossed me on my icy venture.  My fingers were numb, actually past numb, and the air was piercing my lungs.

Just at this time of ultimate misery, I passed a side street that could have lead me back to my house in just 2-3 minutes. I thought about my treadmill in my basement with Oprah waiting on the TV.

But I continued on… I didn’t want to throw in the towel.

As I ran, I used various tactics to warm up.  I blew on my hands at stoplights. I tried to control my breathing (like the Navy Seal) and relax, sending warm air to my lungs and extremities.

The absolute truth was…for my parents and parental figures reading… I really was dressed for the weather. I was properly layered in the right fabrics.  Yes, it was 12, but I was the best-dressed, most layered 12-degree runner on the streets.  This business of adjusting to the cold was just that… I needed to adjust.

Fifteen minutes into my run, I was actually a little bit comfortable. This is relative, of course, meaning I didn’t think I’d need to have my digits amputated. I actually could feel them again. Twenty minutes in, I (really)felt fine.  As I finally approached my house, I felt warm enough to stretch outside, instead of racing in like I had planned earlier.

It turned out, I realized, that what had initially sent me into orbit was the shock of the cold. It had jolted my senses, challenged me physically and mentally, and generally just kicked my butt.  Enter the head drama- I’m dying of hypothermia; the worst-case scenario thoughts- Will my hands and feet require amputation?; and the give up now self talk – Go to your warm house now, you fool.

That 12-degree run was actually a lot like life.  From time to time, life throws us punches that are revoltingly cold and harsh.  Whether that punch is directed at our jobs, finances, health, or personal relationships, it hits us like a blast of arctic air.  We feel shocked, panicked, and often don’t know what to do next.  We frantically look for the escape button or easy route that can take us back to the security of our warm houses.  The thing is, even if the escape is readily available, it’s not always the best choice. We have to go through the cold and chills in order to learn and grow.  That way, when we do finally get out of the cold, we appreciate the warmth that awaits us even more.  We arrive; amazed at our strength and reserve that helped us get through the worst.

Just as there will always be cold days on the trails, there will always be challenges in life that chill us to the bone. What we need to remember is that eventually, everything returns again to room temperature.

My wish for you, friends, is that you always stay warm, toasty, and hopeful… even when the weather outside if frightful.

Copyright 2009

by abbey algiers


Keep on Doing Your Thing

This past weekend my training schedule had me doing 18 miles. Whenever I reach this point in my training, it always freaks me out a bit- first of all, because I realize that my marathon is coming up, and second of all, because I realize that WOW I am going to be on the road for AWHILE. In addition, I always get a little nervous before long distances. This particular Saturday had me especially riled up because I was away from home, and would be going the distance solo. While 18 miles isn’t exactly torture, it’s not a laugh riot either, which is why it helps to have your running peep or peeps there beside you.

I thought about the long run a lot the night before, anticipating boredom and imaginary, scary “northern Wisconsin” pickup truck drivers who would follow me on my route. I set out my clothes, planned my breakfast, and hydrated all night long to set the stage for a great run. I even downloaded the Dali Lama’s “Art of Happiness” book so that I’d have something to listen to that could cheer me up if the going got tough.  I did all of these things in a ritualistic manner that non-runners may not exactly understand.

I woke up to one of the most perfect running days of the summer. It was sunny and the air was crisp. I felt rested and ready to start my run, and the first few miles were seamless. With conditions being as ideal as they were, it was easy to settle into a comfortable pace and mental state. I got so happy about the run, in fact, that I forgot about how much I was dreading it the night before. Quite simply, I subconsciously remembered that I really loved running, and not even an 18-mile price tag was going to take that away from me. The weather was fabulous, and no body aches or pains were threatening an early stop. My run was just plain great.  I came home with a case of runner’s high that caused me to babble incessantly and make my just-now-waking up family look at me strangely, wondering where all of my frenetic energy was coming from when they were just getting around to pouring their cereal.

Let’s fast-forward a few hours. My family and I went to a friend’s wooded property. Now, this property is a massive, 40-acre retreat that is bordered by homes belonging to our friend’s relatives.  I was looking forward to this visit with visions of appetizers, wine, and lawn chairs in mind, all enjoyed guilt-free after that morning’s run. These dreams were shattered upon arrival when my friend asked all of the gals to hike the property with her. Though tired and a little sore, I agreed to join the group. As we hiked around the property, my friend commented on the woods, the animals, and the area, introducing me to a world I’d never really considered before. Along the way, we stopped to talk to her sister-in-law and nephew, who approached us on four wheelers.  The sister-in-law mentioned that her husband was behind them in his cart.

As we continued on, my friend explained that her brother (the husband) had Parkinson’s, and he had to use a golf cart now to help him navigate the property. We continued to walk until her brother approached us.  In a few seconds upon meeting, he had invited our group of four ladies to his “man-cave.” We all agreed- after all, who can resist a peek at a man-cave? I envisioned a fairy tale man-land, including a flat screen tuned in to ESPN, and plenty of chips and beer.

Soon we reached the man-cave, and John led us in. He took a seat in his man-cave recliner, and asked if we wanted a beverage from his man-cave refrigerator. I studied the surroundings, trying to decide what made this cave special. I soon understood.  Sure there was a cable ready flat screen with I’m sure a dozen or so sports channels. There was man-cave décor and a sense that this territory was normally a place of refuge and peace for John, and John alone. But then other things started to pop out.

An electric guitar stood in the corner, with a nearby amp. Twelve harmonicas were placed on a shelf behind John’s recliner.   Next to his recliner was a stereo system, where he could play tapes or CD’s, with harmonica accompaniment. And play John did.  I began to clearly see what this man-cave was all about as John popped in a Van Morrison CD and told all of us that he, “Liked to play the blues… just the blues.” He wasn’t very good, he said, but he enjoyed the blues. Period.

For the next four or so minutes, John belted out the most moving rendition of Van Morrison’s “Stranded” that I’ve ever heard. It was moving not only because it was well, the blues, but also because it was so glaringly clear that John was 100% into this. Playing the blues was his thing, and nothing- not Parkinson’s, not having zero or four audience members- was going to get in the way of doing what he loved.

After he was done, John apologetically told us again that he was sorry that he wasn’t that good (so not true), but that he “just liked playing the blues. Period.” And, when he was playing the blues, I noted how ironic his choice of genre was… because clearly the blues are what lifted him up, taking him away from ugly things like Parkinson’s and aging.

Realizing this made me do some thinking. Just as John’s blues playing was “his thing…” running, is clearly “my thing.” Whereas John has a man-cave decked out to meet his playing needs and comfort, I have my list of pre-run aides that help me do “my thing” in the best way possible.  And, while John and I probably share a similar love and dedication to both of our hobbies, we would never ever dream of trading.  That’s why they are our things and no one else’s.

Our things… are what keep us going when we have to do or face the things in life that we don’t exactly dig. To prove this theory, ask someone about his or her “thing” and watch how their face lights up when the conversation changes from the everyday world to the world that moves them the most.

Whether you run, sail, bike, paint, golf, or play the blues… keep on doing your thing.

Copyright 2009

by abbey algiers



There is something about blasts from the past that tend to “get me” in the back of my throat, in that mysterious medical cavern where throat lumps are manufactured. I believe this cavern has a direct line to my tear ducts too, because once activated, I am a mess in the face of anything remotely moving. I realize I am an extreme case in the realm of nostalgic reactions, but I’m pretty sure we are all affected when pieces of our past are presented to us unannounced, resurfacing memories and feelings we have long forgotten.

TV series have a particular place in my world of nostalgia.  For example, last summer when the Happy Days gang visited Miller Park, I got choked up while watching them on the news. (Yes, I really did.) So, one can only imagine how I handled the recent finale of ER, a show I’ve watched for nearly 15 years. The weeks leading up to the series finale lured me in, with weekly guest appearances from past ER characters.

Seeing Carter, Benton, and Ross… it felt like old times.  Then, after weeks of “going back” on these episodes, I sat down to watch the three hour series finale.  My favorite part was the hour-long preview of interviews with cast members. As they talked about the show and past episodes, it became clear why the show was so successful. As Juliana Margulies described the show’s success, “the stars aligned to create something fabulous.” Every actor communicated that what they were doing was much more than a job- ER became their home. The real chemistry these characters shared on and off screen could be felt in every living room in America.

Clearly, I was not alone in my draw to the ER finale, as it was called the “most watched drama wrap up in 13 years.”  An estimated 16.4 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that as human nature would have it, when a group comes together that works, we want to be a part of it- whether it’s on our TV screens, at work, school, or on the trail.

This reminds me of my “flagship running group;” my core group of five friends who saw me through my first marathons. (see “Find Your People…”)  I don’t run with them regularly anymore, but when I do see them on the trail, I am (almost) as excited as I was when I saw Dr. Carter return to ER last month.  Similarly, at my high school reunion a few weeks ago, stepping into the restaurant to see old friends was like slipping back to the time and place when they were a part of my daily life.  It was almost as if no time had passed.

I was thinking of all of the above today as I ran and listened to 80’s music on my iPod. I came to the conclusion that blasts from the pasts are great… but they do hold a certain bittersweet element to them. Many times, these memories of the past, lead us to think “I wish things were like that again,” or “too bad we can’t all be together one more time.”  Perhaps the toughest part about thinking nostalgically is it sometimes makes us realize that when those good times were happening, we didn’t grasp just how good they were.  Enter the mysterious “lump in throat.”

As I rounded the corner back to my house, I concluded that there’s a definite danger in looking back, as it inevitably begs the question, “Why didn’t I slow down and enjoy that more?”  Of course I had this epiphany just as I approached my house and needed to make dinner instead of ponder this revelation further.

A half hour later, I was eating dinner with my husband and two step kids. We laughed a lot, and talked about important things like Twilight characters, middle school classes, and baseball. It dawned on me, then, that while being nostalgic is great, the good stuff is happening now.  Five years from now we will not be having these conversations. Tonight’s dinner will soon be mixed in with many other memories as we look back someday.

So, after that dinner and earlier run, I decided that the key to life… in runnerchica terms of course… is to simply enjoy the run and all of the beautiful scenery and people it brings us.  Then years from now, when our knees go the way of ER, we’ll look back with a little bit smaller lump in our throats, knowing we gave it everything we had.

Copyright 2009

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Trust the Process

As I write this, we are approximately 12 days into the New Year. As you read this, it could be 13 days in, or maybe even 13 weeks. I have no idea.  Regardless, I write with the understanding that at one point in this New Year or in this lifetime, most of us have pondered the idea of a New Year’s Resolution.  I also write with the understanding that thanks to human nature, the farther away from New Year’s we get, the more our resolutions fade by the wayside.

While there are as many possible resolutions as there are people, it seems a common theme exists in the land of fresh starts and promises. listed the following as top ten resolutions:  spend more time with family and friends, focus on fitness, lose weight, quit smoking, enjoy life more, quit drinking, get out of debt, learn something new, help others, and get organized. These are all noble resolutions, no doubt. Perhaps one or more of these showed up on your list.

When you consider these promises (and resolutions in general), it’s safe to say that the central theme involves improving our lives.  This is a good thing, of course, but also nothing to sneeze at. Lofty goals can lead to even loftier disappointments and frustrations if (and often when) we fall off the New Year’s wagon.  A few days of healthy eating followed by one too many fast food benders has the power send us all to the Twinkie aisle.

The truth is, whether we have one or many changes we want to make, we are bound to screw up every now and then.  And screwing up, more often than not, leads to a thought pattern of “screw it,” therefore effectively shelving our good intentions until the next December 31.

I understand the threat of the fizzling intention all too well.  One of my resolutions this year was to set time aside everyday for solid writing. I planned to be at my laptop by 5 a.m., starting each day in a productive manner.   My snooze button did not get the memo regarding this plan. I also vowed to limit my sugar, a promise which ended when I discovered a forgotten tin of Christmas cookies five minutes after a New Year’s Day run.

This is how most of my past resolutions have gone… they sounded good for about an hour, maybe a day or two tops… then it became “what resolution?”  However, my resolution from last year has stuck, and has ironically been the force behind my new theory on resolutions in general.  Last year, I committed to do Bikram Yoga at least 3 times per week… in order to help my running.  It turns out, the benefits to my running were the icing on the cake as this yoga instead introduced me to a whole new way of thinking that spilled out into all other areas of my life.

In a nutshell, this yoga is pretty crazy- the room is 105 degrees, the class is 90 minutes long, and the yogis do the same 26 postures (2 times each) every single class.  The class is exactly the same each and every time, right down to the instructor’s dialog.  The poses and the order in which they are performed are designed to deliver medical, physical, and emotional benefits.  Because every aspect of this practice is scientifically planned and ordered, the instructor reminds us often that all we have to do is “trust the process” and give it our 110% effort to get 110% benefits.

A love-hate relationship ensues as we do postures that are guaranteed to warm up and stretch every joint, muscle, ligament, tendon, vertebrae and organ of the body down to the cellular level.  With this kind of claim, one can only guess that the postures are hard. Maddening at times. But here’s the thing. As we go through each of these postures, the instructor recites a dialog that encourages and inspires, reminding us of certain key facts about our lives, disguised as facts about “the yoga”.

Four points I’ve heard for the past year can be directly applied to this business of New Year’s Resolutions, and why perhaps we should look at them as more of a “new day’s resolution” because “everyday is a new start” according to Bikram.

It’s a Jungle Out There

One half hour.  This was all the time I had to catch up with my friend who was back home visiting after moving to another state six months prior.  When she lived nearby, we’d run once a week, and catching up wasn’t really an issue. But she was on a whirlwind holiday visit, and we had just thirty minutes to summarize the past six months while we navigated crunchy snow covered sidewalks.

We covered our bases immediately, and gave the frigid temps only 30 seconds of air time. Normally we’d spend a good mile complaining about the cold. Not today though- I cut to the chase.  Did she like her new home and state or what… and could she please just move back so I could have my friend-since- childhood/Tuesday a.m. running partner back?

My friend paused. She explained that some of the aspects of her move were okay… but overall, things were not all that they were cracked up to be. From the extremely hot weather to unfriendly neighbors to fire ants that prevented her kids from playing in their own front yard… it became clear that the move wasn’t what she had expected.  In fact, the more she talked, the more I wondered why she didn’t contact a realtor while she was in town.  Somewhere in the middle of a really grim description of her new home, she caught herself, and tried to make things seem better.

“It’s not like we live in the jungle or anything…I guess it’s okay for awhile.”

This reminded me of times my friends or I have been upset. In the midst of personal chaos, we’ve said things like, “Well, I know things could be worse. There are famines, diseases, crime, wars…”  And while this is certainly true, I’d like to point out that life isn’t designed to be a contest of who has it the worst.  It’s okay to talk about, and try to improve, bad or even just sort of bad situations even when we haven’t won the “world’s most dire straights” award.

Let’s face it- we all go through ups and downs in life.  During these times we need our running buddies and other support systems more than ever to help us realize that we don’t have to put up with situations or things that we know aren’t good for us.  It’s okay to make major, minor, or whatever changes necessary to deliver us from situations we don’t dig. In other words, we don’t need to live, work, and run in the jungle in order for us to quit the job that’s killing us, move out of the home or city we hate, or decide to pull the plug on a frigid -2 degree run.  In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to follow our instincts and put an end to something that is is just plain not resonating with our inner and outer beings.

Because, the bottom line is… although it is a jungle out there, it doesn’t mean we have to put up with all that it brings.  Sometimes it’s okay to grab hold of the closest vine and high tail it out of there.

Copyright 2010

by Abbey Algiers