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

Welcome to the Show

Like every other teacher (and kid, of course) across the country, I have been putting big X’s on my calendar to count down the days of school. Note that my countdown routine has not changed since I was in 3rd grade. I start in April (some years November) and then proceed to inform everyone in my life of the count until the very last day.  That’s always a big hit with my “regular job” friends.  At runnerchica press time, I have four and a half days left.  By the time you read this, it may be three and a half.  But who’s counting.

During this countdown, there are certain markers that let me know the end is near. My annual spring marathon is one of them- I find that training and preparing for months is a nice distraction when work (school) and Wisconsin’s never ending winter could otherwise put me in quite a funk.  After my mid-May marathon, I have hit another milestone, and know that I just need to get through Memorial Day. Then it’s the home stretch, baby. One of the highlights of the home stretch is my middle school’s annual talent show as it’s like a victory party for surviving another year with 6th-8th graders.

Each year at show time, I am sentimental, exhausted from 9 months of teaching, and fearful… that the pack of wolves otherwise known as 12-14 year olds will eat the brave performers alive.  To the outsider, or alien perhaps, all events tied to this hour long affair are probably quite entertaining.  6th, 7th, and 8th graders are dismissed from their classes in what is meant to be an orderly fashion. In reality, it’s more like the running of the bulls, as students trample to the school’s theater.  Once inside, teachers scramble, trying to make sure the “hooligans” sit apart and the “good kids” (relatively speaking) are seated and quiet. The aisles are then lined with teachers ready to pounce on anyone threatening to insult those on stage. Translation- say anything that could send these poor performers to therapy, and you’re dead meat.

However, for some miraculous reason, when the lights dim, and the curtain opens for the first act, the animals become human again, and “get” how brave those on stage are.  The hotshot hecklers are quiet and still.  The teachers stop worrying about the hecklers, and focus on the kids on stage who are amazing for simply having the guts to be there, let alone perform. (Personally, at this point, I whispered to the guidance counselor that if I were on stage, the school nurse would need to be nearby, with paddles in hand.)

This year, two girls started the show wearing pink tutus. I wasn’t sure if they were going to dance, sing, or lip sync. They did all of the above… to a song called “The Show.”  The lyrics were absolutely perfect for this audience, although I’m not sure the kids considered them as deeply as this runnerchica did.

That said, before I continue, it’s important to review what it’s like to be 13, that wonderful time in life when absolutely everything about your body, social circle, and psyche change on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. You are under the constant scrutiny of friends to “be cool” and teachers and parents to “be good.”  Anything you say, do, or wear is a huge risk, for it could leave you friendless and a “total geek” by 4th hour.  Best years of your life… not.

So, when this song began with “I’m just a little bit caught in the middle. Life is a maze and love is a riddle…” the girls had my attention.  They went on to say, “I’m so scared, but I don’t show it.  I can’t figure it out; it’s bringing me down.  I know I’ve got to let it go and just enjoy the show…”

As they sang, I scanned the crowd and saw how true these lyrics were for every sassy middle schooler. Then I thought of everyone in that theater- teachers, parents, and administrators.  I thought of how these lyrics are right on, no matter how old you are. While more intense for middle schoolers… isn’t life pretty much a maze for all of us? From the smallest of questions (which fall marathon should I do?) to life’s more challenging questions (Should I quit my job? Write a book? Move to Georgia?), aren’t we all just trying to figure it out?

I’m pretty sure we are. So, with the thought that figuring out life is something we all must do, on some level or another, I think it’s best we follow the advice of the two middle school girls and “… let it go… And just enjoy the show.”

Then, it really doesn’t matter how many days of school are left… because we’ll be making each one count to the fullest.

The Other Side of the Coin

This past Sunday, I met my running partner at mile 19 of her marathon, in order to run a few miles and offer some bit of encouragement, or at least banter to keep her mind off the remaining 7.2. To find her, I chose to run “against traffic” so to speak- I ran on the sidewalk, on the same side of the street as the runners. From this vantage, I played the role of a “fan on the run.” I yelled to them. Called out their names. Said all of the things I thought I would want to hear if I were them, at that point in the race. After several “woo-hoo’s” “you go girl” and “go so-and-so,” I realized that a fresh faced runner, gleefully shouting bits of encouragement probably was more annoying than helpful to them. Accordingly, I politely shut up. Instead, I focused on finding my friend as quickly as possible so I could jump in to run “with” the crowd versus against it.

I found my friend just before the 19 mile mark. I must say, she was on the high end of the “you are looking great for mile 19” spectrum. Many runners around her did not have the same spring in their steps, or the ability to carry on a conversation, laugh, and, well, function normally. 19 is usually the point at which the “I would give anything to be anywhere else on earth” thoughts start to set in. Not my friend, though, she was  rarin’ to go. So we went, through the crowds and to the water stop. Let me note here that it is very interesting to run through a water stop when you are, in running terms, “completely sober.” (i.e. Fresh, not thirsty, not hurting, not delusional… a civilian amongst the athletes in the heat of their games.) So, completely sober, I saw the runners chugging water with drool on their faces. I saw them spit up things. I saw them throw cups to the ground with sloppy determination. I observed people who looked like they were going to lose their cookies, and believe me, I felt their pain. This is not a fun place to be, with your stomach crying bloody murder at the same point your legs are on the verge of turning into sand bags and stopping you dead in your tracks.

All of these things happen right before the infamous “a marathon is twenty miles and a 10K” point. Translation… this run in the park is NOTHING until the remaining 6.2. Another translation- this is officially the point where you CURSE the name of the person who first said this quote to you.  I considered this thought as I talked to, and monitored my friend and those around her. I sensed my immediate company was officially entering the “shoot me, hurt me, do whatever it takes to end this” zone.

Being a runner, this is a challenging place to be. Since I knew just how miserable this point of the game is, I wanted to choose my words carefully. I tried to break down the remaining miles down into palatable chunks. “Okay, so we just need to get to 21… then, well…” (You still have FIVE hell filled miles.) What do you say when you realize really there’s nothing to say? I was dumbfounded. I continued on, silent, feeling responsible for entertaining my friend and maybe even those around her.

As I silently ran, I began to notice the faces of the crowd. I felt like an imposter as they cheered me on… “You’re looking good…” Of course I was looking good, I had been running for about twenty five minutes. I smiled, wondering if they’d figure out I was a poser. I decided I’d play along with the game, and really listen to what people were saying. Yes, there were the typical, “You’re almost there…”  lines that are always heard from mile 12 all the way up to to 26.2. I looked at the faces of these fans, and they appeared so sincere, I forgave them for their extreme misperception of the 5 miles that they considered an “almost.”

I heard them yell my friend’s name, and others around us who were wearing bib numbers with their names. All of these random shouts seemed to blend, one into the other, until one fan stuck out.   She was an older woman, with the look and air of a really hip grandma. She was planted somewhere around mile 22 and a half. What she said was perhaps the best bit of encouragement I’ve ever heard- today or during “real” marathon runs for me. She looked directly at my friend and me and said, “You girls should be so proud of yourselves.” Wow. She nailed it. At that point, the enormity of the first 20, and the subsequent 10K all hit home. Regardless of how crappy or good, how fast or slow, pretty or ugly each person’s marathon is… completing it is pretty darn impressive.

When she said this, I wondered if my friend heard her. I looked to her, and her mouth had a more smiling look to it than the pained look I had seen just seconds earlier. I took this to mean she had heard it, sort of like one hears their loved ones talking to them right before they’re wheeled into surgery. The words served their purpose for that brief moment in time, and that was all that mattered.

But I will always remember that genuine and sincere fan who stated the obvious. We- the marathoners, half marathoners, anyone who is working to achieve a goal- on or off the pavement- should really be proud. If you’re out there, going for it, or if you were out there and did it… don’t forget to give yourself credit for all of the hard work that got you to that point… because, after all, it’s pretty darn impressive.

Remember what your accomplishments look like from the “other side of the coin…” and pat yourselves on the back!

Footprints in the Snow

This morning marked the first official REALLY COLD run of the season. “Really cold” is the nice way of saying it is colder than ______  or it is so _______’ cold (insert your favorite profanities).   As I ran to meet my friend on this bone chilling morning, I watched my footing to avoid slick patches and dangerous black ice.  Although challenging, I loved every step.  Feeling the crisp air on my face, seeing the snow on the early morning trees, and listening to bits of snow crackle under my feet made me quickly forget the relationship I struggled to break off with my snooze button just minutes ago. It was great to be out.

As usual, my friend and I filled our run with nonstop chatter. Just before we got to the point where we went our separate ways, she told me an inspirational story. She ended it with, “I don’t know, I thought maybe that would be a good runnerchica starter.” No pressure of course. 😉  Although I tried to “work” her topic idea on my run home, I just wasn’t having luck with it.  Instead, my mind wandered to about six million other topics… no focus for this chica so early in the morning. In the midst of my brain chatter, I noticed the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. Again, it felt rhythmic and therapeutic.  After awhile I realized the crackling could lead to falling, so I moved to the snow, leaving a trail of my Brooks’ footprints for a good mile.

After noticing these prints, one thought led to another, and I began to think of the global warming talk of “Carbon Footprints.” Completely logical to ponder global warming when you’re freezing, right? Right. And, truth be told, I usually don’t give global warming a lot of direct thought. Sorry, folks! I try to be a good earth lover, really. But, my dedication to saving our planet is sparked mostly by common sense (I reuse, recycle, and walk vs. drive when I can!), and my energy-conserving husband who has been trying to remind me to close doors and turn off lights. I’m not one to think about carbon footprints or the planet’s temperature on a daily basis.

I decided to do some Googling about these footprints; my search sent me to (actual site) where I learned that everyone has a carbon footprint. It’s defined as a way to measure the relative impact of our actions- as individuals, businesses, communities and countries, as we eat, work, travel, play, etc. – in terms of the contribution made to global climate change.  It’s sort of a measure of how the bad things we do (wasting gas, leaving lights on, etc.) leave a negative impact on the environment.

After making a mental note to lighten my own carbon footprint, I considered the fact that much information about this is dispelled in a “don’t’ do this, don’t do that” sort of way that suggests that if we keep leaving such deep imprints, man oh man is our planet going to be in trouble. Now, this is fine advice. It is great advice, actually. However, I thought about how the tone of these messages was more negative than positive, as are many other messages we read and hear daily. I realized many of our local (and global) news reports focus on the doom and gloom- of warming, the economy, the wars, and everything else bad and ugly. Sort of depressing stuff.  I then wondered- what if, for one day, we just called attention to the positive things that are happening? The good things we are doing to leave our mark on the world, but often get ignored? What if we even gave these things a name? For this runnerchica, let’s call these positive contributions our Carbon-less footprints.

Carbon-less footprints are powerful. They are everywhere and are left in the places we least expect them, by the people we least expect to be leaving them. Carbon-less footprints happen every moment of every day…and the only negative about them is that we often underestimate our ability to leave them. There are a million or so different footprints we can leave- from a smile to someone we pass on the street to support we give to a friend in need to a relentless search for the cure to a serious disease. There’s no maximum or minimum to what our footprint, or prints have to be. That’s the beauty of them. It’s just a matter of us deciding how and where we’re going to leave them.

Take my parents, for example. They are in their early 80’s- they could be just kickin’ back and enjoying life. Instead, they are leaving some serious footprints. My mom has been president of her library board for over 20 years, and is currently spearheading the efforts to build a new library. She is fundraising, running meetings, emailing clients…with the vim and vigor of a 30 year old… so that her community can have one fabulous library when all is said and done. Among other things, my dad has worked many years to put together a day care center for adults with Alzheimer’s. Neither of them had to do these things; yet they did because they are driven with the desire to make a difference. These are the things they choose to do.

As I’ve been runnerchica-ing for the past year, I’ve tried to think of a way to incorporate the cause I’m passionate about, and what I think is one of the best ways to make a “Carbon-less footprint” if you’re a runner who wants to make a difference.  Solution: run for a charity. There are many, many charities that runners, walkers, and bikers can choose to support to make a difference. My charity of choice happens to be celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program began 20 years ago when a man from New York got some friends together to run a marathon in honor of his daughter, a leukemia survivor. This man did this because he decided he had to do something to put a dent in this disease. He couldn’t stand the thought of other fathers, other families going through a similar situation.  His solution was to get a group of like-minded runners together to participate in the New York City Marathon. They asked people to sponsor them, in hopes of raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This group wasn’t planning on changing the world; they were just looking at a problem in front of them, and were passionately doing whatever they could to make a difference. Their efforts yielded two very important results- first, they raised $322,000 at that marathon. Second, they began Team in Training- an organization devoted to raising money to eradicate leukemia and other blood cancers.  380,000 participants later, the organization has raised approximately $900 million dollars!

Twenty years later, unfortunately, blood cancers aren’t wiped out yet, but with each person that participates in, donates to, or even hears of Team in Training… that goal is getting closer to being realized. The best part of Team in Training is that it brings hope and energy to those running, and more importantly, those who have leukemia or other blood cancers. When it comes to race day, Team in Training runners from all around the country, join together in a sea of runners donning purple Team in Training jerseys. The participants in these full and half marathons have one special thing in common- they run with hope, and spread it to all watching and all involved with this fabulous program. Every participant whose feet hit the pavement leaves a mark that says… together, we can do this. By simply caring enough to want to make a difference… a difference can be made.

The great thing is that when we are doing all we can to bring good into the world, it tends to drown out all of the other negative messages. That makes it all the more worth it!  So… whether you make your imprint by putting one foot in front of the other in a race for charity, or in ways that you don’t even realize, remember one thing. Positive things are happening in the world and will continue to… regardless of what the news is telling us each day.

We all have the power to leave a unique imprint on this world… so, find your passion and go with it, friends… and get the world talking about the positive changes that are everywhere!

Post Marathon Thoughts

Post Marathon Thoughts

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” – Emil Zatopek

If the title of this piece caught your attention, I am guessing you’re reading for one of the following reasons:

1. You are currently training for a marathon.

2. You just completed an event, and are currently going through withdrawal, desperately looking for something to remind you of the run.

3. You’re teetering on the edge of signing up for a marathon- so you are secretly asking everyone you know about marathons and secretly going on running sites during your lunch hour.

4. You have run marathons before and are now injured, looking for any type of fix to satisfy the void you feel in your life.

5. Someone you know and/or love runs marathons and you are trying to make some sense of their insane ritual.

Whatever your reason for finding this article, you did. And if you didn’t already know it, you are about to find out that training for a marathon goes far beyond miles on the pavement. The event lasts longer than the time it takes to get from start to finish. And, it is true when people say that one finishes a marathon a different person, walking away with a sense of pride that no one can take away.

I know all of these about marathons, and I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete one. This is partly why I run them, but not entirely. I also know that the training and the run itself bring about forms of pain and discomfort that many would argue man should not be subjected to voluntarily.

Yet I still run.  And gladly. Why do I, why do you, why does anyone suffer through long training runs in all sorts of heat and cold, battling stomach ailments, injuries, strains, missing toenails, and a compromised social life? Why? (And if you’re reading this as a possible wanna-be marathoner, you may be asking, just why the hell should I sign up for this anyway?)

Well, my friends, I run, and I suspect many of you do as well, because we realize that the trials of doing a marathon closely resemble the trials of life. And, perhaps dealing with these trials that we choose to endure helps us know that we can endure anything that life throws us that we don’t exactly sign up for.

In fact, if you think about it… the 26.2 miles of highs, lows, and everything in between can be compared to our lives. Really. Let’s examine this a bit more closely. As you read, think about any challenging situation that you have had to go through in your life- divorce, job loss, move, death of loved ones, illness, or just plain temporary disillusionment. Before these things happen, more often than not, everything is pretty normal. You’re plugging along, ready to start your day. You’re excited, generally happy, living your life.

Miles 1 and 2 of a marathon are like this. You start out slowly, navigating your way through the crowd. Sure there are blips, there are people in front of you blocking your way that may annoy you… but you are happy to be running. You are energized by the crowd and things around you. Bring it on, you think.

Miles 3 through 5 are more of the same. So far, you have been going and feeling great. In fact, you are feeling so great that when you hit mile 5, you are surprised. Am I here already? Wow! I am fit.  I am ready for anything life has to offer me. This- this marathon, this life is so darn motivating. What can’t I do!

Miles 6 and 7 come on, and you start to think about what is in front of you. You realize you’re in for a journey, and for the first time, you allow yourself to question just why you signed up for this. In life- this is the point that something troubling begins to creep into an otherwise happy existence. “Huh,” you think, “Something feels off.” But you have no idea of what that is.

Never fear, miles 8 and 9 come more quickly than you thought and you are rejuvenated, temporarily full of pride that you are nearing the halfway point. Not there yet… but you can logically feel it in your head. In life, this is like a temporary reprieve from the problem that is brewing… it’s out there, alright, but not yet close enough for you to see or feel. Luckily, you have enough going on so that you do not yet notice the thick clouds overhead.

At mile 10 you are so distracted that you have hit the mark of two digits that you don’t see the storm that is just around the bend. Now it’s just a matter of a 16-mile long run, you tell yourself, in hopes of fooling for just a moment.

Miles 11 and 12 are here, and the trouble is officially brewing. Things that were once pleasant, runners whose company you thought you enjoyed the first ten miles… they are now beginning to morph into the Forces of Evil. In a real life crisis, this is the point when you realize something is definitely up. You are looking at the problem and know that the only way to go is forward, yet that seems more difficult than you could ever imagine.

13.1 and halfway there. Yip yip hooray. For a minute millisecond, this halfway point means something to you. If you could do the first 13.1, you can surely continue for the next. Right? You use this same logic in the life crisis section of the marathon. Regardless of the marathon you’re in… people have gotten through this before- but can you? Of course you can, because you’re TOUGH.

Mile14- A second wind is starting to form and you get your groove back… enough to initiate a self-induced kick in the butt. You are not getting to the finish line by whining. No siree. YOU are a fighter, so fight… dammit. You try to fight, in this marathon, just as you would if you were entrenched in one of life’s marathons. When the going gets tough… YOU get going. Right? So you take that gel you’ve been saving for just this moment, slurp it down with some water, and carry on.

Carry on until 15 when you realize its time to make a porta potty stop. You’re thinking right about now that life is pretty crappy, in more ways than one. Runners ahead of you are ticking you off; runners behind you are ticking you off. In fact, EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is ticking you off. And guess what… only 11.2 to go. In the scheme of life’s problems, this is the moment you realize that you are officially at the point of no return. You know the problem. You see its ugly face looking at you head on. It’s hard, and you are the only person who can get through it. Yet, at this moment in time, you are feeling so gosh darn crappy that you don’t know what you’re going to do. So, you look for power gel in the form of friends and family, therapists, Wellbutrin… whatever it takes to get you from here to there.

Which, at this point you’re wondering…. WHERE THE HELL IS THERE? Does a 16-mile marker EXIST? Are race officials playing a nasty trick on you and have they moved it? Has a dwarf hidden it??? FOR GOD’S SAKE???? And… just when you think you can’t run another step, you see it. It is a diamond in the rough, and you could kiss it. The sign, like the mini saviors we find in our lives… literally is the only thing keeping you going.

Again with a second wind. Or is it fifth or sixth? At this point, nothing is clear other than the fact that you know you need the people you see on the course to guide you, help you, cheer for you. You realize you cannot do this alone. Even doing it with help is questionable. Your mind… right now… is not working so well. You know your problems; they could not be more evident. Side ache, stomachache, leg ache… you’re pretty sure every part of your body hurts. You’re also pretty sure that you hate everything within a five-mile radius. YET… you also know that somewhere deep inside all of your pain lies an inner reserve that you never knew you had. Oh yes, like a gigantic bottle of Gatorade, you are pulling out all the stops now, and something inside you is kicking in… Albeit slowly… to save you.

17, then 18 come about two lifetimes later and it is with annoyance rather than joy that you greet these markers. THIS ISN’T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR, you roar.

THIS is first of all, supposed to be 19 or 20 and you’re supposed to be feeling better now. Funny though…as much as you feel like stopping, throwing in the towel, strangling the runner in the stupid pink shorts ahead of you- you don’t. You continue, with one foot in front of the other, because you know that this is the only way you are going to reach your goal. You are going to make it to at least mile 19, if it kills you.

So, even though you were quite sure many times it was indeed going to kill you…. you made it to 19. Made it, and knew that you were close to the golden twenties. Your problems are still there, yet you have called upon the backups as needed, and something inside you lets you know you’ll be okay. Roughed up and tired… yet okay.

And then… the long awaited mile 20. At this point you remember many things- one of which is someone saying that a marathon was 20 miles, and a 10 K. You realize you now that a 10K is nothing to sneeze at, and you decide that now the only way you can continue is to take it painstaking mile by mile, like others before you have done. Step step step step. Each step hurts, yet each one is getting you there- you know this.

They say things have to get worse before they get better… and by golly, a marathon might just have been the birthplace of this statement.  At 21 and 22 you find yourself praying for a sniper, natural disaster, or any other show-stopper that could put you out of your misery. Similarly, in life… the problems we face smack us flat down on our faces at one point, and it is only when we are at our lowest point do we realize our strength, our potential.

23 is a blur. There is really nothing more to be said about this point. It is neither the ultimate pain experience or the turn around you have been waiting for. In fact, when looking back on 23, you will question how and why you didn’t crawl to the side of the road and call it a day. The trek from 23 to 24 also is a mystery.

At 24… your problems are still there, yet they are dissipating because you know things could not possibly get worse than they have been. In fact, with the end in sight- or sort of- you begin to realize that you can make it. This fills you with such pride and joy that your stride kicks in and you begin to kick it. Kick it, as much as one can after 24 miles.

25 is the point where the sweetness of victory can be felt, yet the pain of reality still remains in your bones. You are SO CLOSE that really all you can do is smile through your pain, and try to contain your emotions. But, this is impossible… a mixture of pride, wonder, joy, and absolute amazement of your accomplishments hits you at this point. If one could ever run/function solely on adrenaline, by God you are doing it now.

26.0 ALMOST THERE. Now, when people say you are almost there… you not only don’t want to strangle them, you also believe them. You realize there were dark times when people told you you’d make it and that you were close to finishing. But, up until this point, you really didn’t piece it together that you could get there. This… sends you into overdrive and you kick it to the finish.

26.2 This hasn’t been just about running, you realize. You have challenged every bone, muscle, brain cell, and ounce of your soul in order to get to this finish line. The emotions that carried you through were as diverse as the runners you met along the way. As the medal is placed over your head, you could not be more proud, or downright impressed that you have made it. You are one tough cookie.

In every marathon I’ve run, there have been moments where I didn’t think I could make it. Yet, they were quickly followed by thoughts of wanting to show the world, namely myself, what I was made of. So I continued on, trusting that I had what it took to get to the finish line. It wasn’t always pretty, but the more I’ve run, the more I’ve realized that “making it” isn’t meant to always be pretty or easy. In fact, it is rarely pretty.  Usually, it requires one to call upon every bit of strength and stamina that can be mustered up.

This… is called life.

Life is a series of marathons, and the more we train, the more we see that we have everything we need inside of us to help us rise above the many walls we hit along the way.

Copyright 2010

Ultimate Realization

Certain people have always intrigued me… including, but not limited to, those who do not like chocolate (come on!), those who don’t drink coffee (really?), and those who do not love, or even like running.  Since these three things are on my list of “life favorite,” I can honestly say I am extremely puzzled when people don’t feel the same.  the running haters have perhaps been the biggest mystery to me. Many friends, knowing of y passion, have said things like, “How can you run for hours at a time?” Others have told me that they do run, for fitness, but hate every single minute of it.

Whenever I heard those things, my response would always be the same. I would laugh and then say, “I get it- running is something you either love or hate. Sometimes I don’t even like it, so I can understand how it’s hard if you hate it…” This response, up until today, has been one of my bigger life lines of BS. I didn’t really understand how someone could hate running, but I’d use that line to appease them. In reality, I was so very tempted to tell them that they needed to give it another shot- get some good shoes, good tunes, good running people… then, surely they’d too love it and want to do marathons and other crazy things.

Tonight, however, I came to understand what it means to dislike something so much that every SINGLE nanosecond of that activity is painful. I am not talking about running, but I now feel the pain of those who dislike it. What I LOATHE involves something I once called a Frisbee and would throw to my brother’s dog. This was enjoyable. Tonight I learned that the object I was throwing is actually called a disc. Who knew.

“Disc” is just one of the many terms I learned in my 90 minutes of hell on earth tonight.  Three weeks ago, the first time I played on an Ultimate Frisbee team, I really thought we were just going to toss the disc (FRISBEE) around. Had I known this disc business involved strategy, plays, and a general knowledge of team sports… I would never have signed on the dotted line. EVER.

Back to the run for a moment. I run because it is simple. It involves putting one foot in front of the other, breathing, and moving my arms in a relaxed, rhythmic fashion. The only other people I have to worry about are oncoming runners or those approaching me from behind. I can handle this type of interaction. I go from point A to point B, and guess what… I get to decide how far the distance between those two points is. I determine my pace, if I stop, and the time I run. This, my friends, is why I love it so.

Ultimate Frisbee (why isn’t it called Ultimate DISC?), on the other hand, is not so friendly. Tonight on the field, I felt as if I had been snatched up and placed in the middle of an NFL game with no pads, cleats, or brain functioning. Or maybe it’s more like a soccer game. Or rugby… I honestly don’t know, even after having played in three whole games. When I say I am not wired for team sports, it is similar to saying a cat is not wired for flying, or a two-year-old for cooperating. My mind can’t keep up with even the most basic strategies.

My teammates tried very hard to help me. The OTHER TEAM tried to help me. Yet, every word that came out of their mouths may as well have been Russian…in fact, maybe it was. They coached me, yelled to me, whispered to me throughout the game.  They’d tell me to cut, stack, stall, pull, and stop. Plays were called out in a cryptic language and then I would hear seemingly simple commands like “go deep.” I wondered which way “deep” was. Each time the disc came remotely close to me, I would run for my life… for if I caught it, I was sure I’d take it to the wrong end zone. But wait- you can’t run with the disc. You have to stop when you catch it, and then throw it… for God’s sake.

Finally, towards the end of the night, I decided that I had just enough with strategy. I was going to do what this runnerchica did best…run like the wind to catch the girl I was guarding. So… back and forth I went, until I realized that my willy-nilly jaunts weren’t exactly cutting it either. Apparently, there was some diagonal or straight pattern I was supposed to be following in my defense- or offense- I can honestly say I’m not sure if I knew the difference on the field. Again, I don’t even know what I’m trying to explain.

What I do know is that I can safely say that there are about six million other things in this world that I would rather do than play Ultimate Frisbee. And a root canal happens to be on that list.  No offense in the world is intended for those who do enjoy this game. Hats off to you, and I pat you on the back for your intelligence, skill, and understanding of this complex sport. And, to those of you who have told me in the past that running isn’t your cup of tea… hats off to you too. I respect you for not doing something that is just not that fun to you.

Because, after all… if what you’re doing isn’t fun, then really, what’s the point?

The Elusive “I” Word

As runners, we have all uttered that word… that “i” word. Now, this is a very tricky word, one that we don’t like swirling around in our brains. And, we certainly don’t like to say it…for obvious reasons. If you are one bit superstitious, you will think long and hard before this word escapes your mouth. In fact, even if you are not superstitious, you probably should keep this next statement in mind.

It is only truly safe to say the “i” word in certain situations.

Situation #1: You are currently injured, and you are talking to another person, preferably a sports doctor or PT about your recovery plan.  They tell you not to worry, that you will be running again soon.

Situation #2:  You are with a fellow injured runner, maybe doing pool running or biking together. You are discussing what plagues you and strategizing how you will each make a COMPLETE RECOVERY. You are even talking about the next races you will do together. Note: Someone who used to run and was permanently sidelined due to injury should be avoided at all costs.

Situation #3:  You are injured and have found someone who has successfully recovered from your very same injury. Suddenly, you feel as if a kindred has entered your life.  You cling to this person with all your might, email them, consult them with every question. If you are single and they are the opposite sex, you may even think they could be your soul mate. (Extreme case, but possible, I’ve seen it happen.)

Other times… you skate around this word. You may ask things like, “anything hurt today?”  You may shyly ask a fellow track mate if the curves are making their knee caps hurt as well. You pray they say yes, and sometimes they will lie to you in order to shut you up and dispel your worries. Then your partner will sort of laugh this discussion off and talk about how when you are accomplished runners as you both are, something is always bound to hurt. If you are the person who brought up this silly “pain” issue today, you now feel a bit of relief, attributing your nagging knee pain to the miles. Your running partner, who you brought it up to, is now considering his body and scanning it for potential aches and pains. Is that Achilles’ acting up again? No, no…it’s the miles.

Unfortunately, sometimes those miles really do start to add up. And, before you know it, you DO have something to talk about.  Sometimes, friends, you find yourself INJURED.  Now what?

Let’s start with the obvious. Being injured is uncomfortable physically. It can be very intense, or mildly annoying, depending on the type and severity. Being injured is also annoying. You may now have to maneuver crutches, wear special shoes, or worst of all… be confined to a bed or chair.  Being injured is also… one big hassle. You have better things to do with your time than go to physical therapy, pack your bag with pool gear, and scrub your head for hours to get out all of that darn chlorine.

Last, but most certainly not least, being injured is INCOMPREHENSIBLE to runners. We don’t like to NOT RUN. We don’t like to see other runners running on our way to work. In fact, we may find we temporarily don’t like emailing or talking to our running friends.  It is just too painful and depressing. We WANT TO RUN, and an injury might as well be a PRISON SENTENCE.

We wonder what message could possibly be found in this devastating halt to a hobby that brings us so much joy. Well, like everything in life- sometimes we don’t realize the importance of something until it’s gone.

Sometimes, it takes us being sidelined to really see what’s actually happening in the game. The game, of course, being life.  When an injury forces its way into our lives, we have no choice but to… stop running.  Switch things up a bit. Maybe sleep in a few Saturdays. Have dinner with our families instead of hitting the trails after work and eating in front of the t.v.

And maybe, we will stop long enough to realize that running is like everything else in our lives that we love. As much as we want it to always be there for us, we are not guaranteed of this. So, perhaps its best to treasure it and appreciate it while it’s there. The same goes for all of those people and things we discover when we’re not running.

Enjoy your life… on and off the trail, friends.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

I started my run yesterday, in the usual way I do all of my weekday runs. I began, thanking God that I had made it through another day with middle schoolers, and that I was securely enlaced in my Brooks Adrenalines. I was also thankful that I was on the road, by myself. This time of day is precious when it is just me, my iPod, and my thoughts. However, I have noticed something lately. It is very cold where I live. It is cold and it is snowy. Streets are slippery and the skies are gray. I have noticed that I am fully entrenched in the thick of WINTER. And winter, although it can feature beautiful snowy moonlit scenes, and add pomp and circumstance to the holidays, really starts to drain a person after awhile. Winter is officially draining me. In fact, I feel I can safely say that I have the winter blues.

I’m not sure if it’s the weather, my job, or a combination of both. But I am feeling the effects, baby. And the place I feel the effects most of all is on my runs, which is even more disturbing. Typically when I run, I am dreaming. I am strategizing. I am rocking and rolling, planning out a glorious future with lots of free time to run, frolic, and generally be blissful and happy. However, lately… this business of cold, ice, gray skies, and snow has entered my consciousness and has put a damper on the holly jolly dream time I enjoyed while running. A funny thing is happening and I’m not sure why. On my runs, there are many thoughts whirling through my mind, but they are neither holly nor jolly. Thoughts to the tune of “I will not fall. I will not fall. I will not fall.” In my mind I repeat this sentence over and over and over. Next track on my mental winter cd is “It is so blanking cold. It is so blanking cold. It is so blanking cold.” And let me tell you folks, ‘blanking’ is really not the word I’m using.

I’m also not enjoying the scenery like I usually do. Instead, my gaze is planted firmly and intently in front of each step, like a dog scanning a forest floor for rabbits. I am in search of patches of ice which are the proverbial death sentence for a winter runner. Bottom line, I do not deal with the cold well. I wonder to myself what lessons there are to be learned as I trudge through this arctic jungle I call home. Is this making me a stronger person? Teaching me that I can beat the odds and do what I love whatever the temperature? Am I becoming… a running WARRIOR? Even as I write this, I feel as if I am a prisoner. I am a character in a Batman movie where Gotham City remains gray EVERY SINGLE DAY. I notice the grayness more than ever on my runs. And again, I ask myself… when is this going to end? I talk about this with my running friends. We are like old ladies, ranting and raving about the weather and wondering out loud when it will change. We know it will change, this is true.

But at this point, the first week in February, it just doesn’t feel that way. Today I went out on a weekend run. It was freezing cold and I knew I was a bit crazy to be running. The streets were empty. I was pushing for a longer run, about 8 miles. I was cold cold cold the first five miles, and quite frankly I was a little crabby. Yet, I tried my best to break through the cloud of winter that was surrounding me. I played tropical island songs. I played rap songs. I played fast paced classical music that I normally hate, but thought I’d give it a shot because I hated the weather more thus maybe I’d begin to like Beethoven. Nothing worked. Nothing, until I ran into a group of fellow runners who were familiar from previous Saturdays. They were at the bottom of a hill when I said hello. For a minute I thought I might continue on and run with them. Then, the older guy- probably 60- said, “Well, we’re going to do hill repeats for awhile if you want to join us.” Hill repeats? Hills, when the wind chill was threatening to freeze my lungs, and the hill was as frozen as Mt. Everest? That idea just made me laugh at how ridiculous it was. I told him to have fun with that, we all laughed, and I said I was going to go home. The notion of how crazy we all were carried me home. We were pretty much insane. Yet we were all out there, because despite the cold, we were doing something we loved. Not many people can say that about something. It is still cold and will be tomorrow as I go out to run. Yet, tomorrow, I’m going to put on another layer. And as I add that extra layer, I’ll do so remembering that in life there will be things that taint even the things that are dearest to me. It’s up to me not let cold or stress or anything get in the way of what is important. Stay warm, friends.