When I signed up for my first marathon, nearly nine years ago, I did it sort of on a whim, and then almost dropped out several times during the training.  What was I doing running a marathon? I surely wasn’t qualified- I was more of a worker-outer vs. a serious runner. How did I expect to snap into marathon shape in a four-month period? But then, as seen in earlier postings (see “My People”) I not only trained, but I enjoyed the training, and gained confidence and friends at every run.  My new friends (veteran marathoners and Coaches with Team in Training) kept telling me, “You’ll finish the marathon, don’t worry!”  As the long runs got longer, I was stunned that 12, 14, 16 milers were actually doable, and waking up at 6 on a Saturday to run was actually fun.  I was becoming a “runner” and loved it.  While I still had my doubts about 26.2 friggin miles, the wall, and other mysteries a first timer worries about, by marathon day, I decided I might be ready.

On race day, my friends and I gathered at 5:30 a.m., waiting for the 7:00 a.m. start. Note that “down time” before a marathon is never exactly relaxing.  I nervously looked around me, looking for signs that I was the only first timer in the crowd, to prove that indeed I had no business running such a race. Yet, I realized it wasn’t a meeting of the “super fit, super small, and super young.” I wasn’t surrounded by Kenyans.  I saw runners of every shape and size, age and ability.  They were sitting on the cold ground, just like me.  They had all most likely followed a training plan similar to mine, and prepared for this moment to the best of their abilities, just like I had.  What I couldn’t see, but realized at that moment, was that we were all there because we believed we could do it.  We wouldn’t have come at that crazy hour to run that crazy distance, if we thought finishing was an impossible dream. Sure, we were freaking out and had our doubts, but we were there, pumped and ready to go.

I’m not saying that my holly jolly “I believe I could do it” meant it was an easy venture, or even made me less nervous.  That marathon (and every one since) brought many moments where I didn’t believe I’d live to see my next birthday, much less the finish line.  Yet, somehow, I mustered up the one iota of belief that did the trick, and got through.

That’s the thing about belief in general- we need to have it, or we’re in serious trouble when we face challenging life situations. Since few of us are psychic, we need something to hang on to and hope for.  This “something” comes in different forms for all of us, but is backed on the general ideas that we need to think positively, pray, meditate, reflect, focus on what we want, put out good intentions…basically, just have faith that it will all be okay. We’ve all had times in our lives where we’ve needed to call upon this faith, yet, it isn’t until we’re in very scary situations where we really need to believe.  The problem is that while we desperately want to believe at those moments, it isn’t always that easy.  We’re human, after all, and afraid of what could happen.

Here’s the other kicker. The situations that call for a whole lot of belief also tend to wear us out, and make it really hard to be positive about anything.  (Again, kind of like a marathon.) YET, just like the most difficult times of the marathon when we absolutely think we can’t run a step further, we have to believe we can… because that’s quite simply the only way we can continue. And in life, the point at which we are beat down and do not know if we can believe in anything… is that most crucial moment when we NEED to believe the most.

So, as we run into the Christmas Season, and the New Year with all of its hope and promise, remember that believing is the name of the game.  And, if anyone sees someone named Virginia out there on the trails, pass this link on to her.

And if you find yourself stuck in the middle of a marathon, or just in the middle of life, I’ll end with a quote from my dad….”You gotta keep the faith, baby.”

Copyright 2010

By Abbey Algiers

Head on a Swivel

The other day a co-worker (a non-runner) came in my classroom and said, “I’ve got a question for you, Runner Girl.” I thought he was going to ask how to start a running program, or maybe ask about an injury. I didn’t expect him to say, “Look. Yesterday I was stopped at a stop sign, about to turn, and  this runner just showed up in front of me, OUT OF NOWHERE. I almost hit him. What do I do in a situation like this?” He was clearly shaken up about the situation, but surprisingly didn’t rip on the runner. He actually just wanted a runner to advise him on how to deal with “all of those runners on the road.”

I paused before answering him, not really sure whose side I was on at the moment.  On one hand, I wanted to be a voice for “my people” and offer practical advice about drivers dealing with runners. I wanted to even stand up for runners everywhere and their rights to enjoy a run without getting nailed while crossing the street.  Finally, I had “one of them” right in front of me- all of those years of frustration about “those drivers” could soon be remedied! God knows I had plenty of close calls of “idiot drivers” not paying attention to lowly runners like myself.   Yet, I realized that those close calls were not always the driver’s fault.  I had to admit that sometimes the close calls were brought on by  me thinking that because I was a runner… I could simply run without stopping at corners.   I had been running around (literally) thinking that my being a runner trumped exercising common sense and safety at all times.

Now, before my family members reading this start plotting their Runnerchica intervention, I must say the majority of the time, I did and do look both ways and obey pedestrian laws. But, talking to my friend that day, I realized that I, and others like me, were indeed guilty of being just like the bat out of hell my friend came to talk to me about.

So, my answer to my friend went something like this.  “Look, I have to tell you, I know exactly what you mean.  We runners, can be idiots. Sometimes we do blow in out of nowhere, and I know we probably freak you out.  Heck, other runners do it to me when I’m driving. I get what you’re saying.”

Yet, being a runner, I couldn’t give it all up. I had to share something I have noticed many times while running.

I continued.

“The one scenario that stands out in my mind involves drivers turning right. They’re stopped at a stop sign, and they look left- naturally to see if anything is coming, and if they can proceed to the right.  The problem happens when the driver feels it’s all clear left, and then doesn’t look right, to the sidewalk and its pedestrian traffic.  This is where runners can come out of nowhere and then get hit when proceeding.”

This is true, it happens.  Out of nowhere, runners approach cars that look like they are “playing nicely” waiting for the all clear.  Yet, unbeknownst to the runner, the driver isn’t even considering the direction the runner is coming from.  They are only focused in one direction, not considering the whole picture.

I finished my runner discussion by borrowing a phrase from an old friend.  “What you gotta do… is keep your head on a swivel. Always watch out for the other guy.”

As I thought about that conversation later in the day and week, I realized that keeping our heads on a swivel is a good idea on the road, and pretty much everywhere in life.  It’s not the runners vs. the drivers, or vice versa. We share the roads… the planet for that matter… with a lot of people.

And if we’re only looking in one direction, we’re bound to miss the things we really need to see.

So, keep moving forward, friends… but don’t ever forget to look both ways before crossing the street.

by abbey algiers

Copyright 2010

READ “Head on a Swivel” again… on the Runner’s World Website!