You Do Have a Choice

Recently I’ve pondered starting a new feature on runnerchica called “weird $@*# seen on the run.” There is a lot of crazy stuff out there! For example, in the past week, I’ve spotted a lone galosh in the middle of the road, a package of brand new size XXL underwear scattered around at a bus stop, and a man wearing large white sunglasses, a bright yellow peanut M&M jacket, and red capri pants.  I also passed the dumpster shown above.  Its sign, “You do have a choice” caught my attention.  Now, I’ve never really considered dumpsters on the list of things I’d shop around for if the need arose, but the sign got me thinking.

First of all, I’m a terrible “chooser.”  Put a menu in front of me, and it’ll take me 15 minutes to decide if I want chicken or salmon on my salad.  Throw me in TJ Max, and I’ll go fifteen rounds of “black wedge vs. brown” before I eventually decide to buy both. My problem is that I take too long to decide inconsequential things.  I often have to remind myself, “Hello, you’re not picking a college, just make a damn decision.”

However, the topic of choices goes well beyond small decisions like “boxers or briefs?” As a teacher and a step-mom, I tell kids all the time that not only do they have choices in life, but they also need to be sure those choices are good.  Because, as we all know, making good choices is not always a strong suit of kids and teenagers. I remind my elementary students that they need to make good choices when playing with others. Yet, time after time they don’t, and someone inevitably ends up crying because they were “wronged” by a fellow 3rd grader. Middle schoolers are asked to be respectful, do their homework, and not be bullies or mean girls. High schoolers… where do I begin? The number of “good choices” we beg them to make each day is too many to note.

That’s the “bad” side of kids making choices.  There’s a good side too.  It comes in the form of kids choosing to go outside and play, just because they feel like it, and even though it may be raining.  They also make grandiose statements of what they will choose to be someday –  ”I’m going to be an artist, a doctor, an astronaut, a ballerina” without first going through a system of checks and balances to see if those things are possible.  Whether good or bad, kids in general are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones and follow their internal compasses. This is probably because they haven’t acquired those filters that adults possess, which are helpful for preventing “stupid choices” (steering a bike with your feet, sneaking out at 3 a.m. to swim in a neighbor’s pool, etc.) yet not helpful when it comes to making major life changes. It seems more often than not, fear promptly puts a stop to any lofty dreams we may have.

This is unfortunate, because while many of the decisions we face daily are minor (should I run 5 or 7 miles, make steak or chicken, take the highway or side streets), most of us have bigger issues that perplex us in the “big picture” category. Often when it comes to these high stakes choices, we either choose to make no changes, or we choose the safe route. We look at those choices as things we can’t change, rather than as opportunities to choose a different path.  We hate our jobs but choose to complain rather than call a head hunter. We get stuck in relationships that don’t work, yet remain stuck because “it’s a jungle out there” and we’d rather be with the wrong person than alone. We want to make some major change, but stop short because it’s just too hard. So many times, we choose to hold ourselves back, because choosing to move forward would take us out of our comfort zones.

The truth is, unlike kids, adults think long and hard before leaving the land of the familiar.  As my financial advisor/insurance agent put it, “Many people don’t follow their dreams; they don’t want to step out of their comfort zones. That’s too bad, because that stops them from doing what they really, truly want to do.”   Now, when this “go for it” advice is coming from someone whose job it is to be conservative and plan for the future, I think one needs to listen to it.

So, the next time one of “those choices” crosses our minds, perhaps we need to take a deep breath, consider our options, and then look at the situation differently. Maybe this is where we need to think like a kid, and remember what it was like to say yes to life before saying no, and take that first step into the unknown. Who knows, once we get there, we just might discover that the only way to truly get into our zones, is to step out of them in the first place.

by abbey algiers

copyright 2011

Runner’s Knee? How About Runner’s Guilt?

There are many things that as runners we have been known to experience… runner’s knee, runner’s stomach, and runner’s toenails, to name just a few. The list could go on and on. There is another affliction that some of us experience, yet we don’t always recognize, talk about, or address it. It is something that lurks in the subconscious of our minds and makes guest appearances at various times in our training schedules. What is this mysterious affliction? I’ll give you a hint- it struck me at 5:10 Saturday morning, as I slipped out of my warm, comfy bed for about the 10th Saturday in a row. As I left my husband, I wondered as I do every Saturday if he truly didn’t mind that I was again leaving so early, on one of the two days we could sleep in.

While he slept, I enjoyed my pre-run meal of waffles and coffee. I checked my email, cleaned up a bit, and enjoyed the morning. As I made final preparations before leaving the house, I went to say goodbye to him. He was sound asleep and probably did not even remember that I kissed him and said I’d be back in a few hours. (Note: I just checked with him, and in fact, he did not remember.) All systems, as they say, were go. Go running, go meet your good friend, go enjoy yourself. So I did.

I was happy to be on my way to start the day with a run. Others may look at Saturdays as days of sleeping in and lounging. Now, I see nothing wrong with that, mind you- but if I were forced to do this, I would probably hurt someone in the process.  Somewhere along the way my dad’s “You’re sleeping the day away” permanently imbedded itself in my mind.

While I was totally psyched to be headed for my run, the day before I had different thoughts. I wasn’t feeling so confident in my decision to join the ranks of fellow morning runners. Initially, I was glad to have secured another Saturday run at 6:30. After committing to that start time early in the Friday workday, I began mentally preparing for the run during my morning middle school classes. Half of my brain was teaching, the other half deciding if I’d do 10 or 12 miles the next day. This was a good way to spend the morning- it certainly made the 13 year olds more tolerable.

But then another voice began to creep into my head, and it was a voice I knew all too well. Aunt Guilt was paying me a visit. Should I really be leaving my husband every Saturday? What kind of message was that sending… would he think my running was more important than him? Already my nightly runs or workouts were set in stone, permanent blocks of time that delayed our dinner to 6:30 or 7:00, so that I could hit the gym after work. This was what I did, and the thought of stopping this frightened me, so I continued.

Yet it also frightened me to consider what my “habit” might do to those I loved. Running was important to me, yes, but I did realize that I had other things in my life that were much, much more important- my husband and two step kids, for starters.

Enter the conflict.

Prior to meeting my husband, I was footloose and fancy-free. I ran when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. Aunt Guilt didn’t stop me then, it was more like Aunt Weather Issue, or her children who I will just call “the injuries.”  They were the only forces that prevented me from meeting my Saturday morning crew.

On that Friday afternoon, however, Aunt Guilt was like a leg cramp at mile 19 of a marathon, she was intolerable and showed no signs of leaving. She traumatized me so much that I emailed my friend in desperation and told her I just didn’t feel right about being away another Saturday a.m. I didn’t want to make her mad or throw off her schedule, but I knew what I had to do- cancel. Her response made me breathe a sigh of relief and also surprised me. She said, “No problem. I know exactly what you’re talking about… it happens to me often. Email if you change your mind.” She understood! She got it! I wasn’t the only freak with an internal guilt system. She had the voice too!

With that bit of knowledge, something inside me began to shift. I thought more about just why I didn’t think I should run. When I got home that night, I asked my husband point blank- “Do you mind that I run every Saturday? Is this bad for me to do when the kids are here?” He looked at me like I asked if he minded if I bathed.

“Of course I don’t mind. Running is your thing. You have to do what you have to do. Besides, it gives me a chance to hang out by myself.”  Alrighty, then. So he wanted the time to himself just as much as I did. He wanted to sleep a big longer than 5:10 on a Saturday (perfectly reasonable) and then proceed with the morning, on his clock. It’s not that we wanted to get away from each other, but rather do something for ourselves during our free time. Interesting concept- the world didn’t begin and end with my run schedule… huh.  Needless to say, I emailed my friend the next minute, and the run was back on.

The next day, as I met my friend, I immediately asked her about this whole guilt thing. We talked about how many things pulled each one of us on a given day- work, family responsibilities, bills, shopping, friendships, catching Oprah from time to time, emails, voice mails, snail mails… the list was endless. Sometimes, we felt guilty for escaping on a run. Would we manage to get it all done?  But then, the more we considered it, the more we realized how ridiculous the notion of not escaping was. We decided that running made us better at the things we had to do when we weren’t running. Further, we proclaimed that if we had to rate running on a hierarchy of needs, it was more necessity than luxury.

I have a feeling that most of you reading this have also gone on runs where you’ve left husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, kids at home. And I imagine that you, too, have felt pangs of guilt- making you wonder if this little bit of freedom is “deserved” or “okay.” My response to that would be something along the lines of “Hell. Yes.” And I’ll gladly shout that directly into Aunt Guilt’s face should she decide to show up again.  Because, as we all know- life is busy. Life is unpredictable. Life, is just plain nutty. And if you, as my friend and I have, decide that running is one thing that helps you manage life and all of its craziness… well then, run.

Because, after all… it’s your life, and yours to enjoy. So enjoy your run… guilt does terrible things to your stride.