Defensive Driving… I mean Running

runnercrossing

I first heard the term in the late 80’s. It was 7th hour, fourth quarter of my sophomore year, and I was ecstatic to be sitting in my first Driver’s Ed class.  That day, I sort of listened to the instructor, but mostly was thinking about driving. Somewhere in the midst of a dream sequence that had me getting a convertible VW Bug for my upcoming birthday (nope, didn’t happen, drove my mom’s mini van instead), I was startled as the instructor wrote defensive driving on the board in big, bold letters. I jotted this down, thinking it might be on the test, but wasn’t really all that interested in his definition.  I thought defensive driving meant being ready to flip off anyone who offended me while driving. You know, a defend my honor kind of thing.  Or maybe, I thought it meant to tear away from a speedster tailing me on the expressway.

I don’t remember what the instructor said, but I’m sure it must have sounded close to (i.e. almost as boring as)this online definition: Defensive driving is driving characterized by prudence, diligence and reasonable cautiousness with the goal of making the road a safe place not only for a defensive driver but for other people as well. (Can you say… Bueller? What is defensive driving? Anyone? Bueller?)

I’m sure I remembered that. Not.

My take away from his lecture was be careful and don’t get distracted by other cars or my friends in my car. Also, don’t get a ticket.

Let’s face it, I was as much of an idiot as any 16 year old driver. Even with all of the warnings, I didn’t really grasp the enormous responsibility that came with driving a vehicle until years later. I was lucky I never got into an accident. 

Recently, I passed a student driver stopped at a stoplight. Instinctively, I ran the opposite direction as I flashed back to the infinite wisdom of me at 16.  I wanted to be far away from that gum smacking, texting kid. As I ran away, I thought about the poor punk. I needed to be nicer because while yes, the little 16 year old indeed ranked higher on the threat to runners, walkers, bikers and anything with a pulse scale, I realized that all drivers (and runners, walkers, etc.) need to be careful. I had just as big a responsibility to be a defensive runner as the punk did to be a defensive driver.

Wanting to get to the bottom of this revelation and put it into action, I googled defensive driving when I got home, just to revisit that original definition, and see how I could apply it to running. Thankfully, my friends at Wikipedia had collaborated with my driver’s ed teacher and developed some keys (intentional pun) to defensive driving:

keys

Stay focused, keeping your hands on the wheel.  While as runners we obviously don’t have a steering wheel, we do steer our bodies.  My loose translation is to keep my head on a swivel, always on the lookout for distractions. A good run can take me into a zen-like state where I’m either mentally solving each and every one of my problems, or I’m deep in conversation with my running partner.  I’m sure I’m not alone in either situation. So, runners, don’t get so far into your zen that you forget that you’re “steering your own ship.”

Keep your eyes moving.  Unless you’re on a treadmill, the terrain is going to change.  Things can come at you from all directions, so it’s important to look ahead of you and scan your surrounding area.  Watch for cars coming around a corner on the street you’re crossing.  Watch for foxes darting in front of you on an early a.m. run (happened to me).  Be on the lookout for city dogs and country dogs – they are equally as territorial and just plain don’t like runners. The bottom line – scan as you run, for you never know what’s going to pop up along the way.

Stay alert.  My sisters constantly tell me, “you really shouldn’t listen to music when you run.” Yes, I know this. They’re right, but I’m sorry I enjoy music and can’t live without my podcasts like No Meat Athlete or One Part Plant.  So, I do the next best thing and keep the volume low, making sure I can still hear things around me like barking dogs, honking horns, and any other big threats.  Note that it is certainly safer to run without headphones, but again, I know we as runners sometimes need tunes to keep us moving. So, be smart with your audio intake.

Go with the flow. Let’s talk races. Sometimes, as you’re minding your own 26.2 miles of business, things are going to get bottlenecked. As a runner you’ll no doubt feel frustrated and perhaps a little edgy.  It may be so crowded that you just can’t floor it and bolt ahead.  Therefore, adjust to the pace of your surroundings, wait it out, and proceed when it’s safe for everyone around you.  Similarly, there are times when weather will be extreme, and you’ll need to adjust your pace, hydration, wardrobe, or the length of time you devote to the run. Again, go with the flow.  You can’t control everything, but you can make adjustments to be more comfortable.

Make yourself visible.  This is a big one in the land of defensive running.  If you run early morning or late afternoon/evening in the winter, you really need to light yourself up like the fourth of July.  Why? (Duh…) Because people can’t see you, and if they can’t see you, you run a huge risk of getting hit.  Period.  Therefore, invest in clothing with reflective features.  Wear a headlamp, flashing light, reflective vest or whatever it takes to draw attention to yourself.

Adapt to road conditions.  Hello, fellow crazies. Even with the best Craft base layers in place, there are some days when running outside just isn’t cool. Icy conditions are what I’m talking about here.  Below zero temps aren’t advisable either.  When these situations happen, there’s this thing called a treadmill that might be a better bet.  However, when the weather isn’t too crazy, simply dress for the temps and keep in mind that slippery roads mean cars can’t stop as quickly. Rain means a driver’s vision might be impaired and they might not see you like they could on a clear day.  Be smart and always consider what you and the drivers need to do to be safe during whatever Mother Nature is giving you.

Finally, the most important piece of defensive running advice… defending the run.  And this is where I’m talking about defending your honor, runners. There will be people who think you’re crazy for early a.m. runs, 20 milers, marathons, ultras, and quite simply your daily dedication to the sport.  To them, I hate to tell you, but there’s really nothing you can say.  They probably won’t ever understand. Just smile at them, and be polite runners on the streets, stopping at corners and running on the right side of the road. They think we’re crazy enough the way it is, we can’t add being idiots to the mix.  

So friends, when you’re out there on the streets…be sure to look both ways, be visible, and be smart whether you’re on your feet or behind the wheel! 

imrunnerchica.com

copyright 2015

by abbey algiers

 

every day is a marathon

every day is a marathon

by abbey algiers

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The day started out like any other marathon day. I woke up early, after sleeping maybe a total of 20 minutes. Fumbling around my hotel room, I pinned my race number to my shirt, got dressed, ate a little something, and packed clothes in my gear bag to wear after the run. All normal pre-run preparations that I’d done many times before and could do in my sleep, which it actually felt like I was sleeping since my friend and I left our room at 5:15 a.m. As we made our way to the subway, buses, and finally the Athlete’s Village, we were anxious to run. We had both worked hard and waited a long time to get to this event.

We had about three hours until the start of the race when we finally got to the Athlete’s Village.  This time was spent resting, standing in line for the porta potties, eating, getting back in line for the porta potties, and discussing the ups and downs of our training that led us to that day. Again, all part of our normal pre-race routine.

The only thing that wasn’t normal about the start of this race was that it was the pinnacle of all marathons, the Boston Marathon.  For runners, the Boston Marathon is the marathon of a lifetime. Running Boston back in 2010 was the realization of a lifelong goal; being able to run it again this year was equally as meaningful. This time, I wanted to soak in the crowds and savor every step of the journey. Knowing how fast an event like this can pass, and that a return isn’t always guaranteed, I wanted to stamp the moment in time; I wanted to fully appreciate the fact that I was there, and enjoy the run to its fullest. As I made my way to the start line, I tried to take it all in- the gorgeous blue sky, the runners from all over the world, the spectators, and the wonderful volunteers. I was determined to have the best run possible, hopefully running fast enough to re-qualify.

The first two miles were a little dicey, as I was sure I had a sudden onset of a leg injury that would sideline me for the rest of the race.  However, at mile three, the phantom pain in my right thigh went away. Things were looking up- my body seemed to be cooperating with me, and miles 4-6 went by quickly.  The spectators were excellent, and the music in each town we passed propelled me forward.  It looked like I would at least have success in enjoying the run, regardless of my time.  At around mile 7, while I was busy running in my “happy place,” my friend made a declaration.

 “This isn’t my day. Not feelin’ it.”

Since pronouncing how good one feels to a fellow runner who’s suffering is not only annoying, but also a risky maneuver during a marathon, I played my cards carefully. I simply responded, “Oh, that’s a bummer. Sorry.”  I continued on next to her, hoping she’d start to feel it.

This was probably a wise move, because as is the case in many marathons, a good run can suddenly go south for a number of reasons.  This happened to me around mile 14, when various parts of my body took turns breaking down, taking me far away from the “happy place” I had earlier experienced.

As my pace continued to slow, I knew my dreams of re-qualifying were over. However, I desperately wanted to continue to appreciate the fact I was running in Boston. I scanned the crowd, high-fived kids along the route, smiled at the fans who made eye contact. I was determined to make my positive attitude override the aches and pain the run was causing.

But, let’s face it… I’d be lying if I said that Pollyanna jumped into my body and took over the run.  That just doesn’t happen in a marathon when one’s body is pleading to stop.  The truth is, when the body reaches a certain point, the fact that one is running the Boston Marathon loses its luster a bit; surroundings become secondary to survival.  So, even though this was Boston… I adopted an attitude that was completely on pace with all of the marathons I’ve run in my life.  I retreated to my “please God, just let me finish” place.

This is a place that most runners go at least once during any given marathon. We all know that no matter how well trained we come to each marathon, that a finish is never guaranteed. Yet, I knew deep down that though it seemed like the end would never arrive, it would.  At some point during my misery, my friend realized I “wasn’t feeling it” either and suggested that we just relax and finish together.  With this in mind, we proceeded as a unit, making it to miles 20, 21, 22… WHERE was 23? … then 23, 24, and 25, where both of us would later declare we had secretly wanted to start walking.

Next came 26 and the famous “right on Hereford left on Boylston” turn that signifies the end is truly in sight.  On that final stretch, we felt our aches disappear as we ran down the spectator-lined street; their cheers propelling us to the finish.  With pride and relief, we crossed the finish line and were greeted by medics who evaluated us for dehydration or other problems. Appearing fine, we were corralled through to the nearby water station.

That water station marked the point at which things officially stopped being normal.

As I took a sip, a loud, deafening boom came from the finish line behind us. Dumbfounded, I thought it was a canon or fireworks, perhaps a demonstration for Patriot’s Day. We looked in the direction of the noise and saw a large cloud of smoke rise into the sky. Visions of 9/11 popped in my head. But no- this couldn’t be happening. This was a marathon. The Boston Marathon.  It couldn’t be anything like that.

Another blast sounded, and we knew the first had not been an accident. Suddenly everything predictable about the day- including the assumption that things would end alright- was taken out of the equation.  What happened next remains etched in my mind as if it were a dream, or a Bruce Willis Armageddon sequel. My friend and I were moving in slow motion, looking first at each other, then at the people around us.  Everyone’s expression was exactly the same- that of fear and terror and absolute uncertainty. We had no idea of what had happened or what could happen. All we knew was that we were in the middle of something and needed to get out.

Really, our predicament couldn’t have been more dramatic or ironic. After running for 4 hours, we were tired, dazed, and cold. Now, with sirens, screams, smoke, and police telling us to simply run (perhaps the most ironic part of the day)… we added shocked and helpless to the mix.

My friend and I made a quick decision to separate and get our gear bags- wanting our phones/lifelines more than anything. While waiting for my gear bag, I again thought about the footage I’d watched after 9/11. I remembered hearing that all the people in the planes and buildings had wanted to do was tell their families and friends that they loved them.  This was the most important thing. At that moment, not knowing that there were only those two bombs, our phones were our only link to our loved ones.

Looking back, I have no idea how much time had passed between the bombs going off and my friend and I getting to safety. All I remember is that I got my bag before my friend got hers. While waiting for her, a large crowd came rushing in my direction. Police were herding us out of the area, as if something else were about to happen. I frantically searched the approaching crowd for my friend, giving me a vantage that allowed me to again take in the expressions of my fellow runners.

Panic and fear were all I saw.

Minutes later, my friend approached me, and we ran to a nearby park where runners were making calls and crying. Sirens around us increased, reminding us that though we were “safe” in a park, we were far from out of danger. After texting and calling our families and friends, we put on the dry clothes we had packed earlier that morning in anticipation of needing to warm up after the run, but never imagining the scene we would be in the midst of.

Now in dry clothes, with calls made, we knew we had to get out of the city. We had taken the subway there, so it seemed like the only way out. However, the subway was the last place I wanted to go in a city under siege.

Soon we’d find out it had been shut down, offering the second ironic possibility that we’d have to perhaps walk 5 miles to safety. Yet, at that point I wasn’t tired, as adrenaline was in full force. Luckily for us, our “miracle cab driver” then came on the scene and took us to safety where we warmed up, sat down for the first time,  made more calls, and tried to process everything that had just happened.

Grateful to be alive and so sorry for the victims of the tragedy and their families, the Boston Marathon is now more than ever “the marathon of a lifetime” to me. Crossing the finish line that day and completing the 26.2 miles taught me that it’s possible to accomplish dreams, even when so many times along the way it feels as though we won’t.  However, what happened after I crossed the finish line taught me a much deeper lesson- every day we are on this planet is a marathon.  We wake up each morning sort of taking for granted that we’ll repeat the same process the next day, and the next. Each day, we know there will be glitches and challenges, but we always expect the finish line to be on the horizon.  Yet, in the backs of our minds we all know that just as there are no guarantees that we’ll finish a marathon, there are no guarantees in life.  Every one of us will start one day and not finish it. That is the reality of life.

So, friends, as you go through each day’s marathon never forget that each day truly is a gift, a bonus guaranteed to no one.  It’s not the outcome of the race that’s important, what’s important is that we do our very best to appreciate it, and not take any part of it for granted. From the fans cheering us on to the support we get when we need it the most, every moment is important. And perhaps most important of all… don’t wait until the finish line to tell your fans how much they mean to you. High-five them every step of the way.

imrunnerchica.com

copyright 2013

abbey algiers

Fairy Dust

Fairy Dust

I recently stumbled upon a quote by actress Gwenyth Paltrow, in which she talks about how she stays fit.   She says, “The reason that I can be 38 and have two kids and wear a bikini is because I work my ass off. It’s not an accident.  It’s not luck, it’s not fairy dust, it’s not good genes.  It’s killing myself for an hour and a half five days a week, but what I get out of it is relative to what I put into it.  That’s what I try to do in all areas of my life.”

I love this quote because it speaks to the fact that even superstars have to work to get results… in fitness and in life. Simply put, there’s no substitute for good, honest effort.  The problem is, working hard over the course of many weeks or months is sometimes a lost concept in today’s fast-paced society.  When we’re used to the speed of technology making so many things in our lives instantly accessible, it can be a struggle to work towards something that takes awhile to achieve.  It’s not easy to convince our brains to “trust the process” and wait for the results that happen only over time.

Never was this concept so evident than when I trained for my first marathon.  In the beginning weeks, I couldn’t understand how my Saturday long runs would go from 6 to 8, 10, 12, 14 miles and eventually peak at 20, preparing me for the ultimate 26.2 on race day. How could one person cover that much ground in just a few months? Sure, I’d been to marathons; I’d seen runners of all shapes and sizes run across the finish line.  Yet, when I was the one going through the process, I didn’t see how I could be one of those people who actually put all of the steps together to do 26.2 miles. (In one day!)

Yet, slowly, and quite literally step by step, I learned in my training that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was a marathon runner created in one.  I put in my miles, changed my diet, got rest, and did all of the things my coaches told me I’d need to do to finish 26.2 miles. I succeeded, but not because I lucked out the day of the marathon. I achieved my goal because I put in the miles. I did the work. As a result of finishing the marathon I learned some very important lessons that can be applied to marathons or any major goal.

  1. The road isn’t always easy, in fact it rarely is.  As I think back to every major goal I’ve tried to accomplish in my life, I recall saying (more than once, in varying degrees with profanity added on occasion), “This is too hard. I don’t want to continue…” Let’s face it, when the going gets tough, our natural human inclination inevitably makes us feel like saying “forget this” at least one to ten times during the process. The thing is, giving up is easy; it’s a two second decision that can be made at any given time along the way. Yet, in the long run it feels so much better to ignore the voice that tells us to quit and honor the voice that tells us it’ll all be worth it in the end.
  2. Small goals along the way make the road smoother.  Because a typical marathon schedule is broken down into small segments, with gradual increases, it made the training seem less intimidating. Could I run just two more miles than I did the previous weekend? Sure! 14 miles more? Whoa there. Take it slow. This is true with everything in life.  College is not completed in a semester, rooms are not painted with one stroke of the brush. It takes continuous and consistent effort over the course of time to accomplish most things. Bit by bit, we can do anything!
  3. Trust the process.  For many weeks, I thought my coaches were nuts when they said I’d be able to do a marathon in a few months.  Yet, I listened to what they said, and more importantly, I believed them.  We’ve got to believe in what we’re doing and in ourselves. Systems are set in place to guide us to do most things in this world.  Our job is to follow directions and trust that in doing so, we’ll achieve our goals.
  4. Fairy dust only works in fairy tales or at the Magic Kingdom.  No amount of carbs the night before a marathon or Gatorade on race day will substitute for proper training leading up to the event. There is no magic pill or bullet that will make an untrained body perform. Similarly, most things in life requiring good old-fashioned hard work require months if not years of work to come to full fruition.  In the words of Vince Lombardi, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.  Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”

Bottom line, it’s a great feeling to start with a dream, work hard, and in the end experience a certain pride that comes by accomplishing that goal. That mentality is the spirit that moves thousands of runners to sign up for 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, full marathons, Ultras and beyond. That spirit is what gets books written, bucket lists checked off, and brings graduates into the work world. It’s the spirit that moves us forward.

Whatever it is you want to accomplish, remember that it can be done.  It’s all about putting one step in front of the other. Here’s to doing the work, and having fun in the process!

Carry on, friends.

imrunnerchica.com

Copyright 2013

By Abbey Algiers

Magic

In 2003, I signed up to be part of Team in Training to run a marathon in San Diego. At the time, I thought I was “there” (physically and destiny-wise) to do a marathon. Period.

I’d train, run the marathon, and then go on with my happy life.

How wrong I was. What I didn’t know then were these words from a wise yogi named Tina. “Nothing ever is as you expect it will be.”

How wise indeed. While the marathon in its 26.2 miles was as I expected, that’s where the predictability of the experience ended. What I didn’t expect was to be placed in a bubble, where lifelong friendships would be formed between my teammates; with each of us putting a stamp on the other’s timeline of memories. What happened in that bubble is the stuff of life that you can’t dream up, force, or plan.  It simply happens. Like magic.

Flash forward to this past March. On a cold winter night, my friend and I purchased plane tickets to Spain. Our destination Pueblo Ingles, a tiny village four hours west of Madrid. Here, we would spend 8 days teaching English to Spaniards. We simply had to get ourselves to Madrid; the rest of the expenses would be taken care of. Frequent flier miles made the trip almost free. I was pumped up for what I thought would be a great chance to travel to Spain, practice my Spanish before and after the program, and enjoy some Spanish tapas and wine. Who can argue with an (almost) free trip to Europe? How could that not be good?

Well, it was good. Great, fabulous, magnificent to be exact. And, again, as Yoga Tina said, it was not as I expected it to be. Just like my marathon group, I found myself in the midst of something big.

There were 52 of us consisting of teachers, students, and 2 leaders. We were an equal mix of Spaniards and Anglos (English speakers from Wales, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, and the U.S.). We met in Anglo-Spaniard duos all day, every day, from 9 a.m. until midnight or one… at least.

Our only job was to talk to each other, creating a weeklong English immersion for the Spaniards. Each hour, the Anglos would get a new Spaniard to talk with, and at lunch we gathered for more conversation. Next, we took a two-hour siesta break, and continued the process again from 5 p.m. until the wee hours of the night. Even as I write this, the schedule seems (and was) pretty intense- hard for many to understand how such a schedule is doable much less enjoyable.

Well, it turns out that when you’re in the midst of something big, big things happen. As we got to know each other, we began to learn about our respective cultures and lives. A few of us, Americans and Spaniards, ran together through the hills of the nearby village and talked… running of course. It turns out that running is an international language. During our days, the small talk of families, job, religion, and hobbies were the gateway to the realization that human connections know no language barriers. Soon we became not a group of Anglos and Spaniards, but a group of people, sharing a week together, and realizing that the more our lives were different, the more they were the same. In essence, we all felt something magical happening. Without even trying, we bonded and formed friendships and memories that would last a lifetime.

I didn’t think of it initially as “magic” until one of the last days at breakfast. I was sitting with one of my new Spaniard friends (an engineer) and my friend Lorraine from Canada. We were discussing “El Camino,” the famous pilgrimage leading to Santiago in northern Spain. Lorraine was telling us the theory that the Camino lies directly under the Milky Way and follows the “ley lines” that reflect the energy from those star systems above it. These ley lines, according to my friend (and originally from Shirley MacLaine) are the spiritual life force that activates the Earth itself into a living being.This was some pretty heavy stuff to discuss at breakfast (the only meal at Pueblo Ingles where wine is not served), and I wasn’t sure how my engineer friend was going to respond. I looked at him and said, “How do you feel about that theory, Rafael?” Instead of even challenging or attempting to explain the theory, he simply said, “There is no magic until we believe in magic.”

I for one, believe in magic. Magic happens when you stumble upon a group of people who change the way you think, the way you feel, and basically just make you happier when you are around them. I experienced this magic in all of my marathon groups and at Pueblo Ingles.

But is wasn’t until I came home from Spain that I realized that I don’t need to travel around the world to find magic. It’s right here in front of me, every day, waiting to be discovered in the people I love, the places I know, and the work I’m here to do. Magic is here as long as I believe it can be.

So friends, lace up your running shoes and get out on the trail of life. Be on the lookout for magic, in whatever form it takes… because, as you know, nothing is as we expect it to be.

by abbey algiers

*Photo below of La Alberca- Pueblo Ingles. For information on Pueblo Ingles, visit puebloingles.com.

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One Thing Leads to Another


Runner’s Log

In February of 2003, I went to a Valentine’s Day party with the intent of finding a boyfriend or at least a date. Well, I didn’t find either that night, but rather, ended up meeting a guy who talked me into running what would be the first of many marathons. Three years later, I did meet my husband- while training for a marathon- so I guess you can say that indirectly, that Valentine’s Day party was effective.

On a totally unrelated- yet similar- note, Mike Fikes created a really cool running app in a roundabout sort of way. Mike was trying to find a good way to track the mileage on his running shoes so he’d know when to replace them.  He couldn’t find an app he liked in the app store, so he decided to write his own.  And so, Runner’s Log was born. Runner’s Log is available for your iPhone or iPad, and not only provides an excellent way to keep track of how many miles you’re logging in your shoes, but also has a ton of great features that allow you to track your runs easily and quickly.  Runner’s Log has many great features :

  • View a calendar showing which days you ran recently.
  • View statistics and charts of weekly, monthly, and yearly progress.
  • Map your regular routes—their distances are automatically computed and entered.
  • Track the total mileage put on your running shoes (which typically last 350–550 miles)
  • Record the results of a running session in a matter of seconds.

How it works:  

When you return from a run, use Runner’s Log to record your session. The date, route, and shoes used are all automatically filled in based on defaults. The time spent on your last run for the route is also presented as the default. Simply adjust the minutes or seconds and you are done! Your pace will be shown to you.

 To plan a new route to try in your neighborhood, go to the routes tab and bring up the map, which centers on your current location. Simply tap points on the map in order to create your route. When done, the route distance is automatically computed. If you run this route frequently, you can set it as the default.

 This feature came in handy this weekend while I was up north… I wasn’t sure of the mileage and wanted to quickly find a ten mile route. I mapped my route seconds before my run, then clicked on my tunes, and was off.  That beat the days of sitting in front of my computer to map out my run, or drive the route first.

Back to the shoes:

Runner’s Log makes it a cinch to keep track of shoe mileage. If there are unlogged miles on your shoes, you can easily add them to the total tracked. If you rotate shoes, you’re able to track each pair separately,  and you can choose a pair of shoes to be the default for new running sessions. When a pair is ready to be retired to “lawn mowing only” status, you can mark it as such.

Love the calendar feature:

The calendar features a cute little runner icon that shows which days you ran recently. This gives a great visual, making it easy to decide if you should run or take a break.  You can also view statistics and charts showing weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries of your distance, time and pace, as well as the accumulated mileage put on your shoes.

Runner’s Log is clear, easy to use, and has all of the features that runners need. Created by a runner, for runners.  What more could you ask for?

Check out Runner’s Log today at the App Store!


What It’s Really All About

Every now and then, I end a run feeling totally great. I have no significant aches. I’m not freezing, sore, blistered, beaten, or in need of a bathroom asap. I’m not starving, parched, or otherwise compromised. I actually enter my house with a runner’s high, thankful for the fact that I was able to run, either solo or with my running people.

Take the past few Saturdays, for example. My running partner and I, in the midst of training for a Cinco de Mayo marathon, had a number of Saturdays (in a row) that went really well. We ended these runs thinking for some brief moments that we quite possibly could be some sort of running super hero duo, having been able to brave single digit temps and live to tell about it. Even in the midst of this mild winter, we endured all sorts of things, from black ice to 100 mile an hour winds (okay, at least they felt like it) to frozen digits and stomach issues, all in the name of 15- 17 milers. We may have gone through hell, but by the time we stopped, we felt a post-run euphoria that comes after giving it your all, and doing it in the company of a good friend.

I also appreciate my early morning runs with my other running friends – one who lives down the street, and another who lives a few miles a way and has been my running friend since childhood. The only way I get out of bed at 4:45am to run at 5:00 on a weekday is when I am meeting either of these two gals. I appreciate the conversation and the fact that they get me on the road early, in essence gifting me with the rest of the day to do other things than plan a late afternoon run.

In addition to my friends I physically run with, I have a group of friends I’ve met because of running. Marathons and miles brought us together, but what have endured are solid friendships. In addition, running led me to my husband, a fact I like to remind him when he tells me I’m crazy for running so much. It led me to you, it can’t be all that bad, I tell him.

And that, in essence is the heart of it. It’s not really the act of running that has kept me out on the streets and trails. As much as I call myself a runner, and say how much I love it, I admit that it’s not always easy. After all, when I started out this piece, I proclaimed that “every now and then” I end a run feeling totally physically great, having no outstanding issues to complain about physically or mentally at the run’s end. The reality is that many times I end with aches and other minor ailments. No, running isn’t a piece of cake by any means. The truth is, though, nothing in life is. The most perfect of jobs, hobbies, activities, or situations have moments that test and challenge us. In fact, some of them seem to challenge us much of the time.

But, running has taught me that even the most imperfect situations can be made better when you share them with like minded folks, or in a state of deep self reflection that spurs a sort of inner zen.

Just as I could list many, many times when I felt absolutely tortured on a long run or in a marathon, I can counter those bad feelings with the sense of peace I felt by sharing those runs with someone else. There is a certain camaraderie that comes when we go through tough times together. In addition, it didn’t have to be the runs themselves that were physically difficult. The runs may have been the easy parts, with the challenges being the life issues my running friends or I worked out together on the road.

The thing of it is, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a bad run, a bad job, or a bad situation. What matters is that we remember that there are people around us to share these moments with. When we do this, it becomes clear that even the most awful moments are bearable, and often laughable after all is said and done.

If we keep this in mind, it seems that we might be able to tolerate the bad moments more, and learn to live through them, knowing they’re not necessarily all bad. Further, we can then end each run (good or bad) with a runner’s high, realizing that our aches and pains are not unique to ourselves- we all experience them. So why not just accept this fact, and do our best to be there for each other so our good runs are great and our bad ones are at the very least supported?  After all, isn’t this what it’s all about?

Enjoy all of your runs, friends, and remember to always be there for the people who run beside you.

by abbey algiers
copyright 2012
imrunnerchica.com

 

Laying Down the Groundwork

Every time I run a marathon, I start to royally freak out about a week before the big day. As I prepare for Milwaukee’s Lakefront Marathon next Sunday, I’m officially in the marathon zone of craziness. As I type this, for example, my left knee is hurting for absolutely no reason at all. It is physically fine, yet in my mind, I’m convinced it’ll be injured for Sunday. This Looney Tune thought is nothing new. In the past, I’ve imagined illnesses that include but are not limited to: mono, strep, chicken pox, and my favorite, appendicitis.  I never actually had any of these conditions before a race, but managed to convince myself that I did.  (Note that to date I’ve never had to cancel a race due to sickness.)

Now it is Monday, and I am carefully planning each minute of activity this week, monitoring each morsel that I put in my mouth.  I am also carrying hand sanitizer with me class to class, and considering wearing a face mask when teaching germy elementary students.  You see, these are the factors that I can control; my sneezing third grader will NOT get me sick, gosh darnit!  Other things, like worrying if I did enough miles during my training, do not help me now.   I know I’ve done my work, but the thing is, most runners freak out at this point in the game because marathon training is absolutely counterintuitive.  The training schedule has the longest runs occurring several weeks before marathon day, so that the body can establish a base, and then repair itself for race day. This leaves many a runner wondering how they’re going to run 26.2 when they can barely remember their 20-milers.

Yet, having run a few marathons, I know this isn’t true. Months of long runs have laid the groundwork, and now I know I need to just let go and leave things up to fate.  I do this, realizing that I might have a great race, I might have a terrible one; whatever the case, there is not much more in the realm of training that I can do.  Now, I simply must rest and nourish my body for Sunday, and trust that my months of hard work will serve as a solid foundation.

That said, it seems this concept of laying the groundwork comes into play often in life.  Whether we are training for a marathon, planning a wedding, preparing for an exam, or attending medical school, our lives are full of groundwork-laying events.  For example, my mom has been on my hometown’s library board for 33 years, and has dreamed of the day when a new library would be built. After the board spent literally years working to make this happen, the new library will soon open its doors to the public.  A patron at the grand opening will see a gorgeous new building, but won’t know that the groundwork for this amazing structure is decades old. Success does not happen overnight.

So, really, when you think of it, landmark events like grand openings of libraries, weddings, graduations, and marathons are only part of the equation.  They are the culminating events in the stories of our lives that are built upon hard work, dedication, and perseverance.  And when we lay the groundwork with such things, we know that no matter what happens on race day, we can and should be proud, because so much more went into it than meets the eye.  The many miles we’ve logged are the true indicators of our success; what happened along the journey is what made it possible to get there in the first place.

Whatever “marathon”  you’re training for, remember it’s really not about crossing the finish line, it’s about everything you do to get there.  After all, without some good long runs, how do we expect to get anywhere?

Here’s to long runs, hard work, and well-deserved tapers.

by abbey algiers

imrunnerchica.com

copyright 2011

Really, Why 26.2?

Since I completed my first marathon in 2003, I think I have been marathoning’s biggest cheerleader. I can’t count the number of people I have told, “YOU should run a marathon! You can totally do it!” I’ve said this to casual runners, serious runners, and people who would not even run if being chased. The non-runners usually look at me like I am insane, and tell me (quite frankly) that there’s not a chance in hell they are going to ever do this, so could I  (please) shut up now.  Others listen to my marathon pitches and walk away giving it serious consideration.  Some have gone on to run one or several marathons. Still others acknowledge that, yes, they’ve been considering a marathon for quite some time now, and maybe one day they’ll do it.

While on my 26.2-foot -high soap box, I’ve learned to monitor when to stop talking and when to keep on going.  Yet, for the most part, a little resistance from my audience does not slow me down. I am relentless in my marathon promotion. However, after reading, “An Inside Look” one would probably wonder why I push this multiple hour torture session, because the #1 known fact about running a marathon is that it sure ain’t easy.

So, why the hype? Why are marathons filling up at record rates… attracting droves of runners and non-runners alike? Why do people go back to marathoning even after being injured time and time again?  Are all runners basically mad? Quite possibly yes, we are mad. But there’s a reason beyond the madness that draws us in to the allure of 26.2.

The real reason lies in the fact that consciously and unconsciously, our collective human conscience is onto something as far as marathons are concerned.  It’s actually a huge secret that is revealed to us early on in the training phase of marathon preparation.

This secret goes beyond the physical benefits of running – that you can lose weight, lower cholesterol, improve fitness, reduce stress, and feel better, etc. This is what I call the “Well, no duh” benefits to training for marathons.

There is something bigger going on here.

This “something” begins with the training. A transformation of self-discipline and dedication slowly grows as one makes and follows a training schedule. What starts as “How am I going to fit all of these miles in and still get everything else done?” grows into a daily calendar that makes more space for running and eating well, and less space for TV watching, junk food eating, and unnecessary boozin’.  Going to bed early on a Friday night for a Saturday long run isn’t a chore, it becomes a normal part of existence.  In turn, waking early isn’t so bad either. After all, by the time you are done with your shower, your “pre-marathon self” would be just getting out of bed.

As this new lifestyle of scheduled runs, good nutrition, and a healthier outlook evolves, a shift takes place in the way a runner looks at the world. With more energy, better fitting clothes, and less stress, our lives in general just tend to look sunnier. The training schedule that once looked scary and impossible to tackle is in fact proving to be quite gratifying. It starts out with 5-7-9-10 mile distances for  “long” runs, and as you cover each distance your confidence grows. “Damn, I just ran 10 miles today. Who would have thought I could do that?”  Then, you hit 12, 14, 16, 18 miles, and you finish with such self-pride and accomplishment that you want to tell everyone you meet about the runs.  (“Sure, I’ll meet you for lunch. I just ran 16 today, so I’m kind of hungry…” ) And, as you hit each bigger mileage mark, you get there and feel more confident that you will be able to do the 26.2 miles you once thought were impossible.   You also think about doing more in all areas of your life… What else can I do that I didn’t think I could before?  A mental and emotional transformation is taking place as your body physically transforms.

In the midst of this transformation,  you start to think of your new routine as “normal.”  You get to a point where long runs of 12-14-16 seem routine to you, so you say things to people like, “Oh, I just ran 10 today…”  They will look at you like you’re nuts (mad), and reply, “Oh, only  10, huh?”  It’s instances like these that prove you are not the same person who started this whole marathon business.

Yes, you’re pushing the boundaries of what you once thought was possible, and you’re winning at it. Not winning in a crazy Charlie Sheen-manic way, but winning in the true sense of the word. And without even really trying, this “win” is spilling into your regular life.  It seems that your  professional, personal, and life goals are gaining new clarity as you move forward in your training program.  You become more productive and goal oriented in everything. It’s pretty amazing.

Now of course, in this land of training, not everything is fun and games.  There are runs that don’t go so well.  While on training runs, you learn about fun things like digestive issues.  You also learn about hydration and lack thereof. You find out (the hard way) about blisters and chafing and toe nails falling off. There are other setbacks too. Muscles become sore, and injuries pop up. A million roadblocks can enter your path, but you don’t quit.  If something is really hurting, you’ll seek out doctors, PT’s, massage therapists, or anyone (I’ve even sought out a body energy worker) to help get back on track.

No, you don’t want to quit, because you want, like nothing else in the world, to make it to race day healthy and ready for action.  By committing to a marathon, you have made a commitment to yourself to test your physical, emotional, and mental limits.  So, with all of this training and growth under your fuel belt, you go to your marathon. And, at the start line, you are full of emotions because you know that you did not reach this place without much, much preparation. It hits you then, that simply being there, in the sea of runners all working for the same thing, is pretty darn amazing.  You know that even at the start line, you have accomplished more than you ever thought you could.

With this little gem, you move forward, realizing that the marathon, like your training and your life, will not be easy. In fact it won’t even be that fun.  But you also know that there is something inside you that will help you get through it, come hell or high water. And this, is why you signed up in the first place; to ignite the light inside you that lets you know that when you put your body, mind, and spirit together, anything really is possible.

Whatever your particular dose of madness drives you to do, pursue it with everything you’ve got, folks… life is full of marathons, just pick the one you want to do, and enter it with spirit and passion.

by abbey algiers

imrunnerchica.com

copyright 2011

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“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” 

– John “The Penguin”Bingham

Keeping It Real

I have always said that the best part about becoming a runner was meeting my running peeps. In addition to finding a really great group of people (including a husband), it has allowed me into a world with its own secret language -aka- “running nerd talk.” Never is this more apparent than at a happy hour when we get involved in serious discussions of marathons, shoes, injuries, and countless other running topics.  If non-runners are with us, they will nod appropriately, try to make sense of our gibberish, and then usually just give up and order another drink (or several).

In addition, I’ve discovered that if I learn someone in my proximity is a runner… I will find a way to talk to them about running.  This person could be really anyone– a random commuter on a subway, convicted felon, arch-enemy from high school, or a superior at work who would normally intimidate me.  None of this matters; titles and status disappear as we begin a conversation about our beloved craft.  Are you training for a marathon? Which one? How many have you done? Oh, you are injured? Bummer… The conversation could go on for hours.

Yes, we runners are a tight crowd, and our loyalties to our sport cross over to personal relationships and business deals.  For example, I’ve had a friend suggest a painter because, “He did a pretty good job, and well, he’s a runner.” I’ve recommended my doctor to others because I think he’s a skilled physician who happens to be a runner. I have even heard of a case where a woman chose her divorce attorney based on the fact she discovered he was training for a marathon.

This kind of behavior isn’t exclusive to runners.  There are bikers, swimmers, golfers, knitters, readers, writers, Civil War Re-enactors, and a million other groups who band together in geekdom. As this world gets bigger and bigger and full of so much stuff, finding common ground is more important than ever. In fact, I’d like to propose that common ground, whether in the form of shared hobbies or simply the fact that we share the planet, is what makes our days easier and more enjoyable.

At a conference this week, the opening breakfast was “headlined” by four experts in the field. I have no idea what the first three speakers talked about.  I don’t even remember their names or what they looked like.  But, I do remember the fourth speaker.  He began with, “Well, does anyone in the crowd like basketball? Maybe you like the Badgers. Or perhaps Marquette?”  People cheered as he capitalized on the fact that it was NCAA season, and two Wisconsin teams were advancing to the Sweet 16.  He had the Wisconsin teacher audience in the palm of his hands as he transitioned into the business of the conference.

A friend of mine recently went to traffic court.  Having only gone before in California, she expected a long wait and a strict ruling by the judge.  She didn’t expect the judge to read her ticket, see she was from Shorewood, and promptly begin the “trial” with, “Oh, so you’re a Shorewood Greyhound?” instead of “So why didn’t you just pay your delinquent parking ticket six months ago?” A short conversation about area high schools followed, and she was out in seven minutes.

All of these instances suggest that maybe life doesn’t have to be so darn heavy all the time. We fill our days with so much business –  endless events on calendars, emails, texts, tasks, and (so many!) meetings that we sometimes forget that there is more to life than all of that seriousness.  Yes, there is work to be done. But we can’t get so involved in our business that we forget about the business of living a life we love. We can’t forget what is real to us.

We are all unique in what makes us tick.  So, perhaps if we spend our time trying to get to the bottom of that in each person we meet, we’d actually be more productive and happier as we go about our daily lives. And isn’t that the point?

May your meetings be short, your runs be long, and may you find many along the way who help you “keep it real.”

copyright 2011

imrunnerchica.com

by abbey algiers

An Even Playing Field

As I prepare to run Boston this upcoming weekend, I am once again in “marathon mode.” The state where anyone with a sniffle is considered a public health threat, where everything I put in my mouth is questioned for its nutritional value and freshness, and every move I make is calculated and careful so as to prevent injury.  This one, however, is different. This is the Boston Marathon, something I’ve been dreaming of since my first marathon back in 2003.  Making it here is an honor; it is like prom to a 16-year-old girl, the Super Bowl to Brett Favre, wearing the Green Jacket to a golfer. Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe it’s really happening.

What surprises me the most, is perhaps that non-runners, the same ones who ask questions like, “Well, how long is that marathon?” actually KNOW that Boston is a big deal. They will say things like, “You had to qualify for this one, right?” RIGHT! But the truth is, I don’t feel like a super hero or a really fast runner. I just feel that back in October, I had a good race. The marathon gods got together and decided that it would be my day to qualify.

This makes me feel especially lucky, because after 11 marathons, I know certain things. The main one being that when race day strikes, anything can happen. The most trained, fit, prepared athletes can crash and burn when hit with a bad stomach, bad weather, or one or multiple injuries.  Heck, even a bad wardrobe choice can be disastrous. Marathon Day has a different ending for each and every runner; it is the crapshoot (sometimes literally, sorry) of all sporting events.  So really, when it comes to the point where you are a week out, two days out, one day out…you are left to rest, hydrate, and trust that what you’ve done over the past months will pay off. Then all you can do is say your prayers and leave it up to fate or your lucky socks on the day of the race.

It only makes sense then, that as I prepare both mentally and physically for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I am quite frankly, scared out of my mind.  Try as I might to stay calm and focused, I am riddled with the anxieties that accompany anything major one has been waiting for.  Was my training sufficient? Should I have done more hills? I think I should have done more hills. What if I get food poisoning? Will I wake up on time to catch my flight? And then, let’s not even talk about what I will be feeling on race morning. Will it rain? Will I freeze, or will record temps knock me out at mile 19? Will I make the right food choices for a smooth run? Will I TRIP on my way to the start?

The bottom line is, I could write from now until I board the plane and still not cover every “worst case scenario.”   Yet I do realize that thoughts like this, while not helpful, are very normal.  A visit to message boards surrounding the topic of Boston shows me that I am not alone in my anxieties. There are many newcomers there who are voicing my same concerns. This makes me feel better as does texting and emailing my running partner about once an hour with questions and comments on our upcoming trip.

Also, when I get to Boston and go to the Expo, I know I will be in a room with my same nervous energy/excitement.  At the start line, I will be surrounded by thousands of runners who are just praying that this moment in time will be everything they’ve hoped for.

And, as I think of this moment at the starting line, where everything either does or doesn’t come together,  I realize how even the playing field is. Regardless of where we come from or how we got there, when it comes to the beginning of the race…we all just want to do the best we can. And isn’t this true about life as well? Each day, we give it our all to achieve our goals and live the best lives we can.  We can fret about everything that could happen to interfere with these goals… or we can move forward with the enthusiasm and hope of a runner at the start of a marathon… knowing that we’re exactly where we need to be, and all that’s left to do is move forward with faith and trust that we’ll make it to the finish.