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

IMG_3871 

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

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

 

And We Danced…

This was the title of the song that was playing as I left my house late this frigid afternoon, trying to get a run in before the sun went down. Starting out, I was pretty excited because I had just discovered that my new running jacket had a pocket to fit my iPhone perfectly- gone were the days of carrying it as I ran. I envisioned audio bliss, with great music taking my mind off the cold and wind.

Imagine my surprise when approximately three minutes and seven seconds into my run, “And We Danced” came on again. I must have clicked on the “repeat” button in my haste to get outside. Now, I liked this song in the 80’s, and I liked it as I began my run, but I definitely was not up for listening to it for 30 minutes straight. No problem, I thought, I’d just advance the song using the remote changer on my headphones. Note to Apple: this is an impossible feat when wearing bulky mittens. I thought about my options- I could stop altogether and dig my phone out of the new pocket, or I could take my mittens off and see if I could use the headphone control. Neither option really appealed to me because it seemed that the temperature and sun were having a contest to see which could go down the fastest. Bottom line, I needed to focus on the business of running home, not on being my own personal DJ.

With that in mind, I at first tried to not think about the fact that I’d be listening to this same song at least 8 more times. This wasn’t the worst thing in the world, I reasoned. Nor was it an impossible situation. I could take my headphones out and have no music, for crying out loud. However, I decided to use this never ending time travel 80’s song as a self-test of sorts. This song in all of its repeating glory, reminded me that there are many things like this in life- things we can’t stand, but we must face day in and day out because they are part of our reality at that given moment. There are many examples of this- jobs, commutes, relationships, or situations that seem hopeless and never ending. I thought back to classes in school (algebra, geometry and basically every math class since kindergarten) that I had endured, thinking they would never, ever end. I thought about jobs I’d held, where I’d dread going in to work because I knew exactly the hours of “drudgery” I’d face. Then I thought of my mom’s advice in those situations- this too shall pass.

Four plays into this song, with maybe two and a half miles left, I reminded myself of just what a blip on the radar this run was. What was my problem, anyway? I was having a good run, my digits were toasty, and the area was well lit. Instead of thinking of how much I now hated all 80’s music, I decided to focus more on the things around me. I took a deep breath of the crisp winter air. I peered in windows, which was now an easy thing to do with the darkness surrounding me. I focused on the fact that it was actually fun to be out here, and how it would make me appreciate my toasty house when I returned.

Then, before I knew it, I was approaching the last half mile of my route. I would survive this audio hell! Minutes later, inside my house I thought about the run and how significantly insignificant it had been. Never was I really in any sort of physical, mental, or emotional danger because of that damn repeating song. Yet at first, with the cold, wind, and darkness overwhelming me, it seemed like this song would be the thing that threw me over the edge.

But the thing was, it wasn’t like I was truly stuck listening to that song- there were many things I could have done to stop it. But I chose to keep on going, knowing deep down inside that in the big scheme of things, it really was a very short and insignificant annoyance. And while many of the things that, like this song, test us to no end and seem like they will never end… we have to remember that they, too will eventually end. We also need to remember that not only do we have the power to get through those things, we also, many times have the power to change them. It’s all about what we’re willing to do and what feels right to us at the time.

So, as you all continuing running through this frigid winter, friends, remember that you always have many roads you can take. You can continue on the path you are on, with faith that you will one day get to a toasty warm house where you have full liberty to listen to whatever you wish… or you can stop right where you are and decide enough’s enough. It’s up to you. It’s your life and you can dance through it any way you like.

by Abbey Algiers
imrunnerchica.com
copyright 2012

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

Loosen Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2009 imrunnerchica.com

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 treehugger.com (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!