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.
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
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
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
“Back to school” is a crazy time for people of all ages. For parents, it’s time to get everyone back in the swing of things, on schedule, and ready for action. For kids, it is the ultimate reality check when their carefree existence comes to a screeching halt. For teachers, it’s all of the above, plus about six million other things.
As an ESL teacher who works in two buildings, sometimes I feel as if my list of six million things is doubled. As usual, my first days this year were spent in a state of organized chaos, trying to set up a schedule that works for kids and my fellow ESL staffers. So, in addition to experiencing nearly the same jolting reality check that kids do, the beginning of the year often has me wondering just which end is up. On day two, I slid into the break room for a quick 10 minute lunch. One of the school’s aides was there as well. Good timing, as I knew he was a master of scheduling- he worked in our school as a five-hour aide, then went to his other job as a full- time police officer. Forgetting about my own schedule for a minute, I asked him about his, since my concerns seemed rather silly in comparison. He told me that while last year he’d work first shift at school, and third shift at the police department, he was going to be at the station second shift this year. “Which is nice because I can just work straight through then,” he cheerfully noted.
I thought about both scenarios- working ALL NIGHT long, then coming to school to work with middle schoolers, or working with kids all day, and then not going home until midnight. Both scenarios freaked me out. I asked him which (if either!) schedule he preferred. In a totally upbeat tone, he told me, “Well, you know, I’m not sure. They both have their pluses and minuses.”
Wow, here was a guy looking at really long days full of all sorts of challenges, who accepted the good and bad of both. This made me feel like a royal jerk for all of the little inconveniences that I liked to focus on in the “whiner section” of my brain. It also brought me back to a half marathon I ran on one of this summer’s hottest days, where someone I ran next to had his own jokester way of plus-ing and minus-ing the run. “At least it’s not 110 degrees.” “At least I don’t have heat stroke yet.” “At least we’re not running with two broken ankles.” He continued to list more silly extremes that put our current heat-induced distress in perspective.
The thing is, pretty much every run and every situation in our lives- professional, personal, or otherwise- contains both pluses and minuses. But instead of focusing on the minuses, maybe its better just to look at them as being part of this completely imperfect thing called life, and focus on what my sister calls “the plus column.” Yes, the minuses will always be there, but if we look more closely at those things in the plus column, then perhaps soon the pluses will outweigh the minuses, and our whole outlook will be a bit more cheery.
For example, as I write this, just two days into the new school year… I could tell myself I’m two days closer to the last day of school. Right? Mile two of a marathon can be “24 left, oh no!” or “two down!” It’s all in how you look at it.
So, keep moving forward friends, and remember this little ditty that can be applied to your runs, or just about anything…
The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. ~Dennis S. Brown
by Abbey Algiers