At a Bikram Yoga class before Christmas, the instructor commented on a difficult pose that about half the class was falling out of. Looking around at the room of yogis he reassured us, “Don’t worry if you can’t get into the pose now. Yoga isn’t a sprint, it’s more like a marathon. Things come over time.” After thinking that this particular pose should maybe be compared to an Ultra Marathon (I didn’t see myself getting there anytime soon), I began to think of his sentiment and how it applied to running, as well as life.
When I train for a marathon, I know upfront that I have a lot of miles to cover before race day- hundreds, in fact. Yet, I try not to feel overwhelmed, as I know the miles are spread over more than 3 months. I also know that some of these runs may not go well. Some might actually make me question why I run in the first place. Yet other runs will be absolutely perfect. This is part of the training process- there are good and bad runs, and you just need to follow the schedule as closely as possible. The goal is to get to race day healthy and injury-free. With this philosophy in mind, I know I’m not going to be in marathon shape after one week of training. The build-up transforms the body slowly and safely, to prevent injury and sickness.
I thought about this “it’s a marathon not a sprint” theory again as 2013 rolled in to 2014. Like many, I have a list of goals and resolutions I’d like to accomplish in 2014. Motivated with thoughts of starting fresh, I was all ready on January 1 to hit the ground running— my feet were in the starting blocks as if I were going to run a 200. However, after blowing one of my resolutions by 1:00 p.m. New Year’s Day, I realized I should be starting like a marathon. If I want change, I have to be in it for the long run. I don’t think resolutions can be a hurry up, accomplish/change your bad habits then move on type of deal. Again, the marathon analogy makes a whole lot of sense.
Whether our goals are weight loss, saving money, exercise, eating better, or whatever… I think to be successful in changing or accomplishing anything, we need to slow down, take a breath, and realize that it takes time to change. It also helps to remember that along the course, there will be good days where we think we are superheroes of the New Year. But, there will also be bad days, where that “no chocolate in 2014 resolution” is replaced by us eating 8 snack size Snickers. (They’re small, right?) No matter how many bad days we have, remember, we don’t have to throw in the towel. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You fall out of the pose? Well, then just pick yourself up and get back in. It’s all about being “in it” for the long haul.
So friends, whatever “marathon” is in your plans for 2014… may you go far, and enjoy every step of the journey.
by abbey algiers
Over the years, people have asked me why I run. They’ve also asked me why I run so much, and so far. Further, they’ve tried to get to the bottom of the conditions under which I run… rain, snow, sleet, ice, and in the summer, heat and humidity. Am I nuts? Furthermore, they wonder, just what sane person gets up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and spends the first few hours in perpetual motion?
All of these issues are perplexing to someone who doesn’t like to run, or has never run. I get it. It’s not their thing, and I’m okay with that. I’m a bit of a freak about running, and sometimes people will try to explain to me why they don’t run, as if they need to apologize for not running. To them I say to each his own. I’ll usually also say something like, “Don’t worry, I understand… sometimes even I don’t like my runs, and I love running… so if you go out there and start out not liking it, it could be a disaster.”
But because running is ‘my thing,’ small bits of discomfort almost always get trumped by the overriding feeling of being totally in my element. When I run, my body feels like it’s doing what it was made to do. When I run alone, I feel in sync with my thoughts. My brain awakens, giving me all sorts of insightful sentiments and grand epiphanies. When I’m with my running partner, we are both in sync, and proceed to solve our problems, and the rest of the world’s problems as well. In fact, we can problem solve for however long it takes- 5,10, 15, or sometimes 26.2 miles. Things simply make more sense when they are attached to the act of running.
All of this said, my dad (the doctor) often reminds me that the human body can only take so much running. I pride myself in ignoring his comments, but unfortunately from time to time, injuries remind me that he is right. (A fact I will only admit in written form, under the guise of Runnerchica, and never say to his face.) When this happens to me (or any runner) and we find ourselves sidelined, our beloved running becomes even more important. Whether it’s an ultra nasty blister that sidelines us for a few days (this has actually happened, effectively ending my foot modeling career), or a more serious injury that causes weeks or even months of rest, the emotional toll is the same. When something we love is taken away temporarily, we suddenly realize just how important it is, and how easy it is to take for granted. When I can’t just throw on my running shoes and clothes and hit the streets, I realize just how good I had it when I could.
So, to answer the questions addressed in the first paragraph, I run through rain, sleet, snow, and heat because even though it’s hard, I know I’d rather be doing this than not doing it at all. I also know that even when a run is uncomfortable, the next run probably won’t be. I also know that while sometimes my training will require me to go for miles and miles, and I’ll wonder just why it IS that I choose to do this, I do know that the run will eventually be over, and I will again be able to rest. Similarly, I know that shorter runs are in my future- it all just depends on that day’s plan. And, finally, while it is certainly not a treat to get up at 5:30, once I get through the initial shock, it really feels amazing to be breathing fresh morning air, see beautiful scenery, and have great conversations with my running buddies.
Bottom line, when you find something you love, you just know it’s worth it to push past the challenges. Because really, nothing in this world is perfect- even (or perhaps especially) the things we love the most. And, those injuries that pop up from time to time, while they test our patience and sanity, are also great reminders not to take anything in this lifetime for granted- the truth of it is, each day doing something we love or spending time with someone we love needs to be treated as a gift. So, friends… hold tight to whatever or whoever it is that YOU love, and enjoy them in all of their imperfect glory.
Now, get out there and go do your thing.
by abbey algiers
every day is a marathon
by abbey algiers
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.
I am a creature of habit in many things I do. I eat two waffles with almond butter and blackberries every day. I get a “venti with room” at Starbucks four days a week. I brush my teeth when I get to work, after lunch, and about 3 more times each day. When I go on vacation, I like to go to the exact same places. Similarly, when I run, my routines and routes are very predictable. I am, perhaps, the most interesting person one could meet…not. For example, my “Starbucks Route” takes me past… Starbucks, if you can believe that. My “Sears Route” takes me to the Sears store and back. I’m guessing it would be difficult to find a more predictable human than me.
While being predictable in my runs has some benefits (I know where the biting dog lives, where the public bathrooms are, and exactly how long each run takes on a good day), it occurred to me recently that I might be missing things along the way, with everything being so familiar to me. I realized that sometimes when you see the same things each day, the good parts start to blur, and important details are lost along the way. How did I come to this conclusion? From my 13 year old blind student, Leonardo.
To explain further, let me give you a bit of back-story on this extraordinary person. Leonardo came to my class about 6 months ago, knowing no English, with 100% vision loss due to a brain tumor. Yet, Leonardo shows that truly noticing his world around him has little to do with vision.
I pick up Leonardo in the office each day and take him to my classroom. I walk next to him while he uses the lockers and wall as a guide. We had done this for about 4 months when Leonardo asked me a question, “How come your hallway doesn’t have a fire extinguisher above the lockers like the hallway upstairs?” Now, I’ve taught in my building for over 7 years. Not once have I noticed the placement (or really even existence) of our fire extinguishers. This experience made me wonder… what else am I missing as I follow the pattern of my life in all activities?
Later that day, I went on my daily run, yet this time I took a look around. I examined the houses I pass every day and looked for different features I may have missed. I took a chance to admire the blue sky, the trees, and all of the scenery that I had barely given a second glance before. I found that my Starbucks route was actually pretty scenic. I considered that my Sears route would be a great place to people watch. Finally, I felt my eyes open wider to the world around me, as if I didn’t want to miss any clues or revelations along the way.
Most importantly, Leonardo’s words and that run made me consider the other things and people in my life that might be blending into the hustle and bustle of daily life and the pull of familiarity. There are so many great things to see and people to appreciate that are right in front of me, yet I wondered just how often I truly “saw” them.
Moving forward, I plan to use Leonardo’s insights as my guide and break out of the familiarity of my routine a bit more. I’ll still probably visit the same places, eat the same things, and do the same activities as I did before, but from now on I plan to pay more attention as I do.
After all, if I had missed the location as something as important as a fire extinguisher for all of these years, what else might I be missing? I plan to find out.
Next time you run your route, whether it’s new or the one you’ve run for years and years, open your eyes, friends. There’s a whole world waiting for you to discover.
By Abbey Algiers
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
By Abbey Algiers