Be a “Try Hard”

As a marathon runner, I go through a lot of shoes.  I need to update my shoes at least once every three months.  Unfortunately, as many friends and family would attest, I also have a fairly sizable “every day shoe” collection as well.  All of these shoes can get costly. So, as a middle school teacher, I try to combat my shoe addiction by doing extra jobs in and out of school.  One of these jobs is lunch duty – a job outsiders usually consider perhaps the cruelest form of punishment an adult can endure.  On most days, these outsiders aren’t that far off.

However, some days being in a room full of 6th graders is actually entertaining, and even enlightening in one way or another. Yesterday- just over a week into the new year- was no exception. Having busted two boys for the crime of throwing grapes and Doritos, I was stationed next to these offenders at the middle “naughty” table. These two boys were minimal offenders, but we like to make a point early on in the year.   As adults we realize that to 6th graders throwing food is almost a natural instinct, and at times maybe even self defense, but we want them to know that if they do it, they will to pay the price.

So, I had the two boys sit at the middle table to learn their lesson and hopefully set an example. One of the boys was way too into his tacos to talk to me.  The other, a nice, personable kid, apparently decided he wasn’t going to let the middle table stop him from having a conversation.  He began by asking me if I knew who he was.  When I told him I didn’t, he informed me that his dad was pretty involved in our school’s athletics and as a result  (even though he was just a 6th grader)  he “knew A LOT of teachers, athletes, high schoolers, and students.”

The boy then began talking football with me.  He started by telling me a bunch of technical facts, to which I just smiled and nodded because I really have no clue about the game.  He then got into specifics about his team and his talents.  His personal summary went something like this, “I love the game.  I’m actually not that strong now, but I will be someday.  That doesn’t matter though, because I really understand the game. I know the strategies, plus I am really fast.”  Then, he paused and said, “The other kids call me a Try Hard.” 

I wasn’t sure if I heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat, “They call you a what?”

“A Try Hard.”

My initial reaction was to tell him this was really cool, but then I noticed he didn’t look all that thrilled with it.  “Wait, are they ripping on you when they say this?”

The boy’s expression answered my question- of course they were ripping. They were mean middle schoolers. Middle schoolers generally don’t come up with deep, meaningful nicknames aimed at each other.  Yet, ironically, I realized that these kids had in fact, inadvertently come up with one that had the reverse effect. An insult that was actually a secret compliment.  I had to share this fact with my new friend.

“Do you know what? It’s really cool to be a Try Hard. Those kids don’t know it, but they are actually giving you a compliment. Being a Try Hard is the coolest thing in the world, because by trying hard you will know more about the game  because you had to figure it out.” I wanted to add that he’d probably get a lot more job opportunities in the future with a try hard attitude… but I decided that perspective might be a bit heavy for the first week of middle school.

The kid sort of smiled and I think he got it, in a 6th grader kind of way and then proceeded to talk about football again. I continued to revisit our conversation all day, and thought about how this nickname was actually quite an ingenious concept. Whether we are trying to run five miles, a marathon, or just get through life, the best thing we can all ever strive to be is a bunch of Try Hards- great at some aspects, okay at others, and striving to improve (someday) in the areas that we struggle the most.

So, friends…always remember that life really isn’t about perfection or getting things right the first time. It’s about being out there, in the game, trying hard every single day. And most importantly, it’s not how far or fast you run…but how hard you try.

by abbey algiers

imrunnerchica 2014

What do you see when you’re not looking?

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

imrunnerchica.com

Copyright 2013

Breathe. Relax. Let the moment pass.

 

Part of my pre-marathon ritual involves attending a Bikram Yoga class the day before my race. Now, while many people argue that I should be resting, and tell me that Bikram will dehydrate me, I ignore them, knowing that for the past 4 or 5 races, a pre-race class has been just what I needed to physically and mentally prepare. Today was no exception.

I started with a pre-race “dead body pose,” (or in the yogi language of Sanskrit, “Savasana”) where I visualized a solid race with little pain and no injuries or other issues. In other words, I played out a little fairy tale in my head, because I know that few (if any) marathons feel “SOLID,” or even “GOOD” the entire 26.2 miles.  There are hiccups along the way that challenge my body and my will. That’s the nature of a marathon.

Image

Savasana or “Dead Body Pose”

This said, I decided to dedicate my class to visualizing my desired finish time (which will remain unprinted for fear of jinxing it) and along the way, visualize as pain free a run as possible.

My corpse pose was interrupted as the instructor entered the room and asked us to come to our feet. At the start of every Bikram class, instructors poll the room to see if there are new students- those who don’t know the Golden Rule- that you must stay in the room the entire 90 minutes.  Next, the instructor will try to calm those who freak out at the possibility of no escape, by telling them that if they feel sick or tired, they can take a break on their mats. (To which many new yogis no doubt reply in their minds with, “Thanks, Jerk, it’s 105 degrees in here, I’m sure sitting down will help  me feel better.”)  Each instructor has a different way of giving that “you better not leave” message.  It seems that my instructor today catered these words just for me.  What he said was perfect not only for that particular class, but also for my marathon tomorrow, and quite possibly for every uncomfortable situation in my life.

The instructor told us, “Welcome to Bikram.  My name is Cornelius. As you go through the poses today, if you feel uncomfortable or challenged; just take a moment. Breathe. Relax. That uncomfortable moment will pass. It always does.”

How do you say “BINGO” in Sanskrit? In about 15 seconds, this instructor articulated the solution to my biggest marathon dilemma- how to deal with the many instances throughout the 26.2 miles that were uncomfortable or challenging. Any marathoner knows that a given race can hold many such moments. They are moments of physical pain (i.e. blisters, leg and stomach cramps, runny noses, aches that come out of nowhere, emergency bathroom issues) and mental pain (We are only at 10?!?!/ Why is that man breathing so loudly?/When is the next water stop?/Why did I sign up for this?).  And here’s the thing, new issues crop up all along the course.  It’s not like each runner gets just one uncomfortable thing to deal with and that’s that for the run. You don’t know how many challenges will pop up, and you don’t know when to expect them.  Sort of like teaching a class full of middle schoolers, the likelihood that something is going to send you over the edge exists at every moment. You’re never “safe” during a marathon.

With this in mind, one can imagine how my wise yoga instructor’s words resonated so deeply with me as I prepare for tomorrow’s challenge. I thought about his words throughout the class; a class which at times was difficult as my head chatter brought all of my anxieties to center stage in what was supposed to be 90 minutes of meditation. Again, the instructor repeated the message, this time during one of Bikram’s most challenging poses- camel. Camel is notorious for bringing all emotions and physical pain to center stage at once.  Instructors will tell us after camel, “If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or emotionally spent after doing camel, you’ve done it right.”  Well, Cornelius had his own version of this message as well, “Remember that in camel pose, sometimes you’ll feel like a million dollars, other times not. Don’t worry about it if you feel uncomfortable; just acknowledge what you are feeling and then move through it.  The pain will pass.”

Image Camel Pose

Again, a fabulous reminder that no matter how bad I feel… whether at mile 20 in my run tomorrow, at 10:00 a.m. during a bad day at work, or in any given situation where I’m feeling discomfort… that moment WILL pass. Acknowledge the pain, yes. But acknowledge it, knowing it won’t last forever.

As class wrapped up, and we again found ourselves in Savasana, or “dead body pose,” Cornelius had one final message for the class. He thanked us for coming to class and sharing our energy with each other. He reminded us that “yoga” means “union,” and that in our class, we all moved together, struggled together, sweat together. In other words, whether we thought about it or not, we all got through those moments together. Tomorrow, as I run with thousands of other marathoners, and pass the crowds who have gathered to show support, I’ll try to remember that there IS indeed energy all around me that can help me get through the uncomfortable moments that await me along the route.

So friends, the next time you feel especially uncomfortable or challenged, please remember to breathe and relax… and know that you are not alone. Those moments will pass… they always do.

Namaste

imrunnerchica.com

by abbey algiers

copyright 2012

Burning the Candle

There are many reasons that I love to run. I love to run because it allows me to be outside, taking in fresh air while I do something good for my body. I love to run to relieve stress and clear my mind. I love the camaraderie that exists between fellow runners who pass each other on the streets. More importantly, I appreciate the running partner “what happens on the run, stays on the run” relationships that fuel me almost as much as the run itself. Finally, I love running because it allows me to unplug from  “everything else” that exists in the confines of my house or workplace, and the technology and distractions that surround me wherever I go.  When I run, I run. I don’t try and squeeze in six thousand other things while I’m doing it.

Running for the sake of running, and only running. What a concept.

The thing is, in all other areas of my life, I rarely focus on and/or do, one thing at a time.  When I’m driving, I’m drinking coffee and listening to the radio.  At school, I’m simultaneously teaching, disciplining, planning my next move, and trying to keep my cool. While watching TV, I’m often folding laundry, picking up the house, or doing my nails.  I return phone calls while grocery shopping.  Yesterday my husband looked at my desk with its laptop and iPad side by side, and said, “Who needs two computers running right in front of them? What is that all about?” I retorted that he wasn’t a writer and didn’t understand. But maybe it was me that didn’t.

Yes, I am a writer, which means I spend a great deal of my time behind a computer or ipad (okay both) writing.  This also means that I spend a lot of my time reading about ways I can be a better writer. But the real truth is that even though I am this “big writer,” I’ve realized lately that I’m not all that efficient when I sit down to write. Yes, I may be typing away on an article or chapter, but more often than not I’m typing away in between multiple email checks, website searches, texts, and water or food breaks.

In addition, like many other writers, my passion to become a better writer (and paid one) is contradicted by the fact that I have a life full of things I need to do and people I want to spend time with. So many things occupy my days, that by the time I get to my own writing, I don’t focus like I should.

All of these grand epiphanies came to me in one of my moments of researching how to become a better writer. I stumbled upon a podcast of a social media expert/writer who was talking becoming a more efficient writer.  Here was a writer who was successful in carving out actual writing time in the midst of the “business side” of his business- the social media, housekeeping end.  Bottom line- he made rules for himself.  When he sat down to write, he wrote. He turned his phone off.  He forbade himself to go online for any reason.  He brought all of the necessities- food, water, Kleenex… anything he’d need for the designated amount of time he was there.  Then, quite simply, he sat down and wrote. He didn’t get up until he accomplished what he needed to do.

At 9:00 one night, I decided to try his strategy, because I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with a number of writing projects with fast approaching deadlines. Unfortunately, I was also very tired.  I heard my mom’s voice playing in my head, “You’re burning the candle at both ends… “  Even as a voice in my head, my mom was right. Yet the problem was, I needed to keep burning that candle, at least for that night, or I wouldn’t finish my projects.  That’s when the idea hit me.  The candle would be my symbol to focus on what’s right in front of me- my writing. Lighting it would signify the start of my session, blowing it out meant I was done. In between, I vowed to partake in no monkey business whatsoever.

For the record, that strategy worked that night, and I continue to use it to train myself to become a more focused writer.  Because I light the candle, I take control of my commitment to be fully present and focused.  It’s me choosing my action, and as a result, it’s becoming easier to do.  The cool thing is… I’m beginning to recognize the other areas of my life where I’m not so focused and could use a candle that burns just at one end.

This task is also making it more clear as to why I love to run… because running is a time when I’m completely devoted to the task at hand.  Even when the runs aren’t my best, and are ridden with aches and pains, or just plain boredom… they are all I’ve got at that moment.

Kind of a lot like life.

So, whether you are out on a long run or short walk, remember friends, that you can only take one path at a time.  If you are always looking for alternate routes, you’ll never appreciate the beauty that appears right in front of your face.

Here’s to the beauty of the run for the sake of the run.

copyright 2012

imrunnerchica.com

by abbey algiers

The Best of Plans

One of the great things I’ve discovered about activities like running and golfing with others is that each activity comes with a sort of automatic “get to know you” clause. You’re out there, on the road or on the course, and you have no choice but to make small talk. Because you always have the sport you’re playing to fall back on, silence is rare. The hour or so together almost always ensures bonding on some level. I’ve never walked away from a run or a round of golf thinking, “Well, that person had nothing to offer me.” Most always, I pick up a gem or two to think about.

This past week I had the chance to sub on my husband’s work golf league. I saved my co-worker small talk until after the round in the clubhouse. Here I met Bob, the CPA in charge of scoring and all things statistical in nature. Well, after all of the cards were handed in, Bob went “off duty” and we all started to talk about our families. An interesting highlight was hearing about Bob’s daughter, who would be entering her fourth year of medical school in the fall. Bob explained, “She got married to a guy from Germany during her third year- this April. This fall she’ll start her fourth year. However, she’s pregnant, so… in December, she’ll move to Germany after finishing her first semester of medical school. They’ll live there one year, then come back to finish her second semester of her fourth year, then go on to do her residency.”

Bob’s daughter sounded like she really had it together, and you could tell Bob was pretty proud of her. However, towards the end of his story he added, “You know I told her that all sounded great. However, she needs to realize that at some time in her life, one of the great plans she makes for herself just isn’t going to work out. Everything doesn’t turn out perfectly all of the time. Life just doesn’t work that way.”

Having lived that sentiment a half a dozen times or more in my life, I can see the wisdom in Bob’s advice. Plans- no matter how carefully and thoughtfully they are put together- have the propensity to blow up in our faces at any time. These can be small plans- “I’ll run five tomorrow morning”- that change when we awaken to a thunderstorm or bout of the flu. They can be bigger plans, that leave us not participating in a marathon that we’ve trained long and hard for because of a slew of circumstances- from injury to weather to life happening. And they can be larger than life plans that are interrupted when jobs are lost, marriages end, kids screw up, or worse things happen.

The bottom line is, no matter how precisely we plan for the “perfect” anything- be-it a run, round of golf, trip, school experience, marriage, or whatever- the only thing we can plan for sure is that we absolutely don’t know how things will turn out. So, instead of taking the extreme and not planning for anything, knowing it could go awry, I guess the best we can do is just prepare the best we can to tackle anything that might come our way. For runners, this means hydrating well, wearing proper clothes, buying a Road ID, lubing up to prevent chafing and blisters, and putting the miles in during training for the best race experience possible.

For life, this means getting in touch with the goals, dreams, and people that are most dear to us, and doing everything in our power to make sure we achieve the items on our buckets lists, and appreciate the people we love.

And of course as we do all of this, there’s a danger that we could get carried away while in pursuit of all of these grandiose plans. This could leave us focused solely on the goals at hand, and while we would then get the results we desire (i.e. miles that are quick, great rounds of golf, successful careers, beautiful homes, successful kids, etc.), there’s a danger in getting too wrapped up in “the plans.” It seems that then, we might miss out on the best part of it all- enjoying the people we happen to be with in the miles we travel. It’s there that we have the most interesting conversations and learn the most interesting facts. It’s there where we just might learn that the best of plans are the ones we never plan for in the first place.

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