every day is a marathon

every day is a marathon

by abbey algiers

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

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

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

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

 “This isn’t my day. Not feelin’ it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panic and fear were all I saw.

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

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

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

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

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

imrunnerchica.com

copyright 2013

abbey algiers

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