Monthly Archives: August 2010

We Are Runners

I love the act of running – floating through the miles while drenched in sweat, my heart beating strongly, my mind wandering through subjects for the next week’s blog.  I love runners. The ones I meet on Daily Mile.Theones I see on our local trails.  The running moms I meet at my children’s schools.  But even more than the people and the act of running, I love the inclusivity of this sport.  I love that on any given weekend I can run a marathon or a 5-k with the “best of the best of the best, sir.”  And I love that those best of the best of the best are so approachable.  I love that runners like Ryan Hall and Paula Radcliffe who bring me to tears with their performances can admire the perseverance it takes for the back of the packers to be out there competing in the same sport.

My husband’s friend tells a story that I think is so indicative of this inclusivity.  A few years back when he was studying at Oxford, he was invited to a banquet honoring several past graduates of the university.  He had only just arrived at Oxford so he found himself at a table full of people he didn’t know.  Sitting to his right was a gentleman who struck up a conversation.  He asked our friend, “So, do you participate in any sport?”  And my friend proceeded to tell him how he jogged a little and participated in some local road races.  After he finished regaling this gentleman with stories of his favorite races, he asked in return, “And you, do you participate in any sport?”  The gentleman, replied, “I jog a bit.”  Maybe he would have expounded on the subject, but just then someone approached the podium and began to speak, eventually introducing the guest of honor that evening – Sir Roger Bannister.  Sir Roger Bannister, who happened to be seated, you guessed it, right next to my friend.

I love this story because it is just one of dozens of stories like it.  John Bingham tells one of sitting beside an elite athlete who had recently set the world record for the marathon.  This marathoner asked how he had done in the same marathon and after Mr. Bingham told him how long it had taken him to complete the marathon, this world record holder was shocked.  Not mortified but shocked and amazed that anybody could stay on their feet that long.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting so many great runners – Jeff Galloway, Joe Henderson, Mark Allen, Bart Yasso – and without exception they were all so gracious.  Unlike the pro athletes we find in other sports, they didn’t act like their presence was a gift to me.  They acted like any other runner I have ever met.  They asked about my races and related stories about theirs as though we were two of a kind.   And though they are faster and stronger than I, they are right about that we are all runners.  John Bingham said it well, “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”

I enjoy our local races. They are a great place try to compete for an age group spot.  At these smaller races, I actually have the chance of this happening.  But I love the bigger races, the ones with 10, 20, or even 30 thousand participants.  I love seeing the diversity of our sport.  While every large race has a couple of handfuls of elite athletes, you will also find people of every shape and size, first time racers and veterans of hundreds of races, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, nuns, priests, tattooed biker types, young guys still smelling of booze from a late Saturday night out with friends.  Each seemingly so different from the next but on race morning they are all the same.  They are all runners, experiencing the same jitters and anticipation, the same excitement or dread and ultimately the same sense of accomplishment for a race well run.

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Through the Pain

When I was thirteen, I walked into my living room, sat down on the arm of my father’s Lazy Boy recliner and without warning, came to the full realization of who I wanted to be.  Some people spend a lifetime trying to

Pushing Through the Pain

Pushing Through the Pain

discover themselves.  For me, it took minutes.  As I sat there with my father, I was mesmerized by the image of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.  I knew immediately that that was what I wanted from my life.  I wanted to push myself and watching Julie struggle on all fours, in the dark, toward that finish line, I knew how I would do it.

This doesn’t make me unique.  There are thousands of runners who watched that video, either that day or years later and thought, “That is what I want to do.”  It is either in you or it isn’t.  You either watch it and think “Why the hell would somebody want to do that?” or you watch it and utter a breathless, “Cool” in amazement at her ability to keep going even in the face of pain.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am no Julie Moss.  I will never be fighting for first place in a race. Instead, I fight to beat myself.  To better my last time.  To push myself further than I thought I could.  I battle against the barriers that pretend to be there.

When I started marathoning 12 years ago, it never occurred to me to think I couldn’t do it.  It never occurs to me to think that anybody couldn’t do it.  So, you’re 400 pounds and want to run a marathon?  Sure.  It might take you a couple of years to get in shape but sure, you can do that?  You smoke 2 packs a day and want to run a marathon?  Yep, get out there and become a runner.  You have never run a mile in your life? It is just putting one foot in front of the other.  It is doable.  That isn’t to say it is easy.  It isn’t.  But if you want to do it, I mean really want to do it, you can push through the pain and it is in pushing through it that you will find the joy in the marathon.

Joy of the Finisher

I have crossed the marathon finish line 13 times.  Each time, it feels a little like a miracle.  Did I really just run 26.2 miles?  Am I really done with the 16 weeks of training?  And most amazingly, did I really just push through that pain at mile 22?  The pain that caused me to start silently chanting “this is hard, this is hard, this is hard” over and over again?”  The pain that had me crying and convinced it just wasn’t worth the effort?  Did I really make it through that?  Yes, and that is what makes it worth it.  There have been marathons when I haven’t felt that pain, not many, but some.  But it is the marathons in which I had to push, when I had to overcome, that I find the most joy.

I have heard it said that anything worth having isn’t going to come easy and maybe that is why Julie Moss’s famous crawl to the finish resonated so strongly with me.  Maybe it is why I saw my friend Michelle’s pictures of her marathon experience and understood her joy at the end.  It is in the struggle that we find out what we are made of.  It is in the marathon that we push beyond that struggle and become the person we know we can be.

Special Thanks to Michelle from Daily Mile for sharing her pictures and experience with me and inspiring me to write about this pain and joy of the marathon.

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The Choice

I am angry.  Truth be told I am livid.  For almost twenty years I have worked toward a healthy lifestyle.  I run, bike swim, lift weights and basically stay active a good portion of each and every day.  I don’t smoke, don’t drink and though I love food, I try not to over indulge.  I do all of these things because I want to live to a ripe old age in the healthiest way possible.  I don’t want to spend days on end in the hospital.  I don’t want to cough and hack my way through my old age.  I don’t want to suffer with diabetes or cancer or heart disease.  And really, when it comes down to it, living a healthy lifestyle, though it is work, it is also fun.  I enjoy my life.

Since I started blogging about my running life a couple of years back, I have been honored with emails from friends, family and even strangers who have told me I inspire them to get moving and to take better care of themselves.  At first I thought this was just something people felt obligated to say but then I started watching.  I started seeing signs of the influence one healthy life could have on another. I watched friends and family and strangers as they started working out, running and even entering races.

But every couple of months, I receive a call from my 60 year old mother, with another complaint about her health.  After years of smoking, eating poorly, and getting very little exercise, her lifestyle has caught up with her.  Her ailments run the gamut but ultimately ends in congestive heart failure. She has been told to stop smoking.  She has been told that the heart issues would dissipate with a proper, low fat, low sodium diet.  She has been told to exercise.  But she doesn’t do it and no amount of cajoling from her doctors or her children makes a difference.

Last night I received a call from my sister.  I could feel the steam emanating from her ears through the phone. My mother had just called her.

“I think I may be having a heart attack,” she said to my sister.

“Well, Mom, do you want me to call 911 or should I come and take you to the hospital myself?”  My sister asked with as much patience as possible.

“No, I want you to go pick up a pizza from Dominoes.  Then go to Subway and pick up a salad and bring that over to Aunt Joyce’s.  I promised her we would have dinner with her. And then, we can go to the hospital.”

My sister may be the most patient person I know but this was too much.  She insisted that they go to the hospital, my mother refused.  My sister lost her temper but my mother wouldn’t budge.  My sister cried and still my mother wouldn’t budge.  In the end, she gave up and did what my mother asked.

When they finally reached the hospital, my mother was in full blown congestive heart failure.  She had to be admitted.  Her first question?  You might think it would have something to do with her diagnosis or her treatment but, you would be wrong.  No, she wanted to know where she could go to smoke.  When the doctor told her there is no smoking on the premises at all she pitched a temper tantrum that would have put my two year old to shame.

As I sit here in my kitchen, seething because so much of this could have been avoided, she lies in a hospital room with dye running through her heart.  While I sit here waiting to hear whether she will have to have surgery, whether her body can even handle surgery, she lies there waiting for her next cigarette.  I sit here wondering how it is I can influence others to lead a healthy lifestyle, while my mother, who I love with all my heart takes nothing from my example and instead of lying in that hospital bed trying to plan out how to get better, she waits for someone to take care of it for her.

So, yes, I am angry but I am also sad, because though I can help my mom through this crisis, there is sure to be another and another down the road.  I am sad because I can lead by example but she has to make a choice to follow and if her history is any indication of her future, I know the choice she will make.

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