If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Actually, it starts on dark, winter morning long runs when everyone else is asleep!

It’s that time of year again  That time when girls and boys across the land wait eagerly by their computers in anticipation of the joyous news that they have been selected to join 30,000 of their closest friends in running from Hopkinton to Boston.  Yes, Boston Marathon season has begun as runners find out if their qualifying time was enough to make the cut off.

As excited as some are today, many others who also met the qualifying standards aren’t quite so happy.  Because of increased registration, the race can only accept most of those who qualified leaving many who thought they’d already punched their tickets upset, frustrated and disappointed.  This article isn’t about how to address the growing need to revisit standards and procedures.  We’ll save that for a later date.  In the meantime, here are just a few of my own thoughts of how to handle that disappointment.  Click on the link below to read more.

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865690164/How-to-handle-not-getting-into-the-Boston-Marathon.html

From the Archives- What Lies Ahead

WJHS class of ’93

I just got home from taking my oldest daughter and her friends to the junior high school to get their lockers and schedules for the upcoming school year.  As most of my friends know, I used to teach high school English.  Before that I was an adjunct professor at SUU where I taught writing.  From the time I was 10 I thought I’d forever be an English teacher.  I toyed with a few other professions, but I don’t think I ever seriously considered them.  I certainly NEVER thought I’d be a fitness instructor.  As far as sports were concerned, I didn’t play any.  I wasn’t physically capable of much, I thought.

Of course now I know we are complex, multi-dimensional beings.  We don’t fit neatly into a category or box, nor should we.  You can be smart and athletic.  You can be musical and scientific.  You can be funny and serious.  I can study and appreciate Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and be thoroughly entertained watching “Big Brother”.  That’s what makes us interesting.

As my kids start to feel out who they are, and who they want to be, I remind them of my dueling personalities.  They can be whoever they want.  And whoever they want to be will change.  This article from 2013 touches on that.  Keep reading for more.

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Twenty years ago I sat in Mrs. Stewart’s English class with my friends trying to imagine what our lives would be like when we reunited for our 20th reunion. Some pictured big families. Some pictured living in exotic locations with exciting jobs. I pictured… nothing.

At seventeen, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a corporate bigwig or a mom to ten kids. Both of those options seem so out of character now that I can’t help but laugh at their seeming possibility then. The late teens and early twenties are a time of self-discovery. And while I didn’t backpack through Europe to find myself (my meager salary from Taste of Chicago made sure that didn’t happen), I certainly did uncover parts of myself that were both surprising and wonderful.

Experience taught me I hate cooking. I’m terrible at sewing. Gardening is an art beyond my skill set. Teaching is my call, but not in the way I expected.

But the biggest discoveries came through running. For many years I allowed myself to be pigeon-holed. I wrongly believed that because I wasn’t terribly good at team sports, athletics would never play a role in my life.

Continue reading “From the Archives- What Lies Ahead”

Des News: Do You Need a Break?

My daughter and I taking a break.

Relationships are living, breathing things.  We grow and change.  We are not the same people today that we were last year.  Like you need a blog to tell you that.  So why is it so hard to accept that our relationship to running, or any workout really, is also dynamic?  I once told a friend that I was cutting back on marathons.  The love just wasn’t there anymore.  Her reaction was as if I’d told her I was allergic to chocolate.  She kept assuring me I would bounce back.  This was only temporary.  I would be okay.  Her advice was to sign up for more races until I found the love again.  Well intended, but seriously misguided.  I wasn’t complaining.  I wasn’t lamenting the loss of my glory years.  I wasn’t even quitting running.  I just didn’t want to race.  There was nothing deep and spiritual to read into this shift.  I just didn’t wanna and that’s okay.  I mean, I used to love those Brach’s circus peanuts and Kool-Aid.  Give me those now and I’d literally gag.

This week’s Des. News column is intended to help you know if you’re in a running funk- if you need to take a step back or take a break.   I also list a few things that help me transition into that break while maintaining my sanity.

Click on the link below to read the full column.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865686247/Knowing-when-to-take-a-break-from-running.html

From the Archives- No Shame in the Struggle

After one of the hardest runs EVER. There were real moments of doubt. Never been so happy to see this sign. Heat, hills, extra miles, we persevered and made it.
Some days are dry, some days are leaky
Some days come clean, other days are sneaky
Some days take less, but most days take more
Some slip through your fingers and onto the floor
Some days you’re quick, but most days you’re speedy
Some days you use more force than is necessary
Some days just drop in on us
Some days are better than others
Some days it all adds up
And what you got is not enough
Some days are better than others
“Some Days Are Better Than Others” U2
True words, those are.  Some days are just hard.  As my kids say, “The struggle is real.”  That’s not necessarily bad.  Strength comes from struggle, at least that’s what I tell my group X members.  How can you get stronger if the weights we pick up are light and easy?  It’s when we allow ourselves to go to that dark place, slog through the mud, and come out the other end that we gain strength.  There’s no other way.  Trust me, if I could get stronger by sitting on the couch watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” I’d be Superwoman by now.  I never, ever wake up raring to go.  It takes me a minute to get my engine warmed up.  Some days it ends in a sputter.  Other days my engine purrs with power.  But I never quit.  This article from a 2015 Des News column is about that.  Taking breaks is fine.  But letting our doubts and fears and excuses break us is not.  Just keep on keeping on.
Read more here.

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For the longest time, I opted for the orange light handweights. The itty-bitty weights that offered little in the way of resistance, and almost nothing in the way of a challenge. It wasn’t because I couldn’t lift anything heavier- I just didn’t want anyone to see me struggle.

Back then, struggle was synonymous with weakness. The strained look on my face was an indication of how unfit I was. I my mind, my arms screamed Olive Oil while I longed to be Popeye, but I was scared to tackle the weights that would get me there. I didn’t want other gym goers to worry, or worse, judge me by the pained look in my face. So I opted for what was easy.

I can hear Dr. Phil in my head right now. “How’s that been workin’ for ya?” Um, not very well, thank you. Sick of letting my concern over what others thought of me dictate my own choices and progress, one day I picked up the heavy yellow weights. Then the green.  Sometimes the big, bad blue ones.  And I kept picking them up. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. You get the idea. And wouldn’t you know it, those Olive Oil arms didn’t quite turn all Popeye on me, but they sure did look good. Strong. Defined. Muscular.

 

Taking on a challenge can be daunting, especially when others are watching. Whether we’re taking a new job, position, hobby, or sport so many of us are afraid to look weak. That’s why it’s so hard to get out of that comfort zone. It’s comfortable. Like rainy Saturday afternoon movie-fest comfortable. Like home-from-a-long-vacation-first-day-in-my-own-bed comfortable. It’s a good place to be- until it’s not.

Every year I have a mantra. A creed I try to live by for at least 365 days. I phrase that helps shape my daily decisions, big or small. This year’s mantra is “Go Get It.” I doubt there will be t-shirts made with my mantra or people rushing tattoo parlors to have this emblazoned on their biceps, but as simple as it is, it really has changed the choices I make.

Rather than stewing over how hard a task is or the potential embarrassment I may suffer if I struggle, or worse, fail, I take a deep breath, a big step forward and just “Go Get It.” It’s tough to push out concern over what others think. It’s hard not to stress over the massiveness of a project, but I can honestly say that I’ve succeeded more often than I’ve failed this year. I’ve put myself out in the ring for people to throw tomatoes or roses. But I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines gripped with the fear of failure. I don’t want to be held hostage by my perception of what others think of me. Getting hit with tomatoes hurts, but it’s sure better than regretting never having stepped into the ring at all and wondering what could have been.

Paula Radcliffe, one of the greatest female distance runners of all time, has achieved tremendous success. Winning multiple NYC Marathons and holding the world record marathon time of 2:17:18, she is the best of the best. The one goal she never achieved, however, is winning an Olympic medal. In 2004, not only did she not win, she didn’t even finish. Sidelined with stomach issues, she quit at mile 18. Determined not to end her Olympic career on a low note, she came back in 2008 only to finish 23rd. Devastated, angry and embarrassed, sure. But a fear of failing never held her back from trying. Even after the Olympics she continued running and winning multiple marathons.

“Fail” is a 4-letter word. But so is “quit”. “Struggle” is not. When I see someone struggle in a weight class or in spin class, I don’t think, “weak”. I think that person is pushing their bodies as hard and far as they can, and that earns my respect.

We’re all good at something, but none of us is good at everything. And we’ll never get good at that one thing until we tackle it. Just like muscle need resistance to work against to build strength, we need to stretch ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally to grow. Whether we’ve dreamed of running a half-marathon, wanted to go back to college to finish up that degree, open a new business, or write a book, we have to aim high to climb high. We have to drop those little orange weights and grab the big yellow weights if we want to see a change.

Continue reading “From the Archives- No Shame in the Struggle”

We Arrived Alive!

Shelly and I at the end of our last organized century ride. Despite the our laughter, this really wasn’t fun at all. Don’t let the picture fool you. I was probably crying just moments before this was taken.

I’m still on summer break, and I promise new articles coming soon.  In the meantime, here’s a little update on my summer adventures.  Some of you know last year my friend Shelly and I were in a bad bike crash.  A piece of wood took us down and we sported the latest and greatest in slings and casts for the rest of the summer.  Another nifty souvenir from that fall was a newfound fear of cycling.  “Fear” isn’t a strong enough word.  Let’s try “terror.”  We’ve ridden a few times since that fall, mostly on a paved path designated for bikes and pedestrians only.  In other words, no traffic.  Our longest ride was around 40 miles, but it wasn’t about mileage.  Those rides were about conquering our fears.  Well, guess what.  We didn’t.  That’s right.  We didn’t.  We are still scared.  Terrified, even.

Wait.  Isn’t this story supposed to be about getting back in the saddle (pardon the pun), conquering our fears and coming out the other side better for it?  Yeah, real life doesn’t follow a script.

Last Saturday Shelly and I and our other cycling friend Lisa drove to Idaho to ride in our first organized ride since the crash.  We rode the Goldilocks Century in Nampa, Idaho.  We chose it for it’s fairly flat course, beautiful scenery, good support, and really good sandwiches.  Because of near 105 degree temps (but mostly because I’m scared) we opted out of the usual 100-mile distance we usually do and chose to ride the 80-mile route.

I was literally shaking when we started.  It didn’t help that as we waited at the start line, we heard two cars skid and collide in the intersection just feet away.  Twenty-five miles in we were met with a steep downhill, 12% grade, with a right turn at the bottom.  I’d rather climb than descend and I said more prayers on the way down that hill than I’ve said in a year.  The nerves dissipated a bit after the halfway mark, but I don’t think there was ever a moment I felt 100% comfortable.  In fact, I doubt I ever will again.

Me, Lisa, and Shelly at the end of this year’s 80-mile adventure. All bones, ligaments and tendons in tact. And smiles, too!

So what’s the point of this cheerful update?  I was scared, but I rode anyway.  Doing things that truly frighten us is the very definition of courage and I’m owning it today.  We were all scared at one point or another, but our seats didn’t leave the saddle until we crossed the finish line.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  Will I do another organized ride?  If you’d asked me Saturday, my answer was a definite, “No!”  Ask me today, I’m not sure.  But what I am sure of is that we have guts.  It’s days like Saturday that I will tuck into my back pocket and pull out as a reminder every time I’m faced with something that shakes me to my core.  We really can do hard things.

From the Archives- “Dear New Girl in Class”

Most people assume that January is the busiest month at the gym.  It’s true there’s a surge in new memberships, but it’s actually springtime that my group fitness class numbers see a significant increase.  I have a few theories about why, but I think the main reason there’s a gap is it can be intimidating to take a new fitness class, especially if you perceive yourself to be out of shape or uncoordinated.  I get it.  In fact, my first strength training class happened when I was training to be the instructor.  This column from 2012 is addressed to others like me who are afraid they can’t keep up, will look foolish, or fail in a group class setting.  I do my best to make everyone feel comfortable and capable, but getting people through the door the first time is the biggest challenge of all.  Maybe, just maybe, I can assuage some of those fear in this piece.  Read on.

 

Dear new girl in the back row in class today,

I noticed you. I know you were hoping to blend into the background. I know you picked today to try my strength training class because it was so crowded you figured I wouldn’t see you, but I did. Actually, I’ve been watching you for the last week as you passed by the window, checking out what was going on in the group exercise room from the corner of your eye. I could tell you were curious. I could also tell you were unsure.

You’re unsure if you belong at the gym. A stranger in a strange land. The equipment is unfamiliar. The trainer lingo a foreign language. You had no idea there were so many ways to squat. On your right there’s a guy in the corner doing pull-ups with an oversized chain draped around his neck. Yes, a chain. On your left is Jillian Michaels flicking ropes like they were licorice. (Actually, this woman makes Jillian look out of shape.)

You’re unsure if you are physically capable of what everyone else is making look so effortless. Why are you the only one breathing heavy? Why are you the only one whose face is beat red and slick with sweat? How is it possible to run with full makeup looking beautiful in Lululemon tops worthy of wearing out in everyday public life? You’re feeling self conscious about your shape and your state of physical well-being. You feel as if every eye in the gym is on you wondering the same thing. You imagine you hear the whisperings. “What is she doing here?” “What does she think she can actually do?” “Thank goodness that’s not me.”

Continue reading “From the Archives- “Dear New Girl in Class””

Monday Memory- Kathrine Switzer

Me with Kathrine Switer at the 2011 Boston Marathon Expo. What an honor to speak with one of my role models, not just in running but in life.

 

Fifty years ago Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon.  Bobbi Gibb had run it before, but rebel style.  Switzer had an official bib.  Her run famously included a “run-in” with race director Jock Semple.  If you haven’t read her book Marathon Woman, get a copy now, find a comfy chair and prepare to be amazed in the truest sense.  Kathrine’s belief in herself and other women have made so many of my own dreams a reality.  It’s not just her physical accomplishments, but her dedication to helping all women around the globe open doors to their own success that inspire me in my own little sphere of influence.  At the young age of 70, she is running the Boston Marathon today to commemorate that historic run in 1967.  I can only hope to continue to follow in her footsteps.

Thank you, Kathrine, for all you have done and continue to do.

From the Archives- All the Little Things

This column from 2012 is similar to what I wrote last week for Des News.  It’s good to have big plans, but the best way to make them happen is by taking small steps.  My 4-year-old whom I talk about in this story is now almost 10.  She has mastered the art of shoe-tying, but while her goals change, her frustrations remain.  Frankly, I’m the same.  I have to remind myself that progress is progress, whether it comes quickly or slowly.  Here’s to another day of inching forward.

Our Ali-bug.

 

The Cowarts have set a lofty goal this month. We are teaching our four-year-old how to tie her shoes.

This is a big deal. My goal as a parent is to raise children who need me less and less each day. Such an endeavor can be, and most often is, painful for both parent and child.

My pain stems from the need to feel needed, and while I rejoice with each milestone met- potty-training, cutting your own pancakes, putting on underwear not backwards- there is a pang in my heart knowing that eventually my children’s independence will march them right out the front door for good.

The children’s pain has a different root. Every milestone for them is a mountain of challenges. Hand-eye coordination, patience, and the ability to follow directions are qualities found lacking in our household, yet these are the very same qualities necessary when learning how to walk, feed, dress, and yes, tie one’s shoes.

Our daughter began her shoe journey with excitement. She has decided to do a one-mile kids’ race in April. She has learned from her mother, and rightly so, that such an undertaking requires new running shoes with real laces. Laces which require tying.

She was going to learn a skill that her big sister has mastered! This, obviously, is a skill that separates the kids from the babies. Eager to graduate from that category, she sat down with her sneakers and hefty set of expectations.

All that disappeared not two minutes later when the little girl we call “Bug” hadn’t mastered this feat with 100% perfection. After twice failing to make perfect bunny ears, she threw the shoes on the ground and commenced whining.

Have I mentioned that patience is a virtue we have little of in our house?

Continue reading “From the Archives- All the Little Things”

Pennies in the Bucket

Life is made of a series of small decisions.  There’s a lot to celebrate in that statement.  Change can be difficult and overwhelming when we focus on the big picture.  But when we break up our goals into smaller steps, suddenly that giant elephant on your plate is devoured (or chips, or cookies- insert preferred snack food here).  The point is if we want change to happen, we have to make it happen.  It doesn’t have to happen in a day.  In fact, slower change is typically more permanent change.  Our family has a “Fun Bucket”.  In this bucket is where we collect our loose coins.  Before a big vacation we typically take it to the bank to cash it in for bills.  It’s amazing to me how much we accumulate throughout the year.  It’s not unusual to save in the hundreds.  The best part it we don’t even notice the impact.  Tell me to put $100 aside, I feel that.  Tell me to put $1 a day aside for 100 days, I barely notice that dollar missing from my wallet.

Click on the link below to read about some of the pennies I’m putting in my bucket now.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865674327/Small-changes-make-a-big-difference.html?clear_cache=1

Happy Valentine’s Day, Running- 14 Reasons I Still Love to Run

Don’t running and I make a good-looking couple!

I might always love running, but I don’t always like it.  Sometimes we just need a break from each other, but we always end up back together again.  Initially our relationship felt very one-sided.  I was faithful, but running let me down: injuries, burnout, perceived lack of progress.  Most of the issues were my fault.  I demanded more than my fair share.  I expected running to reciprocate my affection in ways that just weren’t mine to claim.  I wanted fast legs, shiny medals, and a body made of steel.  I saw others reach these goals in their relationships with running, so why shouldn’t I?  Time and time again running tried to tell me I was unique.  Our situation was one-of-a-kind.  I wasn’t like all the other girls.  I didn’t want to hear that.  I blamed my injuries and fatigue on running until one day it dawned on me.  If running was treating everyone else fairly, maybe the problem was me.  Maybe I needed to change. Maybe the problem was more one-sided than I thought.  When it was good, it was really good.  When it was bad, well, whose fault was it, really?  I needed to own my part in this dysfunctional partnership.  I needed to quit playing the victim and look for ways to make our bond stronger.  I needed to reassess what I really wanted from running.  I needed long-term perspective rather than instant gratification.

Fast forward to today and I think we’re in a good place now.  I respect the recovery running demands from me.  Instead of focusing on what running isn’t giving me, I appreciate what it does.  I understand we need some time apart, but when I take a day off, the make-up runs are so great!  Our relationship is stronger than ever now that we have mutual respect and understanding.  So, to running, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Click on the link below to read all about the 14 reasons I still love running after all these years.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865673241/Reasons-I-still-love-running.html