Des News: First American Woman in 40 Years Wins the NYC Marathon.

 

After finishing my Sunday morning run with Shelly, I found my husband watching the women at mile 20 of the 2017 NYC Marathon. To my surprise, and American woman, Shalane Flanagan, was in the top 3. I’ve been disappointed before, so I watched with few expectations. Until at mile 24 she pulled ahead and never looked back. At mile 25 I dragged my girls in the room to watch the first woman in 40 years win the marathon. I couldn’t help but cry with Shalane as she wrapped herself in the American flag, overcome with joy.

I wasn’t the only one watching and weeping. Click on the link below to see what I and a few others felt as we watched that momentous moment unfold. Then go find a clip of the race and watch it for yourself. It’s inspiring in the truest sense of the word.

 

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865692316/Flanagan-carries-lots-of-dreamers-with-her-in-NY-Marathon-victory.html

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

Communal Joy

I wrote this column last June.  Circumstances prevented me from sending it to Des. News and it’s been sitting on my desktop ever since.  This past weekend my family and I traveled to San Diego to see U2 on their Joshua Tree 2017 tour.  It was our second show of the tour.  The first show is what inspired this column, so it seems an appropriate time to post it.

In a time when divisiveness is everywhere and consensus is nowhere, to have a moment where thousands of people unite with one voice seems almost a miracle.  But that’s exactly what I experienced at both of these U2 shows.  I call it Communal Joy.  It elevates us.  Makes us feel.  Makes us better.

I experience this when I teach fitness classes as well.  When everyone unites for a common purpose, to uplift and inspire, we are all better off.  Fitness isn’t just about our physical state.  It’s about our emotional and mental state.  I’ve always said that even if there were a pill to make me physical fit, I’d still come to group fitness simply for the joy I feel when I’m there.

Read and enjoy.

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A few weeks ago my husband, daughter Ali, and I flew to Pasadena to catch a U2 concert. You could say we’re fans. Between us we’ve been to a few dozen concerts. Our children’s names are U2 inspired. At one point I even had a special Christmas tree decorated with homemade U2 ornaments. When my husband and I were dating, he told me when U2 came to Kentucky in 1987 for the first Joshua Tree tour he quit his job at Burger King to stand in line for tickets. I knew then I would marry him.

We met Adam Clayton!

I get a few weird looks from non-U2 fans when my adult self reverts back to my teenage self and I gush over Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry. But that weekend at the Rose Bowl, I was among 95,000 like-minded souls. They were my U2 community. They understood me and I understood them. No one even blinked when this 41-year-old started pumping her fists in the air to “Elevation”. We sang as one. We danced as one. We cheered as one. That feeling of unity and collective joy is something I seek after and rarely find. But I did, indeed, find what I was looking for that night. And I left the stadium rejuvenated and happy.

We waited for hours, not even sure if the band would come out to sign autographs. We almost left. Our patience DID pay off.

A tight-knit community is a powerful thing. They validate our interests and pursuits. In these communities we find encouragement and solace.

I don’t attract 95,000 people to a cycle class, but our group of 20-30 is as strong as that group at the Rose Bowl, if not stronger. Cycle brings us together, but it’s the relationships that often keep us coming back. Within that small group we’ve experienced cancer, adoptions, divorce, and death. We’ve lost pets, been in car crashes and bike crashes, and celebrated milestone birthdays and graduations.

Our 10-year-old Ali, named after Bono’s wife, having a little chat with Adam. You know, just another day!

There are days when we don’t want to be in class. The last thing our legs feel like doing is pedaling, and yet we return. No matter how long we’ve been away, we are welcomed back. It’s in one of these cycle classes I met some of my closest friends. That’s the power of community.

One of our members, Rena, has recently been dealt a serious health blow. During her recent recovery she told me that her gym friends were what got her out of bed in the morning. She thought she was going to the gym to lost 5 pounds. She never imagined she’d gain 50 friends. She credits her positive outlook to these friends. Her doctor credits her recovery to her positive outlook.

After my bike crash last year, some people encouraged me to use my injuries as an excuse to stay home and take care of myself. While I couldn’t work out the way I usually do, I knew staying home would send me into a deep state of sadness. No burpees for me, but I could lead and coach others through a class and feed off their energy. No time for self-pity when I’m cueing form and correcting squats.

At the show

Our fitness community isn’t just good for our physical health. These relationships can uplift our spirits in a way no pill or procedure can. Runners understand this. Race day is as much a social event as it is a running event. Fellow runners understand the early morning wake-up calls and the harsh winter trainings. They understand what it means to set a PR (personal recored) or fall short of a BQ (Boston Qualifier). They get why we keep running even when at mile 18 of a marathon we swear we’ll never do it again. They can empathize with injuries and celebrate a fantastic tempo run.

I love to run alone, but I’ve found that being part of a community is far more rewarding. Once I opened myself up to others with the same passions, I found more joy in the work. Like Bono sings, “We’re one/ but we’re not the same./ We get to carry each other/ carry each other/ one.”

Deseret News: Gym Class Etiquette

I’m no Emily Post, but I do believe good etiquette can enhance our lives and relationships with others.  The group fitness room is no exception.  The Group X room is the place I go to leave the world behind and lift, dance, stretch, and push myself to a better state of mind.  In a very real way, that room is my sanctuary.  I want it to be every member’s sanctuary.  I want every person who walks through the door to feel better leaving than when they arrived.  We are all responsible for making that happen.  We are a community.  And every thriving community adheres to a few unspoken (until now) rules.

Click on the link below to read up on a few rules of etiquette that will enhance any group fitness experience.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865688138/Follow-simple-rules-of-group-fitness-etiquette.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”

From the Archives- Pennies in the Bucket

It all starts here- change, that is.

It’s the small changes, the little tweaks, that make a big difference.  Whether you’re wanting to change your physical or mental health, there’s no reason to overwhelm ourselves with a major overhaul.  While the changes I cite in this Des News article from 2016 aren’t necessarily the changes I’ve incorporated into my current daily routine, they were all a good kickstart to what has been a much healthier and happier 2017.

Read more about how every little penny adds up to big riches here.

 

Our family has a “Fun Bucket”. This is where all our loose change finds a home. At some point, usually before a vacation, we exchange the change for bills and use it for spending money. Those small amounts add up fast. At least $60, up to $100 and we cash it in more than once a year.

I use this metaphor in class. Small change makes a big difference. Those little tweaks in our workouts or nutrition may not seem like a big deal, but they can make all the difference in our overall health.

We’re a couple months into the new year. Resolutions are threatened by dwindling motivation. We’re not on a weight-loss reality show. Change doesn’t happen between commercials. This is real life and change takes time. For the patience-impaired, this is a challenge. Motivation lags when we don’t see results, but I promise, with consistent effort change will happen.

Continue reading “From the Archives- Pennies in the Bucket”

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.

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”

There’s No Such Thing as Perfection

 

This is a hard one to post.  I don’t like focusing on my physical appearance.  When I exercise, I do it for the feeling.  I’ve said it so often I should have shirts made, but honestly, if you feel good you look good.  Not the other way around.

That said, I am human.  I have days when I’m not thrilled with what I see.  More often I see someone who, in my eyes, is the epitome of strength and beauty and I don’t measure up.  We all do it.  I had one of these days last Wednesday.  The critic in me usually makes an appearance when I’m exhausted and struggling to keep up with the daily grind.  My husband had just left for a week-long trip to Chicago that coincided with Parent-Teacher conferences, history presentations at school, Valentine’s day, birthday parties…  you get the idea.

I’d just finished teaching a Total Body Conditioning class when a new member approached me to tell me how much she enjoyed the class.  She then apologized for not being as strong as others and hoped she could look like me one day.  Whoa!  Wait a second!  First off,  everyone is new at one point.  I needed her to know she showed strength simply by showing up to do the work. If she kept that up, she’d be stronger than she could imagine.  Second, while I was flattered, didn’t she realize my body wasn’t perfect?  Of course she did, but she didn’t dwell on the imperfections I was dwelling on.  She just saw a fit girl.  She was admiring the very body I was feeling down about in the moment.  Her words snapped me out of my funk and back to reality.

I’m not fishing for compliments and I certainly don’t want to be a whiner.  My point for writing this is to remind us (okay, mostly me) that perfection doesn’t exist.  While I was wishing to have someone else’s strength, someone was wishing to have mine.  Frankly, it’s a waste of time to pine for what someone else has.  That time is better spent improving what I have.  Accepting who we are doesn’t mean settling.  It simply means we stop wasting energy chasing someone else’s dream.  We focus on our own growth.

Too often I find myself looking at others feeling like they have it all pulled together.  Everything looks so easy to them.  They don’t have the struggles I have.  They don’t have to work hard to stay fit. But of course they do!  And of course they struggle.  Of course they don’t have it all pulled together!  But what struck me most that Wednesday is that others may be looking at me thinking I have it all together!

I’m here to tell you that, yes, some days I’m feeling pretty good about myself.  Overall I’m pleased with how I feel and how I look.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in running and I own the work I put into my classes.  If I expect members to show up and give me their best, I have to be willing to give my best, too.  I’m not going to shrug that off.  But there are occasions when it’s just a victory to roll out of bed and show up.

I’m posting these pics of my stomach just as an example.  It is what it is.  They’re not bad.  They’re not ideal.  They just are.  One pic is of my stomach in a normal standing state.  The other is what I see every time I’m in downward dog or tabletop position when I practice yoga.  This is a vast improvement from a few years ago when my core was much weaker, but this is where I’ve landed.  I’m putting it out there to show you that none of us is perfect.  Okay, maybe someone is, but that someone isn’t me.

When I tell people to be open to change and not to expect the changes to be the same as their neighbors’, I mean it.  And I’m usually talking to me.  My fitness journey is mine, and mine alone.  If we can learn to stop measuring our progress  by someone else’s measuring stick, we will find true freedom.  If we can see ourselves the way others see us, we will find peace.  If we can accept who we are and revel in our strengths, we will find joy.  And joy lasts longer than a six-pack.  It’s about progress, not perfection.