From the Archive: Finish Times Don’t Matter: Integrity Does

This column written in 2012 actually never saw the light of day.  It was a little too controversial for a happy little running column.  So I shelved it where it has sat for five years.   I stumbled upon it this afternoon looking through my archives and was surprised by how relevant it seems today.

Let me be clear- while this is about a political candidate, this is NOT a political post.  I am NOT advocating for the right or the left (although if you know me at all, my political leanings are no secret).  In fact, when I wrote this I was rooting for the Republican nominee.  In my voting life I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans equally. With the exception of the most recent presidential election, I have voted for the winning party every time since Bill Clinton.

No, this column is about honesty.  It’s about integrity.  It’s about owning our successes outright.  It’s about celebrating the sacrifice, dedication, and effort that goes in to running a race- not the finish time.  It’s about telling the truth.

Read on to see what politics has to do with running.


I really hate it when worlds collide.

Remember seeing your teachers out in public? Seeing them at the grocery store was like spotting a giraffe in the garage. Very unsettling.

So imagine how shaken my reality became when recently the two very separate worlds of politics and running crashed into each other.

Running is my refuge. It’s where I turn to when I need to clear my head and release the tension that has built up in my neck from the day’s stressors. It’s the one place I can go to escape the non-stop political discussions that seem to dominate the news feeds. Yes, it is election season, but we all could use a breather once in awhile.

But with Paul Ryan’s recent claim to marathoning fame, it was a little harder to find that escape. The issue causing upheaval in the running world? Ryan’s claim that he ran a sub-3 hour marathon years ago. He stated he couldn’t remember the exact time. Around 2:50-ish, he said.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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.”

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From the Archives: Thank You Letter to the Boston Marathon

Boston 2011

 

It’s April, and in two short weeks more than 30,000 runners will make their way from Hopkinton to Boston.  I won’t be one of them this year, but this race hasn’t been far from my mind.  I wasn’t writing about running after I finished my first Boston, but I was after my second.  So this week’s post comes from my 2011 write-up for the Deseret News about the experience.  The race is special in a way no other race will ever be.  Even if you never set foot in the Athlete’s Village, the experience is worth the trouble because it’s not just about the runners.  It’s about the spectators, volunteers, at-home cheerleaders, and the work behind the bib.  Enjoy.

 

Dear Boston Marathon,
I was taught at a very young age that I should always send a thank-you note to anyone who has given me a gift. In keeping with this lesson in etiquette, I just want to thank you for the wonderful weekend you provided for my family and I.

First, I want to thank you for playing hard-to-get. They say that the chase is the most exciting part of the hunt, and you sure proved them right. I’ve made it a personal goal to chase you at every marathon I’ve run. You certainly don’t make it easy. In fact, in recent weeks you’ve become even more elusive, but I like that. You seem to know that we runners like a good challenge. Tell me I can’t, and you can bet that I will. Your constant nagging in the back of my brain has given my weekends structure. Who am I kidding? It’s given my entire year structure. I have calendars with long runs, tempo runs, hill repeats and speed work all laid out in a carefully formulated plan just so I can earn an invitation to your party.

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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?

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From the Archives- Finding Your Mojo

 

Feeling more like Kaitlynne on the left. Hoping to find my mojo and feel like Ali on the left!

February is a dreary month for me.  Holidays are long over.  The once fresh snow is grimy and icy.  The days until summer seem to stretch on into infinity.  Even for an Oregonian who loves a cozy rainy day, I’m sick of the clouds.  I find myself looking back fondly to my surgical recovery this past December when my only job was to walk up, shower and go back to bed to read and nap.  My get-up-and-go has gotten up and left.  So I’m posting this column from 2012 today mostly for me.  Written almost five years ago, these tips still work..  Hopefully they’ll work for you, too.  We all get stuck in a rut.  It’s how we lift ourselves out that really matters.

 

When I find something I love, I tend to go overboard.

A few months ago I took my eight year old daughter to see a Cirque du Soleil show featuring the music of Michael Jackson. I was so excited to take her because I was eight years old when I fell in love with the King of Pop.

My room was wallpapered with his pictures. We played “Thriller” again and again until I knew every “hee-hee, whoo!” of every song. I memorized the “Beat It” dance moves. My brother and I rented “The Making of Thriller” video every Saturday from the local video store.

I was hoping my own kids would fall in love with “Man in the Mirror” and “Billie Jean” the way I had. They did.

In fact, they fell in love with him to the point where they, too, knew every “hee, hee, whoo!” and repeated it over and over. In the car. In the bath. In the kitchen. On the way to school. At the library. Yes, even at church.

It was too much. After years of loving the music, I have reached Michael Jackson burn out.

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From the Archives- Running Myths

My kids told me last night that they never believed in Santa.  Don’t feel sorry for them.  Their lives are more than comfortable.  But it was a myth we never had to bust.  The fact that we open all of our presents on Christmas Eve and the handwriting on the gift tags looks exactly like mine may have given it away.  For others, Santa is alive and real and I urged my daughters not to spoil someone else’s belief in him.  There’s no harm in thinking he’s real (apologies for those who thought he was until they read this!).  But there are some myths that are dangerous and should be dispelled.  From the archives, a column I wrote in 2013 about a few running myths that simply need to go away.  Read on and enjoy!

It's a myth that running is hard and awful.  Sometimes it is.  And sometimes it's just fun.
It’s a myth that running is hard and awful. Sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s just fun.

I was a trusting child. I believed anything and everything anyone in authority- or who was simply older than I- told me.

If I crossed my eyes too long, they would stay crossed.

Swallowed gum would literally gum up my insides.

Wearing hats will make me bald.

Boys have cooties. According to my daughters, that one is true.

Myths are often perpetuated to encourage desired behavior. Often times they discourage what could potentially be a wonderful adventure.

For many, the world of running is a mysterious, foreign land filled with goal-obsessed athletes who wear bright-colored wicking shirts and dine on GU’s, Powerade and peanut butter sandwiches for dessert.

Granted, running may not be appealing to everyone, but often times the reasons that keep people from venturing into the land of sweet sweat aren’t real reasons at all. I’m here to debunk a few of the myths surrounding my beloved sport.

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From the Archives- Gratitude

 

 

This column was originally published in 2012.  Some of the items listed are still things I’m grateful for.  One in particular makes me laugh.  That year my husband decided he, too, would tackle the marathon distance.  He entered the Ogden Marathon lottery and was accepted.  Three weeks before the race he realized that one 15-mile long run wasn’t enough training.  He was right.  I love him for his lofty goals.  I love him more for accepting reality and not killing himself in the name of pride.  Here’s to a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  No matter where your life finds you this year, I hope you find something that brings you joy.

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Be grateful for the small, quiet moments.  They are the stuff of life.
Be grateful for the small, quiet moments. They are the stuff of life.

Thanksgiving has transformed into my most favorite holiday of the year. There are no gifts to give. No cards to send. No over-the-top light displays blinking holiday cheer into the wee hours of the night. Don’t get me wrong. I love the busyness and flashiness of Christmas, but the simplicity of Thanksgiving simply can’t be beat.

Gathering around a table of food with family and friends has got to be the best idea mankind has dreamt up in a long time. Start it all off with a morning race or a blistering workout at the gym and I’ll take Thanksgiving over Christmas any day.

Of course, the purpose of the day is to give thanks. Allow me to throw in a few items I am particularly grateful for this year.

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