Tagged: running

Don’t Read the Comments

Last month I got upset. Several times, in fact. The reason: reading the comments sections of online articles.

Ever since I quit teaching I’ve had a lot more time to spend on the computer. In the past, I rarely had time to read articles, blogs, or much of anything. Now that I do have more time, especially since I now have the  iPad, I’ve been pretty shocked at reading the comments sections of just about anything I read.

I had no idea there were so many mean people out there.

Everyone has explained to me that some people go out of their way to write offensive comments just to stir things up. I now go out of my way not to read the comments section of anything political. Scary stuff, indeed, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. Both sides are equally represented by some serious wackos. But sometimes it hits a little close to home and I can’t help myself. It upsets me.

I guess it’s like when people get behind the wheel of their car, and the anonymity and protection of all that steel makes them act, shall we say, not always considerate of other drivers.

But here’s where it really hit home for me. Last month I read two blogs, both of them ragging on runners and marathons. The first one was by someone who writes for a local, free, weekly magazine. He essentially makes his living pissing people off. He’s pugnacious, and goes out of his way to annoy. That’s what you expect from the guy. I rarely read anything he writes, even if I agree with his position, because I don’t like his style. I only read this article because someone shared it on Facebook, and it was just another one of his rants, this time against the city’s largest marathon and what he repeatedly called “positive runners.”

I guess deriding someone for being positive makes sense if negativity is your norm. And he obviously hasn’t run with me in the summer when it’s 105 degrees outside. I’m anything but positive. Just ask my friends.

What really got me going, however, was the degree of animosity from the people commenting, and not towards him, but towards runners and the marathon.

I had no idea.

I can understand being upset at road closures. Before I started running I forgot about the marathon one year and got stuck in traffic. I was irritated at the inconvenience, but mostly at myself for forgetting about the race. But these people commenting didn’t hold back, saying runners felt a “sense of entitlement” and calling the people who cheer them on “assholes.” When someone brought up the point that charities benefit tremendously from races, the consensus was that runners should just send in a check instead–which is kind of missing the point. The overriding sentiment seemed to be: not on my street, not in my city, and quit showing off.

The other incident that got to me was a blog post entitled “Running a Marathon Does Not Make You Mother Teresa.” It was supposed to be a humorous look at so-called self-involved runners. Again, it wasn’t the post that bothered me, it was the comments. Everyone seemed ready to jump on the Bash Runners Bandwagon. Quite a few people made comments about how runners were looking for attention by running marathons. Believe me, I can think of much easier ways to get attention than training for 20 weeks through the hottest summer on record just to put myself through hell for a 26.2 mile race. One commenter on another blog that linked to the article, a trail runner, made snarky comments about people running street races just for the attention it gets them, implying she was better than them because she ran on dirt. Even our own are turning against us!

People also made a lot of comments about those goofy 26.2 stickers people put on their cars after they run their first marathon. (Yes, I have one. Could this be the adult equivalent of the stickers we got in grade school for good work? I did love those shiny gold stars I got for getting 100’s on my spelling tests . . .)

I had no idea that pounding the asphalt ticked off so many people. I didn’t think anyone else really noticed.

Once I ran into a substitute teacher from my school when I went to pick up my race packet for our local Turkey Trot. She was one of the volunteers giving out race t-shirts. When I saw her again a few weeks after that, and asked if she ran, she went on a rant about runners always running down her street, and how she can’t get out of her driveway on Saturday mornings because there are so many of them. I had to really think about that. I’m guessing she has to wait 30 seconds tops to let a large group of runners pass her driveway.

What is this really about? I pondered this all last month, trying to figure out what people had against runners. Finally, I realized, like always, I needed to lighten up. It wasn’t really about me, or runners, or any type of inconvenience.

It’s about anyone who is different from us.

People like to gripe. We all do it. Guilty as charged. How many times have I made disparaging remarks about people who take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store? How many times have I cursed the cyclists who don’t let me know they’re passing on my left when I run at the lake? How many times have we all looked down on someone for doing something we think is stupid?

Maybe the runners I know, myself included, talk about running too much, especially to people who aren’t really interested. Maybe we talk about our races, our training, our nutrition, and it irritates other people. Maybe we tell people who don’t run what they’re missing out on, how running will change their lives, even when they don’t want to hear it. Maybe we put those 26.2 stickers on our back windows as a beacon to other runners, a sign of kinship as we drive around doing nonrunning things. Maybe we’re positive because running makes us feel good. Maybe we just really like running, and forget that not everyone is as interested as we are.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, and it’s not personal if someone writes mean things about what we do for fun. It’s only running. It’s not going to stop us, though, and that’s the bottom line. The human body was made to run. One day a lot of those people complaining about the marathon that inconveniences them so much now may decide they need to make a change in their lives. They may decide to push themselves mentally and physically beyond any limit they’ve ever known. When they do, my running friends and I will be there to encourage them and push them and cheer them on, no questions asked.

I’ll still read articles online, and I’m sure I’ll still get irritated at the rude comments. Oh well. At least I can always go for a run afterwards to cool off. Or to get attention.

Why I Love a New Year

The Christmas/New Year season is always a time of reflection and introspection for me, as I suspect it is for most people. This year has been no exception. Reflection and introspection are the main reasons why I love a new year.

Since Thanksgiving I’ve written very little, mainly because I’ve been incredibly busy. I’ve run a half marathon, traveled a little, cooked a lot, knitted some, and spent not nearly enough time with my children. Not writing became an activity in itself, even though snippets of future posts kept bubbling to the surface at odd hours of the day and night, begging to be written.

New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of the year. There’s such a sense of fulfillment that comes from having lived another year, and a feeling of anticipation for the year to come. This year the day coincided with my regular Saturday group long run, which is almost always culminated by breakfast at Fuzzy’s Tacos. Though different groups run different speeds, everyone always comes together afterwards to eat, visit, and talk about our run. A lot of Saturdays I enjoy breakfast much more than my run.

Being able to visit with so many great friends, old and new, on the very last day of the year made it that much more special. I had come full circle, running with friends who were with me when I began training for my first half marathon almost five years ago.

The older I get the more I realize: the relationships we build with others are truly what matter the most in life.

Even though it is “just another day,” the first day of a new year brings with it the idea of a new beginning, a chance to start again, a brand new, fresh, blank page. Ever since logging the morning’s temperature on January 1 each year in my little five year diary when I was a kid, I usually take some time to reflect and write something on New Year’s Day. I’ve always loved buying a new agenda for the year and filling it in with birthdays, future races, and vacations. This year, because of my son’s unexpectedly generous Christmas gift, I’m doing it all electronically on a brand new iPad2.

I’m not one for resolutions. They’re almost always forgotten within a few weeks, if not days. I usually prefer to think about what I want to do more or less of in the new year. I remember one year’s plan was to “find more joy.” I think I’ll always work on that. This year, my plan is to have less clutter in my life–and my house. I think I’ll always work on that as well.

Mostly, I want to get out and do more. Staying home doesn’t create memories. Adventures do.

I’ve always wanted to be somewhere else. Even when I’m on vacation in the most beautiful places in the world, I’m planning my next trip. Call it restlessness, call it dissatisfaction, call it nonacceptance . Whatever it is,  I’m still working on learning to accept that wherever I am is where I should be.

And it truly is about the journey, not the destination.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Here’s to a great year of adventure, acceptance, and a clutter-free life (and house).

Just Do Your Job

A few months ago, towards the end of my last days of teaching, I became frustrated. I don’t remember the particulars of why I was so frustrated, but I do recall it had something to do with a work colleague not doing their job. The last month of school is always chaotic and impossibly busy, and everyone’s nerves are frayed and fried to a crisp. When one person doesn’t do their job, and others have to pick up the slack, it’s stressful for everyone. Just do your job became my personal rallying cry that last month of school, and eventually it took on a life of its own.

All of a sudden, all around me, I became aware of how many people weren’t doing their jobs. By job I don’t necessarily mean a paid job. Your job could be anything you’ve said you were going to do, or a responsibility you have, or a task that you’ve inherited, for whatever reason.

For instance, if you’re a parent, your job is to take care of your child. You get them to school on time, make sure they have their homework and lunch money, and you get them to bed at a decent hour each night. If you just do your job, your child will more than likely have a good shot at adulthood.

If you tell someone you’re going to do something, your job is to do it. No questions, no excuses, no backing out. Just do what you promised.

If your job is to answer phones and direct calls, you answer the phone and direct the call. Simple. No arguing required. That’s your job.

My marathon running friends have got this one down. If you’ve trained for a marathon, then your job is to run 26.2 miles. For that one day, no matter what, you’re going to do everything humanly possible to power through those 26.2 miles. Your life focuses down to that one pinpoint of activity, and you get the job done–even if you have to crawl those last 6 miles.

I hadn’t thought about my rallying call all summer until this past week. I discovered some fraudulent activity on my credit card and decided to close the account and request a new card. Things like this tend to stress me out because I know the simple act of calling and getting this straightened out will turn into a big hassle. I was right.

First, there was the recording and endless menu options. After I figured out which option I needed, and which number to push, the line kept hanging up on me. Not once, but four times. Finally, I reached a human voice and managed to get the negligent charge investigated. I was assured that I didn’t need to close the account, that this company would not be able to make any future charges on my card. I hung up, somewhat satisfied.

Next, I decided to check the most recent card activity online, and noticed another company I hadn’t done business with had charged me $0.00 just the day before. Even though they didn’t actually charge me anything, I decided to call them up and find out what was going on. A very nice man told me that this was a common practice, and it usually means that someone was “trying out” my card number to see if it could be used. In other words, my credit card had probably been compromised.

Finally, I decided to call the card in as stolen. Again, I had the same problem and kept getting disconnected. I eventually managed to get through, spoke with a very helpful, pleasant woman, and got the card cancelled. She even asked if I could wait a week for the new card, then offered to overnight it, waive the fee, and I would have it the next day. This woman was awesome!

Only, as you’ve probably guessed, she really wasn’t.

Of course the card didn’t arrive the next day, nor the next, nor the next. Four days later I called the credit card company again, wondering if it had been lost. Another very nice woman told me there was no way I could’ve been issued a new card and had it overnighted (which I know for a fact is not true), but that she would check. Come to find out, a new card was issued, but was sent regular mail and should be arriving in two more days. She apologized “for the inconvenience,” said she would “make a note about the transaction,” and that was that.

Of course, my first thought, as I hung up the phone was, just do your job. What a waste of time and such a stupid hassle. I didn’t need the card overnighted, but the woman offered, free of charge, so I agreed. When it didn’t arrive, as promised, a whole new cycle of annoyance began.

All of this makes me wonder, what would the world be like if everyone just did their job? 

I’m pretty sure the planet would rotate smoothly on its axis and little blue flowers would sprout spontaneously across the meadows of the world.

If you tell someone you’re going to do something, just do it.  If you have a job, just do it, no matter what that job is.

It really is that simple.

Anger: Everyone’s Just a Thread Away from Snapping

We all know anger. It rears its ugly head when you least expect it, and it bites faster than a rattlesnake on a hot afternoon in Texas.

A few mornings ago my running group met before work for our long run. We ran on a Friday instead of our usual Saturday morning because one of our members had a memorial service to attend the next day and we didn’t want her to have to run 16 miles on her own. We’re a tight group and that’s how we roll.

We met at the impossibly early hour of 5:30, but the weather was perfect. 58 degrees, no wind, and clear skies. There were four of us and the run was surprisingly tough, but mostly uneventful. We ran down to our local lake, did an extra 3 miles out and back, then ran the full 9 mile loop and back up to where we had started from.  Since it was a work day there wasn’t the usual mob scene of runners and bikers vying for supremacy on the road and path. Everyone behaved themselves and the run was incident free.

Well, there was one small unintended incident, and it caused some anger.

Around mile 9 I realized I needed a bathroom break. At mile 10 I realized I had missed the port-a-potty. At mile 11.5 we suddenly spotted one and everyone came to a stop. We were tired, it was early, we had already run a long way, and we weren’t paying attention. Someone took a step over the dividing line on the path and almost got plowed down by a cyclist. I apologized for us, he started yelling, I mumbled under my breath thanks for letting us know you were there  (because he didn’t say on your left as he passed) and he yelled back WELL, THANKS FOR LOOKING! We were in the wrong, we didn’t do it on purpose, it all happened very quickly–as most accidents do–and we had apologized.

I honestly only mumbled what I did because he started yelling at us, and I wasn’t mean about it. It was merely an observation.

This battle between cyclists and runners is an old one with no winners. Because he was dressed in a sweatshirt and plumber’s shorts (yes, it was gross) we knew he was probably just someone from the neighborhood and not a serious cyclist. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because we should’ve paid more attention.

But my friend was so right when she made the comment as he rode away: People are SO ANGRY these days. It’s like everyone’s just a thread away from snapping.

I’ve been noticing the same thing a lot lately, too. All you have to do is look around wherever you go and you’ll see lots and lots of very angry people.

Now that I’m home during the day, I have much less stress in my life and my moods manage to stay fairly even keeled. (Usually. I’m not perfect, and I do live in Dallas.) But just driving a few miles up the road to the grocery store is like a violent video game come to life. People do the most ridiculous things from the anonymity of their cars, and most of it is just plain mean. And stupid. And sometimes dangerous.

The same friend who stepped in the path of the cyclist the other day has been telling us about the “psycho dads” she’s had to deal with this year (she works in a public elementary school). On three separate occasions in the past seven weeks of school she’s had fathers fly off the handle over small matters involving their children. In my last few years of teaching we all noticed that more and more often we were up against parents who liked to yell first, blame everyone else next, and ask questions later. It always involved something that didn’t warrant that level of anger–and they certainly weren’t setting a good example for their children, who usually stood by embarrassed because of the scene their parents were making.

Turn on the TV or internet these days and you’ll quickly see that this country has an anger problem. From politics to trashy talk shows to angry, rude comments on news websites, there’s a lot of anger out there.

What are we all so angry about?

There are all the usual reasons: work, stress, relationships, money, time, and so on. Those will never go away and anger will always exist. But can we really continue as a society if we don’t learn to keep our negative emotions in check? I don’t believe in pretending not to feel something that’s there, but I do think we must find better ways of dealing with our lives than indiscriminate  anger.

And lest you think I’m sitting up here on my high horse, I’m just as guilty as everyone else. I’ve been known to say a few choice words under my breath while driving the streets of Dallas, and nothing can set me off more than someone who is purposely rude and mean. I grew up in a family filled with anger and I’m quick to become defensive and indignant when provoked. But I also make an effort to be considerate of others–even strangers–and to not make a fool of myself if I can help it.

When someone does something that makes me angry, like cut me off in traffic, I try to remind myself, that could be me, I’ve done that before, too. Or when I hold the door open for someone and they walk through without even a glance, I try to remind myself that I don’t need their thanks.

The bottom line is, all I can do is be aware of my own reactions and my own feelings of anger when they arise. I can’t change anyone, I can’t make them do anything, and getting angry about things usually doesn’t change them.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the change has to begin with me.

It’s Official: Hottest Summer on Record

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or celebrate. We all knew this day would come but now it’s official: 2011 is the hottest summer on record in Dallas. Today, with the 70th day at 100 degrees or above, we surpassed the old record set in 1980 of 69 days. This is merely apropos since we learned a few weeks ago that we’ve had the highest average temperatures this summer, and the highest low temperatures ever, but it’s still nice to beat that old, official record. We may break the record again tomorrow, but hopefully the cold front blowing in afterwards will be the end of the triple digit heat. We’ll see. I reserve the right to remain skeptically optimistic.     READ MORE

Running a Marathon: The Hero’s Journey

Why do we run marathons? It’s a question I’ve asked myself often.

There comes a point in every marathon I’ve run, usually around mile 19 or 20, when I start to ask myself why I’m here, doing this to myself. At mile 23 or 24 I start promising myself that I’ll never do this again, it sucks, it’s hard work, it’s not fun, why would anyone do this to themselves, and no way, not ever again, will I do another one of these.

So far I’m at six marathons, training for number seven.  READ MORE

Who Says You Have to Grow Up?

What I'm currently working on

My failed interview at the charter school may have turned out to be the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.  Feeling old has taken on a new healthy life of its own.  It’s certainly caused me to think a lot about aging and why we’re all so afraid of something that’s going to happen whether we like it or not.  I’m even thinking of letting my highlights grow out and going naturally gray.  Why not?  I’m old anyway, so what’s the point of trying to look like something I’m not?  Must I be forced to join the legions of former brunettes who drink the blonde kool aid merely because I’m officially “middle aged?”

My favorite shoes and socks after a 4 miler

I read an interesting article in Time magazine about “amortality.”  Per Catherine Mayer, the author of the story, “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.”  Maybe this is merely a reaction to the interview, but I’ve found myself going out of my way lately to question whether something makes me old or not.  For instance, last weekend I tripped on a run and my back has been hurting ever since.  Is this what it means to be old?  I look in the mirror and see new lines on my face and wonder why I never noticed them before.  A student in class will say something I can’t make out and I wonder if my hearing is starting to go.  Am I wearing my hair too long for my age, should I cut it?  When does a woman cross the hair threshold and have to keep it short, and who makes up these rules?

I don’t think I’m necessarily interested in being amortal.  I don’t want to live my life the same way I did when I was in my late teens, or even my twenties or thirties.  I like slowing down and not having to explain everything I do.  Things that once seemed so important simply don’t anymore, and I’m able to laugh at myself and some of my quirks and particularities.  I’m glad my kids are grown and I can focus more on myself again.  I don’t really care as much what other people think about me, and I’m starting to care less about the way my looks are changing (I’m still working on this).  I’m getting used to feeling invisible around certain younger crowds, and I think I cringe less when someone calls me “ma’am.”  I certainly feel more confident than I did when I was younger, and I’m in better shape, too.  I’m not afraid of spending time alone.

I think I’m more interested in living as if aging doesn’t matter.  I’ll just keep doing the things I want to until I either don’t want to anymore or my body can’t handle it.  I’ll make my own rules as I go along.  I’ll keep running marathons, knitting, listening to Pearl Jam, country, and opera, hiking, wearing tight jeans, and drinking good beer.  It’s a good place to start.

Remembering a Friend on the Anniversary of His Death

Today is the three year anniversary of the death of a good friend. Actually, he was more than a good friend. He was someone I ran with.

We make friends throughout our lives and we lose them, usually when we change jobs, or move, or simply make new friends when our interests change.  Some friends we stay in touch with sporadically through the years, some we rediscover through Facebook or chance meetings, and some we wonder why we never made more of an effort to stay in touch.  We make new friends, we move on, and life continues.  The friends we lose to death, however, are the ones whose memories visit us late at night, and the ones we can’t forget.I met Arshad through running.  We had a mutual friend, Rich, and both caught up with me early one Saturday morning on a nine mile loop around the lake.   We discovered we were all training for an upcoming local half marathon and decided to meet during the week for a few runs together.  Arshad and I were both relatively new to running and had never run a half marathon before, and we knew that training with someone else would be easier.    Also, I came to discover Arshad was the type of runner who enjoyed socializing and meeting new people more than he did running, so it made sense.  Even though he was tall, lean, and naturally fast, he would purposely hold back because the companionship was more important than the running.

Arshad

So we trained together.  Rich had run a marathon before (which was something I could never fathom doing at that time) and he was our biggest cheerleader.  He liked to run a few steps ahead of us and keep the pace.  Rich was also tall, so keeping up with the guys was good training for me.  We jokingly called ourselves “The Dream Team” and logged many miles together in preparation for the race.  I found out Arshad was from Bangalore, India and had gone to school in Chicago for engineering.  I got to know him as a person, and he was always happy and in a good mood.  We made plans to visit India one day with Arshad as our guide.

There’s something about pushing yourself physically with another person that bonds you to them.  Running mile after mile, through every type of weather and temperature imaginable, at impossibly early times in the day, you really get to know a person.  All your differences melt away with the miles you log together.

The day of the race arrived warmer than expected, and finishing was tougher than I thought it would be.  I made stupid rookie mistakes (eating something different for breakfast and going out way too fast at the start) and seriously considered bailing at mile 10.  I finished in 2:03 and Rich in 1:56.  Arshad finished in1:49.  I couldn’t believe how fast he had run his first half marathon.

The Dream Team

I joined the Dallas Running Club and talked Arshad into joining as well.  Our goal race was the Oklahoma City Half Marathon.  He didn’t want to run another race so soon but trained with us anyway.  I noticed that Arshad would run with any group, no matter the pace, and could usually be found in the back of the pack talking to any one of a number of pretty, young, female runners.  He always adjusted his running speed accordingly.

Rich was training for a full marathon, and sometimes the groups would converge and run together.  I was in awe of the full group and the distances they ran each week.  The seed was planted for me, but Arshad said no way, he’d rather stick to half marathons and run them really fast.  The months and the miles passed, and I noticed Arshad seemed to be running with the same group—and one girl in particular, Elizabeth–each week.  I was happy for him, but never got the chance to ask what was going on.

Arshad’s lease was up on his apartment and he decided to move to my complex on the other side of the lake.  I talked him into running the OKC Half Marathon with the group and we talked about reserving seats on the bus the running club had chartered.  During that same time his parents came to visit from India.  On our Wednesday night run he asked if I would join them and a few other friends for dinner and a movie on Friday.  I met his mom and dad, his ex-girlfriend, Jen, and some friends from church.  We had a great time, though he took some grief for the movie, an ultra-violent film festival entry about the war in the Middle East.  He said he thought his mom would like it.

Arshad's dad, mom, me, Jen, Arshad, and Sarah

The next week, just before our scheduled Wednesday night group run, it started to rain.  Arshad called to ask if I was going and I told him no.  Fifteen minutes later the storm passed and my phone rang.  Tempted to ignore it, I picked up and told Arshad I would meet him at the gate, knowing how guilty I would feel if I didn’t run.  The dark evening was beautiful, and everything at the lake glowed from the rain.  Arshad ran fast that night and it felt good to keep the pace.  When I made a random comment about hating to run into a headwind, he remarked, ever positive, that he liked it because it kept him cool.  He talked about how beautiful the trees at the lake were, and how it was his favorite place to run.

It was the last time we ran together.

We had made plans to drive together to the local train station for the start of our Saturday morning group run.  When I got up early the next morning I noticed a message on my phone.  It was Jen, telling me to call her as soon as I got the message.  Even though it was six o’clock in the morning, I immediately called.  She told me Arshad had been in a car accident the evening before, and it was fatal.  His mother was also killed, and his father was in critical condition.

He died on a busy street I travel on quite often, and it was a long time before I could drive past the spot where a manufacturing defect in one of his tires caused his death.  Two weeks after his death I ran the Oklahoma City Marathon without him.  I ran faster than I’d ever run, because I knew he couldn’t.  When I crossed the finish line and the medal was put around my neck by a bombing victim’s family member, I cried and asked if I could have another medal for the friend I had lost who hadn’t made it to the finish line with me.

At the OKC finish line

His death made no sense to me, and it never will.

Today, three years later, I think about him.  I can still hear his silly high-pitched laugh, and see a smile light up his face.   I remember his earnest curiosity of what made people who they are, and his love of deep conversations.  I remember the new running clothes he bought just before he died, and how he worried about what he looked like in them.  I remember his carefree approach to running that I am still trying to emulate.  He is in my thoughts every single race I run, especially the marathons I never had the chance to talk him into running.  More than anything else, I just miss him.

His friends got together and donated a tree and a plaque in his name at the Celebration Tree Grove at the lake.  We all think of him when we run past the spot, which is on the same route we ran that rainy night, days before he died.   A little bit farther up the road is the place where it is always windy.  It took me a long time, but now I smile when I think about how he could put a positive spin on everything, even running into the wind.

Rest in peace, Arshad Ahmed, and know you are not forgotten.

Arshad's plaque