To Tell The Truth

I recently celebrated a birthday, the kind where you move into a new decade.  I wasn’t looking forward to getting older.  I decided to do the only thing on my birthday that a funatical runner can do – run a half marathon.  My birthday was on a Sunday so it was easy to find a birthday race.  The race was going to be held in a state I hadn’t yet checked off – Mississippi.  I registered for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Gulfport. Of course, as is the case with most of my race trips, this one was not uneventful.

Leading up to race weekend, I received emails from the race organizers with information about the race as well as things to do in Gulfport and Biloxi.  I noticed in one email there would be a 5K race the day before the half marathon.  If you ran the 5K and the full or half marathon the following day, they would give you a special “Double Down” award – a 10-inch seafood tray.  At the last minute I decided to register for the 5K.

As my luck would have it, the weather in Biloxi and Gulfport when I arrived was terrible.  It was snowing and sleeting.  The temperature on Saturday morning was in the 20s when I headed to the 5K.  The runners huddled together at the start line while various announcements were made and the national anthem was played.  Soon after the national anthem was over, the race started.

Normally, I would do some sightseeing as I ran.  That day it was too cold to linger at any spot to take pictures or look around.  I decided to run the race as fast as I could so I could go back to my warm hotel room.

At the finish line, there was a tent set up where two people were printing off preliminary results for the runners.  Most races I enter don’t have results available at the finish line.  I had run fast and I was interested to see how well I had done. I went over and waited in a short line to get my results.  They handed me a slip of paper that showed my time, my age group, and my placement in my age group.  My preliminary results showed I came in 3rd.  The only problem was the results showed me in the wrong age group.  They had me in the age group I would be the next day on my birthday.  Although I was thrilled to have finished in 3rd place, I knew the results were wrong.  Someone else had earned that 3rd place finish.

I went over to the results table and explained the problem to one of the race organizers.  At first, they seemed reluctant to do much about it.  The prizes for age groups were only for 1st and 2nd places.  It wasn’t like I would be stealing anything from anyone.  But I knew it was wrong.  I could not steal the joy from another runner who rightfully had earned that placement.  They took my information and when the official results were posted, I was listed in the correct age group.

Integrity is important.  If the running shoe was on the other foot and someone had erroneously been awarded a placement I had earned, I would expect them to make certain the error was corrected.  It might not seem very important to some people.  But if they wouldn’t correct something as seemingly inconsequential as an erroneous age group, where would they draw the line?  When would it be important enough for them to point out an error in their favor?    There is a saying “The end justifies the means.”  In my book it never does if you compromise your integrity.  Not just in sports but in any situation in life.

A Life Lesson from Mr. V.

My running adventures (and my blog posts) have been sporadic since July because, well, life got in the way.  That is my way of saying I have had two relatively minor health issues to deal with.  I don’t do inactive very well.  If you want to make me very depressed, tell me I can’t run.  To fill my time, I started working with two former classmates on a grade school class reunion.  We have been trying to find people we haven’t seen in many years.  When I find a missing classmate, we will start chatting about their school memories.  They share stories about significant events during the school year, how a particular teacher made them feel or lessons they learned from them.

Hearing their comments has triggered my own memories of my teachers.  One was particularly timely.  I had learned Mr. V., a teacher who had been very influential in my life, had passed away last month.  Mr. V. had more pearls of wisdom than anyone I have met.  A particularly memorable one was the famous why one should never assume.   At the time it was a bit off-color for high school kids but I can guarantee everyone who heard that pearl remembered it.

My running has been on hold for the last week while I deal with asthmatic bronchitis.  Since I can’t run, I spend more time working on the reunion planning.   One day another one of Mr. V’s pearls of wisdom popped into my head.  “You have to get really sick every so often to appreciate what good health is.”  I haven’t been sick in a very long time – broken bones, detached vitreous (story for another day) yes but no illnesses.  I have been fortunate.  Mr. V. was absolutely right though.  I had taken the simple act of breathing for granted.  This illness has reset my attitude.  The simple act of breathing out and breathing in is one I will never take for granted again.  Without that, there is no running and the Funatical Runner is just funatical.

Originally this blog was intended to focus on stories about my travels to marathons on the seven continents and endurance running with Transverse Myelitis.  It has since morphed into stories about running an endurance race in each of the 50 States as well as the 6 World Marathon Majors and doing it while dealing with the effects of Transverse Myelitis.  More and more though, I see this blog isn’t really about running adventures because running isn’t everything (although there are times when I think it is). It is more about life itself, the journey and how all the pieces come together.  Running is just one of the things that happens along the way.  Thanks, Mr. V, for helping remind me of that.

In case you have never seen it, this was the source of Mr. V’s pearl of wisdom about what happens when you assume.  Credit to Jerry Belson, writer for the “Odd Couple” television series.











Enjoy Yourself!

It’s the end of the year – a time when people reflect on what they did in the last 12 months and look ahead to what they have planned for the new year.   Many of us have a “bucket list”, a list of things we dream of doing someday.  Someday is that magical time when we retire and have an abundance of time to do all the things on our wish list.  The sad thing is some people don’t make it to that day.  They work and work but never take time to enjoy the moment.  I know.  I use to be one of those people.

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-8-10-03-pmI remember the finale of the television series “House” back in 2012.  At the end of the final episode, as House and his friend head off on their motorcycles, they played the song “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think”.  That song resonated with me for many reasons.  It made me think about myself and what the future may hold for me health-wise.  I didn’t want to be left thinking about what I COULD have done.  I want to have lots of memories about things I DID do, like running Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon, and the marathons and half marathons I have run all over the world.  The memories I have from all those experiences are wonderful souvenirs, reminding me of the sense of accomplishment I felt when I completed each one.

Another reason the song hit me so hard was because of a horrible tragedy that struck the dog agility community at the time.  One of our fellow agility enthusiasts was killed in a head-on collision while on her way to an agility trial.  This tragedy claimed her life (she was just 49 years old) as well as that of one of her dogs.  I still think about her and what a fun, lively person she was – always smiling, loving her dogs despite their crazy antics in the ring, a kind word and genuine interest in everyone she met.  She enjoyed herself.

I read an article once about several men who pursued their dreams.  There was the 80-year old man who had run since high school and continues to enter races (often the oldest participant), with the goal of running a race in all 50 states and a 72-year old golfer who had played golf in all 50 states.  Finally there was a 65-year old motorcyclist who watched his mother sock away money for her dream – a cruise to Europe.  She died just when she had enough money to take the cruise.  That motorcyclist decided to take a trip in his mother’s honor.  Since he wasn’t the cruise type, he decided to ride his Harley Davidson through the Lower 48 states.  Four and a half months and 22,381 miles later, he completed his ride and became a member of the Iron Butt Association.  He said the highlight of the trip was meeting people.  People gravitate to a guy with a load of gear on a motorcycle.  Each of these men had a dream to do something that had meaning for them.  Their goals may be silly to us but they were things that gave them joy.  Instead of thinking about doing it, they went out and DID it!

img_7179I realized after reading that article things don’t happen unless you make them happen. I bought a small journal – my Dream book – and wrote down things I want to do and places I want to visit.  Things like visiting a dude ranch, going to see an opera, or seeing a concert at Red Rocks in Colorado.   Each year I look at my Dream book and pick a few things to do.  I am lucky – my husband and I share many of the same interests.  We have started crossing things off the list and, more importantly, we have started having fun.

img_69822017 is going to be a busy year for me.  I hope to finish my 50 State Endurance Challenge (13 states to go) and the 6 Major Marathons (only 3 left).  It is a pretty ambitious goal.  I am working with a running coach and focusing on getting myself prepared for my races.  As long as I can stay healthy – no more broken bones please – I should be able to reach my goals by the end of the year.  Plus there are a couple of fun things from my Dream book my husband and I plan to do.

img_5045What do you want to do in life?  Is there a place you want to visit?  A race you want to run?  Do you want to do your first triathlon or century bike ride?  What are you waiting for?  If you don’t do it now, when will you?   If there is something that you really want to do, you can find a way to make it happen.  Remember, enjoy yourself.  It’s later than you think.



Extending a Hand

In my high school psychology class, we learned about the bystander effect, or “Genovese Syndrome”, named for Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment in the middle of the night in 1964.  In the newspaper account of her murder, it was reported no one came to her aid, even though 38 people had either witnessed portions of her 30-minute attack or heard her cries for help.  Psychologists used Kitty’s murder to analyze why people are reluctant to help someone.  The story was a provocative way to get students to discuss whether they would step in and help someone in a similar situation.  Over time it has been revealed many parts of the story were not true and people were not as indifferent as the news accounts led us to believe.  However, the discussion about the bystander effect still continues.

Kitty came to my mind when I saw a news report about a girls cross-country runner who stopped to help a runner from another team who had fallen during a state sectional meet.  Gracie Bucher, an 8th grader from Windom in Minnesota, collapsed not far from the finish line.  Despite several attempts, she could not get back on her feet to finish the race.  That was when Liana Blomgren, a senior from Mountain Lake High School, came by.  Seeing Gracie on the ground, Liana grabbed her by the arm and told her “I’ve got you. You’re with me.”  Liana helped Gracie finish the race.  That gesture of kindness resulted in both Liana and Gracie being disqualified.

I was sad to hear Liana ended her high school cross-country career with a DQ.  Gracie felt bad about it too.  In fact, she sent Liana flowers and gave her a Dairy Queen, DQ, gift card as a token of appreciation.  Liana said she doesn’t recall what place she was in at the sectionals for the prior two years but she will always remember this one.  Liana is a terrific young woman.

Over the years I have seen many instances of a runner helping another runner to the finish line.  This happens in all kinds of races, including marathons and half marathons.  There are a number of reasons why a runner might collapse – twisted ankles; falls from tripping; tendons that give out; dehydration; or, in Gracie’s case, an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis.  Who can forget the collision of Abbey D’Agostino (USA) and Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) half way through a qualifying heat for the women’s 5000 meter race in the 2016 Summer Olympics?  Abbey and Nikki helped each other to get back up and finish the race. They personified true sportsmanship.  It is comforting to know some runners are willing to put kindness and compassion above competition.

The National Federation of State High School Associations Board of Directors has changed the rules for high school track and field in 2017.  With the new rule, “a participant who assists an injured/ill competitor shall not be disqualified if an appropriate health-care professional is not available.”  As I interpret this new rule, I think Liana still would have been disqualified.  Gracie collapsed not too far from the finish line where conceivably there would have been appropriate health-care professionals.  They would have seen Gracie struggling and could have intervened.  Maybe I am wrong.

img_7114I question rules that penalize someone for helping another person in need. Instead we should foster an attitude that encourages people to help each other.  The lessons we enforce in sports competition carry over into day-to-day life.  I experienced this first hand in 2014 when I fell and broke my arm during a training run.  I will remember forever Rebecca, a stranger who helped me until a friend arrived to take me to the hospital.  Although she could have finished her own run, Rebecca stopped to help me.  Without her help I probably would have gone into shock.  Rebecca kept me calm while we waited for my friend.   As runners, we are frequently alone but we are also part of a larger community.  We should always have each other’s back and never be afraid to lend a hand – in a race or on a trail.

Getting Up Again

You may have noticed that I haven’t written on my blog for the last couple weeks.  I was trying to come to terms with my latest injury.  I didn’t want to talk about it, write about it, or even think about it.   While running two and a half weeks ago, I tripped and broke my big toe.  My podiatrist told me no running, cycling, or even swimming for at least 4 weeks.  There is no way to speed things up.  I just have to rest my toe and hope for the best.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.57.46 PMMy emotions went the whole gamut.  First I was frustrated.  I blurted out “Why me?” to my husband.  I immediately realized the absurdity of the comment.  I sounded like Nancy Kerrigan, the Olympic ice skater, after she was attacked prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics.  That curb I tripped over didn’t have it in for me.  Things just happen and they are out of our control.

Then I was angry. I threw my running shoes into the back of my closet.  I thought about giving up on this whole running thing, quitting my 50-State goal and no longer writing this blog.  I never broke a bone while I sat working at a desk.  Maybe I needed to get a job and go back to a sedentary life style.

Finally I became very depressed.  It took me a long time to discover running.  Now I was unable to do the very thing I loved the most. There were races that I was going to have to miss.  My half marathon in Maine in July was scratched and another one in August is questionable.   When I had mentioned the Chicago Marathon in October to my podiatrist, he was doubtful that I would be ready.  I was devastated at the thought of missing that race.   I may claim to be the funatical runner but I was neither running nor having fun.

I couldn’t think of any way to fill my days if I could not run.  When I broke my arm almost 2 years ago, I gained 5 pounds that I struggled to lose.  I feared that I was going to be reunited with those 5 pounds and maybe more.  I could only sit and read.  Let’s face it – reading is not an aerobic activity.  I was doomed.

One day the song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba popped in my head:

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down

I had tried to get up again.  I tried to have a positive attitude.  I decided to stay as fit as I could by doing floor exercises like Pilates that wouldn’t require me to stand and put weight on my foot (and therefore my toe).  My running coach sent me encouraging emails.  But it was all an act.  I just couldn’t get up again.

This week I read excerpts of an interview with Meb Keflezghi where he pointed out “everybody gets hurt.”  Over the course of his marathon career, Meb has ruptured both quads, experienced Achilles tendonitis, a soleus tear, and a pelvic stress fracture.  Getting injured is “part of the sport” according to Meb but “it’s how you deal with it that matters.”  Compared to Meb’s injuries, my broken toe was nothing.

Meb’s words resonated with me.  I needed to change how I was dealing with this injury – starting with my attitude.  I could be “down-in-the-dumps, oh-woe-is-me” but that response would just be wrong.  I have a friend whose husband is battling cancer for the third time.  I have no business feeling sorry for myself because a broken toe was keeping me from running.  I am going to be out there pounding the pavement again soon enough.  I may be inconvenienced by my injury but people who are battling life-threatening illnesses like cancer have a questionable future.

It was time for me to get up again.  I started by deferring my Chicago Marathon entry until 2017.  I looked at the calendar and realized I could probably be ready for the New York City Marathon.  I secured a bib through a charity and will be running through New York City’s five boroughs in November.  I won’t be very fast but I will be able to finish the race. I got more serious about my Pilates training and started increasing the number of workouts I do each week.  When I get approval from my podiatrist to start running, swimming, and cycling, I will work with my running coach to get back into aerobic shape.  I am fortunate that I was in very good physical condition when I fell.  I should be able to bounce back quickly.

So far I have not gained any weight.  I am eating much better thanks to the wide variety of healthy vegetables and fruits available at the local farmers’ market this time of year.  I plan to add more exercises to my workout routine to help maintain my flexibility as well as strengthen my core.  From a broken toe will emerge a stronger and more grateful runner.

Rediscovering My Passion

Passion is a word we frequently hear when people talk about their professional work or their hobbies.  Their passion motivates them to work hard and pursue their goals. Being driven by one’s passion can lead to amazing achievements but it also can lead to burn-out.  In order to stay motivated, we need to ensure our passions do not dominate our lives to the point of being detrimental.  I have learned this with my passion for running.

A couple weeks ago I came home from my last half marathon really tired.  Perhaps it was Transverse Myelitis (TM) reminding me that it rules a big part of my life.  Or maybe it was the fact that I had run a lot of races in a short span of time.  I wasn’t tired of racing – I had fun traveling to races over the last few months. I was just physically tired.  Either way, I knew I needed some R&R.

As my massage therapist, Jen, worked on my sore muscles, I explained to her that I was taking a breather from running.  Jen knows me too well.  With a raised eyebrow she asked me when I last ran.  “Oh, two days ago I ran 6 miles and I plan to run a 4-mile race on Saturday night” I replied.  She laughed, “That’s not a breather.  That is just a breath!  You need a real break.”  Score one Jen.

When I ran that 4-mile race, it was very hot.  TM doesn’t like heat and my legs felt like lead weights.  During the whole race, I was questioning why I was running.  This was stupid.  I could be home in the air conditioning, watching tv.  As soon as I finished the race, I grabbed a bottle of water and headed home.  Later that night when I pulled up the race results, I discovered I had come in first in my age group – that never happens.  The first time I win my age group and I hadn’t even stayed for the awards ceremony!

On my training schedule for the next week, my running coach planned a week of R&R.  She only included activities like stretching, yoga, getting a pedicure, and walking the dogs.  I hadn’t taken time off from running since I broke my arm over 18 months ago.  It was strange not getting up early 3 times a week to head out for a run.   I didn’t think about my next race.  I couldn’t get my brain focused to write my Funatical Runner blog.  On the positive side, I didn’t have piles of soggy running gear waiting to be washed.  Sleeping in felt pretty good too.

I started to wonder if I really wanted to keep running. It didn’t help that I read an article by Daniel Engber, a columnist for “Slate”, on why he thinks running is a “risky, fruitless hobby.”  According to Daniel, runners could spend time doing so many other more useful things in the hours they would have spent on “worthless locomotion”.  Instead of spending hours training, he suggested runners could do things like learn a new skill to start a new career or perform a community service.  He introduced the idea of the “Anti-Marathon” – getting runners to focus on activities with “better and more lasting” use.

I have to admit.  I gave some thought to what Daniel wrote.  Perhaps he was right.  The world was my oyster – I could do anything.  I could learn to paint or take up photography.  I could do things where I didn’t physically hurt when I was done.  I started asking people to suggest new hobbies.  I got plenty of suggestions but nothing really interested me.

One day as I was driving I heard the song “I Lived” by One Republic.  I included their video for that song in an earlier post.  Hearing that song made me remember why I run.  It may be work to train for a race but it is exhilarating to cross a finish line. Yes, I could have traveled as a tourist to Berlin, Tokyo, London, Utah, Vermont, or the many other places I have gone for races.  But experiencing these places as part of a race is different than strolling through them on a sightseeing tour.  I see them with a totally different set of eyes.  More importantly, running is keeping me healthy.

Back out on the trail for a run

Back out on the trail for a Sunday morning run

I started running again this week.  It was still hot but I found ways to stay cool as I ran 11 miles the other day.  I felt energized at the end.  The way it should be.

Whatever your passion may be, it is healthy to step back and take a break.  It will give you an opportunity to remember what got you started in the first place. More importantly, a break will prevent you from getting to the point where your passion causes suffering instead of joy.  By stepping away, though briefly, I was able to remember why running is my passion.

Last Isn’t Losing

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.05.15 PMOn New Year’s Eve, I ran my last race in 2015.  What better way to ring out a year of running than toeing the start line one last time?  I opted for the 10K distance instead of the 5K because I am back in training for a marathon.  The 10K race started about 10 minutes after the 5K.  I watched the 5K runners take off and then made my way over to the start line.  Looking around, I noticed that there were significantly fewer of us running the 10K.

When the 10K race got going, a lot of runners were passing me.  I got a bit flustered because I was worried that I would come in last.  At one point in the race, we had an out-and-back loop so I was able to see the number of runners behind me.  I relaxed when I saw there were quite a few.  Unless something catastrophic happened, I was not going to finish last.  I ultimately ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.

Finishing last in a race is one of the biggest fears of any runner, especially newbies.  At any race, a handful of people will be standing around waiting for the last runner to finish.  Instead of arriving to cheering crowds, the last runner can be greeted with sighs of relief from race officials and volunteers who couldn’t leave until they crossed the finish line.  I can’t imagine how embarrassing that might feel.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately after seeing news reports about the woman who was the last person to finish the New York City Marathon.  I think she got more headlines than the runners who won.  Sala Cyril, a 38-year-old Brooklyn teacher, was the last person to cross the finish line.  She finished with a time of 8 hours, 28 minutes and 24 seconds.  The race officials and volunteers were there to applaud her finish but the huge crowds that welcomed the winners were long gone.  Regardless, Sala was on top of the world.  After months of training and hard work, she had achieved her goal of finishing the marathon.  Sala might have been the last to finish but she received the same medal as the runners who finished hours before her.

Mainly Marathons is a race series that recognizes not only the first person to finish one of their races but also the person who finishes last.  They realize finishing a marathon is a big deal for anyone.  The runner who finishes last in one of their races receives a special award – the Mainly Marathons Caboose.  I wonder if people battle it out to be last just so they can win one of those special cabooses.

My friend Buzz did the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Savannah with me.  It was only her second half marathon and she was worried about finishing.   She was disappointed to see that she was assigned to corral 22, the last corral.  Buzz later told me that the only thing behind her were the garbage trucks picking up the trash along the course.  She showed me a picture to prove it.  Despite being at the end of the line, Buzz kept her eyes focused on where she was headed.  Although she was diverted when the race was canceled, she had passed other runners and walkers along the way.  Buzz proved that starting out last doesn’t mean you will finish last.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.02.58 PMI heard this catch phrase a few years ago from some people who were training for a triathlon.  Their coach had told them this at the start of their training season.  I think about it frequently when I am running:

Dead Freaking Last (DFL) beats Did Not Finish (DNF) beats Did Not Start (DNS)

The person who finishes last achieves more than the person who can’t finish.  And the person who starts but can’t finish is doing more than the person who didn’t even get to the start line.  Being last is not the worst thing that can happen to you.  It shows that despite the challenge, that person made it.

We are all running our own race.  When I head to the start line of any race, the only thing I am competing against is myself.  For many people the risk of being last is enough to keep them from even starting.  Last doesn’t mean you are a loser.  The loser is the person who never had the courage to try in the first place.

I love this Nike commercial that shows what my friend, Buzz, might have felt in the back of the pack, bringing up the rear.  No matter what, you just need to keep going.

Do It Now

My step-father could best be described as a grumpy old man.  He was a World War II veteran having served in Europe as a bombardier on a B17.   He was an opinionated man who was stuck in a bygone era.  He liked Manhattans and martinis.  He didn’t like animals or little kids.  He refused to wear the jeans that my mother bought him and chose to wear old suit pants to work in the yard.

But for all his faults, he had one philosophy that I could understand and embrace.  After my mother passed away and his own health started to decline, he started to realize that there were things that he could no longer do.  He would listen to me talk about what I wanted to do in life.  It was during those conversations that he would look at me and repeat the same advice:  “Do it now, kid.  Do it now.”  He knew that time was running out for all of us.  If I wanted to do something, I needed to get hopping.

This week I remembered my step-father’s advice.  For the second time this year, I lost a beloved dog.   I collected my favorite photos of her and put together a slideshow to music as a tribute to the sweetest creature I have ever had the privilege to know.  The slideshow included a photo that I took last April.  It is an up-close photo of her eyes.  She had beautiful eyes.  I had wanted to take that photo for a long time but for some reason just never took the time to do it.  I only took that photo because people commented on a creepy photo I posted of a mosaic of human eyes from a New York City subway station.  I replaced the creepy eyes with the prettiest eyes that I knew, those of my beloved dog, Meri.

Meri's beautiful eyes

Meri’s beautiful eyes

Looking at that photo the other day, I realized that, had I not received complaints about creepy eyes, I never would have taken a photo of the pretty ones.  Who knew that a few months later my dear dog would be gone?  It underscored the lesson that my step-father was trying to teach me.

Maybe you have something that you have been planning to do.  An old friend you want to reconnect with.  Some place that you have wanted to visit since you were a kid.  A skill that you want to master.  Whatever it is, take my step-father’s advice – Do it now, kid. Do it now.